Guinness Extra Stout and Digital Art Blues

Guinness Extra Stout is the lesser known relative of Guinness. You know, if Guinness were a tall, fit, handsome movie star, Extra Stout would be his short, stocky, non-famous overlooked brother. Most grocery stores around here have it. It’ll be the dark-glassed, yellow bottle-capped six pack next to the Guinness. It is a short beer – the bottles are smaller. It doesn’t have that fancy doohicky in the bottle to create the head, either. But it packs a punch.

It tastes just like Guinness (really, big surprise, that), but there is more of that taste in each sip. As if its flavor is denser. It’s a bit stoutier, with a tang. I can’t access the stupid Guinness website without getting cookies, so I haven’t checked, but I think it has more alcohol than regular Guinness. A good beer to go with a meal, especially pizza. Mmmmm, pizza.

M: 6
N: 7.5

After my in-your-face experience with pastels last week, I was ready for a break. Pastels are a very hands-on medium. After each session, I had beautifully colored dust on my hands, arms, elbows, fingers, face, and under my fingernails. I wore the same sweatshirt each time, and it’ll never be the same. My nose-blowing was multicolored. There was dust all over my art table, supplies, lamps, and floor. I’m not sure if it bothered me or not; the jury’s still out on whether I like using pastels. But it was enough for one week.

So, I got out my trusty tablet with intent to work on the winoctopus. Then I remembered that I promised to do new stationery for my dad’s business for Christmas, which, you’ll notice, was a month ago. So I began working on that. The biggest thing I’ve learned from it (painfully, I’ll add): the GIMP is not a good tool for drawing straight lines.

I’m not sure whether Photoshop or some other non-open-source program for Mac or Windows could do it better; no experience with those. I’m a Linux girl all the way. But oy, this project had me wishing for the days when I had access to AutoCAD and Unigraphics. I would have had it done in 1/10th the time.

I could press shift to make the paintbrush tool do a straight line, but there were no detents and the line was faint, more pixels wide than the brush, and would change thickness halfway through. It was so annoying. If I didn’t have my tablet, I would have given up long ago to go find new wrists, since mine would have fallen off.

Lesson: Anything with geometry will be done with good old-fashioned pencil, paper, and ruler, then scanned. My wrists will thank me.

Butte Creek Organic Porter and Artistic Courage

Butte Creek Organic Porter is this week’s beer. It hails from California, and reminds me of all the good things about the state – sunshine, rolling hills, and warm evenings. It is, of course, organic, which means they use no pesticides or chemicals to grow the ingredients. Its flavor is sweet, smooth, and crisp, with a light tang and aftertaste. It just goes to show that wholesome ingredients = good beer. It also proves that just because something is organic doesn’t mean it has to cost an arm and a leg – it is very reasonably priced, and cheaper than a lot of the beers we’ve reviewed.
M: 8.5
N: 9

I’m still working on that pastel piece from last week, but I have no new insights or complaints. So this week I’ll wax philosophical.

Artistic courage is a many-faceted part of being an artist that few people discuss. I thought I had a good handle on it, until yesterday, when I made my first sales call. Oy.

The courage I do have, I apply to the works of art themselves. I’m not afraid to waste film, paint, paper, etc. I’m not afraid of an empty piece of paper – in fact, I look at it as a challenge. When something is going through an “ugly” stage, I never for a moment fear that it won’t work itself out. And if it doesn’t… no big deal. I’ve learned from the experience and improved myself as an artist.

But then there’s the other part of arting – selling stuff. I’m excellent at posting things on the Internets, but lousy at promoting. And having a bunch of people you don’t know “favorite” your art or photos is great, but gets you zero dollars. So I must sell myself, and that, I’m afraid of. Yesterday I called up a small store in Laurens, IA, where my family lives and the subject of many of my photos. I asked the owner if she’d be interested in selling photos of local scenes… and she was wonderful, helpful, and a joy to work with. It turned out well, as I told myself it would. But it took a long time and a lot of courage for me to make that call. This part of artistic courage is something I need to practice, and although it probably doesn’t come naturally to many artists, I haven’t seen much written about it. Anyone have any insights?

