#Train2ISTE Train Doodles

Last year, I took the train to San Antonio for ISTE.  It was a 2 day trip on a train without wifi.  I was doing a lot of watercolors at the time and trying to pain on a moving train is very difficult.  This year as I traveled to ISTE in Chicago via train and decided to try something different. And even began with more of a plan. And let's be honest, it wasn't exactly a plan but more like being receptive to different ideas around me.

I had the good fortune to watch (or re-watch) two things right before leaving on this trip that inspired me.  One was Jon Burgerman's recent Creative Morning Talk in New York called The Art of Doodling.  In this talk addressing the monthly theme of Craft, he talks about the British concept of graft as doing the hard work. This combined with rewatching Episode 1 of Abstract on Netflix about the Illustrator Christoph Niemann. The title sequence of this episode has a doodle bike riding through the streets of New York City.  Knowing I had 48 hours on a train through Califonia, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois it seemed like something to try out.  I packed some wet-erasable pens and transparencies in my ArtBin to see what I could create!

Combining doodles with the beautiful scenery outside the Amtrak window was quite amusing. I had no idea how or if it would work but had lots of time to play, explore, and find out.  What I appreciate about this exercise is the creative stretch it required.  One approach would have been to show the same doodle on different landscapes. Somehow this didn't seem particularly exciting. And as the landscapes changed throughout the trip, different doodles just made sense. There were lots of mighty rivers outside my window so doodle kayaking and doodle rafting just made sense.  So did swimming and floating down a lazy river but haven't got those doodles quite figured out.  Peering out the window at the high desert landscape of Utah, it screamed skatepark.  Following a breakfast conversation with a farmer from Ohio, the farms in Iowa needed a doodle tractor.  And on the trip home, I began to receive some ideas from others via Instagram.

My favorite part of this creative exercise was that it was constrained by the materials but allowed me to be completely responsive to the environment.  My regular daily creative practice usually involves a prompt and the constraint of time. On the train, there was no way to anticipate exactly what the landscape would look like ahead and prepare. There was no wifi to look up any reference photos. Rather it was an exercise where you see and feel something, quickly create it, and then attempt to capture it. This last part was the biggest challenge. I used my cell phone and the constant moving of the train created many shaky outcomes. In addition, the rivers would change directions in unexpected ways or a building would appear that would obscure the landscape. In many instances, there were multiple takes or editing that occurred at the end to shorten the clips and remove the building or trees that came into view.

A couple other lessons learned. You don't actually need the chalk pens.  You can use Micron pens for a fine line and they are still erasable from the transparency.  I can imagine this as creative exercise in the classroom.  Something like Through the Looking Glass.  Of course, classes don't move like a train but given a window into the world from their classroom, what can you create and see?  Students can create it directly on the window glass, take a picture and then write about it.  So many possibilities here.  Plus, who wouldn't jump at the chance to draw on a window.

Bergerman makes the point about a creative practice that all it requires is restrictions and time. A train trip across the country affords plenty of time without a lot of distractions minus the view out the window. The restrictions are inherent to the materials available on the train. This was 4 days well-spent improving my creative practice. Since returning from this trip, I have found myself less reliant reference images and trying new things just because. This month, I'm devoting 31 days to portraits which is so far out of my comfort zone but learning lots and improving.

Want to make your own train doodles?
  • Here are the chalk pens I initially used. They are wet-erasable so could be used directly on glass though I figured Amtrak wouldn't appreciate that.
  • I had transparencies among my supplies at home from my classroom teacher days.  I cut these in half horizontally, so they would fit in my travel ArtBin.  In some cases, having the full paper-sized transparency sheet would have made capturing simpler.  
  • I also packed a travel pack of Wet Wipes which made changing the scenes simpler.

desk space aboard train with drawing of flying unicorn and different pens on table.
Creative Workspace aboard Amtrak

Partially erased drawing of white unicorn with pink wings, only the body is visible.  The head has been erased.
Once captured, the transparecy is erased.

