I’m not that Denise Howard

Over the past few weeks I’ve received several email inquiries asking if I’m “the Denise Howard who advertised for an art assistant.” I’m certainly not.

I know I’m not the only Denise Howard in the world, so I can understand how this would happen; if I was someone who saw the ad and was possibly interested, the first thing I’d do is google “Denise Howard artist” to see what information comes up. It so happens that everything that comes up is indeed about me–there’s nothing about any Denise Howard artist in Harrisburg, PA, where the ad originated.

After a few of these inquiries, I tracked down the ad in question, got the email address from it (a Gmail account; I don’t have a Gmail account) and sent a message to it. I got no response. The ad has since expired and disappeared and doesn’t seem to have been repeated. However, yesterday the story seems to have taken a more alarming turn: I received a message from someone as follows:

Ms. Howard, I believe there is a scam going around attaching itself to your name. They claim to be hiring a business assistant and then attempt to open a bank account in your own name. If this is in fact not a scam I apologize for bothering you. However, it seemed suspicious to me.

I thanked this person for alerting me, and urged them to contact the police if this happened to them, and make sure they understand it’s not me. I also contacted Google.

I’m writing this post so that if you’re another person wondering if the ad was mine, you’ll hopefully see this and know that not only was it not mine but that you probably shouldn’t respond to it.

Preventing artist injuries

This week I learned that THREE fellow colored pencil artists who draw a lot have been forced away from their drawing tables indefinitely by wrist, elbow and shoulder overuse injuries. In addition to the total ban on drawing, their doctors have told them to avoid all typing and wear splints. It’s making them very unhappy. A fourth artist friend is pushing on due to a deadline and figures she’ll take a short break when it’s past, and I fear she’ll end up joining them.

You might not think of drawing as a strenuous, injury-causing activity. But any activity that involves long periods in the same posture, making the same movements over and over, can lead to repetitive stress injuries such as tendonitis, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, pinched nerves, and more. Potters, painters, illustrators, sculptors, digital artists and even tattoo artists are all at risk. Such injuries are sneaky; they develop very slowly and may already be bad before the first symptoms of tingling fingers, numbness, or reduced grip strength. Recovery usually requires complete cessation of the activities that caused the issue, and can take months, sometimes years.

So how do you prevent such injuries? There are entire books devoted to the subject, but here are a few tidbits that every artist should take to heart:

  • Take frequent breaks. Everyone is different, but for me, ten minutes every hour is about right. This does NOT mean “work for six hours and then take an hour break”!
  • During those breaks, stand up, move around, go for a walk, look out the window, do some simple stretches and exercises.


    I didn’t write this, it was a handout given at an art supply store. I keep it posted over my desk!

  • Work with as vertical a surface as you can, so you’re not hunched or bowed over a table. This will prevent neck, shoulder and upper back problems.
  • If you sit at a drawing table, use an adjustable-height chair that provides good lumbar support and allows your feet to be flat on the floor.
  • Use good lighting. Yes, your eyes can sustain long-term injury, too, because they are also operated by muscles! Full-spectrum lights, positioned to fully illuminate your work area without any glare, will help prevent eyestrain.
  • Get regular exercise. Getting your heart pounding, sweating a little, gulping in some fresh air and moving your body will boost your creativity, too! Vigorous hikes in nature are my favorite way to accomplish this.Here’s a personal anecdote to illustrate the power of exercise to combat chronic repetitive stress injury. This happened about 15 years ago when I taught group fitness classes as my “hobby job”. There was a guy who always attended the yoga class right before my interval training class. One day he stayed for my class. He looked kinda pissed off the whole time, but he finished the hour. I figured I’d never see him again. But he came back, and he kept coming back, always looking a little angry, never saying a word. After about a year and a half, one day he approached me at the end of class and said that my class had done wonders for him. He said he’d suffered with wrist, elbow and shoulder problems for years, had to wear wrist splints all the time at work, had been to multiple therapists, etc. But the interval training, with sets of just 12 repetitions of various dumbbell exercises between the work intervals, had somehow done the trick. He started with 1 lb. weights because that was all his wrists could stand, and now he was up to 12 lb. weights and didn’t need his splints at work anymore. I was blown away, and grateful that he shared his success to which I had unknowingly contributed!
  • Listen to your body. If you do start feeling tingling or numbness or pain in fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, or upper back, stop what you’re doing and see your doctor. I’m serious. Your body is telling you that you’ve gone too far. These are not related to the discomfort you get from using too heavy a dumbbell for bicep curls, which goes away in 72 hours or so. Tingling and numbness usually signify that nerves are getting pinched by inflammation.

