From My Sketchbook – Week 33

I live in a city of approximately 1.62 million people, and yet sometimes I still feel like I’m living in a small(ish) community.  Case in point; last week I spotted a woman in Whole Foods who was wearing a fabulous orange flowered hat.  I’m not even sure “hat” is the right term for what she had on her head.  The way it conformed to her head, yet undulated upwards so that you couldn’t see the shape of the top of her head, made for an very eye-catching effect.  I tried to make a visual memory of the hat so I could sketch it later.  But it slipped my mind until later in the week when she (and the hat) appeared again as I was on a coffee date with my husband.  

This time I was quicker with my sketchbook and managed to capture this view.Girl with the hat

My schedule this week (6 performances and 5 rehearsals in Manhattan and New Jersey) means I’ll be commuting a lot and so will have some good sketching time.  Yay!

A fellow commuter from last week…

Girl with backpack

And although I’ve had fun doing my sketches with black colored pencil, I’m looking forward to making good use of my new Pentel Aquash pen.

Here’s a  preview of what’s to come.

quick face sketch


Filed under art, From My Sketchbook, illustration, Influences, ink sketches, inspiration, motivation, New York, New York City, Pen Sketch, Quick Sketch, sketchbook, subway sketches

What’s in My Toolbox: An Illustrated Look

Ask any number of illustrators what it takes to “get good” and the one common answer you’ll probably hear is…

Ten Thousand Hours

(translation: Practice…and lots of it!)

Of course, every illustrator will also have papers and implements/tools they swear by, so I thought I’d share a few of my own.

Here’s where I illustrate.  As you can see, I’ve got everything I need pretty much at my finger tips.  

Photo of my drafting table workspace

My usual tools (in photo above, starting clockwise from bottom left) are:

X.ACTO mechanical pencil sharpener 

Higgins Waterproof Drawing Ink (in black and brown)

Various Copic Sketch markers

Prismacolor Premier markers

T-square ruler, straight ruler

Various natural and synthetic watercolor paintbrushes

Stabilo Point 88 fine line markers

Borden & Riley #234 Bleedproof Paper 

Although I also work with my Carter’s vintage fountain pen and dip pens, lately I’ve been drawing my illustrations with fine line watercolor paintbrushes and waterproof ink.  I love the possibilities in softness of the line and the gradations of grays that happen naturally as the ink starts to flow out of the brush.

To keep my brushes healthy and in excellent working order, I clean them after each drawing session with this brush cleaner.

brush cleaner and brushes

(The brush nearest the Brush Cleaner and Preserver tub above might look like it’s too fine to produce any line variation, but it actually works beautifully for faces.)  

Here is a series of face “doodles” I tossed off last night with my fine line watercolor paintbrush.

Face Off with watermark

One unusual tool in my arsenal that you might not see in other illustration studios is this one.

bone paper scorer

This bone paper scorer was among my father’s things when I was sorting through his desk last year.  Since I often need to fold, score and tear my larger sheets of marker paper into smaller portions, this tool saves my fingernails from being split by the paper.  My father would be pleased that I’m using it…

As you can tell, I’ve got my tool box pretty much down to a science.  Even so, it’s always fun to experiment with new tools.  Here’s my latest “toy”.  

Aquash pen in package

I bought it so that I could continue my paintbrush and ink practice in my sketchbook when I’m out and about.  This ingenious pen can be filled simply with water (to create wash effects over other media like water-soluble colored pencils, for example) or you can fill it with ink of your choice.

Here’s what it looks like empty and uncapped…

aquash pen empty

And filled (I filled mine with a solution of black Higgins waterproof ink diluted with some distilled water).

Aquash pen filled

Perfect for working on freedom of strokes and gestural drawing on the run!

Aquash girl


Filed under art, drawing, drawing faces, education, Influences, ink sketches, inspiration, New work, practicing drawing, Quick Sketch, resources, techniques, Tool Box

Friday’s Thought – On September Days

vibrant September flower garden

“By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.”

