Sunday, December 21, 2014

Happy Solstice, all! The light returns...bit by bit.

"The Shortest Day

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!"

-Susan Cooper.

Here's to love, and life, family and friends--a most peaceful and happy Solstice to all here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Times, They Are a'Changin...

...and they have been, for the publishing industry, for some time.  Just got word that Sierra Club is going out of the publishing business to focus on their other missions.  Publishing has changed, a LOT, in the past 10-15 years, and they're not the only book publisher to disappear...

They had a great run, and a LONG one, with many, many wonderful books by some elegant, eloquent writers over the years.  I was very glad to be in that august company, and happy with the books I did with them--it was a wonderful experience.

The internet has impacted a lot of publishers, both of books and of magazines; it's a tough business these days; several of the publishers of my natural history books are no more.  (I'm more than grateful North Light/F & W is still around and going strong.)

 Sketching in Nature's been out of print for some time, though it had a great run--hardcover and softcover, with revisions and multiple reprints. I loved doing it...

Painting in Nature came out in 2000 and did very well too...3 print runs are not at all bad! 

The latter book was very meaningful to me; I was working on it when my first husband Harris fell ill, and when he died.  It came out a year or so after, and there are many sweet, poignant memories held within those pages.  We sat together in the woods and I painted while he read or napped...we picnicked by the lake while I drew...he was always supportive, and always proud of what I did.

My dear friend Judy Gehrlein, a wonderful artist and sketching buddy, went with me on many of the field trips--those memories are held between the pages as well.

In 2005, I was invited to speak to Sierra Club's first International Gathering in San Francisco on field sketching; it was the first time my beloved Joseph and I were alone together as well.  What a trip THAT was!  Between my stage fright and the snafus with technical issues like laptops and slide projectors and the Powerpoint presentation that J. put together for me, running late, miscommunications, and...stage fright, did I mention stage fright??  (More like terror...)

For a while there it looked as if I'd be speaking to an auditorium of a couple of hundred people with nothing but my sketchbook and a microphone.  (Thank goodness we had a couple of days to wind down after that and explore that beautiful city!)

Jim Cohee was the best editor anyone could ever have...I loved working with him, and loved finally meeting him in 2005.  Gentle, funny, talented, inspiring...the best, yep.  He's writing books of his own, now!  Just saw The Swan, on Amazon...

Lots of warm memories...

Still, it's a sad day when one of the Old Lions goes away.  You'll be missed, Sierra Club. Thanks for the wild, wonderful ride.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Life has been...LIFE!

...of course that DOES beat the alternative...

It's been too long since I've had time to slow down and just enjoy has been intense, between classes and the upcoming North Light book.  Lots of juggling, lots of confusion, lots of needing to stop and take a breath.  And of course, family stuff...

I need to get out and sketch more often!  This one is from 2009, and no, it has NOT been that long.  I was out just last week...

This is from our October trip to Bennett Spring...I did a LOT of sketches that trip!

My sweetie and the other fishermen at the spring...

Our godchild Molly Hammer, singing at the Broadway Jazz Club with one of her favorite pianists...

Copper Creek Band, good friends we go to hear as often as we can...

Joseph's English Country Dance group...

The beautiful newborn Henry!

BACON and a Buddhist prayer...interesting juxtaposition...

...and three wonderful visits with three wonderful young women--daughters of my heart!  That would be Kristin Frazier, Christiana Farabee, and Ailsa Barrett, all in the space of a week... life is good, but life is crazy.  Looking forward to breathing room December 26...

In the upcoming year I plan more journal entries, more reviews of favorite tools and books, more reminiscences, more on simplifying, more demos, more on gratitude, more mini-class giveaways (that last one was FUN!)--and who knows what else?

I hope you'll join me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Well, nuts.

I just discovered I had comment notification on this blog going to my OLD address, which I no longer use!  No wonder I missed so many of your wonderful comments...thank you so much!  I've tweaked the settings again...

Unfortunately I discovered that some of you are still having problems commenting, and THAT I have no idea about, I'm so sorry!  I've always had it set that anyone can comment, even anonymous.

And that said, I've enabled comment moderation, because I've also gotten some spam. :( 

I don't do CAPTCHA letters or other such nonsense, I do NOT want to make it difficult for you to comment (more difficult than it already is?!?), but it may mean comments don't show till I get a chance to check them. 

That's what I do on some of my other blogs, and it works well...just be patient with me, please!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sorting Out Life, as well...

Happy husband...

