Painting Children as a Gift of Love

Every now and then an email falls into my inbox and I smile. My niece sent me a note with a photo of her two children on a beach in New England. Would I be willing to paint it as an anniversary gift for her parents? Oh, my…yes!

What I do with a photograph like this first is to just absorb it. It may sound odd, but I want to think of the sea, the breeze, and the birds before I even put the brush to paper.

candyce jpg

Next I crop the image, making the children the focal point and deleting anything that would distract from them. I wanted to give the children a more natural element to look at such as seagulls and I moved them closer to the water. Or did I raise the tide?

I liked the plaid of the little boy’s pants, but the dots on the little girl’s dress were just too distracting.  The blue of the sky and water is lovely, but I wanted more colors in the whole image so I washed a rainbow of colors through the water and sand.

Here is the final result:

Candyce Small

Sketching Alaskan Shrimp

Over Mother’s Day weekend, my husband and I traveled to Prince William Sound to fish for shrimp and halibut. Once more the halibut won, but we had lots of fun and found some succulent shrimp. The land and sea were fairly colorless. Our boat and gear look so colorful.

May 15 13_2427We saw goats eating on rock cliffs and scores of migrating waterfowl.

pws goat

There was a lot of snow on shore, but we walked along the tide line and I sat on a rock to sketch.

Suzie PWS web

A hummingbird flew inside the cabin the first morning. He loved my red scarf.

Hummingbird pws

He flew by several times that day. My scarf must have been so disappointing to him.

We used three shrimp pots and picked them twice a day and brought home 140 shrimp. The striped one is actually called a Coonstripe Shrimp. Didn’t know that until we got home.

PWS Shrimp sketch

“River Memories” Collage

The collage for Fairbanks Pioneer Home is finished! There was a little hold-up when I checked on the new container of varnish and read, “do not ship for one to two weeks after applying varnish”. Those instructions weren’t on the other containers I had so unfortunately it was delivered a bit later than I’d intended.  I’m excited to see photos of it installed. Here are photos of the finished piece and some details.

River Memories Web

“River Memories” by Suzie Althens 11 feet long by 32 inches high

I included a special memory of mine you can see in the detail below. The lady on the left holding the little girl with dark hair could be my grandmother and me years ago.

River Memories detail 4

River memories detail 1 web

River Memories detail 3 web

River Memories detail 2 web

To Paint a Perfect Pear

Yesterday I took part in Palmer, Alaska’s third annual Who Let the Girls Out event. I taught two watercolor classes. Twenty enthusiastic ladies showed up and we had so much fun. The first class was painting geraniums and the second was painting pears. Here are some photos.

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April 28 2013_2249


We had a wonderful time and all the pears turned out so beautifully. Even though we got squeezed out of our reserved class space and into a littler space, these ladies went with it and made the class a great success. Well done!

What’s In My Sketchbag

So many people have asked what I use to sketch and what I took on my trip to Italy. It just seems best to show you and I’ll try to list everything below. This is what works for me. It is sort of like trying to choose your wardrobe, though. You might want different things and that is fine. Go with what works for you. Here is what I like:


The bag is a Franklin Covey organizer bag. I bought it to get organized and found a better use for it. I took a larger bag to Italy, but this one would have been a better choice. Some people like backpacks, but I don’t like to stop and take off the backpack to begin sketching.

Two palettes, but I mostly use the little one. It is a tin that came with water-soluble wax pastels. I filled empty plastic pans with watercolor paint from tubes and let them dry, then used double-sided tape to stick them in. I painted the inside of the lid with gesso then acrylic white paint. Spray paint would have been better, but I didn’t have any at the time. The nicest thing about this little guy is that it sits happily on one page while I paint on the other. The larger palette is a Heritage Palette. It has a rubber gasket to keep it from leaking. I use it if I’m planning on larger sketches.  I use the sponge to dab water out of the brush. Lots of time I use only the blue Ninji, large water brush. It isn’t great for details, but works really good for quick, small studies.

