Getting your kids into Art

Mardi Gras Fish
Mardi Gras Fish

Getting your kids into art is a winning proposition. A tongue-in-cheek meme I recently read counsels: “Get your kids into art, and they’ll never have enough money for drugs.” As is often the case, there’s  truth hidden in the joke that has nothing to do with the financial aspect of creating art and everything to do with kids and art as a pairing that can set them on a healthier and happier path through life, making the benefits long lasting.

According to neuroscience, next to meditation, art is one of the best things a person can do for their brain. While working, I go into a state of high awareness while not being aware of myself at all. I “get lost” in drawing. I lose track of time, while my focus is on creating an image.

During the process of creating art, there is a singular focus on something outside of ourselves, an attempt to capture a feeling we are experiencing.  The brain is highly engaged, as decisions have to be made at every second: which color is needed here? How deep is that shadow on the face? Where do I put the highlights? Do I include imperfections of the original in my drawing? Does that eyebrow really arch that high?

When I sit and draw, I can feel myself reaching into the paper with my pencils, trying to bring into being a feeling that is intimately about me and a feeling I want to express, and at the same time, it’s all about the face of the dog/bird/elephant I’m drawing, not about me. All of my attention and my feelings are engaged and are one with the piece I am creating. The sensation for me is very much like sitting in a kayak and paddling down a river with a strong current, trying to go with the current but maintaining some degree of control. This rare heightened state of the mind is often described as “flow”, or “the zone”, or by musicians, “the crush”.

Unlike math problems or a biology homework assignment, both of which require focus as well, creating art involves feelings. The process of creating a work of art demands all the skill, technique and mastery of tools at the artist’s disposal, but goes beyond a mental exercise into the realm of the artist’s emotions. Most of the time an artist, regardless of age, will choose to create what they love, or what they feel strongly about. This literally puts the creator of art in touch with his/her feelings.

Now think about how valuable being able to do this is to children. To be in a space where they can disconnect from a reality that at times is overwhelming, distracting or painful and dwell in a space that is uniquely, completely and without compromise their own. By getting your kids into art at an early age, you will give them the gift of expressing themselves in lines, shapes and colors. They can create a refuge for themselves where they can engage in an activity that is soothing and fun, healthy for their brains and their emotions and if the practice is encouraged, can bring benefits all the way into old age.


Color Pencil Drawing


One of the things I love about Color Pencil Drawing is the portability of this medium. Not only are color pencils easy to take with you because they take up as little or as much space as you are willing to give them, they can also be used in just about any environment without making any mess at all. It’s the perfect medium for travelers for just that reason.

Here’s a real life example:

Recently, I had to squeeze into an economy seat on a Condor flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany. In case you haven’t sat in one of those seats for a 10 solid hour stretch of time before: it is not fun! I am 5’3″ about 115 lbs, which I consider an economy sized human frame. When sitting on a plane nowadays, my knees almost touch the back of the seat in front of me. What I am trying to say is that there is not a whole lot of space on a plane.

However, if you are a color pencil artist, there’s no need to fret. I brought these items on board with me:

  • Several white color pencils. One Faber-Castell Polychromos, for detail work (hard oil based pencil); one Prismacolor for thicker coverage (soft wax-based pencil) and one Derwent, just because I like the creamy delivery.
  • One pencil sharpener (Dahle, about $25)
  • One eraser by Mono (fine point)
  • Several pieces of black mat board
  • One printed-out image of my husband’s face in black & white with heightened contrast (done on my computer and printer at home)
  • One small  clip (office supplies) 

I clipped the print-out to the top of a couple of the black mats, which stabilized the picture, then set it on the little fold-out table propped against the seat back of the seat in front of me and went to work on the other black mat. I was off to artist-land. Before I knew it, hours had passed while drawing, melting away as they tend to do. A trip to the bathroom, a second meal and a nice chat with my seat neighbor about my drawing, and then it was time for a quick nap before landing in Frankfurt.

