Illustrations in plenty

It’s been quite a while since I submitted any visual work for anything, but the other day I saw a call for an annual local show, and thought, “Hmmm, it’s time.” I’ve begun a series of kitchen portraits, inspired by the one I did a year ago of our friends’ kitchen in Mississauga, and I think they’d be appropriate for this show.

I did a trial sketch of my own kitchen, using the same markers and general technique as for the 2013 drawing. (Whoops: I made the magnetic knife bar on the right waaaay too small!)


There’s an energy and a feel to this sketch that I like, but after working exclusively in watercolors for months, it looks literally colorless. Moreover, my light grey brush pen is running out of ink, and I just learned the manufacturer has discontinued these markers, so I might not be able to restock.

So I gave my kitchen yet another shot, this time with pencil and paint.


I like this one a lot, too, but I feel it’s too soft. The combination of pencil and paint makes the whole thing look unfinished, and though some of the objects came out much better in watercolor, others lost their detail (like the rice cooker on one of the low shelves).

As I often do when something is bothering me, I sat down and talked it over with Erik, and he suggested I outline the watercolor with brush pen. I’d never tried that before and didn’t think it would look good.


But as it turns out, I love the result. So that is the style I will be using for all my kitchen portraits. It’s more work than just the markers or the watercolors alone, but it eliminates many of the technical and aesthetic drawbacks of each, and that makes it more satisfying.

The day after doing these test drawings, I went to my friend Jenny’s house, to paint her kitchen. She took some process photos which I adore.

Here I am making the pencil sketch, doing the weird winky thing I have to do because I can’t close one eye at a time.




You can just make out an ink smudge on my right index finger. That brush pen always leaves a mark there.


It had taken me about an hour to do each of the sketches of my own little kitchen, but Jenny’s took me almost two and a half. Actually, I kind of wish I’d spent more time, but I was already totally wiped by the end. It’s a lot of detail, a lot of measuring of angles and proportions, and a lot of standing (since this all went down at my new portable easel). But I really like the finished painting.

I’m doing my next one on Thursday.

You know what’s funny about these kitchen portraits? Do you remember when I shared my practice portraits from magazine photos, and I went on and on about not knowing whether these paintings were really helping me? As it turns out, those were really good practice for the kitchen portraits. The subject may be totally different, but the technique is very similar — fine detail, lots of textures/finishes, a lot of different colors within a small space — and so this all feels very natural and familiar, even though I haven’t done paintings of interiors before.

Likewise, those little portrait paintings have proved a useful prereq for the illustrations for my choose-your-own-romance story. The story is coming along — slowly, as is probably inevitable for the form — and I’ve added a few more character illustrations.



Jimi (a second version, because I didn’t like my first attempt)




There’s much to be said for letting readers come up with their own ideas of what characters look like (also some compelling evidence that many readers are appallingly bad at this), but I’m really liking my little illustrations. I can’t remember whether it was on this blog or in a comment on someone else’s (Lisa‘s? ‘s?), but I know I’ve mentioned that I have a very hard time picturing my characters as I write them. So, strangely enough, these illustrations help me, the author, get a handle on what my characters look like — even though I’m the one who came up with their descriptions in the first place!

And now, in completely different news:

I will be spending several days in Chicago in September, helping to promote the incredible travel anthology in which I was published last year.

And I’ve re-installed my 2011 piece, “Knitting,” outside our apartment door. As I noted when I first posted this picture on Facebook, “Knitting,” like my hair, has gone asymmetrical.