Ben Witzke at Pinole Artisan Meeting

As a member of the speaker committee for the Pinole Artisans, I’m privileged to help choose the wonderful artists who come to our monthly meetings to speak about and show us their amazing work. For our July 5th meeting I’m so happy to welcome Benjamin Witzke, a very talented artist, science illustrator and naturalist.

Ben Witzke website

Ben Witzke’s website :

Ben is deeply fascinated by California’s unique ecology and astonishing biodiversity. Before receiving his BA in illustration from the California College of the Arts, he studied zoology at Humboldt State University, with a focus on herpetology. Ben also has a graduate degree in Scientific Illustration from CSU Monterey Bay, and is currently illustrating newly described species of frogs and tadpoles for the California Academy of  Sciences.
Ben Witzke: Dunn's Salamander

Ben Witzke: Dunn’s Salamander

“Dunn’s Salamander” is a digital piece depicting a species of salamander native to the very northwestern corner of California. Ben describes it as “an exercise in painting landscapes using only the computer and my own photosource.”

Ben Witzke: Snowy Owl

Ben Witzke: “Breakout”

“Breakout” began as a digital sketch of a Snowy Owl. Ben printed the sketch onto watercolor paper, and then painted on top of the print. At his presentation, Ben will show a mixed media copy of the same piece to illustrate his more painterly digital / mixed media techniques. He will also demonstrate how he integrates graphite drawing, watercolor, acrylic painting and other media to create his illustrations.
Ben Witzke's blog

Ben Witzke’s blog :

The Pinole Artisan general member meetings are held the first Friday of every month, at the Pinole United Methodist Church, 2000 San Pablo Avenue, from 7 to 10 pm. Meetings are free and anyone is welcome. The upcoming meeting is Friday July 5th.

For more information about the meeting or the Pinole Artisans call 510-724-2008. Click here to see our website.

Wisteria hysteria

How many times in this blog have I told you that x, y, or z is my favorite flower or plant? Well, right now – my very favorite flower in the world is wisteria (that’s the ‘w’). And in our little town, the wisteria is bloomin’!


George and I drive around the city, imperiling ourselves and others when we see a dramatic wisteria vine cascading over a fence or adorning a front wall – we point and shout:”Wisteria! Over there!!” The south end of town must get more sunlight, because theirs are going great guns. The one over our front door isn’t blooming at all yet, but the picture above is of the one in our back garden. I took that photo last Monday. Here’s what it looked like on Friday:


This is a close-up of a few of the buds:


I made a blended collage using the image above, duplicated and altered digitally:

Wisteria blendAre you a wisteria hysteric, like me? Any blooming in your neck of the woods yet?

Photo of the week

This week’s photograph of the week is another blended collage.



Every year I create a couple of holiday cards from my photos that George and I send to friends and family. I used to print my own cards, but for the last couple of years I’ve had zazzle print them.  I like the quality, and the price is reasonable.  Zazzle was having a half-off sale on cards, so I stayed up late the other night getting this year’s card finished.

I started with a photo I took of our holiday bubble lights in candelabras. George found these – they’re really fun because the liquid inside the glass bubbles up as it is heated by the light bulb. We even use one as a night light!

Bubble lightsI blended it with a photo I took of our lit Hanukah menorah candles. This reflects our blended family, since we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah.

Menorah candles

Menorah candles

I thought that the blending tool I chose brought out some interesting colors and patterns.  Here’s a closeup of one of the variations I made, this one is more abstract:

This is the whole image:

Candles abstract

Do you design and make your own holiday cards? I’ve noticed that each year fewer people are sending cards, is it the expense or just the ease of email?  Are you going to say “Happy Holidays” on your facebook page, by email, or by card?

Get motivated: set yourself a deadline

I teach a class about selling artwork online, and one aspect of the subject that I think about a lot is how to help people get themselves moving.  I believe that a lot of artists and crafters probably wonder how in the world they can get started selling online. Even taking a step back from selling, do you often think you should be more productive with your art? Ever feel guilty about not painting enough, or about leaving so many photographs unprinted, or not submitting your work to magazines or to galleries?

I guess this interests me because I often need help getting myself motivated. One of the methods that works best for me is to set a deadline. Self-imposed deadlines with no accountability (“I will design a scarf this weekend”) don’t work as well for me as external ones, where not finishing a piece is not an option. When I find myself stuck creatively, I get myself moving by signing up to participate in a new show at my local gallery, by entering an art swap or contest, by agreeing to donate a piece to a charity I support … you get the idea.  How do you get yourself working? Have you ever missed a deadline that you had committed to?

Here’s what I’ve been working on, thanks to a deadline I’m under to put up a display in the front case at my local library. The display will be at the El Cerrito Library from June  2nd (eek, that’s only a week away!) through mid-July. I want to show people how to attract butterflies to their gardens, so one focus of the display will be my photos of the life cycle of some local butterflies.  From my hundreds of photos of butterflies that George and I have raised and released, I made several photo collages of them from egg to emerged butterfly.  This is the one for the caterpillar stage of the monarch butterfly:

Monarch butterfly caterpillars

Monarch butterfly caterpillars

And here’s the collage I made of the chrysalis stage for anise swallowtail butterflies:

Anise swallowtail butterfly chrysalises

Anise swallowtail butterfly chrysalises

I’ll include information about what kinds of plants people can use in their gardens to attract butterflies and provide food for the caterpillars.  Oh, of course I’ll be showing some of the artwork I’ve made from my butterfly photos, and I hope to get motivated to make some more pieces just for the display!

