Category Archives: Tutorials

Creative Process, Part 2

leafdrawingWhenever I create, I watch myself carefully to note the steps I take.

This practice comes from being a life-long teacher. How can you explain how to do something if you aren’t keeping track of the steps?

I am always trying to improve my teaching by making it more and more simple and easy to understand, so I have come up with several methods of art instruction over the years, and my newest is most closely aligned with how creative process actually works.

I was sketching and painting Wildflowers last Summer – meandering from one thing to another along the creative path of that, when it struck me that this very thing I was doing, was the best way for someone to learn to draw and paint.

I learned long ago, in the process of teaching PhotoShop, that it is a more effective thing to learn what is necessary to the task at hand, and put it to use immediately – than to learn “all about” each part of a process and then try to store that knowledge for when you actually need it in the future.

That last sentence was very wordy, but I think you know what I mean.

So, while sketching my Wildflowers, I was thinking how much fun it would be to teach drawing like that – just meandering from one thing to another, and asking the students to just follow along – step-by-step.

In the process of drawing and painting one thing, you may learn a little bit about perspective, a little bit about shading, a little bit about watercolor and color usage – but not EVERYTHING about all those things.

Just enough to get that flower done nicely.

Of this was my Sketch Journal One Workshop born. It  was a great success, and is now a self-paced WHENEVER workshop.

On February 15, I will launch Sketch Journal Two to continue the journey.

It will pick up from where we left off and continue with 15 more lessons over a 30 day period.

My biggest challenge has been to explain to you how fun and effective these workshops are – without actually showing you.

Seeing is believing after all.

So, FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, I am sharing an actual, complete lesson from the Sketch Journal One workshop – FREE for everyone.

I chose a lesson which demonstrates how easy it is to draw an ordinary thing, and how many little pieces of art knowledge you pick up in the process. Of course, some of the knowledge was presented in the lessons preceding this one, but you will be able to follow along just fine.

AND to sweeten the pie even more, I have put the workshop on Special for the rest of January – $15 off the $65 tuition!

To make this  more fair to students who already took Sketch Journal One at full tuition, I am extending the same discount on Sketch Journal Two if you register during January.

That discount is in the Shopping Cart here:

AND anybody feeling that they will probably want to take both workshops, can purchase both during January for the reduced tuition.

Without further ado, here is Lesson 10 from Sketch Journal One. I hope you have a lot of fun with it:

If you want to learn to draw and paint – particularly for the sake of your art journal, this is the workshop for you. If you know how to draw and paint, but want new idea starters, tips, and incentive, this workshop is for you also.

Sketch Journal One, Drawing and Painting for the Art Journal and Sketchbook.



What Is A Kiva Ladder?


“The Blue Door” Watercolor © Jessica Wesolek

One of the great things about making art in Santa Fe, is that the area has SO MANY design icons to work with.

One of the best, in my opinion, is the Kiva Ladder.

What is a Kiva Ladder?

Well, first it helps to know what a Kiva is.

A Kiva is a room used by Pueblo people for religious ceremonies and communal meetings. These rooms are usually dug into the ground, and you enter and exit by means of a Kiva ladder. A portion of the Kiva ladder usually sticks up a ways out of the Kiva opening, as this one is doing at the Pecos National Historic Park, which we visited during our recent retreat . . .


This is so cool looking that folks now lean Kiva Ladders against their courtyard walls to get the look, and the Kiva Ladder has become a widely known symbol of Santa Fe style.

I have them in my courtyard, and even use one in the house as a towel rack!

I also use them in my art whenever the chance arises. The Kiva Ladder in the painting at the top of the post is magic because it does not cast a shadow.

This one is very special . . . all about finding direction.


“The Rainbow Way” Watercolor © Jessica Wesolek

Here’s a “Little Church With Lofty Expectations” done in pastels . . .


And sometimes, I just draw them all by themselves because they fascinate me . . . especially when they are lashed together with leather lacings . . .


This was the sample I used in our Art Journaling in Paradise workshop . . .

classroom 1

One of our more adventurous students, Vivian Aldridge, actually climbed down into the Kiva at the Pecos Ruins and sat and sketched it from inside looking out . . .


Isn’t this a fantastic journal page?

And, of course, there just had to be a bit of fun thrown in. While Vivian was sitting down there, a pair of red boots appeared on the top rung of the ladder. A couple of tourists who were traveling with the red boots and photographing them in interesting settings.

