I’ve developed a bit of a preoccupation with watercolors. I was a prolific painter as a child, then grew out of it as I got into cartooning. Then I discovered that Randy Milholland of Something Positive also makes these gloriously whimsical watercolors that are a perfect mash-up of both mediums and I just had to try it out.
My first attempts last year were… not the greatest. I started on the wrong kind of paper, then the colors were dull, and the black permanent ink I was using for the line art didn’t stand up to the watercolors, which would either cover the lines or run right over them. For someone like Randy, who draws and paints in a much looser style and has better control over his brushes, this isn’t necessarily a problem. I, on the other hand, am enough of a control freak that I can’t stand coloring outside the lines, but I have very little experience using brushes for fine details, so I did a little experimenting to find more suitable materials.
I started with this cute line drawing of a giraffe with a parasol:
I actually initially created this as digital drawing practice.
It’s still a work in progress.
In the mean time, I really wanted to pull out the watercolors and play this weekend, so I re-drew the giraffe on watercolor paper, and got out my Speedball pens for a little fancy inking. Unfortunately, on my first pass at the supply cabinet, I couldn’t find my bottle of India ink, and instead used Black Magic which, it turns out, bleeds a lot before drying on the page. So I had the lines down, but they were really fuzzy.
I unearthed the India ink, and was very happy to find through some controlled experimentation that it did not bleed, and that after a little practice, I could make pretty nice lines with a size 0 brush that would mostly cover the fuzzy sins of the Black Magic ink. What followed was a very long evening of painstakingly slow drawing with an overabundance of careful muscle control.
The finished line drawing had only a few hints of the messy first layer.
I took even more time coloring. I started with the easiest bits – first the yellow ochre and burnt umber sand, then the base cobalt blue layer for the water and the lemon yellow of the sunset. I still have a good bit to learn about color theory, but I was pretty happy with the layering effects of vermilion for the darker red/orange shades, and Prussian blue in the sky and reflected colors in the water. The main lesson of the background work was to leave more white space. Watercolor is not a reductive process, and white paint doesn’t very effectively dilute or cover color that’s already down on the page.
The India ink solved several of the problems that had plagued me before. It did function as an effective barrier for the more watery paint (to a reasonable extent). It also resisted some of the paint that ended up on top of it. The dryer mixes were more prone to showing up over the black lines, but even then, the black is bold enough to show through.
I finished the parasol and put down the base yellow on the giraffe then left everything to get really good and dry before I tackled the spots.
I was actually pretty terrified of the spots. Giraffe spots are distinctly indistinct – they’re irregularly shaped yet relatively regularly spaced. I am fairly awful at randomization, but I intentionally didn’t include the spots in the line art because I wanted to challenge myself to be a little messy. It was a very pleasant change of pace to just let the brush wander where it wanted. I wound up having a grand old time making all the little mismatched spots, and only lost focus and drifted out of the lines once.
I am really pleased with the final results:
I call her “an American giraffe in Peru” – inspired by a very funny friend who has spent the last few months adventuring in South America and sending back amazing stories and pictures along the way.
My usual method of cartooning is pencil drawing, relatively quick-and-dirty inking with permanent marker in the sketch book, then scanning and inking a second time digitally before coloring. I waste time with the extra inking step because I generally don’t have the patience or trust in my own fine motor control to get the lines right on the first try, and digital inking allows me to use the “undo” function to maddening excess.
I learned a few things by depriving myself of that “undo” option:
- Once you put India ink on paper, it doesn’t move.
- Brushes don’t go where you want if you rush.
- Brush lines will be uneven if you do not carefully mind the pressure exerted by your hand.
- Thicker lines cover more sins and add character.
- Water will dilute many sins, but won’t remove them completely. Watercolor is not a reductive process.
- Evaporation makes your paint darker. Once you have the color you want, don’t hesitate.
- If you have to go back and mix a close match that isn’t quite right, that’s ok too.
- When you step back a little, all those tiny mistakes are barely noticeable.
I will almost certainly be doing more of these. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last week, and now I want to practice. A lot of what I’m learning on paper will help my digital drawing as well.