Left Hand Milk Stout and Pastels

Left Hand Milk Stout is a delicious delicious beer. It tastes like liquid milk chocolate. Like chocolate milk, but with alcohol. Like that time we made shakes with chocolate ice cream and Kahlua, only better. Like ordering a tasty chocolate treat at the soda fountain, but beer. Oh so good.

We’ve tried a couple beers from Left Hand Brewing, and they’re all good. My only complaint is that their website requires Flash. Bad web design practice. But this beer could atone for so many wrongs. It’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card. And it came with a sticker!

M: 10
N: 9 (Stingy, no? He has given a few 10s… one is on another Left Hand beer)

I have never before tried soft pastels (I did oil pastels once when I was, like, 8). But after seeing many great pastel works in the WetCanvas wildlife board, I picked up a cheap set of 24 and two giant toned pastel papers. I chose one of my many to-do art projects and got started with my new supplies. And I can’t say that I’m enjoying it too much.

Getting used to a new medium takes time. But my main problem with pastels is their chunkiness. I can’t sharpen them to a point like a pencil or a paintbrush. The end is a huge square hunk. You *can* sharpen them, sure, but then half the stick has become a pile of dust that you may or may not manage to use before your cat sneezes on it.

I’ve finished the background by blending (pastels blend very nicely) with tissue paper, q-tips, and a sponge brush. All the dust is either worked into the paper or I’ve tapped it off. The subject, however, needs detail that’s hard to get with a chunky tip. They say you can use Colour Shapers to push the dust into fine lines, so I’ll try that… but there’s always dust left over. Blow it? Tap the paper? Whatever you do, don’t touch it or it comes off on your fingers.

I used the rough side of the paper because some genius put an indelible price tag on the fine side. I think the fine side would have been easier to work with. Also, pastels require a dedicated shirt. I don’t think the pigment dust will ever come out of the sweatshirt I’m using. I look like a chimney sweep.

After all that, though, I can think of one good thing to say about pastels – their colors are so very bright if you don’t dilute the dust. Just don’t breathe on it, ever.

Guinness and Gouache Portrait WIP

How could I keep a blog about dark beer and not include Guinness? When I was first introducing myself to beer in general, Guinness was the only dark beer I knew. My first pint was an entirely new experience. I won’t go into the Guinness details, since most people are likely to know them already, and if not, go here.

Guinness will always have a place in my heart, but after having tasted so many other dark beers, it doesn’t stand out. It’s smooth, and actually quite bland compared to some. It’s a drinkable beer – you can have it with dinner – as opposed to some that are an experience, or a dessert, by themselves. Rating:

M: 7
N: 7

Gouache Portrait WIP – the last installment, I promise

This is simply a visual step-by-step of my portrait of Grandpa. Other than the toning wash, all the steps show opaque application with very little blending. The background was done with layered washes, dabbing, and a sponge. The illo board I worked on curled up after the first wash, so the photos are a bit distorted. It is also why the first picture includes a beer bottle.

And the final result: link

Stoudt’s Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout and Gouache Portraits

Stoudt’s Fat Dog Imperial Oatmeal Stout is this week’s excellent beer selection. It is excellent because there is a fat dog on each label. Also because it is sweet and delicious. Its taste is reminiscent of the perfect oatmeal cookie. One sip and the flavor fills your whole mouth. Swallow and a slight tangy aftertaste fills you with nostalgia, making you long for another mouthful. I can see how it got its name; I could drink these all day and end up 1) drunk as a dog and 2) fat as the dog on the bottle.

M: 9.5
N: 8.5

Gouache Portraits

The weeks-long activity that I wrapped up last Friday encompasses all my experience with gouache portraits. Here is what I have produced:
I’m fairly happy with it, in that naive-new-to-a-medium (gouache) and -genre (portrait) way, and will probably hate it for its blatant shortcomings once I grow into a good painter. Even now, having learned from the process, there are a few things I would change.

