Sunday, December 23, 2012

For the Love of Gouache

I love gouache paint. Gouache (pronounced like "squash") is an opaque watercolor. I love it because it had good coverage, dries quickly, doesn't feel like acrylic plastic, it dries with a matte finish, is non-toxic and can be re-activated just like watercolor paint cakes. The best part is I can paint with gouache like I do with oils - from dark to light.

I was first introduced to gouache at Laguna College of Art & Design as an undergrad. I took a Color Theory class with George Zebot and we had to do tons of color swatches in gouache. I quickly discovered how expensive those little tubes of paint can be! For example, a little 15ml tube costs around $ get them when they're on sale or you have a coupon. I usually get the Winsor & Newton Designer Gouache tubes or the Holbein tubes. 

One thing to be aware of are the Acrylic Gouache paints. These cannot be reactivate when they dry. This may or may not be a good thing. I accidentally bought a few of these and they dried on my pallet like acrylics do. One positive aspect of this though is that if you sneeze or spill water on your work, the paint won't be reactivated because of the acrylic binder. 

Here are a few painted sketches I've done while visiting my family in California. I spent about an hour on each one (because believe it or not, it's actually kinda cold in Cali during the winter, and my hands were freezing!)

Redlands Tree Mural

I am officially back in Cali on Christmas break...although it's not really a break...which is good because  the art-making should never stop! I was recently commissioned to paint a mural at a church in Redlands, CA. After painting in Photoshop for the past 4 months, I was excited to take on the project and paint BIG with real paint and brushes.

The wall was approximately 8.5 feet by 12.5 feet. The client gave me reference images of a park-like avenue lined with trees, so I did a few sketches and then a color study of my own vision. I used Nova Color Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Ivory Black and Titanium White.

Here are a few pics of my process:

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Coloring Pages

Ive been working on creating some coloring pages for a website called Kid's Faith Garden, which is a supplementary site for author Nicole Lataif's new book, Forever You. Here are a few samples! I sketched out the drawings in Photoshop then used the pen tool in Illustrator for the final line art.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

October Project updates

For kicks, here's a spot painting of one of my Devourling creatures from Guardians of the Heart that I made as a demo for Computer Ill. I am ever-pursuing this story and love dipping back into the fantasy world when I have the opportunity! 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lil' bit 'o life drawing

Things have been so busy lately, which is wonderful but has put me behind on updating my blog! However, this weekend I managed to sneak away to a figure drawing workshop in St. Pete. Here are a few drawings from the session, each 20 minutes long.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I've waited all summer for the 2012 Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators conference in Los Angeles.

It came, it went, and has left me completely replete!

In fact, if I had to introduce myself as one of the conference faculty I would say, "My name is Katy Betz, and my word is....Replete."


  1. Filled or well-supplied with something.
  2. Very full of or sated by food.
Three intense days of keynote speeches and breakout sessions have left me bulging, blubbery, and abundantly fat with inspiration, thanks to insights offered by some of the best writers, illustrators, editors and agents of the children's literary world. 

Here's an overview of my informational, inspirational diet of the past 3 days:

1. Tony DiTerlizzi: Never Abandon Imagination. 
I confess that I partly signed up for the conference this year just because Mr. DiTerlizzi was going to be present. His Spiderwick drawings have long inspired me, especially the Field Guide. He said something that really struck home for me - he said, "the older I get, and the more adept I get at my craft, the further away I get from my inner child." This November I'll be turning 30!!! That's 20 years distance from the 10 year old Katy who loved playing in tree houses, riding horses, building model kits, jumping rope, and play-acting. How do you stay in touch with your inner child? A few ideas were offered throughout the conference. Tony collects childhood memorabilia, which is something I want to start doing. In fact, when I go back to Florida, I'll be creating a "What Not" shelf (see below on Brian Collier) to put my Ninja Turtles, My Little Ponies, Teddy Ruxpin, Pound Puppies, and bubble-maker machine.

