Paper furniture

My whole life, I wished for a flat-file cabinet (also known as a map cabinet) in order to store my larger sheets of drawing paper nice and flat, keep them clean and out of danger of getting wrinkled, creased, smudged or punctured.  About five years ago, I finally had a nice oak one made by an older gentleman in the Sierra foothills.  I had it made to fit 22″ x 30″ paper.  It turned out great.  The only problem is, it turns out that 22″ x 30″ paper with a deckled edge (such as Stonehenge paper) is actually 22.5″ x 30″.  DOH!  So one edge sticks out of the drawer, continually taunting me like a child with its tongue out: “You goofed and you can’t fix this!”

Since then, I’ve come to own even larger sheets of paper, 30″ x 40″.  They got stashed in a stack under the guest room bed, or behind a dresser, or rolled up inside a cabinet.  It’s the best I could do, but far from ideal–they could still end up dusty, scuffed or creased, in any combination.  All overnight guests were warned: Do NOT shove anything under the bed!

Thanks to my continuing to work full-time as a software engineer, which subsidizes my serious art habit, I decided this year that I could afford to finally buy an even larger flat-file cabinet.  I could no longer find the gentleman who made my first one; he was 80 when he made it, so he may have died?  I spent a couple of weeks poring over Google search results and eBay listings, trying to find a good used one.  Unfortunately they were all the wrong size, beat up, without drawer slides, or 2000+ miles away with no way to examine before purchase or do a return and refund.

So I allowed myself to consider buying new.  They’re so expensive!  And even then, most companies that sell them only provide a few options.  But I finally found an online retailer, Madison Art Shop, that offers quite a few configuration, size and material options.  After several days of pondering and asking questions, I placed my order.  Without telling you what I paid, the shipping charge alone was over $300!

Last week, it arrived from the manufacturer in Beaverton, Oregon–all 408 lbs, on its own pallet.  It’s here!  It’s here!


Hm, this thing IS big!  I already knew it was going to be too big to fit in my little studio, even if I moved the smaller flat-file cabinet out.  So my husband agreed I could set it up in the living room.  The real effort began.  Underneath the plastic wrap and nylon straps, we found four crates, two of which each weighed almost 200 lbs.  We figured out how to get them up the two steps and through the front door without hurting ourselves by using a couple of dollies.  We were impressed with the packing; every piece and surface was in perfect condition.  The final assembly instructions called for little more than a Phillips-head screwdriver.  Over the next few days, it came together.  The base to the bottom cabinet, the cap to the top cabinet, the two halves together, the handles on the drawers, and finally, the drawers into the cabinet.  I wiped down all surfaces to remove wood dust residue.

Here it is!  My beautiful new 30″ x 42″ 10-drawer birch flat-file cabinet, with metal slides.  This puppy isn’t going to budge in an earthquake.  The drawers require a satisfying little nudge to finish closing, which provides the tension to hold them closed so they won’t slide open on their own.


It just needed two final touches: I got barrier paper from Accent Arts to line the drawers (this protects the valuable drawing paper from the acid that wood leaches over time, which yellows anything with which it is in constant contact), and I had a thin sheet of clear acrylic cut by TAP Plastics to protect that gorgeous birch wood top.

I was very happy today to extricate the large sheets of paper from all those hiding places  and lay them in their new home.  And happy to stop those 22.5″ x 30″ sheets from sticking their collective tongue out at me from the smaller cabinet.

Now the new cabinet only sticks something out to offer me lovely, pristine drawing paper!


Yes, it was expensive.  But this very well-made piece of furniture will last the rest of my life, and will probably go on to serve another artist, and someone else after that, for 100 or even 200 years.  No buyer’s remorse for me!

The (back) cover of a book!

I’m a couple of months late in tooting my horn about this. I blame my broken collarbone, because the break happened just a day or two after this happy milestone, before I had a chance to sit down and write about it.