I finally got the likeness right and transferred it to Crescent illo board. It was mounted on thin backing, and as soon as I laid down the toning wash, the board curled up. Also, the wash obscured a few of my pencil lines. Lesson 1: use thicker board. Press harder on transfer.

I mixed up the mid-range skin tones and painted those in. I wasn’t careful enough and later found a few spots that were missing paint. Luckily the toning wash showed through (instead of white board). Lesson 2: Mix up more paint than you need, and keep the leftover dried-up mess handy until the very end. Also, keep each mixed color in its own well.

Once I was done, I was planning on blending some of the color “tiles” by softening the edges. I have found a tiny amount of info on the Internets about the gouache “tiling” technique, and thought I’d try it. Instead of nicely blending two adjoining tiles together, all I did was lift up the paint and make a mess. Luckily I learned Lesson #2 early, and had some paint to cover my ass. I still have no idea how tiling works. Lesson 3: Practice techniques before using them for something important. It’s hard to cover mistakes in gouache.

I took photos of each step along the way. I’ll post those next time… after the holidays. Merry Holidaytime, everyone!

Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager and Gouache Underpainting, Part 2

Most of the beers I’ve posted have been good. Time for a disappointment. Although it is not a stout or porter, we picked up Shiner 97 Bohemian Black Lager because of the word “black.” Some very good dark beers are labeled simply as “black,” not stout or porter. But this beer really is a lager, and has almost no dark beer qualities. It tastes just like a light beer, but with heavy undertones. Conclusion: although it might be a good lager (I don’t really know), we won’t be buying it again.

M: 4
N: 4

Gouache Underpainting, the Final Chapter

I admit to being a complete newbie when it comes to 1) painting 2) color and 3) portraits. So I really didn’t know what I was doing. I chose some colors that I thought would make a good skin tone, and mixed them willy-nilly. I ended up with a color that would look good on a tropical parakeet… but I wasn’t going to throw out all that paint. So forgive the ultra-tanned sheen that makes Grandpa look like he’s a snorkel instructor in Tuvalu.

I attempted to paint over Left Grandpa. I mixed four values with this shade, but added some blue into the darks for a more interesting contrast. I mixed a few shades of suit and hair color as well. And I painted over.
I forgot to paint the glasses. Anyway, You can see that on the face, the underpainting didn’t show through at all. I used opaque mixes for the face, and although the underpainting was a good guide, it didn’t do much else. It was great to paint on something other than white, though. On the suit, I used a much more transparent mix, and the underpainting showed through.
Here are some of the techniques I used. You can see the results – not too great. Dry brush looks terrible. Add water and it gives nice texture. Scrubbing an area lifts like nobody’s business.

So I learned how to make it work, but didn’t much like the results. Lesson: if you make the second layer transparent enough for the underpainting to show through, it tends to lift. Therefore, my actual painting of grandpa will use a watery wash as the underpainting, so I am not painting on white. From this experiment, mostly I learned what not to do.

Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout and Gouache Underpainting

Is it just me, or are these beer names getting longer?

The Terrapin Beer Company is local to Athens, GA, and regularly sends its “limited edition” brews to the local stores. After we first tried Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout, we fell in love with it, and were devastated when the stores discontinued it. Well, last week, it was there again! Woo!

This beer was the First Place winner at the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting in 2005 and People’s Choice winner in 2006, and for good reason. It’s one of the very best beers we’ve tried. It’s expensive, but delicious. You only get 4 for 8 bucks, but it’s worth it. It tastes like a chocolatey coffee and a home-baked oatmeal cookie put together. It has no bitterness and no bad aftertaste. It’s brewed with coffee. Mmmm. Therapeutic.

M: 10
N: 9.5

Gouache Underpainting – Part 1

This was an experiment in underpainting, to learn the dos and don’ts. As such, it doesn’t look very pretty. But I learned from it, and I hope you do too. Also, it’s too long to post all at once.

