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Drawing While On The Road

Drawing while on the road I find challenging and rewarding.  I would like to share my thoughts on time, subjects and materials.  My guiding principle is to make it easy to draw anytime, anywhere and anything.

Drawing While Travelin

Ink & Graphite
Pentalic 3×5 sketchbook
People waiting for the start of the Ben Harper & Innocent Criminals Concert, Les Schwab Amphitheter, Bend OR. 6 Sep 2015


My husband and I have been on the road traveling to see family, friends and the West.  For those of you who know the West, distances are vast.  We can spend the better part of the day driving to get from point “a” to point “b”.  Then there are the necessary tasks such as having breakfast, lunch and dinner.  With the onset of the fall season, daylight hours are getting shorter.  With so much going on, I had to purposely find the time to draw and paint.  I’d like to share what I do.

  • I carry a small 5″x3″ drawing book in my back pocket and a pen.  I tell myself I don’t need to finish a drawing, just get started.  If the book is handy, I am more likely to start a drawing.
  • I use sitting around waiting time to pull out my pocket drawing book and sketch.  For example, while waiting  for my morning espresso to brew, I draw what’s in front of me.
  • My husband and I make drawing part of our look-at-scenary time.  At the end of day, I also sit comfortably and draw what is around the campground.
Drawing While Traveling

Drawings done while waiting for morning espresso to brew
ball point pen
September, 2015
Big Trip


Oddly enough, considering subject matter can be a stumbling block to consistent drawing.  There is so much to see when traveling.  How does one decide what to draw?

When I’m making our espresso, I just draw something near the stove so I can keep my eye on the espresso.  The hardware of our camper is interesting, as are bottle tops, soap containers and shoes.  They all have lines, shapes and shadows to look at and study.

One idea that has helped me in finding subjects is to view drawing as a method of investigation.  I don’t have to worry about composing the next great drawing or painting.  I just need to study what is available like picnic tables, juniper trees, rocks and more rocks!  I’m investigating as I am seeing and drawing.

Drawing while traveling and hiking

Graphite and ink
Pentalic, 5×8 sketchbook
Done during big trip 2015


I think it is important not to let materials be a stumbling block either.  As I alluded to above, I have found pocket size drawing books to keep handy.  I used 5×3 and 5×8 sketchbooks (journals) from Pentalic.  I use them often.  But, any pencil and paper will do.

For drawings that I might want to use as a record of our travels, I will consider lightfastness of the inks and archival quality of the paper.  I use good felt tip pens like those by Faber-Castell or Sakura.  If I’m feeling intimidated by the subject, I start in graphite.  Pretty soon I’ve switched to ink and am deep into drawing.

I like ball point pens too.  Many are not lightfast.  However, pens have the benefit of being portable and easily available.  Plus, I like the feel of the pens.


Recently, I have been following artist James Gurney’s blog.  One thing that has struck me is that it he is constantly drawing.  Have five minutes?  Pull out the pen and draw.

And, so it is.  My drawing goal for this trip is to keep on drawing.  Make it easy.  Make it fun.  Do more!

Drawing While Traveling

Steens Mtn, Page Springs Campground
September 2015


I wrote this post while we were on the road.  However, due to technical difficulties, like wi-fi not being available, I didn’t get it published.  Still, I wanted to share my thoughts and I hope you enjoy them.  Thanks!



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Education of an Artist

Story Time:

When I was in high school, I had the mistaken idea that once I was done with college, I wouldn’t have to go to worry about getting an education anymore.  I even questioned the value of college because I wanted to be an artist.  Oh, what I didn’t know.  Forty years later, I’m still working on my education.  Happily.

Self Taught Artist:

My friend Sandra Neary recently published a blog post about being a self taught artist.  My circumstances are similar to hers.  I like to say my art education is “self guided”;  I am responsible for my own art education.  I select what I will learn, how I will learn it, and when I will have a learning experience.  I use books, classes and work to guide my learning.

I would suggest that being a self taught artist has its challenges.  How do you know what classes you need?  What do you need to learn how to do?

Personal Insight:

I’d like to share what I have learned.

