watercolor

Camels, Posters, and Paint Nights

Tsfat Safed landscape overlooking Mount Hermon
Have you ever been to a paint night? What did you paint? Was it a learning experience, or were you just given some paints and told: “here ya go.”

This past year I was privileged to host two paint nights. For the first one, I did a slide show. I showed perspective, a value study, and a possible finished project. I got feedback later: “I wanted more instruction.”

So when I had the opportunity to host a paint night for a smaller crowd recently, I decided to teach people one on one or in small groups. I publicized the paint night with a poster; I painted the Tsfat or Safed scene that I photographed years ago as a border. The materials given out were acrylic paints, not the sort of paints I have used much. I handed out pencils and some paper, and I showed the participants how to divide up the page into parts, so what they thought was a difficult subject became easier to handle. I pointed out the natural mountains at the top of the scene and the architectural, man-made elements below. Some chose to just paint the mountains. A few tackled the whole scene and did both. Others just played with the paints and chatted with their friends.

tsfat in acrylic with white center
This was my first attempt at a border for advertising the paint night. I made the white too small.

tsfat border with white for allowing text, acrylic paint
So I painted again, and this one became the border for the details of the paint night.

At the top of this post is a watercolor that I painted from the Tsfat or Safed scene that I chose as the subject for the paint night. Since there has been a lot of upsetting news coming from Israel lately, we went with an Israeli theme for the paint night.

Due to the disheartening news, I decided to post a subject that was Israeli but warmer in nature. I revisited a photograph that I had taken years ago of Yemin Moshe, an old, elegant neighborhood outside of the Old City of Jerusalem. I did an interpretation in gouache:
Yemin Moshe in Jerusalem

Getting back to posters, I have been publicizing a series of talks by our local rabbi. Each one is a “parshat hashavua” or Torah portion of the week. For each poster I read the Torah portion well in advance and look for visual ideas that I can put in a poster. In the Torah portion of Hayei Sarah, Rebecca feeds not only Eliezer but also his camels. Camels! I took out children’s books about camels from the library, and I had fun drawing and painting a few camel scenes.
camel in pencil

camels watercolor walking in a line

Back to paint night: I have two ideas for upcoming ones:

  • Teach how to mix a palette of hue, tint, shade (color, lighter version of that color, darker version of color). Start with a blue, red, and a yellow (primary colors).
  • Only black: only allow black for the first half an hour. Then they get treated to pink, turquoise, and lavender/purple.

The inspiration for the only black paint night was a participant wanted some black paint. I had left out the black paint on purpose, so students would mix their own darks. It got me thinking: how could we make good use of black? Using only black would force the students to think about darks and lights. Am I being too strict?

What would you want to learn at a paint night?

If you want to purchase one my painting as a print, visit the store.
If you want to subscribe, sign up for the mailing list.

Autumn Colors Watercolors

Autumn: what comes to mind? Oranges, yellows, and deep reds. Colorful leaves, first on the trees, fall down and scatter the streets with their inviting hues.
autumn leaf, watercolor
I was walking outside. I saw this leaf. I picked it up and put it on my dining room table, next to my watercolor paints and brushes. A day or two later, this painting emerged.

Butternut squash, red onion, garlic, Thanksgiving 2023, watercolor with ink on paper
Thanksgiving is a time for family, food, and more of those mustard-y, yellow, orange, and red hues. I had a butternut squash in my kitchen. Nearby was a purplish red onion. They called to me. I buy plenty of garlic from a farmer at the Highland Park Farmers Market, so I added it to the still life. It was nice to take time to paint, as the next week I only had time to cook!

bench in Jerusalem with colorful ivy
Autumn in Jerusalem is more subtle. Snow is rare; cold rain is what one can expect, in a good year that has no drought. My friend Ahuva Bokow photographed a beautiful scene of a bench by a wall with colorful ivy. I decided it would be the perfect end to this post on autumn colors.

Flowers and Portraits: Why I Post Flowers

Bouquet with mask and flowers for Purim, watercolor
I painted the bouquet of flowers (note the purple irises and the mask) that I bought from Roberts Florals in Highland Park, New Jersey on Purim. My guests enjoyed the bouquet along with the meal. I am relatively pleased with the result of the painting.

My current ultimate goal is to get better at painting portraits. I am confident in my flower painting abilities. I could improve in details, but I do not strive to be a realistic floral artist. One reason I chose to paint the bouquet is it was a good warm up to painting after Shabbat and after a week of little painting in general.

Why I failed miserably at 100 people week

Early in March there was a competition to draw or paint 100 people in a week. My start was delayed by Purim; I had lots of preparations to do for the holiday, and guests showed up to entertain us at our seudah (festive meal). Finally, I went out one day with my sketchpad and doodled quite a few people. I did not care much for the result, so it is not getting posted here. Then I ran out of time to go outside and look for people. So I went up to my attic late one night, and I took down several photos of people that I found inspirational.

