Ink and watercolor wash of a binder clip

Simple sketch of a binder clip

While working on my hatching skills, sometimes I draw simple objects that hardly warrant any excitement. But there’s something about this binder clip sketch that I just love. I think it’s the judicious use of watercolor on the shadow areas. I focused the hatching and wash on darker areas, and I think that restraint helps make the sketch more interesting.

This simple object is also good practice for my contour drawing. Instead of doing a pencil sketch first, I went straight for the PITT Artist Pen on this one. I know that when I start with pencil, my drawings can look too measured and not very alive or spontaneous because I get so focused on accuracy.  I’m liking the character that an imperfectly-drawn ink sketch has.

Ink and watercolor wash of a binder clip

DHDR Doberbutts tee design mockup on female model

Doberman Rescue fundraising tee design

Sometimes a project comes along that’s a magical fit. That’s how I felt when a friend asked if I’d be interested in working on a t-shirt design for a local Doberman rescue organization with one of her colleagues. Not only was it great timing, it was perfectly in line with my love for designing for pets.

The project is for a great cause — raising funds to support the rescue and placement of Dobermans. Although there are a number of causes I believe in, helping animals is the one I focus on.

Christy, the Executive Director of Desert Harbor Doberman Rescue, already had a concept in mind for the t-shirt design. So in order to get the project moving in the right direction, we started by establishing a few style keywords. That way, we could build toward the final design without unpleasant surprises or missing a key idea. She chose:

  • classic
  • hip
  • fresh

I used these keywords to create a mood board of visual elements that we could use as inspiration for the artwork. At first, I was unsure how I’d connect classic with hip and fresh, but doing the mood board research helped me shape how they could come together into one design. I proposed that it:

  • have a classic graphic tee layout
  • be very wearable — something that people love putting on and doesn’t get relegated to the bottom of the drawer
  • look cool and make other people say “Hey, I love your tee!”
  • be casual, but can be worn in a hip and fresh way
  • combine handwritten and sans-serif fonts (the juxtaposition of handwriting with sans-serif fonts makes it hip and fresh)

mood board for Doberbutts t-shirt design - Desert Harbor Doberman Rescue

Then, building off the mood board, I created rough pencil sketches of a few different layout concepts for Christy to review. Going into the project, one of the things she wanted to see was a tee with a large Doberman graphic wrapping from the front to the back, with the words “I like Doberbutts & I can not lie”. To help make the tee fresh and wearable, I suggested we outline the dog rather than do a solid fill of color.

Taking the Skillshare class Lettering Layouts: Create Beautiful Messages came in really handy for this project, since it was essentially a lettering layout applied to a t-shirt. I used the process of establishing a hierarchy for the words and deciding on lettering shapes to bring the elements together with the dog illustration.

DHDR Doberbutts tee concept sketch

While the diagonal lines between the words adds a complementary decorative element to the layout, it made the tee too swing too masculine. Removing the lines helped balance it back out to be more neutral and universally appealing.

DHDR Doberbutts tee design mockup

DHDR Doberbutts tee design mockup on female model

DHDR Doberbutts tee design mockup on male model

If you’d like to support Desert Harbor Doberman Rescue and get one of these tees for yourself, visit


Applesauce snack cake

A partially-used jar of unsweetened applesauce has been in my refrigerator for quite some time…tempting me to bake something yummy. I’ve found applesauce to be a good ingredient for making whole grain baked goods moist and tender and when I spotted a recent recipe on one of my favorite blogs,, it helped me decide what to make.

The recipe featured on the blog was Anne Byrn’s 1917 Applesauce Cake and it intrigued me because it’s an old recipe, and the book it’s from features the history surrounding each recipe. A description from the post:

The recipes are arranged in chronological order from the mid 1600’s through the present and Anne discusses the changing culture of each era and how events shaped the use of ingredients and baking styles of the time.

This sounds like a book I need to check out!

Since I was using my freshly-milled whole grain wheat flour, I looked to my whole grain baking bible, Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. The book includes an adaptation for an applesauce quick bread. I also wanted to try this treat with less sugar than Anne Byrn’s version.

