When we were in Brooklyn last week for the birth of baby Maggie, I went to a cafe near the hospital and did this sketch of the buildings outside the window. Such a meditative way to spend a few minutes. Next Friday I’ll post a photo of the supplies I used, with links, in case you’re interested in creating a portable watercolor kit.
We have returned from Brooklyn to Boston, and sadly are not there to celebrate (and sketch) Maggie’s one week birthday. On to more mundane topics.
New Englanders try not to complain, but the weather for the last two months has sucked. Spring is a figment of our memory and hope. On Monday during the Boston Marathon it was 43 degrees and pouring cold rain. The only popular place outdoors was our thistle feeder, and the goldfinches are molting into bright yellow their breeding plumage. As I sketched, I added a blue sky, which — if you live in Boston — you know was pure imagination.
As we await the birth of our granddaughter, I spent this morning looking through some of my older art. Here are some sketches of Sara, a lovable Dutch dwarf rabbit who lived with us for nine years. When we bought Sara, we were told she as a girl, and she looked incredibly feminine. Then one day, we babysat for a friend’s rabbit, and within seconds, Sara mounted the visiting rabbit. A month later this rabbit had babies. Thus we learned that Sara was misnamed, but it was too late for a name change.
Here is a sketch of Lombard Street, one of the more famous hilly streets of San Francisco. In order to get an overview of the city, I took a city tour with a guide who took seven of us in his VW bus. His VW had manual transmission, and we got a sense (audio and visual) of how profitable it must be to run a transmission repair business in the Bay area.
Since the invention of the smartphone, we no longer feel we have the time to be bored and stare into space. There’s always email, news and Facebook to be checked. This time, as I waited for my order, I resisted the temptation to grab my smartphone and instead took out my sketchbook to draw the other people waiting to order or pick up their food. Sketching has much in common with meditation, because it brings you back to the present moment.
In his charming book “Everyday Matters,” Danny Gregory suggests we draw our meal before we eat it. This took more willpower than I had at L’Aroma Cafe today, so I ate some of the toast before sketching and a lot of the breakfast before adding paint to the sketch. Watch how Gregory does it on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KPYmVBTrpK0
For fourteen years, I loved teaching art to adults. Eventually though it became a chore to think up new lessons every week. When I stopped teaching several years ago, it helped bring some of the joy back into the process of painting. Painting to share with you is the “sweet spot” which makes me happy. This image popped into my mind — the universal desire to enjoy our work and lives more.
The Newton Watercolor Society hires models to pose every other Saturday through the winter, and this week there were 20 people there to paint. What a privilege! The model starts with 2 minute poses, then 5, 10 and 20. Here are two of my sketches of 20 minute poses. You can see the pencil lines as I tried to get oriented. The skin color is a mixture of red and yellow.
We have about 30 houseplants, a variable number depending on which ones I’ve killed or bought lately. Yesterday I noticed the little string hanging from this one and decided to sketch it. In case you are interested in the process: first there’s a drawing with waterproof ink, then a wash of variable greens, then two layers of darker greens to show the variations of shadow. Drawing shadows is a learning edge for me. Some people would be bothered by the mistakes on the pot and shelf, but I like the “happy accidents” of watercolor.
Meditation teachers advise us to change our attitude when we can’t change our circumstances. In this case, irritation because of a flight delay morphed into interest in observing carefully when I got out my pencil and paper.
Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of women and men marched in over 100 cities, from Boston to Las Vegas to Juneau, to protest the Administration’s policies and rhetoric. Some cities topped last year’s Women’s March numbers: in Chicago officials counted 300,000 marchers, in New York 200,000, and in LA 500,000. Protests also occurred in dozens of international cities from Uganda to Frankfurt, and from Buenos Aires to Bejing. In Washington , we listened to speakers in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and then marched to the White House. The signs were impressive, including the one on the right, a reminder that Trump lost the popular vote by two million votes, or 1.5%. It was a beautiful day and the march was peaceful and inspiring.
Thanks to Rick Paddock for sharing his photo which inspired this sketch.
A year ago this weekend, half a million of us were in D.C. — and three to four million around the world — at the Women’s March the day after the Inauguration. Today I’m headed down to Washington for a second march on Saturday, where we will meet in front of the Lincoln Memorial and march to the White House. Others will be marching in Boston and other cities. For those of us who are upset and worried about the path the Administration is taking, it feels important to stand up and be counted. Here’s my sketch from last year.
Trying to capture the human form is quite a challenge. The model at the Newton Watercolor Society’s Life Drawing Class last Saturday was beautiful. It’s astonishing that someone can stand absolutely still for 20 minutes at a time while a roomful of people are drawing and painting them. In this pose she was leaning against a stool. I tried to mostly paint the shadows, plus the dark shape of her hair.
Across the country today people showed up at events honoring the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, who was assassinated 50 years ago in 1968. This holiday is a reminder to fight to change the conscious and unconscious racial barriers and prejudices in ourselves and our society. Here’s a sketch of today’s MLK event in Newton, Mass., attended by over 700 people.
I haven’t written a poem in years, and perhaps six poems over my entire life. Last Thursday, when a foot of snow was falling on Boston, there was plenty of time for writing and sketching.
As the snow falls
Hordes of juncos and goldfinches bicker at the feeders.
The losers wait their turn
on the rhododendron branches with their drooping leaves.
Abruptly every bird disappears.
A hawk cry?
In my cozy chair, with a cup of hot tea
and a view of the feeders and snowy trees
Cold and danger seem far away.
We finally have just about everything done except some wrapping. It felt good yesterday to sit in the living room with my sketchbook, Sharpie and watercolors and sketch our Christmas tree.
Here’s hoping you and yours have a loving and peaceful Christmas.
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.
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.
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.
The days are starting to get shorter, so it’s important to seize the day!
This little sketch was done at Caspian Lake near our cottage in Vermont.
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!
In Colorado at Mona’s cafe, “Amazing Grace,” the wood-burning stove is the only source of heat during the winter. Since Breckenridge is a ski town at 9,000 feet elevation, the stove works hard. Here’s a little sketch.
We are in Breckenridge, Colorado, where my nephew’s wife runs a wonderful homey cafe called “Amazing Grace.” It’s been so fun to sit here and draw! No wonder people love to hang out here for hours.
Sometimes it’s fun to just suggest shapes of people and trees and let the viewer’s imagination fill in the rest.
How shall I tell thee of a summer’s day?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes when you’re “in the zone,” just a few lines can capture a likeness. Many years ago, I did this sketch of our son Chris.
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.
This Sunday, May 7th, I will go on the Walk for Hunger for my 37th straight year. I will walk ten miles to raise money for 400 food pantries and soup kitchens across Massachusetts. If you are interested in sponsoring me, you can click here to go to my personal Walk page. I will be pleased to send you this thank you painting.
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.
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.
We have a Tuesday art group that paints together once or twice a month. Yesterday, we painted a variety of overlapping objects in a makeshift still life. Fun!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.