How 100 people week Inspired Portraiture Adventures

boy showing a flower to a chicken, gouache painting
One of the photos that I found was one of my sons showing a dandelion to a chicken. I did one quick sketch; the proportions of the head were off. I started another. I continued painting into the night, and I am please with the result: gouache media, lots of strokes and movement. I like how the light falls on the figures and the variety of hues established.

Here is another portrait that I did, from an old black and white photo of a relative eating soup. This portrait is also done with gouache. Maybe I will do another version in the future with more attention to the background.
man in hat eating soup

More Flowers to Show

Whenever I go shopping with a certain friend, I am done long before she is. No problem! Each store seems to have a section of flowers. So I put my paid groceries in the car, and I return to draw with a Uniball pen whatever strikes me in the store. Often, the flowers stand out. Here are a few of my favorites:

buy local flowers
This one was painted after another one that had the brand name of a large chain store got rejected from an online shop that sells artists’ goods. Lesson learned: buy local flowers. Advertise local stores. No need to ruffle the feathers of any large chain stores.

flowers with palette
I often like painting a palette of colors near my watercolors. This palette compliments the flowers nicely, organic flowers shapes near geometric squares.

More on Painting Flowers

I am reading Painting Flowers in Watercolor with Charles Reid, a classic in the watercolor book world. Two ideas that I look forward to incorporating in future watercolor floral sketches or paintings:
1) Pay attention to negative shapes that the flowers make almost as much as to the flowers themselves. Do not overwork the details. Paint the background along with painting the flowers. The background should not be an after thought.
2) When painting the background, don’t do one solid expanse of one color. Do a variety of color in a mix that compliments whatever flowers one is painting.

Charles Reid uses a lot of cadmiums in his palette (Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange). I will substitute colors in my palette, probably Hansa Yellow (light, medium, or dark) and New Gamboge. One exercise is to paint daffodils. Another is techniques for white flowers. Daffodils and magnolias are in bloom now. Hopefully, I will be able to experiment with his ideas.

It is now the Jewish month of Nissan. In Nissan we celebrate freedom on Passover. We are also commanded to say blessing on a fruit tree when it shows its first blossoms. I will be looking around my neighborhood for all kinds of blossoms for blessings and for sketches.

Tip of the Triangle: Doughboy, Cleaners, Lukoil

Urban Sketching at the Tip of the Triangle

Do you think you need to visit New York City or Philadelphia to do urban sketching? Think again. I have found inspiration within a short walk of my home. One could define urban sketching as visual storytelling with a notebook and pens, pencils, paints, or any other artistic media.

Highland Park has an area called The Triangle. It is mostly residential, but it does host a large elementary school. I live by the tip, which holds a small statue of a Doughboy. The Doughboy, a slang term for a U.S. infantryman, is a symbol of veterans who fought in wars. The initial name came from World War I. It was erected in 1921. A new version of the Doughboy statue went up in Spring 2022, after a car or a truck supposedly ran it over. There were theories that it actually was hidden by the good guys when the bad guys were taking down historic statues.

Doughboy at corner of Raritan and Woodbridge Avenues in Highland Park, New Jersey

I did this painting of the Doughboy almost two years ago. It is not easy to paint a statue. There are no local hues other than off-whites. And there is a lot going on at the bottom: legs, a rifle, a big rock. After a few early attempts, the main thing I learned was to slow down while doing the drawing. Get the proportions right, and leave ample white space.

Rainbow Cleaners on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park, New Jersey

The incentive for doing Rainbow Cleaners is that the store got a new owner. The store is right down the block, so it is an easy “commute” to work on this subject. I like all the signs on the building. There are oranges courtesy of the Bargain Shop and a bright green parking sign. Our family lawyer has his office upstairs.

Lukoil gas station in Highland Park, New Jersey

I haven’t done much with Lukoil yet. It has that lovely shade of red in its logo. I often fill my car with gas here. One day one of the gas attendants told me I dropped my gloves after I finished sketching. His kindness gives me a warm feeling about a gas station!

Sketch Worthy Highland Park: map of the tip of the triangle
This is a sketch that I did as part of a class called Sketching Now Sketchbook. It has a map of the tip of the Triangle and the positions of the Doughboy statue, Rainbow Cleaners, and the Lukoil gas station. Each one is down the block from my home, so good spots for me to visit when I feel like doing some local urban sketching.

Visit the leoraw store

If you made it this far in reading this blog post, please check out my new store. You can purchase a Highland Park High School sketch on a clock, dinner at the Bridge Turkish restaurant on a mug, a t-shirt of peaches at the Farmers Market, and more.

