Category Archives: resources

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

From My Sketchbook – Week 17

This past week when I was working on the sketch below, I nearly gave up and tore out the page since the face dimensions were quite off.  But one of the challenges I’ve given myself with my ongoing sketchbook project is to “make it work”…in other words, to find ways to salvage – if need be – whatever sketch I’m working on.  In the end, I’m glad I didn’t give up because I feel that there is a nice quality to the sketch.

Contemplative girlThis subject, also on the subway, caught my eye because of the androgynous hair styling and clothing.  Unfortunately, before I really had time to take a closer look, my subject was obscured by a subway rider who entered the car and ended up blocking my view.  And so this sketch was mostly completely from memory.

boy in baseball hat

P.S.  I’m loving my new Crescent RendR No Show Thru mini sketchbooks!


Filed under Art, illustration, Influences, ink sketches, materials, resources, sketchbook, subway sketches, techniques, Tool Box, weekly sketch project

My Favorite Things – It’s All Games

What’s better than learning a new skill and feeling your mind expand?  Well, how about getting the lessons for FREE!  My two favorite websites currently (besides YouTube) are…



Happy headset illustration 325

On this site you can learn to speak a foreign language for free!  Not only are the lessons well laid out with opportunities to listen, read AND have your pronunciation checked, but there are lots of valuable extras like review quizzes and flash-cards. Even better, your progress is charted via a point system (with the points adding up to virtual currency that can be redeemed in the virtual store) as well as an overall percentage system.  After a day’s study – I’m addicted – I can now claim that I’m 15% fluent in Spanish.  And that’s muy bueno, in my book.

– and –

2. CNN Bridge Games

Playing cards

Yes, it would help to know how to play Bridge first (although there is an explanation of the game on this site), and you’ll have to watch an ad when you first pull up the link.  But once you’re past the ad and have created a player name for yourself, the other three Bridge players magically appear around the table and the bidding and playing commences.  It’s a great no-pressure way to practice the game and try out different bidding and playing strategies….perfect for the nights that I’m NOT at the ballet with my Bridge buddies but feel like playing cards.

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Filed under Art, marker and ink illustration, My Favorite Things, New work, resources, wisdom

This Thing We Call Life…

As the saying goes:

Life is what happens to us when we are busy making other plans.

Sometimes the “life” that happens is a wake-up call – some emergency or unforeseen event that makes us stop short and reassess our focus.  In some ways (though I don’t wish that kind of “life” on myself or anyone else) being forced to stop and be in the moment is a gift.  How much better, though, if we can learn to be in the moment as part of our daily routines.

Josephine meditates resized

Although I’ve been more mindful of late and have actually started trying to make meditation a daily part of my life, I still get caught up in living in “fast forward” mode – that is, feeling, thinking and hoping that something better is just around the corner.  The problem with this type of thinking is that when I do turn that corner, the enjoyment is short lived.  And to be honest, keeping up that kind of pace is exhausting and, ultimately, far from fulfilling.

I found that this article sums up my “condition” pretty aptly.  Perhaps some of you will also see yourselves in it and will benefit from the tips at the end, too.

Signing off now to contemplate my navel (and embrace its imperfections.)



Filed under Art, Drawing, Influences, inspiration, resources, wisdom

Getting Inked…

No, I’m not contemplating getting a tattoo; but judging from the ink stains on my fingers these days, it does appear that I’m getting inked!

The reason?  

I’ve been practicing my pen and ink drawing.  Though, to be honest, at this point I feel like I’m taking two steps forward and three back.  This YouTube video has provided the inspiration:

Amazing how easy Yelen makes it seem, right?  But in each of MY attempts, something has gone wrong…

Punk Girl drafts (Oh, except for the “practice” drawing I did on scratch paper – see figure at bottom left – which of course came out great.)  Grrr!  Such is life.  But if I haven’t learned anything else in my years of working as a musician and artist, it’s that you don’t get anywhere without a hell of a lot of practice!  So, if you don’t hear from me in a while, don’t worry.  I’m practicing.


Filed under Art, illustration, industry news, Influences, ink sketches, materials, motivation, New work, photography, quick sketch, resources, wisdom

The One Tip You Need to Look More Photogenic (or, How to Master the Squinch)

To be honest, when I started working on this post I had all intentions of making it about pixie haircuts.  In particular, I thought I’d show off my new ‘do and how it suits my face.  However, the only photo that looked somewhat decent was this one…

Joana side view

And, I think that we can all agree that this picture has little FACE in it.

The problem is, I’m not very photogenic.  Point a camera at me and I either start clowning around, or I try to look nice…which invariably causes the person behind the camera (these days, it’s my husband) to look up in exasperation and say, “Don’t make faces!”  (You can imagine what that does for my confidence level.)

So after taking 54 self-timed portraits and coming up with nothing (except for the “glamour” shot above), I Googled “How to Look More Photogenic” and came up with this interesting video on the Huffington Post by New York based Photographer Peter Hurley.

I actually watched all 15 minutes while practicing my “squinch.”  Now of course the light outside is too dark for me to see if this new technique improves my photographs.  But I’m hopeful.  Watch out, Elite Model… here I come!

(Wink, squinch!)


Filed under Influences, photography, resources

A Timely Offer from Chris Guillebeau at Unconventional Guides

Black and white photo of Grand Central Station

A few years ago I purchased the Empire Building Kit – an online 365 day course with a targeted daily email task – to help me get my business off the ground and running.  Recently, I decided to revisit the course (once you’ve purchased the course you have unlimited access to it) to see if I could implement more of the tasks that were beyond me a few years ago.  Maybe it’s just coincidence, but this time around I’ve been falling behind on some of the daily emails because my business has been, well…


So I thought some of my  readers with a more entrepreneurial bent might be interested to know that Chris Guillebeau, the mind and force behind the Empire Building Kit and other great products like the Art and Money Guide, has just announced a site-wide 20% off sale.  This coupon is good also on his latest product called The Unconventional Guide to Law & Order (no, we’re not talking the TV show here, but the nuts and bolts to the legal side of creating and running a business.)  To redeem your 20% coupon, just type in “pumpkin” in the coupon field upon checkout.  (Sale runs until Friday night, December 6th.)

Happy Shopping!

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Filed under education, Empire Building Kit Review, Influences, photography, resources, wisdom