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Thankful

copyright 2022 Mollie Bozarth

Babies are so much fun!! We’re rediscovering that this year with a new nephew in the family. He is a joy and a snuggler, easy-going. But also knows how to project his voice and make his joy or frustration known with bursts of “AAAHH!” or “GAGAGA!” (Funny how universal baby language never changes.) Our favorite this Thanksgiving week was when he would smile hugely at my youngest brother, then suddenly go all solemn…chin down, brow furrowed, staring intently at Christopher as though contemplating the safeness of this bearded “stranger.”

Living 500 miles now from 8 of my nieces and nephews, the memories we make when together seem extra sweet. Playing games; watching the college-age nieces sit and read to the little ones; listening to my oldest nephew dissect basketball with his dad as several of us went to see a Bulls vs. Celtics game; the experience of “herding cats” when my mom and I took my little nieces to Hobby Lobby on a shopping expedition. There are also memories with my siblings as we managed to get everyone together once or twice during the week. I got to play “HORSE” with my sister-in-law, brother, and a family friend. The 2 of us who play the most basketball lost first (something wrong with that picture!). But it was a lot of laughs…including my sad attempt at a 360 dunk after my brother made one effortlessly on an 8′ high hoop.

A verse I memorized long ago expresses what most of us feel in the season of Thanksgiving. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Good and perfect; shifting shadows. This year had its fill of both. There were things like chronic illness, doctor’s diagnoses, surgeries, uncertainties of selling home and moving…a wide array that affected our family and loved-ones. There were joys of new baby nephew, new job and friends, my oldest brother and sister-in-law’s trip to Italy, a job for my oldest niece right out of college. Jesus, in John 16:33 reinforces that thought: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Even the week of Thanksgiving there were shifting shadows. As my grandma would have said, scares and issues popped up where “Satan was trying to steal our joy.” Trying to get 20+ people together can be complicated. That’s why I’m SO thankful that the God who gives us the good and perfect is not like shifting shadows. When plans and possibilities are shifting, He is stable. He was a rock for us that week as we came to Him in prayer, looking for wisdom in navigating the uncertain. I am also thankful for a family who comes together in prayer. Because of that, peace and protection thwarted the attempted stealing of joy.

About the Artwork

This drawing was done as a demonstration for my Art 1 students. It’s been interesting to work in a new school, new state, and to see what my “new kids” can accomplish. I was impressed with how well they did on our grid drawing unit. Many were extremely detailed and took a lot of time blending and refining the pencil shading.

I love the expression on Little Guy’s face in this portrait! He kind of reminds me of a happy frog. The folds of cloth around him frame the scene. His interlocking fingers were difficult! But, as I tell my students, drawing is merely dissecting shapes. With painting it’s all blobs of color and putting the blobs in the right places. With a pencil drawing, it’s about mapping out the lights and shadows. Still blobs, just blobs of light and dark, hard edges and soft edges. The more you can disengage emotionally from the subject (and simply think of it as shapes to translate) the better chance you have at a successful portrait. This can be hard as an artist – especially when drawing something or someone you care about! However, if you can tackle it objectively, you’ll find it’s worth it in the end. When finished, the pieces come together as the face or scenery you love.

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Gentry Farm, Tennessee – Foreshadowing

copyright 2022, Mollie Bozarth

In books and movies, foreshadowing hints at what is coming. We know when Elizabeth Bennet says, “I believe, ma’am, I may safely promise you never to dance with Mr. Darcy,” that she will in fact marry him by the end of the story. In Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, we see the main character, Charles Darnay, described as a “look-alike” to Sydney Carton in a courtroom scene. “Look well upon that gentleman, my learned friend there,” pointing to him who had tossed the paper over, “and then look well upon the prisoner. How say you? Are they very like each other?”…And, while we may not know how their fates will intertwine, we do perceive that these identical strangers will impact each other significantly.

In my real life, June of 2021 was a foreshadowing of what was to come. Of course, being the main character in my life story, I had no idea at the time! I was visiting my sister in Franklin, Tennessee, and she asked me to do an oil painting for her birthday. The subject of the painting was a farm across the street from her neighborhood – Gentry Farm. So, we found several photos of the farm, and I compiled them together into the painting you see above. At the time, I was simply having fun with washes and clouds, letting things dry for a while, then going back with a tiny brush to add texture to the ground and details to the barn. It’s a small painting, about 8×10 or 9×12 in size. I hadn’t heard of the farm at the time. Finished the painting and went home to Illinois to start my 18th year of teaching/working in District 204.

Fast forward to February, 2022. Like all teachers coming out of our “Covid and hybrid” year, I was burnt out. Stress levels were high with the governor’s mandates. Staff felt isolated: eating lunch alone in our rooms; struggling to get students back to some semblance of normalcy; playing catch-up with curriculum, skills, and maturity levels that had all drifted the 2 years before. I was very thankful to be face to face with my students again! And I loved coaching badminton again! But many things told me it was time for a change. My parents had already joined my sister, moving down to Tennessee. And I had begun to apply to teach at colleges within a couple hours of their new home. My thought was that I would move in the next 1-3 years. First week of February, I remembered a conversation with my sister about a small private school in Franklin. So, I researched GCA (Grace Christian Academy), saw many positive reviews and evidence of a growing, thriving community, and decided to put in a general application. At the time, their website showed openings for a middle-school computers teacher and a graphic designer. Either of those were possible fits for me. However, God had better plans! The day after applying, I received an email from the HR gal at GCA saying that they hadn’t posted the job yet (were planning to post it tomorrow) but needed a high-school art teacher starting in fall!

Thus began several hectic months of finishing repairs and updates on my Illinois home, selling that house, buying in an extremely competitive housing market in Tennessee with every-rising interest rates, settling into a new home here, and jumping straight into a new school year, including coaching 2 sports for GCA. For the moment, I am between coaching seasons. I’ve started work on illustrations for a third and final book in the Oak Street Treehouse series. And today is the first Saturday I’ve had time to sit and post a new blog update in 2022!

Now I drive past Gentry Farm on a regular basis when visiting my sister. I haven’t been to the farm yet, but have seen its popularity during pumpkin season! Lines of cars park in its fields as police direct traffic on and off the highway. My commute to work now includes llamas, goats, donkeys, cranes (or herons?), horses, and many cows. My favorites are the pygmy goats and donkeys. For the first time in my teaching career, a rooster crossed the road in front of me on the way to work! Apparently, he was trying to get to the gas station. It’s been an adjustment to figure out new traffic patterns, new routes, new budget, and where to find utensils in a new kitchen layout. Also, new students, new school culture, and new coworkers, neighbors, church, etc. However, people have been very welcoming. Coworkers and admin at GCA have been helpful and supportive. I’ve been developing and updating curriculum for the school’s art program, as well as doing part-time graphic design work. So, it’s been a great fit based on what they need and specific skills I was able to bring to the job.

While I do miss students, friends, and staff from my old school, I am thankful for a smooth transition so far. I also, greatly miss family back in the Naperville area and friends from my old neighborhood and church. But we get something called a “fall break” here in Tennessee (an entire week off in October)! So, I was able to travel back and visit many people while on fall break.

If God had told me in June of 2021 that my world would be turned quickly upside down and I would be living in Tennessee 12 months later, I might not have believed Him. And, I may not have been ready for the news yet. Instead, like all good writers, He used foreshadowing. Now I can look back at the painting and the time afterward, see the storytelling thread…and it all makes sense.

Safe to Shore

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

On the western most edge of the Isle of Skye, you can park at the top of a cliff. A metal pipe handrail and steps hewn by chisel and dynamite take you down, down to a grassy area below. Gulls dip in and out of nests wedged into the sheer rockface around you. Sheep graze the short turf, laze in sunshine, or leap agilely amongst the stones. An aerial cableway soars now overhead from the parking area above. It was designed to lower provisions to this isolated spot. Its cables stopped turning long ago. Having made it down the cliff, your legs are tired jelly now. But you’ve yet to see your destination. Another mile walk across soft, boulder-strewn turf brings a lighthouse into view. Not what you expected, the towering main structure is surrounded by a compound of keeper’s cottages. The buildings are bare rectangles, flat roofs, painted stone, nondescript. Huddled together, they’ve held strong through a century of wind and waves. My dad and I wander the complex, peering past rotted woodwork and peeling paint through dusty panes. The insides look cozier than the outsides. Lace curtains still hang intact. Kitchen table, cupboards, stove are tucked inside beyond the lace.