Still in the planning stages: a database of my paintings and sketches, so it will be easier for potential clients to look up works of mine that they like. For example, if you type in ‘doughboy’ you will get a listing with images and links of my paintings or drawings of the Highland Park Doughboy.

Parsha Pictures: Jacob’s Ladder and Joseph’s Dreams

Joseph's dreams, baker's dream, butler's dream

I succeeded in making illustrations for each of the parshiot (section of Torah read in the synagogue each week) of Breishit (Genesis) this past fall. However, only a few illustrations became blog posts.

I had a great time redoing an illustration for Parshat Vayeshev, the parsha that has Joseph’s dreams along with the dreams of the butler/cupbearer and of the baker.

“I have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” — Genesis 37:9

On the vine were three branches. It had barely budded, when out came its blossoms and its clusters ripened into grapes. — Genesis 40:10

In the uppermost basket were all kinds of food for Pharaoh that a baker prepares; and the birds were eating it out of the basket above my head.” — Genesis 40:17

The stripes of Joseph’s coat, not part of a dream but part of the parsha, felt like I was painting a roller coaster.

Jacob’s Ladder, a work on paper done in gouache, is one of my favorites. In creating the painting Jacob’s Ladder, story found in Parshat Vayeitze, I looked at Renaissance and more recent paintings for inspiration. The man lying down was actually inspired by a relative napping on a couch. He made a convenient model for the painting.

He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. — Genesis 28:12-13

Jacob's Ladder with Angels climbing up and down, gouache on paper

I set up a store so I can sell reproductions of my art work. There are two options: for those who want fine art productions they can hang proudly in their homes, I am offering prints of painting such as Jacob’s Ladder and Joseph’s Dreams for limited times with limited prints. One will need to contact me directly to get a fine print. For those who like mugs or tote bags with Highland Park illustrations, visit the online shop (click on any image to get to more products). Buy as many of those as you want!

Lion, Eagle, Dog, and Dove Watercolors

Adam gave the animals names - lion, eagle, bulldog watercolors
One of my problems with blogging is coming up with text. When I used to use SEO tools (search engine optimization), they would say “you need 500 words or so to be” blah blah blah, something about meriting a golden spot in some grandstanding search engine. Well, if words are needed, here are some words.

A new year begins … we ended the fall holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simhat Torah. The Jewish year of 5783 has begun. I am hoping to do a little more blogging this fall … Learn How to Ferment (or whatever I will choose to name the post) is almost for publishing. Other blog ideas: How to See In Order to Draw Better. Highland Park Synagogues in Watercolor or Gouache. Highland Park Restaurants. Local Park Scenes. Not all of these will make it to production … but maybe one or two will.

Each week I aim to make an illustration for the parsha (portion of the Torah read in the synagogue on a weekly basis). For Breishit, the first parsha of the year I depicted (Genesis 2:20):

And Adam gave names to all the cattle and to the birds of the sky and to all the wild beasts;

וַיִּקְרָ֨א הָֽאָדָ֜ם שֵׁמ֗וֹת לְכׇל־הַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּלְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּלְכֹ֖ל חַיַּ֣ת הַשָּׂדֶ֑ה

Why did I choose the pasuk (sentence) about Adam naming the animals? I just liked the idea Adam gave out names. It was opportunity to draw an elephant. Except the elephant did not make it into the finished illustration. Lion is King of the Forest. So Lion is on top. Eagle is a majestic bird, so it got the bird spot. And bulldogs are cute.

He sent the dove to see if the waters land
After Breishit, the parsha is Noah. I get a little help each week from Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek, author of the What’s Bothering Rashi series.

I chose to illustrate the dove in the story of Noah because of a Rashi about this pasuk (sentence) (Genesis 8:8):

וַיְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־הַיּוֹנָ֖ה מֵאִתּ֑וֹ לִרְאוֹת֙ הֲקַ֣לּוּ הַמַּ֔יִם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃

Then he sent out the dove to see whether the waters had decreased from the surface of the ground.

Who was supposed to see if the waters had subsided? Noah or the dove? It was Noah. If the dove did not come back, then there was land for the dove. If she found a resting place, the yonah (dove) would not return.

Before the dove, Noah sent out a raven. Maybe next year I will paint a raven.

Wine Bottle and Lamentations on Fabric Watercolors

wine bottle watercolor
What is the motivation to choose a subject to paint? Why pick one object over another? Why would someone paint a particular person? I think the answer to all of these questions is emotional attachment. If you feel good or expect good feelings from painting a chosen object or person, you are more likely to enjoy the painting process and not feel like it is a task.