My excellent Grandpa passed away when I was in college. He was a great man whose personality and good deeds I didn’t fully learn about until people spoke at his funeral. Grandma still misses him a great deal, so I’m paiting a portrait of him for her. Do not tell Grandma or it’ll ruin her birthday surprise. Thank you.
I traced Grandpa’s bust onto cheap illo board with a light “table” I rigged with a desk lamp, textbooks, and a piece of glass. The outlines were very rough and simply showed the major value areas. Then I painted the values with one hue. For Left Grandpa, I mixed grey-blue and cool green. For Right Grandpa, cool red and warm green. I added white in various amounts to get a total of four values. Neither of these are a very good likeness, but that’s fine, since this is a value experiment.
I liked how the values turned out. They showed the form well. Using monochrome values was very useful to me because it’s what I’m used to with pencils. Even if I don’t use an underpainting in the final portrait, I will use these value studies to help. They were great learning experiences in themselves.

The conclusions: next week!

Red Brick Winter Brew Double Chocolate Oatmeal Porter and the Wacom

This week: the beer with the longest name ever. Or at least that we’ve bought.

Red Brick Winter Brew Double Chocolate Oatmeal Porter is the latest seasonal product available at our local Beverage Resort. We weren’t terribly impressed. Maybe the name is long to distract the buyer from the beer’s mediocrity.

Anyhow, the beer isn’t very chocolatey or oatmealy. “Double chocolate” my rollerblading-damaged butt. What’s that supposed to mean, anyway? It’s got an unpleasant tang that smooth beers don’t have, and the aftertaste is bright. Dark beers can have an aftertaste problem that I haven’t really encountered with light beers… but the good dark ones avoid it. This one didn’t.

M: 6
N (introduced half ratings this week): 6.5


My new Wacom arrived this week. I am ecstatic.

But first… I have Updated the Website. I have new art, and the cool CrashOctopus hats are on sale. Need a hip holiday present? Visit

Now that the plugging is over, down to business. The tablet was fairly easy to install. I’m convinced that Linux programmers make things easy for uber-nerds, but for average nerds like me it’s always a bit frustrating to do things. Maybe they’re ensuring that no non-nerds use it… anyway, I only had an hour of frustration before I got the thing working right; no hair-pulling. And it works beautifully!

I started my first piece of digital art. I was able to sketch, “ink,” and start to color it with no problems. It took me forever and a day to get this far:

But I intend to practice to get faster. It will go like this:

N: Shouldn’t you be doing X? (X = washing dishes, exercising, sleeping)
M: No… I must practice on my tablet. Practice makes perfect, right?

So, eventually I will finish it and post in on my website. And next week, I will write about underpainting in gouache. Because if I write it down today, I must put aside my new toy and do it, which will force me to finish the underpainting experiment I *need* to do now so that I can get Grandma’s painting done in time to frame it and give it to her on Christmas. The end.

Lawson Creek Vanilla Cream Stout and … Art stuff

Lawson Creek Vanilla Cream Stout is this week’s beer. It’s redeeming value is its availability; it can be found in most Kroger stores. And while it is vanilla-ish, its flavor is slightly bitter. Not the sweetest beer. It is quite tangy and has a creamy aftertaste, which can get annoying. But for a fairly cheap, available stout, it’s not toooo bad.

M: 5
N: 6

Art has been neglected this past week due to the holiday and the parents’ visit. However, I have a few tidbits to share:

1. My tablet is on its way! It should arrive on my birthday and provide me with much distraction at a time when I can’t afford to be distracted. Grandpa’s portrait isn’t going to paint itself by Christmas.

2. Using a light projector to trace photos is not foolproof. I traced Grandpa’s photo with it (to enlarge for the canvas) and it didn’t turn out very well. Movement of the projector and the paper didn’t help. Also, the photo is larger than the 3×3″ square in the projector, so I had to move it around on the photo and try to line it up with what I’d already traced. Lesson: tracing a large photo isn’t really any easier than using a good old grid.