Finally, here are some links to further information to help you understand how to make your drawing activity more comfortable and less hurtful in the long run:

Ergonomics for Artists

Working Posture for Craftsmen

Paul Fricke (cartoonist) blog post on ergonomics for artists

Setting up an ergonomic chair

What makes a chair ergonomic

I hope this helps prevent the list of my artist friends who are out of commission from overuse injuries from getting longer!

Kyo Gallery representation

I’m happy to announce I have a new gallery relationship: Kyo Gallery in Old Town Alexandria, VA, in the Washington, D.C. area! My Don’t Take the Bridge is consigned with them, and it will be included in their inaugural exhibition Through Art: Resist & Recover.

Kyo Gallery Grand Opening Reception Evite

Dont Take the Bridge

Don’t Take the Bridge, 12″x16″, colored pencil on UART 600 paper. Available at Kyo Gallery, http://www.kyogallery.com

I decided this piece of mine was the closest to the show theme symbolically.

You might wonder how I happened to connect with a gallery 3,000 miles away…. They found me, thanks to my website! After they approached me via email, I asked a friend who lives near there to check them out for me and make sure they’re legit. I think it’s safe to say we’re both trying each other out, and if all goes well I’ll have more of my original work available at Kyo Gallery in the future.

If you’re in the DC area on May 25, go check out the grand opening and take photos for me!

Workshop over-preparation pays off

I just realized it’s been 2.5 months since my last blog post–whew, the time has flown! I was busy preparing for my first workshop of the year, “Textures Galore in Colored Pencil”, which I finally taught last weekend, April 14-15, for CPSA DC210 San Jose.

I’m not one of those people who can just walk into a room and talk off-the-cuff at length; as an introvert who was terrified of speaking in front of a group most of my life, I agonize for weeks over the outline, the details, the examples, the choice of words, the exercises, the packet contents, everything. Over-preparation is the best antidote to performance anxiety. And besides, I want so much for my students to learn, understand, improve, and have fun!

So I spent a long time writing and organizing all the information that I wanted my workshop students to know, with examples and reference photos, so they wouldn’t have to take notes. I finally decided to hire a layout designer to make an 8-page booklet out of it, and had copies for everyone professionally printed. I’m really glad I did. It saved me the time and effort of printing 160 pages one by one on my little printer, dealing with paper jams, ink cartridges, etc., and it looks soooo much better on heavier, satin-finished paper with a saddle stitch binding.

I also made a long checklist of everything I could possibly need during the two days, and didn’t cross things off until they were packed in my bin. Because yes, there was once a workshop where I forgot to take my reading glasses, and yes, there was once a workshop where I forgot to take the drawing paper for everyone! Talk about panic…..

It all came together, and it was a terrific workshop weekend! We had participants from as far away as San Clemente and Lompoc. Since the focus was on textures, I brought several samples from my collection, and as a homework assignment I asked everyone to bring in an interesting texture of their own, so we had quite an assortment to talk about.

Chapter Vice President Peggy Milovena-Meyer volunteered her husband to do A/V for us, so we had a kickass setup with a sound system, a cordless mic, and an HD camera focused on my drawing board and projecting to a gigantic TV screen on the wall behind me. The system even enabled us to have streaming music during breaks and long drawing sessions!


Over the course of writing 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, there were quite a few textures that I’d never drawn before, so I had to figure them out. What I learned from that experience was that through close observation, not just looking but seeing, analyzing, determining which techniques and tools might work, and only then drawing, I could successfully render just about anything. So that’s exactly what we practiced with a few exercises.


To put it all together on the afternoon of day two, each student got a slice of an image with multiple textures to figure out on their own, and at 3:45 we put them together. We sure could’ve used another hour! Here’s one group’s….


Big, big thanks go to CPSA DC210 San Jose President Paula Greer for inviting me to teach the workshop, to Peggy Milovena-Meyer for making coffee and lunch runs and contributing her husband Brad for his A/V skills, to Maria Lemery for finding the great venue, and to all the cheerful students who spent their time, energy and money to be there. Y’all are terrific!


Two big awards to start 2018!

It’s only February 1 and already my work has won two significant awards for 2018!