I have worked with fiber for years. You cannot hand quilt on a plane. I’ve tried. You can knit, but some countries will not let you take knitting or crochet needles on a plane. Oil or acrylic paint are not going to work for obvious reasons, and neither is messy pastel or charcoal. Color pencil drawing and perhaps cross stitch are the only productive artsy/craftsy things I have found useful while locked into a severely cramped space.

I will say this for long overseas flights: When I know I will be in this same square footage for ten hours I suddenly develop something my husband claims I don’t have: patience! I don’t feel the need to rush. There’s nothing else a have to or even could do. Consequently, I approached the drawing of my husband’s face with a calm expectation that I would be able to proceed carefully and be able to complete the portrait without interruption.

I think it turned out well.



I am often asked where I get my inspiration. For me, it comes from discipline. If that sounds counterintuitive to you, it’s probably because we are taught that inspiration is something mysterious, something we can’t quite explain. We are led to believe that inspiration is floating around outside our grasp.

This has not been my own experience.

During my years working as a journalist for daily newspapers, where there was always a deadline looming large, pushing us editors to “produce”, I’ve come to understand that if I don’t sit down with the intention of “producing”, or better, of being productive, I will not have anything to show for most of my days. If I don’t decide to take time and just start drawing (or painting, or sculpting…) nothing at all can happen.

Inspiration is, to a significant extent, a function of time and mindset.

Sometimes I walk into my work space with a vague idea of something I’d like to try to do. At times it’s colors I want to put together, because I liked them on the cover of a magazine, or it’s shapes I saw in the petals of a flower outside. It could be the interesting outline of the shadow of a cereal box sitting on the counter.

More often than not, what emerges bears very little resemblance to my original idea. And so, it does not matter whether I go to work “inspired” or just go in there, pull out my tools and start putting color to paper. What matters is that I go in there with the intention of opening myself up to inspiration, letting happen what starts to happen when I get my head out of the way and put aside the idea that I’m in control of the process.

For me, inspiration therefore comes from the discipline of setting aside time to work, declaring my intention to create and opening myself up to the possibilities that reliably seem to present themselves once I enter that space, physically and in my mind. Once I get into a mindset where I am ready and willing to flow with whatever comes my way, interesting things start to happen.

An open mind is a prerequisite to being able to draw fish with giant luscious lips ( and to putting lots of reddish purple into the fur of a moose. This, too, requires discipline. If I let myself be constrained by preconceived ideas, insist on executing only what I “know” to be real, I can still be creative, just less so, the tighter my mind reigns in the imagination just waiting to be let off the leash.


It’s mostly a question of letting myself ask “what if”… I gave her purple eyes, what if I made her orange, what if she had legs AND a tail for swimming …. what if ……. And then DO IT.

So I say no to lots of other things, making time so I can get to work, put color on that page and let inspiration happen.

Let’s get technical about Color Pencils

Drake in prograss
Drake, the dragon in progress

I am often asked what the medium is that I use to create my art work. The answer of course is: Color Pencil.

Color Pencil Art has come a long way in the last several years. Adults all over the world have been discovering the fun and the meditative effects of drawing. Pencils are highly portable and low-mess.

But which pencils should you choose if you’re newly delving into this medium? Like most things, it depends. If you want your artwork to last, you will be investing a little more than if you’re just doodling. Overall, pencils are inexpensive when compared to other art media such as oil paint.

Personally, as a professional artist, my go-to pencils are Faber-Castell Polychromos every time. They are oil-based pencils, as opposed to the well-known brand Prismacolor, which is wax-based. The Polys are generally awarded a good lightfastness rating which is important to me, but may not matter to everyone.

Here are some pros and cons of either type of pencil: the oil-based pencils are a little harder. If you’re trying to draw a fine line, the wax-based pencil will get “wider” quickly as you’re making progress across the paper. Oil-based tips, being harder, hold the point longer. This is why I ALWAYS use Faber-Castell Polys for pupils of eyes and other fine line work.

