Thursday, December 19, 2013

Remembering the Snowman

For about ten years now I have used my own art for Christmas cards.  It's one of the traditions I enjoy most.  Its a labor of love and I keep a card from every year.  It's great to look back at them all and remember the inspiration.  I've painted poinsettias, cardinals, pine cones, snow scenes, holly and so much more.  It's a challenge and lots of fun to hunt for the next idea to turn into a card.  This year I find myself behind the eight ball.  Something has to give.  And I think, it's the card...

It's not that I didn't create the art.  I did that last year!  But in the rush of things to do I waited too long and the shipping to get them here on time is outrageous!  Reluctantly, I decided to send just the Christmas letter with the art at the top. Sometimes we have to make concessions.  This will be the first time in many years that friends and family wont get a card from us along with the letter.  

Before trying to order cards, I put up the tree and got out the decorations. I was late getting out the Christmas decorations too!  Let's blame it on a late Thanksgiving, shall we?  While I was setting out my small group of snowmen, my favorite snowman fell to his death!  I was surprised it upset me so much.  I try not to get to attached to "things".  In fact, over the last few years I've culled my Christmas chotchkies down to a lesser cast of overkill.  Every year as I pack them away I ask, did I LOVE seeing this and is it worth packing up this year and unpacking next?  It's made a difference in helping me keep only what has real meaning, a memory or just brings me joy.  

Back to the point.  The snowman causality upset me, until...I remembered I
had immortalized him in a painting!  The painting I created last year for this years card (that will not make an appearance), is in fact a still life grouping of my snowman chotchkies, with the now shattered favorite -- front and center! 

Maybe I should rethink getting rid of the cast of characters I store for Christmas?   They have been a source of wonderful inspiration for my cards. keep my eye out for next years subject!  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Countdown to Christmas

Countdown to Christmas!
Have you made your list and checked it twice?
Need some ideas?  
I'm SURE you've been nice!

 If your like me, you have lots to do right now.  I hope you have a quick minute to read the latest installment in the "tools" series for Watercolor 101 on Empty Easel.  (Click the highlighted text to read the article)  This series has detailed all the tools you need to start painting in watercolor.  Make that list and give it to Santa--then paint with me!

 Beginning in January I will begin a series on basic watercolor technique to get us started painting.  They are perfect for the beginner or those who need a refresher.  If you know anyone who might be interested in these upcoming articles, please share them with your friends!

 I also have some fun exciting things planned in the New Year for my faithful blog readers--yes that's YOU!--so stay tuned!  I will roll them out beginning the first week of January.  As always, I hope you enjoy it and thanks for reading!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Watercolor Easels on Empty Easel Magazine

Here's a link to my latest article about easels in the Watercolor 101 series on Empty Easel. I hope for those of you new to watercolor these articles have been helpful.  In the new year I will be writing tutorials on how to paint in watercolor.  Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

How To Make This Christmas More Creative

Something as simple as Christmas lights can be an expression of creativity.
Have you seen those houses that have whole light shows?  

I love art and artists!  I enjoy every form of art.  I love, love, love, (did I say LOVE) music and have great respect for those who have mastered those skills to a point where they can express themselves creatively.  (just like any artist and art form)  Because I know the work it takes to master a set of skills in the visual arts, and because I've dabbled at playing the piano and singing in choirs, I am always in awe of the creativity behind a musical composition or vocal arrangements and so on.  Below is a link to some pretty creative guys and a piano for your viewing pleasure :)

The arts bring a fullness to life that I think we can take for granted.  I gave myself and now you, the challenge to find ways to make art a more intentional part of the holidays.  How can you do that?  Its as simple as buying a new Christmas CD.  Below is a list I've made.  See if any of these ideas hit a note with you.  Any ideas I missed?  Do you have any creative ideas?  Leave a comment on my blog or Facebook page MichelleMorrisArt so we can share ideas and creativity this Holiday Season!    

I saw this on Facebook and wanted to share some Holiday Cheer as well as some pretty creative guys and a piano!  

                                                  Link:  Angels We Have Heard on High

Some Creative Ideas for this Christmas:
  • create a painting and use it to make your own Christmas Cards
  • gather a group of friends and go caroling
  • have a party and invite others to bring a gift to exchange they made (a twist on the white elephant) 
  • find a new way to dress your tree that reflects your personality
  • attend the Nutcracker preformed by your local ballet troupe
  • attend the symphony's holiday performance
  • for those with snow: have you ever though of a snow man as sculpture?  Build a creative snowman!
  • do a visual journal for advent 
  • write a song or some poetry with the holiday theme
  • take your camera and shoot your favorite aspect of the holidays in a creative way
The list is as endless as we are creative!   Have a creative holiday season and a happy (creative) Thursday!  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Leaf Metaphor Won't Leaf Me Alone!