This is where we were the other day, and yes, I gave myself permission to stop doing gruntwork and do what I NEEDED to do.  I plan on more of that!
So.  Not only are we simplifying our home and possessions, but life and priorities as well.  Life is too short, things of real importance deserve our attention, and yes, it's okay to be happy!

I know, that should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense, but we do so often do things because we think we should, we must, someone asked, we've committed, we've agreed, SOMEONE ought to, it needs doing, we're responsible...we're trapped.  Tra la.

LONG after these things have stopped being fulfilling, long after they really, actually needed doing, long after the time when someone else might be able to do them better, and might want to have the chance, we're still plodding along.  Blinders on.

And before long we find our souls occupying a tiny corner of our own lives--all the room that's left to them.  I recently posted a link to a site about things happy people do, and it was shared widely.  This is good.  But when I went to some of the shares I discovered a disturbing number of negative comments by people who resented the idea, who thought anyone who had time must be retired (some of the busiest people I KNOW are retired), who didn't have time to be happy (?!?!)...

It made me sad.

The other day Joseph and I were talking about what I actually WANTED to be doing, right now.  (Aside from being Out There, as above!)  I told him about a silly little project I've been wanting to do, for doesn't pay, it's not "work," I haven't agreed I'd do it, no contracts's just fun.  But ya know, I don't have time for that.

He said "DO it!  No wonder all the gruntwork is sucking the life out of you right need to be doing something else, and you're not letting yourself!  Do THAT, and then maybe the Work, capital W, won't feel quite so heavy."

And so soon, I promise myself, I'll do just that.  Right after I put in a few more hours on the contracted obligation.

However, ya know, it felt great to write all this down!  That too is something I need to do.

I'm a lousy Pollyanna, really...I'm stuck in a couple of jobs that have had glitches, lately, needing far more work than I have energy for, and pretending everything is great is just too damn exhausting.

Nuts to that. 

I hope you give yourself permission to do what you really want to, as well.


Meanwhile, there's a helpful series on the Tiny House Blog you may enjoy, on simplifying!…/helpful-tips-downsizing-part-1/

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Discardia on the way to Breathing Room...

Much of this is on its way out the door...yes, it IS a mess.  Eeek.
So.  Here is where I am now...Discardia on the way to Breathing Room.

Getting rid of things via eBay is time consuming and kind of complex, but that's where some of this stuff is going, anyway--I just need time to list the antique teapot, enamel coffeepot, 18th C. style mules or leather slippers, virtually unused.  Books will be offered to a friend before being listed or given away.

(The bins on the floor are full of artwork, both original and prints I offer in my Etsy shop, Cathy Johnson Art & More, so they stay, but I'd love it if I could find a place that wasn't right out in the middle of everything!)

I'm delighted that a dear friend is more into elegant reenacting than we are, now, and he and his camping buddy are taking a fair bit of stuff away.  A big copper cistern for water, a tin biscuit baker, a BIG folding table...gone and welcome!  It's good to know a friend will be using and enjoying them instead of tripping over them, here.

The pile in the other photo includes a bag of art supplies to give to my sketchcrawl buddies...didn't have enough of them show up this time and we forgot the bag in the car...and the current giveaway box, which will go out probably today.  And a heater, and antique books with illustrations I need to scan in my copious spare time, and extra shipping boxes, and...

Yep, it's a mess all right!

My beloved husband is in the basement creating his workroom and simultaneously getting rid of a bunch MORE stuff (why, exactly, did we put two old computers and a monitor down there?), and moving the workbench out of the back room (along with the big folding table) will give us a lot more open space THERE, so we can organize, clean out, and GET TO THE BOOKCASE.

(He was just wishing he'd thought to shoot a "before" photo, so he inspired me to DO so!)

All this stuff served its purpose, in its time, and I'm grateful, as Breathing Room suggests.  It can go to a new home, or recycle, or the dump, with my blessings.  And I won't have quite so much stuff in the way, and will indeed have more room to breathe, both literally and spiritually.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Busy, busy, BUSY!

I have been notably absent from this blog lately, and I miss it!

One VERY pleasant reason for my absence has been one of our glorious fishing trips to the Ozarks last month, a few days after my last entry.  Joseph fishes and I sketch like mad...17 pages, in all, this time!  Can't wait to go back for one more sketchathon this year...

I always seem to sketch this little tower...

Whoops, my ink was water-soluble, so I switched to straight watercolor.

My dad used to stand on the dam and fish--as many people do.  It's mossy and slick and the water rushes over it, and I have YET to see anyone fall!  This one was painted directly, without graphite or ink.