In early October I received my advance copy of Strokes of Genius 8: Expressive Texture, a beautiful hard-bound art book from North Light Books edited by Rachel Rubin Wolf.  My Tree of Character was selected for inclusion in it almost a year ago–books take a long time to assemble.  So I hastily opened the package and started browsing through it, marveling at the quality of all the drawings that mine was honored to be among and noting that the color fidelity for mine was quite good.  Then I flipped it over to check out the back cover, and I almost dropped it: my Tree of Character IS the back cover!  This was the best surprise of 2016!


A couple of friends asked me “Did they have your permission to do that?” and “Did they pay you extra for using it that way?”  Yes, you grant publishers pretty liberal permission to use your images when you submit them for possible inclusion in a book.  And no, you receive no payment for being included inside or out, just bragging rights!

Wrapping Up 2016

Here it is, the last day of 2016!  What an art year it was for me:

  • Exhibited work in 15 juried shows, including internationally in London and Ottawa
  • Won 7 awards
  • Sold 6 originals
  • Finished 11 new drawings
  • Taught 2 workshops
  • Gave 3 presentations
  • Exhibited 2 weekends in Silicon Valley Open Studios
  • Led a 2-day forum at the Colored Pencil Society of America convention in Tacoma
  • The featured and cover artist in the May issue of COLOR magazine
  • One of my drawings was used for advertising in The Artist’s Magazine, Pastel Journal, and Drawing Magazine
  • Published in 3 new books: CP Treasures, Vol. IV from Ann Kullberg, and Strokes of Genius 8: Expressive Texture and Art Journey Animals from North Light Books
  • Published a JumpStart step-by-step booklet through Ann Kullberg
presentation 2016OustandingAchivement
COLOR_May2016_cover jumpstartbluemorpho
denise_awards triton
strokes8 svos
 strokesofgeniusad  art-journey-animals-cover

Along with all that, late in the year I stepped down after five years as president of my CPSA chapter (DC 210 San Jose), in order to take on a new role as the organization’s national Marketing Director.

And I broke my collarbone, which brought everything art-related to a halt for more than six weeks while I healed from surgery to fix it (steel plate forevermore!) I’m still going to physical therapy to regain strength and mobility.


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

With each year, I’m still learning how to pace myself.  Spring and early summer seem to be very hectic, while autumn and early winter are more relaxed, so I’m trying to figure out how to spread the work out.  I’m not sure it’s possible, since the reason for the hectic part of the year is deadlines over which I have no control.  One possibility is to simply not enter as many juried shows, but what’s the fun in that?

2017 is already stacking up!  I have commitments for three presentations and four workshops (three of which involve travel) in the first five months.  Check the Calendar page of my website to keep abreast of all that.

And the contract is not yet signed, but it looks like I will be writing a book, which will preclude me from making any new art until at least the end of August, and I’ll have to skip several exhibit opportunities.  I’m feeling ambivalent about the honor of writing a book that will be published but not being able to draw what I want for most of the year.  I guess it’s a good problem to have!

May your 2017 be productive and filled with art!

A broken bone applies the brakes

I’ve been laying low lately.  On October 12, I tipped over on my motorcycle at a measly one mile per hour in a parking lot and broke my collarbone.  I felt it break as I hit the pavement, and felt the broken ends shifting around inside as I tried to do the simplest thing like remove my helmet.  The x-rays at the ER confirmed an uneven and displaced break that required surgery to fix.   They sent me home with a sling and a supply of strong painkillers.  Eight days later, on October 20, I finally got the surgery to install a steel plate to stabilize the broken pieces together.  I spent the next four days sleeping a lot.


4.5 days post-surgery.  For the record, my shoulder and arm are not this fat! It’s the post-surgery swelling, just like the bruises.

From the time of the break until a few days after surgery, my husband was quite literally my “right hand man”, and waited on me hand and foot.  For example, I had finished a portrait commission the day before the break; he drove me to Lowe’s to select and cut the portrait shipping materials, then carefully assembled it all for shipping under my instruction and drove me to the post office.  He is accustomed to seeing me constantly on the go with a jam-packed to-do list, and told a friend “Nothing like watching her go from 300 miles per hour to 22 miles per hour in one day!”

