Monday, December 28, 2009

Last Cookbook Images, Really

Two last cookbook images. There was a request for another Europe, because, as it turned out, there were no French recipes in the cookbook (a rather minor objection, I thought). The new illustration was designed to represent more of a central and eastern European feel.
There was also a request to move North America out of the urban landscape and into the heartland. I kept basically the same people and their arrangement, but changed the background and the type of food on the table. Better or worse?
both Illustrations Faber-Castell Pens on Paper

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Revised International Foods Illustrations

These are my updated international cookbook illustrations. In the end, several regions were split up, and a few were added. I kept three illustrations and made or significantly altered five.

I had done the originals without the benefit of Photoshop, and so I edited them old school style, tracing over everything on a light table an literally cutting and pasting. Actually, I didn't have the benefit of a light table either, but a piece of glass laid across two chairs and a short, shadeless lamp on the floor worked just as well.

India was included as a separate region from the rest of Asia. I thought of spices and a spice market.
This is the updated Asia illustration, where I took the original Indian woman out and replaced her with another Korean woman. I also put different food on the table to reflect the change.
Europe and North America were also split into two separate regions, which made sense. I mostly wanted a man in this one, since most of the illustrations show women cooking, and I wanted to highlight street food.
The Middle East was also added. Since we often automatically think of the Middle East as a great big desert, I wanted to show more of a garden scene.
Last, I changed the Africa illustration, because the previous one, despite my love for red-red and African street food, reinforced a slightly negative stereotype of Africa as being all very rural and underdeveloped. With this one I focused instead on the ideas of family and community, and now I see this as an all-around much stronger picture than the original.

I transferred the street food idea to France (where it is less likely to be seen as offensive, or where I am less likely to care [not really, please don't be offended! I like France]).
North America, the Caribbean, and Latin America stayed the same, only I changed all the borders.

The reason for the ivy in the borders was to tie them in with the cookbook cover, which had ivy on it, and which I did not illustrate.

All Illustrations Ink (Faber-Castell pens) on Paper

No Need for a Converter

This had to do with the switch to digital television a few months ago.

Ink on Paper

No one gets this but me...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Marine Corps Marathon

My younger sister ran in (and completed) the Marine Corps Marathon last Sunday! She also raised money for America Supports You and the Red Cross.

I could not help her run the 26.2 miles (which she managed very well on her own), but I did help her design an illustrated magnet she could send to her sponsors as a thank you.

Oil on Bristol Paper (Image and type completed in Gimp)

The Marine Corps Marathon is called the Marathon of Monuments. It begins in Arlington, winds around the Mall and the Jefferson Memorial, back through Crystal City, and finally finishes at the Iwo Jima Memorial. This design followed that idea, and it was the one my sister ultimately chose for the magnet.

Another option.
Ink on Recycled Paper (Edited in Gimp)

I wanted the logo for America Supports You to be somewhere in the illustration, and I like the simplicity of this idea. I also like the color and texture of the recycled paper as a background.

The final option was a collage. I had an older sketch of the DC skyline I had done for another project and I wanted to recycle it, adding the running figure made from painted sandpaper.
Ink, Oils, Sandpaper and Collage (Completed in Gimp)

Below is the original drawing that I took the skyline from. This was done some time ago for a web story project about a little girl named Gemma who lives in DC. We never ended up using the drawing for the project, but I'm not ready to let it be forgotten in my sketchbook just yet.

Ink (Faber Castell Pens) on Paper

Octopus Garden

Pencil on Paper

This is the original sketch for a painting (below) I made for a friend's new baby boy. The theme of the nursery was "An Octopus Garden", based on the song by the Beatles. Octopuses collect shiny and interesting objects they find on the bottom of the sea and make themselves gardens, which is such a happy thought, thus a happy song about the idea. I was aiming to reflect that happy, safe feeling in the painting, where C is well-cared for by a friendly, albeit eccentric octopus in his undersea garden. I'm not sure what an octopus would collect for his garden, but I imagine buried treasure and old ship anchors would be a part of it!

Oil on Painting Board
(I used a Colourfix[TM] Painting Board, the first time I have used one, and it was really nice, sturdy but flexible, with a nice texture. It came precoated with primer.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Stinky Soap Adventures

I sent these drawings to my niece and nephew in West Africa, in a package along with two bars of stinky soap (Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap-which has been highly recommended for heat rashes). As a child, I don't know if I would have been very excited to receive a couple of bars of stinky soap in the mail, so the drawings depict some of the fantastic adventures they could have with a bar of stinky soap, if they use their imaginations.

Here, H uses the bar of stinky soap to top off her fantastic tower of blocks, before C knocks it down (he's going through a destructive stage).

And here H and C sail away together on a great bar of stinky soap over the ocean to faraway adventures. Stinky soap, I think, is very good for the imagination.

Ink (Faber-Castell pens) on Paper

Thursday, September 3, 2009

International Foods & Etc.

