Notes From My “Holiday Books” Talk

I was part of a group of five booksellers who spoke at our Holiday Book Talk this evening at the bookstore. Since I’m currently doing a series on great literary gift ideas, I thought I would share my picks from tonight!

1. THE SECRET LIVES OF COLOR by Kassia St. Clair

This beautifully-presented book tells the stories and history of over 70 shades of color – from the white that protected against the plague to how shocking pink came to be called “shocking”. This is the perfect book for the artist on your list who is interested in the symbolism of the hues in her palette, the history buff who is intrigued by how color, politics, and sociology influence each other , or even perhaps the science lover who is interested in discovering the origin and chemical composition of the colors we take for granted daily.

2. BIRDMANIA by Bernd Brunner

I had the pleasure of hosting our recent event with the author and after hearing him speak about it, I can say that this is truly a book for the bird lover on your list. The beautiful full color illustrations are a visual feast and while you may be tempted to ask yourself whether the world needs yet another bird book – I am here to tell you YES, it certainly does! Because this book is not only about the birds but is unique in that it tells the fascinating, humorous, and sometimes even slightly disturbing stories of the passionate ornithologists – amateur or not- throughout history. Lovely tales such as that of a loyal friendship between a woman and a lyre bird as well as rather odd ones such as the story of George Archibald, who performed mating dances for an endangered whooping crane to encourage her to lay and Mervyn Shorthouse, who posed as a wheelchair-bound invalid to steal an estimated ten thousand eggs from a Natural History Museum.

3. WHERE THE ANIMALS GO: Tracking Wildlife With Technology In 50 Maps And Graphics

This is also full of wonderful illustrations and packed with maps, charts, and information. Hence it would be the perfect book for pre-teens to grandparents! Where the Animals Go is the first book to offer a comprehensive, data-driven portrait of how creatures from ants to hawks to sharks navigate the world. Based on pioneering research by scientists at the forefront of the animal-tracking revolution these stunning, four-color charts and maps tell fascinating stories of animal behavior, such as how baboons make decisions and what storks like to snack on.
It’s the perfect book for nature lovers, conservationists, and even those tech-obsessed friends and family on your gift list.

4. LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES by Sara Rich And Wendy MacNaughton

It’s hard picking gifts out for foodies sometimes. They usually buy all of the latest cookbooks and gadgets for themselves. However, LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES is more than just a cookbook – it combines graphic design with food in a fun, unique, and gorgeous way!  Sarah Rich and Wendy MacNaughton discovered a painted manuscript of recipes at an antique book fair that they immediately fell in love with. Completed in 1945, this stunning collection by one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, Cipe Pineles, is like a scrapbook of her childhood’s Eastern European food.

Filled with beautiful illustrations, recipes, and letters, this book is perfect for lovers of design, fashion, history (especially mid-century ) , memoir, and , of course, food,

5. IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life
By Hector Garcia

What would the end of the year be without resolutions and promises to live a better life in the new year. This lovely little book is perfect for those interested in that or looking for an alternative to the Hygge trend of the past couple of years.
As the NY Post puts it : If hygge is the art of doing nothing, ikigai is the art of doing something with supreme focus. It’s the place where passion, mission, and profession intersect and is a wonderful and meaningful gift to pass on to friends and family this season.

6. My final book is SEATTLE WALKS by local author, David Williams.
This book practically sells itself so I don’t need to say much about it but if you’re looking for another great gift to start the new year off right, this would be a good one. In Seattle Walks, David Williams weaves together the history, nature, and architecture of Seattle and recommends walks that take the reader on a wondrous, unexpected tour of a city that you may think you already know everything about. A great gift for the outdoorsy types on your list, architecture and history buffs, and for families looking to find ways to spend time together in the new year.

Holiday Gift Guide: Gorgeous Art Books of 2017

It was very difficult to narrow down my favorite art books of the year to just four picks. Really, really difficult! Books about art are my very real weakness and there have definitely been more than four that I bought and loved this year. However upon deep deliberation, these four stood out in their uniqueness and beauty. Briefly, however, here are my picks for Gorgeous Art Books Of 2017:

1. The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St.Clair.

Colors have so much power and symbolism behind them and when, in this stunning book, you discover their unique, and sometimes strange histories – like the white that protected against the plague – you won’t look at your paint palette the same again. I think it’s very important for people who work with color to understand that particular tool and element of their trade. This book also works as the perfect gift for the history buff who is intrigued by the interplay between color and politics, or even the science lover who is interested in the origin and chemical composition of the colors we take for granted today.

