Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Anthurium and Orchid Sketch

© Ellen Blonder
In searching for references for the anthuriums in my painting-in-progress (see posts, below), I stumbled on this sketch I did after a return from a recent trip to Kauai. It was the tail end of winter here, and I was missing tropical flora, so I bought myself an anthurium and some orchids.

Anthuriums are so odd, with those heart-shaped spathes and tiny flowers spiraling around the center spike. I learned there are over 500 species, and that the first ones were introduced to Hawaii in 1889.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Anthurium-Day 4

© Ellen Blonder
Progress is going to be slow on this. Here's a detail of yesterday's work--the fern and leaf above the dove.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Anthurium-Day 3

© Ellen Blonder
Painting on masonite has pluses and minuses. Every detail is as fine and steady as I can make it, but there's no texture of canvas to soften any line. Took me most of the day just to get the detail on the dove, in a 5 x 4-inch space. Maybe it's time for some new fine brushes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Anthurium-Day 2

It's hard to see what's going on here, but there's a zebra dove on the lower right peeking out from under an anthurium plant. I'm experimenting with painting on masonite instead of canvas. Even at this stage, I can see I'll be able to create finer details. This piece measures about 12 x 24 inches.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Summer Fruit Tart

© Ellen Blonder
Summer's here. Time to take any baked tart shell and fill it with fresh seasonal fruit. This is another watercolor illustration for the peach book that never happened. The recipe included a pastry cream layer, but you can skip it and the tart will still be good. If you like, brush the fruit with a simple glaze using a quarter cup of heated apricot jam thinned with a teaspoon or two of water. If you used peaches or nectarines that aren't sweet enough, mix them with between a quarter and half cup sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice, then let them sit for 20 minutes before you put them in the tart shell. And fill the shell shortly before serving so it doesn't get soggy with all that juice.

Now, everyone, off to the farmers' market!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rooster Painting-Final

© Ellen Blonder
I may still add a highlight or shadow here or there, but otherwise, this rooster painting is done. Check earlier posts if you want to see the progression. Hope you've enjoyed it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
A friend once let us harvest a bagful of olives from a tree on his property. He told us we could cure them by simply layering them with coarse salt in a container, then leaving them alone--hm, about three weeks, if I remember right. I was skeptical. In that time, though, the salt turned oily and the olives dried out a bit and softened, with a pleasantly bitter tang. They made a great addition to a pizza topping.

This acrylic study, painted on an 8 x 10 canvas board, is of some of the branches we were also given that day.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
When my mother-in-law died, we dug up some of her bearded irises to replant in our garden; now we remember her every year when they bloom. This sketch is of one of the white ones.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Rooster Painting-Twelfth Day

© Ellen Blonder
I thought I wanted a cloudier, moodier sky, but can't seem to resist the blue. I also wanted something to balance the warm oranges and golds. All that's left now is another two or three days of adding details to the middle ground and leaves, and tweaking highlights and shadows.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
Last weekend, I found a delicious Greek artichoke spread at the farmers' market here in northern California.It was made from the tender inner layers and hearts mixed with olive oil, salt, perhaps some marjoram or oregano, probably very simple--and a marriage made in heaven. Before I start experimenting, does anyone have a recipe for this??

This sketch was of some baby artichokes growing in Copia's kitchen garden in Napa. Too bad it closed. A culinary museum and center in that location was a great idea.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Rooster Painting-Tenth Day

© Ellen Blonder
This is both the most fun and most tedious stage, working out details and watching the final painting emerge when I step back. I'll still have to resolve what happens in the middle ground, but for now, I'm relieved to see the rooster in a setting that seems to work.

Friday, June 19, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
I came across this watercolor from a while back, of an immature coconut that had fallen from the tree. I liked its shape and the waxy feel of the husk. It also reminded me of a simple, but delicious use for coconut milk:

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Milk

Note: I'm not giving exact amounts here; the amont of coconut milk you use depends on the kind and quantity of sweet potato you use. Have one can of coconut milk on hand, and you'll probably be fine.

Put unpeeled sweet potatoes in a large saucepan with water to cover, and boil until soft (check by piercing them with a sharp knife or skewer). Peel and cut them into large chunks, put them in a large saucepan over low heat. Mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher. Mash in enough coconut milk to make the mixture smooth. Add salt to taste. Serve hot.