Monday night I went to my book club meeting where we discussed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  Great book, by the way.  One of the themes we discussed was how Harold's journey was a metaphor for life.  I am always enriched by the other group members thoughts and comments.  One of the side topics turned to pain and suffering in this life.  And again, my little leaf metaphor wouldn't leaf me alone!  I had hoped to spare you, but it was too persistent! 

This fall instead of the landscape, individual leaves called me to paint them.  Right now I'm having a hard time finding the time or desire to even pick up a paint brush.  But I've learned from my journal that small paintings are not demanding and can be just what the doctor ordered.  So as I painted tiny paintings of individual leaves and found that each one had a story.

How amazing were these little drawings and paintings of single fallen leaves!  Each leaf different. Some withered and curled. Some ravaged by the elements or bugs.  While painting the leaves I found the imperfections to be my favorite part.  They gave the leaf individuality and a fragile beauty.   The scars, gals, bug bites and tears all added character to the leaves and then to the drawings.  As I drew each leaf I hated covering the drawings with paint at times.  The color, so bright and bold, became secondary. And I didn't paint a few, so graceful and beautiful was the line of the drawing. And have you ever seen a leaf decomposed with nothing left but a web of veins?  Truly a wonder.

 Not one leaf I brought home was untouched by the elements in some way.  If nothing else it's life was ended by a gradual change in daylight.  Even those that looked perfect had still weathered the same storms and weather that those less fortunate had, they just managed to escape personal injury!  That is true of people too.  Just because they bear no discernible scars we shouldn't assume they have not had pain. 
But the leaves that were the most beautiful to me, those with the most character, were the twisted, dried leaves.  Those ravaged by the elements.  They were fragile and their lines were graceful.  And here comes the metaphor!  None of us gets through this life without scars, whether others can see them or not. It's the things we go through that give us character and strength.  It's age that brings wisdom through living. 


So while this fall was ablaze with stunning vistas of grand color, the muse I found was on the path (literally) right under my feet.  One at a time I painted single leaves.  And I realized I'm right where I need to be, focusing not on what is further down the path, but instead on the beauty right where I walk today.  In the single thing and not the grand expanse.  And that in the imperfect is where we find the story.  


Thursday, October 24, 2013

More Leaves

Sometimes journaling or small works like this are all I have time for.  Working small also helps encourage me to paint again if I'm in a slump.  Just by getting the paints out, then with the drawing I find the urge to put the brush into the paint and then touch the paint to the white paper and then adding water to watch the mystery and dance that is painting with watercolor!  

My favorite season is fall, and it's almost impossible for me not to pick up a few fallen leaves.  Who can resist all that color clinging to baring branches, floating on the breeze and carpeting the path underfoot?  And always impossible not to paint at least a single leaf!  

Here are two approaches to the same leaf.  Because I used a looser technique on the right with splatter, the color became darker and more red.  The actual leaf looks more like the one on the left.  ( I should have included the leaf! ).  Have you ever really looked at the delicate nature of a leaf?  Each is different and by this time of year, few are perfect. (Hmmm, there's a metaphor there!  But I'll spare you today! ) 

Enjoy the day and find some time to really look at a leaf! :) 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Expression with Line

Definition:Line in drawing refers to a type of mark that contains both a direction and a length.  Line is an art element.  There are numerous varieties of possible lines, including curved, bent, thick, wide, broken, vertical, horizontal, burred, or freehand.  Lines are frequently used to delineate shapes, forms and spaces.  The representation of volume, edges, movement and patterns can all be created using line.  Lines can create both 2D and 3D objects and figures. 


I have a fondness for line.  One of my favorite teachers taught me the sensitivity that can be shown with simple line.  A soft or light line seems delicate while a hard or dark line may feel more solid or sturdy.  You pick the adjective, but you get my meaning.

I use line to draw my subjects when I paint in watercolor.  I find myself conflicted when I've drawn something I like with line but I know that the drawing itself will be lost when it's painted.  The subtleties expressed with a simple line are so beautiful to me!  

This is a little watercolor sketch I did today.  Inspired by the beauty of the brilliant colors this fall, I brought leaves home from my walk.  I tossed the leaves on my white table.  They were bathed in sunlight while I sat and sketched the contour of a brilliant red-orange maple leaf.  I went ahead and painted the drawing, but I felt I had to photograph the line drawing before I did!  


Drawing and line are definitely a big part of what I love about watercolor.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I apologize for not putting much of my art up lately, but you have to make art to show it and that's the problem.  I've been, shall we say, distracted and not painting.  This too shall pass.  I've noticed that periods of dormancy are followed by periods of great productivity and creativity.

