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.
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.
I spent a good deal of the last three days sweating over the latest improv audition. It’s one of the few Hideout main stage shows that I actually felt strongly enough about to bother to try out for, since the competition for these shows is getting ridiculous.
The audition required a resume, so I’ve been reminiscing about my colorful (if rather rough-and-tumble) days in student theater groups, re-reading old scripts, and boring The Boy to tears with tales of creative casting and production disasters.
I walked into my junior year of high school at a new school with no theater experience more sophisticated than embarrassing elementary school choir musicals. Granted, I played the starring role in the fifth grade production of “Holly and the Ivy League” (don’t ask – you’ll be glad you didn’t), but that wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to bring up as I walked into my first audition for our student-run drama club, in front of the wildly intimidating group of seniors running the show.
I was quite sure what, if anything, they saw in my audition (I’m pretty sure I was the only girl who attempted the accent called for), but they gave me a bit part – two, actually – in the big play that was staged on parents weekend. There I was, wobbling around the stage, playing a drunk actress and a Russian duchess in ridiculous costumes and sporting an accent that went from barely passable to just plain awful as rehearsals progressed. On opening night, my parents managed to score seats in the front row – only a few feet away from the spot where I stumbled out onto the stage in glorified lingerie and did a little drunken song and dance thing at the end of the first act.
That show was a smashing success, as was the next semester’s play. I got to play three bit parts in that one. Then I was selected to be one of the club officers my senior year, which meant I’d have the opportunity to direct. Bit-parter to director in less than a year. Hooray for tiny amateur theater.
I took the job very seriously. Really, too seriously at first. One of my best friends and I decided we wanted to do a musical, but couldn’t make that happen in the first semester, so we grabbed a random script from our library and did a nice, simple play as a sort of directorial dry-run.
It was, to put it mildly, a learning experience.
So. Um. That show that I lit over the summer? It won something.
Specifically, it won a Best of Austin Critic’s Pick.
The outside recognition is really gratifying, because it was such a wild ride from the inside that I have to wonder if it was really that good, or if the overwhelming sense of relief that we pulled it off at all has skewed my perception of the quality of the show.
The premise was kind of high-concept: The (improvised) show is supposed to be a rehearsal for a play (not a real one – the title is pulled from a hat full of audience suggestions), and the theater is in the round so the cast is all mixed in with the audience, and everyone contributes, and it’s supposed to be all about honesty and intimacy and… then eventually people get naked. Maybe. Probably. If/when events in the show call for it.
What could possibly go wrong?
Honestly, there were about a thousand things that could have gone terribly wrong with this show. The nudity alone had to walk a fine taste line. Then the theater was rearranged, the audience participation was amped up, the storytelling method was open-ended and obscure, and – oh, right – everything was still unscripted.
But ultimately it worked. It totally worked. The director’s vision was sincere, and the cast was brilliant enough to make it happen. They all worked really hard to build a foundation of trust that allowed them to take all the random crap that was thrown at them and sculpt a series of really earnest stories. The audience was supportive and engaged, and became so enthralled that every show sold out – the last one a full two weeks beforehand.
For a few weeks this summer, I was privileged to participate in something really uniquely successful, because everyone involved – audience and performers alike – completely bought in.
And someone else thought it was great.
Really, not bad for my first tech gig.
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Mother’s Day and Birthday, rolled into one! Get it?
So I was in the midst of the Great Moving Marathon for both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday, and
used that as an excuse not was sadly unable to get her anything. I mean, she’s impossible to shop for anyway, and doesn’t like just stuff, so in a way, I was giving her what she wanted.
(Yes, I am the worst daughter ever.)
Then she came to visit, and asked me – point blank, “Can you make me one of those purses?”
I was so thrilled, I nearly started work right away. I asked what color she wanted, and pulled out the big box-o-nylon thread. She pulled out this lovely red and peach variegated.
She noticed I had less than one full spool and expressed concern that I might not have enough to finish the purse, but I assured her that I could always buy more. After all, who am I to pass up a good excuse for a trip to Hobby Lobby?
Funny story. I couldn’t buy more.
I didn’t find it.
After a couple dozen unsuccessful trips to every store within 20 miles (and a few very generous expeditions by friends in other cities), I gave up and improvised a match, and I’m pretty sure I like it better:
The main body of the purse is a 4×4 basket weave texture, in a clever mix of two shades of red, off-white, and a ridiculously bright pink variegated I never thought I’d use for anything. The color pattern actually got slightly complicated. I had to switch colors every row to get the color variation I was aiming for. Each row incorporates two threads, and I switched out one color at the end of each row:
Row 1: Light Red/White
Row 2: Light Red/Pink
Row 3: Dark Red/Pink
Row 4: Dark Red/White
But now, finally, I can show you a finished product! Mom’s Red Purse:
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
So, in regard to the odd comic… hilarious story this week!
After the fantastically annoying down-the-street move a month ago, I finally managed to score a new day job in Austin, so I’m moving again.
My first day was Monday. The actual move is happening Sunday. I spent last week meticulously planning out how to survive one week with as little junk as possible. I cleverly planned ahead and drew and scanned comics for the next two weeks – the hat strip for May 14 and a special birthday comic for my niece for the 28th – and left the scanner in San Antonio.
About two days ago, I realized that I left out a whole week, and generally fail at reading the calendar.
I am pleased to announce that my camera and some surprisingly simple photo editing has produced the perfectly-legible-and-not-too-spotty image you see above.
Now for the content of said comic-
For those of you outside of Texas, we’ve been experiencing a state-wide drought for several months now. At one point last month, even the coastal counties were under burn bans. Wildflower season was a total dud. Until last week, San Antonio had not seen more than an inch of rain in any one go since January 6.
Add to this that the vast majority of the Central Texas water supply is drawn from aquifers that are filled by rain water and, well, you have a worrisome situation, and a whole bunch of people who really, really want it to rain.
Then last week we all woke up one morning to dire warnings of tornadoes and hail and… rain.
And there was much rejoicing.