Thrivin’ Tadpoles

When I opened the box full of potential tadpoles from the pond supply company, I expected to already be a little disappointed. It was 80 degrees out and 5:00. The mail had to be sitting on the front steps for hours. Casualties were not a possibility, but a certainty.


What I found was a bag of awesome. I counted eight tiny swimming spermy critters sealed in a bag like an ill-fated goldfish. Obviously, they give you a couple of extras “in case.”
American Toads are extremely resilient creatures, but I didn’t expect a 100% survival rate. Nearly 2 weeks in to tadpole ownership, I really did not expect that.


My “taddies” as my daughter calls them, have exceeded expectations. They’ve already grown. They swim with the vigor of a sober Michael Phelps. Watching one wiggle it’s way through a lettuce leaf piece three times it’s size was hilarious.


Still, I am not sure how to make these guys into art. I mean they are TINY. Even the smaller adult toads I have drawn could be measured in inches. These guys not so much. Taking photos of them is quite difficult – they zoom around like little torpedoes. My camera lens is a notoriously good prosumer lens but it can’t dream of focusing fast enough.


Still, what a fun adventure! If these little guys do well, I may make toad raising a tradition. Their energy and the amazing transformation they will partake in is cause for celebration. When I do finally get to drawing one of them, I think it will be a very large drawing to convey just how great these little guys are.


taddie3 taddie1

Tadpole Songs

So one fateful day on the internet, I found a pond supply company selling Anaxyrus americanus tadpoles. That is, of course , American toad babies. They didn’t have any in stock in February when I found the link, but they had a fateful form. “Let me know when American toad tadpoles are in stock.”


I filled out that form and a week ago I got the call. (E-mail, really.) Six tadpoles for twelve dollars. I don’t know how one says “no” to that. Ten minutes after receiving that e-mail I had some baby toads on the way.


So here they are. We received eight little sperm-like critters in a plastic bag. We put them into our sadly empty aquarium. In true eat-anything toad fashion, they prefer lettuce as their main meal.  I am very encouraged that they are so far after 24 hours all still alive and seemingly thriving.


So this means I will hopefully have some tadpole/changeling/toadlet art in the near future. They are so incredibly tiny right now. they are also a great mystery. Unlike we humans who develop in secret, toads develop out in the open, for all to observe. I can’t wait to watch them become little toadies!



Cursed Art

Some pieces are cursed. It’s true. One thing goes wrong and it’s not great, but you survive. But then another and another problem arise and they will not stop popping up until the piece is “finished.”

It will never be perfect. It will never be as good as it should have, but it will be done. you can’t fight the curse, you just have to finish the piece no matter how frustrating. Or it will haunt you. The only way to be free is to finish the piece.


My latest work “High Rise” is cursed. It is nearly finished but I will never be happy with it. First, my model goldfish died. Sad, but understandable. Then weeks of work went down the drain as my substrate failed. OK I can live with that, even if it was the point I should have known it was cursed.

I struggled to finish this piece on time for the Colored Pencil Society of America’s International Exhibition. With the setback, I missed the date and entered two older pieces. I didn’t make it in.

It’s been sitting in my house staring at me. I had to finish it. So last night I picked it up and worked on it for a half hour or so. I put it down against the wall. Then I did what no one should do. I told it. I said “I hate you!” and turned it towards the wall.

There on the back was the largest HOUSE CENTIPEDE ever. Eew! I screamed. I ran. I flapped my arms around girl-ily like you do when you are strangely creeped out by a harmless yet terrifying thing. It was so close to me. It was on my lap! Eew. E-e-eew.

Thank God for my husband @AverageJer for disposing of it for me. If he hadn’t been there, I would have had to spray it with hair spray or throw water on it or some solution that both prevented me from coming in contact with the terrible creature as well as ruining the art.


A blurry photo of the nearly finished work.  I don’t want to ruin it, even if it is cursed.


A re-creation of the situation. Centipede photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons. Paper hearts courtesy of my daughter.



I know what you might be thinking. “Isn’t it a terrible marketing strategy to call a piece of art you are hoping to sell “Cursed”? Why yes, it is, I suppose. I do believe in fully telling the truth and in transparency. I also know other artists all have “cursed” works, and that many of them are hanging in homes right now.

I don’t think the curse extends beyond the work, however. The curse I am speaking of is on the maker, not the viewer. My many years as an artist and 10 years in custom framing have brought me close to a few cursed items. The final owner usually has no clue what a pain they possess. These items are kind of like great kids that come from awful pregnancies. Just like a pregnancy, once the bad stuff is over, some sort of art-parent instinct kicks in and you forget about the process. Soon you’re thinking about making another one.