Here is a wonderful facet of America, and especially the DC area: the wealth of international recipes and culinary traditions that have floated to our shores along with our poor, tired, and hungry huddled masses.

These illustrations were inspired by the international vegetarian food fair put on by the members of the Capitol Memorial Church in DC. The members hail from all over the world, and so they hold an annual food fair for the community, where everyone can come and sample as much as they can eat. This year they are also putting out a much-anticipated cookbook.

Each drawing loosely illustrates one of five rather wide geographical regions represented.

First, Latin America, and where would we be without tortillas and tamales and cherimoyas and flan?

The Caribbean is another near neighbor, so it makes sense that Caribbean food would influence our diet. As the crossroads of the world, Caribbean traditions have also been impacted in turn by African, Indian, Spanish and American influences, to name a few. But when I drew this, I was mostly thinking about islands, music, and pina coladas.

Europe and North America were lumped together into a single region, so I envisioned European immigrants meeting in the great melting pot of New York to share a food that has probably been called both European and American: Pizza.

A lot of American food, especially in rural areas, hails from Europe. I used to work in a retirement home in rural Pennsylvania where most of the residents claimed German/Ukranian/Hungarian heritage. There the four main food groups were potatoes, tomatoes, meat, and sauerkraut.

Asia includes a number of different countries and cultures, but I just focused on India and South Korea in this drawing, attempting to describe South Korea in careful and aesthetic rectangles, and India in overflowing circles of all sizes.

I love Indian food. I want some right now.

Africa is another wide region. But I focused on the part of Africa I am familiar with, West Africa, and especially West African street food. Here a student is buying red-red (fried plantains with red beans). Red-red exemplifies what I love about African street food. There are the basic ingredients, plantains and beans, and then all of these other little things you can add, or not, depending on your taste: palm oil, hot pepper, and garri (dried, grated cassava), at no extra charge.

Now I'm really really hungry.

All illustrations are in markers on white paper
(Faber-Castell pens, actually. I am a huge, huge fan of these for drawing)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Work in Progress

Graphite on Paper

Some sketches that are part of a book dummy I've been working on. The final illustrations would be rendered in ink and oil paint with other textural elements.

Here our young hero climbs into a cave. What will he find there? What possible attraction could have lured him from his home into this little hole in the ground?

Probably rocks.

Graphite on Paper

Our successful hero struggles back onto his horse for the long journey home. Aww, such a plucky little guy. Now I like him.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Women of Ghana and Long Bus Journeys - from Sketch to Painting

Marker on Paper

This sketch was quickly done in a crowded bus on the side of the road in Ghana. I believe the bus had broken down and we had been sitting crammed inside for hours, with more hours to go. I was wondering if we would ever get on the road again or if it would be better to get out and try to flag down another ride (and pay for another ride, losing the money I had already paid for my ticket).

The bus ride to the north was almost always miserable because the road was bad in places and the bus companies didn't want to waste good buses on a bad road. Children rode free, but not if they wanted their own seats, which meant that their parents rode the whole way with kids on their laps. Inside the bus, it was hot, especially after a breakdown when we weren't moving. This mother had been sitting with her toddler-sized child for hours and he was tired and cranky and struggling when I made this quick sketch of them, from my own seat a few rows back and across the aisle.

I liked the drawing because of the struggle between mother and son, as if he is fighting his way forth into the world. She tries to create a safe place for him, but is exhausted and frustrated herself. To me it was a metaphor for the whole process of birth and procreation in general, and especially motherhood. Love and pain.

Ink on Paper

Later, as I spent more time with mothers in Ghana, I began to admire more than their strength in hardship. Their lives were full of celebration. I saw this in the multitude of designs of black on white that decorated the cloth they wore for celebratory events. Black and white cloth was worn for weddings, for funeral celebrations, and for baby naming ceremonies and outdoorings. And it was worn for women's ministry groups. On certain days, all the women in my church would dress in black and white designs and stand up and sing praise songs, clapping and dancing and waving white handkerchiefs. And when a new baby was born, they would all head off in the same black and white dresses to joyfully welcome him or her.

Oil paint on a halved Gourd

Eventually, I made a series of paintings attempting to express what I had learned from my Ghanaian women friends. I painted them on calabashes, which are halved gourds turned upside down. Calabashes were used in the kitchen as tools, for washing rice, drinking water, or serving local brews prepared by women. Artists also decorated calabashes in various ways, and the gourds were used in the construction of musical instruments.

The first painting I worked on was from the sketch of the woman and child on the bus. Later paintings were more successful, as I learned to adapt my style and technique to the materials, and for this one, I think I still prefer the original sketch. In terms of content, however, none of the later calabashes managed the level of emotion caught in this child's yellow arms, in his heedless struggle for independence against his formidable, albeit exhausted, mother.

Keeping a sketchbook on hand can salvage something worthwhile even from the pointlessness of a bus breakdown in the middle of a long journey.