Why did I enjoy painting this wine bottle? I liked the looseness that I applied to the bottle. I also had fun with the patterned fabric underneath it.

Devarim, Illustrated Tehillim, and Lamentations by Yael Ziegler
A few weeks later, I painted these books on the same patterned fabric. It was in response to the theme of PATTERNS, an instagram challenge. I was able to pay careful attention to the details in part because I knew people on Instagram would be looking at the painting. I have emotional attachment to the fabric, as it was a purchase by my mother z”l.

The book of Illustrated Tehillim was given to me by my mother-in-law, as she knew I was looking for pictures of tehillim. Lamentations, the English name for the megillah of Eicha, is a book I am reading by Yael Ziegler, a wonderful speaker who I have met in person. Read it if you want a detailed, scholarly, and poetic approach to reading Eicha. I did this painting right after Tisha B’Av, the week we read parshat Nachamu, about comfort (Isaiah 40:1):

נַחֲמ֥וּ נַחֲמ֖וּ עַמִּ֑י יֹאמַ֖ר אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם׃
Comfort, oh comfort My people,
Says your God.

Those books rest under Devarim, the parshiot we are reading now at this time of the summer.

Tisha B’Av: Fox in Ruins Watercolor

Fox in Ruins: They saw a fox. Akiva comforted us.

Tisha B’Av (9th of the month of Av) is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It occurs in the summer, sometimes in July, sometimes in August. This year it occurs on Sunday, August 7. I wanted to portray an upbeat story but still connect with the sadness. There is a famous story told at the end of the gemara of Makkot about Rabbi Akiva and a fox. The Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) was destroyed on Tisha B’Av. However, when it happened, Rabbi Akiva laughed. He laughed because he saw a fox coming out of the ruins.

When they arrived at the Temple Mount, they saw a fox that emerged from the site of the Holy of Holies. They began weeping, and Rabbi Akiva was lauging. Why are you laughing, Rabbi Akiva? … the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, it is evident the prophecy of Zechariah remains valid. Akiva, you have comforted us. Makkot 24B

I painted the Fox in Ruins once before, back in 2011. That one had a little Maccabee beer can, as I had been in the Old City of Jerusalem and was dismayed to see litter. I skipped the beer can in my 2022 version and emphasized the text of the Makkot gemara story.

My brand new Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils arrived just when I was finishing up this watercolor. So I added a bit of watercolor pencil to the underside of the fox.

Self-Portrait of Leora Wenger

One often needs to come up with an image of oneself for social media on on the web. I went to a coding site that required a photo to publish on my profile. I had taken the photo off About Leora Wenger when I moved this site, as I couldn’t decide which one to use. I searched my blog to see if I had any of photos of myself, and I had none. For the coding site, I decided to put up my teacup watercolor in place of a portrait. Maybe I will replace with a photo or a watercolor of me or maybe I won’t.

I decided to correct the lack of self-portrait on this Sketching Out blog.

I settled on this one:
Leora with glasses watercolor

Recipe: Creamy Egg Salad without Mayonnaise

eggs in a bowl watercolor
I have been working on a recipe for egg salad. I do not want to use store-bought mayonnaise due to the unhealthy oils in the mayonnaise. Homemade mayonnaise is too much trouble to make. So how does one make egg salad creamy?

I came up with what I call an un-recipe: I suggest the ingredients, and you decide the amounts. Just about everything is optional. Well, not the eggs. Using real salt is a good idea, too (basically, use unrefined salt, not the kind that is all white — that stuff is like eating glass). There really is a brand called Real salt that I like and was recommended to me by a friend, but you can use any kind of unrefined salt.

Ingredients:

3 – 5 hard-boiled eggs
1 soft-boiled egg (adds to the moisture and creaminess)
Real salt (unrefined)

Choose 1 or 2 or more:
Chopped celery
Chopped sweet onion
Chopped radish
Chopped pickle

Possible herbs (chop finely):
Parsley, sage, basil, dill, chervil

Wet ingredients:
Mustard, tehina, water, lemon juice, cold-pressed olive oil

Spices (optional): cumin, paprika, chili powder, turmeric (Note: I often just use salt and skip the spices).

Chop the vegetables first. Slice the hard-boiled eggs with an egg slicer (if you have one). Add the soft-boiled egg. Add the wet ingredients, the salt, and any spices. Mash it all up. Add the chopped herbs.

Especially if it is your first time making this, add the “wet” ingredients in small amounts. These combined with yolks of the eggs will make your mayo. Add more water or olive oil after the first tasting if the egg salad needs to be creamier.

Enjoy! This is a great recipe for Seudah Shlishit, the meal that observant Jews eat at the end of Shabbat.

eggs on a colorful napkin cloth watercolor

<<