Friday, December 30, 2011

Madame Mayple

Dear friends, how are your vacations proceeding? I went back to work a couple of days, but things were pretty slow, as you can imagine and so it was not too bad. Today I am back on holiday and I take advantage of the free time to catch up with you.
Christmas was fun and pleasantly spent celebrating with the Italian friends that have become our family here in the USA. Now we are getting ready for New Year's Eve. This year nobody felt like cooking so we decided to try for the first time to go and eat out...I'll let you know how that works out for us...

Going back to art, I wanted to show you this WIP and final drawing. It's my gift to my friend Mayple (Monika Victoria) of The long lost wood. She is an amazing professional artist I met on the Enchanted doll forum and I greatly admire. This year, she is having the adventure of a lifetime: she left her native Australia to tour Europe. She is now living in Hungary where she is working full time on her art. Her paintings are delicate and daunting, ethereal and full of life. Go have a look if you don't know her already. She is also on flickr.
It has been a particular Christmas for Mayple and I wanted to make her feel she is not alone, although far away from home and her dear ones. I also wanted to thank her for the art she has sent me (still in the mail I am soon as it gets here, I'll show it to you all  ;)...sometime snail mail is maddening...). Anyways, since she loves 18th Century costumes and she is now in Europe, I thought I would make an attempt to portray her as a lady in costume with a backdrop of the land of her ancestors. Therefore, I referenced one of the pictures she has published on her blog and that I like a lot for the beautiful light and for the sweet  and intent expression of her face, which I thought well represents her character, even if we never actually met in person. It must have been a good choice of reference because for once I did not have to struggle to reproduce the feature of my subject. In a matter of a couple of hours, I had the pencils and inking done...I know that's not fast by any means, but for my standards it's like being Speedy Gonzalez!

Then the fun began. I wanted to show her as if she was standing on the balcony of a palace overlooking a Hungarian landscape. Thus the drapery on the back and the flowers on the left. At this point I had not yet researched ideas for the background, but I had very clear ideas about the colors of the dress and the flowers in her hair (the latter being a typical feature of real life Mayple...her up-does are adorable. :)). So I quickly worked on these aspects and on the floral composition. I am not sure that the amount of work I put in that vase was called for, because as you will see in the final product, it becomes kind of lost in the background. Alas, you have probably noticed by now that I cannot resist focusing on tiny (and often irrelevant) details...

As I started working on the drapery in the back I realized that more depth of color-shadows was required by the character skin, so every once in a while I went back and add a new layer of color, although i was always a bit concerned about overdoing it. And in truth, there was a moment when I decided to use a particularly dark blue violet shadow on her cheeks and forehead that made me fear for the worst...Immediately after the sudden defection of the beige I was using to smooth things up put me in a panic. You should have see how terribly scarred by diagonal stripes was poor Mayple's face...My husband heard a desperate scream and wanted to see what I had done but I could not bring myself to show him....and I feel I had to act I looked for alternatives in the palette and fortunately found a couple of earth tones that saved the whole thing (after tons of layers, of course). Too bad I don't recall the details of what copics I actually used (I worked on this piece before Thanksgiving), although I remember that Brick Beige was the one marker that stopped working and created the whole mess.

After fixing the skin issues and having completed the foreground, I started looking for a background. I found a beautiful picture on Google that depicted the Balaton region and I decided to reference it. I tried to figure out who took the picture but could's a very popular image, used in a gazillion sites...if anybody knows the author I'll be happy to give her/him the due acknowledgement.

The background was more relaxing of a job and everything went pretty smoothly. As you can see in the picture above, I first used a light shade of grey to set out the outlines of the landscape and to prevent the colors of the sky and the fields from becoming too bright and dominant. Despite this precaution, the business of the clouds in the sky was a bit distracting, so I used my Derwent pastels pencils (mainly white) to tone down the contrast there....

And here is the final result:

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidays! Buon Natale!

