Archive for May, 2013


Before heading to the Kyung-Wha Chung concert, I tried an experiment where I painted without lines. I’ve heard that traditional plein air watercolor doesn’t have pencil lines, but the experience was difficult enough that I couldn’t imagine anyone who would want to work that way. I need my lines!!

For those of you who don’t know who Kyung-Wha Chung is, she’s one of Korea’s most famous violinists. I’d heard of her and her other child prodigy musical siblings at a young age. Together with her cellist sister and pianist brother, they were known as the Chung trio. I occasionally listened to her old recordings on Youtube, and the enthusiasm with which she played always caught me. I believe she now works as a faculty member at her alma mater Juilliard.

My old violin teacher remembered her. “Kyung-Wha Chung? Just as good as any male violinist!” She’s quite old now, and I thought she might have stopped performing.

Apparently she hadn’t. In my church’s lobby, I saw them selling tickets to her concert held for a charity in Africa.  It was held in the Seoul Arts Center where I’d previously seen the Swan Lake ballet performed. When I got there, it was crowded with so many people, most of them elderly. I took a picture of the concert hall with my camera, but one of the staff members stopped me from taking more. No pictures were allowed.

Well she didn’t say I couldn’t sketch.


I wasn’t sure if they were going to stop me, so I frantically did the entire thing in maybe 10-15 minutes- before the concert started and during the intermission. From the corner of my eye, I could see the old man sitting in front me peeking at me now and then. I’ll admit, I felt a little nutty painting in a concert hall and trying not to get any watercolor on my skirt.

When she walked onstage with her turquoise gown, it felt so unreal. Knowing of someone for such a large part of your life, and then actually seeing them live. And sweet glory, how could I describe the sound? The best I could describe it was hot, strong silk. The kind of sound that wrapped itself in your ears, around your heart, and tightened at your throat and behind your eyes. I couldn’t believe that kind of sound existed.

Her passion was still in her movements. In her face, her body… in one piece she pizzicatoed with such ferocity I feared her strings might break.

When she was done, applause exploded in the air. Her accompanist kissed her thrice on her cheeks. The applause didn’t stop, so she came out again to place a hand over her heart and bow to the audience.  It still showed no signs of ending, so she came out again. She said something, but I was so far away that I couldn’t quite catch it. I think in English she mentioned that she was so happy, and in Korean she jokingly complained about going back and forth. She performed an encore of “Ave Maria”. She exited, but again the applause thundered on. I heard that the second encore was titled “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”. After a standing ovation, the third encore played was a piece I didn’t know. Amazingly enough, she came back out for a fourth encore. This time it was “Salut d’Amour” which I think was her subtle hint that this was going to be the last one.

I remember reading a short story once titled “Sonny’s Blues”, and at the end the narrator hears his brother perform on the piano. The music reminded him of people in his past, and I had a similar experience. Especially during the second encore.

I remembered people too.

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As of this writing, this is currently my favorite brand of watercolors. Come to think of it, M. Graham is probably my favorite brand of paint. I would say most of paintings at this point have been done using their color.

I first heard of the brand when I was looking for a slower drying acrylic, but I happened to stumble upon their watercolors and gouache in a community college bookstore for about half the suggested retail price. Though I normally buy online if I can help it, sometimes you can find the cheapest prices in stores. It was also surprisingly very cheap in comparison to the other higher name brands. For a 15 ml tube, it was about the same price as a 5 ml tube of Winsor & Newton, and around half the price of a Schmincke 15 ml tube.

My, did it deliver. The paint was the richest I’d ever seen. A little goes a very long way, and the tints out come out wonderfully luminous. I don’t know if it’s because of the honey humectant, but I do know that the honey is what causes it to re-activate very easily when dry.

Some brands will crack and crumble off your palette, so it was quite a relief to me that this wasn’t going to be the case. The paint doesn’t ever really dry out (except for maybe the earth colors) which makes it much easier on my precious sable brush tips. Most of the paints are single pigments, so your mixes will march out very cleanly.

Another wonderful thing  is that I can control it very easily. I previously had problems with my other watercolors since I could never blend or fade out the edges without watermarks. I feel as though using these really boosted my painting abilities since I now have an easier time using other brands.

In terms of packaging, I have never had a problem with stuck lids. And the tubes look very pretty to me.

I’m also a big fan of the company as well. It’s pretty rare to find a small, family-run company these days that makes a nice product at a nice price. In terms of customer service, I have always been able to ask questions or voice concerns directly to the manufacturers. Not to mention they’re very green about the environment.

There aren’t many cons I can think of. Some people don’t like the smell of the paints. I personally like it a lot; the closest thing I can compare it to is some kind of plant. I’ve also heard of ants or bees getting attracted to the honey, but that’s never happened to me and I’ve been using these watercolors for around two and a half years. Perhaps it’s dependent on the environment you live in…

Sometimes there might be a little separation in the tubes, but you can squish the tube a little or stir the insides with a toothpick. There are also complaints of the paint being sticky in thick layers, but I don’t really understand why anyone would want to paint thickly with watercolors. There’s always acrylic or gouache for that.

Also in the place of back runs you might find the honey texture. Some people actually like back runs though I never have.

The only real con for me is the easy reactivation that I praise. In some cases (especially on a hot day) the paint will creep and drip out of the palette wells. I’ve found that in my palette Gamboge is the worst offender for this. I would keep your palette horizontal as possible. Some people can dry them into pans, but I haven’t yet found success in that. So for me they’re studio-only.