Sketchbooks. Well, this is interesting. I loved using the Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook for the trip to Italy. Excellent paper and the pages lie flat when it is open. The one below it is my favorite square format, made by HandBook. The paper buckles more than I would like and it is only five inches square. I’m planning on making a seven-inch square book using Strathmore’s Aquarius 2 paper. I just love that paper! I’ve taken some sheets and cut them to 6×9 , then had the UPS Store in the Valley spiral bind them for less than $5. I’m just not too fond of spiral bindings.

The blue blob is blue tack for hanging posters. I put a little water container on it and it keeps it from tipping over.

The little folding stool is 17″ high and I love it! It went to Italy. When I sketch in the wilderness I usually just take a piece of packing foam and sit on it. Not the kind with the bubbles. The pops would scare off all the wildlife. I use the kind that is about 1/4 inch thick and has tiny bubbles running through it.

The gray square is a viewfinder and the gray blob is a kneaded eraser. My go-to pen is the .01 or .02 Pigma Micron pen in black. They have a nice sepia, too. My favorite pen is the Carbon with Carbon Black ink. The nib just sings on paper. I use a cheap mechanical pencil, the kind that comes in sets of about eight. .5mm or .7mm. Just don’t use the eraser. I take an 8″ ruler my kind husband cut from a 12″ ruler. There is a rubber band around it holding my paint brushes. They are Escoda #10 Perla and the #2 with short handles. The long handles are for oil, I think. They aren’t very expensive, but they don’t keep a point for very long. That way I don’t mind if I lose one or allow someone to use it and they use it to scrub paint. I do have a little scrub brush that I forgot to put in the photo. It is just an old #2 flat oil or acrylic brush cut down to about six inches long. The hairs are stiff and splayed like the hair on a mad cat. Works great for splatters too.  The short, red brush is fairly new to me, but I really like it. It is a daVinci series 5080 #20. I get both brands of brushes from Dick Blick.

The miscellaneous stuff is a little spray bottle, Viva paper towels, a Neocolor 2 water-soluble wax pastel in white, pencil sharpener (if I happen to take a blue or sepia watercolor pencil with me)

The camera is a Canon PowerShot SX260 HS.  It has a 20X zoom. Very nice.

In the summer I add a can of pepper spray for bears. A harmonica might be more useful.

I’ll do a post on the why and how I sketch too, but this will answer some of the questions in the comments.

Sketching in Italy


Italy 2

I was in Italy last week. Can’t believe I just typed that! I ate lots of gelato, ate real Italian pasta, learned to order coffee speaking Italian and sketched and sketched. It was delightful. I won’t bore you to death with all the details, but I will share some of the sketches.

Italy 5

Tuscany was just beginning to turn green.

Italy 3

A little stream with an old bridge.

Italy 4

On a cold, cloudy day we sat in the car and I sketched three little views. I pretended the sun was shining!

Italy 1

Everything is so old in Italy. The colors are warm, rich and softened with age.

Italy 6

This is a little piece of the town, Manarola, in Cinque Terre. So many buildings clinging to the rocks, stacked upon each other.

On another note, I finished the collage and I’ll varnish it tomorrow and send if off to Fairbanks Pioneer Home on Friday. Next post will have a picture of the finished piece.

Creating a Collage Part 3

Paper and paint have been flying around the studio, and it is fun to see the image evolve. I started with laying down the trees since they will act as bookends for the piece. I’ll add paint to the paper to suggest shade and light later.


Then, I began making people out of different colored paper.



I made one dog by starting with colored tissue paper and adding texture with mulberry fiber. collage-11

This is what he looked like when I was finished with him. I wanted him to be a shaggy, friendly dog.

collage-12The fire that the group was sitting around started out as a raging inferno, but with a few rips and tears, it calmed into a friendly campfire.



This is what I see as I walk into my studio.


collage-8I will leave it for two weeks, then look at it with “fresh eyes”. I’m going to get on a plane and go to Italy for those two weeks! I’m hoping to post while I’m there, but if not, you will see some of my sketches and I’ll tell of my adventures when I return.