2. 365 Days of Art by Lorna Scobie.

When this book was released, I had just made my recurring- and quite optimistic vow- to stop buying more art inspiration/prompt books. Heaven knows that I have more than enough art I’m working on myself to keep me more than busy. And, while it’s true that, like with coloring books, I never actually work in the books, I do love them for their beautiful Illustrations and consider them art monographs in a way. Lorna’s lovely art is fun and vibrant and happy and with great prompts for every day of the year, even if you just look to it for inspiration, it’s a wonderful way to start the new year off on a good artistic foot.

 

3. This Truck Has Got To Be Special by Anjum Rana, illustrated and designed by Hakeem Nawaz, Amer Khan, and Sameer Kulavoor

My family is from India and my color and design sensibilities definitely draw inspiration from that vibrant subcontinent. Whatever CAN be decorated WILL be decorated! Including something as industrial and utilitarian as a truck! Google Indian (and, in the case of this book, Pakistani) trucks and you will see some gorgeous specimens! Told in a narrative format, this art/picture book tells the story of a Pakistani truck driver who had finally acquired a truck of his own and wants to make it a work of art! As the artist he commissioned begins working on the truck, the driver reminisces about all of the journeys he’s been on. You will just get lost in the stunning and intricate (and colorful!!) illustrations and, although this book is certainly perfect for kids, I think adults will appreciate it perfectly and that’s why I included it in this section.

 

4. In The Garden Of My Dreams: The Art of Nathalie Lete

For me, this book was love at first touch! Yes, TOUCH! The cover is a soft, PADDED, shiny sky blue!!! Once you stop pawing at it and actually open it up, you will enter the dreamy wonderland of Nathalie’s pop/folk art imagination. Lots of inspiration and beauty – a contained burst of joy on your book shelf, art desk, or coffee table.

And there you have it! My art recommendations for 2017. I hope you check these out for yourself. And, if you have any recommendations for me – what art books did you lose yourself on this year – please let me know in the comments.

Next week, I will be rounding up my Self Improvement selections for the year.

 

 

 

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!!

 

Book Review: Eruption

“A natural disaster is not a disaster until it becomes a human disaster; otherwise, in the minds of most people, it is a mere spectacle.”

This is one of my favorite lines from Steve Olson’s 2016 book, ERUPTION: The Untold Story Of Mount St. Helens. It perfectly sets the tone for the entire narrative : an honest and humanistic telling of the events of 1980. No one was prepared for what happened – the eruption was one of the largest in American history, killed 57 people and caused over a billion dollars in damage.

ERUPTION is coded as Science and the strikingly beautiful cover – featuring an erupting Mount St. Helens – only hints at the depths the book goes into while telling the tale of this dramatic natural disaster. You think you’re going to learn about the geology of volcanoes – and you certainly do – but the book is much more than that : a sympathetic tribute to the humans who found their lives intertwined with Nature in a powerful, life-altering way that fateful summer.

Olson is a master at weaving these stories through the narrative in a way that is easy and uncontrived. We learn about the science teams, the logging industry, and the local residents who were all major players in what transpired during those months and trace the final days of those who perished. We discover how decisions made even decades ago influenced the events of that day – of all the economic and political factors that shaped the fates of the victims.

I can’t recommend this book enough! It was a sweeping, cinematic look back at an important time in our nation’s history and Olson helped put everything into a larger context, interweaving personal tales with politics and capitalism in a moving and evocative way. It’s a great book for those interested in Natural History, Conservation, or the Pacific Northwest.

DIY Fiesta Nails

This nail design is as simple as it is fun!! The perfect antidote to gloomy, grey weather since it evokes the bright colors and energy of a tropical party and the beautiful confetti that sparkles and sprinkles out of piñatas.

Even more importantly, it is very easy to recreate by yourself- without anyone helping you paint the nails on your dominant hand- and all you need are two colors and, of course, a topcoat.