In the past, I would try to force the creative process or coax a painting or two from the dry well of my creative self.  I would put into place an appointed time to paint each day believing that the practice would elicit the return of the creative impulse.  Sometimes this worked.  Most times it only produced technical paintings without spirit.  The idea being that if I faked it long enough the spirit would return with the practice.  But here is what I've found later in life and in this cycle of my life.  That "pushing through" the dry spells with work that was uninspired was wasted energy.

What I've understood lately is that periods of dormancy are as much a part of my creative experience as winter is to the perennial flower.  Instead of fighting the seemingly harsh weather of a creative winter, why not enjoy the beauty of the stillness and clarity the winter season brings.  A time to reflect, see the creative landscape unclothed and naked. Listen to the silence. To appreciate more fully the spring of renewal that awaits beneath the cold and seemingly dead surface. Are periods of dormancy any less important to the cycle of creativity?  I now know they are every bit as important for renewal.  But for years I have feared them and fought the inevitable.  Read the books and practiced the "cure".  In the end, its a cycle.  I can fight it or settle into it and learn to weather the season!

Thanks for waiting and reading!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Speak in Color

As artists we have a lingo.  You know, "Art speak", so to speak!   We talk about composition, values, texture and so on.  Those unfamiliar with our language are confused by our vocabulary.  Some of my Facebook friends post amusing things that have  "math" or "grammar" that sometimes I don't get, because I don't fully understand their "Speak".  We all know and use some language that only those in the know, know!  Some specialized speech with words fully understood only to those who are familiar with their words and ideas.

Within the language of art, I've noticed I speak a particular dialect.  I speak color.  No, not the language of color.  Analogous, primary, hue, chroma, tint are terms used to describe different properties of color.  I mean I speak actual color.  "Look at the Ocher in that wheat field" or "did you see the Viridian shutters on that house?" And "those geraniums are the perfect shade of Scarlet Lake!"  Other artists who paint understand me clearly.  They nod their head in agreement or sometimes chose their own descriptive paint color to further narrow in on the exact hue.  Then we all murmur "oh, yes, much better choice!" As amusing as it may seem, it makes perfect sense to us!    

Yes, I speak in color.  I used to say things like "that's a lovely shade of blue".  Now I use the exact name that corresponds with the tube of color:  "what a lovely shade of ultra marine."  Once when a young lady working for an Italian cruise line told me her name was Azura, I knew not only what her name meant, but that her eyes had inspired her parents to name her that.

But beyond its many names and hues, Color allows us- the visual artist- to express themselves without words.  Color itself speaks.  Besides my speech, I use it to speak through my art.  I use color to reflect a mood or I change natural colors to intensify or exaggerate an element or else dull it to give it less importance in the painting.  Color evokes emotion and sets the tone for a painting.  The many ways and uses for color are too many for this short post, but such a powerful tool needs to be understood to be used well. Like a spoken language we do well when we learn how to use it to communicate our intent as clearly as possible.  I am still learning!  

Just a thought.  

Thursday, August 22, 2013


So much news from the Studio!  In case you have not seen or heard by one of the various means of communication I've used, it was a busy summer!  I taught Plein Air and Beginning Watercolor at the MAC in Worthington, Sketchbook Journaling and Flowers in Watercolor at the Columbus Cultural Arts Center downtown as well as a summer series in the Studio

New also this summer, I began writing for two online art Magazines: Empty Easel and Senior Artist.  I will be contributing every few weeks to Empty Easel with articles that began a several weeks ago on the basics of watercolor. (Click here to read the article.) At Senior Artist I have been writing about Sketchbook Journaling (Click here for the first article, here to read the second, click here to read the third in the series.) and will not be writing for them quite as regularly as with Empty Easel.  A girls got to sleep! 

I published a Facebook Page for my art this summer.  Look for it on Facebook at Michelle Morris Art.  If you LIKE the page it will show in your feed when I post.  The other day I reached and went over the 300 LIKE mark.  Very nice to have so many who are interested in seeing what I do.  Also on Facebook I opened a Daily Sketchworks group.  This is an open group where you can share and see what other sketchers are doing.  Facebook is a fun way to share art with others!  

All this activity has been awesome and new opportunities are a great way to take your creativity to another level.   But all this activity has taught me something.  This girl has learned that even though an opportunity knocks, you don't have to answer the door.  The knock may come again and it may not.  That's the risk.  But I think if I've learned anything from all this new and exciting activity, it's that the art can turn into a by product and not the main reason I do what I do.  To be so busy that I'm not doing MY art makes me unbalanced!  It is only by feeding my own creative spirit that I have the energy and creative life to share with others!