  • Focus on learning the basics or fundamentals first.  They are the building blocks upon which everything else is learned.  How do you know what the fundamentals are?  Look at experienced artist in the medium of your choosing.  What do they do every time they work?
  • Learn your materials.  For example, a watercolor artist needs to know the strengths, limitations and uses of the different kinds of paints, papers and brushes.
  • Use a combination of workshops, classes, books and time spent with brush in hand to educate yourself.
  • Allow yourself room to explore, fail, and learn some more.  Eventually, you’ll be more targeted or directed in what you want to learn.  You will know what you want to work on.

The funny thing I’ve learned is that I’m still a “student” along side being an experienced artist.  Education is a lifelong process.  The more I learn, the more I see I want to learn.

About the Painting:

The painting posted is one of my new acrylic still life paintings.  I’ve been studying how to draw and paint using the classic, academic approach.  The instructor is artist Sarah Burns.  It is a different way of working when compared with my stylized approach.  What I like is that I’m learning things about drawing and seeing that I didn’t know before.  The painting is done practicing the lessons I’ve learned from Sarah.


To summarize, the best part about being self taught artist is that I’m responsible for my own art education.  And, the learning is an on-going process.

Post Script:

I almost didn’t publish this blog post.  For some reason, I’ve been hesitant in writing and posting blog articles.  I have seven draft blog articles.  Finally, one has to say publish and move on!  Doubt can paralyze.   I do recommend reading Sandra’s blog post.  Maybe you’ll have a thought or two about your own education!

Acrylic over Watercolor 9x7 2015 d'Arches 300lb CP Watercolor Paper

Acrylic over Watercolor
d’Arches 300lb CP Watercolor Paper




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Sketching in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument

Sketch from "Hike & Learn" Field Sketching Class

Graphite on drawing paper
Done in Sarah F. Burns “Hike & Learn” class with the Friends of Cascade/Siskiyou National Monument
Just off the Pacific Crest Trail, south of Hobart Bluff Trail Head, in the Soda Mountain Wilderness

Greetings!  Yesterday I took part in a fun sketching class.  Sponsored by the “Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument”, the class was part of their “Hike and Learn” program.  The instructor was artist Sarah F. Burns.  You may have noted from previous posts, I’m taking classical drawing from Sarah.

I find landscape drawing challenging.  Sarah gave a demonstration on how to create a drawing, focusing on lights, darks and shapes.  She talked about how one organizes based on big shapes and aerial perspective.  She makes it look easy.

When faced with my own blank paper, I set about the business of sketching in the manner Sarah presented.  At the end of the session, we discussed my efforts.  I learned about drawing what I see and how it might differ from drawing symbols of what I see.  I had not noticed this tendency of mine.

The Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is not far from the Rogue Valley where I live.  It was a good experience.  I’m excited to go out again.

PS.  The “Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument” have other Hike & Learn sessions.  I think they are a wonderful way to get to know this special place in southwest Oregon.


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Hike and Learn

The Friends of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument hold a monthly event called a Hike and Learn, where the invite someone to enhance participants’ experience of the monument with their expertise. They have invited me to lead a Hike and Learn on the subject of Landscape Sketching!  The monument is pretty neat because it has some of the greatest bio-diversity in a concentrated area in the United States.  I’m a big fan of using my art as a tool for documentation, so I’m looking forward to documenting this significant location this week and weekend.

The Hike and Learn is open to all, and is free to attend.  On Friday evening I will give a slide talk that goes over the basics of sketching the landscape.  Then Saturday morning, we will all meet up and head to Hobart Bluff to hike a little and sketch out in the wild.  We’ll meet back around lunch time and share our successes and struggles.

And the local paper – Ashland Daily Tidings has done an article on the event — check it out here.

bpennell sarahfburns

Photo by Bob Pennell for the Ashland Daily Tidings  – That’s me with the crazy grin, pretending to be on my way to do some landscape painting.

Details and Further Info:

Hike and Learn — FREE
Limited space, please sign up as space is limited by sending email to: [email protected].  Email title: Hike & Learn SKETCH  Email body: Your name, email, address, phone

Friday, August 21, 6:00-7:00 pm
Slide Talk at the Ashland Public Library

Saturday, August 22
Hike – Meet at the Shop-N-Kart Ashland Parking Lot at 9:00 am to caravan up to Hobart Bluff
Hike and Sketch from 9:30 – Noon

Filed under: Classes, Drawing, Landscape, Uncategorized Tagged: 2015, Ashland Daily Tidings, drawing, Hike and Learn, Inspiration, landscape, life, oregon, plein air, rogue valley, Sarah burns, sarah f burns, southern oregon

Embracing Gray

I’m evolving.  I’m embracing gray.