For those in the area, the completed paintings will be on exhibit in the Arlington Central Library, Arlington, Virginia, during the month of August.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Birds in a Basket

Pencil on Paper

My sister decided to start a "kitchen garden" on the balcony. Now we have all kinds of things growing out there, including baby birds. This dove was so impressed with the comfortable atmosphere my sister had created, that she laid two eggs in her hanging plant.

It makes watering the plant a little challenging.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Ink on Paper

Orchids at the National Botanical Gardens in DC. I love wandering around the gardens on a hot day in the capitol. Trying to draw flowers without using color is also interesting.

I don't know if I was nearly as successful as ancient Chinese artists, who made peacocks iridescent and peaches pink without any colored pigments at all. This way they came closer to understanding an object's true nature, according to Victoria Finlay in her book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette (2002, Ballantine). I was looking for a book on color theory and found this one instead at the library. It isn't really about color theory, but more of a history of color, and I highly recommend it.

Colors were for professional painters--who were rather sneered upon by the elite, as creating something necessary but vulgar. Black, on the other hand, was for the gentleman artists, who combined the skills of poetry and painting, and who wanted to portray the landscape of the mind, not of the eye. (p. 91, on the history of the color black during the Tang dynasty)

She goes on to relate a story about Su Dongpo, a scholar-artist living in the eleventh century (p. 92).

Once...Su was criticized for painting a picture of a leafy bamboo using red ink. Not realistic, his critics said gleefully. "Then what color should I have used?" he asked. "Black, of course," came the answer.

One last interesting bit on the history of ink:

From early times both the Persians and the Chinese thought it was desirable to have ink that not only travelled seductively across the paper, but which also smelled wonderful. So they would add perfumes, to make writing the sensual experience that scholars deserved. Sometimes recipes for ink read like the random elements of a love poem: cloves, honey, locusts, the virgin pressing of olives, powdered pearl, scented musk, rhinoceros horn, jade, jasper, as well as, of course--most poignant and most common--that exquisite smoke of pine trees in autumn.
(p. 92)

Dog Days of June

Pencil on Paper

June is a great time to be outside. This is a dog park near DC. I was with the Westie facing away from us, drinking water on the left.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


My favorite little neighbor. She reigned like a little queen over a neighborhood gang of boys, and stopped by often to ask to play with a highlighter, or colored clay, or to drink my water, which she seemed to think was different from her own water at home. I got her to sit still for a little while and made this quick sketch of her, shortly after she began first grade.

Then she drew me. Very promising, I think. I like how she got my glasses, and my sandals.

Markers and Gel Pens on Paper

Monday, May 18, 2009


Another moment. I was sitting in a market, bored, waiting to meet someone. The market was full of men who watched me curiously, and so, as a strategy to avoid conversation, I sat on a stool by a woman's sewing shop and began this drawing of a young girl who was sitting nearby. Called to my appointment, I never finished. This person, who I met, would change my life, but of course I didn't know that then, trying to capture the girl's face quickly before some older sister called her off on an errand. And then someone did call her, and someone called me.

So here is the unfinished face of a child whom I never met before or after. And here is the moment before everything changed.
Ink on Paper

From Ghana with Love

A sketch is a moment in time captured on paper. These drawings were made during long quiet days in Ghana, where I lived and worked for two years, and where I learned a lot about how to relax and appreciate the day. The drawing above captures a sudden rainstorm seen through a tear in the patchwork curtains over a barred window.

Below, another expat friend, inside her bungalow, sitting and talking late into a warm evening while her dog sleeps on another chair.
Her dog, Jaro.

Ink, Markers and Gel Pens on Paper


Sketches of monkeys done at the Baobeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary in Ghana. The Black and White Colobus Monkeys live high in the trees and scorn anything human. Mona Monkeys hang out in the thickets near the ground and around garbage dumps, picking up discarded people food. When I was watching, the juvenile monkeys were 'babysitting', sitting in the upper branches of a bush where the babies played, while their mothers were all off doing their own thing.
Ink on Paper

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Potty Training

I made these illustrations to put together into a book to send to my two-year-old niece, H. She was in the midst of potty-training and my sister requested a good picture book that would simply show all the steps she needed to learn. They are living and working in West Africa currently, so the story is very specific to H's setting, environment, and family. There were no words to go with the pictures, H not yet being very proficient at reading.

The first page illustrates the woeful times that have befallen H and friends pre-potty training.
H begins to think about other possibilities.

H is very excited and decides to plunge into a world without diapers.
H didn't have the advantage of a kiddie pottie. I did want to let her know that, in an emergency, a bucket could also do the trick, as her gecko friend demonstrates.
Waiting. The baby is H's little brother, C, a future potty-trainee himself.
Kids always take too much. Luckily, Mommy is on hand to help.
Now the joy of flushing! Everyone is very proud of H, and gecko, too.
Sanitation is always important. Soap and water.
Now H and gecko can feel very grown up in their big kid underwear (which my younger sister and I included in the mail with the illustrations). And the process can start all over with C.

Did it help? I like to think so. At any rate, H seemed to like it, and is by now an old pro with a potty.

Marker, Colored Pencil on Recycled Paper