Its pretty basic, so why do I share it?  Because I believe in balance.  I believe that by not honoring what art does for my soul, it's calming quieting effects, the joy and balance the simple act of even drawing a sketch brings to my life, by not honoring that in my life as a part of who I am as a person, well, I cheat myself.  My life is fuller and so much richer with that little sketch today than if I wrote or taught about it forty times.  Don't get me wrong.  Writing and teaching feed my creative side as well and I love them both.  But I think I relearned that you can get lost in good things that take you away from the best thing!  If this blog is for anything, I want it to encourage you to do your ART.  To do it for the love of it.  To do it for you.  Until it becomes such a part of you that you find yourself unbalanced without it!  Go make some art!  

Monday, July 22, 2013

New Empty Easel article

My new writing gig!  Empty Easel is another online art magazine that I will be regularly writing for.  Visit and subscribe to their weekly preview of the weeks upcoming articles.  

I love all kinds of artistic mediums, but the one I find most exciting and expressive is watercolor. Watercolor gets a bad rap as being hard to control—it’s often considered the hardest medium to work with. But, while it does have more variables than other mediums, that’s what makes it so unique and exciting!

One thing’s for sure, whether you’re just starting out in watercolors, or you’ve been doing it for years, having the right tools can make your job a LOT easier. So, over the next few weeks I’m going to talk about the tools you will need to paint with watercolor, beginning today with brushes.

Are brushes really that important?

Yes! Good watercolor brushes are critical to the success of your paintings. I cannot tell you how often I have a new student who attempts to paint in watercolor using a brush meant for oil or acrylic—always with poor results!

Watercolor paints require the use of water; that’s how the paint color moves around. So a good watercolor brush is made with materials that hold and release WATER! (In other words, a bristle brush will not work.) When you go to buy your brush, ask or look specifically for watercolor brushes. This may seem like a no brainer, but it’s the first key to successfully painting with watercolor.

OK, so now that you’re looking at watercolor brushes only, you’ve narrowed your choices some, but there are still many brushes to choose from. Lets narrow these even further by type, materials and cost.

Types of watercolor brushes

There are several types of watercolor brushes, but rounds and flats are the most common. In my experience a few good rounds and flats will serve you well for 90% of most paintings. Ignore the rest!

Think about the size of brushes you need. One common problem I see new watercolor painters making is using a brush too small for the job. Equip yourself with a variety of brush sizes so you have the right tools for the job. The barest basics would be to start with a #10 round and a #6 round, along with one 3/4 inch flat wash brush.

My normal starting recommendation, however, is to pick up three rounds: a #14, #10, and #6. Also pick up two flats (or wash brushes) in 1 inch and 1/2 inch. Specialty brushes are sometimes handy but not at all necessary, so don’t spend money on them when you’re just starting out. As you progress, you’ll probably want to invest in a few riggers, but that’s probably all you’ll need.

What are watercolor brushes made of?

These days the variety of brush materials is great. When I was in school I was told the best brushes were sable because they give you the best results. (They were very expensive, though!) Today the best brushes are still sable and are still expensive, but there are also synthetic brushes and synthetic blends that give equally good results with less expense.

The material you end up with is really personal preference. I know several people who love and use squirrel hair mop brushes. (Personally, I find these hold way too much water for me and for most beginners.) Many other fine watercolorists use only sable hair brushes. I prefer a synthetic brush’s ability to spring back and hold a point. All this comes from painting experience with a variety of different brushes which is why I advise new students to simply choose a good low cost option to begin with.

How much do watercolor brushes cost?

For good mid-range synthetic watercolor brushes, you’ll be paying between $20 to $35, before tax or shipping. And remember, you really need three to six brushes, so it adds up quick!

The good news is, a well-made brush from a good company will last a long time, and spending a little more on brushes will always pay off. I still own a brush that I bought in school 30+ years ago! I got my money’s worth even though back then my only thought was, “How many other things could I have bought with what I paid for this one brush!?”

So my advice is to buy the best brushes your budget can afford. You don’t need to buy them all at once and as you progress you might prefer, as I do, synthetic blends over the very expensive sable brushes.

Of course, always keep in mind that a good brush makes a huge difference, but even the most expensive brush won’t paint the paintings for us or hold the magical key to painting success. Trust me on this, while your choice of brush is important, it’s only part of the equation! There is no magic brush!

So again, my advice is buy a few good brushes (three to six of them, with at least a couple sizes of rounds and flats) and add better brushes to your set as you improve and find your preferences.

Where to buy good watercolor brushes online

For good mid-range brushes I’d recommend the store brand watercolor series fromDick Blick Art Supplies or Utrecht Art Supplies. They have a large variety and since they’re online prices are usually lower, but you’ll pay shipping. Cheap Joe’sJerry’s Art supply and Art Supply Warehouse are good sources for brushes too.

