Experimentation with Ink and Watercolor



copyright 2014 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2014 Mollie Bozarth

I’ve recently started a new venture, as a monthly contributor to a blog called “Pick Your Portion”.  Lisa Velthouse is a writer who started the website as a daily scripture reading.  Following a format of reading through the Bible in a year, the site’s artwork or writing highlights one of four passages assigned for that day’s reading.  My first contribution goes live tomorrow (April 11th) and actually highlights a passage from Leviticus 15.  The chapter’s theme is “UnClean,” and when I first read it, I thought, “Gross! Who would want to paint this imagery!?”  But as I finished the chapter, my thoughts moved toward Lent.  In this season of looking toward the cross, we need to be reminded just how unclean we are.  The gross, filthy parts of our lives are exactly what Christ came to cleanse.  I’m reminded of Eustace in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis.  When his greed left him in the fix of becoming a dragon (literally), he could scrape and scrape away at scales but never go deep enough to reach boy flesh.  It took Aslan’s claws to cut deeply enough to remove that dragon skin.  The cleansing was painful, but it left Eustace fresh and new.  “Wash Me” we see scrawled across dirty car windows.  We need that same plea scrawled across our hearts.

The image you see above is only part of the finished painting.  To see the completed artwork, and to read the full story behind it, check out www.pickyourportion.com .  I’m excited about this new opportunity!  It allows me to combine some of my favorite elements - text, illustration, and biblical narrative – with the regularity of a monthly deadline.  So, along with personal work and current comissions, expect to see snippets of my Pick Your Portion projects here as I attempt “Telling the [Biblical] Story Between the Lines”.

All Things New

Completed Mural Web

Coming out of one of the coldest, most frozen and snowy winters I’ve experienced in 23 years of living near Chicago, I am ready for spring.  Spring is all about NEW.  Everything that has been dead and cold begins to come to life!  New sunrises in early morning fog.  New puddles to drive through, washing old salt away.  New green appearing amongst the brown grass and brown branches.  A renewed sense of community as neighbors emerge from the winter’s shut-in and basketball games and bicycle races can be seen down the street.  Birds feel the change, releasing their joy in warbling, diving, chasing one another through treetops.   New songs filter through the rolled-down windows on an afternoon drive.  And with each awakening a new sense of hope bubbles up…you find yourself singing in the shower, humming randomly in grocery isles, walking taller…even skipping!…and breathing deeply the fresh, warm air.  Now, admittedly, there will be rainy days, chilly nights, muddy/soggy grass.  The full explosion of summer is still a ways off.  But it’s started…NEW has begun.

A couple of months ago, I completed the above mural for our church.  It’s a combination of three verses that center on that theme of NEW.  As part of the design, I wanted to emphasize the I Am, not only because this is the name God tells Moses to say when explaining Who sent him.  But I wanted to emphasize that God himself is the one who does the hard work of changing us.  The cold winters of this world harden us.  Our choices and stubborn disobedience leave us wounded, scarred, calloused.  God is the surgeon who “will remove their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19).  We are so dead that He basically has to start over! – New Heart (adjusting our thoughts, emotions, and the decisions we make based off of those), New Spirit (renewing our inmost being), New Creation (our nearest friends and relatives might not recognize us when He’s done…if they do, they’ll notice the change).

I work with the 8th-grade mentoring program at church, and there is a quote in our mentoring packet which says, “God loves you just the way you are; but He loves you too much to leave you as you are.”  This work of making us NEW isn’t simply a one-shot deal when we give our lives to Christ.  It’s a process…the fancy word is sanctification, which could be defined as: being made more holy, or being set apart for a special purpose.  Can God use the broken, the dirty, the messed up?  Of course! – He wouldn’t have much to work with otherwise.  However, He calls us to be holy…to be like Him.  Being too dead and broken to change ourselves, we must turn to Him.  It’s a daily thing, a yearly thing, a lifelong process of learning to live, learning to breathe, enjoying the fresh air that is a life walked next to our I Am.  It’s preparation for the full explosion to come – the explosion of Heaven where ALL things are always NEW!



This winter I’ve been working on a mural for our church.  Yesterday evening I finished touch-ups and officially signed it, so will take photos soon and upload them here.  Instead, today’s post will be a glimpse into my sketch journal.  Long ago (when I had the chance to travel in England) I began sketching during trips/vacations, rather than simply taking photos.  It’s a good exercise, forcing me to study the details of a scene and simplify them down to a few lines.  Looking back at these drawings later, I remember what I was doing, who I was with, what memories were being made that day.  Yesterday afternoon was a bus-ride with 34 middle-school kids, coming home from our winter retreat in Michigan.  As several of them honed in on a game of “Truth or Dare” (ah, the joys and predictability of middle-schoolers!) with their friends, I pulled out my journal and pen.  Interest in the game waned as the subject of boys and “who likes who” became theme, and the handful of kids surrounding me suddenly took interest in my sketches.  Elena offered to pose for me.  Capturing a quick likeness is tricky, especially with the added difficulty of drawing in pen on a bumpy highway!  Thankfully, Elena was patient.  While the lines, measurements, and symmetry aren’t perfect, I was pretty happy with the likeness.


