Back to the Junk Mail Artist Book

Finally! I’ve completed the fourth of five lessons with Carla Sonheim and her method for creating a small book from junk mail. This step was extremely challenging for me — each drawing extended beyond its page to pages behind creating a puzzle to solve: what the heck can be created from the partial marks here?? Here is what I came up with (click on image for larger view):

Book cover Pages 2-3 Page -4-5 Pages 6-7 Pages 8-9 Pages 10-11

Back coverThe final lesson involves more painting and drawing. Stay tuned — I will share the final book.

Click on the ‘junk mail’ link above to see the beginnings of this project.

Sketchbook Skool

This is the first week of the second semester with Sketchbook Skool. Danny Gregory is our first instructor. The focus of this 6-week class is ‘seeing’ — not what we think we see, but what is actually in front of us. The lectures are thoughtful; the homework is challenging.

First assignment: Draw a piece of toast. Click on image for a larger view.

Franki Kohler - Seeing Toast

The assignment was to sketch every detail we could see, with the option of sketching just a portion of the toast. I spent about 45 minutes capturing a bit over one-third of this slice of toast. I used a PITT artist pen S. It took serious concentration and still I was lost in the nooks and crannies a couple of times.


Last week I snipped a couple small branches of my friend’s black oak tree to do some sun printing. The black oak is a native California tree and will fit nicely with the art quilt series I’m working on. I am quite taken with the shape of the leaf. It has so much character and grace with those very deep lobes and multiple points on the edges. The leaves are very soft and supple, bending gently to the breeze. I couldn’t resist sketching one of the leaves along with a feather found during a recent walk. Click on image for larger view.

Black Oak and Feather SketchI was a bit nervous about sketching my first feather so I started with the more familiar leaf shape first. I painted the leaf with 5 layers of watercolor paint to achieve the look I wanted. Between layers of green paint for the leaf I sketched the feather. I used the same multi-layer approach and 2 micro pens to capture this Scrub Jay feather. I feel like I’ve broken the ice with this sketch, so I won’t be as nervous about attempting a new feather in the future.

Junk Mail Artist Book

I learned about Carla Sonheim from my friend and fellow-artist Priscilla Read and I simply could not resist trying her Junk Mail Artist’s Book class! In just five lessons at Silly U I am turning junk mail — the stuff usually tossed straight into the recycle bin — into a book. I can’t see a down side to this project.

Each lesson begins with a drawing exercise designed to get us ready to draw in the book by lesson 4. Here is a one-line drawing I did — no lifting the pen from the paper until the drawing is finished. (Click on image for larger view.) These exercises are not intended to be cherished art — they are simply warm-up drawings.

warm-up drawing The painting comes next. Using a brayer, a thick layer of gesso is applied to both sides. Viola! Great texture.

junk mail with gessoThen both sides are painted with 2 layers of watercolor paint — 2 different colors.

two layers watercolor paintWhen everything is dry, the pages are turned into a book, ready for drawings. Here’s the cover.

CoverNote that the pages are irregularly shaped and sized. Pages 2, 3: (Click on the image for a better view.)

Pages 2, 3This means that the drawings will overlap onto pages underneath! Very exciting. Pages 4, 5

Pages 4, 5Pages 6, 7

Pages 6, 7Pages 8, 9

Pages 8, 9Pages 10, 11

Pages10, 11The back.

BackNow the real fun and challenge begins. Here is my first drawing on pages 2-3. Notice that the top and bottom of the sunflower extends to the page behind it — page 5.

Page 3, The drawing beginsThe partial sunflower  petals at the top of page 5 inspired the dinosaur.

Page 3 drawing goes onto page 5

I have no idea yet what the tail of the dinosaur or the stem of the sunflower will inspire, but something will come to me.

This is a very different way of drawing and painting for me and it’s just plain fun. So, back to drawing, then the final lesson. Stay tuned, there’s bound to be another layer of surprise.

Sketching for Fun

Roz Stendahl, one of the 6 instructors of Sketchbook Skool, focused on sketching animals. She particularly liked sketching live animals. She also realized that it can be quite a challenge to sketch a model that is moving, particularly if you are new to the discipline. She recommended going to natural history museums, state parks or other venues that would have taxidermy you could sketch.

Above all, Roz said that because sketching is something you want to do, it should be fun. So why not go to a toy store and pick up some fun models? I like her thinking. I went to my local toy store and picked up some dinosaurs. Click on image for larger view.