A better brush (and my brush of choice these days) is Loew-Cornell Golden Taklonsynthetic brushes. They are inexpensive and I like their “snap” and quality. These brushes are available online at many of the retailers I just listed above.

Better yet, Winsor & Newton makes a nice set of brushes with a natural sable/synthetic blend called the Sceptre Gold ll series which are excellent for the beginner and reasonably priced. I started with these and still have and use them. They should be available online or in stores as well.

Stay tuned for my next Watercolor 101 article on the different types of paper and why paper matters. Until then, go get those brushes ready!

Did you like this article? Share it!
Then check out the related posts below.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Challenging Your Observation Skills!

My sketchbook challenge is on!  If you haven't read about it yet, check the previous blog or Senior Artist Article and join the fun!

The challenge is a sketch a day for 30 days.  The goal is to strengthen drawing skills.  Good drawing skills are very important if you want to draw or paint representational art.  (drawing something that looks like the object). 

The "challenge within the challenge" is just a suggestion to help you find inspiration. Last weeks was "What says summer to you?" With that challenge I've seen some wonderful work!  I thought I'd share one I did this weekend while on the road.

This sketch was done in the car as the scenes sped past.  I looked as long as I could at what interested me and then drew from memory.  First I drew the large tree in the field.  Later I saw a field with hay bales all askew.  Last I drew the flowers that dotted the roadside in the foreground.  Then I painted it with watercolor.  It's a small sketch (3x5) and I got a little too tight with my little tiny brush!  I struggle to stay loose. Time and detail are the enemy in that sense!

Drawing is all about seeing. After image drawing (what I did with this sketch) is an excellent way to strengthen observation skills.  On my Facebook page, ( just "like" Michelle Morris Art to see the feed on your page ) I issue a "challenge within the challenge" every so often.  This week I want to use after image drawing to challenge your skills a bit.   Spend 10-15 seconds looking at the photo below or use your own subject.  Then without looking draw the image.  Repeat this exercise with the same subject for a few days and see how your drawing improves!  Then post your sketches on my page and share in the fun!

Happy sketching!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sketchbook 30 Day Challenge



Having just taught a sketchbook journaling workshop last weekend, I’m fresh from the creativity and excitement of being with others who were eager to learn and explore the “how’s and why’s” of keeping a visual journal. And I’m eager to share a bit more with all of you! 

So far, I’ve discussed some of the tools I use to create a sketchbook journal. These tools can be as varied and creative as you are—the sky’s the limit! I’ve seen journals hand-stitched with twine, a twig, and old paper sacks. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve seen expensive leather-bound journals with the finest linen or rag paper. I feel the journal itself is as expressive as what I put in it and becomes an art form in and of itself! To fill it, use anything you want to make your mark and express your creativity.

We also talked about the illustrated travel journal and the many ways you might carry supplies on your travels and how to sneak in a sketch here and there. Keeping a travel journal is a wonderful way to make your travels more memorable by having a visual and written record of your experiences and sights.

Today, let’s talk about how very useful a sketchbook journal can be. As a professional artist, my sketchbook has long been a practical tool in the making of my art. In it, I work out the problems with a painting, sparing myself countless hours of painting larger works that fail! A failure to plan, is a plan to fail, as the saying goes. 

I use small thumbnail sketches to work out my values and compositions, and to find the format that works best. I then paint small studies to work out color harmonies—all before I start a larger painting. The painting below, “Arm in Arm” is an example of a work conceived and planned in one of my sketchbooks!  

The best way I’ve found to get the most out of your sketchbook is to actually use it! I follow several sketchbook blogs (and will provide info on those later), and many have issued a daily sketch challenge. This January I challenged myself to 30 sketches in 30 days. To keep myself honest, I blogged and posted them on Facebook each day. I wrote about my process, all that went into my sketches, and what I was learning. I learned a great deal with that discipline. 

In my eyes, the takeaway for any type of daily practice is: 

1. You build a habit. While I did not continue to sketch daily. The daily practice was valuable in showing me that there is always a way to make time for my art! 

2. The old adage “practice makes perfect” applies to your art, no matter how experienced you may be. My art has improved by being consistent. 

3. You have a record or your journey as an artist and can see how your work has evolved over a period of time. Through my journals I realized that I had lost the playfulness I brought to my earlier work by becoming a better artist technically. I then used my journals to explore and make the transition to a more spontaneous style. This, in turn, helped me become more technically competent, which gave me the freedom to express myself and find my voice as an artist.  

