1000 Dogs and 3 Are Mine

A year ago, I submitted several portraits to a book project that was to feature 1,000 portraits of dogs of various breeds and created in widely varying art styles. Yesterday, I received notice that the book will be released this month and that three of my pieces are included! They are all portraits of dogs that originally appeared in Doggitude: Lily, Skeeter, and Gnocchi.


Cover design by Robynne Raye | Portrait by Alison Barlow

The book’s title is 1,000 Dog Portraits: From the People Who Love Them by Robynne Raye. I am excited to see my work included because I believe this beautifully designed, full-color book will appeal strongly to dog lovers. It’s priced perfectly to give as a gift or buy for oneself and I expect it will be promoted widely by the author to showcase her graphic design skills (that being her profession). Hopefully that translates into a lot more exposure for my work and more traffic to my Web site (the author included links to contributors’ sites in an alphabetized Contributor’s List at the back of the book).

Many thanks to Robynne Raye of Modern Dog Design for including my work in this book, which will be available April 15. You can get a preview and pre-order it on Amazon at a special pre-order price. You can also purchase it directly from the publisher, Quarto Publishing Group USA. I’ve ordered a few copies for myself and can’t wait to spend an evening browsing through this delightful book!

Did you like this? Share it:

My Upcoming Workshops

You might notice a new link in this site’s menu bar: Workshops.

I’m excited to report that I am scheduled to teach several workshops at MadArts (in Rochelle, VA just south of Madison, VA) in May and June, with more to come. I have taught classes and mini-workshops at my studio and other venues in the past and it’s something I really enjoy doing. Here’s what is on the schedule at this time:

  • May 7, Sketch Portraits in Ink and Watercolor (Dogs and Cats)
  • May 25, Sketch Portraits in Ink and Watercolor (Equines)
  • June 11, Sketch Portraits in Ink and Watercolor (Farm Animals)

Click the Workshops link to get all the details, links to supply lists, and so forth.

Tia_Pivarnik 150dpiThese workshops focus strongly on process rather than technique, although I will discuss techniques during my demos (because it’s not like you can paint without using some of the more standard watercolor techniques such as washes, glazing, edge softening, etc.!). Employing a consistent process is one of the most important factors–along with careful observation–in producing consistently good portraits that achieve an accurate likeness. And yet, I get the sense that many watercolorists–especially those with less experience–tend to rely on hope more than a clear plan when painting. By teaching process, I hope that I can help people be more confident in their work and find solid footing from which to develop their skills.

Going forward, I plan to schedule workshops at other regional venues in addition to MadArts. You can get email updates on not just my workshops but other Virginia workshops that I am organizing by subscribing to my Virginia Visual Arts Workshops mailing. Based on subscriber feedback, I may expand the scope to include workshops organized and offered by others as well. The more, the merrier, right? You can subscribe using the form in the sidebar or by clicking here.

Thanks for your continued interest in my art and related activities. Please share this post on social media and elsewhere with friends who may also be interested in taking these workshops or subscribing to the workshop updates list. Happy painting!


Did you like this? Share it:

Report: Iain Stewart’s Virginia Workshop

I am a big fan of Iain Stewart‘s work and style and therefore have been wanting to take one of his workshops. However, he wasn’t scheduled for a stop in Virginia and I couldn’t afford to travel to the places where he was scheduled to teach. So I thought, why not organize a workshop for him here in my neck of the woods?! I contacted him about this and much to my delight, he enthusiastically agreed. After lots of planning, stressing about venues (adequate ones are in short supply around here), promoting, and fretting about getting at least minimum participation, it all came together last weekend in the quaint village of Washington, Virginia at the Washington Fire & Rescue’s well-lit, comfortably-equipped Hall.

The venue was perfect and we had a nice-sized group: eleven participants including myself. Iain’s max is 20 participants, so I would have liked a few more for his sake but as a small group, we got a lot of individual attention. I just can’t find the downside in that! :)


Iain Stewart confronting white paper on the first day

Each day was similarly structured. First, an overview and mini demos/sketches from Iain to present key concepts relevant to the day’s work, then the start of a quarter sheet demo painting from his reference photo. After each stage of the demo was completed, we participants worked on our own paintings based on that same reference photo. As we painted, Iain worked his way around the room helping each student individually, offering guidance, advice, and encouragement…and sometimes putting a brushstroke or two on their painting to support his explanations. Some people might not care for that, but I find it helpful in moderation. For example, I was shocked at how much more pigment I needed to use in one case to get to the necessary dark value. When Iain mixed up some color and showed me in a few deft strokes on my painting, it really made the point.


Iain Stewart completing a demo to illustrate teaching points

The first day we painted a fairly simple scene of a boat on the water with other boats and buildings on the distant shore. I was pretty happy with my work but getting used to working so wet takes some doing!

