October 9, 2018

Surrendering to Indirect Light

All along the Pacific Northwest coast—from San Francisco to Vancouver, B.C.— and in and around the islands of Puget Sound, mist, or heavy fog settles. It modifies the ordinarily firm edges of houses, fences, buildings, and their inhabitants. It softens, too, the limited boundaries of images.

Plants with names like “Mist Maiden,” or “Dreamland,” illustrate how indirect light touches the overall shape of a dwarf rhododendron, the contours of leaves and flower petals in the Pacific Northwest. In a garden all seems calm, soft and mutable. A veil of mist settles, then shifts through my field of inner, as well as outer vision. The images that float through transform themselves. A junco, a squirrel, a child and her/his toy are, and are not. Their very existence is in flux. In this way images appear, disappear and re-appear forcing my mind to notice and focus my attention on their shifting shapes.

From these filmy shapes a character’s personality and stories emerge. At his book launch for PEANUT BUTTER & JELLY, Ben Clanton told his readers that it was when the image of a waffle ice cream cone tossed about in his mind with some photos of narwhals in a non-fiction book he had been reading that he first recalled the idea of his character, Super Narwhal. In the story of BUB, Elizabeth Rose Stanton’s middle child decides to erase himself, to become invisible. The “Mistress of fog,” Julie Kim, paints, then lifts some vibrant pigments to create a fog setting as the children search in WHERE”S HALMONI? Bonnie Becker has said in a book launch that a grumpy voice lodged in her mind declaring, “No Visitors,” as the seed for A VISITOR FOR BEAR was planted. Thoughts and ideas arise on the misty edges of the mind.
Indirect light affects the mind, not just our outer vision. It feels like a damp cloud hovers over one’s brain, where images develop, swell, fade, only to re-appear with more insistence. In some of my watercolors I suggest this occurrence.

Here, a child holds a tiny green frog in the cool fog.

Two sisters play at the beach on a hazy day.

Joy showing a frog Joy and Tian playing at the beach
A boy and his dog emerge from a field of trumpeter swans in the Skagit Valley:
Brennen with swans and dog

I have been translating these cloudy moods into the acrylic gouache medium, too.

Tao and his toy dragon, Hong, ride a magical train through the night clouds:
Tao and Hong's train ride through the clouds

Tao and Hong splash through a waterfall.

A crow delivers a key before a wintry sunrise.

Tao and Hong splash through a waterfall Tao and Hong A crow delivers a key

Without the harsh precision of direct light, an idea, a character is free to evolve without too much scrutiny, or by being pinned down, or examined too soon. In 1981, Professor emeritus of Tokyo University, Kimura Shozaburo described the WORLD OF INDIRECT LIGHT: “The greenery of the rainy season is indescribably beautiful. Wet with rain, the tree leaves have a most vivid color, though their outlines are blurred. There is no sunlight to make a sharp distinction between light and shade, and the shape of these things is not necessarily clearly defined under a cloudy sky or in a mist. However, due to the fact that it is a world of indirect light, a certain amount of light finds its way to the parts which, under direct sunlight, would be darkly blotted out as shade; the rainy sky makes the shadowed parts stand out, and light and shade run together.”His description is the way I frequently view my own garden in Normandy Park, near Puget Sound. The leaves of the morning garden are frequently wet from October through April, when the cove is blurred by mist, and fog blankets Vashon Island from view.

Ideas seek one out, decide to visit for awhile, irregardless of how one’s mind might be otherwise occupied.These images are insistent and envelop the mind like mist, they gift us with their presence. Professor Kimura postulates that Japanese culture truly exists in a world of indirect light where light and shade, friend and foe, man and woman constantly merge together to create a third world of serene and harmonious beauty in which there is no yes or no. I feel that in the Pacific Northwest an artist, a writer, a child is free to inhabit this harmonious space where no gulf separates opposites.

October 21, 2017


Change is inevitable. Sometimes the change is purposeful; other times departures from my conception are accidental because of the indeterminate nature of the chosen medium. While unintended developments in a creation are usually considered mistakes, to invite the unexpected may also yield welcome results. Let the viewer decide.

As I mentioned to Janet Lee Carey in our Dreamwalks interview last May, I enjoy both drawing and painting. The creamy, soft Yellow Ochre and Chocolate Derwent drawing pencils, or Sepia water-soluble pencils are often my first choices for drafting sketches. These pencils help me draw up the soft images from my mind.

I recently learned from my Facebook friend and picture book artist, Nancy Poydar, about her process of digitally coloring her scanned sketches. That—along with Rosemary Well’s explanation of her process of character development and editing at the September 2017 SCBWI-WA meeting—has led me to examine my own comparatively antiquated illustration techniques and encouraged me to share my process.

I usually sketch from models. I set the drawing for my intended illustration beside my illustration board with Fabriano traditional white watercolor paper affixed or, for acrylic gouache application, a canvas. Glancing back and forth between the sketch and the blank paper or canvas, I mentally position my subject(s). I may transfer some large shapes with a pastel pencil, or I cut out the shape from the sketch to use as a template . This is where, and why, changes occur. Some are happy accidents. There is more free play involved in the painting. It is usually looser, with less attention to details, more emphasis on texture. With regard to a child subject, if the face or figure is flawed in my perspective, I’ll wash off the pigment and begin again. Essentially, the sketch is a study for the final illustration.

In the sketch “It’s raining Cats and Dogs,” I place the animals and child according to my heavy rain falling idea. The painting is the quick result of imagining the blurry, wet cats slipping down like big, fat raindrops and the big, soggy dog splashing into a puddle.

I enjoyed sketching the girls for "We Like to Pick Strawberries From the Garden," but I chose an unusual head-down perspective. I worried I might not have been able to paint those features. The watercolor was my second attempt, so I kept it. The transparent profile, the hair colors, the gauzy ribbons and the clear plastic berry box were fun!

In “Tao Catches Fireflies,” I suggest the contrast between the child Tao who steps softly trying to clasp a few fireflies to observe in his lantern, with his toy dragon, who rambunctiously cavorts along the path, charring the lid and knocking over the lantern. In the painting I not only try to convey this action, but also the fleeing August sun setting over the hill, softening their bright forms.

While any viewer can spot the changes between the sketch and the color illustration, who can tell if any particular difference was intentional or accidental? Training the eye and hand together doesn't always mean complete control over the final illustration. Although the modern technology available to scan a sketch and create one's own tools to infuse it with color or texture, and undo the process at any step is very appealing, working entirely with physical materials, gliding a brush over lightly textured paper or canvas threads feels second nature to me; I like to let the medium shape the ultimate expression of my characters and scenes.

May 1, 2017

Art & Survival: a conversation between Janet Lee Carey and I

This April, author Janet Lee Carey invited me to do an interview with her as part of her “Creative Conversation” series of talks on the creative process with fellow artists, for her blog, Dreamwalks. Our dialogue centered around the pursuit of an artistic vision as a form of survival and as a reflection of life’s challenges. This was a first for me and certainly a rewarding experience! Please check it out: http://janetleecarey.com/dream-walks/art-survival/

January 29, 2016

Welcome to my first website!

It is a work in progress right now, but I hope that if you visit again soon, many of my paintings and drawings will be uploaded and ready for you to look at. Thank you for visiting!