Lastly, I think a sketchbook journal is a safe place to take an art adventure. It’s a private place where you can experiment without fear and embrace making “mistakes” (In art, what’s a mistake anyway?). Since your sketchbooks are a volume of works, ideas can evolve or dissolve as you continue to explore, push boundaries, and expand on them. It’s a place to play and just have fun—to be yourself! Your sketchbook may very well become your new best friend!

As you can see, a sketchbook journal is a useful, practical way to move forward in your artistic journey. Using it often as a place to hone your skills and express yourself creatively has applications far beyond its pages.  

How about you? Do you think about making art, but never really get around to it? Are you up for a challenge? Do you need a push to get you going?  Or maybe some accountability to get you back in the game? Take a look at the “Resources” section in this issue to find out how you can take the 30-day sketchbook challenge.

Michelle is an artist/writer living and creating in Columbus, Ohio. To see more of her work, read her blog, Living a Creative Life, or visit her website.




enior Artist contributor, Michelle Morris is issuing her own sketchbook journaling challenge! You can join her and other artists on Facebook for a 30-day sketchbook challenge. You can post your work as you go, or if you’re too timid to show the world, you can watch as others share in the adventure.

Michelle will post small “challenges within the challenge” and will be posting tips and techniques for sketching throughout the 30 days.

The rules are simple—more like guidelines really:

  • Produce one sketch daily for 30 days.
  • Use pen or pencil to draw, and add color if desired.
  • Choose any size or subject.
  • You are responsible to no one but yourself. If you want to get the most out of the challenge, you’ll have to stick with it!

Ready? Set? GO! The challenge starts today!

Visit Michelle’s Facebook fan page and click “like” to start receiving the daily challenges in your newsfeed.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Senior Artist Article

Posting my article from this issue of Senior Artist.  Read all about it!  And for more art related tips and articles go to thanks for reading.

Turn Your Vacation Into An Art Lesson You Won't Forget!

June 10 , 2013

by Michelle Morris

As I mentioned in my last piece, the very first time I used a sketchbook for anything other than drawing was on a trip to Italy.

Having painted plein air for several years, I knew that such a complicated setup and that luxury of time was not possible while on a tour of another country. I knew I would be seeing some incredible art and architecture, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of so many before me and paint what I saw. When in Rome, right?

Packing light was essential!

I pared down supplies to a minimum with a sketchbook small enough to fit in my purse, a small paint box, a travel brush, and pencil and eraser. Bottled water is easy to come by most anywhere, but I also have a small water bottle I can carry with me.

My sketchbook was a 10 x 7 spiral-bound Strathmore Field Watercolor Journal. (I have since moved on to better journals with better paper, but I've used several of these and find them an excellent option and readily available.) In between each watercolor sheet, these journals have regular paper on which I journaled my experiences every day.

That first journal was the beginning of many travel journals to come.

As the years went on and my husband and I were able to take a few trips, I schlepped my ever-evolving "kit" with me.  Since I mostly used watercolor in my early journals (I'll cover other mediums to try in a later article), I found that when I need to pare down even more, the Niji paint brush came in handy since it carries water inside the handle! I've used a larger paint box by Yarka and found a sealed watercolor palette that I use with my tube paints for trips when I know I might have more time.

Below are some sketches from that first journal, made while on the tour bus of the Italian countryside. I sketched when and where I could!

So, how do you use a sketchbook while traveling?

When you find you have a bit of time and want to do a sketch, begin by asking, "How long do I have to do this sketch?" Often, that determines the size. Below are a few I did as we motored down Holter Lake by boat toward the Gates of the Mountains in Montana. Each is about 2x3, which was all I had time for since the scenes passed rapidly. There was no time for drawing with these. I just recorded with paint what I saw.

Other sketches are larger, if time permits. I painted this (below) from our cruise ship as we came into port. Having your supplies with you when the chance to paint presents itself and asking yourself those two questions helps you make the most of the time you have.

Next ask, "What about this scene makes me want to paint it?" The sketch Church at Messina (below) was lit by the orange sunlight of the setting sun, and the dome was orange with reflected light. That was what spoke to me and what I wanted to capture. Because light changes, objects can move, or something might disturb your time, if you've gotten the essence of a scene, then you have a complete sketch. Not all of my sketches are "complete," nor do I feel the need to finish them all. But if I identify what speaks to me and capture it, I've captured that moment in time and in my journal forever.

While it’s not always easy to find the time, one option is to do the drawing off-site. Scribble some color notes or make small color swatches on the side, then paint it back at your hotel in the evening. While I would rather finish on-site, finishing at your leisure can be a less hurried and relaxing end to the day. I will often note colors and impressions, details, and even feelings to evoke memories back at the studio. That way, when I go to paint the scene, it comes to life again. My point is this:  be flexible and find what works best for your situation. The important thing is to just do it!