All the lentil soup recipes I’ve seen look about the same, and seem simple enough, yet the last time I made it, I somehow managed to get it terribly, terribly wrong. The only way to salvage it was with copious amounts of Worcestershire sauce, and even then, it was a mushy, salty mess. So tonight I focused on the savory. (And following the cooking directions, which, shockingly, also helped a good bit.)
I think it goes without saying that this will not be a vegetarian recipe. It is, however, gluten free!
The standard recipe calls for a pretty tame list of ingredients:
2 strips bacon
1 whole onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 can diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth or water
1 lb dry, rinsed lentils
Seasonings vary, but I most commonly saw 1 tsp Italian herbs, black pepper and salt to taste. As this clearly didn’t do the trick for me last time, I added some more interesting flavors.
My adjusted recipe:
6 strips bacon
1 whole onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
8 cups chicken broth or beef broth or vegetable broth* (y’know… whatever you have on hand – just not water)
1 lb dry, rinsed lentils
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce*
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp rosemary
1 tbsp Italian herbs (specifically tarragon, marjoram, oregano, basil, sage – heavy on the basil)
- Fry bacon and set aside, crumbled.
- Heat 2 tbsp (or… uh… more) of bacon fat in soup pot over medium high heat for two minutes.
- Add onions and garlic, and stir-fry until onions start to turn transparent.
- Add carrots and celery, and continue to stir-fry until onions are golden brown.
- Add tomatoes and juice, broth, lentils, Worcestershire sauce, cumin, mustard, rosemary, and the crumbled bacon.
- Bring the mixture to boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until lentils are tender. (This part is important! Lentils are not split peas – don’t aim for mush!)
- Stir in Italian herbs, add pepper to taste.
- Enjoy some damned tasty soup. Refrigerates and freezes well too.
*Hey, where’d the salt go? You really shouldn’t need any more salt after the broth, bacon, and Worcestershire sauce. In fact, I highly recommend low sodium broth and Worcestershire sauce because, seriously, that’s a lot of bacon. If you’re really serious about reducing salt, use less bacon, use only vegetable broth, and substitute Balsamic vinegar for the Worcestershire sauce.
One of the things I love most about the Austin improv community is the bustling network of people who do all the support work for improv shows – theater owners, house managers, interns, my fellow tech monkeys, and the photographers. We have a small but mighty band of photographers ranging from enthusiastic amateurs to freelance professionals who photograph a large portion of the improv shows that happen in this town. They are extraordinarily generous with their time, and provide an invaluable service, capturing permanent memories of a performance art that is, by definition, fleeting.
One of the mainstays of the Austin improv scene is Roy Moore of Control Images. He is the man behind the promotional pictures for many of the Gnap! and Institution Theater productions, as well as the official on-site photographer for Blue Goggles Films. He is an adventurous artist with a keen eye for composition and lighting, and a knack for pulling personality and attitude out of two-dimensional still images.
This weekend marks the opening of Roy’s first solo gallery show, DISTILLATION, at the Salvage Vanguard Theater. The collection ranges from stunning portraits – many from those promotional photo shoots – to stolen glances at forgotten, dilapidated, whimsically graffiti’d corners of the city, to colorful abstracts. They have a synesthetic quality, conjuring not just images but a sense of movement, a faint sound. Maybe I’ve just been too immersed in music lately, but looking at some of the abstracts, I could swear I heard a distinct melody that went with each one. The alternate takes of photos I’ve seen a hundred times on show posters and Facebook albums revealed extra dimensions of familiar faces, and made me want to see those shows all over again.
It’s stunning work by an artist who takes real joy from his craft. If you happen to be in Austin, swing by and check it out sometime this month.
So it’s been a busy year (and …uh… change) since Don’t Quit Your Day Job went on hiatus. I’ve been distracted by improv and a new-found fiber arts gang and all manner of other mischief, but the biggest, most all-consuming distraction of the last year has been the addition of a truly precious little girl to the family, and my big sister’s long-overdue promotion to “Mom”. So she and her cousin are the stars of the comic marking their aunt’s triumphant return to late nights cursing at my computer and unsteady drawing hand. You all remember Missy. Now meet JoJo.
I have a whole pile of new things in store, so stick around friends.
Once again, I am showcasing the work of friends who have been more productive than I have.