2. Dan Gutman: How a Dumbass Like Me Got 100 Books Published
I really enjoyed Mr. Gutman's keynote. He gave us a 13 step program for achieving success; a lot of it was contradictory and ridiculous. But I liked it because that's reality - THERE IS NO FORMULA FOR SUCCESS. What inspired me the most is Dan's relentless, somewhat indignant approach to paving his own road. He worked hard, really hard, for years, got rejected, over and over, and in that found what he loved doing, followed it all the way, and published 100 books. I like that. 

3. Deborah Underwood: The Power of Quiet. 
Ohhh this one really hit home for me. It was about the creative process, worldly distractions, and the precious, sacred power of quiet time. A lot of other speakers touched on similar themes in their keynotes, and I am happy to say that since I've been home I'm already improving my work flow by practicing quietness. I'll attempt to summarize Deborah's articulate and intelligent speech with an old Italian phrase: "Dolce Far Niente" - it means "the sweetness of doing nothing".
One practical suggestion for implementing this mantra...
- When you awake, lie in bed and daydream. Wonder. Pay Attention. 
Other suggestions:
- Find the moments of rest in a busy day (stoplights, slow loading websites, bathroom breaks, etc).  
- If you really want to solve problems, turn off ALL distractions.
Because I struggle with distractions, I went ahead and bought a program called "Anti-Social". It blocks my access to specified social sites like Facebook and Twitter for a certain amount of time.

4. Brian Collier: A Seed to a Tree
This man spoke like a preacher and made me cry. He is passionate, believes deeply in the artistic dream, the great struggle, the inevitable success. If you are an artist with a dream and a desire to succeed, then don't listen to the world. Listen to your inner voice. It knows. It is true. Pay Attention. Also, create a "What Not" shelf and allow your mind to wander ( see DiTerlizzi and Underwood). 

There are many many more inspirational things I ate this weekend that I'd like to share with you, but I am still digesting. That's a sure sign of a successful conference. It may take me a while too. But, as author Karen Cushman said, "A lion is made up of the lambs he is digesting".

I can say that one of the main things I've realized is that time does matter, and it doesn't matter.

Time matters in the sense that it's precious and not to be wasted. So do what you love! Act NOW. Our days are numbered and we never know when our time will be up. Go for it, because...

...Time doesn't matter. It might take you 3 years. 7 years. 16 years. At least you'll have something to show for it. At least you can say you tried. Something is better than nothing.

That being said, I'm finally acting upon the advice I've received. I'm scheduling time alone with my imagination. I'm writing and drawing about the things I love, the things I believe in. I've begun writing a middle grade fantasy series titled Guardians of the Heart, based on the paintings I made in graduate school. 

It's time. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Trees of Knowledge

The SCBWI Summer conference in Los Angeles starts tomorrow morning at 8:30!!

Today is a bit crazy as I try to pack (I'm heading to L.A. tonight) and get my portfolio in order. However, I wanted to post a new illustration that I made this week. It's called "Trees of Knowledge"and is inspired by my recent trip to the Sequoia Forest, my love for Gothic architecture and stained glass windows. Have you ever stood in the colorful dappled lighting inside a dark Gothic cathedral? It's is a magical, very spiritual experience and that is what I wanted to capture here. I felt the same way when I visited the Giant Sequoias. The trees here act as pillars of ancient wisdom and make a sacred space for imagination!

Anyway, I will have to come back to this post and tell you more about the girl, the book she's holding, and particularly the illuminated page she has discovered, which reveals a glowing image of a heraldic Unicorn!

More to come on Monday after the conference!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Visit to the Land of Giants

Watercolor and brush pen, sketchbook.

It was only until I moved out of California that I realized how amazing the state really is (ok, not the political/financial side of things) but rather the natural beauty. I recently had the opportunity to explore the south Sierra Nevada region and the Sequoia National Forest. My sister and I met our aunt, uncle, and cousins for a 4-day camping/horseback riding adventure. We trailored our horses and mules to Springville then went up the mountain to a campsite deep in the woods.

I don't own a horse, so I borrowed my Uncle's mule the first day. Mules are awesome!!! In case you don't know, a mule is the result of a male donkey and a female horse. Mules aren't as stubborn as donkeys and aren't as flighty as horses. They can see their back feet and know exactly where they are stepping (making them a lot safer to ride!) I have a new appreciation for mules, besides the fact that they are adorable with their giant ears.