Hi everybody!

I know I am kind of late for the season greetings. I was hoping to show you new drawings, but with all the preparations, the extra-errands, the cooking, and the tired evenings, I was not able to finish anything. So today, at the very last minute, let me send you all my best wishes for wonderful Holidays and a very happy and prosperous 2012.

PS: in my picture folder from last year I found an image of beauty to help conveying my sweet Sophie and her Christmas tree....Buon Natale!

Old picture of my ED Sophie (Ruby mold). As most of you know, this one of the amazing creations by Marina Bychkova  (see also one of my first posts on this blog). I was lucky enough to acquire this beauty last year around Christmas time. She is gorgeous isn't she? On my to-do list there are also new photoshoots of this lady...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shakespeare new project

I started making a new doll, but I stopped because I really wanted to get a new and challenging (for me) project going. It has been floating in my mind for a while, but other more immediate (and, let's say it, easier) subjects took priority. Now I think the time has come  to give it a try and see what happens.

Over the years, I have given to each of my close friends a drawing as a present for Christmas or their birthdays. This time, I chose a friend who is a great Shakespeare appreciator. For some reasons, I believe that there is a certain resemblance between this guy and the Bard. So I thought it would be fun to make a portrait of my friend in Elizabethan garb, surrounded by his beloved characters...

In this case, I am going to be able to show you the work in progress, as I am pretty sure G.P. does not read my blog...;). Below you can see the pencil work.
There are some aspects of it of which I am satisfied, for example I am rather happy with the looks of the guys. I am used to depict female subjects and I always feel intimidated when a male figure is required...As for the general composition it came out a rather different from what I had in mind, but my limited skills did not allow me to completely follow my whims...Too bad, hope you and, most importantly, my good friend, will like the final result all the same. ;)

 PS: I apologize for the poor quality of the picture, but I took it at night with rather bad illumination and I had to play around with the levels a lot in order to make the pencil lines visible. I was also very conservative on the amount of pressure I put on my pencil while I was drawing, as I knew I would likely have to make a lot of corrections to faces and costumes. Speaking of which, and since I have not yet inked her, do you think that Juliet's head/face (bottom right) is too small compared to the rest of her body? My hubby thinks so, but I like her profile a lot so I am reluctant to change it. On the other hand if the majority of your dispassionate eyes think I should, please let me know! Thanks and stay tune for the next steps! :)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Guenevere and Gigi

Introducing the first two ladies of my own paper doll collection: Guenevere and Gigi.
Hope you'll like them.
More pictures of G&G posing together:

Gigi and Guenevere are both made with Copic markers and Caran D'Ache watercolor pencils on Fabriano artistico hot press.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving...and a culinary WIP!

Today is food day! As tradition dictates, we get together with our Italian friends in the area (our families are in Italy, as you know). There will be ten on us and no turkey will be stuffed and cooked...I know that in this we completely deviate from the American way, but none of us is really fond of poultry, so we will opt for an alternative menu. There will be prosciutto, salame, and assorted cheeses for appetizers. Some friends will bring a salad and a yummy chestnut soup. My husband cooked lasagne al forno. Other friends will bring some pork meat in a yet unknown recipe, and yet another one will provide dessert, his delicious bunet (a typical chocolate terrine from Turin). I feel heavier just talking about it...but who cares! Thanksgiving comes just once per year! ;)

Here are some WIP photos not of a drawing, for a change, but of the birth of the lasagne!

First came the sauce...we made it on Tuesday.

The lasagne are such a long process that we have to start early, as we both work full time. ;) We sauteed the beef together with carrot, onion, and celery. We added sage, rosemary, bay leaves, and marjoram. A glass of white wine gave extra flavor before we added tomatoes and a fair amount of water. We let the beast simmer slowly for a couple of hours, until the sauce became more concentrated (but not too need it fluid to keep the lasagne nice and wet when you cook them in the oven ;)).

