Fall on the Pond

It’s late fall, and most leaves are off the trees and the migrating birds are long gone. The colors are subdued and the days are short. A friend who moved back to New England told me that in southern California he had really missed the seasons. “Putting away your summer clothes, and taking out your winter clothes — you don’t realize how important the rhythm of the seasons is until you live in a climate where the weather is nice, but pretty much the same all year.”

Here’s a fall sketch of a nearby pond.



Fall Sketch

I am distressed about global warming, the actions of the current Administration, the recent hurricanes and wildfires. So I feel guilty that I have so thoroughly enjoyed our New England October with most days above 70 degrees and no frost yet.

The colorful foliage is late but is finally starting to kick in. This sketch was made with water-soluble artist crayons, which “melt” in the areas where water is applied with a brush. The effects are varied and interesting and I wish I remembered to use them more often.


What a blessing to have older people in our lives to learn from and look up to! This week I’ve been in the DC area, and have visited my 87-year-old cousin Mary Cary and my 97-year-old godmother Aunt Penny. They are amazing role models of how to age while keeping your mind sharp and your body active, staying interested in and loving toward others, and keeping a resilient and optimistic attitude despite life’s challenges and losses.


Duck Boats

Why do we take our own city for granted until visitors come and help us see it with new eyes?

Last week our sister-in-law Jerry visited from Kentucky, and we went on the Boston Duck Boats. While we waited for the tour to start, I did this sketch of the people sitting in front of us with a Sharpie in my Moleskine watercolor notebook.  Later at home, I added the color, which allowed me to paint whatever colors I wanted. I can’t remember, for instance, the peoples’ hair color or whether the vehicle (which drives like a bus and then floats in the Charles River) was actually orange inside. But in art it’s important to simplify (there’s a lot left out of the sketch) and to free yourself from being a slave to reality.


Many people spend a lot of time waiting at airports. It’s more interesting if you have a pencil and paper in your hand. You can make a variety of darks and lights with a simple office pencil, rubbed with a kleenex for shading.


Charley was one of the world’s great family dogs. He was a best pal to our kids, particularly our two sons, when they were growing up. Even though he’s gone to the great doghouse in the sky, we often talk about him. He’s a quick sketch I did of him when he was with us. His tail illustrates the problem with working in spiral sketchbooks!


Telephone Lines

Telephone poles are fascinating. All those cables and loops and little boxes that somehow make our phones, electricity, internet and TV work — amazing! Drawing is a sort of meditation because you are really paying attention to something you usually only glance at.

Road Work

Scenes like this have always fascinated me. Maybe it’s the mixture of machines and men, maybe it’s a day-glo vests. This was hard to sketch on location, so I snapped a photo and did the sketch when I got home. 

Tree on Yellow and Orange

Last Saturday at the Public Garden I sat near a beautiful copper beech tree. Looking through my sketchbook there was a page I had previously painted yellow and orange. Superimposing this sketch of the tree, I used the thick and thin end of the brush pen for the trunk and foliage.

Swan Boats on the Boston Garden

On Saturday I had the most heavenly afternoon on the Boston Common sketching. It was a glorious day. An Asian couple, complete with wedding party, were getting married; a Muslim family were picnicking; kids were playing frisbee. A wonderful scene.

My #1 sadness about the art I see is that so often artists are intimidated about including people, and often paintings are rich in architecture and other features but totally depopulated. Sketching people, as long as you’re not aiming for a portrait, is not hard. Note here the squiggles and dots of color which somehow say enough.

Swan on the River

Swans began populating the Charles River near our house about a dozen years ago. This one kindly posed for me as I sat on a bench next to the river last weekend.

A number of people have asked about buying my paintings. I’ve been hesitant about this, because my motivation is to share my love of art, and I don’t want anyone to think they need to buy anything. But if you would like a print of my paintings, including any from the past, let me know. Sketches, like this one and most of what I post: 8 x 10s are $35, 11 x 14s are $50,(+$5 S & H per order); all are matted and fit standard frames. Add $25 for finished paintings, like “Apple Tree” on May 10th.  Many originals are also available for $50-$150, depending on size. If you haven’t been to my website, take a look at www.lynnholbein.com; the homepage has all these emails in a rolling blog.

My First Love

How do you spend your evenings? For several months I’ve been seduced by Amazon Prime and Netflix. Now I’m going back to my first, and much more dependable love: reading. Like many avid readers, bookstores and libraries are some of my favorite places on earth. I did this sketch on Saturday at the Watertown Public Library, which is an wonderfully architected blend of the old and new parts of the building. There is a pink dogwood tree in full bloom outside the windows.

Brooklyn Bike Shop

Last weekend I visited our son Andrew and his wife Eva in Brooklyn. They got married last June. Eva and I went late Friday afternoon to a coffee shop near the school where Eva teaches 4th grade. While she checked her email, I did this sketch of the bike shop across the street. Sycamore trees line many Brooklyn streets, and I especially love the variegated bark, which I tried to portray here.