DinosaursI have to admit, it was pretty fun getting them placed just right for my sketching session. For this sketch I used pen, watercolor and then went back with watercolor pencils.

Roz’s parting gift was a set of Fun Factor Flash Cards that she designed using sketches from her journals and emphasizing points she made during her lesson. Points like “Sleeping pets make great models.” and “Never let a model down your shirt.” This one had a photograph of Roz, head tossed back laughing, with a parrot peeking out the top of her shirt. She knows her models and has fun! The tip I keep in mind is “The right time to start sketching is always now.”

This posting has been shared with Off the Wall Friday.

More Sketching

There are few things that scream summer like strawberries. And we are enjoying our share of beautiful strawberries that arrive each week in our box from Shooting Star CSA. Click on image for larger view.

Summer Screams StrawberriesI couldn’t resist a calm sketching moment with the last few berries in the basket.

Tommy Kane, one of the 6 Sketchbook Skool instructors that led me on-line in sketching, assigned sketching our kitchen. Tommy is all about detail. The only way to understand that statement is to visit his site. Here’s my rendering of a portion of my kitchen:

Kitchen sketchI think that Tommy would have sketched the grain of the wood but this was enough detail for me. I was able to do this in 2 sittings — about 1 1/2 hours each. Tommy often spends 8 hours or more on a sketch. His style is instructive, to say the least.

I’m looking forward to the next Sketchbook Skool class which starts in July — another 6 weeks with another 6 instructors. The change of teaching and sketching styles keeps this class fresh and my creative mojo moving.

What are you doing to keep your creative mojo fresh?


I think it’s not so much a problem of lack of inspiration for sketching, it’s more a matter of being overwhelmed by everything that could be sketched. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it for now.

For this sketch I played with creating the background wash first. When it was dry I simply put my feet up and sketched. Click on image for larger view.

05-30 SketchThe Sketchbook Challenge uses themes as prompts to get the sketch going. I liked the theme HIGHLY PRIZED and sketched this in response.

06-01 SketchWhen the sketch was done I began jotting down — stream-of-thought — things that are part of my highly prized list.

What will your creative muse be today?

Sketchbook Skool

I’m in the middle of an on-line class called Sketchbook Skool developed by Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene. The idea behind this 6-week class led by a different instructor each week is to gain skills and inspiration which will lead to making sketching a daily habit. I am learning a lot and having fun, my two goals for taking this class.

This sketch was done starting with a cup of coffee — yes, the morning wake up cup. A bit of coffee poured into a saucer and the mug used as a stamp, then the sketch. What better than to use what is at hand — a watercolor kit. It was a very nice way to begin the day — focused and caffeinated. Click on an image for a larger view.

Coffee SketchKoosje suggests sketching things you love. Here is a watercolor of a plate that belonged to my mother-in-law. I have loved this little plate from the moment I first saw it. I treasure having it in my own home now.

PlateAnd here is the plate.

The PlateI would characterize my sketch as not bad as a first attempt. I will be sketching this again with a focus on better capturing the trees to the far left and right of the setting. My mistake with those areas was following the paint order used by the artist who painted this plate, forgetting that the paint order for that medium versus the watercolor paints I am using, is quite different. I can do nothing but improve!

More Watercolor Painting

There is just one more meeting for the watercolor class I’m taking at Merritt College so I’m especially pleased to have completed this painting on Friday.

Franki Kohler, Eggplant with shadow and reflectionThe painting began with the background using a wet-on-wet technique — the reverse of other paintings we’ve done — then the shadow, the reflection and the eggplant. The last application was a third layer of paint for the darkest portion of the shadow beneath the eggplant. Pablo called it a real success — but then, he’s the essence of patience and encouragement. Still, considering my goal of continued exposure to watercolor and training my eye to see the colors before me, I am rather pleased with this. I don’t think one would mistake this vegetable for anything but an eggplant and it does have a shadow and reflection. Goal met here.

I don’t think I’ll be taking the class next semester. I’m eager to turn my attention to fabric and a series I have in mind.

Watercolor 101

I’ve been attending a beginning watercolor class at Merritt College since August. I enjoyed the journal-style sketching and watercolor classes with Jane LaFazio (see the Sketch/Watercolor category for posts on those classes) so much that I thought something more ‘formal’ would improve my skills, especially mixing and using color.

Instructor Pablo Villicana Lara is soft-spoken, humble and completely supportive — just what every beginning student hopes for. Following Pablo’s recommendations, I’m using Arches 140 lb. cold-pressed watercolor paper and Winsor & Newton professional water-color paints.