3. My ma hasn’t painted in a year, and she comes and paints three little postcards, teaching me lots about how to use gouache, which she’s never used before. Mas are great.

4. Sculpting with two-part epoxy is fun. I shall post on this later when I have learned more.

That is all.

Bison Chocolate Stout and Gouache

Welcome from sunny, cool Georgia.

Last weekend N brought home a repeat favorite, Bison Chocolate Stout. The first place we tried this beer was at a Ted’s Montana Grill. I gave my beer order first, and N followed with the same, and then every other person at the table ordered one… except the other girl. Anyhow, it was good enough to pick up at the Beverage Resort a few times since then.

Bison Chocolate Stout is fairly unique. Other stouts often make me think, “Tastes similar to stout X.” But this one doesn’t remind me of any other beers. It tastes very much like dark chocolate. The cocoa flavor is a bit bitter, just like a Hershey’s Dark. But it also has a nice bite and tang. Overall, a unique, chocolately, well-rounded beer. Ratings:

N: 8
M: 8


I use gouache. A little-known type of paint, gouache (pronounced “gwash”) is an ornery, interesting medium. It’s essentially opaque watercolor. The cheap gouaches are simply watercolors with chalk added, and the good ones just have more pigment (slightly coarser than watercolors). Many artists haven’t heard of it, or if they have, they say, “why on earth are you starting with that??” They know that it’s a difficult paint to work with… but it can also do amazing things. I chose it because my favorite wildlife painter Carl Brenders uses it. Google him and you’ll see what can be done with gouache. I have prints of his hanging in my home that people always mistake for photographs.

But a good artist can do wonders with any medium, so once I tried my gouache I found out just how good Brenders is. Gouache is unfriendly. (a great watercolor website) says that the word “gouache” is derived from the Italian for “mud,” which is very fitting.

Gouache can be used like watercolors, in wash form. It gives neat texture effects because of its coarse pigment. It can also be used thick, with only a little water added or straight from the tube. Either way, the most difficult thing about using it is its tendency to lift. Good for correcting, bad for layering. Layering can work, but if you scrub, it’ll lift all the layers of paint below and turn into mud. It also gets streaky.

My example: a recent painting of a cat. This photo shows a work-in-progress.
If you’re wondering why the cat has only one eye, it’s because I’m honoring my sweet little devil, Kali:
Anyhow, notice the ugly, dead-looking strip to the right of the window frame. That had been layered in several washes, initially the same orange-ish color as the rest of the wall, then in blue for shadow. I scrubbed too much. It looked like crap, so I got it wet and lifted the paint off (blue-ish stripe):
I didn’t pay much attention to whether the colors I was mixing were both warm or both cool, which added to the mess. The strip to the far right looks OK. The brownish strip between the two looks like mud. Bleh. Here’s a view of how washes can work:
The green is a single color wash and the red is a layered mix. Both look fine.

Then there’s the opaque applications. These can look good if the paint consistency is right and you do it in one pass (see purple below, notice difference between red wash and purple opaque):
But if you go over an opaque area again with another opaque application, even if it’s totally dry, you’ll probably get a mess. I used the same color to go over another purple area again, and it turned streaky, lifted some of the paint, and sort of un-mixed (see blue smudge):
This may also say something about my mixing abilities. Anyhow, gouache has this lovely property that the more paint you put on an already-painted wet area, the lighter it gets. No matter how much you have on your brush, painting into a wet opaque area lifts. Like trying to write over a dry-erase mark on a whiteboard. Frustrating.

Lesson: Play with gouache to learn it. Wait for it to dry to touch it up. Learn from mistakes. Don’t get frustrated. After all, artists have done fabulous things with gouache. And once you’ve mastered it, everything else will be easy. You might also be 300 years old by then, but hey.

An Ode to Art and Beer