Then came the pasta (yesterday after work): this is my district. I make it from scratch and I love it, although it takes quite a bit of time and energy. A couple of pounds of flour, 5 eggs, water, a bit of salt and two (reasonably) strong arms to mix the all thing.

The dough should be silky and firm.
Here we are making the noodles, or I should say le sfoglie for the lasagna. This part is a bit boring, but needs to be done. My husband helps me pulling the noodle with our Imperia machine. My mother does this alone, but four hands are much more efficient than two! :)
My hubby is also the wizard of the bechamel, a creamy sauce made with flour, butter, milk and a bit of salt. He is very good at making it smooth and with no clots or lumps of uncooked flour. Meanwhile I cut the fontina cheese in lots of tiny bits.
Finally, the time came to assemble the lasagne.The very first layer is sauce (strangely enough). Then we make a layer of sfoglie. Before putting the sfoglie in the oven pan, we quickly submerge them in boiling water. This sometime painful process ensures that the lasagne stay soft but with a certain "nerve" to them (as my mom says).

Then we lay some bechamel on the layer, then sauce, and last the cheese. Now we are ready for a second layer of hot sfoglie and the process keeps going until we are out of one of the ingredients (usually the sauce).
We cut the sfoglie in excess into fettuccine and either we cooked them for dinner with pesto. Yummy!

We cooked the lasagne at 350 F for about 1 hour...and we were finally done (we started at 4 and finished at 8)! Today we will warm them up just before eating them. They actually taste better the next day! ;)

But wait, I think the first guest are arriving....
Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 21, 2011

No pictures this time...

I am working on two projects at the same, looks like I am multitasking now!

Unfortunately I cannot show you either of them, just yet.
One is a secret and a surprise for a friend, hence the mystery, but I am religiously taking photos of the WIP, so at some point you'll be able to see ho things evolved.

The other project is not a secret, really, but there is not much to show at the moment. I just decided to make two new paper dolls. So far they are naked, like the ones I've done before, but unlike the ones that I made for the friends of the Enchanted Doll forum, these have original faces (and it was also about time ;))! While the other two dolls (Little Paper Banshee and Little Paper Galatea) were gifts to Maina Bychkova's fans, these will be for sale, in case anybody were interested. When they'll be ready, I'll post pictures of them here and on flickr. Maybe some of you will be interested...

Talk to you soon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

September Harvest Final Version

And here is the final result of my efforts.
PS: Friends and family asked me if this is a self-portrait....not really! The spirit of September and I have one thing in common: long brown hair (her is longer though ;)), but that's all. ;)

An intentional self-portrait is this one instead.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

September Harvest step by step

Because of my super cold, I have been home these two days, so I have had time to draw a bit more consistently than usual (except for the interruptions dedicated to vapors inhalations).
So, incredible but true, I was able to finish September harvest yesterday afternoon!

Along the way I took a few WIP pictures to document the process.

The first step was to color the leafy border. The upper portion is made of fig leaves...I was so crazy that I drew the little veins for each of them...almost lost my eyesight there.Unbelievable! I have to learn what is essential and what's not!
The sides are decorated with grapevine leaves. This time, I wised up (and was also tired), so I just quickly traced the veins after coloring the main surface of the leaves. ;)

I picked these two plants, not only because they give us their fruits in September, but also because they surround my parents house. In particular there are two huge fig trees above and around the ancient drinking trough that you see behind the girl. We call it a Fountain, but it's original functions were much humbler than the name suggests. Yet, the water constantly flowing from the pipe is potable and absolutely delicious! Nobody ever buys bottled water in that village! ;)

 This is what I did on Sunday afternoon. I spent hours rendering the Fountain. That was fun. Then I colored the few elements of the village I artificially pasted behind the Fountain, which in reality is built against a hill. ;)
In the evening, while watching Carnival on Netflix (that show is so creepy that I have to do something else to release tension ;)), I colored the backdrop of the Valley. That's the view from my grandma's house, by the way.
At some point, I got distracted, chose the wrong marker and colored too brightly some of those hills. I then started to worry about loosing all the efforts I poured into the leaves that were melting with the other colors around them...