I also had to cancel a one-day workshop that was scheduled for the 23rd–3 days after surgery–with 11 people registered.  (It’s been rescheduled for January 15, 2017.)

I’m now 11 days past surgery and healing very well according to my surgeon, in fact I start six weeks of physical therapy tomorrow.

I’ve been learning a lot about how one moment in time and one simple broken bone can turn your life upside down.  We take our abilities for granted until one or more of them is taken away.  The simplest activities like combing my hair and applying mascara became difficult, and activities like tying shoelaces and putting on a pullover shirt became impossible.  I was so happy when I was able to feed myself with my right hand for the first time again, 14 days after the break.  Perhaps the biggest surprise has been that for just one little broken bone, I’ve been needing much more sleep and tiring easily; apparently it takes a lot of energy to heal a break.  I’m grateful for modern medicine which will have me doing everything normally again in just 6-8 weeks!

They say “Art Imitates Life.”  Yesterday was Halloween, so I selected a pumpkin with a “shoulder” and made it into a “self portrait”.  Yes, those are real staples, with Neocolor II wax pastel “bruises”.  My coworkers knew whose pumpkin it was without asking!

It’s been frustrating that with all this “time off”, I haven’t been able to do anything fun.  I couldn’t read because I couldn’t hold a magazine or book open, I couldn’t draw or write because it’s my right shoulder and I’m right-handed, I couldn’t drive somewhere because of the painkillers, I couldn’t go for hikes or walks because of the constant shoulder movement, and of course I couldn’t ride my motorcycle.  All I could really do was watch TV, and one can stand only so much of that.

Now my shoulder is feeling and working better, I can type two-handed, and I’m starting to eye the drawing board again.  I’m expecting to start that next commission later this week, and I can’t wait.


Trees that make me say “Wow!”

As you may have figured out by now, I have a thing for trees.  Not just any trees, but ones that stand out from others of their kind.  Someday I’d love to sit and talk with Beth Moon, author/photographer of Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time and have her sign my copy.  She embarked on a 14-year quest to photograph some of the most remarkable trees on the planet.  As amazing as those that she included in the book are, I’m sure there were many more that she’d like to have included but couldn’t, and I’d like to know about those, too.

I’m fortunate to live in a part of the US that’s home to a variety of remarkable tree species.  Sequoias in the Sierra Nevada mountains, valley oaks inland, bays in the Santa Cruz mountains, coast live oaks and cypresses on the coast, peppers, olives and jacarandas in the San Francisco bay area, eucalyptuses everywhere.  My computer now holds about a thousand reference photos of trees, bark and leaves, and this number grows almost monthly.

Some people look at trees and say “What’s the big deal?  It’s just a tree!”  In my youth in rural Missouri, I mostly thought that about the trees there; there just didn’t seem to be much variety in shape or size.  Here, the shapes, sizes and branching patterns are so complex, they get the attention of even casual passersby.  I know, because some of my friends on Facebook who don’t normally pay attention to trees have posted photos.  And sometimes those have prompted me to go find those trees to take my own photos.

The entire individual identity and history of a tree can be read from its shape, size, bark, branches, and roots.  For example, a cypress clinging to a rock above the surf along the Pacific coast gets battered by salt spray, wind, fog, hot sun and winter storms.  This shows in how its branches are sparser and smaller on one side, and how its roots wedge as deeply as they can into the crevices between boulders.  Mosses and lichens might find a grip on its bark, if it’s a little more sheltered.  A great place to see this scenario is at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, just south of Carmel.  Check out these photos I took there just last weekend!

A sale, an award, a fantastic critique, a reunion!

Last week I traveled to Tacoma, WA to attend the Colored Pencil Society of America annual convention.  The convention and International Exhibition is held in a different city each year and is always a highlight of my year–the opportunities to reconnect with artist friends, make new artist friends, see fantastic artwork in person, talk art, win door prizes and raffle prizes, take home a bag of free art goodies, learn new things, network, and explore a new locale is well worth the trip no matter where it is. This time it even offered a breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier from my hotel room!