I finally have a few paintings that are worth sharing. Here is a small study using one color to achieve 5 distinct shades. I’ve used Payne’s gray. Hover your cursor over images for more information.

Franki Kohler, One-color paintingLast week we focused on using 2 colors to create small snow scenes. The ‘snow’ was achieved by sprinkling table salt onto the wet paint and letting it dry. I’ve been using rock salt on my fabric paintings for several years so it was fun to see small-grained salt work here. The sky and hill were painted and allowed to completely dry. The trees were then painted using a fan brush.

Franki Kohler, Watercolor 1, 6" x 9"That’s quite a storm. Here’s the second attempt. I wonder what animal left those tracks.

Franki Kohler, Watercolor 2, 6" x 9"Then I spied a sheet of paper already creased down the center. I tore it in half to take advantage of the crease so I could use the 2 pieces as cards.

Franki Kohler, Watercolor 3, 6" x 9"

The last painting looks a bit like there are some fireworks going on. Don’t you just love serendipity?

Franki Kohler, Watercolor 4, 6" x 9"The techniques and results from this class are very different from the journal-style that Jane teaches. I’m looking forward to blending what I’ve learned from both instructors.

Class is Friday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. We have a lecture/demonstration the first hour, then 3 hours of lab to work on the techniques just shared. Our syllabus doesn’t outline specific assignments so each week is a surprise. I like that.

This is an Off the Wall Friday posting.

Sketching on the Road

I was in Ashland, OR, recently enjoying some of the plays and the great food and I took a quiet moment for myself to do a bit of sketching and watercolor painting.

Franki Kohler, ChickenThis is one of three ceramic chickens that Pat uses on her dining table. This one was medium-sized and the most colorful of the trio.

I’m rather fond of chickens but I have nothing like this one in my collection. Search ‘chicken’ on my blog and you’ll see a few of mine.

Quilt Named and More Sketching

I asked for suggestions for naming the quilt I completed last week and received many ideas. I particularly liked the suggestion of Branching Out from my friend Carol Larson. Capturing the obvious (a tree branch) and the allusion to my trying something new with the quilting hit the spot for me.

The on-line class I’m taking with Jane LaFazio is coming to a close. The final lesson — Collage as a background for your page — was given last week, but we have until August 15 to upload more work and receive feedback from Jane and fellow students. I chose to collage a city map of Portland, one of my favorite cities to play tourist in.

08-07-Lesson-6-collageThe wine glass, rose and camera were sketched, painted inside the black line with absorbent ground, and finally painted with watercolor. The sun glasses were sketched and painted directly on the map. I wanted the lettering for “Portland” and “City of Roses” to be clear and handsome so I browsed my options on the computer, selected fonts, sized them, printed them out and traced them with permanent pen on artist tissue paper. They are applied with soft gel medium.

After reading one of Jane’s tutorials, I was eager to try my hand at using the absorbent ground in a new way. Here is the journal page with absorbent ground applied over a stencil then given a color wash using a one-inch brush. The stencil was a gift from my friend Anne (purchased from The Crafter’s Workshop) because she knows my penchant for ginkgo leaves.

08-04-Absorbant-ground-plus-stencil,-watercolor-overMany layers of painting later, here is the final page.

08-08-Absorbent-ground-and-watercolor-pageI like the texture and ghostly imaging achieved by stenciling the absorbent ground.

Here is another page using a collection of pod stencils, ready for work. I’ve taken this photograph at an angle to better see the absorbent ground on the paper.

08-04-Absorbant-ground-plus-stencilThis is actually the other side of the page I completed above. I’m eager to get started on this one!

You can see what I did for all of the lessons with Jane — this year and last year — by clicking on the Sketch/Watercolor category in the right-hand column.

Another Drawing

I worked parts of several days this week on a page intended to introduce me to collage. Yesterday I was so unhappy with what I had that I tossed it out. I may or may not go back to that lesson and see what I can do with it.

Meanwhile, I sketched and painted another page. There is always something sketch-worthy in the yard and we found a small pine branch on the ground during a walk which supplied great fun. It was interesting to note how gray the wood is, except on the tiny outer branches where they are very pale brown.

07-25 More-drawings

The hosta, even fading and brown on the ends, was a very fun plant to sketch and paint. I achieved the layers of green by letting each color dry and then going back to apply the next color. The particular variety here has the yummy creamy-color edges.

