West Virginia Girl

Last week I stated that I’m not just a portrait artist. This week I tried my hand at watercolor. I have not painted much with watercolor, my first foray was a wedding map I did for family (picture below).  I’m not that familiar with this medium.  But like most things I don’t know how to do, whether it be cutting hair or fixing my dryer, I resort to YouTube tutorials.  If you ask my girls they’d say I’m a better at watercolors than I am at cutting hair.
This week I’m starting a series of West Virginia paintings. There is no secret I am a West Virginia girl. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in NC and there will also be a series of NC paintings in the future, but my heart belongs to those WV hills. I ran into a man wearing a WV shirt the other day and I asked him where in WV he was from. He told me he isn’t from WV but vacationed there last summer and fell in love with the state. I told him I was born and raised there and he responded “you lucky duck.” I do feel lucky to have grown up among those rolling hills. There is a beauty and peace to that place I can’t explain.  Part of my state pride comes from it’s beauty, the other comes from it’s people. WV is remote and its terrain can be unforgiving. This is part of why I love that place.  But for early settlers and my ancestors, it wasn’t easy to say the least. Its part of why I think the people of WV have such state pride. We come from a long line of tough and resourceful people. Tough, resourceful and kind. After visiting West Virginia, John F. Kennedy famously said “The sun doesn’t always shine in West Virginia, but the people do.” And that is the honest to God’s truth.
For this weeks post, I did 2 watercolor paintings. I decided to video the painting process. The music in the first video is one of my favorite songs, its titled West Virginia Girl by Mike Morningstar. WV is famous for its rolling hills and beautiful landscapes.  But some of my best memories are during those winter months when the hills are dark and the fog is setting on them, a different kind of beautiful.  This painting reminds me of the line from John Denver’s Country Roads “dark and dusty painted on the sky.”
Dark and Dusty
The second painting is of the New River Gorge Bridge. I wanted to try pen and ink over watercolor with this piece.
New River Gorge Bridge
I wouldn’t update my resume just yet with watercolor artist, but I do have fun with this medium.  I like that it takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to just let the paint go where it wants to go. I feel like Bob Ross a bit, there were a lot of happy little accidents that turned out looking really cool in the end.  Eventually you will be able to purchase these and all my other prints from my FineArtAmerica profile.

Not Just a Portrait Artist

I want to be more than just a portrait artist. This feeling especially hits me this time of year. I’ve finished 7 portraits and have 3 more to go before Christmas.  I get burnt out on drawing them, I couldn’t keep this kind of pace up year round.  That itch to do more and find out what kind of artist I am other than a portrait artist gets stronger and stronger.  I have these images I want to create so badly, images that I hope invoke the same feelings they give me when I look at other’s work. Its the same feeling I get when listening to good music (listening to Tyler Childers while I write). The same feeling I get when I’m in the mountains or at the beach. You can’t describe it but something washes over you like I’m both at peace and want to get to work at the same time. However this week I’ve been in a rut, both with my work and just in life in general. My faith has been shook. One of those times when you have more questions than answers and its hard to stay focused when your brain is going in a million different directions.

What I’ve come to realize in the very short time I’ve been writing on this blog is that some weeks won’t pan out the way I want them to and thats ok. I’ve also learned inspiration doesn’t come to you while you are browsing the internet looking for it, it finds you when you are working. A good friend recommended doing something creative everyday, whether it is good or not, just do it and eventually after you’ve done this hundreds of times you can look back and see that progress and you’ll be better for it. I’ve probably done close to 70+ portraits, not quite in the hundreds yet, but I am still learning and still improving.  I decided to stick with what I know this week while I’m sorting through the rest. I thought it would also provide a good opportunity to show you my portrait drawing process.

A quick rundown of the portrait drawing process.

I usually start with a client sending me photographs. Not all photographs make good portraits. Its also good to have several different pictures of the subject so I can get a better idea of how they look. I probably took 2 dozen of myself to get the perfect light and angle. Next I use a projector to project the image onto my paper so I can do a quick sketch for sizing. This step has saved me so much time. I use to agonize on the size of the subject and in the end wishing I’d just drawn it a half an inch smaller. So with the projector I can size the subject up and down until I find the perfect size. I leave it at a quick sketch, if you put too much detail in at this step I feel it makes the portrait less dynamic. After the quick sketch, I lay in the shadows and highlights in large sections. And from here on out its all a matter of connecting these shadows and highlights like a puzzle. This is my favorite part of the process. The final step is to pull out the highlights and add the fine details like eyelashes, stray hairs and eyebrows. The last thing I do is spray the portrait with a fixative so it doesn’t smudge. Then I wrap it up, mail it out and spend the next three days hoping the client is happy when they open it up. Every portrait is different and each has its own sets of challenges and I really do learn something new from each one. I find myself smiling as I’m drawing sometimes because I do really love drawing portraits, bringing life to a photo is one of my greatest joys. But I feel I’m meant for more.

