Ink, Watercolor, Oil, & Acrylic



copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.” Such a simple statement. Yet, in a few words, Aristotle sums up an expansive truth. What is it about the perfect sunset that will cause us to pull off on the side of the road, stop our car and stand in awe? Even lightning storms, their jagged electricity radiating the night, will keep our faces pressed against windows…watching heaven’s firework show. There is something about nature that leaves us breathless, enchanted by its beauty, its power, its intricacy. And this is no new phenomenon. King David, in Psalm 19 wrote: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (v. 1-3) That voice is more than the rumble of thunder in a storm, more than the rustle of leaves on a breezy day; it’s also in the silent moments of sunrise, calling out in crimson and coral, beams of light breaking through clouds. According to David, that voice declares God’s glory. It points to the author, artist, scientist who first put this globe into orbit. 3,100 years before Discovery Channel would enable us to observe wild animals in their natural habitats, God unfolded for Job a rich, panoramic tapestry of nature. From shutting the sea behind doors, to journeying to the springs of the sea. From binding the Pleiades and loosing the cords of Orion, to counting clouds and tipping the water jars of the heavens. From knowing when the mountain goat gives birth, to commanding eagles to soar. 125 verses, spread through 4 chapters (38-41) in the book of Job consist of a documentary account of the marvels of nature.

The painting above stems from an illustration prompt given by SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). Each month, members have the opportunity to submit a piece that will be posted to SCBWI’s online illustration gallery. The piece you see here will go live in that gallery on October 1st. The prompt was “Enchanted,” and my initial ideas headed toward the fairy tale realm. As a big fan of Trina Schart Hyman, I would love to illustrate fairy tales. Perhaps some day I will. Before I’d settled on any solid idea, I came across a photo that my cousin had posted to Facebook. It’s a shot of her granddaughter who appears to have stopped mid-spin, her attention captured by something off-screen. My first thought was, “I love the rim lighting, and I want to paint that expression on her face!” My next thought was of the Aristotle quote, which is on my favorite stationery at home. That took me to the question: “What is she looking at? What causes children to stop, stare, and study? For me, as a child, it would have been a cicada, caterpillar, or butterfly. And, so the illustration came to be.

I sketched out the quote in calligraphy format. Having pieced together photo references in Photoshop, I transferred my reference to watercolor paper. Then I could project my calligraphy onto the paper, playing with placement and size. The child’s face and hair, being the focal point, were the first things I painted. Moving to the background, I blocked in dark green foliage behind her, then faded down to a basic wash of grass. From there I jumped over to the caterpillar and his flowers. Her dress pattern was daunting, and I honestly planned to replace it with a simple pale blue. However, I needed the rich blue to complement her reddish-orange hair. As I worked, the pattern came together, warping as it hit each fold in her skirt. One key to this illustration was to keep everything (except her face and the caterpillar) in soft-focus. This meant a loose, soft background behind the caterpillar, fading out completely where the calligraphy would begin. Calligraphy came last. Marvelous was an easy choice…the color needed to pop as it tied in with the lighting around her hair. To balance that coral tone, blue became the thin letters of there is something. Earth tones made sense for of nature, though I pulled a few strokes of coral into that as well to tie in with the other lettering. Finally, I chose yellow for In all things, knowing it would be enough contrast to the white sky behind it without drawing attention away from my focal point word.

Need I say it?…I love watercolor! Yes, the piece was inspired by an SCBWI prompt. But I painted it for me; for fun; as a personal illustration challenge. I know I’ve mentioned it before on this blog…there is something about the story-lined wrinkles in the old, and the innocent expressiveness of the young, that pulls me right in. I enjoyed every moment of this painting.

As a side note for those who haven’t heard already: my blog was chosen to be featured for the month of September on SCBWI’s homepage! If you look on the left-hand side, in their BlogRoll section, you’ll see a link to this blog there. Mine is the 6th one down – they feature a few blogs each month, from members across the nation.

Reference: Tool or Trap?