Lovely old stonework all over in Bennett Spring...

My terrific little walker-studio lets me go anywhere I want, to's more comfortable than this bench, actually!

And since we got home, I've been working like crazy on the upcoming North Light book...27 other artists involved in this one, all of them amazing, and I'm getting some exciting stuff in my Drop Box.  The challenge is using it in the best possible place, and putting one more bit IN when it comes in after I've already "finished" the appropriate chapter!

I'll be sharing bits and pieces here, as I go...lovely on-the-spot work!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Making Your Own Pan Colors--not, this time, from scratch, though!*

This is my old repurposed Prang box, filled with colors of my choice and refilled whenever I like from tube paints.
How about a nice how-to post this afternoon?  We all love our gear, our art supplies, but I love to feel free to make my own combinations and choices.  When you buy a palette or watercolor box with colors already in it, they may be what you want, they may not.  In most cases, for me, the answer is most definitely not.
I've posted this before...the first color, from the top, is lifted from the dry paint, the second after spraying with clear water.  Quite the difference, eh?

It’s really easy to do, and have the colors you want in your paint box...I believe it’s even a bit less expensive, too.  I was told by one company that their paints weren’t meant to be used this way, they weren’t formulated to re-wet, but I say a resounding “nonsense!”  I’ve been doing it for 40 years...

That said, some colors or brands DO re-wet more readily.  Horadam Schmincke works well, as does Daniel Smith...but as I say, I’ve used Winsor & Newton for decades and they work beautifully for me. 

You just need to spray with clear water a minute or so before beginning to paint.  (Yes, that makes a huge difference, as you can see above.)

Lovely as M. Graham paints are, they tend NOT to set up well, under some conditions and in humid conditions, since they use honey as a binder.  They may run or “drool” for you, as do other paints that use honey, so you may wish to reserve them for studio work unless you live in the desert.  And mind you, your mileage may vary!

Oh and further simplification...this little set went to live with an old friend...

If your palette box already has divisions, you can just squeeze however much paint into each one that you want...fill them all the way, just put a dab, or fill halfway, it’s up to you--that's what I do with my folding plastic travel palettes, of course.  If it’s a paint I use often, I tend to fill it up.

You can also buy empty half or full pans, made of plastic.  They’ll either fit directly into your palette divisions, as in some of the older style of metal watercolor boxes, or you can stick them down with rubber cement or magnets, so you can re-position them.

Jerry’s Artarama has them:

Kremer Pigments has them here: (full pans) (half pans)

 Cheap Joe’s has them here: (full pans)

Or try your local art supply store!

(The most difficult thing is figuring out how they’re listed on the site!  “Empty full pans” sounds weird...)

Start in the corners first and then the middle...the paint will shrink as it dries.  You may wish to fill partway, let it set up, then finish filling to minimize cracking. 

Allow the paints to set up for at least 24 hours to several days, so they won’t travel when you take them out in the field.

Of course you CAN order pans already full and choose the colors you want--Holbein, Schmincke, Yarka, Kremer, Winsor & Newton and others offer these.  Prices may range from just under $5 to around $15 or more for a half pan, depending on the pigment and the brand; and I prefer full pans anyway, so I can get a larger brush in there!

I love being able to reload again and again from a single tube of paint, AND to fill the pan with as much or as little as I want.  If I'm just trying out a color, a little bit is good--if I'm trying to save on overall weight of my gear, that's an issue, too.

Give it a try, what have you got to lose?  Particularly if you have tube paints on hand and a palette crying out to be filled and taken out in the field!

* I AM looking forward to Nick Neddo's new book,  due out in early 2015, The Organic Artist: Make Your Own Paint, Paper, Pigments, Prints and More from Nature

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Simplifying is not always simple...

Getting rid of our too-many possessions--things we no longer want or need, clothes that don't fit us or our lifestyle, duplicates, things we've tried out but didn't work for us, things we've outgrown, physically or emotionally, hobbies we no longer enjoy--is a long process, for me.

And no, this tiny set didn't take up much room...but I didn't use or need it. 

Long, but necessary, and freeing.  I feel lighter and less encumbered.

How to go about it can be problematical.  Do I try for "the perfect recipient"?  Someone who needs or would most appreciate what I'm passing along?  (My, that process will slow you down!  It's lovely when we nail it, but it takes a whole lot longer...)

Do I take a box of unused art supplies to school, or our sketchcrawl group, or give them to an artistic friend, or someone with children who enjoy creativity?