I’m hopeful that through this blog I’m going to be able to find my voice as an artist. Through developing my work and also writing about it, I’m hoping to find who I am other than just a portrait artist. There is something else there, I just don’t know what it is yet. But if in the end being a portrait artist is all I am, I’m going to be the best one that I can be.

The Artist Gene

I am elbow deep in portraits right now and I love it. I’ve had a record number of portrait requests this season and I couldn’t be more grateful. It is also a ton of work to get done in a short amount of time. So this week instead of creating something additional to my portrait work, I’m going to call an audible.  I really can’t wait for the next project I want to showcase, but this week I have to focus on my portraits.
In  light of Thanksgiving and some strange therapeutic outlet this blog has created for me I decided to write about something I’m thankful for, but first I have to share a story.
My grandfather worked as a crane operator at a chemical plant for years. Years hovering over God knows what was being released into the Ohio Valley. Whatever it was, we know it killed countless cattle at one point and later it took my grandfather as well. But his legacy remains as a wonderful human being. I only know of him from stories and from the art and work he left behind.  He was more than just a husband, father and crane operator, he was a creator. And he made some really, really cool things. At Christmas he would paint a beautiful winter scene on the huge mirror in their living room.  He had a sketch book filled with freehand drawings of famous Disney characters and take my word for it, they are remarkable.  He created beautiful window displays at my great-grandmother’s grocery store. He cut and painted wooden lawn ornaments for the holidays. He was a taxidermist and he was good at it. Long before those 3D stars were in just about every home decorating store, my grandfather made them, covered them in glitter and decorated the bushes in their front yard (I inherited one and it is the first thing I hang up in every place we live, picture below). He was an artist at heart.  Zero training and zero credit. He did it because he enjoyed it.  If there is such a thing as an artist gene, there is no doubt I got it from him.
That being said, I’m thankful that I can do what I do and that I’m able to help support my family while doing something I love and not something that I have to do. Our family makes sacrifices for this en devour and their support is unwavering, but it really comes down to all those that have me draw their beloved family members (both furry and non-furry).  This month my clients have afforded me to put tires on my car and packages under the tree.
I truly wish my grandfather was still here today, I imagine my grandma would put him on the phone after I asked her about a recipe and we would talk about a project we were working on. But I know he speaks through me in my work. I hope to leave a legacy for my family as well. I hope one day my grand-kids can say, “my grandma made some really, really cool stuff.”

Santa Graffiti

My husband and I have moved to four different cities during our 13 years together. It wasn’t until we started a family that where we lived felt like home. We’ve been in the same place for six years now. We have a life here, friends, favorite hiking paths, Taco Tuesday, a church. I see people we know all over town, it gives me the small town feelsies. We live in a small town right outside of Raleigh. Our town’s claim to fame? Scotty McCreery (country music singer and winner of season 10 on American Idol). The downtown was developed between 1883 and 1940. It has seen booms and busts like most southern small towns. But with the accessibility to the Research Triangle Park and a number of Universities, small towns like mine are being revived. The picture above is one of the buildings downtown that will soon be turned into a restaurant. I had to get a picture because my great-grandma’s name was Hazel (and she ran a grocery store in the small town I grew up in). It felt like a sort of sign to me (both literally and figuratively). This is the place where I want to establish myself as an artist and become a part of the growing creative community that I live in. So when a friend told me about a chance to paint Christmas scenes with other artists, I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed myself up. A local graphics company organized a one day event where local artists could come and paint Christmas scenes on the windows of downtown businesses in an effort to decorate downtown before the Christmas tree lighting next week. I had a great time, I haven’t done window painting since high school. A huge shout out to Graphix House for organizing such a great event and for Full Bloom Coffee for keeping me caffeinated and warm!
This is the first of what I hope to be many opportunities to establish myself as a local artist. Next year I want to get involved in the Garner Pop Up market where over 40 local vendors showcase their talents the last Saturday of everything month from April-November.
I hope everyone has a happy Thanksgiving! Now bring on Christmas!

A Lot Like Life…..

Not everything I try comes out perfect the first time. When I have an idea in mind and try and execute that idea it either 1) Comes out exactly how I had planned, 2) comes out better than I had planned or 3) creates frustration and multiple attempts at correction and in the end I just have to deal with it. A lot like life. I’ve actually torn up what others would say was a perfectly good portrait, but to me it wasn’t. I’ve learned over the years to just walk away and often find when I return with fresh eyes, it doesn’t look as bad as I thought. Again, a lot like life. But sometimes, I just can’t walk away and I overwork and overthink a project. This week has been no exception. I’ve honestly lost count at how many times this first piece has been worked on and then sanded down to start over again. Its how ever many times it finally took for my husband to say he wasn’t going to do it again, so I sanded it down the last time. Everything I do is a learning experience for me. Even portraits, which I’ve been doing for years, present their own set of challenges, each one is different. I’ve learned to embrace the challenge because in the end it makes me a better artist…..a lot like life (sorry, I can’t help myself).
I love images that are painted, stained or printed on wood. I’ve had an idea for awhile now to make military flags out of wood. My husband served for 8 years in the WV Army National Guard, he thought it was a pretty cool idea so I asked him to help me. The first wooden flag I stained white, printed out the image and used an image transfer medium to transfer the image. It did not work. It got sanded down and I tried again….and again. There are tons of tutorials on how to transfer images on wood. The biggest challenge was getting an image transferred that didn’t rub off. I tried different combinations of Mod Podge, wax paper, computer paper and photo paper. Finally I found Mod Podge image transfer medium, specifically made to transfer images and it worked the best. This piece still needs to be stained, I’m walking away from it for awhile and coming back to it with fresh eyes.