The Gaillardia is a new plant in my garden this year. It is so cheerful! The leaves are so svelte and graceful. I sketched a top view of the Gaillardia with the stabilo pencil. I really like using it. Once the sketch was complete I used a watercolor brush with clear water to ‘shade’ the sketch.

And I could barely believe my eyes when I looked at the new pine cone developing and realized how purple it is. This class continues to be a great lesson in looking closely at things and drawing what is there, not what I think is there.

More to come.

This is shared as an Off The Wall Friday posting. I love being inspired by what other artists are doing!

8 Techniques, Page 2

Skidding to the finish line of this week, I have completed a second page using the 8 techniques of focus in Jane’s Sketching & Watercolor in a Mixed Media Journal class. A week always seems like plenty of time to complete several pages for one lesson. The problem is that I’ve never mastered the art of knowing the difference between understanding the lesson and accurately calculating the amount of time it will take me to master the lesson. Note to self: Just keep doing the best you can.

For this page I chose to use birds as the subject. I gathered a few of my collection

Franki Kohler, a few birds

and got started. For technique 1 I used a pin cushion made of cotton fabrics; for technique 2 I used one made of upholstery fabric — hence the rounded beak. I’ve completed using 7 of the 8 techniques here.

Franki Kohler, Lesson 4, page 2 in progress

For the 7th technique, we draw and ink on a book page, then glue it to the journal page and add watercolor. My eye fell upon Raven’s Wing, a book of short stories by Joyce Carol Oates. I’ve read enough of her work to know that I won’t be reading this one again. A page from the title short story was perfect for this page.

The last technique — tissue overlay — took me quite a while. I needed to select the birds to use, determine their size and orientation, decide on the position on the page. So many decisions! Finally it came together.

Franki Kohler, Lesson 4, page 2

Whew, done. The next lesson starts today.

To see the first page using these techniques, click here. You can see what happened in Lesson 1 here, Lesson 2 here and here.

This and That

Where to begin. There are many things in progress here. After all, it’s July — the height of summer.

Our side yard with the succulent plantings is filling in nicely.


Here’s  a close up of one panel


The male oriole and his entire family — 2 chicks this year! — visit our feeder regularly.

07-12-Hooded Oriole-male

He is simply stunning from any view.


And I’m having more fun than I’m sure the law allows with the sketching and watercolor class. This page represents the last 2 weeks which covered 8 techniques.


Who knew that there was a graphite pencil that you could sketch with and then use your watercolor brush with just water to shade? Check out number 5 on the page. The tissue overlay exercise (#8) was fun — and a real learning experience. I put the adhesive on the back of the tissue and then struggled to apply it to the page. Naturally, I was supposed to apply the adhesive to the page and then lay the tissue over it. I’m learning. *sigh*

I’ve already begun my second page using these techniques. This time the theme is birds. Stay tuned.

8 Techniques in 2 Weeks

Whew! This is week 3 with Jane and she’s really ramping up our game. The assignment: divide a page into 8 sections and complete assignments using 4 different techniques. Don’t worry about where you start on the page or how you divide the page. . . just get going!

So here I am so far:


#2 is very challenging. I realize how much I depend on the ink line to define my drawings. Without those lines I’m left with color to define the shape. Another great way of learning to really look at things.

Sorry to have you twisting and leaning to see this page. It’s easy for me to move the page around as I work. I think a second page will be in order.

More Everyday Objects

It’s the end of the week with Lesson 2: Everyday objects. I’m always optimistic that I’ll get several pages of sketches done in a week, I certainly intend to. I feel lucky to have completed 2 pages! Here is the first page of objects from the dining room:

Franki Kohler, Everyday objects page 1

And here is the second page with objects from the bathroom. I used the Tombow pen for 4 of the objects, then used the permanent pen and watercolor for the toothbrush. The glove form is a favorite of mine. I have 3 of them and they are displayed on a shallow shelf in the bathroom. I feel like I’m getting a ‘High 5!” when I see them. They were in service for many years at a factory in northern New York before they came to live with me.

Frnaki Kohler, Everyday objects, page 2

I’m not saying that organic objects such as leaves and flowers are easy to master, but there is a forgiveness to them that these man-made, symmetrical objects do not afford. The Tombow pen is very fun to use for shading sketches. As I continue using it I’ll be more adept at shading and incorporating watercolor as well. In the meantime, I have a lot more sketching to do!

I’m taking Sketching & Watercolor in a Mixed Media Journal with Jane Lafazio on-line. You can see what happened in Lesson 1 here ; Lesson 2 here.