In Kauai, you can find purple sweet potatoes, also called Okinawan sweet potatoes. I've only rarely seen them on the mainland. They take a long time to cook through, but together with the coconut milk, the mashed sweet potatoes become a beautiful bright lavender color.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rooster Painting-Eighth Day

© Ellen Blonder
I've settled on a bird of paradise flower for the foreground, after considering a heliconia and orchid (see posts below). I like how it mimics the rooster's comb. I'm also laying in the "bones" for the other foliage. I despaired of not photographing enough small banana trees for reference, when, while visiting a friend yesterday, there was the perfect tree in her garden for the upper left corner of this painting. The colors always look flat and awful to me at this point, all the reason I need to keep painting.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
This heliconia hides its flowers within colorful, waxy-looking bracts. This was in a Sunshine (farmers') Market bouquet in Kauai. I painted an acrylic study of it on an 8 x 10 inch canvas board several years ago. It's another candidate for the lower left corner of the rooster painting (see posts, below), although it might not work with its very tall growing habit.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Zebra Dove

© Ellen Blonder
I considered adding this zebra dove to the rooster painting (see posts below), but will probably not because it's fairly drab, except for a lovely sky blue on its neck.

Zebra doves show up on our lanai, especially if we leave crumbs out there. Doves may be a peace symbol, but this guy aggressively chased off other doves and small red-crested cardinals competing for crumbs. The real feather is a souvenir it left behind; I taped it onto the sketchbook page.

Monday, June 15, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
Remembering Joey today.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Rooster Painting-Sixth Day

© Ellen Blonder
I've always used a tissue paper overlay and pencil to start roughing a layout,but I decided to do a very quick layer over my photo with Photoshop in my computer instead. Now I can focus on a tighter sketch of each element knowing how it will fit into the whole--even with a crude a layout as this.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rooster Painting-Fifth Day

© Ellen Blonder
I've finished the rooster for now. I'll add a few more highlights and shadows after the background is painted in. Now on to figuring out his surroundings. It'll be like doing a whole second painting. I should have thought about this more ahead of time, but I really wanted to see his colors in place before working out details all around him.

Friday, June 12, 2009


© Ellen Blonder
I started doing life drawing again about five years ago, joining a group after many years and a career away from it. This is a long pose that I sketched in pencil.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rooster Painting-Fourth Day

© Ellen Blonder
Here's a close-up of the rooster after two more days of sporadic time painting. I just spoke to a cousin who visited Kauai for the first time two weeks ago. She complained that she got no sleep because of the roosters crowing all night. I've timed it. Once I heard two roosters in "conversation" every 20 seconds--at 2:30 am.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Peach Galette

©Ellen Blonder
Time for a foodie break. This recipe is one of my favorites all summer long. It's also easier than a peach pie, and more visually enticing. The watercolor and recipe are from a peach book proposal. Bon appetit!

Peach Galette
All-Butter Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour plus 1/4 cup cake flour (see note)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter (or cold shortening), cut in 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoons ice water
Note: Using part cake flour, which has less gluten, will make a slightly more tender crust, but you may use 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour instead.

2 pounds peaches, pitted and cut in 1/2-inch wedges (skin on)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons turbinado sugar, optional

To make the dough:
Put the steel blade in a food processor. Measure the flours and salt into the container of the food processor and pulse two or three times to blend. Add the diced butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the water and pulse two or three times to blend. Do not overmix or the dough will be tough. It will be crumbly. Turn the dough onto a work surface and divide it in two portions, one slightly larger than the other. The larger portion will be used for the bottom pie shell. Press into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and flatten it into a 6-inch disk.
Refrigerate the disk at least one hour, and up to 2 days. Let the disk come to room temperature about 20 minutes before rolling out.

To make the galette:
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet (at least 12 by 12 inches) with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Remove the dough from the refrigerator to allow it to warm 20 minutes.

After 15 minutes, pour off the juice mixture into a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat. Once it begins to bubble, stir the mixture constantly to prevent sticking, reducing the heat as necessary to prevent scorching. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until the mixture thickens and becomes translucent. Spoon the mixture over the peaches, and stir gently with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula to blend. Set aside.

On a lightly floured 15-inch length of parchment paper, roll out the dough to a rough 14-inch circle. (The circle may go past the edge of the paper in a few spots.) Slide onto a baking sheet, parchment paper and all, allowing the edges to hang over. Mound the filling over the center of the dough, leaving a 2-inch margin all around. You may use your fingers to rearrange the peaches in concentric circles if you want a neater appearance.

Bring up the sides of the dough around the peaches. This is easier if you bring up the paper along with the dough, then peel the paper away. The finished shape should be a 10-inch round with rough overlaps and gathers. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the dough. Working through the parchment, you can gently press the sugar slightly into the dough to help it adhere.