US Army flag image on wood

I also wanted to see what my portraits would look like on wood. I used Mod Podge image transfer medium to transfer 3 of my portraits onto small wooden plaques. The 2 portraits on the left were printed off on an inkjet printer and the one on the right was done on my laser printer. I actually like the soft, faded look of the inkjet printouts. I like the transparency of the pictures, being able to see the wood through the picture is what I like most about these pieces.

Portraits transferred on wood

And finally, this piece I did awhile ago. It was my first attempt at image transfer. I took a letter my grandma had wrote me, scanned her signature, printed it out and transferred it to a scrap piece of wood and then stained it. I originally wanted to wood burn the signature but then reminded myself I know nothing about wood burning and should probably take a safer approach.

Signature transferred on wood

The one thing I did learn through this project are no two pieces are the same, even when using the same technique. You have to let go of the reigns a bit and just enjoy the process, something I’m still learning to do. How boring would it be if every project turned out just the way I had planned and there were no challenges the entire time?

Silhouettes Galore

Long before Cricut and Silhouette machines became popular, hand-cut silhouettes were a thing. Still hanging somewhere in my childhood home are 3 hand-cut profile silhouettes of my brothers and I as babies. I’ve always liked the silhouette, simple and understated. This week I got creative with the silhouette trying to bring it up to modern times and I got carried away while I was at it. Once I got started I kept coming up with other ideas to reinvent the silhouette. I had to pump the breaks or my X-acto knife and I would have been up all night. That being said, there will probably be a Silhouettes Galore Part Deux in the future.
Now for the silhouettes…..

My grandma was an amazing seamstress. I admired her attention to detail and the way she picked out the perfect color combinations for her quilts and clothing. I inherited most of her fabric and sewing supplies and they are by far some of my most treasured possessions. I decided for my first silhouette to use some of her fabric as the background. I used an

X-acto knife and hand cut silhouettes of my girls from pictures I had taken of them. Then I opened up the storage bin of my grandma’s fabrics and immediately recognized some of the fabric patterns from dresses she had made for my dolls and dresses she had made me. They still smelled exactly like her sewing room. So I sat in my closet and cried for a good twenty minutes….I miss her so much. She would have thought these were pretty cool, but would have criticized me for not putting any backing on the material, which I will do next time to make it more sturdy. These would look amazing with modern fabrics as well. 

Side note, all the frames from this post are from my favorite thrift store. And so are the materials I used for the next silhouette. If you get offended by ripping pages out of a book, look away now. Because that is what I did. I love those coffee table books with full page picture spreads and bonus if they were printed anytime before 1990. I hit the jackpot the other day and got both a perennial flowers book and another titled: Exploring the Deep Frontier. I used pictures from those books as the background for the next 3 silhouettes.


For my final silhouette I used my X-acto knife to cut layers of different color blue paper and arranged them in a shadow box to give it a 3 dimensional effect. I use this same method in my paperslide projects. If you haven’t seen these you should check them out here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkFXQnAzKU7_Z43xiI_pGMxel6Rb2qOmV

So if you are ever in my house and see half a dozen silhouettes of my girls on the wall, I’m not crazy…well I am a little. Hope you enjoyed my decent into all things silhouette! I’m interested to know which one is your favorite, let me know!

Work In Progress


My first official blog post! Each week, I will either choose a theme, or medium (i.e. watercolor), or process and explore that subject. My blog is quite literally my work in progress. I have no formal art training, other than high school and a painting class I sat in on while at WVU, so I am still very much myself a work in progress. My goal this week was to practice working quickly. I mentioned before I have a sketch book filled with ideas that never come to fruition because I think they will take too long to create. I want to break that habit and in order to create something for my Thursday post each week I will need to adapt and work quickly to get my ideas on paper.

This week, I’ve been knee deep in everything Halloween. I thought I’d continue with that theme here. But first I have to make a confession……I have a rather weird obsession with cemetery statues. I have no idea where it came from. I find something both sad and beautiful about them. I chose the veiled statue because 1) it creeps me out a bit and 2) I think it is fascinating how someone can manipulate stone to look like a veil of fabric. This particular statue is in a Graveyard in Vienna.
All three pictures I did in under two hours. The first two I drew from photographs. The third and fastest was my own interpretation of a haunted house. I hope you enjoyed the first of 52 weekly posts!