May Sketchbook

Patchwork of 31 different animals painted using gouache watercolorsMay has been a really long month. Working in schools there are seasons that always seem more difficult than other times of the year. May has been one of those months with a number of times that I have sooooo wanted to go to bed rather than my usual routine of painting at the end of the day. Nevertheless, I sat myself down to create. With 516 consecutive days of daily creations, one thing (of many) that I have learned is when I'm feeling less motivated to create is usually the time I need the meditative and reflective space the most that my daily creative process offers.

Here's a peek into some of my daily creations during the month of May.

The month began with a continuation of #Sketch 50 2.0. I abandoned this challenge after four weeks. It wasn't bringing me the same joy as my painting. I enjoyed capturing the process but never figured out the lighting of my captures. I did like the challenge of creating a small piece of an overall composition focused on a single theme each day only to see a scene emerge after five consecutive days.

One thing I did continue throughout the month was attending different SketchWalks offered at the Apple Store. I feel like a groupie at times with my continued attendance but its such a great opportunity to learn from others who have such great experience and different perspectives. It also has made me more comfortable sketching in public, an exercise I practiced at a recent, lengthy School Board Meeting. And these SketchWalks are 100% free!  As long as the Apple Store continues to offer these, I plan on attending as my schedule allows to improve my digital sketching skills.

The other benefits of the Sketch Walks are that I continue to learn more about the ins and outs of the ProCreate app but also some new sketching exercises. One of my favorites is a quick sketch. This involves giving yourself a minute or two by actually setting a timer and sketching a scene. This eliminates any chance to change your brush, get exactly the right color and my personal nemesis, the undo button. Instead, the focus becomes capturing the essence of what you see. You can always go back and edit. How often do we self-edit ourselves before committing to our ideas on paper? This exercise helps prevent that impulse.

Another fun exercise is a continuous line drawing. I have done this as a blind contour exercise which means you only look at the object you're drawing using a continuous line and avoid looking at your paper. A continuous line drawing is a similar concept but your eyes can go back and forth as you draw something without lifting your pen using a continuous line. I was pleased with the initial results of this scene looking down on the first floor of the mall. I did lose my line in a couple places due to the side menu or accidentally running off the screen. If you try this on your iPad within ProCreate, I highly recommend changing the snap tool under settings so your lines don't snap automatically straight on you.

Most of the month was spent on animals using Goauche. I LOVE the look of gouache but I have not mastered the use of gouache. I also haven't mastered the proportions of animals as seen by my half-face giraffe. It was either sacrifice the length of the neck or the face. I chose to keep the distinguishing characteristic. It was fun to sketch different animals using a photo reference and then mix and apply paint. Overall, I am pleased with the results of 31 Animals over the month of May.

What will June hold? CreativeBug is offering a daily challenge on Mixed Media that I may give a try. I've been spending time in one of my other journals working on drawing faces by trying to emulate different styles as I try to uncover my own. Integrating this with different mixed media techniques could be interested. Or, if I come across a good watercolor daily challenge I may give that a go as well. I do look forward to doing more outdoor sketches through the summer and during some of my planned travels later this month.

April Sketchbook

Roses with lots of leaves in a blue vaseMay is almost over and I forgot to hit publish on my April Sketchbook.  Better late than never! My April sketchbooks consisted of florals, more sketchwalks, and some #Sketch50 captures.  The daily challenge was 30 Florals in 30 days a CreativeBug daily challenge taught by Pam Garrison.  This challenge was less about painting florals and more about being fluid and creative with florals being the vehicle and medium.    Exercises such as drawing with your non-dominant hand and using a laundry list of different techniques and mediums allows one to explore creativity.  Florals have always been my go-to doodle of choice and now following this class, I find myself doodling on different surfaces, with both hands, and experimenting more with florals. (30 Days of Florals Google Photo Album)