My Faith’s End was awarded First Place in the 2017 UART Paper Online Colored Pencil Competition. (Yes, 2017–the announcement was delayed until after the first of the year 2018.) Entries for this show needed to be created on UART paper, which is a sanded paper favored by pastel artists that is also becoming popular with colored pencil artists. It comes in several “grits”, from 240 (which is very rough), to 800 (which is almost satiny). I was already a fan of this paper and have done several pieces on it, so it was a no-brainer for me to enter something in the biennial competition. I just didn’t expect to win the top award! Faith’s End holds a double meaning with a powerful message, which I think the juror, CPSA founder Vera Curnow, totally got.

Faith's End

Faith’s End, 12″ x 16″, colored pencil on UART 600 paper

The First Place award package (and what a package it was, on my doorstep!) included $700, a full set of 150 Prismacolors, a $75 gift card for Blick Art Materials, four packages of UART paper, a six month subscription to Colored Pencil Magazine, a T-shirt, and a bibbed apron.

My Ready for Winter was awarded the Chartpak Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Colored Pencil Society of America’s Explore This! 14. Entries for this show needed to be primarily colored pencil, but include other media, or be done on a non-traditional surface, or otherwise have some aspect that makes it ineligible for the CPSA International Exhibition. The show is online from February 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018. See all the outstanding award winners here. The accepted pieces and award winners were selected by juror Mar Hollingsworth, Visual Arts Curator of the California African American Museum, from over 260 entries. See the whole show here. It seems to me to be a very strong show, so I’m humbled to have been selected.


Ready for Winter, 12″ x 16″, colored pencil, ink, and gouache on Stonehenge paper.

Last year, I didn’t even get into this show! There’s a different juror every year, so it goes to show that you shouldn’t let rejection deter you from entering a show again.

The award is for $600 of Chartpak products. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble using it up, since Chartpak is the company that owns the brands Koh-I-Noor, Schmincke, Higgins, and Grumbacher.

It’s an exciting start to the year!



Wrapping up 2017

Here it is, the first day of 2018!  What an art year 2017 was for me:

  • Exhibited work in 9 juried shows
  • Won 6 awards
  • Sold 5 originals (all commissioned portraits)
  • Finished 9 new drawings
  • Taught 4 workshops (Palo Alto, CA, St. Augustine, FL, Long Beach, CA, and on a cruise to Alaska)
  • Gave 1 presentation
  • Published in 2 new books: I have a 14-step tutorial in DRAW Landscapes in Colored Pencil from Ann Kullberg, and have a piece included in CP Treasures, Vol. V from Ann Kullberg.
  • Authored a new book 101 Textures in Colored Pencil, published by Walter Foster Publishing

All that while still working at a full-time job. Whew!


By far, the biggest time commitment of the year was authoring the book, 101 Textures in Colored Pencil. It consumed almost eight months. I had six deadlines, three weeks apart, in which I had to average one texture example per day. Each example was four iterations of drawing and scanning, and then I had to succinctly describe the details of each step. They took anywhere from 90 minutes to 6.5 hours. Then there was the writing of the introductory chapter on materials and techniques. Every drawing and word in the 128-page book is mine! I’m glad I did it–such an opportunity doesn’t knock twice, and it’s been very gratifying to see it so well-received among colored pencil artists and beginners, and to see folks actually work through some of the textures and post their results on Facebook. So far, it has ranked as high as #6 in its category on Amazon.com.


The front and back cover of my book!

Because of the book time commitment, I chose not to enter as many shows that would’ve required me to ship or transport my work, since those take time for preparation, packaging, transport to the shipper, retrieval, unpacking and inspection.

I don’t receive any royalties on the copies sold, but I used my author fee to buy a new Mac computer and an oversized Epson flatbed scanner, both of which will pay for themselves by saving me time. The new Mac responds much faster to everything than my old 2009 Mac, and the Epson scanner will mean less scanning artwork in pieces and stitching them together in Photoshop.

2018 is already stacking up! I have three workshops scheduled in Febrary, March, and a two-day one in April, and I have a presentation scheduled in May. I already have my first two juried show acceptances for the year, one of which will require me to ship two artworks to Minnesota in January.

What are my goals for 2018? To make more time for creating art, to play with some new materials, to gain representation with an additional gallery, and to get better at pacing myself. And oh yeah, to keep improving my skills!

May your 2018 be creative, productive, progressive, and enjoyable!