Bake the galette on the lowest shelf of the oven for 20 minutes, then move the galette to the middle shelf. Bake an additional 30 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and peach juices thicken. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack; cool to room temperature. Slide the galette on its paper to a serving platter, then pull the paper out from under.

recipe © Ellen Blonder

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rooster Painting-Second Day

I've only had a chance to rough in some lights and darks since my post a couple of days ago. I think I'll add some distant background to the left because the rooster's tail is just black curves, not that interesting, detail-wise. Next, I'll start finishing out the rooster so I can see where I need to add more contrast all around him. He's already watching me with a beady-eyed stare to make sure I get it right.

Monday, June 8, 2009


©Ellen Blonder
Thinking of family today. This is a watercolor I painted as part of a book proposal for a follow-up to my first book, Every Grain of Rice. That's my grandfather in the scanned photo. I printed it onto the watercolor paper before I started painting around it. He's holding my brother and cousin, and the photo reminded me of the Buddha figure that sat on his mantel.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Rooster Painting-First Day

I enlarged and transferred the rooster sketch (see June 5 post, below) onto a 20 x 20 canvas, then quickly laid in some color in the background to start establishing lights and darks. I may add this weird-looking red ginger flower (below) to the foreground. I sketched it on our most recent trip.

© Ellen Blonder

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Red Ginger Flower

© Ellen Blonder
Red and pink torch ginger can be bought at the Kauai sunshine (farmers') markets for about $4.00 a bunch. One of the first things we do when we're there is grab a bouquet along with all the papayas and bananas we can carry.

I painted this in acrylics on an 8 x 10 canvas board.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Traveler Tree and Roosters

© Ellen Blonder
I'm fascinated by the traveler tree, with its leaves angling down in flat Vs to form the trunk. I once heard travelers could find water caught at the base of the leaves, giving the tree its name. The trees grow into magnificent fans, much larger in relation to a rooster in reality. I'm taking artistic license here.

Ever since Hurricane Iniki destroyed chicken cages, Kauai has hosted an ever-growing population of wild chickens. Since some of the original escapees were fighting cocks, their descendents are often quite impressive specimens.
I thought I'd add one to this recent painting, a 15 x 15 acrylic on canvas that I started painting during our most recent trip.

The flower is pink ginger.

I think I'll focus more on a rooster in my next painting. Here's my preliminary sketch based on a photo I took of a rooster strolling casually past Starbucks in Lihue.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


©Ellen Blonder
Time for a food break. We were at the farmers' market over the weekend, and early peaches are in. This watercolor is from a peach book proposal that never went anywhere. Not all was lost. I learned how to choose a ripe peach:
  • Don't be fooled by deep red blush. It only indicates sun exposure, not maturity or ripeness.
  • A mature peach has an undertone that glows orange, not yellow-green. Good place to check is near the stem.
  • A peach picked too early will never ripen properly, no matter how long it is stored. Spongy flesh indicates a peach picked too soon, then kept too long.
  • A mature peach will have taken in sufficient nutrients from the tree, and continue to develop sweetness and juiciness after being picked. Ripe peaches will have a heady aroma.
  • Yellow peaches have more acid than white peaches, so their flavor is more complex. Their color also holds up better when cooked.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Banana Trees Almost Done

I think this is almost done now. I've adjusted the banana leaves to the right, added highlights and shadows to foliage here and there, and added details to the background. I'll keep fussing with it, no doubt, but then it's time to let it sit while I figure out of anything still doesn't feel right about it.

By the way, for any acrylic artists out there, I only recently found something called a Masterson's Sta-Wet palette that changed my whole way of working. It's a lidded plastic box that you line with a wet sponge and their special palette paper. What always discouraged me about acrylics before was how quickly they dried while I worked. Seemed I spent more time remixing colors that had dried out than painting. With this palette, even small amounts of paint will stay wet for many days.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Banana Trees with Foreground Filled In

©Ellen Blonder

I spent the next week filling in the foreground foliage and noodling out the ginger flowers. The banana leaves at the top of the painting weren't looking right, so I also spent time repainting them. Below is a close-up of the monkey, looking very concerned, before I added the foliage.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Banana Trees Detail, a Few Days Later

Now that the upper part of the painting is at least roughed in, I've started to add foreground foliage. Philodendron abounds, especially in northern Kauai, and shell ginger even grows along some roadsides. I love the form of the well-named flowers. Using a white pencil, I've sketched a bromeliad-like plant and ferns to paint next.