(Yes, sometimes all of the above!  I've got a box hatching now for the sketchcrawl artists...)

Sometimes we take a box of miscellaneous things to our family gatherings and hope they'll fill a need; housewares, bedding, tools, clothing.  My youngest godchild looked stunning in a dress that just didn't work for me--too short, too clingy...

Sometimes--frequently!--we take things to a charity resale shop that will even unload the car for us if asked.  It feels good to benefit them while clearing out our space so we can breathe, and so there's room in closets and drawers.  Today, a box of miscellaneous things (we needed 4 thermoses...why?), last week a few books...

A heavy bag of clothes I don't wear went there recently; my closet already feels roomier, and I thought I had DONE this not long ago... 

I hate shopping, so buy online most often...and if I'm paying attention, return things that don't work in a timely manner!  Guess I didn't need those after all...

Then there's the jewelry I've made when I was in my  polymer clay phase...I've sold some, given away some, some is in my Etsy store, and I still have three big glass-topped display cases from when a shop in town carried my work...they closed a couple of years ago...

Pottery supplies...I no longer have access to a kiln, so Joseph took those to the basement for me.  I haven't quite given up on that one!  Pottery is practical alchemy, and I love it.

But then there's the table loom in the attic...a friend wanted it but we haven't made connections.  In two years...

Fabric I'll never sew...happily much of that is perfect for my beloved niece Jenny Hearn, who supplements her income by sewing for RenFaires and such, so off more of it goes as we dig through our attic stash...

Books I've read but won't read again, books on hobbies I no longer have time (or interest) for...and oh dear, books I MEANT to read, but didn't.  (Books are hardest for me...Amazon resale, sometimes, giveaway sometimes, but oh dear Lord so many, MANY more...)

Sometimes I sketch those things I've had trouble letting go of--so I still have them in my journal but I don't need them taking up room in my home--OR in my head.

I still have two of these--I love the M-86 from Hero and the little Noodler's pens, but the middle one has gone to a new home...along with a lot of my other fountain pens...

I am keeping those things I use frequently--ink pens that work, that glide, that make marks I like.  The others go.

Watercolor palettes that I use and depend on, and that are light enough to travel.  (At this age, I consider carefully the weight of my tools and equipment, often weighing them on the postal scale before packing for a trip.)

Paint colors I love and that do what I want them to--I'm not tempted by the latest triad, the tricksy new color, the faddish, interference colors and all.

Brushes that feel good in the hand and make the kind of marks my soul needs--like dancing.

Clothes that fit and flatter and suit my elusive and somewhat quirky "style."  COMFORT is essential, at my age, but I don't care to look like the iconic Walmart shopper (not that I even own a pair of pajama-bottoms...)  I don't care what's in, or proper, or "right for my age"...if I like it and it's comfortable, it stays.  If not...out.

Shoes that don't hurt, feel good, and offer just a bit of support--those definitely earn a place in my closet.  I just recently found some wonderful Japanese sandals that I've just lived in this more of the others go in the giveaway box!

Kitchen gadgets I actually USE get to stay; kitchen gadgets as "decor" are edging out the door.  I have an eclectic collection of old knives that are definitely part of my life as sometime cook.  They work, they hold an edge, they feel good in the hand.  Others?  Long gone.

And of course I need to "have an accord" with my husband; when I'm seriously into giveaway mode, nothing is safe!  He recently took a little camera back out of the box...ooops...

And yes, sometimes I list on eBay--look for Katestreasures or click the link.  Vintage ink pens, a big watercolor box I haven't used in an age, reenacting gear I no longer use...

And of course the books and CDs we publish via our small company, Graphics/Fine Arts Press, like this one...but then that's a whole different kettle of codfish.  We don't want to run out of those!

But oh my, listing/selling is a pain in the patoot!  Shooting photos, writing descriptions, packing things up, shipping...happily I am seeing that light at the end of THAT particular tunnel!  (Or so I tell myself...)

We haven't tried Craigslist, but sometimes Freecycle is a good option--list it and they come and take it away!

Except...when they don't show up.

How do I decide what goes and what stays?  Sometimes it's easy.  Sometimes the recycle bins are full to overflowing.  Some things I wonder why I kept them at ALL.  Sometimes I put things in the giveaway box, and take them back out, and put them back in, and...

But as a general rule, I keep things that are needful, useful, or that feed my soul.  