Lastly, don't get caught up in perfection.

In my experience, sketching is about the act, not necessarily the finished product. My sketches are not going to get a frame. For years no one even saw them. I certainly wouldn't have shared them if I thought they would be the standard of judgment for my body of work! No, these are personal records of my travels. Some make it to larger works in the studio, yet many are so special in their simple sketched form that I consider them small works of great worth on their own!

I've found sketchbooks so valuable not just because they record my travels, but more importantly, because having a visual journal has made such solid, lasting memories. I have thousands of photos, but few bring back memories as clearly as those sketches. The reason is simple:  you are taking a few extra minutes to really experience that place. I may have painted things I could do quickly and was not able to finish the sketch, but I chose things that spoke to me—things I wanted to remember. Taking the time to observe, record, and fully experience the scene leaves a lasting memory—something a photo can rarely do. 

Michelle is an artist/writer living and creating in Columbus Ohio. To see more of her work visit her blog, Living a Creative Life, or visit her website.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Wrapping up a portrait class.  Planes of the face and some feature work in oil.

Planes of the face 
Features, nose and mouths
It looks weird to have noses and mouths floating about, doesnt it?  Where are the eyes?  forgot to photograph them! While everyone has slight variations in their features, it's still necessary to practice painting the basic structure.  And although I was teaching, it was a good review for me as well.  I don't work often in oil these days so it was nice to get back to it.  I think I need to do some portrait work in oil again!  

Next comes a well deserved vacation.  Look for some sketches in the future!  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sketching Iris

As write my articles for Senior Magazine and prepare for my Watercolor Flowers and Sketchbook Journaling classes, I want to share my excitement and encourage everyone to get and keep a sketchbook journal! It's also only natural to combine my love of flowers and journaling!

Below are a few sketches I did in a class.  The iris are so fleeting but in full bloom now.  Sketches are not meant to be great works of art, but I find I love them as much and sometimes more than those studio paintings I put so much love and work into!  My sketches range from fun and free form to detailed small paintings.

Add caption
 This first sketch was to show a student how the flower forms without much detail say "iris".  Done on regular paper, it is buckled and the colors are soft because the watercolor behaves differently on regular paper.  I liked it so well for its simplicity so I am going to glue it in a journal!!

 Again, a color demo on a watercolor sketch pad.  This time for color mixing and to show how form and a free approach still say "iris"!  I knew after it dried that I wanted to add ink for some detail and whimsy.

To the right is the finished product.   To me, this is what a journal is for.  A place to see whats possible, to experiment and take a risk.  I think it paid off!    

Iris 6 x 8  Framed (for sale)

And last, a much more detailed small demo.  Same iris, different view, different treatment.  And I love them all!!  

I have more work to share so I'll be posting again a bit more regularly.  Stay tuned and email me or post comments on the blog if you have comments or questions for me.  

Have a creative day!  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

New Hat's for Michelle Morris Art

Glacier National Park- Plein Air 
Well, the blog has been idle, but I have not!  I have been busy trying on a few new hats.  Some very exciting new hats!  While they all surround my art and have kept me busy, be assured I am still painting and will share my newest stuff with you  in the coming weeks.

While teaching is not new, I have a new teaching venue this summer in Columbus with the Cultural Arts Center downtown.  Two workshops, Watercolor Flowers and Sketchbook Journaling.  I am very excited about this opportunity to expand my offerings to a different audience. Click on the highlighted texts for more information and to register for these workshops.

For those who want something in the northern suburbs, I have two workshop offerings at the McConnell Arts Center.  Plein Air in Watercolor on three separate dates, Wednesdays, June 12, 19 or Saturday  June 22: 10am-5pm (or take all three!) and a Basic Watercolor workshop- Wednesdays, July 31 and August 7: 1-4pm.  That link is not up yet but I have the info on my Web page.

But wait, there is more!  The workshop program is new to the Cultural Arts Center.  The mainstay of the program is quality local teachers who teach in an intensive time frame of one or two days.  This works so well for those who cannot commit to longer time frames of weekly classes.  The Director and Workshop Coordinator of the CCAC have given the Friends of the CCAC (non profit fund raising group that supports the CCAC) permission to bring in nationally known artists to the program once or twice a year.  I will be assisting with this and sent out a newsletter a few weeks back with a survey.  My apologies to you if the survey was missing.  Somehow I screwed that up after the fact.  Twice!! This time I promise the link is good and if you would indulge me and answer a few brief questions it would help tailor the workshops to what you, the public, most want.  This is a wonderful opportunity for the Arts in Columbus, but take the survey even if you dont live in the area.  I can use the data!  Click here to take the Survey.