I blended these two recipes together to create my take on it:


  • 100 gm granulated white sugar (1/2 c)
  • 3 tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 c unsweetened applesauce
  • 125 gm + 1 tbsp freshly-milled soft white wheat flour
  • 125 gm freshly-milled hard white wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking poder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 c raisins

Process notes

  • preheat oven to 355°; grease and flour 8×8 pan
  • toss raisins with the 1 tbsp flour
  • in small bowl mix sugar, oil, and salt with a spoon; stir in applesauce
  • in medium bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg
  • pour liquid ingredients into flour mixture and stir; fold in the coated raisins
  • spread into prepared pan and bake 42 min.
  • cool about an hour, slice into 12 pieces


The baking time was a too short — the cake was rather soft and sticky when sliced. It didn’t have a typical, loose cake crumb. It was more like a dense and moist quick bread.

I also found this adaptation to be rather bland. I think that the Laurel’s Kitchen recipe assumes the use of sweetened applesauce, so by reducing the sugar by half of the amount from the 1917 recipe and using unsweetened applesauce it wasn’t sweet enough.

After tasting it, I wish I’d used some of my boiled cider. It would have helped the mild applesauce flavor, adding an intense and tart punch of apple. Increasing the sugar and using butter instead of oil would have likely also helped it.

ink and watercolor wash - box of colorful macarons

Painting highlights with watercolors

I’m working on finding a good balance of painted areas and unpainted areas with my ink and watercolor sketches. It’s becoming more clear that in order to achieve a sketch that has a fresh and spontaneous quality to it, it takes more white areas than what strictly looks like a highlight.

With this box of macarons drawn from a photo, I kept the bright areas of the macarons unpainted. The liner in the box that they’re packaged in got a very light wash of color in the bright areas.

Another skill I’m working on improving is the shape of color the brush lays down next to the white areas. I feel like I’m getting closer, but the strokes seem a little self-conscious to me.

Another thing I did with this sketch was to paint the darker areas of the macarons with a deeper shade of the color, not a neutral grey as with a drop shadow. I love the way that technique makes the macarons so interesting to look at and dimensional.

ink and watercolor wash - box of colorful macarons

Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson - moving water exercise

Watercolor lessons from Cathy Johnson

Part of learning how to paint with watercolors is about just doing it and getting familiar with the tools, but I also love learning from experts. I treated myself to two books (print versions, not Kindle version) by Cathy Johnson — Painting Watercolors (First Steps) and Creating Textures in Watercolor.

Her loose, confident, and sketch-like style is what I’d like to get to with my own skills. By following her examples, I hope to learn what it feels like to emulate her style as a way to develop my own.

Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson - moving water exercise

My moving water exercise from Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson

One thing I’m struggling with is being patient enough to let the layers dry before adding details on top of them. I keep ending up with a mushed-together blob like in the dark areas below.

Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson - mountains, cliffs and other rock forms exercise

My mountains, cliffs and other rock forms exercise from Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson

I love the way my little red building turned out! The wet-in-wet variegated wash was intentional with this one, not the result of rushing layers.

Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson - buildings in landscape exercise

My buildings in landscape exercise Painting Watercolors (First Steps) by Cathy Johnson

Apples have become my achilles heel…there’s something about the red color and highlights that is ellusive to me. But the peach and strawberry turned out well. The strawberry was better for me because it has small, controlled highlights. And the peach doesn’t shine and features softly blended shades. Which was totally fun to do.

Creating Textures in Watercolor by Cathy Johnson - fruits

My apples, peach, and strawberry from Creating Textures in Watercolor by Cathy Johnson

For these, I’ve been using Fabriano Artistico 140 lb. cold press watercolor paper in Traditional White. It’s stating the obvious, but the experience of painting on this paper is hugely different from using my Stilman & Birn Alpha Series sketchbook.

Skillet flatbread pizza

Even though it’s November, we’re still getting warm weather in Phoenix. It’s that zone between we don’t quite need to run the air conditioner, but running the oven for an hour would make it too hot inside. But when you’re craving pizza, you find a way!

While we wait for the season to use our baking stone with our favorite pizza dough recipe (which requires about an hour of running the oven at its highest heat), I opted for a compromise. Using a cast iron skillet to cook individual pizzas — flatbread-style — is awesome.

This dough requires an overnight rise but it’s easy to make. The next evening, you can go from dough to pizzas in about an hour and a half, most of it hands-off time.