Piazza Scene with overhead lighting and shadows with plants around painted using watercolors
The more SketchWalks I continue to attend at the Apple Store, the more I learn about Procreate.  If you live near an Apple Store, I highly recommend signing up for a SketchWalk. The SketchWalk program is Free, led by uber-talented creatives at Apple, last 90 minutes, and you don't necessarily need an iPad or Apple Pencil because you can borrow theirs! It's a great opportunity to learn more and immediately apply and practice your new found skills.  Just a few things, I've learned recently:

  • How to Draw a Straight Line 
  • Fill shapes
  • Edit Brushes
  • Change Backgrounds
  • Alpha Lock
  • Masking
  • Automatic Shape
  • Build Palettes
  • And much, much more.

For May, I'm looking forward to diving deeper into digital art and complete the daily animal challenge using gouache on CreativeBug.  I also have realized as I learn these new digital techniques, I quickly forget them when not used. I realize I need to start creating short digital tutorials to help myself remember these new techniques. Not sure if May is the month to do that with the end of the school year but I see this in my future, at some point.

March Sketchbook

Reflection Doodle from #Sketch50
One week into April and I did a Reflection Doodle last night as part of #Sketch50 and thought the fact that I rarely reflect on my various creations. March seemed like a good place to start. March brought a lot of new creations and techniques into my creative daily practice. Some actually made it into a sketchbook others are awaiting a purpose.

Embroidery Daily Challenge

blue bird with long needle nose used to thread needles
I started the March #CreativeBug Daily Challenge that was embroidery. I have never embroidered before and learned a lot along the way through mistakes. I started with a number of super thick stitches. Who knew embroidery floss was meant to be separated? It only makes sense and makes threading the needle much easier. My difficulties threading needles led me to my favorite tool, a twitter bird needle threader. This was a lifesaver and I would have been lost without it! Even though I lost steam on this challenge during the middle of the month, I hope to return at some point. I would like to try to "embroidery doodle" something.

#SketchCUE & #Sketch50 2.0

#SketchCUE was a series of daily challenges leading up to the CUE Conference in Palm Springs. The 25 days of prompts included basic elements of sketchnotes such as containers and fonts as well as providing practice on frequent recurring themes like grow and thinking.

#Sketch50 version 2.0 began in March and will continue into May. With the new format of five days a week for five minutes focusing on weekly themes, I am taking the opportunity to experiment with capturing my process. Here's the timelapse playlist so far. Each day, I try something different with the setup, lighting, etc. to see how it goes. I haven't figured out the magic capture technique combination yet but was super-excited on Day 3 when this happened! Total fan-girl moment!! Thankfully, I have many more days to get closer to perfecting my capture techniques.

Screenshot of Peter H. Reynolds liking my #Sketch50 Tweet.

30 Days of Watercolour

This was a challenge that came across my Instagram feed on April 3rd by #FoxAndWatercolour. It's hard to pass up a watercolor challenge. The prompts were varied and diverse. Some focused on a single color, others focused on a subject, while other prompts focused on techniques. I learned a new technique. Who knew that spraying alcohol on a watercolor would create a neat marbling, texture effect? Definitely, something to play around with more.

collage of 30 different watercolor prints of different subjects


During Spring Break, I took the opportunity to sign-up for 2 SketchWalks at the local Apple Store. These SketchWalks are free, last 90 minutes and are a great way to expand your digital sketching skills. The class begins within the store with a quick overview of the subject, signing release forms, and then off we go in a small group with an Apple employee to different locations near the store, one inside and one outside to sketch what you see. The SketchWalks I did focused on capturing movement and watercolor.