Claire baby photo web

As a teacher, I tell my students what my professors told me: “Don’t be a slave to your reference!” As an illustrator, I tell myself the same thing. We learn early on to take strong reference photos; how to use and even manipulate lighting to get desired effects; and to play with perspective (bird’s-eye, worm’s eye, macro, etc.) for more dynamic compositions. Top-notch illustrators like Bill Thompson and Dennis Nolan go so far as to build models of animals or architecture if the real subjects aren’t readily available to photograph. During our master’s program, they taught us to do the same thing. Strong reference imagery can make or break your resulting illustration. However, even the best reference is merely that – something to refer to while working. Use your photos as tools, paying attention to the details you need without feeling that you must copy an image in its entirety. There may be foreshortening issues created by the camera lens that you need to adjust in your painting. Background elements, props, clothing patterns may (and perhaps should) be simplified or left out altogether. Colors can be changed or adjusted to better fit your design.

The photo above was taken several years ago for an illustration of the Dionne quintuplets. My best friend’s baby posed for the five body positions.  I then found photos of the quints’ faces, and photos of an antique Donald Duck doll, to finish off my reference imagery. You can see the resulting illustration in my post Christmas 1934. Recently, I pulled out the old reference photos, wanting to do a portrait of my friend’s daughter. While the outfit and toys didn’t fit what I wanted to paint, the baby’s expression grabbed my attention. It was a moment of innocent concentration caught on camera, as Claire, distracted from the toy in-hand, was more interested in trying to pull off her knitted sock. It was a moment between the lines of action, between moments of play. Those are the visual stories I like to tell.

Claire web

For the sake of design and composition, I veered from the reference in several areas. First off, I needed an element to divide ground from “sky.” I moved the blanket beneath her, creating soft abstract shadows to give her a feeling of being grounded. The pink knitted sock and shorts became blue to simplify color scheme. As for props/toys, odd numbers are preferable in design. There are three toy balls in the original photo, but I’ve made them solid red instead of clear plastic. And I moved their positions to form a triangular balance. All other props were eliminated. I’d originally painted a pale yellow background. During critique it was suggested that I brighten and deepen the color to a yellow-orange. This brought life to the piece, creating a complementary contrast to the blues. The underpainting layers were completed at school last spring as an oil demo for my Painting 2 class. The painting then traveled to Virginia with me, where I worked on it over vacation in my grandmother’s oil painting studio. A few weeks later, the finished piece flew with me to California for delivery to my best friend. Let’s just say it’s a well-traveled portrait!

Note: oils can take weeks or months to dry. To speed the drying process, I placed the wet painting near a fan, blowing several hours for a couple of days. Once it was almost dry, I placed it outside in the sunshine for a few hours, where the sun’s heat could basically bake it, finishing the process. If doing this, watch out for bugs! Mosquitos or gnats could become a permanent part of the painting, if you place it outside while still too wet. And, of course forgetting to bring the piece in before evening dew or rain would also spell trouble.


Autumn Rhythm (Number 53)

Turner, van Gogh, & Pollock

Turner, van Gogh, & Pollock

Abstract art is not my thing. I’ll take a Rembrandt over a Jackson Pollock any day…representational realism is more my forte in the art realm. However, I must admit that there can be beauty in abstraction, and that abstraction is easily found within the marvels of nature. JMW Turner’s stormy seascapes (ex. Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth) are tumultuous walls of spray, movement of water in greens and greys. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night features the abstracted motion of heavenly bodies, with explosions of light radiating from stars and moon. Until my master’s program in 2009, I had not realized how common sights around us can capture moments of abstract composition. Murray Tinkelman (pen & ink illustrator and head of University of Hartford’s MFA Illustration program) gave a memorable lecture where he took famous abstract paintings and placed them next to photographs of the streets of New York. Old rusty doorways, paint spillage at a construction site, brick patterns in a wall…each accidental scene perfectly mimicked the matching Rothko or Pollock masterpiece. Murray called it “found art”.

In honor of Murray’s eye-opening lecture, and as an homage to Pollock’s method of titling pieces, we’ll call today’s post Autumn Rhythm (Number 53). The Number 53 in my title refers to 53 reclaimed wood boards I sanded, stained, and installed as a feature wall in my basement. Is a wooden wall considered artwork? Yes! The studs and braces were my canvas. Stain created a similar translucency to my usual watercolor paint. Natural wood grain replaced ink lettering in playing with line, curve, and repetition. But the design principles remained the same as I utilized contrast, balance, movement, and emphasis in arranging each row of boards. The final composition is truly artistic. As with viewing a van Gogh in a museum, peer closely to see nuances of line and color, then step back to enjoy the overall effect of the piece.