For your base color, pick a vibrant, fun, bright – I chose a hot pink from Republic Nail’s Frida Kahlo collection. For your accent color, any confetti-style polish in a clear foundation will be perfect. I wanted a multi-color, metallic confetti in Latin-inspired jewel tones so I picked Craze by LA Colors.

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Lay down two coats of your first, base color. Let dry between coats.

2. Once this is dry, add the confetti polish to the tips of your nails. If you’re having difficulty getting enough of the confetti on, pour the polish into a shallow, disposable dish and use a toothpick to grab and apply the little dots.

3. Let dry and then add a coat or two of Top Coat

Enjoy your fun and happy new nails!!

 

 

3 Step Leopard Nails

I’ve been growing my nails out for the past couple of months and have been having a lot of fun playing with nail art. Since I have to paint both hands myself, I need to keep the designs simple so here’s my latest – one of my favorite patterns of all time – leopard!!

There are only 3 steps and you only need 3 nail polish colors.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES:

1. A light colored base coat – I used Wisp, by Sinful Colors

2. A darker color for the inside of the spots – I used Tan Lines, again from Sinful Colors

3. A clear topcoat

4. A black, round tip nail art pen.

5. A wooden toothpick

 

STEPS:

1. Lay down your base color. Let fully dry.

2. Using the toothpick to pick up little dabs of the second color, make little flat circles on your base color . Let these dry fully as well.

3. Make the characteristic black border around the spots with your black paint pen. Once this is dry, seal with the clear topcoat.

Oh wait! There IS one more step: impress everyone with your gorgeous manicure!! 😄

I hope you try it for yourself! If you do, share your pics with me on Instagram using the hashtag, #gracerajendranworkshops

Remember, most of all, to have fun!

 

Little Things Got You Down? : Or The Power Of Perspective

My morning started off in a rather – no, VERY – irritating fashion. Not feeling well, I wanted to stay in bed until the last possible moment. My cat wanted to create a ruckus until I got up to play. She won – as my apartment walls are thin and I didn’t want to punish my neighbors as well.

This, I could have dealt with. My bathroom overflowing in a horrible manner and forming one of the Great Lakes – I just could NOT deal with. This badly-behaving bathroom only tends to do this when I’m on my way to work too! Many, many towels and a few choice words later, while I was in the middle of a WHY ME???? tirade, I stopped to reflect.

What am I gaining from this foul temper? The answer – just a bad mood all day – wasn’t pleasing or acceptable to me. It wasn’t helping now and it certainly won’t help later because I’ve set myself up with the mindset that every little thing today will just bother me more and more.  That’s the way irritating Little Things are. I read once that tiny constant annoyances are worse for our stress levels than dealing with one big thing. Maybe because the tension from those small things keeps building up since we think they’re actually too silly to deal with properly.

Back to this morning. It’s been a very busy, harried few months, both at work and at home, so I know that I’m more irritable now than I normally would be. Rushing around tends to do that to people. So, my mood was understandable but it still wasn’t doing me any good.

While I was squeezing the water out of the fourth towel, I thought back to a conversation I had last night about the horrible and heartbreaking homelessness  problem in this city. That jolted me into perspective really quickly.

And I repeat – this advice is for all the little things that bug you in your day, not for major illness or loss. For those, a grieving process is necessary and essential. In my minor case, I just STOPPED that flow of negative thinking, took a breath, and reversed that negative trajectory I was on.

Instead of listing all of the bad things, I thought about all of the things I was grateful for. A simple switch of words.

Horrible plumbing? Well at least I HAVE a bathroom.

Can’t sleep in? At least I HAVE a cat that can’t get enough of me.

Stressing over missing my bus to work? Well, at least I HAVE a job.

Sounds too easy – and somewhat too much of a cliche – to work. But you know what, it really did! And my dark mood lifted, I feel more optimistic about the day, and here I am, writing this post!

With the Holidays upon us, we are all going to start feeling extremely frazzled and rushed. Our fuses, quite naturally, are going to be short. When you start feeling like things are rapidly  going downhill:

1. Pause

2. Breathe

3. Reverse

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!