And, speaking of fun – Registration is now open for:

Art Journaling in Paradise 2014!

I was learning some new video software this week, and I thought it would be good practice to make a video to show you how you can draw a Kiva Ladder too. They come in very handy, you know.

The video is 7 minutes long and meant to engage you in its moments, so get the ants out of your pants before watching it!

It is hosted on Dropbox and you have my permission to download a copy for yourself.

I would also love to know what you think of the style, so leave a comment if you have a moment.

How To Draw A Kiva Ladder



Things not what they seem . . .


Sometimes, things are not what they seem, and on my recent road trip, I ran into a couple of good examples of this that I wanted to record in my trip journal. By the time I got done with the page, I had used some interesting techniques that I thought would be worth sharing with you.

The first thing was a tree. We saw it while getting gas before we ever left Santa Fe. . .


If this tree looks a little strange to you, there is a good reason. It is not a tree at all. It is a cell tower dressed up like a tree. Not bad, but a real tree would look like this . . .


However, you gotta hand it to them – the pretend tree certainly looks better than a big pole with lots of metal boxes on it.

The second strange thing came up when we were just about to Albuquerque, and I saw this . . .


That doesn’t look so unusual for the Southwest, right? Just a lone pueblo building on a barren plain.

However, that really was the Sandia Casino and Resort, which looks more like this . . .


It’s vast and huge, and not at all isolated. It’s all a matter of where you are looking from. Driving southbound on I-25, for a brief moment, you get the simplified version.

So, I wanted to put these two subjects in my journal, and usually, I would sketch and paint them.

But I was feeling very lazy, and I didn’t want to draw everything to scale etc.

So, first I turned to my iPad where I had imported the photos (actually shot with my iPhone from the car).

There is an iPad app called Artist’s Sketch that does a very good job of turning photos into sketches. There are lots of iPad apps that do this, and you can do it with filters in Photoshop and Elements as well, but I like this app the best,


So I turned the two photos into sketches that looked like this . . .


I then flipped them and printed them onto Sheer Heaven . . .


Once they were transferred into my Stilman & Birn Beta journal, all I had left to do was paint . . .


So, the message here is that if you are too lazy to draw something like I was, or if you aren’t all that happy with your drawing skills, but like to add color, this is a perfect way to get anything from a photo into your art journal – as an illustration.

Try this – it’s fun!

Moving My Art Around . . . Part 2, How


A few years back, when I was developing what was to become my Creative Drawing Workbook, I did this very loose sketch as a demonstration of how much of a nature scene can be created with just one shape – a simple arc like we “draw” when we add parentheses to our writing.

Take a careful look at this sketch. There is nothing else in it except four little circles. And, technically, a circle is a collection of arcs. This just shows you how simple drawing can be if you look at it in a certain way.

While sorting through some sketchbooks the other day, I came across this flower sketch, and remembered that I just loved the “bounciness” of it. I can feel a breeze when I look at it.

I wanted it in my art journal – to illustrate a poem I had just recently written about being in the moment.

Of course, I could draw a simple sketch like this again in the journal, but it would not be the *same* sketch. I have a thing about preserving my drawing and sketching “moments” too.

So, the Sheer Heaven transfer was the perfect solution.

And my new favorite journal, the Stilman & Birn Beta Sketchbook, takes those transfers wonderfully.

Note: This perfect art  journal is now available from my website. Just click Stilman & Birn Beta Sketchbook,

Tutorial Step-by-Step

So the first step was to trace the sketch onto Sheer Heaven with my 3H pencil. Of course, I could scan and print instead, but with these simple lines, tracing is faster.

Yes, Sheer Heaven will transfer graphite too – a fact which I only recently discovered.

I have to make a disclosure here. My students will realize I am not using a 3H pencil here because the lines are too dark. These shots are from a video and I had to use a darker pencil to show well on camera.

I use my 3H pencil for sketchbook transfers everyday – it works great and is much more subtle.

Step 1. Tape a piece of Sheer Heaven over your sketch with artists or drafting tape, which will not damage the paper. The rougher side of the  Sheer Heaven should face up.

This will reverse your sketch in the transfer. To avoid that, trace on the slick side of Sheer Heaven first, then flip it over on some scrap paper and retrace on the front.

I am going to use a reverse sketch in my journal spread as well, so I am just tracing on the front.