And last, but definitely not least.  Read all about it!  I will be a regular monthly contributor to Senior Artist online magazine.  Senior Artist is an online magazine geared to older adults who finally have the time to pursue their artistic dreams.  As a contributor I will be introduced to the subscribers this Thursday May 16th as the featured artist with a brief bio and samples of my work.  On Thursday May 23rd I will be starting a monthly five week series on the many ways and reasons to keep a sketchbook journal.  Please check it out at the highlighted link above and subscribe to receive Senior Artist in your inbox!

Thanks for reading and I promise to get back to regular blog posts within the next week!  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

I had my students bring in something personal to add to the still life for our final class. One student brought a black duck decoy.  (Charles Reid has a decoy he uses in his still life with regularity and I've always wanted to paint one.)  Sitting down to help someone I saw the light on the decoy and knew I had to paint it! And fast, since it was going home with her! So quickly I sketched and painted it. Light and shape are what attract me most often to a subject. This had wonderful shapes and colors within the black.

Now classes are over for a few weeks. During this time I hope to set up my studio-- yes it's still a wreck --and get some things stored and organized.  Then I'm hoping to get back to a routine of painting and blogging regularly again!

My blog may go quiet again for a time, but look for me in a few weeks.  Rested, ordered and ready to paint and share!  Until then, paint for me!!

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Still taking my art where I can get it! I sat down today to show a student how to tackle those yellow daffodils that are in the stores now and will be blooming outdoors soon. I love the beginning of this painting. Unfortunately, I won't have time to finish it anytime soon and those flowers won't last! Luckily, there are more where they came from!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Keeping it Going!

I started this drawing of an eye to show a student. Using the colored paper as a middle value with two pastel pencils-white for highlights and caput mortuum for shadow and half tone. Right now, with my studio in boxes and no time to tackle it right now, I do my art whenever I can! After class i had the bug and continued the drawing for a while longer. While it still has some flaws, it scratched the itch! Felt good to put pencil to paper again. And since my studio and supplies are all still in boxes until I get things unpacked elsewhere-I take my art where I can get it! Don't know if Scott is on this list, but if you are--here's our guy finished! How do you like it and how is yours shaping up? Send photos!
A new Facebook friend, Kelly, has been inspiring me with her art on a 30 day journey of her own. She does her art while her young one naps! Recently she posted a beautiful self portrait. I've never done one! Another goal on the list! Thanks Kelly!
Now, until next time, keep it going any way/any time you can!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Another Day

Here's another quick charcoal study from a photo. I loved the lighting in this photo. I'm using photos with good strong light to teach a student to model the forms on the face a portrait.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Analogous Painting

Today in class I did a demo using a split primary palette to mix colors for an analogous painting of some fruit. I used heavy pencil marks so students could see the line and watch how I draw my forms and find my composition by restating my lines to correct the drawing. Always a fun exercise. I love to paint those little blueberries!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Correction to a new view

I reread my blog. I'm HAPPY to have my dad, just not to loose my studio! I didn't write that well now did I? The painting wasn't the only thing I rushed through!
Please excuse!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Changing My View

While my blog is devoted to my art, that is not all I am. I am many things besides an artist and all those things contribute to how I view life and how I do art. There are many things that come before my art. But through the years art has seeped in and become a large part of my identity.

My other life and my art are not always on the same track. Sometimes the art needs to take a back seat and sometimes I get to move it to the front of the bus, like taking a yearly weeklong workshop, for example. But for the last and next few weeks it takes a back seat and my blog will only see small sketches as I move my studio to another part of the house to make room for my dad to move into our home.

In the past such an upheaval would have brought my painting to a dead halt. And it has to a point. But the 30 day challenge taught me that I have to paint for myself, not to create grand works of art or large paintings. Not that I paint that many grand large paintings, but thats always the thought. Or it was. I'm free of that now. Now I paint daily (almost) in some small way, just for me. It completely changed how I think about my art and has given me a fresh perspective or a new view.

At first I was sad to give up the space I have used to paint and grow for ten years. But always, change brings growth. The move has literally given me a new view. My new space has a window facing the other side of the house and I situated my painting table there. The upheaval has given me reason to go through things, organize and purge what I really don't need. I feel this incredible surge of creativity and possibility at having this change that I at first was not all to excited about.

It will take a little time to get things settled and to adjust to this new arrangement. But once I tweaked my attitude and got down to business I realized I would do my art in the bathroom over the tub if I had to! So, you see, this move has given me a new view in more than one way!

Below is a sketch in the sketchbook painted in the new studio amidst the chaos! It was rushed and the ellipses ore not right, but as I said before, I just needed to paint!