Neist Point Lighthouse was designed by the Stevenson family. You and I know the name from Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Kidnapped, Treasure Island) or perhaps D.E. Stevenson (his cousin who wrote British/Scottish novels in the 1940s-60s). But Robert and Dorothy were outliers in the Stevenson family. RLS was expected to follow in generations of footsteps of lighthouse engineers. While he and D.E. have given me countless hours of reading to escape into when my world is stormy, his predecessors’ work was no less important. Just four months before the Neist Point light was lit in 1909 a cargo ship crashed against those cliffs. Its crew survived but the boat is buried beneath the waves. Standing near the lighthouse and looking down, you can imagine just how essential its beacon is. Gulls swoop and spray flies a dizzying distance below. The foamy spray swirls around bases of jagged rocks. This coastline is by no means predictable. The Point itself juts out far into the sea (a mile, based on our morning’s walk), with knuckles and fingers of coastline unfurling to the north and south. Even on a sunny day like our visit, danger is evident.

The daughter of a sailor (can read more about that in Chi-Town Sail blog post), I remember many moonlit sails on Lake Michigan. Blueberry juice sky above seeps down into blueberry juice water below. Moonlight and starlight reflect in ripples that lap against our boat as it skids through smooth darkness. It’s quiet there. A slight musical sound as mainstays chink against the mast. There’s a lulling feel to this motion. Though I feel the power of the wind propelling us forward, I could easily, drowsily be rocked to sleep. My dad is at the helm. So, it’s safe to sleep. After decades sailing in Chicago, he knows the harbor like the back of his hand. He’ll guide us safe to shore.

In spite of a drowsy lull, I know the hazards of dark around us. Three lights are guiding my dad as we skim. A green light and red light mark the harbor wall entrance. Forget which light should be on your starboard side, and you’ll end up on the rocks designed to protect that harbor. You can’t rely on moonlight to show the top of that boulder wall. For, clouds or fog can obscure the moon. Water levels and waves can diminish the boulders. They become camouflaged pebbles, seeming harmless yet able to sink a Titanic. We have seen rescue teams out there before, looking for bodies or wreckage when an unwary speed boat forgets to watch those lights. Another light, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, stands tall and sturdy, its beam reaching out into Lake Michigan since 1893. On our quiet moonlit sail it’s a comforting hulk of a landmark to sail past. But not all nights are like this one. Winter winds and waves can roll across this Great Lake, driving walls of water up over the harbor wall, up over the city’s edge, swamping even Lake Shore Drive. During these storms the lighthouse isn’t merely comforting, it’s essential.

With all the craziness of the past few years, life can feel like I’m sailing blind. Sometimes the dark surrounding me is like a moonlit sail in the calm waters of a familiar harbor. Though I can’t see the obstacles I sail around, I know signs to watch to navigate safely. For me, these signs come in the form of wisdom from friends and others who have navigated these waters, or the green and red beacons of the God who designed the harbor. Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Other times the dark is overwhelming. Swells of waves lift me up and drop beneath me. Walls of water, fog, and heavy cloud obscure any moonlight. As my stomach turns summersaults and the sails lash and luff, unable to propel me in any good direction, I look up, searching for a horizon. There my gaze can fix on a steadfast light. John 1:9-10,5 says, “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. His light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

That is what I most appreciate about lighthouses. The darkness and storms cannot overcome them. A song by Rend Collective states:

I won’t fear what tomorrow brings

With each morning, I’ll rise and sing

My God’s love will lead me through

You are the peace in my troubled sea

You are the peace in my troubled sea

My lighthouse, my lighthouse

Shining in the darkness, I will follow You

My lighthouse, my lighthouse

I will trust the promise

You will carry me safe to shore

Just as the darkness cannot overcome the Light, swells and storms cannot do more than toss me around. Isaiah 42:16 says, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known. Along unfamiliar paths I will guide them. I will turn darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are things I will do for them; I will not forsake them.” Trusting that promise, and resting sure on a solid refuge of foundation, I rise each morning and sing. I can look back and see the obstacles I’ve been brought safely through. I can look forward and see a new heaven and new earth up ahead. A city that “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Revelation 21:23) My lighthouse; I will trust the promise He will carry me safe to shore.