And these flatbread pizzas are so tasty! The cold, slow fermentation of the dough develops a lot of flavor, and topping them with simple ingredients lets the fantastic flavor and texture shine.

Skillet Flatbread Pizza

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: requires overnight refrigeration of prepared dough
  • Print

Delicious, individually-sized whole wheat flatbreads that are cooked in a cast iron skillet, so the house doesn't heat up from running the oven.

Once you have the flatbreads made, you can top them with a whole variety of ingredients. One good option is a sauteed garlic mixture of olive oil, minced garlic, fresh rosemary, a dash of basil and oregano, some red pepper flakes, cracked black pepper, salt. Once each flatbread is done cooking, top with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan and drizzle the oil mixture over top.

To use a red sauce instead, a simple mixture of canned pureed tomato, olive oil, and a little minced garlic is nice and easy. Top the cooked flatbreads with some sauce, your toppings of choice, and shredded mozzarella, and place under the broiler briefly until the tops are hot and melty.


  • 258 gm freshly-milled hard white wheat flour
  • 211 gm filtered water
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 gm sugar
  • 10 gm olive oil
  • 2/3 tsp yeast
  • toppings (cheese, sauce, herbs, oil, etc.)


    Make the dough 1–2 days before you want to make your pizzas.
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast (don’t let the salt and yeast touch each other directly). Pour in the water and olive oil. Using the paddle attachment mix dough on low speed for 1 min. Then let it rest for 5 min., and continue mixing on medium-low for 1 min.
  2. Pour about a teaspoon of oil onto the counter and spread around with your fingers. Turn the dough onto the slick spot and start the stretch-and-fold process by stretching the far side of the dough away from you and then folding it on top of the pile. Repeat with the side closest to you, then both sides. Place the mixer bowl over the dough to prevent it from getting dry and crusty while you wait for 5 min.
  3. After the 5-min. rest, do the stretch-and-fold process again, and repeat the 5-min. rest. Do this 2 more times, for a total of 4 stretch-and-folds.
  4. Place the dough in a container, cover tightly, and place in the refrigerator. You can use it the next day, or leave it there for up to four days. The longer it rests in the refrigator, the more flavor develops in the dough.
  5. On pizza day, about an hour before you want to make your pizzas, take the dough out of the refrigerator. Make a slick spot of oil on the counter, divide the dough into four equal portions, and stretch it out on the slick spot. The dough will be soft and tender, so handle it carefully to avoid tearing holes (they’re hard to patch closed at this stage). If the dough resists shaping, let it sit for about 5–10 min. while it relaxes and come back to it.
  6. Prepare your toppings while you wait for the dough to be ready.
  7. Once the dough is ready, heat a cast iron skillet or two (or a long double-burner griddle works, too) with about 1 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Watch that the oil doesn’t start to smoke, and when it’s hot and coating the bottom of the skillet carefully place a piece of the dough. Since the dough is rather wet and sticky, I find it useful to wrap the dough around my hand and then unroll it into the hot skillet, smoothing out the wrinkles and folds as much as I can.
  8. Cook each side for 3–4 min., or until brown spots appear, carefully turning with a spatula or tongs.
  9. Once the flatbread is ready add your toppings (see notes above for topping suggestions).

You had to have the big salad final layout

Lettering Layouts class

When I started taking Skillshare classes over the summer, I quickly fell in love with Teela Cunningham‘s classes. She has a knack for breaking down cool and trendy techniques into steps that make sense.

I’ve seen great hand-lettered layouts for awhile now, like with those chalkboard lettering walls, art prints, or tees. But I never understood how they were made — they seemed to appear by magic. Teela’s class Lettering Layouts: Create Beautiful Messages provides a ton of clarity on how to get started with these designs.

After choosing my phrase, “You had to have the big salad!” (from Seinfeld, of course), I designated the hierarchy:

  • level 1: big salad
  • level 2: you
  • level 3: had to have the

Then I started sketching possible layouts using Teela’s inspiration elements PDF that she includes with class enrollment. I appreciate the resources she puts together because when there are seemingly infinite options it can be hard to just choose something and get started. But she makes it clear and easy to just start drawing.