Step 2. To transfer the sketch, you mist it with 70% rubbing alcohol. Your spray bottle must produce a fine mist. They sell that type of spray bottle at fine art supply stores, but I prefer an empty pump style hair spray bottle. They make a fine mist and never send out surprise droplets.


Misting will first produce a really light coating of alcohol, then start to look like orange peel, and finally smooth out to a glassy finish like that shown below. Do not wet past this stage.


Step 3. Hold the misted Sheer Heaven by the very edge and turn it over onto the journal page. Burnish gently with the side of your hand. The Beta series sketchbooks have a slight cold press texture, so a gentle burnishing with a bone folder is also a good idea to make sure every part of the tracing makes contact with the page.


Step 4. Carefully and slowly, peel up the Sheer Heaven and the pencil sketch will now be on your journal page. If there are any missing spots as you peel, lay the Sheer Heaven back down and gently burnish that area. If you missed a spot while misting, it will be missing from the transfer. Those little jags at the bottom of the grass are my fault. I accidentally moved the Sheer Heaven when laying it down.

trans6For my spread, I want to flip and repeat this transfer t the other page. When I trace this transferred version, I will end up with a right-reading transfer for me left page.

Step 5. When the transfers are dry, which does not take long because this is alcohol we’re talking about, I use watercolors to paint them:


Step 6. The next thing is to apply a wash for the sky area. If you weight the Stilman & Birn pages, they do not warp or curl while drying. I just used my paintbox. With a heavy moisture application, you will get gentle curving of the page when dry, but that will flatten again if you close the book and set something on it for awhile.


Step 7. My final step is to add the poem. I do not love my own lettering enough to use it here.

So, I turned to my Mac where I have lots of fonts that are perfect for the job. I used the Pages software because it is so simple. Guides were placed on the page to indicate the exact measurements of my journal spread and where the bottom illustration began. I placed the type centered on each page, then flipped it so it would transfer right reading.


After printing the page on Sheer Heaven, I cut it into two pieces which matched my journal page size exactly, so I could align the transfers by matching up with the corners of the journal pages. The type for each page was transferred separately.

And the result was a spread which combined a very old sketch, some fresh watercolor painting, and a new poem into one saved experience in my art journal . . .



Art Journaling in Paradise Workshop . . .

We got a great response so far, Sandy has agreed to spend her birthday here in Santa Fe at this event, I got the classroom reserved and I will be publishing the highly detailed sign-up page this coming week.

We do know the exact retreat days will be Saturday, September 14 through Thursday, September 19, 2013.

Plan to come in on Friday, as we will gather early Saturday morning (9 am) in the hotel courtyard to start our adventure.

Thursday, the last day of the retreat will be a full studio day. No formal instruction, but both Sandy and I will spend the day with everyone in the studio. If you must skip that day to get back to work, we will understand. We plan a relaxing catch-up day of art journaling for Thursday the 19th.

Cost for the Workshop will be $650 for the six days. This does not include lodging costs.

Suite style rooms with kitchenettes will be available at a rate of $55.50/night (plus tax). You will make your own reservations – dealing directly with the hotel. You do not have to stay at our hotel – we just happened to find the best deal in town for you!

Meals are not included, but you will have a kitchen and a supermarket a few steps away. Santa Fe is a dining mecca and has great restaurants at every price level if you want to eat out. Bag lunches are a good idea, but there will be plenty of time to wander out and find something delicious if that is your preference. We may surprise you with a meal out on us.

NO skill level is required. All we ask is creative enthusiasm and willingness to try.

We will have a payment plan (for the workshop) so you can hold your spot while saving your money. Your hotel will not have to be paid until you get here, although you will probably have to guarantee your reservation with a credit card (standard procedure).

This is all the info that is solid until I publish the sign-up page.

While I appreciate everyone’s input on when and where we should hold this retreat (I loved the suggestions from a few people that we should have the Santa Fe Art Journal Retreat on the East coast), we have reasons for our timing. Santa Fe is full of tourists and twice as expensive during the Summer months. By mid September, all is quiet and beautiful.

Any questions on what we know so far, pleas email me:

Think it through, because once we open the registration, we can only accept 24 students and we have a lot more emails of interest than that already.

I will let you know here when the final details are posted (and Sandy will do so on her blog as well).

Happy Easter! Hug a Bunny of you see one.