Pretty Things Holiday Edition: University Bookstore

I just adore Christmas – to me, it truly IS The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year! All of the beautiful colors, the glitter, the inherent joy in every little object. That’s why I’m doing a weekly Holiday Round-Up of Pretty Things I see at the various stores I frequent.

Here at University Bookstore, the theme seems to be whimsical, glittery pastels! Which is pretty much my theme for the entire year anyway so I’m blissfully taken by all of it!

Here are my the top four things on my wishlist:

1. SPARKLY, GLITTER STOCKING!!!! Ummm, where have you been all my life?!

2. WHIMSICAL ANIMAL ORNAMENT

I got a similar one a couple of years ago that featured a glittery pink Eiffel Tower and I absolutely treasure it! I like Christmas stuff that I can use all year round and that ornament has a permanent place on my bookshelf. These two little guys are going to join it!! Firstly, I can’t resist foxes and much less, a fox with a golden tail, and secondly – how sweet is this little alpaca! And check out the festive tassels!!

3. CHAMPAGNE FIR TREE

I love the color (a soft champagne gold) and the subtle sparkle (of course I do!!) of this very lovely little tree. And probably one of the best shapes for a Christmas tree I’ve seen around – that wide base adds a lot of dimensional charm.

4. PRECIOUS LITTLE PASTEL VILLAGES

These folksy little houses are sweet and lovely and just oh so Christmas-y. I swear I hear carols every time I look at them! And that delicate shade of rosy pink!!

 

Watercolor Leaves Workshop

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I taught my second watercolor workshop last Saturday and, since this is the season of fiery autumn leaves, that was the subject that I chose!

If you checked out my last post, EVERY LEAF A FLOWER, you would have seen the hyper-realistic leaves that I’ve been painting lately. Well, since I’m teaching children in the first session and predominantly art novices in the second, I thought it might be a little overwhelming if I presented those pieces for the class project!

So, I came up with a simpler example (the painting above) and put together a lesson plan and materials. As always, I gave the students a brief overview of watercolors, went over fundamental techniques, and guided them every step of the way. I was actually amazed at how well they did! Here are some photos of the set up, as well as their phenomenal work!

 

When Every Leaf Is A Flower

My two favorite times of the year are Spring and Fall – the temperature is perfect, Nature is entering a period of growth and change, and there is an abundance of color everywhere. An almost psychedelic amount of color in fact!

Spring, a period of renewal and excess, when flowers burst forth from every little nook and cranny, is probably the perfect opposite of Fall, when everything is cast off and life enters conservation mode. However this annual dying off of the leaves brings much beauty and vibrance to the environs, with the reds, the ochres, umbers, and siennas- all swirling and dancing in the electric, autumnal wind.

In the words of Albert Camus, “Autumn is a second Spring, when every leaf is a flower.” How true! I have been having such a lovely time this Fall, combing the ground for interesting leaves – no two ever the same. Where I live, there are many beautiful Maple trees and so there are brilliant bursts of red all over the place.

Can any artist ask for more? These leaves that I’ve been collecting are making their way into my paintings and I even taught a watercolor Fall Leaves workshop over the past weekend (more in a later post.)

Here are a couple of my most recent pieces, next to the leaves that inspired them. Almost a wordless eulogy for their last days in this world – I feel honored to have witnessed their beauty before they left.

 

Watercolor Autumn Leaves Tutorial

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Fall is in full bloom here in the Pacific Northwest. The trees are a symphony of colors : yellow, ochre, sienna, and rust. It’s an artist’s dream! I’ve been collecting leaves in my neighborhood and doing some still life paintings – you can see those in my post from a few days ago, EVERY LEAF A FLOWER .

Naturally, with all of this great inspiration around, I decided that my second workshop should feature Fall Leaves. Please see my previous post, AUTUMN LEAF WORKSHOP, for a recap of the fun details.

In THIS post, I will show you all the same technique that I taught my students at the workshop. It’s a really simple way to achieve a realistic autumn leaf, full of vibrant colors and textures.

 

MATERIALS:

1. 140lb cold pressed water color paper.

2. A medium round brush (size 4-8) or whatever will easily fill the area of your leaf.

3. A pencil with light, soft lead, such as an H.

4. A soft art eraser.

5. A palette of colors. I created my piece using the Sennelier Aqua-Mini travel set. This set comes with : Primary Yellow, French Vermilion, Cinerous Blue, French Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Light Green, Burnt Umber and Paynes Gray. I used the yellow, phthalo light green, ultramarine blue, burnt umber, vermillion, and gray for this project.