It is no secret that I prefer analog over digital because I enjoy the analog process so much more as my mistakes, explorations, trials all become part of the process to create and learn something new. When sketching digitally, I find myself crippled by the undo button. Back in 2014, I blogged about my choice to sketch on paper over digital. During a SketchWalk conversation, I realized an alternative purpose for digital sketching. It's not an either/or proposition. Digital sketching can serve a different practical purpose. It provides an opportunity to practice mixing and layering colors with different brushes and textures all without the expense of materials or paint. Instead of being paralyzed by the undo button and thinking about the final product, focusing on what I'm learning in the process and how it can be applied to analog materials is surprisingly liberating. I look forward to some more SketchWalks with my iPad in the future.

What's next in April?

Hopefully more SketchWalks if it works with my schedule, CreativeBug is offering a 30 flowers in 30 days challenge, more #Sketch50 capturing work, and maybe a class at the local museum but that might have to wait until summer. In any event, the sketchbook will be busy!

#Sketch50: Capturing the Process

Sketch 50 written in different colors inside banner with Back to Basics in manuscript font
#Sketch50 begins anew with the 2.0 edition. I participated last year as part of my #CreateEveryDay goal and experimented with different mediums along the way. Here's my 2017 #Sketch50 album.

So far in 2018, I have continued to create every day and have been wanting to find another means to capture the creation process besides posting completed creations to Instagram. With the #Sketch50 focusing on process over pretty this year along with the "Five in Five" format, it seems like a great chance to experiment with capturing my analog creation process.

Below is my first attempt at capturing my process with the weekly theme of Back to Basics. I plan on continuing documenting my 5-minute sketches and speeding them up into a one minute clip. I figure by the end of #Sketch50 with the repeated practice, I'll have a better handle on lighting, angles, and setting while also continuing to nurture my creative habits.

31 Days of Patterns

Animation of 31 pattern paintingsFor 2018, I am a committed to continuing my daily habit of creating. The daily challenges offered by CreativeBug makes this super easy with the added benefit of learning new techniques and playing with new mediums. January's monthly challenge was all about painting patterns using gouache, an opaque watercolor to paint patterns.

After 31 Days of Patterns, here are a few takeaways. The most important thing is to start. A blank page can be intimidating in the same way that starting a new project can be or really doing anything new for the first time. With painting, it can be especially terrifying with the placement of color on the page. There is no eraser, there is only moving forward.

Sketchnotes: EdTech Team Roseville Summit

It has been awhile since I have done live sketchnotes but when someone gives me a blank notebook, I have to break it in. I attended the EdTech Team Summit in Roseville over the weekend and received a new Rocketbook. Even though I brought my iPad for this purpose, I briefly took it out of my bag and put it back in exchange for pens.

Of course, the sketchnote on Accessibility is my favorite because it provided an opportunity to combine my two passions--Creating and Increasing Awareness on Accessible Design. This was a regular session, presented by Adina Sullivan-Morrow and having a lot of background knowledge of the content helped a lot during the creation process. Also, the impact of having a flat table surface and not having to worry about your losing any of your pens is not to be overrated.

Patterns and Creative Imperfection

teal painted paisley pattern with 2 paintbrushes above and a paint tubeThis week I began creating patterns as part of the Creative Bug 31 Days of Patterns Class taught by Lisa Congdon. The focus has been on basic patterns such as gingham, basket weave, argyle and more using gouache paint. (Gouache paint is a more opaque watercolor.)

Pattern making is so relaxing, comforting, and incredibly meditative. The repetitive brush marks allow me to focus on the brush strokes and connection to the paper. I see why Zentangle is so popular. I see lots of patterns in my sketchbook in the future.

marker code with an Ozobot lit up in Green
Creative Imperfection with Coding
It also got me to thinking about patterns in general. In school, we teach patterns very early. During CS Week and Hour of Code in December, I visited numerous TK, Kindergarten, and first-grade classrooms with Ozobots and we talked about, read, and explored different patterns.

"Blue, Black, Blue." Let's see what Ozzy does. About 60% of the time Ozzy went noticeably faster after traveling over this code to the screams of delight of students. In fact, that's the fast code that helped encourage students to play with patterns and discover other codes for their robot.