So Discardia remains satisfying and feels like progress, however glacial...and Andy Couturier's wonderful A Different Kind of Luxury continues to inspire me. I have lived with a whole lot less...and I am aiming for that fresh, open place again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

We have a winner!

CONGRATULATIONS go to Morgan Golladay, our winner!

Please contact me at and let me know which class you'd like and I'll add you ASAP!

If you haven't already decided, explore these class options:  

Keeping an Artist's Journal
Ink & Wash
Quick Sketching 1
Quick Sketching 2
Quick-sketching in Color
Watercolor Pencil

Thank you for throwing your hat in the ring, everyone...this was so much fun I'll probably do it again in the future. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Creativity Giveaway--for you!

I hadn't done a giveaway on this blog for some time, and it just occurred to me--why not a "scholarship," for one of my mini-classes?!  (I know, I'm a wee tad slow sometimes...)


Explore these class options:  

Keeping an Artist's Journal
Ink & Wash
Quick Sketching 1
Quick Sketching 2
Quick-sketching in Color
Watercolor Pencil

All the images in this post are from the classes...

So take a peek on my website, here:, take a look at what classes are available, open the links, browse around, see what the feedback is like...

The classes have LOTS of videos, never seen by anyone but class members...

The winner gets to pick which 4-week, self-directed class to take.
Explore the options and throw your hat in the ring! 

Just leave a comment below and we'll pick the winner on Wednesday, September 10.

Good luck!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Creativity and Work and the Necessity of Taking a Break

...or "the freelancer's dilemma!"

I've just finished the big, intense, and very busy class for Danny Gregory's online "Sketchbook Skool," and desperately needed a break before jumping head first into the upcoming North Light book, Sketching on the Spot.  (And as those of you who took my class know, "just finished" really means a few weeks past, but it takes me time to recuperate these days!)

"And now for something completely different..."

Of course part of that difference took the form of just being quiet, and alone in my little shed studio as much as possible, save for my beloved husband and my cats.  Reading, listening to music, even playing a little on my old wooden whistle.

No computer, no phone...heaven.

Interacting with others sparingly and deliberately, and only those I chose to, for the most part.  (Class was wonderful and challenging, but almost every teacher I know who has been involved has also mentioned that it is exhausting--especially for us introverts.)

I know what I need!

Trying something different, a creative direction I hadn't taken in a long time, was one answer.  It is restorative, I think, to explore an entirely different form or medium.  For me, it has been printmaking.  Cutting my own printing blocks from soft rubber sheets that have largely taken the place of linoleum block or the woodblocks before them--and with my arthritic fingers it's just as well.  These cut like butter.

I dug out my 30 year old lino-cut tools you see above, and began to play.

Among my first stamps, this go-round--I love great blue herons, and wanted images of Norman, our silly, huge goldfish.

Fish, one-line cats, spirals, and the spiral in the hand that you find in many primitive has always captured my imagination.

More print blocks...
...a woven circle with wabi-sabi edges...and our friends the Copper Creek Band.

And MORE print blocks.  Yes, bears, too.  I think I'm done, now...
Really, this should be about enough...


I've always loved simple, bold prints--I had a brief foray into block cutting a few years ago when I wanted a larger version of the Newgrange spirals with which to embellish my journals.  This is one of my little accordion-fold sketch journals, with the stamp in use.

Last time I needed to cut stamps, I confined myself to a couple of spirals like this one.

The original meaning of these spirals has been lost in time; they are believed to have been carved 2500 years before the Celts reached Ireland, and they speak to me.

The Trinity; Maiden, Mother, Crone; Earth, Water, Sky--make of them what you will, the triple spiral seems to draw us in.


As I mentioned in this post, though, we CAN manage to turn almost anything creative into Work.  Commerce.  A way to earn at least a part of our living, and all the attendant considerations that go with that metamorphosis--where to sell, to whom, how to get the word out...but often, I don't want to turn straw into gold. It's just fine as it is. Straw rocks.  Great mulch...

Someone asked if I sold my print, no, but thanks for asking.  (Whew, I resisted!)

And so I remain vigilant.

And remember to play!

Really, that's one reason I work so much in my journals now, rather than on sheets of watercolor paper.  Everything can NOT be about money.  I have to create because I have to create.  I don't sell my journals, I don't tear pages out.  (I do sometimes make a print, but hey...must feed my cats and keep the electricity on...)


And now, a couple of weeks after I wrote the draft of this post, I'm back to the grindstone of book production, back to working till almost 9 in the evenings, some nights...and I've put my lino-cut tools away.

Well......maybe just one more idea...


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