Lettering Layouts class - first steps

You had to have the big salad lettering 1

You had to have the big salad 2

You had to have the big salad 3

My final layout:You had to have the big salad final layout

I liked a lot of my sketches and it was actually hard to choose a favorite to implement. I wanted to incorporate some other little veggie illustrations, so I went with a complex layout. It got pretty busy, and is more of a food illustration than a lettering layout. But the whole experience was so informative and fun, that I know I’ll be able to do more projects with this technique.

My introductory Skillshare subscription rate has expired, but I’m tempted to renew my subscription just to watch this class again and again! Teela also shares some inspiring layouts and ways to get started with this technique on her awesome blog.


Tools & supplies

  • pencil
  • a variety of PITT artist pens
  • Canson Drawing pad
little ink and watercolor sketches of potted succulents

Sketches of potted succulents

During my daily drawing practice I discovered how fun it is draw little sketches of potted succulents, especially with a dip pen. I like using this subject as a way to explore hatching with the dip pen. It has a really satisfying scratching quality on the paper.

desert plant drawings from sketchbook

Adding quick watercolor washes to these little sketches helps them look more fun and colorful.

little ink and watercolor sketches of potted succulents


  • dip pen with 512 Speedball nib
  • India ink
  • watercolors
illustrated recipe - Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

Illustrated recipe: Rosemary Roasted Potatoes

The idea of illustrating a recipe is fascinating to me. It’s such a cool combination of art and design — drawing and painting ingredients + typography and layout of the details and instructions.

It took me awhile to actually take the plunge and draw a recipe…but one day when I was making Rosemary Roasted Potatoes it seemed like the perfect opportunity. My goal was to make the illustration fairly quickly, without obsessing over details or layout. The crazy shape of the frame came about because I was drawing around a previous drawing in my sketchbook.

I love making little shadows under objects, especially with the water brush because of its fine point and fairly firm bristles. I think the sprigs of rosemary turned out the best in this one, and the little pile of salt is so darn cute.

I’d definitely like to do more projects like this!

illustrated recipe - Rosemary Roasted Potatoes



Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - hatched driving moc

Sketchbooks: Drawing the Everyday class

Once I realized I was most interested in the process of sketching and painting I signed up for a few Craftsy classes on the topic. Although I was itching to watch them all at once, picking just one to start seemed more prudent. So I started off with Sketchbooks: Drawing the Everyday with Paul Heaston.

Paul is a master at drawing with ink (his hatching is really special), and he’s an excellent teacher as well. This course was so good for learning basic things to consider when starting to draw. Many of the things covered were familiar to me from college art classes, but I’d forgotten them over the years.


There were seven assignments, and I committed myself to do each of them one at a time before moving on to the next lesson.

1: Blind contour drawing of my hand

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - blind contour hand drawing

For a blind contour drawing, you follow the edges of the subject with your eyes and your drawing hand follows — without looking at your paper while you draw

2:Explore points of view, space, and texture with 3–4 arrangements of a still life

I used this opportunity to draw the same subjects from the three different points of view that Paul covers in this section.

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - birds eye point of view

bird’s-eye view (where you see the tops of an item than the side)

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - traditional point of view

traditional (below or at eye level, where see a bit of tops and sides of items)

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - eye level point of view

eye level (straight-on, where round surfaces become very foreshortened and squished)

3: Hatching values

One of the things I was most excited about learning from Paul was hatching. I’d been dabbling in it and struggled with consistency and direction of my marks. His techniques help with achieving a precise yet natural look.

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - hatched paint box

My watercolor box, with different hatching values — the shadow was a big mistake! Looked better without it

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - hatched driving moc

I took my time with this driving moc drawing, and it paid off — I’m really happy with the values and shaping

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - hatching soap dispenser

With this soap dispenser, I practiced going darker with my shadow values to allow the actual white parts to remain white

4: Paint two objects that are the same color but different values

I had a surprisingly difficult time finding two objects that fit this description! For me the best part of this lesson was just gaining more experience with my watercolors, primarily with doing a background wash.

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - value study

There’s work to be done with my rendering of the foreshortened ellipses and cylinders

5: Sketch a person that’s moving through my scene

The challenge with this lesson is to learn to sketch people quickly, capturing what’s necessary and unique about the person and letting go of the rest. This one was really intimidating for me to begin because it sounded just impossible. Finally I asked my husband to stand there while I quickly sketched him.

I also experimented with my water brush — it has a much different feel from painting with regular watercolor brushes. I like how precise it is in some cases, but find it too precise for other things. It’s really good for painting in little shadows or small washes of color.