Fan Art – NF

I’m not much on “Fan Art” per se, but I am a fan of my nieces and nephews! And my nephew who is 16 requested a large painting (30″ x 30″) of album cover art for his birthday this year. The musician is a rapper called “NF” and the album is titled, Clouds. I thought a huge painting of clouds would be pretty easy! I’ve painted clouds and sky plenty of times. But it was actually a challenge to study cloud formations as a large-scale focal point. My mom suggests it’s because they are amorphous forms. And, I guess that’s it! They can’t be totally abstracted or they won’t look realistic. Clouds are fairly translucent. So there was a lot of layering of subtle color shifts and soft edges going on. I blocked in the basics with a sponge. Then worked my way toward details using smaller brushes and a bit of finger painting. I love the little figure sitting there – love the surreality of the image and how the skin tones bring just a touch of warmth to an otherwise neutral design.

If you like rap or know a teen or preteen who does, I highly recommend NF! His full name is Nathan Feuerstein, and he’s been on the scene since 2010. My nephew has had me listen to a lot of his stuff, and it’s good! Most of you know I teach at a public high-school. As I’ve asked students if they are familiar with the artist, I’ve found that several do know and listen to him all the time. They listen because he actually tells stories with positive messages in his work. And he’s clean, which is hard to find. He hasn’t had an easy life. So, he can relate to the tough stuff teens and young people deal with. But his messages are typically about hanging on and making something good, of acknowledging and working through the tough things, and seeing purpose in your life. My nephew has all the lyrics of all the songs memorized. It’s fun to hear him singing/rapping along in the car. So, if you are looking for a good influence on your teen’s music choices, check this guy out! And, NF, if you ever read this blog post…my nephew lives about 15 minutes from you and (though he doesn’t technically babysit) he’s really good with his younger cousins and would probably love to help you out if you ever need a sitter…

For the Grads – Helen Keller

The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome. The hilltop hour would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.

~ Helen Keller
copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

Teaching is like unwrapping a package whose contents you know nothing about. Every day, students come into my classroom and walk out the door 50 minutes later. Noisy, friendly, squirrely, eager to learn, hard to keep focused, quiet, even silent, hesitant, anxious, exhausted, solid, trustworthy, deep. 120 or so each semester, and for many students I will only know the surface…whatever they show me in class. But I know from experience that there is more. So, I look (at posture, body language, eyes, artwork content) and I ask (simple questions inviting them to talk about work or family, weekend plans or hobbies) I listen (for insights from them, from parent emails, from counselors) and I respond (engaging in conversation, relating, adjusting my teaching, challenging them to grow). A few students I am blessed to know fairly well by the end of their 4 years of high school. I learn as much from these as they do from me.

Anne Sullivan must have felt that way about her student, Helen Keller. We know from movies, plays, and books that Keller seemed a lost cause and hopeless individual when she and Sullivan first started working together. Oh how much the world would have lost if her teacher had written her off or if Sullivan and Keller had not persevered through the challenging parts of teaching! Proverbs 27:17 states, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Through 49 years of teaching, mentoring, and friendship, Anne Sullivan got to see firsthand the depth and capabilities of this remarkable young person.

Four years ago, a young lady walked into my classroom to join Art Club. Through several years of art classes, Art Club, Literary Magazine Club, lunch-bunch mentoring, and Independent Portfolio development, I got to know her and her family pretty well. The above painting was completed as her graduation gift. I’ve come to find out that I have many things in common with this gal’s mom (including woodworking skills and interests). Perhaps that is why she has always felt comfortable and safe in my room. I’ve learned a lot from her insight, her perseverance, her stubborn determination, and her care for those more vulnerable than herself. I’ve challenged her to work through art skills and life skills, to think about audience, purpose, motivation, and voice with the things she creates. Iron sharpens iron. I know that this young lady has been through more in her short life than most of us will ever face. Yet, by God’s grace, she stands, looking out across the horizon, keenly aware of the “rewarding joys” this life can bring.

Helen Keller didn’t know my student’s story. Yet her words strike a chord with us now. “For the Grads” is a series of blog posts I’ve written over the years, based on artwork created for students as they’ve graduated from my classes or from the church youth group with which I volunteer. Keller’s message seemed appropriate for a graduating class who spent the last 15 months of their high-school career in a constant state of change, uncertainty, and (in some cases) social/emotional/physical challenge. My prayer for the 2021 grads is that they breathe the fresh air, feel the wind and sun on their face, drink deeply of rewarding joy in this hilltop hour. And as life continues with times of dark valleys and limitations, they perceive the presence of a God who walks with them (Psalm 23), promising more hilltops to come.