My drawing kit

Spring break!!! It’s spring break and I’m on vacation in the spring break capital of the world – Breezy Point, MN. There’s a snowstorm coming (again) and we’ve already been to the pool today. Thank god for NCAA March madness and my drawing kit.

I don’t have a studio. I have a desk but it is too small for a big drawing and usually covered with all kinds of crafting leftovers. So I sit on the couch with my pencils and use a drawing board. One nice thing about all this is that I can take my drawing anywhere with minimal fuss.

I have two Global Arts 96 capacity pencil cases. I have velcroed them together. I don’t even try to fit 96 in each – I do two pencils per spot for the most part and for the 96 you are supposed to fit 3.


Here’s a closeup of one of the “pages.” it’s typical except for the blue Pablos – I  needed to bulk up a Blick order, so I ordered a bunch of random blue Pablo pencils. Note the 1″ long Luminance light blue – I keep pencils until I really can’t even try to use them any more.



In the back of my 2 Global Arts folios, I keep all the white, black and colorless pencils. My  other colors are 90% Luminance; 10% Pablos. Here I have some Caran d’Ache colorless blenders, Prisma colorless blenders, a couple Prismacolor Art Stix – Clear and white; some water soluble white pencils for last minute highlights and a  black pen just in case I need it.




Here are the accessories I shove in to the case or bring with in other places. A white eraser, a Kum double holed pencil sharpener (Kum brand from Germany has NEVER let me down), a piece of rubber eraser and one of the most amazing accidents I have come across.


I always like to have a razor blade handy in case I need to scrape away a detail or add a white highlight. Razor blades are dangerous – obviously. I was at a fair where I was helping kids make little magnets of acrylic paintings. We painted on 3 x 2.5″ pieces of paper, then affixed a business card magnet (available at Office Depot or Max) to the back.


I took some business card magnet scraps and put them into a piece of paper randomly.  I noticed my blade stuck in there safely and an invention was born. This little case not only secures my razor blade but also makes it hard to find for my kindergarten aged daughter. Mostly it makes the sharp blade safe from cutting my fingers off at any moment as I reach for something else inside my case.  I am never without my magnetic blade holder and the tool within.




Here’s a close look at my drawing showing some of those white scrapes. I am trying to strike a balance between detail and impression. It’s tough for someone as anal as myself! At least I can take some of the pressure off my drawing by being nuts about my pencil setup!

Fish Fails

After a successful catching, drawing and release of a sunfish from Lake Nokomis last year, I have been very compelled to draw fish. I am no ice fisherman, so I have been without access to said fish for what feels like at least 9 months.

Some of my fish ideas involve goldfish. I have hesitated to get into all of that because I have had fish before and aquariums are a lot of work! Not to mention the days of keeping goldfish in a bowl are long gone. Apparently they like 10-20 gallons EACH, can grow up to 6″ and eat things like spinach and peas. Yikes.

My dream was a bowl or a 2-5 gallon little setup. I thought maybe I could get smaller fish like guppies to keep it simple and be a responsible fish parent. My vision just doesn’t go with guppies.

Goldfish are ubiquitous, everyone has had at least one. Everyone knows them and most people (even if you don’t want to admit it) feel they are kind of a “throw away” pet. Like if your kid gets one and overfeeds it accidentally, you can get a new one for a couple bucks. I feel that for my drawing ideas I need that part -be it right or wrong – of the symbolism of the goldfish.

Ironically, that means I can’t buy the 4-5 fish I want and put them in a tiny bowl. (I totally have done this as a kid! It would be so nice and easy, too. I had no idea it wasn’t very nice.)

So I invested in a nice tank, set it up first and then when it was ready, bought a couple goldfish to begin with. Unfortunately for everyone, they passed away. After a couple weeks – one minute they are fine swimming all over the place happily – the next, belly up.

I thought I was doing a good job too – a nice set up with filter and changing a percentage of the water out often.

So I didn’t get to realize most of my ideas – even in reference photography. I got a few good ones, but nothing as philosophical as I would have liked.

Some times a project becomes “cursed.” This isn’t the fish’s fault – I believe they would not blame me for what happened.  Some projects just begin on a bad foot and never recover.

So about six layers and more than ten hours in to my drawing, the “fawn” colored Stonehenge I was using began to break up. I don’t know if it was the age of this paper or it’s softness. I find this color of Stonehenge to be much softer than other colors. One patch in the right half of the board had fuzzed up as well as a spot on the middle fish. I thought I could work through it, but then in my next background layer, I discovered the paper just would not hold the necessary layers. I had about four layers on the background and needed at least one more in most of the jar area.

So I started over. Ouch.

Here is how far I got and a close-up of the paper coming apart.



Hopefully I can use this as an experiment in varnishing at a later date.