Creating A Collage, Part 2

The first part of creating the collage started with blocking in the sky, the river and sandbanks. Bands of horizontal color will span the entire painting. I use a rubber “shaper” to mix paint and to apply soft gel to the paper, but I mostly used a natural sponge for painting.  In this photo I’m using cyan blue and manganese blue, blended with glazing medium for the water. My palette is a plastic plate. Mar 18 2013_1482

The brightest color will be the yellow of the trees, but they needed to show more shape so I lightly sprayed the bottoms of the yellow paper I’d already painted and dabbed on darker quinacridone yellow to create the undersides of the trees. I added a few darker shades with a combination of quinacridone burnt orange and cyan blue. Because the fibers were wet, it created soft edges.

Mar 18 2013_1523

I needed to get a feel for how the colored paper would look on the colored canvas.  Using some low tack masking tape made for drafting, I stuck the papers temporarily onto the canvases.Mar 18 2013_1483

I got a bit ahead of myself and started gluing down the dark spruce trees. I quickly took them off and put the clouds on, then put the spruce trees over them. Whew!

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I glued the pieces of paper by turning them upside down on the plastic bag, then spreading them with the soft gel.Mar 18 2013_1484

Here is a closeup of all the textures:

collage closeup 2Below is a closeup of the sketch I’m working with and one of the jackets of the children playing on the beach. Like playing with paper dolls! As of today I have several people cut out and I’m moving them about on the beach.

Mar 18 2013_1468

Creating a Collage, Part One

Last week I started a collage with three canvases 32″ x 44″ each. After applying two base coats of gesso, I brushed on a thin coat of base color using Golden Fluid Acrylic. It is a thin paint with lots of pigment so it doesn’t take very much to cover. I use it like watercolor, allowing the white of the canvas to show through.



As the paint dried, I selected papers to use based on texture. Some of these papers are handmade in Japan, others I made with tissue paper and paint. Here is a post about how I do that.


Ready…set…go! The little cups are holding diluted colors to make the spruce trees using Jenkins green, quinacridone burnt orange, primary cyan and anthraquinone blue.


First I spray the pieces of paper which are lying on a trash bag. I allow the paint to blend by itself. If the paint isn’t blending, I spray it with more water. The paint on the paper in the lower right will be sprayed and it will flow and all the fibers will be covered.


After pouring the paint, I dabbed at some with paper towels to make distant spruce trees.


This Japanese paper is made by water dripping on it to make the holes. I tore it into pieces, then used yellow and quinacridone gold to add variety and make it look like tree shapes.


The perfect color of autumn birch leaves!


I tear most of the paper used in the collage because I don’t want hard edges. The leaves need to have an edge on the river bank though, so I use this ruler with a deckled edge to give the paper a soft, uncut edge.


This paper is perfect for birch trunks. I used a rotary cutter to make this tree trunk. This is tissue paper with paint.

I’ll begin sticking the paper temporarily on the surface next. That gives me a feel for color of the water and sand and I’ll make adjustments before gluing the paper down permanently.

Thanks to Daniel Smith for excellent service and products.

A New Project

My husband and I took a short trip to Oregon to visit family. So wonderful to laugh and cry with my clan. Oregon is in early spring with crocus and daffodils blooming.



The sketch below is what it looks like in the town near where I live. I refuse to compare.


I’ve been waiting to tell you about a 1% for Art project I was chosen to paint for a retirement home in Fairbanks. Just in case you might not know what that is, we have a law that any building using tax money must use 1% for art on the building. It can be just about any form of art that will last the life of the building. I submitted a sketch for this building and they told me that mine was the only sketch that was positive and affirming of growing old. Could be that I’m closer to that group of people than they know…

Here is what I was looking at today. Three canvases make up the image that will be 32″x11′ long(81cm x 335cm).


See that tiny little sketch in the middle? That is what I have in mind for this piece. I’ll post when I get to another step. Since I took this photo this morning I’ve painted the sky. This is going to be so much fun…stay tuned!