GlintGear is home to a collection of stunning bags made by my dear friend Celena. She uses a variety of fabrics including eye-catching vinyls and hand-painted canvas, styled with a touch of classic deco and a whole lot of play. If I had the funds, I’d just buy out her whole stock, but since I can’t, I’ll just encourage you, dear reader, to go check out her beautiful stuff.
Eleven Three Designs is the outlet for my friend and creating mentor Jason. His primary focus has been really badass resin fantasy masks, but lately he’s stumbled into the customized unicorn Christmas tree topper business. Yeah, you read that right. They’re funky and unexpected and just the thing your home needs for the holidays. Lucky for you, they’re also available at his Etsy shop.
FrenchAnna is your source for elegant, well-crafted jewelry with a little genuine French flair. Filigrees, chandeliers, felted, gold, silver, brass, stones, crystals, pearls… Anna’s work is gorgeous and varied – so varied, in fact, that her unique fiber jewelry has its own home at Magical Whimsical.
The name is absolutely appropriate – I’ve never seen anything quite like the earrings she makes with these felted beads. They’re big and bold, and weigh next to nothing on your ears. Eccentric yet practical, just like their designer!
Get to shoppin’!
So this is the part where I geek out about how well this experiment of mine is going.
I jumped on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon so I could use the public shaming aspect as a motivator. Several of my improviser friends are writing actual novels, and did the customary public announcement:
“I’m writing for NaNoWriMo. Ask me about it constantly so I feel obligated to keep writing.”
So I did the same.
I’m ahead on blog posts, and I have several more that only need a few touch-ups before they’re ready to post. The scripts were being neglected, as I’d finished the easier of my two planned arcs, and wasn’t feeling up to the task of the second. I need to add more characters, and I was really struggling to come up with characters with any sort of depth.
The Hideout runs a show called The Free Fringe where groups submit really ridiculous format ideas, then get a thirty minute time slot to try them out in front of an audience. Sometimes it’s amazing and turns into a new troupe. Sometimes it crashes and burns. This is why the show is free.
Last night’s Fringe was a NaNoWriMo special where a group of writers came in, talked about their work a little, read a scene, then a group of improvisers from the Austin Secrets cast would pick up the story and play a few scenes to help work out what comes next. I tossed my scripts into the mix, just to see what would happen. Given that I couldn’t really read a scene, and it would be very hard to explain the comic quickly, I didn’t expect much.
I should really stop underestimating my improviser friends.
I gave them a very open scenario, and they jumped in enthusiastically. Two happened to perfectly fill the roles of two characters I’d partially written, and two more gave me really excellent new characters to build on.
I walked out of the show with four pretty solid characters in my head, then I stayed up late brainstorming with the Boy, filling out those characters, building their world, and plotting their arcs. I feel like I have a few years worth of material here, if I stick to my one-a-week schedule.
I’m actually itching to start drawing, so I’ll probably hit the 30-script mark early and get a jump start on my buffer.
My comic is coming back! Yay!
It is with a good deal of regret that I mark the passing of another of my mother’s kalanchoes.
We had a good run. I managed not to kill it through two insanely hot and dry Central Texas summers (If only the fragile begonia had been so lucky!). Last spring I nursed it through a nasty infestation of mealybugs. Then a couple of weeks ago I went outside to water it, and the roots and base were totally rotted. I replanted the few leaves that had stayed green, but they soon turned grey as well.
It may be an actual blight issue, and not just over-watering, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the rest. The one that I nearly killed a year ago is still plugging along.
Someday they may actually flower again so I can tell which plants I lost – they were all different colors and bloomed like crazy when they were living on Mom’s back porch. For now I’ll just file this away as another learning experience. My thumb isn’t nearly as brown as it used to be, but I still have a long way to go to green.
As happens far too frequently, this quest started with a perfectly innocent question from my friend Mike:
Why, Mike? What do you need?
“Knit a scarf that is at least 12 feet long and is being worn by 3 people at one time.”
For a scavenger hunt. A really big, ridiculous, awesome scavenger hunt.
12 feet with no gauge or width requirements? Easy peasy.
Two skeins of Red Heart (Cherry Red and Royal blue), one skein of Impeccable “Folklore” variegated, size 13 needles, a few feet of Premier Starbella “Fly a Kite” just for added whimsy, and a few hours later…
12+ feet of scarf