Meanwhile I started asking myself what colors I should use for the writing ans the sheet on which the girl sits (by the way, the first layer of the girl's skin really stinks at this point!).

Moving to yesterday morning, now. The girl's skin is blended a bit more decently, but there is a new concern: because of the shades, she is the same color of the Fountain!
"Nooo! Have to do something about that!"

While thinking about fixing the issue, I decided to color her hair. She is a dark haired lady, which should provide some contrast...;)

Below you can see how the picture looked when I finished coloring the hair. I also decided to color the word September with fall-like colors, which I think works well with the fruit and the soft reds of the tiles.
I was still bugged by the fact the skin tones and background issues, though.

So I tried to fix things with pencils and my brand new Derwent Pastel pencils. I used a uniform coat of white on the background to tone down the greens of the Valley. I did some moderate highlights on the village. Then I used blue, dark green and black on the fountain walls to deepen the shadows and light green to highlight the grapevine leaves. That really made a difference in my eyes. :)

Finally I used, browns and soft reds for the girl's skin. At the end of this step, she looked much more alive and much less stony...

Meanwhile, I came to a decision on the color for the sheet: bluish subdued light you like it?

Ok, probably you cannot see much right now...however I took a much better picture this morning and I'll show it to you in the next post...this one is already extremely long!

Thank you for taking the time to read this diary. Hopefully it was not too boring...;)

Sunday, November 13, 2011


To tell you the truth this piece is not so new. I started working on it in September, as you could have guess by the text in the drawing. I was at my parent's country house in Italy and it was the first day I had some free time (as I discovered later, it was also my last one! ;)). I told myself I could not waste such a nice opportunity to use the tools and paper I had carried with me from the other side of the ocean. So, I set down, started thinking...and nothing came to me! For some reasons, when I am back home I am utterly uninspired, which is ridiculous, considering that the beauty of the land and the amazing architectural masterpieces should open my mind and provide new ideas at every corner...Anyways, after a while I decided to give up and have a look at some old magazines I found in a pile under a chest of drawers (don't ask...). On the back of one of them there was this advertisement for Cheap and Chic by Moschino that caught my eyes. It was a photo of a long haired girl elegantly seated with her face almost completely covered by a an Olive Oyl mask. Some of you might remember it. The grace of the pose made me want to try and reproduce it on paper. This is how September Harvest was born.

There is still quite a lot of work to do here, but maybe I'll be able to finish before the end of next week.Gotta run and use what remains of this Sunday to advance as much as I can. I had lots of outdoor activities planned out for the weekend, but I got sick with a very annoying cold, so I am trapped in the house with nothing better to do than drawing (which is not too bad, after all...);)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The new banner is up!

Hello again! So, "At the stroke of 5" is finally ready and, with my husband's kind contribution,  it now welcomes visitors at the top of the blog page. So glad this time things worked out properly. ;)

Here is the drawing without the writings on it. As always, I used Copic markers with some Prismacolor markers for the background and I worked on precious Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper, which has a lovely texture and helps a lot with color blending.

At the stroke of 5, the young Duke invited his fiance to have tea at his family's residence.  Needless to say, his parents were surprised.                          

 What do you think?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Still alive

Many things went on the past month: catching up with work after my vacation, visits from old friends, lots of fun, taking classes...but I am still drawing, albeit rarely. Here is a newer image of the "At the stroke of 5" mermaid.

I actually finished her yesterday, but I don't have my camera available (my husband who is traveling in Asia took it with wish I could follow them!), so at the moment this is the best I can do. ;)
Tonight I will pick up a project I started in Italy and promptly abandoned when I came back. Hope to be able to show you something soon (no mermaids in this one, promise!).