But I find that the cons aren’t nearly enough to keep me from using them. The paint is strong, easily re-wettable, very controllable, and it smells nice (to me, at least). The price is great, and the company is wonderful. I doubt I will ever find anything better. But if only, if only it would dry into pans…

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“Would you like to Waffle It Up?”- Judith to Sephora


One of my goals for this year was to improve my landscapes, and there’s no better way to do so than painting plein air. Lately one of my favorite things to do is sketching in cafes because a lot of cafes in Korea have the alluring appeal of free Wifi. I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to paint outdoors alone, but I’m hoping I will soon. Waffle It Up is a cafe that has two locations in Edae, and their stuff is pretty cheap.  They mostly seem to serve waffles (surprise!) and gelato. Today was probably the third time I’ve sketched here.


As I was about to leave, my small group friend Sephora came in with her mentor Judith. Prior to today I’d never talked to Judith before, but I’d seen her often on Onnuri’s praise team. They were doing their one-to-one discipleship, and they were gracious enough to let me sketch them. I don’t know how the official mentors get picked, but they both seem to have a lot in common. Such as their penchant for singing and their hair color. The cafe got pretty dark at this point, so I tried to add a dark background. And that failed very badly. Lucky for me I also brought a Schmincke palette that had a color opaque enough to cover it after a few layers. Then I just scribbled away with a couple watercolor pencils.


As I left, I could see the waiter trying not to chuckle as he said goodbye to me. Who else spends around six hours in a cafe?

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Around the beginning of the spring semester, I was fortunate enough to receive another children’s book commission from Trinity Memorial Gardens in Waldorf, Maryland. Some of the staff had written a book about a black Labrador named Sadie who’s trained in grief counseling for their cemetery. They were looking for a student who could provide illustrations to their e-book in time for a convention, and I was lucky enough to take it on.

Unfortunately, I ran into a lot of technical issues, and I kept passing out from being sick. This meant that I missed the deadline (even after two extra days), but I was blessed enough to have clients that were very gracious and fair in how my pay was trimmed. I also feel like I could’ve done a much better job on the book, but thankfully they were pleased with my work.

That aside, the main reason I really wanted to do this was because I could somewhat relate to the plot, and that made it all the more personal to me. To my surprise, I did have moments while working on it where I had some pretty big emotional struggles. But I don’t regret anything; I was thrilled that I was picked to work on the project, and hey, it’s available on Amazon.com! That gave me a start; it was only slightly less exciting than receiving my own Wikipedia page. Their Facebook states that it’ll be on Barnes & Noble as well.

The synopsis:

“This is the story of 8 year-old Sammy and his journey of love, loss, and friendship. Meet his Uncle Harry and their new friend Sadie, the bereavement therapy dog. Discover how Sadie, and her special connection with Sammy helps him through a difficult time of loss and sadness. Sammy then discovers Sadie’s true mission of providing hope, unconditional friendship and acceptance. He uses the lessons he learns to help his little sister overcome her fears as well. After all, that is his job as the big brother.”

There were even endorsements that made me pretty happy =)

“Stacey Gaenzle, Ph.D.; Assistant Professor, Villanova University
Sadie & Sammy: A Tail of Love, Loss, and Friendship is an engaging story that illustrates the role animals can play in bereavement. This story describes a special relationship between a boy and his uncle. When his uncle passes away, he copes with the loss through the support of a therapy dog. With lively illustrations and a positive tone (despite being a challenging topic), this book is a perfect companion for counselors, teachers or parents who want to help children work through grief and appreciate the role of therapy dogs. Further, this book could be used for children to better understand the special relationship they have with their own pets and how they can help them through experiences of loss.

Roxanna Pebdani, Ph.D.; Post-Doc at University of Washington
A beautiful book that addresses loss and growth from a child’s perspective while educating children of the use of therapy dogs.”

I don’t think I can post samples of the illustrations, but the book can be viewed/purchased here

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I realize I’ve neglected this blog for much longer than I intended, but I hope to start posting at least once a week now.

Sometime around autumn I received an email asking for a children’s book illustrator. One of my goals in life was to take on such a project, so I jumped on it. I’m not entirely sure how much competition I had, but I ended up getting the role.

I’m glad I did. I learned a lot of new things including:

1. How to better use color. I think this is most evident in my landscape scenes where I had to figure out what to do with the grass. In the past my idea of darkening was just a darker version of the color. This time I learned that I could glaze a rainbow to enliven my greens. After a first wash of yellow came the green, then the blue, the red, the purple, and others. I normally never touch my purple, but I found it worked surprisingly well for shadows after Ultramarine Blue. And I don’t know how evident this was, but I did try to make the scenes in reality more muted with colder grayed colors.



2. How to use hot press paper. I’d actually never used it before this book. I found that it makes the paint dry a whole lot faster and that it’s better to wet an area before putting the paint on.


3. How to work on a deadline. I found it easier for me to work on a bunch of the pictures at once. Unfortunately the deadline meant lots of all nighters and I had to had to sacrifice some detail so that I could finish in time.

4. How to use gouache and a white gel pen to correct mistakes or add decoration.


I definitely hope to keep illustrating though. Maybe I could write my own book someday.


All of the illustrations from this book can be viewed here

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