Oak St. Treehouse – New Kid

I remember being the “new kid.” It can be exciting in some ways, and scary in others! I was the new kid at age 11. I had just moved 900 miles and was starting 6th-grade. Some kids teased me because I had a “southern” accent. Of course, if they had been from Virginia (where I’d just moved from), they would have known that people in Alabama have a southern accent…Virginian accent is comparatively mild! Others teased the way I walked (my walk was average, but their comments made me self-conscious). Still others excluded me because I liked big floppy bows in my hair and had a pencil collection.

Thankfully, not everyone was exclusive or mean. I made plenty of good friends that year, including some lifelong friends. And at least one girl stood up for me against the bullies, proving what a true and welcoming friend can be. Perhaps because of those early experiences, I can be shy and careful when it comes to new things, new places, new friends. At age 28, I remember walking into a 2-week conference for my MFA in Illustration at the University of Hartford. I was rooming with a girl I’d never met, away from home for the first time in a while, and unsure what to expect. The head of the program (Carol Tinkelman…wife of Murray Tinkelman) pulled my roommate aside, asking, “Is Mollie okay? She seems awfully quiet.” And my roommate, perceptive gal that she is, replied, “I think she’s just taking it all in!” She was right. That’s how I function as a “new kid.” I tend to step in quietly, survey the scene, gauge whom I can trust and what’s expected of me, then go from there. By the end of the program (2 years later), I was honored to be asked to speak at our graduating ceremony. Obviously, I had acclimated by then!

I recently finished illustrating a children’s book titled Oak Street Treehouse: The Day The New Kid Moved In. In this book, our “new kid” is NOT shy! He’s friendly and adventurous, excited to meet all the neighborhood kids. However, they’re not so sure what they think of him. One of my favorite scenes to illustrate was a list they make of pros and cons as to “why they should include him.”

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

I love this illustration because (sadly) I can relate to it even as an adult! When I am part of an established group and someone “new” comes in, many of these petty thoughts run through my head. I may not be thinking about freckles…but we humans do tend to look at clothing, posture, and other visuals to make quick judgements as to whether we expect to “like” the new individual. We make random guesses about their personality and character, based on a few seconds of introduction. Then we get to the root of our problem: “He will eat our cookies. And, we’ll have to make room for him at the treehouse.”

There’s the rub! We have our comfort-zone; our group of people whose habits and expectations we’ve grown accustomed to; and our knee-jerk reaction is, “I don’t need anyone new! I don’t want to share my time, love, or emotional energy with someone new! I like things the way they are now!”

But, oh, how we miss out if we stay in that mindset! As I look around and behind me, SO many worthwhile friendships have developed from trying out new experiences and investing in new people. The stranger we welcome in can be a blessing we didn’t even know we needed. And, whether we “click” easily with the people we meet or not, our friendship and acceptance may be something they need as well. Spoiler alert. As the story progresses, God talks with the Oak Street Treehouse kids about the whole “new kid” issue. His advice? – “Sometimes the best gift you can give somebody is to include them.”

Whether you can relate to the new kid or to the established friend group, I hope you’ll check out Oak Street Treehouse: The Day The New Kid Moved In! It’s a great little story that connects well to the first Oak Street book – Oak Street Treehouse: The Day They Messaged God. Both are available on Amazon.com, or you can support my friend’s local bookstore in Virginia Beach by buying them through readvb.com. We’ve also set up a new website for the books! There you can find coloring pages, discussion prompts, links to hardcover or audible book copies. Check it out at OakStreetTreehouse.com! And the next time you have the opportunity to meet someone new, take a moment to step out and welcome them. You never know what friendship might be waiting around that corner.

Self-Portrait – Is My Eye Twitching?

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

I tell my students that a portrait should tell some of the story of the artist and of the model. Well, when it’s a self-portrait, that still applies. Easy, right?…to tell your own story? Not always, when you’re an introvert!

Teaching over Zoom has its challenges (that’s not why my eye was twitching). I typically set up this unit with my Advanced Drawing kids and do an in-class demonstration of lighting and photography. * Thank you, Ted and Betsy Lewin, for the lesson in your attic studio during our master’s program! * However, this semester all of my Advanced Drawing class happened to be remote. So, the lesson became an impromptu selfie photo shoot at my desk, in front of the Zoom camera, with a couple spotlights and the camera on my phone. I kept telling my kids that the goal was to NOT produce poses that look like something out of your senior photo shoot. Use props; play with expression; play with camera angle, lighting and shadow shapes; be candid; have FUN! Thus the image you see here.