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - figure sketching

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - figure sketching 2

As additional practice for sketching people, I found a photo online and made a watercolor sketch version of it in my book:

watercolor sketch from vintage photograph

6: Use a viewfinder and draw several thumbnails of a scene, trying different approaches

The viewfinder was awesome for making it clear how the composition was going to look on paper. I took it outside to find something to draw, and it cut out all of the extra bits of what I saw in the environment. Paul suggests doing thumbnail sketches in a few proportions like landscape, portrait, panoramic, and square, to get a sense of what’s going to work well before diving into the larger sketch.

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - final project thumbnail sketches

7: Create a detailed study out of a larger scene

Using my favorite thumbnail sketch from the previous lesson, I selected a part of my house and back yard in a portrait view.

Sketching the Everyday craftsy course with Paul Heaston - final watercolor sketch

I really like how the rosemary bushes look, and the general composition. But overall the house was a pretty boring subject! It was more about getting some practice in a convenient place than capturing something really interesting.

It looks a little too much like a cartoon for my taste — as opposed to a journal sketch — so that’s something I want to see if I can figure out.

This class is a great balance of learning a lot of techniques in a very accessible way. When I look back at all of the lessons I can see it was very informative and helps move my art skills toward my goals. My big goal is to record watercolor sketches in a travel journal. I sure wish I’d had this knowledge when we went to Paris a few years ago! I may still do some watercolor sketches of those photos just for fun.



Watercolor Texture class - set 1

Watercolor Textures class

Another fantastic class from Ana Victoria Calderón. Her Watercolor Textures class on Skillshare introduced me to painting textures and patterns with watercolor, something that hadn’t occurred to me before.

She demonstrates how to get started making texture swatches and choosing a color palette before moving on to a final project. The texture stage was addicting for me! I kept discovering new things to paint that might work with the concept I had in mind — a scene from the Redwood Forest where we had our summer vacation.

Watercolor Texture class - experimenting with texture ideas

Before I painted my actual swatches, I testing out some ideas

Once I had some ideas sketched out, I started painting my swatches. It was a lot of fun to pay with different strokes and colors. For this project I liked the more organic textures. Some of the others turned out too stiff or structured.

Watercolor Texture class - set 1

Watercolor Texture class - set 1

Before sketching my idea onto watercolor paper, I did some thumbnails in my sketchbook. The large sketch was close, but the main focus (the owl) was too centered. The upper right sketch was my final version.

Watercolor Texture class - final project sketches

My color palette of primarily neutrals:

Watercolor Texture class - final project color palette

My final project took so long for me to complete! I actually enjoyed the process of painting the texture swatches more than the final artwork.

Watercolor Texture class - final project

With this project, I started to see that I like the process part of art more than the final artwork itself. Which was a little frustrating…until I discovered art journaling and urban sketching! Since I’m not interested in hangable “fine art”, embracing my sketchbook as my playground is a relief.


Modern Watercolor Techniques - underwater scene

Modern Watercolor Techniques class

When I signed up for Ana Victoria Calderón’s Skillshare class Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner’s Level, I honestly didn’t expect it to be so much fun! I figured I’d be getting some intro to watercolor techniques, but she took it way beyond those basics.

The class starts with good watercolor fundamentals, like how to become familiar with your paints and brushes, and how to gain control over your brush strokes. After a basic project is complete, it moves onto super fun “experimental planets” where we used a variety of materials to make little circles with varying effects. (This was my favorite part of the class).

There are a couple more activities she teaches as well that build in complexity, all with an element of play and experimentation. So much great stuff!

Modern Watercolor Techniques - monochrome activity

For for monochrome activity project, I painted a slice of lime complete with little shiny highlights

Modern Watercolor Techniques - experimental planets

My favorite part of the class was making these little experimental circles with salt, rubbing alcohol, ink, and watercolor

Modern Watercolor Techniques - jellyfish activity

The experimental planets helped prepare us for painting jellyfish, complete with white ink for highlights

Modern Watercolor Techniques - underwater scene

The final project of the class was a galaxy or underwater scene (I chose underwater)


Tools & supplies

  • watercolor
  • fine sea salt
  • rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs
  • india ink
  • Copic opaque white pigment
  • paper towel for lifting pigment