I was the moderator for the District Chapters Forum–a gathering of chapter presidents–all day Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Thursday I took a one-day workshop to learn how Chicago artist Tracy Frein creates his moody portraits on drafting film, and came away totally inspired.

That evening in the silent auction I bid on an original drawing by Cecile Baird on behalf of Arlene Steinberg (she won!) and won some useful door prizes.

Then Friday happened!  I had most of the day free, so I walked the two blocks to The American Art Company to examine the CPSA International Exhibition at my own pace.  A small group of people happened to be looking at my Tree of Kintsugi so I tried to discreetly eavesdrop.  But someone recognized me and asked about the title.  I explained that kintsugi is a Japanese philosophy that regards things that have been broken and repaired as more beautiful because of it, not less, and I felt that this tree embodied it–it had lost half of itself, but the wound had healed, mosses decorated the scars, and the other half of the tree continued to grow very well.  Right away, one of the ladies in the group said “That’s it, I’m going to buy it!”  She was serious!  She bought it from the gallery right then and there, and the red dot went onto its tag.  I’m pleased that it’s going to a new home in the Chicago area with someone who appreciates it, although I’m also a little sad to let “my baby” go so soon after its completion just a few months ago.

That evening at the awards banquet, I was overjoyed to learn that my Tree of Kintsugi won one of only two $800 Awards for Outstanding Achievement!  Of course that made my buyer happy, too, since it validated her feeling about its artistic merit.  The CPSA live-posted each award winner to their Facebook page as it was announced.


As if that wasn’t enough, it got even better on Saturday.  The juror for the show, Michael W. Monroe, Director Emeritus of the Bellevue Art Museum in Bellevue, WA and a former curator at the Renwick Gallery of Art in Washington, DC,  gave a talk/critique at the gallery.  He commented on 20 or so of the 120 pieces, some of them award winners, some of them not, some of them he said he almost didn’t include at all and explained why; it was well-attended and very educational.

To my astonishment, he stopped at my Tree of Kintsugi and praised it extensively for two and a half minutes!  Fortunately I was ready with my iPhone and captured all but the first couple of seconds.  Here it is.

After the talk, my cousin Anita whom I hadn’t seen since we were both small children (at least 45 years ago!) made the trip from Renton, we spent the entire afternoon getting reacquainted and she attended the reception with me.

What a week!  I’ve been floating since.



How NOT to approach an artist

After reading the blog post “How to Start a Fine Art Collection” on Invaluable’s blog, I’ve been thinking about all the crazy ways collectors have approached me. You might be surprised at some of the questions I’ve been asked and statements I’ve been obliged to respond to while my work is on display at a festival or open studio event:

“When are you going to start painting in oils?”
“Why should I buy this when I can just take a photograph of the same thing?”
“Why does this cost so much?”
“What’s your best price for this–can you give me a discount?”
“How about if you sell this to me without the frame, can you discount it for that?”
“If I buy this, will you re-frame it for me?”
“Why did you think this picture might sell?”
“Are these the original drawings?” (While pointing at printed note cards)
“How big of a drawing can you do for $100?”
“What’s the cheapest original you have for sale?”
“You should consider working abstractly.”
“You did this from a coloring book!”(While pointing to a drawing and the step-by-step booklet that I wrote as I drew it.)
“You just xeroxed a photograph and colored it in.”
“You must have very good pencils.”
“Is it okay if I take a photo of this drawing as long as I leave your signature out of it?”
“Can I take a photo of this drawing and have T-shirts printed from it?”
“My daughter likes to paint–can you come to our house and give her lessons?”

And some of the inquiries I’ve received via email through my website:

“Can you send me a list of all your available work, with sizes and prices?”
“Can you send me the artwork and if I like it I’ll keep it and pay you?”
“Let me know if you ever do a picture of X.” (Where X is a particular animal, flower, scene, person.)