6. A thumbtack with a sharp, long point.

7. A thinner round brush to paint the shadows and stem.

 

STEP 1: DRAW YOUR LEAF

Draw an outline of your desired leaf shape, stem, and shadow. Press lightly, using a hard lead, so that you can easily erase any lines you wish to and you don’t have to worry about smudging.

 

STEP 2: ADDING THE VEINS

There are many ways to suggest veins in leaves. This time, to make it easier on my students- who are all brand new to the world of painting – I decided to go with the scratching or etching technique.

Using the thumbtack, I scratched in some veins, as many as I wanted to, making sure I branched them out in an interesting manner.

 

 

 

STEP 3: PAINT THE SHADOWS AND THE STEM

Using the smaller brush, start painting the shadow with a mixture of grey and blue.

Also using the smaller brush, paint the stem. I used vermillion for most of my stem, ending off with a tip of yellow, as this combination was common in most of the maple leaves that I had studied.

 

STEP 4: START PAINTING THE LEAF

Now, this part is amazing and will BLOW. YOUR. MIND.  At least it did with all of my students! 🙂 Using the Wet (paint) on Dry (paper) technique, load your brush with some paint ( I started with the green) and start painting anywhere on the leaf. And just magically watch those etched-in veins appear!!

WOW, RIGHT??!! It’s that simple!

 

STEP 5: ADD A SECOND COLOR NEXT TO THE FIRST

Now, take a second color – I chose yellow- and while your first color is still wet, add another color right next to (but not overlapping much with) the first. The goal is to maintain crisp, pure colors throughout the leaf, rather than mixing colors together. It’s ok, and encouraged, for the borders between two colors to blend into each other though. Remember, no hard edges.

 

REPEAT 6:  REPEAT STEPS 4 AND 5 WITH A FEW MORE COLORS

Now do what you did in the previous step – have two colors meeting – using all of the colors, except for the Paynes Gray, which we will use for the final accent details.

The great thing about this project is that you can be as loose as you’d like and use whatever combinations of colors you find pleasing. Like I always tell people, if looking at what you’re creating brings you joy, then you’re doing it right. That’s all there is to it! Trust your instincts when it comes to laying down paint. Even if you don’t believe it right now, your brain will know when things are working. Believe in the process.

Artist Tip: strive for balance in your piece – don’t overwork one side but make sure to distribute tonal values evenly. It will make for a more pleasing composition.

 

STEP 7: STOP!!!

I can’t stress this one enough. Once you are pleased with the way your leaf is looking ( and you WILL know- just trust yourself!) – STOP PAINTING!! More watercolors have been ruined by overworking than anything else.

Artist Tip: Watercolors can get muddy really quickly and there is no really good way to fix that. That’s why it’s important not to mix too many colors or overwork them. Part of the beauty of transparent watercolors is that the white of the paper shines through the paint, giving it a luminescent glow. So, when you are pleased with the way your paint is looking, put down that brush!!!

Artist Tip: Watercolors also dry to a less vibrant finish than when they are wet, so take this into consideration when you decide how strongly you want to pigment the piece. If you are a complete beginner, I would recommend playing with your paint on a separate piece of paper so you can see this effect for yourself. Experience is your greatest teacher.

 

STEP 7: ADD SOME DETAILS

I like to go in with a darker color, either while the paint is still slightly wet ( if I want a more diffuse effect) or while it is dry (if I want a more precise result) and add some blemishes to my leaves. Again, pick up some leaves and study them if you need inspiration – there are so many little spots and variations that will add interest and texture to your final piece.

I used spots of Payne’s Gray in this piece.

I also did this while the other paint was still slightly wet – see how my spots became more diffuse and less precise? You can do it either way – they will both provide lovely effects. In fact, if you’re just learning all about watercolors, it might be a fun idea to try both ways!

 

STEP 8 : ADMIRE YOUR FINISHED PIECE 🙂

 

 

So, that’s how to paint some fun, easy, vibrant autumn leaves. I hope you found some useful tips and, at the very least, some inspiration in this tutorial. Go out and collect some leaves – study their beauty and let them guide your art! And remember, ALWAYS TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS! If you’re on Instagram, I’d love to see your creations – so do share your work using the hashtag #gracerajendranworkshops

STUDENTS’ WORK: 

I’ll leave you with the beautiful work that my workshop students did. For manu of them, that class was their first time experimenting with watercolors and the youngest participant was 8 years old- didn’t they do an AMAZING job?!