The second day, the reference photo was of a few sheep in the rolling hills of Scotland under a blah sky. We changed that up with a plowed field and sunlight that reflected strongly off the sheeps’ backs. What a difference–it was a great lesson in how to go boldly into a creative departure from a rather uninspiring reference photo. My work on this day was my best, I feel.


My Day 2 sheep painting in progress, based on Iain Stewart’s reference photo

The third day our reference photo was of a dock in the harbor of a Scottish village. It was an ambitious composition for us, including a winding stone wall, several levels of elevation, buildings, boats, people, and water. Again, Iain demonstrated with his sketch of the scene how to add interesting details that aren’t present in the reference photo. Iain made painting his demo look effortless, but I got a less than stellar start on this so it was my least favorite for the workshop. Even so, I got a good lesson about proper paint consistency and keeping a large area wet and alive.

Kudos to Iain for a well-structured and professionally presented workshop. The pace felt relaxed but we did a lot of thinking, observing, and painting every day. Each day’s subject presented specific challenges which built on what was covered the previous day. We got to observe Iain doing a lot of painting and sketching and got plenty of one-on-one guidance geared to our skill level (which varied widely within the group). Everyone agreed that Iain challenged them to grow as artists.

Iain is a fantastic instructor: friendly, funny, straightforward, and personable. His love of watercolor is so evident. He paints effortlessly, with confidence and good humor. Even when unexpectedly challenged by one participant to show us how he’d paint the mountain mist in a photo she supplied, he rose to the occasion and made it a great teaching opportunity. Watching him tackle that challenge and the other demos, I was continuously amazed at how deftly he handles a brush, how wet he works, how skillfully he manages the bead as he pulls a wash down the page and around saved whites, how he achieves fantastic value range in 3-5 layers, and how he is able to suggest a crazy amount of detail with just a few carefully placed marks. More remarkably, while doing all of that he is still able to talk in depth about his process and offer how-to’s for the techniques he uses. As a bonus, we got to look through a few of his sketchbooks…studying his pencil sketches and quick little paintings is plenty instructive just by itself.

By the end of the third day, we were all mentally tired but very jazzed up by how much we’d learned. Many participants expressed to me that it was one of the best–if not THE best–workshops they’d ever taken. Without reservation, I can say that this was one of the most helpful workshops I’ve taken. It allowed me to experience a couple of important breakthroughs in understanding the process for achieving a more painterly style and preserving freshness and light (which will hopefully be more present in my work going forward). After the workshop, Iain sent a lengthy email of excellent suggestions and tips for advancing our work based on what we learned in his workshop. That was really unexpected and truly appreciated!

So, all in all, a great workshop: much was learned and many new art friends were made! My heartfelt thanks to Iain for agreeing to come to Virginia. Luckily, the natural beauty of this area caught his eye so we are already plotting his return next year for a “Plein Air to Studio” watercolor workshop, probably in the May/June timeframe. If you’d like to get email updates about that workshop or others I am organizing (including the one with Paul Jackson in May, 2014), you can subscribe to my Virginia Art Workshops mailing list here.


Did you like this? Share it:

Maggie, a Jack Russell Terrier

I have finally gotten a corner of my studio set up for oil painting, complete with small H-frame easel, glass palette, and all the stuff one needs. Here is a study I did yesterday of Maggie Pickle (1990-2005), my favorite dog ever and constant companion for 15 years.

Maggie Pickle

Studio Study | 12″ x 9″ | Oils

Maggie was quite a pistol and much bigger on the inside than her 10″ height would lead you to believe. She had several unpleasant and bloody encounters with groundhogs…she never did figure out that she might be outmatched by a creature that was twice her weight and well-armed with sharp incisors and powerful claws. This is a common trait among Jack Russells. Fortunately in her old age, she lived a more quiet life and spent long summer days basking in the hot sun on the deck. When the frailties of old age caught up with her, we made that sad final decision and buried her in a place of honor in the back yard, planted with tulips and daffodils. I still think about her nearly every day. No dog I have had since has quite measured up to the “Maggie Standard” of excellence…I don’t know if any ever will.

As for the study, I am still getting a feel for how to mix colors and handle oil paint. It requires a different way of thinking than watercolor. For example, I never realized how much I rely on watercolor to move and mingle, and how its transparency almost automagically creates light-struck surfaces when you glaze adjacent areas! With oils, that all feels much more manual. It took me a long time of self-study in watercolors to get where I am now. I’ve decided to shorten the learning curve with oils by taking occasional lessons with a very accomplished local artist. The first one is Thursday…in anticipation, I’m both excited and a little nervous.

Did you like this? Share it:

Two Exciting Watercolor Workshops Coming Up in VA!