The strong point of wax-based pencils like Prismas on the other hand is saturation. Because of their softness, wax-based pencils deposit more pigment on the page (hence the fast dulling of points). So if you’re looking for strong, vivid color, wax may be your best option. They are also highly soluble, which makes them great candidates for blending with solvents, such as mineral oil. You can blend oil-based pencils with solvents, too, but they’re just not quite as quick to dissolve.

A world of caution about Prismacolor brand pencils. In recent years, the quality of these pencils has declined. I recently received an order where several of the brand new pencils were split along the outside. I have also heard from quite a few fellow color pencil artists, that Prismas are notorious for breaking and not being firmly encased in the wood. You can remedy this by carefully “melting” them in the microwave to make them adhere to the wood from the inside, but I’m really not a fan of having to repair my tools before I go to work. I’ve also noticed that, when I sharpen them, they are often not very well centered, which you can tell because of the irregular way the wood line moves up and down around the lead, whereas the Polys “shave” at a level that’s even all the way around the lead.

Still, there are many Prismacolor fans out there. If you’re just starting out, I recommend buying a few colors open stock (Blick Art ist a good online source for this) and playing with them. You may, like me, end up buying a set of both.

Seabrook Roses sm
Seabrook Roses

To see amazing examples of color pencil art and more reviews of different types of pencils, you can find youtube videos (Lachri Fine Art is excellent) as well as Facebook pages of color pencil art groups. I own several excellent books by color pencil living legend Alyona Nickelsen, which belong in the library of anyone seriously exploring this medium.

The web sites of manufacturers like Faber-Castell and Prismacolor, as well as Derwent and the top-of-the-line brand Caran D’Ache are worth visiting. There you will find information about color-fastness ratings; to my knowledge, the highest, most consistent being that of the more expensive Caran D’Ache pencils, which I also use.

I hope this helps those of you who are in the process of discovering the many wonderful aspects of color pencil art. One more word of advice: don’t get stuck just reading about it, start drawing!


Now you can find Dogs, Birds, Farm Animals and more

In the last few days, Sandphifer Art has expanded. I’ve been adding many more drawings in multiple categories. Some of the drawings appear in more than one category. Take my friend Carlos, for instance. Clearly, he’s a Bird, but you will also find him in the Farm Animals category.

Under “What’s new?” fans of my work will be able to easily identify new work without having to comb through all of the different series.

Currently, I am working to edit my “Weird Creatures” series. It will take some time, as I review all of the drawings, possibly edit some of the originals and re-photograph them before I offer prints of that very “interesting” (euphemism for extremely strange) series.

Once I’m happy with the results, you will see old friends like Herbert and Serafina (these two are finished) whom you may have already met. Of course, there are many more, as you already know if you’ve ever visited Sandphifer Gallery in Pacific Beach, WA.

So please stay tuned, and check in with every now and then.

A sneak preview:


Sandphifer Art web site goes live with Birdhouse prints

I’ve been asked many times whether I had a web site. My answer has been somewhat evasive: “I have a Facebook page: Somewhat Fishy.” Which is not, I well know, the same thing. But now, here it is: the new Sandphifer Art web site!

Right now, you can see the 30 Birdhouse Series drawing prints I’ve created from my original drawings. On the site you can buy 8×10″ matted prints of my color pencil drawings. The Birdhouse Series

I also have an About Karin page. You can read about my path to art, which was anything but straight.

I will be adding a page for my Fantasy Fish. I will also add one for the Character Animal drawings, featuring Ollie, the ostrich and his many friends soon.

Most certainly Sandphifer Art will be tweaked in the foreseeable future. So please do go ahead and let me know what you like, or don’t, as well as what may be missing and should be added.

The objective here is to make it fun and easy for you to see and enjoy my work. You can buy prints of the Birdhouses, Fantasy Fish or Character Animals directly from the web site. Naturally, the Sandphifer Art Gallery in Pacific Beach still has more to offer, but if you can’t get out to Pacific Beach, WA, here’s your little art store.

So, welcome to the brand-new Sandphifer Art web site! I’m very glad you found me.


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