Saturday, December 31, 2016

One of My Favorite Moments of the Whole Year

My son dutifully holds onto his littlest sister's hand. (She's fast!)

In Norfolk, VA we're fortunate to have The Chrysler Museum. This is not a particularly large art museum, but it has a stellar collection, inventive, thoughtful exhibits, and awesome staff. I LOVE this place. I would live there if I could. I would go every single day and just sit, or draw, or paint, or study. I don't go very often because the bulk of my life right now is taken up by raising these three little monsters. (I say that with the utmost love - I'm blessed to have such great kids, but now with No. 3, my husband and I are officially outnumbered and exhausted!)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Chiaroscuro and a Drawing Dictionary

One of the things I take for granted when I talk about art is terminology. I've been around it so long that it feels like I absorbed it by osmosis rather than someone actually explaining anything. I'm the kind of person that gets the gist of most things simply from context, which is not a good thing when you want to teach others. And I often feel like proclaiming to the world, "I'm an artist! If I wanted to have to explain everything with words I'd have been a writer!" However, my husband, a music teacher, has said to me on more than one occasion that if I can clearly explain a concept to someone, then I'll have a solid understanding of that concept. The stubborn, lazy side of me has always hated that saying but it's absolutely true.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Spa Day

As I made my way toward the exit of the Chrysler Museum this afternoon, I had a nice chat with one of the employees. He laughingly called this my spa day because I'd mentioned having three kids and rarely getting to come to the museum to enjoy a long, uninterrupted drawing session. How right he was! I'd never thought of it that way before because as relaxing as it is, make no mistake that this was work!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wayne, 40 Minute Drawing

I recently made a vow to myself to dedicate more time to my art. Having three kids and a husband with a chronic illness makes it hard to find time to draw. For years, the only chance I've had to even be around art is when I teach, and if I'm not actively walking around assisting my students, then I'm taking care of administrative stuff.

But as pretty much any full time mother can tell you, not having something to call your own - to remind yourself of who you were before having a family - can make you feel crazy. My littlest is now 1, and I've spent the bulk of the last nine years focused on parenting. Obviously, I have many more years to go before my kids are off on their own, but I'm trying to find that balance of being a present and engaged parent, and being an artist.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Assessing Student Ability: You're Assessing Me Too!

Whenever I have a new student join my class, I start off with very basic exercises.

Step 1: Get to know your pencils.

Step 2: Values chart.

Step 3: Draw a simple 3D shape.

These activities are important for me because they help me gauge your level of experience, get a feel for your natural style, and quickly assess what your biggest challenges might be. It also helps you, the student, get a better idea of what my drawing class is like and if this is something you really want.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I Will Not Teach You to Draw

Anyone remember these guys in that little pamphlet from the 1990s?

I remember being so excited when I was a kid because I knew I could definitely draw that turtle, but no, I never did send in my sketch or take this course. But drawing cartoon characters is how a lot of kids get interested in art. It's easy to see why: the lines are already there for you to copy, and most of the guess work has been eliminated. The hardest part is usually where to place that first line on your paper, because it determines whether or not your whole drawing will fit when you've finished.

Darkwing Duck (Disney) drawn by me, circa ©1995.
So this drawing of Darkwing Duck was something I did a lot. I mean, A LOT. I was a nerd in high school and I was known for being able to draw just about anything Disney, but Darkwing was my go to cartoon. I can still draw him in any action pose I want - some 20 years later - because I'd studied him so much. I was even taking AP Art in high school but didn't listen to my teacher much on how important it was to study and draw from life because I thought I was already a great artist and liked drawing cartoons. I regret that deeply.

Flash forward to today, when I get requests for me to teach how to draw Manga or Disney characters, or any kind of animation/illustration. I simply say no. Manga, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is a style of Japanese illustration used in comic books and graphic novels. Think hair every color of the rainbow and really big eyes. It's cool, engaging, colorful, and easy to see why people want to draw that way. I was hooked myself when I was a kid. (When are they ever going to make that Robotech movie??) It's a beautiful style of cartooning, but it is not what I teach, and honestly anyone who is a professional animator or illustrator - be it for Disney or Studio Ghibli - that person is a professional artist who has already mastered how to draw from life. Every single one of those illustrators had to take a load of art courses learning how to draw skeletons and every part of the human body, how to draw a bowl of fruit, how to properly shade a circle to make it look like a sphere, how to capture the texture of a feather, how to draw movement. Their illustrations look so easy and effortless to us because they have spent years studying every curve of the human face, the way hair falls, the way muscles change when we tense an arm or brace our legs for a race. Those artists practice again, and again, and again, much like a musician perfecting their musical tone. Then - and only then - will that artist's cartoon images look so good, because they've learned how to draw a realistic version of a person and can then boil those lines down to the essentials and create simplified cartoon characters that still convey personality, emotion, and natural human movement (or in the case of Darkwing, more duck-like movement).

3D Darkwing Duck study drawn by me, circa ©1995.
I'm sure there are always exceptions to the rule - there are plenty of self-taught artists who are successful and take a different path, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But even for those artists - like ALL artists - we reach a point where we know something is missing in our arsenal of tools and we decide to fix that. When I was a teenager I never cared about drawing realistically because it was slow and boring. I only wanted to work with flashy colors and abstract ideas. But now at the age of 39, I'm obsessed with observing the world around myself and capturing it as accurately as possible, and I find that it thoroughly enriches all of my other artistic endeavors, abstract or not. It's like the old saying goes, once you know the rules you'll know how to break them.

So yes, I know how to draw Manga and Disney and pretty much anything like that but my focus is teaching the fundamentals - drawing realistically from life and from direct observation - because I firmly believe it'll give you more satisfaction as a budding artist than just copying the lines another artist laid down first.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Stress Relief for Adults: This is not your typical paint party - this is more like a BRAIN DUMP!

I came across this article at Huffpost talking about the obvious and significant role that art can play in reducing stress. Those of us that engage in some sort of hands-on hobby can relate. No matter what you do - play an instrument, paint, build furniture, knit - it brings a measure of self-satisfaction and peace of mind.
City Samba. (This was a fun, quick, loose scribbly session for me!)

That being said, I'd like to offer a weekly 2-hour session geared toward anyone who needs a break from their busy lives to just mess around, paint, create, and relax.

I will supply acrylic paints, brushes, and canvases. You supply the overworked brain that needs a break!

$15 covers one 9x12" canvas panel and supplies for a 2-hour session. $1 for each additional panel. This is not a class with instruction, but I will be there by your side offering tips and techniques to help keep your creativity flowing.

Contact me at for more information and to register! Minimum 5 people required to make the class, maximum 15 people. Invite your friends!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

New Acrylic Painting Class Beginning!

I'm excited to announce that I'm starting a new Acrylic Painting class this month! Join me at The Art Studio and learn how to paint anything and everything using acrylics. They're a wonderful choice for those who are new to painting because they offer unparalleled flexibility and vibrancy. They are extremely forgiving when you make a mistake, and they are just plain wonderful to work with.

Golden Roses, copyright 2007, Rowena Federico Finn

We'll explore different kinds of paint, types of brushes and how to use them, and lots of techniques. Classes are self-guided for those who've already been painting for a while and just need advice now and then. Beginners will have my attention every step of the way as we work on projects together. As you grow more comfortable, you're welcome to work on subjects of your own choosing. 

Visit this page for more information. Classes meet Sundays 1:30-4:30pm beginning Sept. 11, 2016. Feel free to contact me with questions about the class and materials. Students are required to bring their own supplies.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Are You in a Drawing Rut?

We all go through dry spells. Sometimes we've studied a particular subject for so long we just need a break, but can't decide what to turn to next. Sometimes we keep experimenting with different subjects but still can't find anything to focus on passionately. Sometimes no matter what we attempt just doesn't seem to work out. Whatever the case, I like to turn to high school teachers. It seems like they all have that list of 25, 50, or 100 sketchbook prompts that no one really wants to do, but everyone ought to. Ideas often range from a beat up old pair of sneakers to a handful of shiny spoons, to the ubiquitous self-portrait. 

You can either take as long as you want an make a finished drawing, or you can set a timer and work quickly. I like to set a limit of 10, 20, or 40 minutes.

20 minute pencil sketch from a photo, June 2015
This list was borrowed from Matt Fussell at The Virtual Instructor.

101 Sketchbook Ideas
1. draw old shoes
2. draw a glass of water
3. draw a pile of unfolded laundry
4. draw your non-dominant hand
5. draw a scene in a restaurant
6. draw a stack of books
7. draw a view out of a window
8. draw your art supplies
9. draw wine bottles
10. draw children’s toys
11. draw a person laying down
12. draw a person sitting in a chair
13. design a typeface
14. draw different types of trees
15. draw objects in your pocket
16. draw game pieces
17. draw a caricature of yourself
18. draw the same object drawn with different techniques (hatching, cross hatching, stippling, etc.)
19. draw your favorite pet

20. draw a copy of your favorite Master’s painting...

Click here for the full list.

Friday, August 19, 2016

This is What Frustrates Me the Most...

"I can't draw."

I hear that a lot. Like, a lot. It comes out in conversation whenever I tell people I teach drawing. It comes up on my Facebook feed when I post about my classes. There are so many people convinced they cannot draw. This frustrates me to no end because It. Is. Not. True.

You write, right? Drawing is just an extension of writing. You take a mark-making instrument in your hand and you make specific marks to convey specific ideas. That's all that drawing is. The difference is that society (schools, peers, family) have no problem telling us directly or indirectly that we have no natural talent. Kids are shuffled pretty quickly into one of two categories: Can Draws, and Can'ts. Humans categorize to make life easier to process and that's cool, I get that. But when you want to draw, when you enjoy it, and you start to believe you aren't good at it, you stop and become too shy to show off your artwork. You box up your pencils and crayons and you move onto something else like clarinet or violin. But have you ever heard a kid beginning on a clarinet or a violin? They ALL sound awful! Squawk! Honk! Screech! They can't help it because it's hard to get a good sound when you first start. Same thing with learning to write. Toddlers scribble like crazy with crayons - on paper, on walls, on furniture, on themselves. They have no idea what they're doing and they don't care because there's this innate fascination and joy in watching the instrument you're holding do your bidding. Toddler scribbles are a precursor to learning to write AND draw. Control, discernment, style come with time. And practice. And dedication.

Dinner knife study in pencil, August 2015

These days, not as many people teach drawing as they do painting. Painting - at least beginning painting - is easier, so understandably it's more popular. Good results come sooner and most people finish a painting a lot faster than they can finish a drawing. That's why places offer showing you how to complete a painting in just two hours. But there's no instant gratification in drawing. After two hours some people barely have any marks on the page. It is a long hard slog but I love the challenge.

I love the meditative slowness of it (yet I do have students who work much more quickly than I). I love the level of attention to detail. I love that when I think my ability to observe has improved, there's suddenly a whole new level of detail that I didn't notice before. I love that one subject matter (like drawing glass or portraits) that didn't interest me before (or intimidated me) will later become an all-consuming passion. I see this in my students and it gives me immense satisfaction watching them grow as artists.

So the point of my writing is this: Don't ever tell me you can't draw, because you used to - all kids used to - and you can, you just don't. If you don't care to learn, that's one thing. You can say "I don't know how" rather than "I can't," because when you say you can't, what you're really saying is, "I don't want to learn." That's fine, too. I don't ever want to learn saxophone because I don't like saxophone. I choose to avoid it like the plague; it's not that I couldn't learn. I used to play piano. I miss it, but not enough to actually sit down at the one in my house and relearn a song or two.

I'm not on a mission to make people take my drawing class, but I am on a mission to suss out the ones who want to learn but are afraid they never will. I have total respect for anyone who just doesn't want to learn to draw, but if there's a tiny part of you that'd be interested in developing those long dormant skills, I'm here for you.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Wonder Woman!!!

Okay, I'm a little bit of a fan. Like, I have Lego Wonder Woman on my keychain and a print I got from Tidewater Comic Con in my girls' room so they'll always know who she is, and they have a number of WW board books to teach them about the alphabet and her origin story - you know, important stuff. ;) Anyway, WW of course was the best part of Dawn of Justice and I'm so excited about her moving coming out next year! So sad I have to wait a whole year...

Monday, June 27, 2016

Inspiration in My Yard

We finally got around to building a garden this year. I have a large terra cotta strawberry pot in which we've planted strawberries at the top, then basil, garlic chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, peppermint, and sage in the rest of the holes. Everything's doing well except my poor sage, which died from being at the bottom and thus the unwilling recipient of all the water that drained downward. I'm also aware that since all the other plants are thriving I'll probably have to move most of them to their own garden! It's a good problem to have.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

5 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me About Being an Artist

I have a Bachelors of Fine Art from a four-year university. I managed to graduate, but that whole experience didn't do much for me as an artist. Looking back, there are so many things I wish my teachers had said/done/offered to help me in my journey as an artist. I was shy and didn't feel comfortable reaching out to any of them so I didn't have any mentors. I didn't even know that finding mentors was a thing you could do! I think many of us are looking for someone to see something special in us and want to help us, especially when we're young and directionless, but I got the impression that most of my teachers were only teaching to have some sort of income so they could focus on their own artwork. I get that but it didn't help me, so as someone who teaches now too, it's really important to me to get to know my students and figure out the best way to help them meet their individual goals in art. If I had to do it all over again knowing I wanted and needed to have art in my life, I don't know that I'd go to college at all. So here, in no particular order, are five things I wish someone would have told me about being an artist:

1. Prepare to get naked. Being an artist means being brave enough to bare your soul through your work. When you create and share your work, you'll have to come to terms with how different people experience your work. They'll love it. They'll hate it. They'll think it's weird, wonderful, maybe not worth the price you ask. Some people have no problem with sharing their work; many of us find it difficult - at least in the beginning - but there's nothing more liberating (and nothing better for your creativity) than the day you accept that it doesn't matter what other people think.

2. Learn from others. No matter how good you are, you can always learn more. You can always get better. Find mentors whom you admire and who want to help you succeed. Keep your mind open to both new ideas and constructive criticism. And if you think you're completely original without influence from anyone else, you're probably just kidding yourself. Everyone and everything around us informs our work whether we use that information consciously or not. So in this sense, it does matter what people think - but only the people whose opinions and critiques will help you improve your work.

3. Discipline yourself. Develop an art routine and build strong habits. Don't rely on talent. Passion and dedication will take you further and bring you more personal satisfaction than natural talent ever will.

4. Perfection is a myth. Good enough is good enough. Telling yourself a piece is "good enough" and then moving on is totally legit. Working on a piece and making progress is one thing; getting hung up and stuck on it is completely different. And paralyzing. Give yourself permission to move on.

5. Don't ignore your urge to create. Choosing to live as an artist may be difficult, but choosing to ignore the pull of creativity is even harder. There are moments when I'm upset with myself because I'm not out there trying to eradicate diseases or eliminate poverty. Then I remember that what I do is what I was born to do, and it has its own sacred place in this crazy world. Artists feed the soul and inspire dreams. What's not important about that?

What else would you add?

Monday, June 20, 2016

Leaf Studies in Colored Pencil

I finally finished my third leaf in this colored pencil series! I had put it aside for quite a while because I wasn't happy with my progress, which was a good thing to do because coming back to it after some time made me see it wasn't a lost cause at all and I was able to push forward. I finished it during my drawing class yesterday and am pleased with the results. This was done with Prismacolor pencils on Stonehenge paper. I used maybe 15 different colors? I wasn't keeping track. I've whittled my pencils down to as small a collection as possible to layer and capture what I see without needing every hue Prismacolor makes. I find that makes it harder for me to work when faced with too many color choices. I may add to my stash in the future, but for now, these colors work well for autumn leaves.

Leaf Study III, Prismacolor pencils on Stonehenge paper

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Layering with Colored Pencils

Dried leaf. Colored pencil, 2016.
Lately I've been interested in capturing small objects as accurately as possible in colored pencil. This drawing was done from a leaf I picked up somewhere in my life this past autumn. It's only about 1.25" long, but my drawing is on 9x12" Stonehenge with Prismacolor pencils. This is the second in a series of four leaves I'm making for prints and notecards in my etsy shop.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

NEW Drawing from Life Class starting in February!

Beginning February I am offering a brand new class that focuses on drawing directly from life. You'll learn how to draw objects and people in front of you rather than working from photographs. Projects include glass, natural objects, fabric folds, and people. Each session is carefully planned to introduce specific skills and concepts that build onto the next lesson. Ages 16 and up, no prior experience necessary.