If you’re a watercolor artist in or near Virginia, I’d love to see you at one or both watercolor workshops I am organizing this year. Both Iain Stewart and Paul Jackson will be teaching in the lovely village of Washington VA…I am so excited to be able to paint with both of these masters of the medium! Click on each image to learn more about the focus of each workshop, the accomplishments of each instructor, location, accommodations, and more. If you have questions, I am happy to answer by either phone or email!

iainstewartVAworkshop  pauljacksonVAworkshop



Did you like this? Share it:

Studio Junk Drawer: January 2014

I haven’t done a “real” blog post in awhile here because I have been posting stuff on my Tumblr blog. But New Year, new plans so I’ll post here from time to time when it makes sense. Or I feel like it. You know how fickle us artists are! :P This post is a collection of bits and bobs, none worthy of their own blog post but which I wanted to share. I stole the idea for the title from a friend of mine who blogs about gaming :) Thanks, Jester.

Out With Acrylics, In With Oils. Back in October I posted about my exploration of acrylic paints for plein air and studio work. I was quite enthusiastic at the start but over time, the plastic feel and fast drying (despite the use of various retarding mediums, water spritzers, Stay-Wet Palette, etc.) became more frustrating. Then a friend loaned me some oil paints to try and everything I had come to hate about acrylics was no longer a problem with oils. My only concern was drying time since I don’t have a lot of room to store drying paintings in my studio space or home. Enter mediums which as I discovered can allow oil paintings to be dry to the touch within a few days to a week. I can live with that. Also, reading James Gurney‘s book Imaginative Realism: How To Paint What Doesn’t Exist (fabulous book by one of my favorite artists), I saw a photo of a slanted wall with small ledges that he uses to store drying or in-process works. I can install something similar in the spare bedroom next to the studio will address the wet works storage issue nicely! So, I sold all of my acrylics stuff on ebay and reinvested that money (and more, isn’t it always MORE?!) in oils. Having painted a few studies with the oils to get used to them, I can say that I really do love the feel and working qualities so look for more work in that medium from me this year. Below is one of the studies I painted in oils.

Sheep Study


Plein Air Ready. I’ve been tinkering with plein air oil painting gear over the last couple of months and finally have a good “grab and go” setup. Everything revolves around a Craftech Sienna medium pochade box with glass palette. That, the tripod, paint, wet panel carrier (which I made from foam core, duct tape, and square dowels) and all other gear fit nicely into a Creativo backpack. It’s not exactly light — maybe 25 lbs — but the pack distributes the weight well and is comfortable enough that I am sure it will do fine for short hikes (especially as I get fitter which is also part of this year’s Big Plan). Most importantly, it’s easy to set up and break down, and with everything in one pack it is also easy to transport. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of plein air painting this year.

2014 Goals. My art goals this year are to produce a DVD on painting dog portraits in watercolor, paint 150 oil studies (both plein air and in the studio), continue to do portrait commissions, and exhibit works in 3 or 4 local shows. I have other painting goals as well but those mainly involve kitchen cabinets, interior stairs, pasture fencing and over 1,000 square feet of decking around the house :) On a personal level, I am highly focused on weight loss and fitness this year (no more excuses!) as well as aiming to ride several days a week once the weather turns the corner enough that it will actually be enjoyable (I do not enjoy being outside in frigid weather). I have that beautiful, wonderfully trained mule standing in my pasture and it’s time we renewed our partnership and went on some trail adventures together again.

Branding and Career Musings. I’ve been catching up on episodes of Leslie Saeta’s wonderful Artists Helping Artists podcast and thinking a lot about branding, image, community building, and selling my work online. I revamped this Web site late last year but there is much more to be done to address my artistic growth and interests…which is not ALL about dogs all the time because my interests are much more varied than that. So I will be pecking away at refining my “brand” and presence this year. Yet, while I take my art seriously, this IS a retirement career of sorts and is just one income stream that does not have to pay a mortgage or put food on the table. That is a double-edged sword, though…it’s nice not to be pressured but on the other hand it’s easy to slack off when there is no pressure. I DO feel pressure of a sort though, and that is time pressure. As a late starter, I feel that my window for achieving some measure of success and recognition (the definition of which I’m not exactly sure of) is somewhat narrow and that I better not be burning daylight while trying to achieve my goals! So while I may seem driven, it is not the same kind of driven that a serious artist in their 20′s or 30′s would (or should) be engaged in.

New Studio Assistants. I asked for a parakeet for Christmas to live in the studio and keep me company. Enter Pickle, a sweet little green and blue ‘keet. My husband bought another for himself also but since he’s at work all day long, his bird Killer seemed lonely. So we agreed the two birds should live together. While this somewhat complicates their taming, they are happy and are fun to have in the studio with their chatter and play all day long. When I’m sitting at my desk for long periods, they are allowed out of the cage onto their DIY playground, shown below. Of course, now I have to vacuum in the studio every day because boy are they messy! But that’s okay…it’s worth it for the entertainment value and company they provide.

Pickle and Killer

That’s it for this month’s junk drawer. There’s probably stuff I forgot but I’ll leave it for the next junk drawer post. Meanwhile, sign up for my newsletter which shares new work and announces happenings related to my art life. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the signup form.

Did you like this? Share it: