A TV show worth watching

Earlier this month I had the surreal experience of being a guest on a TV show, for an entire 30-minute episode, to talk about my art!  The show is “Talk Art”, a local cable program that focuses on San Francisco bay area artists.  It’s sponsored by Silicon Valley Open Studios, in which I participate.  My episode focuses on colored pencil–a short survey of materials, tools and techniques, along with samples of my work where I used them.  I’ve never really been on TV before, so I didn’t know what to expect.  If you’ve ever wondered how TV happens, read on….

Weeks before the taping, I met with the producer, Nance Wheeler, to learn how the shows are constructed, how the taping would proceed, and how I should prepare appearance-wise.  She in turn took notes about what props I might need (easel? table?) and proposed a basic outline for the interview.  I sent her JPEGs of the images that would be shown as overlays, and she sent me a questionnaire to help the host, Sally Rayn, know what kinds of questions to ask me on air.  Later, I spoke with Sally on the phone so she could learn more about my art and what I might want to demonstrate.

The evening of the taping, I arrived at the studio and as soon as I saw the set and the control room and all the people who would be involved, I started getting nervous!  What if I went blank on an important fact?  What if I got a tickle in my throat and started coughing?  What if I stammered or said something stupid?  There weren’t going to be any “takes”–it was going to be filmed straight through in one shot.  But Sally put me at ease; we sat in our places on the set and while the sound and lighting crews prepared and the three cameras were positioned, we did a little rehearsing.  It was just what I needed to forget about the setting and just have a conversation.


Getting used to conversing on a studio set under bright lights.


My artwork as set dressing.

Suddenly it was “Quiet on the set!” and it was time.  The next 30 minutes flew by.  I didn’t really have any awareness of being “in the spotlight”, I was just explaining materials and techniques to a friend.  After it was all done, everyone said “Great show!” and a couple of the crew came up to take a closer look at some of my artwork, which decorated the backdrop, and asked “This is really all colored pencil?”


Getting mic’ed.


The control room during the taping (see sound stage through the window)

A few days later I received a DVD of the program, and it was also posted to “Talk Art”s channel on YouTube.  I held my breath as I watched it the first time; I’ve never been very photogenic and I have no idea how I look or sound to others.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t appear nervous at all, and didn’t stammer or rush.  I actually did okay!  I made working with colored pencil sound interesting, fun and worthwhile, which was just what I’d hoped.

Since then, I’ve shared the link on Facebook, and as I write this only five days later, my episode is already one of the most-viewed of all the “Talk Art” episodes.  The UK Colored Pencil Society (of which I’m a signature member) picked up on it and my mention of them and advertised it on their Facebook page, which has opened it up to overseas viewing.  And Ester Roi, whose Icarus heated drawing board invention I demonstrated in the show, picked up on it and linked to it on her blog and Facebook page, which has expanded its reach, too.  I’ve received wonderful comments from folks thanking me for the great overview of our favorite medium.  A couple even suggested that I’d be a natural as a teacher!

I’m really glad I had this opportunity, and the nerve to take it.  Anything that exposes more people to my favorite medium and inspires them to try it, is a good thing.

Here it is so you can watch it yourself!

What color is an oak tree, anyway?

Remember in elementary school when your teacher challenged everyone to get out their paper and crayons and draw a tree?  You probably used just two colors for your tree: brown for the trunk and green for the leaves.  Done. 

When you got a little older and realized that branches and shadows give a little more dimension, you drew it with four colors: dark brown and light brown for the trunk and branches, and dark green and light green for the leaves.  Done.  Or maybe you used black instead of the darks, and couldn’t figure out why it didn’t look as good as you expected.  Your teacher didn’t offer any suggestion–he/she was just glad to have everyone busy.

Well this week, I finished “Tree of Stories”, and I used 20 colors just for the trunk, branches and leaves!  I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, but it gave me a new appreciation for how complex nature really is.  The real tree in its setting has far, far more interesting details and subtle colors than I could possibly convey on my 15″ x 20″ sheet of paper.  Even so, it took me 70-80 hours over a period of five weeks to finish. 

This wonderful old valley oak is in Rancho San Antonio County Park in Los Altos, California, next to a hiking trail.  Dozens of people pass this tree daily yet probably wouldn’t recognize it from my drawing, because I went off-trail to get this particular angle and lighting.  I could do five more drawings of this tree and they would look like five completely different trees!  It was hard to choose which of my reference photos to work from.  I wanted to convey something of the character of the tree, how the stories of its life are recorded in all its knots, whorls, bumps, cracks, mosses, limbs and leaves.  In sunlight and shadow, storms and drought, it has survived, thrived, and offered a canopy full of light to evening hikers who carry their own stories as they walk past on the trail.  Brown and green?  The more I looked, the more shades I saw.  What a challenge!


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

Could I have gotten as good of results in less time by using fewer colors?  No.  I’d have still been trying to breathe life into the tree on my paper.  The beauty is in the details.  It’s not only the texture of the bark that makes this happen, it’s the color variations. 


Tree of Stories detail, showing variations in both texture and color

So, what are all the colors I found to be just right for this wonderful ancient valley oak?  Here they are.  The four blues at the far right plus the grayish color in the center are the only ones that were not used on the tree itself.


The 25 colors used to create Tree of Stories

As usual with colored pencils, I started by identifying the absolute darkest dark spots in the image–in this case the crack in the middle of the trunk and some of the far branches–and drawing them first.  Then I identified the absolute lightest light spots in the image–in this case the sky and the path–reserved them with very light colors, and worked my way down in value from there as I drew.  Light to dark.  Why light to dark?  Because you can always darken an area, but once it’s dark, you can’t lighten it by drawing a light color on top of it–it just doesn’t work.

This was my first time using Faber Castell Polychromos pencils.  They are oil-based colored pencils, which means they are somewhat powdery in texture, unlike the creamy, wax-based Prismacolors.  I liked them a lot, but don’t ask me which one is “better”!  They’re just different, and I ended up using both because occasionally I needed a darker, sharper line than I could get with the Polychromos.  In the photo, the ones with the gold band  are the Polychromos.  Some folks would say it was a little foolish of me to launch into a major new finished drawing with pencils I’d never used before, not even tried out first, but I figured: what better way to get completely acquainted with them?  No regrets here.

I hope when viewers look at “Tree of Stories”, they’ll take the time to see the details of color and texture and imagine the stories that brought those out in the real tree.  Then I hope they’ll go find the real tree and be amazed at how much more there is to it.  Nature is amazing.

A productive year underway

It’s mid-March as I write this and already it’s turning into a busy spring….

Last month, I gave a presentation/demo about using colored pencil on Dura-Lar drafting film to my CPSA chapter.  It was fun to introduce folks to a drawing surface that is so different from paper yet so great for colored pencil.  It was good practice for me, too, since someday I hope to teach colored pencil classes and workshops.  On a related note, the editor of the UKCPS’s quarterly news magazine “To The Point” invited me to write a how-to article on the same topic, which I did and it will appear in the summer issue.

Also last month, my portrait of my dad, Eugene’s Time to Rest, was juried into this year’s UKCPS International Exhibition, which will be in Birmingham, England April 28 – May 10.  I’ll be shipping it off shortly.  Dad got a good chuckle out of the idea that a picture of him will be hanging in a gallery in England!


Eugene’s Time to Rest, 8″x10″, colored pencil on Stonehenge paper

Last week, I was interviewed for a whole episode of “Talk Art”, a 30-minute program sponsored by Silicon Valley Open Studios which appears on four local cable channels and focuses on bay area artists.  My next blog post will include the llnk to it on YouTube, so stay tuned!


Talking to Talk Art host Sally Rayn while the stage crew prepares the set.

Currently, the Coastal Arts League‘s Annual Members Show is underway in Half Moon Bay, so I attended the opening reception tonight. My Malay Lacewing was my entry this year.  While it’s not a juried show, there are some pretty talented folks in that oceanside group!


Me with Malay Lacewing in the Coastal Arts League Annual Members Show

Right now, I’m working on my third drawing of the year, which will be my entry for this year’s CPSA International Exhibition.  The deadline for entry is March 31 and I have a long way to go, but I’m trying not to rush through it because shortcuts are pretty obvious in colored pencil work.  It’s 15″ x 20″, about as large as I can stand to work in colored pencil and expect to produce many finished pieces in a reasonable time.  I’ve already been working on it for a month!  The subject is a special tree.  Sounds pretty mundane, I know, but since my last tree earned multiple awards, including quite a large one in the 2013 CPSA International Exhibition, I figured I must be onto something. You’ll see!

Once the tree is finished, I have a portrait commission lined up.  There goes the month of April!  In queue after that, in May, I have a very exciting project!  But I can’t say any more about that one yet–sorry!

Next week, I’m giving my “Colored Pencil as a Fine Art Medium” presentation to the Sunnyvale Art Club.  I really enjoy giving this talk and exposing fellow artists to a medium they didn’t know was so versatile.

My previous blog post about editing little specks of dirt out of scanned images has been picked up for publication in the April issue of CP Magazine!  It’s nice to know someone is reading these random postings.

My art life isn’t purely colored pencil-related this year, though, believe it or not.  One of my art goals for 2014 is to get better with pastels.  Yes, pastels–those messy chalk sticks!  I’ve had some success with them in the past, but I think with some instruction and practice I can get much better.  The attraction is that pastels go much faster than colored pencil, and can produce amazing realism. I’ve finally found an artist who works in the manner I’d like to, and who gives workshops, and is local: Cuong Nguyen.  Cuong is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and lives in San Jose.  So I’m signed up for his 3-day pastel portrait workshop at the end of this month.  I can’t wait!  Don’t worry, I’ll never leave colored pencils behind.  It’s just good to have multiple media in one’s repertoire.  It’s kind of like being multi-lingual; if you’re fluent in multiple languages, you have more choices for how to communicate.

I’m tired just from recounting everything that’s going on!  But it’s a good kind of tired.