wood wall 2 web

wood wall 3 web

wood wall 4 web

In planning the wall, I chose black as an accent color, using two lighter stains on the majority of boards. Within each row I placed boards end-to-end, looking for continuation of line or interesting patterns. I’d step back to see what it looked like from across the room before nailing anything in place. Each board was approximately 30″ long (donated by a friend from a deck her husband tore out and replaced). I cut some boards shorter for aesthetics, or to fit the needed length. My scroll saw came in handy when cutting a curved slot to fit around pipes. Since I don’t own a nail gun, I pre-drill holes. Tip: when pre-drilling, you can cut the end off one of your nails and use that as the bit in your drill. This saves any risk of breaking a regular drill bit and creates the perfect size hole for your nail. I used black finishing nails (typically used in baseboard and trim) so that the visible nail heads would be small and decorative. Working with old, uneven boards, I did check to see that each row was basically level as I worked my way up the wall. Sometimes I had to file down edges or adjust the tilt of a board to maintain an even, horizontal line pattern. Below is the finished result!wood wall 1 webSo, for those of you who never thought of carpentry as artwork, take a closer look at the movement of line and color in wood grain. It may inspire the Abstract Expressionist in you!

Image credits: Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, oil, 1842, JMW Turner; Starry Night, oil, 1889, Vincent van Gogh; Autumn Rhythm (Number 30), enamel on canvas, 1950, Jackson Pollock


Blessings Without Number

Allums Blessings web

If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.” Irving Berlin hit it right on the money with this lyric in the movie/musical White Christmas. Counting our blessings takes our mind off the focus of current circumstances. It replaces lists of mounting anxieties with reminders of everything that’s going well in our lives, reminders of loved-ones who are there to support us, and provision of daily needs. Do you need those reminders? I definitely do! Personally, I’ve found it helps not merely to mentally count blessings but to write them down. My prayer journal has several pages of blessing lists. They’re written on nights when I’ve fought the Eeyore syndrome all day (depressed, ho-hum, unhappy with my life). They’re written when life’s circumstances are overwhelming, my brain racing as I roll over for the umpteenth time, unable to sleep. They’re written when fears and shifting shadows loom. Writing them does refocus my thoughts as well as my heart. And, looking back at lists from long ago enables me to see a line of faithful provision year by year. God does not leave me to struggle on my own. He never abandons me. My attention span for counting blessings is much shorter than the actual number of ways He blesses my life!

The friend who commissioned this piece for his 10th wedding anniversary, understands the significance of its message. The script comes from a stanza in their wedding processional. Walking down the aisle 10 years ago, they couldn’t have imagined some of the difficulties and heartache the decade would bring. But there is joy now. There is song and laughter. There is a strength that comes from walking thru the trenches together, leaning on one another and on their heavenly Father. And there are countless blessings they can look back on, seeing 10 years of God’s faithfulness.

About the artwork:

This is the first wood-burning commission I’ve had! The husband wanted this as a surprise gift for his wife, so I worked with him in the design process. He chose the stanza, color-scheme, and told me his wife’s favorite flowers to include. It was a fun piece to work on because it combined my graphic-design skills with painting and wood-working. I’ve always enjoyed carpentry (I cut the curved top on a scroll saw in my garage) and have done several wood-burning projects for myself over the years. I chose a pale stain, almost creamy white, to finish off the wood, so that it would contrast the medium purple paint and dark burned lettering. For my client’s privacy, I’ve blocked out the names on this photo of the artwork. In the original, their names and wedding date are above the “10 Years”.

Corolla Sketches

For years my mom has wanted to bring the entire family together for a week on the beach. Last week we finally pulled it off! Most of my siblings, nieces, nephews, Mom and Dad were there, sharing one of the huge beach houses in Corolla. Though we all live near each other, my siblings and I rarely get to spend extended time together other than at family weddings and funerals. We’re blessed to have a family that truly enjoys each other, works together, and are patient with each other. Living under one roof for a week can test that, but I think we all left Corolla with highlights and great memories. Personally, I loved being goofy with my brothers and sisters; playing Canasta and Settlers of Catan late into the night; playing billiards with my nephews; holding my baby niece as we splashed our toes in the pool and tossed rings for my nephew to dive down and fetch; a long drive to the airport with my sister and her oldest daughter, chatting along the way; an overload of Krispy Kreme donuts…my brothers and I not realizing that each of the others had already bought a box or two. One of my favorite memories is an early morning beach walk I took with my niece, Abby. While we walked, we combed the surf for shells. And I would pause to sketch while Abby searched the sands nearby. Today’s sketches are from that walk.