Wingspread Mixed-Media Art Doll

Wingspread Art Doll

Wingspread Art Doll

Meet “Wingspread,” a mixed-media art doll that I created, using several different techniques to transfer or attach my original photographs and designs to the soft stuffed cotton doll. Most of Wings’ body is decorated with fragments of my Golden Butterfly” photo collage. I used Transfer Artist Paper (TAP) to transfer the Golden Butterfly design to the doll.

Wingspread Art Doll - back

Wingspread Art Doll - back

Here’s Wingspread’s back.  The back of her (his?) head is a TAP transfer of my mandala design that I made from my photos of a monarch butterfly wing and a peacock feather.   This is the image:

And here’s a closeup of the wings on the back:

Anise swallowtail butterfly wing on lutradur

For the large wing on the right side I printed my photo of an anise swallowtail butterfly’s spread wing on lutradur coated with Golden’s Digital Ground. I stitched the wing to the center of the back. I also added a small metal wing, and a dangle of pearl, metal and glass beads.

Wingspread’s headdress is made from beautiful black and white striped hen feathers from Barred Rock hens. They are affixed to the head through another piece of lutradur, which I printed using my photo collage of the open wing of a Barred Rock hen.

Wings wears a colorful bowtie, which I made from my original design fabric.

Wingspread is a bit over 20 inches tall, including the feather headdress.  I love art dolls, and it was so fun to make this one, incorporating my butterfly photos and designs, and using so many different techniques and products.   You can see more pictures at my Artfire gallery.  Have you ever made an art doll?  What materials did you use?

CraftEdu goes live!

Finally – after months of working on classes, taking photographs, writing scripts, narrating, annotating, editing, polishing …  CraftEdu goes live in beta today! I’m so honored to be part of this wonderful group of talented teachers, artists and crafters.  We’re a diverse group, with something for everyone: lots of jewelry artists of all stripes (Donna Kato, the polymer queen, is our fearless leader), but you can also find classes on digital art, fiber and textiles, encaustic, rubber stamping, mixed media, and much more!   Click here to visit CraftEdu.

I have two free classes up: Inkjet Inks, What You Need to Know for Your Arts & Crafts; and Introduction to Lutradur.   I also have two on demand classes up so far: Inkjet Printing on Fabric and Inkjet Printing on Lutradur. I’m busy working on more.  Join my group to ask questions, share ideas, or get information!


Digital collage on art board

How were the holidays for you? I had two 4-day weekends, bliss!  Between the nature walks that my husband and I took, a couple of holiday parties, and a lot of cleaning-up of my workspace, I only managed to get a bit of artwork done. While organizing my towering piles of craft books I unearthed an 8×10″ gessoed wooden art board and decided to transfer one of my digital collages onto it.

I had designed the collage a few weeks ago.  I started with a photo of a fallen tree with insect trails etched into it. I took the photograph on Albany Hill, a small local hill where monarch butterflies overwinter.  We went in November to see whether any monarchs were there. We only saw a few, sadly — we had seen many more there in previous years.

This is the photograph of the tree:

Fallen log

Fallen log

I blended the photo of the tree with a photograph of a fern that I took during a walk we took in Muir Woods.



In blending the photographs, I worked to make the colors vivid, and kept the fern image subtle so you only see a tracing of it.

Fallen tree fern collage

Fallen tree fern collage

I liked the collage, but put it aside and hadn’t decided what to do with it. When I pulled out the art board, I thought it might work well.  Before printing it though, I had an idea. There are a number of designs I have produced from elements of my photographs with a great kaleidoscoping program called Kaleider. I mostly use them for my Garden Design Fabrics that I sew into fabric vases, purses, light switch plates, etc.  I generally don’t use them in my mixed media artwork or digital collages, but I wanted to see if blending one of them with this collage might work.  I found one of the designs that had strong simple lines. Coincidentally, the one I chose to try first was a design that I made from a photograph I took on the same walk we took on Albany Hill, of another fallen log.

This is the kaleidoscoped version of elements of that photograph:

Log albany hill kaleidoscope

Log Albany Hill kaleidoscope

I very much liked the effect when I blended them!

Fallen tree fern collage with Albany Hill log

Fallen tree fern collage with Albany Hill log

Okay, enough explanation about how the blended collage came into being (people often ask me how I make my designs and it’s hard to explain without showing the originals, so I wanted to go into some detail here where I could show them).  On to my process for the transfer to the board. I’ve written much about using transfer artist paper (TAP), a polymer paper that I’ve had very good results with transferring onto several different surfaces.  This would be the first time I’ve tried to transfer onto a gessoed wood board. I printed the collage onto the TAP using the recommended settings: plain paper and medium quality. I printed it on the Epson Workforce 500, which I use for the workshops I teach. The durabrite ultra inks are pigment and have worked well with the TAP.  I forgot the first lesson of printing a transfer: REVERSE the image. Oops, but the collage is abstract so it didn’t really matter.  I placed the TAP on the wood board and began to iron it, using the iron’s highest setting. I could hear the transfer hissing a little, which I’ve come to learn means that it’s working. I peeled up a bit of the TAP and checked, and was delighted to see that the transfer was indeed transferring.  After a few more passes of the iron, the entire transfer had completed.  As with my other TAP pieces, there’s a very pleasing texture caused by the polymer.  To protect the print, I applied two layers of varnish and then went searching for a frame.  I unearthed an old wooden frame of exactly the right size that I had found at an estate sale. I think it complemented the collaged board beautifully! Here it is, see what you think:

Albany Hill digital collage

Albany Hill digital collage