Once Upon A Time…

About 12 years ago I was called a “colorist”; I took it as a compliment.  I still do.

I had several paintings hanging in a gallery and it was Art Walk night.  A gentleman came by and we were chatting.  He observed that I was a “colorist”.  And, indeed, my paintings were colorful.

A Little Art History

To explain, a “colorist” is an artist whose focus is color instead of something else like gray tone.  Painters like Matisse and Bonnard created colorist works.

A “tonalist”, on the other hand, is an artist whose focus is on the tones: lights, darks and various shades of gray.  Whistler is an example of a tonalist painter.

Colorful Beginnings

I have been studying color as long as I can remember.  I bet you have too.  Remember crayons?  Did you ever layer reds and greens to make black?  Or, consider color choices when getting dressed in the morning?  Or, decorating?

My father taught my siblings and I the primary, secondary and tertiary colors.  He told us about opposite colors and how to mix them to make grays and browns.  Still, it was colors like red, blue, yellow, pink, rather than gray that caught my attention.

Red Hen And Eggs, color as symbol ©M Stermer-Cox

When I started my development as a painter, my approach was as a colorist.  In a colorist manner, I tended to use color opposites next to each other to achieve color harmony.  This works as long as both colors are used at the same strength.

My watercolor painting “Red Hen and Eggs” is an example of a colorist approach.  I used green and red as my color scheme.

Over time, I have accumulated more knowledge about the properties of color.  Slowly, I’ve added mixed dark colors to my paintings.  Still, I would characterize my approach as a colorist; colors are the focus.

Gray Evolution

As I said, I’m evolving.  I’ve been studying the classical academic approach to drawing and painting under the instruction of artist Sarah Burns.  The process is drawing, gray scale painting, then color.

Naturally, when I come home from class, I have to practice and experiment!

Embracing Gray:  Coffee Cup w/ Swedish Candle

Acrylic over Watercolor
d’Arches 300lb RP Watercolor Paper

I’ve been working on this small acrylic still life painting.    I decided to try to incorporate lessons I’ve learned from Sarah’s class.  I purposely used grays in my set up and my painting.  I liked the way the gray helps the red in the candlestick glow.

Bottomline.  I’m happy I’m embracing the gray side.  Its like having more tools in the tool box!




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Breaking Rules – Birthday Card

"Twins" - An example of breaking rules.

Watercolor & Colored Pencil
By Margaret Stermer-Cox
Birthday Card for Michelle A Stermer

In drawing and painting there are “rules” or suggested conventions that help artists organize their creations.  I find many of the rules useful, though I find it helpful to remember that rules change with time.  Also, not everyone agrees on the rules.

In this small painting, I have broken a rule that I generally follow.  I usually do not put a white shape on the edge of a painting.  The reason involves some of white’s optical properties.  White advances in relation to other colors and tones.  Plus, a white, advancing shape at the edge leads your eyes off the edge.  There are implied things happening off the image.

So why did I break the rules and create a composition with a white shape on the edge?  I liked it.   My intention had been to paint the white cat shape a lighter blue.  But, while I was working, I liked the white and it supports my “story”.

The story?  This is an image on a birthday card for my twin sister Michelle.  We are fraternal twins.  She is blonde and I’m brunette, or we were before we started to turn gray.  Our personalities are different too, sort of like night and day.  The kitties represent us.

Back to the rules.   The wonderful thing about rules in drawing and painting, they’re not set in stone.  An artist is free to break the rules and make rules of their own.  And, if the composition works, so much the better!

I enjoyed creating my “Twins”; please enjoy!


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Student Drawings

Student Drawing - Still Life with Two Clay Posts

Graphite on drawing paper
Done in Sarah F. Burns Drawing class

Yes, I’m a student.

I think I will always be a student in the sense that one has something new to learn.