Corolla Beach Sketch 1The first is a gesture sketch of Abby picking up shells. A gesture is a quick sketch, done to capture the basic action of a figure. It’s a snapshot, not a detailed study. With Abby turning and stooping, standing then moving away, I only had a few seconds to study the lines, angles, basic shape of her movement. When teaching, I have my students start with a 3-5 minute study of the figure. Then we progress throughout the period, shortening allotted time for each pose, until we attempt one in 30 seconds near the end of class. It’s a fun exercise to try if you never have before! And, it’s a great way to train your eye/brain to process what you’re seeing then spit it out onto paper in a few lines.

Corolla Beach Sketch 2Fishermen line the beach, particularly in mornings and evenings, casting into the surf. When walking, watch out for the invisible lines! Don’t try to walk between the fishermen and their ocean or you may get tangled in a line with them cursing you in frustration. We knew better than to get in their way. I’d say standing in cool water, with the ocean breeze on your face, beats bobbing in a boat on the lake with stifling heat any fishing day.

Corolla Beach Sketch 3Stairways line the dunes – hundreds of them all alike. On a long walk, it’s easy to lose your bearings and struggle to find the staircase that leads back to your street! So, I studied ours, sketching the concrete wall and lines of sand fencing (not sure what you call it) that keep the dune sand from drifting when winds are high.

I often tell my students, “photos are great, but you really notice details when you take the time to sketch something.” Looking back at these sketches will remind me of our time in Corolla and the memories made there.

Shifting Shadows

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

copyright 2015 Mollie Bozarth

“Shifty” is a descriptor that leaves us feeling uneasy. A shifty character, shifty eyes, a shifting foundation…all are bad news, implying mistrust at best and at worst, disaster. Add in shadows and we’re suddenly 4 years old again, in a dark bedroom, unable to sleep for fear that the flickering shadows on our wall will come alive if we close our eyes. Fear is always magnified in the dark. And a vivid imagination can run away with us at night when the world is quiet and life feels most lonely, most vulnerable. Millions of night-lights are lit nightly to help dispel the dark. Light vs. Dark, Good vs. Evil – in movies and books the theme abounds, mirroring the spiritual realm and the ultimate battles of good vs. evil. In chapter 3 of the oldest story known to man, a “shifty” character, a serpent enters the scene and begins twisting truth. “You will not surely die,” Satan tells Eve in reference to eating forbidden fruit. “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5) Would Eve die instantly as she bit into the fruit? No. And yes. Death did occur in the garden. Her relationship with her husband, the unity she shared with him, was broken now. The curses connected with sin (vs. 14-19) went into effect. Her physical body would now experience pain, thirsting desire, subjugation and eventual death. Most of all, the perfect communication and community she’d enjoyed with her God was now dead. A redeemer would be needed (and must be long-awaited) to fix the mess. In the meantime, man began to fear shadows.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) Throughout the old and new testaments, God is refered to as Light. His glory shines so brightly that Moses’ face is described as “radiant” after merely glimpsing His glory and speaking to Him (Exodus 33:19-23; 34:29-30). John, in the book of Revelation, describes the future new heaven and new earth as not needing the “sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp…there will be no night there” (21:23-25). No night. No shifting shadows. Besides glory, God’s character is described as faithful, unwavering, steadfast. God does not twist truth. He is straightforward. Paul, in his letter to Timothy, goes so far as to say that “even when we are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot deny His character” (2 Timothy 2:13). This is the Father of Lights. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him. Psalm 139:12 says, “the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to God.” And Psalm 127:1-2 calls us to rest without worry “for, while they sleep the Lord provides for those He loves.” So, when we lie awake, the night’s silence resounding with the clamour of our thoughts, fear beginning to play on us as shadows flicker across our wall, we can close our eyes and call out to the God who does not change. He promises to be light in our darkness.