Vacation for the Brain

In Betty Edwards’ classic “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” she teaches that speech, logic and math all occur on the left side of the brain. Intuition, holistic thinking and drawing are on the right side. When we take a break from the left-brain thinking which occupies most of our day, it feels like a mental vacation. Here, Bruce and I were touring the Museum of Science with our granddaughter Lila like month, and I took a break, between the planetarium and the exhibits, to have a cup of tea and sketch in the food court.

A Favorite Story

One of my favorite art memories: One sunny day a couple of years ago I sat down on a bench at the playground in West Newton, to draw the swarm of kids and parents on the slides and climbing structures. An older Asian man sat down next to me with his six month old granddaughter in his lap. His eyes were glued to my sketchbook. I did a fast loose sketch which took 10-15 minutes, and the whole time his eyes never left my paper. When I was finished, I dropped the sketchbook onto the ground and took this photo. Then I ripped the picture out and handed it to him; he still didn’t say a word. As I walked down the block, got into my car, and drove away, I looked back at him several times. He was still staring at the sketch.

Mexican Street

As I look outside my windows in Newton, MA, I see houses painted gray, white, cream, and other subdued colors, to match the subdued colors of our March landscape. The colors of this Mexican Street, which I photographed in February and painted last week, are far more cheerful. 

Beginner’s Mind

Every morning I meditate for ten minutes, using Headspace or Calm. “Beginner’s Mind” is a big thing in mediation, and it’s never a problem when I’m drawing or painting. Though I’ve been doing sketching and watercolor for 20 years, the fascination and frustration is that it always feels new and challenging and there’s always more to learn. “It takes reams of paper to make a decent painting,” one teacher said.  This little coffee cup, with the steam and the shadows on the white cup, is the only thing that escaped the recycle bin after an hour and a half of sketching the other day. 

Iranian New Year

The New Year is celebrated in Iran on the first day of spring, and Iranians set a table full of plants, goldfish and food which symbolize life, fertility and rebirth. My 17-year-old friend Sara is half Iranian; her father emigrated from Iran with Sara’s grandparents when he was eleven. So Sara and I went to an Iranian New Year’s event last weekend, just a day after we had celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. How blessed we are in the US with our wealth of diverse immigrant traditions and heritages.

Drawing, Life and Learning

The Newton Watercolor Society sponsors life drawing during the winter, and last Saturday hosted this wonderful model.

As the March snow has been falling, I discovered a free online class I’m enjoying, and I recommend it if you’re interested in learning or improving your drawing skills. Here’s the link: http://thevirtualinstructor.com/blog/improve-your-drawing-skills-in-6-days

Socks as Inspiration

After working hard on Monday’s painting “Selling Baskets”, inspiration for today’s sketch was hard to come by. Then I looked at Sylvia’s socks, the woman next to me in yoga class. What great colors! After taking a photo of them, I made this little painting. It’s interesting how much more attention you have to pay to something when you’re drawing or painting. This is why it’s easy to compare sketching to meditation.

Connecticut Hills

On Wednesday, Bruce and I made a day trip to visit Keith and Ann Palmer. Keith was Bruce’s high school science teacher many years ago, and Keith and Ann have been “honorary grandparents” to our children, attending every graduation and wedding. They live on a ridge line in the hills north of Hartford. After we ate lunch, I sketched the view out their windows.

Life Drawing

The Newton Watercolor Society hires models during the winter months to teach us humility as we try to sketch a model who stays in one position for 2, 5 or 10 minutes. Izebel, our model last Saturday, is very experienced, modeling for art schools around Boston. Here is my effort to capture one of her 5-minute poses.


Mexican Market

This Mexican market was even more colorful than my painting shows, with bags hanging from hooks all over the ceiling. The produce was plentiful, fresh and fragrant. Passing through the market was an overload for the senses.

Painting this picture for you made me think about how much of our fruit and vegetables come from Mexico or are picked in the US by Mexicans. As I passed through the Dallas and Boston airports to return home last Tuesday, every TV screen blared the headline, “Trump orders increased deportations.” If undocumented immigrants are now unwelcome, are their low-wage jobs in our fields, which keep our produce prices low, really jobs Americans want? Or should we be grateful to the men and women who do this backbreaking work to support their families, and who bring healthy food to our table?

Botanical Gardens in Mexico

I arrived back in Massachusetts last night. Waiting in the passport line at a stopover in Dallas, I felt both relieved that it was so simple for me to get back into the U.S., and anxious for the many others waiting in line for whom it might not be so easy. Arriving home, I learned that Newton has become a Sanctuary City.