I probably would have chosen one of my more serious, demure, thoughtful poses to use for the demonstration drawing. But my students voted and 75% of them voted for the fun, wacky shot. Pretty sure my dad voted for that one as well. And now I’m glad they did! It was much more fun to draw this expression than it would have been to use one of the serious shots. I honestly haven’t drawn a self-portrait in years (other than as a basic demo for a Drawing 1 class). Guess I’d rather tell other people’s stories through portraiture than to try and capture my own persona.

So, is the Wild Purple Minion look really me? No. And Yes! Those who know me well know that sense of humor is key and sense of fun is preferable. Demure and dead-pan on the surface, my active brain is often plotting mischief or looking for the fun in whatever circumstance the day brings. My shyness may win out in a crowded room. But I can be fairly goofy at home or among friends.

I thought about titling this blog post “Last Day of School, 2021.” Between ever-changing plans, staring at names on black screens, doing demos over an old Skype camera (life-saver!), chasing down unresponsive students to try and get some work out of them, a couple students trying to cheat when turning in digital copies of “their” drawings (never had that before!), writing more failure notices than I have in 16 previous years of teaching combined…there probably have been days this year when my eye was twitching.

In spite of that, this was one of the best school years ever! I was forced to reach out to kids in new ways, through more encouragement notes than I’ve ever written in the past. Was forced to rethink various lesson plans and technology usage, some of which will definitely be kept in future years. Was forced to anticipate the issues individuals might have with their drawings and coach them proactively…since many of them hesitated to show their struggles over camera and/or couldn’t put into words what they were struggling with in a drawing. Got to teach from home part of the time and bring my favorite dog, Jack, onto the Zoom camera and into class conversations. Jack really helps break the ice in any given situation. Last but not least, I appreciated the time I had with kids where I sometimes take that for granted – whether connecting over Zoom chat, breakout sessions, or actual face-to-face time in the classroom and hallways.

So, there you have it. A little bit of “me” in 2021. I hope this portrait tells some of the story “between the lines” of my life. And, hey, if you’re doing a self-portrait some time soon, make it a wacky one! They truly are more fun!

After Concert Ice Cream

copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

In the suburbs where I live, there is a ritual performed after youth concerts and sporting events – namely the “Let’s go get ice cream” ritual. I’ve been at Andy’s, Culver’s, Dairy Queen, or Cold Stone Creamery when it occurs. Like a swarm of ants, families descend upon the local ice cream joints. Lines extending through the parking lot, everyone chatters happily as the stress or excitement of the performance is over and all relax. It’s a cheerful scene (although it inevitably includes a couple over-tired toddlers who wail as they wait or can’t decide what flavor they want). Somehow it reminds me of the old Norman Rockwell prints – downhome American community.

This portrait is of a young lady enjoying one of those moments. It’s a candid shot, cheerful, relaxed. And, the photo happened to be taken after a concert right before quarantine started in 2020. So, the girl didn’t realize that moments like this would be put on pause for a very long time. Concert is finished. Viola is safely stored in its case. Weeks of practice have paid off. Life is good.

I painted this portrait as a demo for a watercolor class/tutoring. Here are some tips I give my students when working a portrait in watercolor:

  1. Work light to dark. In watercolor, the white of the paper should be the only white you use. So, start with pale washes across the skin. This is typically a mix of Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red for me.
  2. Once the lightest wash has dried, start to build up midtones. For this I continue with the pinky-peach I used before but less diluted. Then I start to deepen the midtones with Burnt Sienna.
  3. If I lay down a tone that is too strong/dark, I can quickly dilute it with a little more water, can dab it off my page with a paper towel, or can swipe it off and soften the edge using my finger.
  4. I never add black to shadows in skin. It makes it too cold. You have blood running below the surface, so stick to browns with red-violet mixed in. My red-violet is a combo of Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue.
  5. Eyebrows are tricky! You don’t want them to look like caterpillars. Nor do you want them to look smooth and penciled in. Do a wash of brown a little darker than the skin. Let that dry. Then use your finest brush to feather in dark tones with a little bit of texture. Go easy! And use short angled line strokes.
  6. Hair starts the same way as skin. Pale washes first to tone the lightest areas. Then mass out shadow shapes, starting with midtones and working toward darks. Look for patterns of light and dark shapes (not individual hairs).
  7. Once the hair is basically blocked in, you can go back and add thin strands here and there.
  8. Hands and fingernails are handled the same way that you did the face – with the darkest shadows or creases being a warm brown or red-violet. Careful not to outline nail beds completely. Outlining makes it look cartooned.
  9. My masters’ professors used to say, “You can’t fake folds!” Meaning, make sure you have a good reference with strong lighting. When painting clothing, drapes, etc. pay attention to the abstract shapes created by the highlights and shadows. If you can mimic those abstract shapes, the cloth will feel/look realistic. In the coat I used mainly Mars Black with a little Burnt Umber (I rarely if ever use pure black…instead I tone it with brown, blue, green, or purple).
  10. Finally, you have to decide what to do with the background. If the background from your photo reference is busy or boring you’ll need to improvise. You may want to use/keep some elements from the photo. Or (as I did in this piece) simply choose a color that compliments the figure and do a wash of color through the negative space.
  11. For washes in large areas (like the background) use a Wet-On-Wet technique. Wet the area with water first. Then dapple the color into the wet page. Add more pigment where you want the background color to be darker/deeper. Add more water where you want things to soften and swim. You can also play with salt added to the surface of the page. Salt crystals attract the paint pigment. So, wherever the salt is, color will be deeper in that area when it dries. It creates a tie-dye effect. Simply brush salt into the trash once painting is fully dried.
  12. Final tip: if you lose the highlight in the eye, you can go back with white acrylic or white watercolor paint when done and add that speck of white back in to the eye.

I love portraits! Especially of candid moments like this where you get the twinkle in the eye and a bit of a smile. Your goal as a portrait artist is to capture not only a likeness but (preferably) an expression that is typical of the model, their personality and character. If you can’t find or take a candid shot, try to set up your photo-shoot in a way that relaxes the model. Have him or her chat with you, fidget with something like an instrument or sporting equipment, and sit or stand in a relaxed posture. As you chat, snap your photos. You’ll get plenty of unusable shots where they are blinking or talking. But you’ll also catch a few perfect moments. These are the moments worth painting! The better the lighting and expression the better the end portrait product will be.

Scratchboard Hedgehog

Copyright 2021 Mollie Bozarth

This piece was done as a demonstration for my Advanced Drawing kids. Scratchboard is a fun and fairly simple medium to work in. But it can be unforgiving as well! Here are a few tricks and tips I gave my students that might help you as well.

First off, what is scratchboard paper? Scratchboard paper is typically heavy-duty white paper with a black India ink covering across the surface. It can also be a literal board (but those are more expensive). You use various sharp or rough objects to scrape away the black surface and reveal the white paper below. For this reason, scratchboard is BACKWARDS of how you typically function in a drawing class. In a “normal” drawing, you build up more pencil or ink where you want things to be darker. And you leave the white of the paper (or add white charcoal) where you want things to be lighter. In scratchboard you scrape away more ink where you want things to be lighter and leave the black where you want them darker.

That being said, the mark-making techniques for scratchboard are very similar to ink techniques. Namely: hatching, cross-hatching, stipple, scribble. You use line direction to help define form. I’ll often have my lines follow the curve of the form (fingers in this case). Then cross those lines with other curved lines to build up lighter areas.

Sounding too complex? Here are the basic steps and tips:

  1. Start with a strong reference photo (good detail and lighting) in black and white.
  2. Print your photo out at 5×7 or so size, cut around to the edge of your photo, and lay it on top of your scratchboard paper (also 5×7 size). Tape the top edge so your reference doesn’t move, and place all this onto a padded surface.
  3. Use a ballpoint pen to trace basic shapes. Press firmly to indent into the scratchboard paper below. This gives you basic proportions to refer to while you’re working with the knife later on.
  4. Using a scribe tool designed for scratchboard (or an X-acto blade with a new sharp blade inserted) begin scraping away the black. Test your scratch technique on a scrap of extra scratchboard paper to get a feel for the angle and pressure needed.
  5. Barely any touch or pressure is needed to scrape away! So, don’t cut or carve down into the paper. Work gently and find a rhythm. Try a variety of marks and line directions on your scrap piece before starting the final artwork.
  6. It’s better to scrape less than more. You can always go back and lighten an area as you progress…if you didn’t lighten it enough to begin with.
  7. If you do scrape away too much in an area, you CAN go back with a black colored pencil and touch up spots. Use this sparingly. In the piece you see above I had to use colored pencil to darken the tip of a finger. In the same way, tiny brush strokes of white paint could brighten highlights if they aren’t bright enough when finished scraping.
  8. A couple of experimental strokes include: using the long edge of blade at a flat angle (rather than using the tip of blade) to scrape a wide, uneven swath across the background; or using fine sandpaper to softly “scrape” a haze of grey into background.
  9. Some scratchboard artists like to go back and add color into the finished design using watercolor paints or colored pencil. For myself, I like the simplicity of the black and white. But there are plenty of scratchboard artists you can find online if you need inspiration.