Monday, September 26, 2011

There and back again!

So my nice three weeks vacation is over. I am back to the cool and rainy Chicago weather after days of pure blue skies in Italy.

As I expected I did not have much time for drawing, but I had a great time visiting, among other fine places, Tuscany and enjoying the fabulous art and architecture of Siena, Volterra and San Giminiano. By the way, if you happen to be in Siena, I recommend to try and eat in this great restaurant we randomly found while walking through the winding roads of the city: La Taverna di Cecco (Via Cecco Angliolieri, 19, 53100 Siena, Italy 0677.288.318). It's simply amazing! Too bad we could not stay longer!

Anyways, here I am ready for the winter, rested and restored. Lots of new activities expect me in the next months. I'll give my best effort to fit my little artistic projects in all this...Talkt to you soon!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another mermaid...and Arrivederci!

Mermaid in the leaving room Banner: second take...this time I think I am closer to the right dimensions...So, while in "Tea with the Mermaid" the living room went to the sea, this time the mermaid actually did go to an actual living room in the home of a well-to-do family "At the stroke of five"...quite a surprise for the guests! I still have quite a lot of work to do on her, but i am leaving for Italy tomorrow and I am pretty sure I will not progress much (so many places to see, so many people to visit). Here is the very preliminary sketch. To be continued...
Talk to you all in October!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Tea with the mermaid-finished

It's done. Sorry, I was too lazy to make a WIP progression on this one...
Ok, I don't think this will fit, unless somehow I change the size of my banner here (or, to be precise, I ask my husband to try and do it for me) or I cut mercilessly the picture. Oh well, I think I'll have to make another attempt, paying more attention to the spatial contrains...

Meanwhile enjoy the freshness of tea under the sea with this kind and hospitable lady.

Friday, August 19, 2011

ED Contest Prize

It's here! Actually, it's been here for a few days now, but I haven't had the opportunity to take pictures until today. Marina Bychkova of Enchanted Doll (see my previous post...) sent me the marvelous prize for the 2011 Birthday ED contest (here are my entries for the contest): a silver doll hand pendant of exquisite beauty and uniqueness.
The hand came in an elegant white box. The picture at the bottom of the box depicts Necrophilia, one of Marina's earliest projects and her interpretation of the Snow White tale. I always loved that doll for the sweetness of her expression. This same picture happens also to be my avatar in the  ED forum...and I suspect this didn't happen by chance. I really appreciate it. ;)

My poor photographs don't make it justice, but you can find far better ones on her blog here
The tiny lines of the palm are delightful.... I can't stop admiring them!

I am beyond happy and feel very privileged to own such a lovely piece of art. Thanks a million Marina!

PS: I bought the silver necklace at a local jewelry and the sale person was really impressed by it too...asked me lots of questions about Marina and her works. ;)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New Project: Tea with the mermaid

Somebody rightly pointed out that my blog still misses a personalized I thought to start working on it before I leave for my italian vacation. Of course I need to have a mermaid in it...this is the first design I came up with. It seems to me that it's growing too big and detailed (there are also parts that are difficult to see yet because I haven't inked them yet) for allowing the blog's title to show. I might have to make another attempt and use this for something else. ;) What do you think?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Lord of the Horses Completed

And here is the final version of the drawing for Margherita and Salvo. I had to wait until yesterday afternoon to take a decent picture, because the weather was simply dreadful and we did not have enough it is!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

One more step ...

I took this picture yesterday early in the evening. Tonight I should be able to finish the characters and their horses, so I can move to the background...Hold on Marghe, I will finish on time! ;)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

WIP-The Lord of the Horses

Here is the WIP of a drawing I am making from my friends of the Hobby Horse in Turin (a follow up to In Arwen's shoes). More coming deadline is approaching! ;)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The last pieces of the little teather

These are the final pieces for Pit's theater: the front decoration and the curtains. Just need to cut out and glue everything together!