Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
—Arthur Ashe

or as my Grandmother used to say:

Make do.

You can find out more about me in the tab above, but in a nutshell, I am endlessly fascinated with art, craft, and creativity books. I own many, borrow many, and devour them all. I have found that I am collecting them more than making from them, and this site is in part to change that habit. In the spirit of appreciation for the authors/artists, I am reading the books cover to cover. Truly reading every word. And then, I am making! I will aim to create at least one share-able piece from each book I review. Please join me on this journey through the Dewey Decimal 700s (and spots beyond).

I’m beginning with a book by Carla Sonheim for a few reasons: 1) I met her and bought a small piece of her art in Portland several years ago, and I found her to be grounded and patient despite the chaos of the art fair. 2) This book, published four years ago, encourages the “just start” motto. And 3) pen and paper seem like step one for beginning. Pen to paper. No fancy supplies, no fresh journal to worry about, no adhesives or temperamental watercolors; all things I love and will delve into, but for now: pen to paper:

Drawing Lab

Sonheim, Carla.
Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists:
Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun.
Illustrated. 144pp. Quarry Books, 2010. $22.99
ISBN-10: 1592536131
ISBN-13: 978-1592536139
DDC 745.5

From Quarry Book’s Lab Series, Carla Sonheim presents a playful collection of 52 drawing exercises to keep the practice simple, get you started, and see interesting and unusual results. Her materials list is brief to allow for the use-what-you-have, do-what-you-can approach. Each prompt contains a materials list, a notable quotation, some examples from Carla or a contributor, step by step instructions, and—my favorite, a few suggestions for taking the prompt further. These ideas are where everyone will gain more mileage from the book—as they push beyond the typical drawing assignments—along with your own trial and experimentation. The book also contains a diverse selection of contributing artists, and a short-list of Carla’s favorite books on drawing and creativity.

Her “Taking It Further” suggestions are a step away from what you might expect of typical drawing primers. For example, a drawing standard for warming up are blind contour drawings: easy, loose, non-judgmental. Carla suggests this technique with a twist: layering several of the same subject. Her example yields a galumphing elephant with weight and movement, enhanced by simple orange highlights.

Another project that speaks to me is Lab #35: Drawing + Collage. This is an exercise where you select a fragment of a photo from a magazine, and add to it. Find an animal head, for example, and give it an alternative, out-of proportion, or multi-limbed reboot. I think this project would capture an elementary audience as well as a seasoned artist. I have seen similar renditions that are coltish and imaginative accomplished by children.

My favorite Sonheim prompt is to create a series of drawings using sidewalk cracks as inspiration. Akin to finding animal shapes in cloud formations, I think this prompt is endlessly fascinating. I see imaginary maps in many of the sidewalk cracks around my city, with lush islands of grass, and the occasional rogue poppy. This moment of focus on the ground underfoot is also a lesson in stopping to really look—a cornerstone in any art practice. It’s another exercise that can be done with all ages, with few tools, and endless source material. Carla’s featured illustration for this project is a series of weird animals, line-drawn, with contour shading and a bit of color for pop.

Sidewalk cracks. My city government is attentive to the condition of our sidewalks. Severely cracked squares are often marked, and repair or replacement is a homeowner requirement. The first afternoon I went out with camera in hand, I was almost disappointed with the pristine condition of our walks! But, I found a few with nice marbling. And, to my equal delight and shame, I had several fractured rectangles on the margins of my own house! Best to draw them now before the City paints a yellow scald for me to repair.

I drew a half-dozen creatures from the fractures I found, and played a bit with coloring pencil to give them life. But then I struck upon some old Letraset vellum and rolls of washi tape, and I like the result much better. They aren’t the anthropomorphized versions of Carla Sonheim’s, but they interest me all the same.
This exercise can be applied to all kinds of man-made distress. I spotted a patch of peeling paint which took on map-like qualities for me: a truncated, Florida-less outline of North America, France—squished. Ireland, largely out of proportion with the other two shapes. All this richness on a wall of aged orange paint or a broken dilapidated square on concrete.  Here are three of  my sidewalk crack drawings:
sidewalk crack 1193  sidewalk crack 2194 sidewalk crack 3195

After reading through the book, I caught myself seeing a great deal more in my surroundings: the sidewalks tufted with weeds, a bristly ranunculus bulb, a tall stadium light that begged to be drawn blindly. I felt encouraged to just try. So I blindly drew my sunglasses and a tea cup. I drew alien sidewalk creatures. I took more pictures than I did the week previous—all in the spirit of looking and focusing. This book lives at my house; I expect I’ll pull it out more often when I need a reminder that drawing should be fun.

For more about Carla, visit her website at She offers several “live” and self-paced on-line classes and tutorials on her website, as well as an up-to-date blog. The classes and e-books are a diverse range from drawing and watercolor to silly “Blobimals” and cereal box paper dolls.
Carla has published several books, including a new book on photography with her husband Steve Sonheim that I plan to review here soon.

the beginning.

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One thought on “the beginning.

  1. Rita Spillane says:

    What a wonderful adventure for you and for us! Reading your description of Sonheim’s book I was reminded of walking in midtown Sacramento last week. There on the sidewalk was a big box of giant chalk sticks with a simple sign: Use me. There were chalk creations on the sidewalk and I wanted to stop and get crazy with the chalk and sidewalk! Next time I’m going to have to do just that.

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