Though I’m home, you’ll be seeing sketches of Mexico for a couple of weeks, as I paint from my memory and photographs. These are from the Botanical Gardens near San Miguel Allende. You can see the cactus in the first sketch. It’s the winter dry season there, and the colors are muted green and gold.  There were two young men climbing the rocks as I did the second sketch.

San Miguel Hillside

As in many countries in this latitude, rooftops in Mexico are an extension of the house, almost a second living room. On Sunday morning I stood in the rooftop garden and made this sketch of the hillside. In this deeply religious country, I could hear people singing at Mass in several nearby churches.

On Tuesday I will return to snowy Boston. Every Mexican I have met has been generous and warm, and I have felt I should apologize to them for the way they feel insulted, stereotyped and bullied by our new President. 

House Colors

Why, in North America, are we so stingy with the colors we paint our houses? Here in Mexico, the houses are orange, yellow, turquoise, green and tan. Our house in Massachusetts is white with green shutters and a gray roof. What about yours?

Here’s a sketch of what I can see from the balcony of my bedroom in the house my friend Linda has rented. The fuschia bougainvillea grow up from the courtyard below.


In Mexico!

On Saturday I flew to San Miguel de Allende at the invitation of my friend and fellow watercolorist Linda Rinearson, who lives in Newton but rents a house here every winter. Bruce isn’t that interested in travelling to places where you can’t drink the tap water (whereas I am intrigued to do so), so he is happily at home manning the snowblower.

San Miguel de Allende is in the central highlands of Mexico, about three hours drive northwest of Mexico City. It’s a lovely town, a UNESCO Historical Site, and there are plenty of Americans and Canadians roaming around. The Jardin (Har-deen) is the park at the center of town life, and Linda took me there yesterday.  Here’s my quick sketch of one little corner, with a bench in the foreground and a street vendor in the background. 

Understanding Islam

This weekend I attended “Countering Islamophobia,” a workshop that inspired this week’s paintings. I was embarrassed by how little I knew about the world’s second largest religion with 1.7 billion adherents (Christianity has 2.2 billion). Did you know that there are 3.3 million Muslims in America, with, like Christians, a wide diversity of races and ethnic backgrounds? Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the three sister Abrahamic religions, sharing a belief in a monotheistic God. We all worship the same God which we call by different names.

T Rex

Yesterday was Bruce’s birthday, so we went to the Museum of Science in Boston. When we got tired of walking around, I sat and sketched their most famous dinosaur. They put a scarf on him (or her) during the winter months.

At the Mall

A couple of weeks ago I found myself at a mall without a sketchbook or pen, but with my iPad. Using the app Sketches, which is very user-friendly and also works on an iPhone, I made this little  drawing. Can you imagine the scene I was looking at?

The Women’s March

The Women’s March on Saturday was astonishing. More than half a million in D.C., and a total of 2-3 million in 50 cities across the US and the world. My sketch does little to convey the walls of peaceable people who spread out, like an octopus, far beyond the official march route, onto the downtown streets in Washington. I was there with our two sons, two daughters-in-law, and niece.  Andrew’s sign, “As a White Male, I Apologize for Trump” got a lot of photo ops. On the way home, the lines for the subway were three blocks long. 

My favorite moment of the weekend was on Friday, when we protested at the Inauguration. I was standing in line for the restroom at Au Bon Pain, and started talking with the man behind me. He was an ex-Marine had come from Missouri to celebrate Trump, and he was astonished that I was protesting. After a moment of silence, he said, “I spent a year overseas fighting so you would have the right to disagree with me.” I thanked him, and we hugged.

Coffee Shop

I’m working on a sketch of the Women’s March, which I will post on Wednesday. What an amazing event it was –half a million people in Washington, and over a million around the country and the world! Such amazing spirit, peaceful and generous people, and inventive signs!

Meanwhile, here’s a sketch of a coffee shop I did on location last week when my friend Candy and I went into the South End in Boston. I like to put people in my sketches,  that I don’t put facial features on them. I’m not a portrait painter, and in my experience putting in faces, hands and feet into my paintings is the surest way to mess them up.

Whole Foods

When painting a complex scene, it’s best to simplify and eliminate a lot of detail. The question to ask yourself is, “What is my favorite part of this scene?” In this case, I love the contrast of the colorful fruits and vegetables with the dull winter clothing. I also love the woman’s striped hat.

My blog is launched! To see it, go to www.LynnHolbein.com.

Museum Sketch

Our son Andrew and I have always enjoyed visiting art museums together, and starting in fifth grade I would call him in “sick” once a year, and we would go out to lunch and visit the Museum of Fine Arts. Though he is grown and married now, we still try to go to a museum once during the holidays. Yesterday we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The courtyard was full of poinsettias. I did the drawing, and then the guard said I couldn’t use watercolor in the museum, so I retreated to the library to add the paint.

It’s really interesting how making a sketch of something makes you pay more attention and improves your memory of a place and an event — a sort of meditation.