About the Artwork

This particular photo was one I took of my niece when she was working as a junior zookeeper. I love the protective hands cradling the sleepy hedgehog guy! I always complain about doing patterns in artwork. As usual, I ended up with hundreds of spikes in an organic pattern. So, I took breaks as needed to retain my sanity. I don’t often work with scratchboard. But my strokes and linework improved as the piece progressed. If your first attempt is a major fail, simply throw it out and try again!

Image

Imagination

“You’ve heard of the French nation and the British nation. Well this is the Imagination. And once you get there you can do almost anything you want.” ~ Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34th Street

I’ve always had a vivid imagination. As an adult, it can be an advantage, for it translates into things like buying a home that hasn’t changed since 1988 and being able to “see” it as it could be with various updates and improvements. It also means I have a flexible brain that quickly problem-solves changing scenarios (a definite plus in a year of teaching where we never know whether we’ll be in school or remote and plans are continually changing). However, as a child my imagination sometimes got me into trouble.

My brother and I visited the Imagination (as Kris Kringle calls it) all the time as kids. There was a cool little space with a sloping ceiling beneath our staircase in Virginia Beach where we would set up boxes as tables and cram ourselves in, using flashlights to see, and play various games. That is, until the lack of airflow and oxygen in the tiny closet would force us back out into the “real world.” Then we’d transition to the Living Room where blue carpet became a lake we had to swim across with couch and piano bench as islands to stay dry. One day in particular went down in infamy. Jonathan and I were dogs. We had escaped from a dog-catcher, but he was chasing us. Of course, the dog-catcher had a shotgun (not a net or anything normal like that). Our only chance for survival was to swim across the blue carpet away from him. As we started to swim, Jonathan got shot in the back. In order to save his life (all of this, of course, while we’re swimming away) I BIT the bullet out of his back. (I was a dog, after all! What else could I do?) I did really bite him, and he collapsed into wailing. Guess the game was over. My oldest brother, who babysat while mom was getting groceries, wasn’t sure how to handle that one. He greeted mom in the driveway, trying not to laugh as he exclaimed, “Mollie bit Jonathan!” Mom replied in horror, “Why are you laughing? That’s not funny!” I don’t remember how they decided to discipline me for that one. But little bro did admit many years later that he cried as long and hard as he could, hoping to get me into bigger trouble.

Ahhh, the Imagination! What a lovely place to visit! Within it, we can create worlds of our own or visit parts of the world which aren’t easily accessed by the average traveler. I now watch Jonathan’s children play similar games (often dogs as well!). And, my oldest nieces also visit the Imagination through books read or fantastical characters created. The portrait above is of my oldest niece. It’s from a combination of reference images. Part of it comes from one of the photos I took of her for her senior photos in high school. She has loved doodling since childhood. Whether in ink, colored pencil, markers, sculpting clay, or trinkets and wire, she is forever making phoenix, fox, or gryphon come to life. The second part of this painting is an elaborate scene she made in marker that won an award in her high-school art program. I wanted to bring the two together so that we onlookers see the expression as her face lights up and the “happy thought that makes her smile.” (Michael Card song lyric)

The portrait was started as a demo for my Painting 1 students and finished in time to give it to my niece for Christmas. My affinity for the Imagination is partly why I love teaching art! Creative assignments give me a chance to see the imagination of each of my students. Art gives them a voice. And, many of them have tremendous things to say or express through their art! Whether they go on to become chemical engineers (like my niece pictured above), doctors, plumbers, teachers, psychologists, businesswomen, or artists I often hear from them many years later that art is still an outlet and lifeline for their Imagination.