“CP Treasures Volume III” now available

Today I received my copy of CP Treasures Vol. III, edited by Ann Kullberg.

157I eagerly opened the cover, and just about fell over.  Look what image was chosen for the inside front cover!

CPTreasuresIIIThe original of “Tree of Stories” sold three weeks ago to a collector in Pleasanton, CA.  I was still pretty attached to it, so I was a little sad to see it gone from my wall at home, but that’s the hazard of putting a price on artwork instead of “NFS” (Not For Sale)–someone might buy it!  I’m thrilled and honored to see it immortalized in the front of this gorgeous book of more than 90 artworks by artists from 16 countries.

Here’s a slideshow sampling of some of the fantastic pieces in the book (including my tree agan!).

Solving a composition problem to rescue a drawing

I just finished “What Is It?” with Faber-Castell Polychromos and Prismacolors on Canson Mi Tientes colored paper, 12″ x 24″.


“What Is It?”, 12″x24″, colored pencil on Canson Mi Tientes colored paper.

I’m so glad to finally be done with this one, as it’s been on my drawing table for two months. I originally planned to not include any background at all so I could work larger and finish quickly; the tinted paper would provide the appropriate base color.  But as soon as the hens were done I realized that was a compositional mistake because the big gaping area between the left hen and the others was distracting attention away from the focus point of the “V” and they seemed to be floating in space on little skateboards.


Hens finished, their shadows almost finished.

I pondered what to do about it. Something was needed to break up the space, while keeping the focus at the base of the “V”.  Another hen?  No, that would break down the “V” composition.  A lot of grass?  No, that wouldn’t solve anything, it would just be all green instead of all tan.  A feed trough?  No, that would detract from the focus on the hens.

After pondering for about a week, I looked at my reference photo with fresh eyes and realized the large dark shadow behind the hens gave visual punch to the light on their feathers and also broke up that big gap without drawing attention to itself.


Reference photo for “What Is It?”

I decided a “spotlight” effect was what they needed–curving the dark area around the sides a bit would do a better job of suggesting the focus was in the middle, than a dark line across the back.

Decision made, I still had to execute the background.  Mi Tientes paper is rather toothy even on the “smooth” side, so I had to work slowly with a sharp point to achieve a relatively smooth look without blotches.  A layer of caput mortuum and then burnt umber looked okay but the overall effect was rather monochromatic.


Burnt umber layer nearly complete over caput mortuum layer.

Since the hens’ feathers were reds and oranges, I chose indigo blue as the third layer and got just the effect I was looking for.  A little “glow” of brown ochre near the base of the curve helped unify the foreground and background.  The background took more than twice as long as the hens themselves!  I wouldn’t have chosen to work this size (12″x24″) if I’d known I was going to spend so many hours just on the silly background.  A “busy” background would’ve been much easier than a smooth gradient!


“What Is It?” 12″x24″, colored pencil on Canson Mi Tientes colored paper.

I think I saved it!  Problem solved!  Lesson learned: in the future I’ll pay closer attention to the composition of my subject(s) when I “lift” them from a reference photo, before I start working on the drawing.

Art in TWO upcoming books!

I received the news this week that my Dreaming Big has been selected for the soon-to-be-published Strokes of Genius 7: Depth, Dimension and Space from North Light Books.


“Dreaming Big”, 12″x16″, colored pencil and graphite on Stonehenge paper.

I also received the news that my Tree of Stories has been selected for inclusion in CP Treasures, Vol. III from Ann Kullberg.


“Tree of Stories”, 15″x20″, colored pencil on Stonehenge paper.

What a great week!

The Bad Teacher

Occasionally in conversation, someone tells a story about a teacher they had who turned them off a particular subject or activity forever with just one sharp remark or action.  I have such a story, too, but the ending is different.

I attended a two-room elementary school with grades 1-4 together in one room and grades 5-8 in the other.  Mrs. Gibbs was the teacher for grades 1-4.  I always finished my homework as quickly as possible during the school day, so that I had free time to pull out my paper and crayons and draw.  It was my reward to myself!

One afternoon during 4th grade, I was so engrossed in drawing a tree (yes, I still remember that it was a tree), that I didn’t notice Mrs. Gibbs had walked up behind me.  She suddenly barked “What are you doing, drawing and coloring?  That’s for first-graders!  Are you a first-grader?  You pick up your colors and go sit with the first-graders for the rest of the day!”

I was shocked!  I had no idea what I’d done to deserve such a rebuke, and tears welled up.  Back-talk was not tolerated, though–this was in the era when every schoolteacher had a paddle–so I hastily gathered my pencil, colors and paper tablet and moved to an empty desk among the first-graders.  All the other students were surprised, too, and none dared to say anything.  There was no laughter as I obeyed.

This is the point where most people’s story ends with “And I never drew/sang/liked arithmetic/read aloud/jumped rope/spoke up again.”  But I finished that tree.

Mrs. Gibbs retired at the end of that year. It’s a good thing. That was the kind of incident that squelches creativity, interest and learning in too many children.  If I wasn’t so stubborn and so eager to draw, it might have done me in, too.

I sometimes wonder how many people’s entire life trajectory was changed by a bad incident with a teacher.  I hope some of them find their way back through a positive experience later on.

Followup Aug. 24:  check out this TED talk–it’s what I’m talking about!

October workshop!

My upcoming half-day “Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil” workshop at the Pacific Art League sold out two months in advance! So we’ve scheduled it again in the fall. Here are the details:

Tree of Character, 15"x20", colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Tree of Character, 15″x20″, colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Vibrant Realism with Colored Pencil
presented by Denise J Howard
Pacific Art League
668 Ramona St.
Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, October 5, 2014
1:00 – 5:00 PM
$73 PAL members / $85 non-members
Materials fee due to instructor: $10

Learn how to use a variety of techniques, surfaces and tools with colored pencils to create glowing color and details that blur the distinction between drawing and painting. Colored pencils offer the control and portability of pencil and the color of paint.

See the listing on PAL’s fall 2014 workshops page.

A New In-Depth Kit from Ann Kullberg, By Me!

image005Ann Kullberg, author of Colored Pencil Portraits Step by Step, publisher of Ann Kullberg’s Colored Pencil Magazine, and publisher of a whole series of step-by-step colored pencil tutorial kits, approached me this spring about producing a new kit featuring a butterfly with a blurry background. What a thrill! Naturally I said yes, since I was already planning to do another such drawing in my series anyway.

I chose a picture of a Western Tiger Swallowtail from my own photo collection as the reference. It took quite awhile to finish the 8″x10″ project. I had to remember to stop frequently to take in-progress photos and write down what my thought process was at every step. It was educational for me, too: I pretended that someone was sitting next to me trying to learn and asking questions, and that taught me to be as clear and concise as possible. I think this will help me be a better workshop instructor down the road. I put special emphasis on how to create a soft, blurry background, since many budding colored pencil artists struggle with this.  It ended up as 24 pages with 48 photos, which is four more pages than usual for these kits, but Ann chose not to cut a single word or image.

This week, the new kit debuted on her website! I hope everyone who purchases it learns something valuable that will make them a better colored pencil artist.

You can buy it here!


Featured artist in Colored Pencil magazine

I’m thrilled to announce that I am the featured artist for the July 2014 Colored Pencil magazine!  The four-page full-color article talks about my background, process and goals, and includes two full pages of images of my work.  And just look at that cover!  My Chorus of the Tulips made for a great cover image.twby_140772_1You can order a digital and/or print copy here:  http://www.magcloud.com/browse/issue/775867

Thanks to publisher Sally Ford for this great opportunity!