(Helen Hunt Jackson)

Leave a comment

Filed under Friday's Thought, Influences, photography, wisdom, wise quotes

My Favorite Things – Eureka! I’ve Finally Got a Winner (Gluten-Free Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)

If you’ve been following my blog for the past few weeks you’ll know that I’ve gotten a little obsessed with perfecting the perfect gluten-free ginger chocolate chip cookie recipe.  And since today was 87 degrees out, I of course felt right at home firing up the oven and “warming” up our apartment some more. (But believe me, these cookies ARE worth it!)

My cookie

Where today’s cookies differ from my past two attempts is in the texture and stability of the cookie (i.e.  they hold together when you pick them up, yet are not dry or “sandy” feeling on the tongue.)  The biggest difference of course is the almond flour I used.  I’m now a convert to the almond flour at  The texture of their flour is extremely fine – almost powdery – and the result is cookies (and other baked goods) that appear very similar to the results you’d get if you used regular flour.  Yay for!   (Oh, and by the way, they also threw in a little bonus package of Chia seeds with my order…that’s what I call excellent customer service!)  I’ll be back to order more almond flour and other healthy products from them soon.

The almond flour instructions from say to replace the volume of flour in your recipe with the same volume of almond flour.  For the base of my recipe, therefore, I turned to an old standby from my kitchen library – The Great Big Cookie Book.

Their Tollhouse Cookie recipe (with my additions/changes) follows:


(Makes about 24 cookies)

Ingredients for my Magic Almond Chocolate Ginger cookies

1/2 cup unsalted butter (I use Kerrygold Irish butter from grass-fed cows)

scant 1/4 cup of coconut sugar

10 packets of Splenda sugar substitute

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 well-packed cup almond flour

1/8 cup coconut flour

scant 1 teaspoon baking soda

pinch salt

1 cup chocolate chips

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and the two sugars until the mixture is well combined and fluffy.
  3. In another bowl, mix the egg and vanilla extract, then gradually beat into the butter mixture. (The mixture will appear fairly liquid at this point.)  Stir in the almond and coconut flours, baking soda and salt until blended.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and chopped ginger, and mix to combine thoroughly.

chopped ginger and cookie dough

5. Place heaping teaspoonfuls of the dough 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

cookies ready to go in the oven

6. Bake for 7-10 minutes, until lightly colored.  Let cool for 15 minutes on the cookie sheet before removing to a wire rack to further cool.

cookies fresh out of the oven

7. Drool, then enjoy.

Cookies and milk

A few notes…

  • I used to hate ginger (crystallized, or in any other form) as a child.  Now I love it.  If you’re not into ginger, leave it out.  (Another nice option would be to substitute chopped candied orange peel…and just happens to carry it!)
  • When working with almond flour in baked goods, increase the baking soda or baking powder by a 1/3 of a teaspoon. (My recipe has already accounted for this increase.)
  • 12 packets of Splenda = 1/2 cup regular sugar.  I used 10 packets because I wanted to try to cut down on the sugar.  I also used coconut sugar (supposedly less glycemic than regular sugar) instead of the brown sugar in the original recipe.
  • I added coconut flour since a small amount of this gluten-free flour tends to help firm up an otherwise wet cookie dough.  Using it also helps to stretch my almond flour stash…
  • I store these cookies in a sealed plastic container in the freezer.  That way they will keep longer while still having that just-out-of-the-oven fresh taste.  (Cookies “thaw” very quickly…heck, they’re even good frozen, too!)


Filed under My Favorite Things

From My Sketchbook – Week 32

Yesterday I walked the 35 blocks down to Lincoln Center to meet my husband for a walk home (ah, true love!)  It was raining lightly, so as I waited I stood under the eave of a shop and sketched a few of the people passing by.

Woman in a Striped Tank Dress:

Woman in the long tank dress sketch

Women Walking Her Dogs:

Woman with leash cropped

The sketch above happens to be done on the last page of my Crescent Rendr  No-Show Thru Paper Sketchbook. Fortunately, I’ve got a fresh sketchbook already tucked into my purse.