Since I was asked to conduct another workshop soon, stay tuned for exciting class news in the next week or so!  Until then, let’s create some beautiful art!

The Rosy Side of Life

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IMG_2915I love all things Rose! The flower and the scent remind me of time spent in India, where roses were everywhere! In the beautiful garlands of flowers used to welcome guests and memorialize photographs of late ancestors; in the wicker baskets of street vendors calling out their wares early in the morning. My aunts would always buy a strand or two of roses and jasmines every day,  for me to wear in my hair. The terrace of our house had three pots of rose plants and walking out – into the cool early dawn, before the sounds of the city kicked in or late at night right before bed – to smell those intoxicating blooms, shall always remain one of my very favorite memories.

In this photo are a few little rosy treats that I picked up this week : a sweet little rosebud demitasse spoon, my favorite soap in English Rose, and, as an homage to the roses I used to wear in my hair as a child – a flower garland of buds and blooms in one of the loveliest shades of pink.

A Very Literary Cinco De Mayo

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As unbelievable as it may be, Cinco de Mayo is not just a celebration of the Five Dollar Margarita! It, in fact, commemorates the underdog Mexican Army’s victory over much larger French troops at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862.

My homage to this festival today is a literary one – a gathering of favorite colors and books to celebrate the culture of that wonderful country.

Frida Kahlo: Una Biografia by Maria Hesse

I fell in love with this beautiful, illustrated biography of one of my favorite artists, Frida Kahlo, by another fabulous artist, Maria Hesse. Everything about this is just so perfect . The ivory pages crinkle slightly to your touch, the format stands out in a sea of other books, and the lush illustrations, while capturing all of the vibrancy of Mexico, are sublime in their subtlety. All of the gorgeous colors we associate with that country and with Frida are here – but muted, soft, and dreamy. Another plus in my books is that it is written entirely in Spanish! I’m looking forward to putting my three years of high school Spanish to good use.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The fiction buyer at my favorite local bookstore is a huge fan of Luiselli and so this surreal, genre-bending novel came highly recommended.

Paint The Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950

Fourteen essays, by authors from both the United States and Mexico, exploring the four decades of cultural and political upheaval during which Mexico emerged as a hub of modern art. Beautiful pieces by Frida Kahlo, Maria Izquierdo and Manuel Rodriguez Lozano to name a few.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone!

Welcome, May!

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It’s May! The height of Spring! The flowers are blooming, there are baby animals everywhere, the weather is transitioning to that sweet spot between spring and summer. I had really lapsed in the maintenance of my Bullet Journal but recently discovered that of all of my many planners, it truly is the system that works best for me. Luckily, due to its very nature, I was able to pick it up and jump right in again! So, here’s my monthly layout for May – inspired by all of the beautiful tulips that I’ve been seeing lately. Spending a few minutes to create something lovely and personal- even though I have a built-in calendar on my phone- was a wonderful way to start off a new month with mindfulness and intention. I’m looking forward to planning the next few weeks and I will definitely be scheduling blocks of time just for myself – to focus inward and simply take a moment or two to slow down and breath.

The Mindfulness of Corresponding

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I’ve been writing a lot of letters lately. The entire act has been a way to slow down and practice mindfulness in a world that I often feel is rushing past me entirely too frantically. For half an hour, I am lost in a process that is deeply rooted in history and get to indulge myself in all of the beautiful accoutrements- pretty paper, lovely stamps (the ones above are sweet little seashells) fountain pens, inks, washi tape. Things that I can never resist collecting, so why not put them to good use! The meditative steps to letter writing are mirrored by the act of receiving mail as well. You, the letter-writer slow down as you write, focused on every beautiful detail. They, your recipient, don’t feel the pressure of immediate response (as happens with emails) and so they get to slow down as well – savoring each word long after they are first read. In today’s age, when everything is urgent, short, immediate – lingering over something is a rare luxury. When was the last time you were able to have long, uninterrupted thoughts? Making dainty little packages, sending them off, knowing they will be eagerly received – a slow ritual in a hyper world, yes, but one that somehow feels more and more important as technology keeps progressing.