Granted, most of these folks were members of the general public, not art collectors, so they could be somewhat excused for their brashness and/or naivete.  But a couple of them were art collectors, so I expected better from them.  Here’s a rundown of my responses to all these.  Some of them I did actually say at the time.  For others, I was so taken aback that I didn’t think of a good response until long after the person had gone.

“When are you going to start painting in oils?”
(The implication is that drawing must only be a stepping stone to oil painting.)  I’ve painted in oils and was decent at it, and I’ve also had success with many other media, but I came back to colored pencil because I like it best.

“Why should I buy this when I can just take a photograph of the same thing?”
Because my artwork is better than a photograph–it’s my vision of the scene.

“Why does this cost so much?”
Because quality work isn’t cheap.  My work is meticulous and very time-consuming to make, sometimes as much as 100 hours, and usually includes the framing under museum glass or museum acrylic. Even at this price, I make well under minimum wage for it.

“What’s your best price for this–can you give me a discount?”
I’m not Walmart.  The price is the price.

“How about if you sell this to me without the frame, can you discount it for that?”
I carefully chose the mat, frame and glass to tastefully complement the piece, and included it in the price.  If you buy it, you can re-frame it as you like.

“If I buy this, will you re-frame it for me?”
I’m not a framer.  If you buy it, you can have a frame shop frame it as you like.

“Why did you think this picture might sell?”
(This question was asked by a collector.)  I didn’t draw this for you, I drew it for me.  If it speaks to someone else enough for them to want to own it, I’m thrilled, but I’m also fine enjoying it on my own walls.

“Are these the original drawings?” (While pointing at printed note cards)
No, they were made from the original drawings by a printer.  You didn’t really think I’d make ultra-detailed original drawings on 5×7 cards and sell them for $4, did you?

“How big of a drawing can you do for $100?”
I’m probably not the right artist for you to talk to.  If you have a photo reference, size and medium in mind I can give you a price estimate, but not the other way around.

“What’s the cheapest original you have for sale?”
If you’re asking me that, you’re talking to the wrong artist. I don’t create my work just to sell it cheap.

“You should consider working abstractly.”
(This odd statement was made by a collector.)  I’m a realist, so I’m not really interested in working abstractly.  Do you have any idea how many abstract painters have told me they work abstractly because they can’t draw?

“You did this from a coloring book!” (While pointing to a drawing and the step-by-step booklet that I wrote as I drew it.)
I don’t do coloring books.  I wrote that booklet, and it’s not a coloring book, it’s a step-by-step drawing lesson.

“You just xeroxed a photograph and colored it in.”
No I didn’t.  No printer or copier has been anywhere near my drawing paper.  I draw basic, faint outlines first just like any other artist.

“You must have very good pencils.”
I do, but it takes more than that to make a work of art, just as it takes more than good pans to make a gourmet meal.

“Is it okay if I take a photo of this drawing as long as I leave your signature out of it?”
Absolutely not!  That would be even worse than taking a photo of it with my signature in it, which I also don’t want you to do because as soon as you share it I’ve lost control of my own artwork.

“Can I take a photo of this drawing and have T-shirts printed from it?”
Absolutely not!  Why should you get all the profit from my creation?

“My daughter likes to paint–can you come to our house and give her lessons?”
That’s wonderful that your daughter likes to paint, and good for you for encouraging her.  But you’ll notice that I’m not a painter, I draw.  The mediums are very different.  And I’m not a childrens’ art teacher.

“Can you send me a list of all your available work, with sizes and prices?”
All this information is already on  my website.  If you see a piece you like on one of the gallery pages, just click on it to get its full information.  I’m an artist, not a retail catalog.

“Can you send me the artwork and if I like it I’ll keep it and pay you?”
Absolutely not!  I’m not stupid.

“Let me know if you ever do a picture of X.” (Where X is a particular animal, flower, scene, person.)
You’re welcome to join my website mailing list to be notified of all new artworks as soon as they’re available, or commission me to do a picture of X just for you, but I can’t maintain wishlists.