Stay tuned…

Leave a comment

Filed under art, fashion illustration, From My Sketchbook, illustration, Influences, inspiration, New York, practicing drawing, Quick Sketch, sketchbook, Weekly Sketch Project

Friday’s Thought – In the Present


“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”


Leave a comment

Filed under Friday's Thought, inspiration, photography, wisdom, wise quotes

My Favorite Things – Another Foray Into Healthy Baking

I seem to be on a healthy baking kick these days.  Healthy is always great, but baking in weather like this (beastly hot) either means that you have a screw loose or you are VERY dedicated.  I choose to believe the latter.  My attempts at healthy baking this week have included Orange Poppy Seed Scones, Breakfast Crepes and Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies.  All of the recipes (from Elana’s Pantry) have been gluten-free (no grains) and very low sugar.  My results have been mixed, but I’ve learned some important things along the way:

#1.  The quality of your almond flour matters.  Although I have used Bob’s Red Mill products for years, I’ve learned that with almond flour the fineness of the grind makes a big difference.  Finer grinds will provide a superior result.  You can purchase finely ground almond flour on several online sites. (Elana gives a helpful list of online retailers here.) As a bonus, you’ll find that the online prices are cheaper than what you see in the stores.  To that end, I have a shipment of very finely ground almond flour coming from tomorrow.

#2. Eggs create a cakey-er end product.

#3. Almond flour is flavorful and rich, so you may be able to cut back on the amount of added fat.

chocolate ginger cookies

My “almost-perfect Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies” are an adaptation from the Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on Elana’s Pantry.  Read on for her recipe with my tweaks…

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Serves: 28
  • 2 cups blanched almond flour (Joana’s Note: I added 1 Tablespoon of Coconut Flour to see if I could give the cookies more body)
  • ½ teaspoon celtic sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature (Joana’s Note: My cookies turned out a little more oily than I’d like.  Perhaps the butter could be reduced?)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (Joana’s Note: This seemed like a lot of extract to me.  Since the dough turned out quite wet, perhaps this amount could also be reduced?)
  • ½ cup maple syrup (Joana’s Note: I used 1/4 cup Agave Nectar + 1/4 cup Maple syrup to cut down on the glycemic index)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (Joana’s Note: I also added about a 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger)
  1. In a food processor , combine almond flour, salt, and baking soda
  2. Pulse in butter, vanilla, and maple syrup until dough forms
  3. Remove blade from processor and stir in chocolate chunks by hand
  4. Scoop dough one level tablespoon at a time onto a parchment lined baking sheet  (Joana’s Note: These cookies spread so take the “one level tablespoon” directions to heart!)
  5. Press balls of dough down gently
  6. Bake at 350° for 7-10 minutes
  7. Cool for 15 minutes (do not handle prior or cookies will break)
  8. Serve

Joana’s Notes

If you like crystallized ginger, I highly recommend it as an addition to these cookies.  Ginger pairs beautifully with dark chocolate and notches up the taste sophistication level in these cookies.  

chopped ginger and chocolate for cookies

As you’ll see from this photo, my batter using Bob’s Red Mill almond flour + the addition of 1 Tablespoon of Coconut Flour is still rather wet:  

ginger chocolate chip cookies dough
And the cookies spread out a lot more than I expected!
fresh baked ginger chocolate chip cookies
What I plan to try next time…
Disclaimer – I’m not a culinary expert and I have very little experience baking with “alternative” flours.  But I’m also not afraid to experiment and share my flops and (hopefully) successes along the way!
As these cookies cooled, they deflated and became rather flat like pancakes.  I’m all for a crisp cookie, but I prefer a little more height and “chew” to the middle of my cookies.  Although delicious (my husband gave them a thumbs up), the cookies also felt a little oily.   Almond flour, though extremely flavorful, is also rich.  I think the butter in this recipe could be reduced, perhaps even by half.  This might keep the cookie from spreading so much.  I also think the addition of one egg and maybe another tablespoon of Coconut Flour might create the balance of a chewy cookie with crisp edges.  Also, as noted above, I will try reducing the amount of vanilla extract to one teaspoon to see if that cuts down on the wetness of the batter.  Lastly, I may try substituting the liquid sugar (agave nectar/maple syrup) with coconut sugar.
After all, it’s only a cookie!  I’ll post what happens…

Leave a comment

Filed under healthy eating, My Favorite Things