Flipping through my journal brought me back to several sketches from this summer’s travels.  Below are studies done during my trip to visit friends in Connecticut over July 4th.  The clock is actually an old time-stamp machine from a factory that my friend’s grandfather worked in.  The view of back steps was sketched while relaxing on their patio one evening.  And the airport sketch is a pretty typical scene…seems like today’s teens must be texting or entertained at all times!


clock steps



Christmas 1934

copyright 2013 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2013 Mollie Bozarth

Illustration is storytelling.  Whether the illustration is a portrait (telling a person’s story through posture, expression, and the lines written in wrinkles upon the face) or fantasy (creating worlds that exist merely in imagination) or historical narrative (giving modern viewers a glimpse into times they’ve never seen or nearly forgotten), the artist influences how that story will be told.  The above illustration was created for an assignment in my master’s program back in 2009.  The task was to design a magazine cover in the style of a specific artist, and done in the time period during which that artist worked.  I chose Jessie Wilcox Smith – a female illustrator whose work often graced the covers of Good Housekeeping magazine from 1918 through 1932.  Smith passed away in 1935 at the age of 72.  Prints of her work hung in my parents’ house growing up…several now hang in my home.

This project was a fun challenge because it required so much research and preparation.  The Dionne Quintuplets were born in May of 1934 – the first set of quints on record to survive infancy.  They would have been 7 months old for their first Christmas…old enough to be sitting up and scooting around, but not walking or standing yet.  I found photos of the quints to work from for the faces and personalities.  Then I took photos of my friend’s baby in multiple poses to get the body positions needed.  As usual, I compiled the photos in Photoshop and used that as my reference image for the final painting.  Donald Duck made his appearance on the Disney scene in 1934.  So, it seemed apropos to include him as a toy for the quints to play with.  Searching on eBay, I found images of the original Donald Duck doll.  Finally, Good Housekeeping covers often included part of a new book or short story that was being published.  My favorite British author, D.E. Stevenson (2nd cousin to Robert Louis Stevenson), published Miss Buncle’s Book that year!  Of course, I had to use that.  So, the illustration tells part of my story and interests, as well as tying together historical elements in the visual narrative.

Artistically speaking, I stuck to a limited color palette – reds on a neutral grey and white background, typical of some of Smith’s work.  I included brown outlining of figures, as Smith was known for.  Otherwise the painting style is my own, loose watercolor washes with layering colors.



carried to bed webin bed web

I came across these pencil sketches while rummaging through papers tonight.  They’re rough and incomplete, but I love the loose quality of the pencil strokes.  We artists are prone to becoming tight, precise, overworking details as we strive to “perfect” an illustration…Sometimes a simple sketch captures more beauty than the finished piece.  I remember walking through the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts several years ago, seeing his oil studies next to the finished paintings.  The same held true even for Rockwell – some studies consisting of a few strokes of color (almost gesture paintings) captured much more emotion than the refined, finished work.

Perhaps some day I’ll turn the above sketches into a finished watercolor illustration.  Perhaps not.  Either way, they seem to tell a story.  I’ll let you read between the lines and decide what that story might be.

Water-Mixable Oils

copyright 2013 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2013 Mollie Bozarth

This oil painting was started last year as a demo for my Painting 2 students.  I compiled several reference images in Photoshop and based the painting off of that composition.  Parts of the painting were blocked in with palette knife.  Most of the work was done with a variety of brush sizes.  The canvas size is 10″x20″.  When I started teaching painting at Waubonsie I didn’t want to mess with the chemicals and fumes of turpentine in a classroom setting.  So, I investigated water-mixable oil sets and found the Reeves brand to be solid quality for a student-grade supply price.  This painting was my first attempt with water-mixable oils.  By the way, they sell water-mixable linseed oil to thin out the paints.  I found that they handle very much like regular oil paints.  You can still come back days later and rework an area.  The paint consistency feels like oil, but clean-up is MUCH faster!  The paint basically disintegrates in water.  Then I keep a tub of Original B&J “The Masters” Brush Cleaner and Preserver on-hand to really clean out my brushes when done for the day.  If you are sensitive to the chemicals used with regular oil paints, I’d encourage you to try these out.

Lighthouses are a regular theme when I paint oils.  I’ve done 3-4 over the years, and this is perhaps my favorite so far.  Growing up near the ocean, I’ve always loved lighthouses.  I can feel the salt breeze on my face…can taste the spray and smell the approaching storm when I look at this painting.

Calligraphic Illustration

Wide Long High Deep web

This painting was done as a gift for a friend’s wedding this summer.  I worked in acrylic, experimenting with a variety of textures and techniques.  After creating the sketch/reference imagery, I projected that onto my canvas.  Before painting, I went into the mountains and flowers with a palette knife and modeling paste (basically, a paste made from marble dust that dries as a raised, paint-friendly surface).  It was a relaxing project for me, not trying to capture photographic realism but keeping things whimsical, bright, cheerful.


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