About the artwork:

This painting was a wedding gift for a friend who has traveled widely and taken many spectacular photos of her journeys. Wanting to include her photography in the painting, I noticed cool patterns in the architecture and cloths she had photographed. Those patterns became the inspiration for the border. I actually designed the border before choosing the scripture to go inside. As for the verse, I didn’t want a typical “wedding” verse, nor something you could buy on a plaque. This verse is a good reminder in the “for better, for worse” days, that God has surrounded them with good and perfect gifts, providing big things and small blessings on a daily basis. The primary triad (red, yellow, blue) color scheme came from tile patterns in her photos. With such a busy border, the text color needed to stay as monochromatic as possible. So, I stuck with deep blues and grey-blue, adding thin text of red to tie in with the border color.

My Kids

My favorite teacher-movie is the 1939 film Goodbye, Mr. Chips, starring Robert Donat and Greer Garson. (If you’ve never seen it, rent it from the library!!) In one of the final scenes, Chips sums up my own feeling: as teachers we have thousands of kids…many of whom we affect (and are deeply affected by) through the years. For me, “My Kids” can refer to any student I’ve taught, mentored, coached, or worked with at church over the past 15 years. In this particular post, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my Painting 2 kids. These are upper-level painting students. Having learned various acrylic techniques in Painting 1, we work our way through Chinese Ink Brush techniques, India ink, watercolor, and eventually oils in Painting 2. The watercolor portraits below were completed about 3/4 of the way through our semester. The artists have offered to share their work and words here.

Maddie G.

Maddie G Watercolor web

My painting subject is my younger sister; since this was a baby picture Miss Bozarth demonstrated for the class and I that in babies and younger children we should keep the edges soft so it won’t have the feeling of an older person’s skin. Another thing I learned was how dark to make the watercolor. With acrylic I can add white to lighten a color, but in watercolor paintings white is not used as much for lightening the color. I learned that it is about how much water I have on my brush and how many coats I layer. For the red blanket I had a hard time keeping the colors translucent. When I was working on the background I made the mistake of going too dark, but I learned to lift out the color with my wet brush and paper towel. When I was coming near the end of the painting, Miss Bozarth told me to go back and darken the shadows in my sister’s hair and shirt. This allowed a better contrast and brought out the highlights in her face and shirt. I look at the finished painting and see how far I’ve come. I am proud of my piece, but I couldn’t have achieved it without the tools I learned from my teacher. I am looking forward to working with watercolor again in my future!

Kevin S.

Stolle Blue Dog webThis painting is based on a photo of my dog, Banjo. To make it more interesting, I chose to recreate the image in blue. This was done in watercolor with outlines and shadows refined using black ink.

Kristy K.

Kristy K watercolor webI chose this picture mainly because I didn’t want to do skin tones and facial features. It shows my passion for the Chicago Blackhawks and my favorite player Duncan Keith. While doing this painting I learned that watercolor is terrifying to tackle! White watercolor is basically non-existent, and once you mess up, it’s like Sharpie…really hard to fix. I loved doing the wrinkles in the jersey; at times I thought it was real. This was a great learning experience for my first watercolor portrait.

Lauren V.

Lauren Vivian Watercolor webI wanted to make a piece that had a humorous pun and also involved one of my nerdy favorites. I went through my favorite Star Wars characters and remembered the Scout Trooper and connected it with everyday Boy Scouts. So, if the Star Wars universe ever needed popcorn, you’d know what trooper to buy from!

Jessica Y.

Jessica Y watercolor webTitle “Principessa”

Watercolor is a weird medium. Throughout Painting 2, I learned the complete opposite of what I’d learned working months with acrylic. Once you’ve made a move you cannot take that mark back, and you can’t simply cover it with more paint. It taught me how to control my brush strokes and mixing colors. It was sort of a nervous experience to get used to the feeling of watercolor. But once you get the hang of it, watercolor has results that are lifelike. When I was painting my oldest sister, I was happy with this new paint. With each stoke, I was able to capture everything that my sister is. My older sister has always lifted us up when we were down; each one of her words always made you calm. She never gives false comfort; she acknowledges the circumstances, yet she makes it seems as though it isn’t even a problem. She always looks out for others more than herself. When painting her, I tried to represent that very character.
Note: Jessica’s finished portrait is part of her AP Portfolio and was still at the college board when this blog post was written. So, we’ve included a snapshot of her working on the piece while it was still in progress. As her teacher, I must say it was a gorgeous portrait!


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