I am also a student of artist Sarah F. Burns.  I am learning about academic drawing and painting.

Oddly enough, since the beginning of my life as an artist, I’ve been drawing from life.  Doing still life drawing seemed to be the obvious choice.  I can create set ups in my home and work on my own.  Its a way of getting to know the subject prior to painting it.

Its been a long time since I’ve had formal instruction on drawing.  I’m enjoying the study.  I thought I’d show you my first two student drawings.  The still life with the two vases was the first drawing.  The still life with the two broken seashells and vase is the second drawing.

I thought it would be fun to share my classwork.  Soon, I’ll start working on painting the shells.  I’m looking forward to the challenge!

Student Drawing Still Life with Two Broken Seashells and a vase

Graphite on drawing paper
Done in Sarah F. Burns Drawing class



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Watercolor Study: Upper Duck Pond

Watercolor Sketch:  Upper Duck Pond

Watercolor & Ink Study
Moleskin Journal.
Image 4×7
Drawing Talent Series

I’ve been itching to do watercolor studies of local places.  Why haven’t I?  Priorities!

But, yesterday an opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it!  My husband and I visited his favorite park – anywhere!  Lithia Park in Ashland, OR.  It was a lovely morning and I was happy to take the opportunity to sit down and study the local environment.

I did a study of what is called “the upper duck pond”.  Yes, there is a lower duck pond.  The upped duck pond is bigger and has turtles in addition to the ducks.  As I was working, people walk by, sit on the bench or not and wander off.

I find this type of watercolor painting thoroughly engaging.  I like to equate it to running on ice.  My focus is intense as I try to capture an impression before the light changes.  It’s all about making the paint dance.

Recently I have come across some interesting articles and websites about landscape paintings.

Landscape Atelier had a recent article:  “Why ‘Paint What You See’ is Not Good Advice”.  The big message to me was that you have to learn to see before you can paint what you see.  It sounds odd, but the more a persons draws and paints, the better one sees.  I figure I’m in the learning to see a landscape mode.

The Artist Daily had a quick slide on pocket sketching.

Urban Sketchers and the Seattle Sketchers provide plenty of inspiration.  I like the loose, simple work of the watercolor study.

If you’d like to see more of my “Drawing Talent” watercolor sketches, check on the blog posts by category on my side bar.






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Drawing: Still Life with Coffee Cup & Vase

Drawing:  Still Life with Coffee Cup & Vase

Graphite on paper

I continue to work on my drawing skills.  I’m taking a classical drawing class with a local artist, Sarah F. Burns.  I’m enjoying the learning environment.

With this particular still life drawing, I used a coffee cup and clay vase I collected while living in Germany.   My focus is on learning how to draw the forms.

Please enjoy!


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Art Show Presentation, RVM


About the Video

This is a video of an art show presentation I gave on 1 July, 2015 to the residents of the Rogue Valley Manor (RVM).  Location was the Deschutes Gallery, Skyline Plaza Building.

In this video, I give the audience a brief outline of my background, including such classical influences as Picasso and Pogo.  Then, I talk about my watercolor studies and work. I focus my discussion on composing with color, light and shape.  The art show collection includes my “Toy Pony”, “MsKitty” and “Just Sayin’…” series of paintings.

Art Show Thank You’s

Thank you to Mr. Dick Warren (Art Committee, Deschutes Gallery, Rogue Valley Manor) for inviting me to show my work at the Rogue Valley Manor, Deschutes Gallery (Skyline Plaza).

Thank you to Mr. Bill Coleman and Mr. Warren for hanging the art show.

Thanks to my aunt Mary Thornton for her enthusiasm, inspiration and for introducing me to the Deschutes Gallery.

Thanks to my husband Robert for helping me prepare and photographing the presentation.

Where to View The Art Show

The art show is open to the public during business hours, July 1st through July 31st.  The Rogue Valley Manor – Skyline Plaza is located at 1200 Mira Mar Ave, Medford OR.


I’d like to show a few photos from “hanging day”.  Mr. Warren, Mr. Coleman, Robert, Aunt Mary, and I made quick work of hanging 27 paintings.  My job was attaching title cards to the correct paintings.

Art Show at Deschutes Gallery, Rogue Valley Manor


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