Anyway, this was my first trip to the Land of Giant Sequoias. I will never forget driving up the winding mountain road trying to spot one. We suddenly turned a corner and THERE WAS A GIANT TREE, unlike any tree I had ever seen before. It dwarfed all the other trees in height and girth. The bark was bright orangey red. Breathtaking!

The whole trip I couldn't stop gawking at these trees. Standing in their presence is humbling. They demand your attention and reverence as they loom 100+ feet above your head. They are like great ancient pillars, wise and friendly. We pilgrimaged to one tree called the Adam tree because it was 2,000 years old (I secretly re-named it the Christ tree - seems more fitting). What is one supposed to think and feel when looking at a living organism that is 2,000 years old? I touched it's spongy red bark. All I could do was stand there in awe. Later, this encounter made me think a lot about my comparatively short lifespan, and how thankful I am to have crossed paths with this tree while walking on earth.

Epic beauty was the theme of the entire forest. We rode through idyllic meadows, crossed rivers riddled with gigantic boulders, and camped under the starry sky. I wanted to weep at the sight of it all because it was so pure, sacred, and just felt so right. It was God's country, untouched by anything evil. The air was pine-scented fresh, colors vibrant, and so so peaceful. And at night, THE STARS!!! So clear and bright! It had been years since I'd seen the night sky without some sort of light pollution.

I cannot experience such perfection and not be moved to thoughts of God, wonder and sublimity.
I just can't.

This was real!  

I can rarely put my feelings into words when I see things so marvelous. That's usually when I turn to writers, philosophers, and poets to help me out. To what these two have to say, I say - Ditto:

“When I look out on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness nor sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of Nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene.” 
 Jane Austen

“Whereas the beautiful is limited, the sublime is limitless, so that the mind in the presence of the sublime, attempting to imagine what it cannot, has pain in the failure but pleasure in contemplating the immensity of the attempt” 
 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Here are a few more pictures from the trip. We were invited to a belated 4th of July part at the Packing station where I rented my black and white horse named Lucky. They had 15 dutch ovens full of delicious home cookin', then after that two cobblers and homemade ice cream. Amazing!

Me riding Lucky through a meadow.

Our crew

A giant tree house.

Nature's cathedral

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wiley's wish for a Guru comes true

Wiley is a character I've been fond of since Grad school. He keeps showing up in my pictures! Here's a fun and bizarre illustration featuring Wiley, his cat Pearly, and the sewer guru. You get to make up the rest!

Till next time -
Katy :D

Monday, June 4, 2012

Contemplating Courbet

My interpretation of Gustave Courbet. Watercolor.

Recently I've been contemplating Gustave Courbet, a French painter who lived in the 1800's. He led the Realism movement, painting subject matter that was considered vulgar back then, like peasants and working conditions of poor people. As a result, he was considered an outsider amongst his contemporaries, except for likeminded Daumier and Millet. Seems like quite a few artists were drawn to beautifully depicting harsh realities, such as Vincent van Gogh who also painted similar things and suffered for it.

But, Courbet was a very bold fellow. He was outspoken, challenged the academic and moral standards of his time, and possessed a deep interest in the darker sides of life around him. This brought him notoriety, sales...and exile. He was thrown into prison for requesting that a public column be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere because it had no artistic value. He was released but couldn't pay the fines, so he fled to Switzerland.

Many younger artists looked up to him however, including Monet, Whistler, and Cezanne (interesting side note - Monet included Courbet's portrait in his version of Manet's controversial Le dejeneur sur l'herbe). So, with this kind of influential power, I wanted to examine Courbet's ideas a bit closer. Here are a few quotes. See what you think:

Beauty, like truth, is relative to the time when one lives and to the individual who can grasp it. (Gustave Courbet)

I have studied the art of the masters and the art of the moderns, avoiding any preconceived system and without prejudice. I have no more wanted to imitate the former than to copy the latter; nor have I thought of achieving the idle aim of art for art's sake. (Gustave Courbet)

The expression of beauty is in direct ratio to the power of conception the artist has acquired. (Gustave Courbet)

To know in order to do: such has been my thought. To be able to translate the customs, ideas, and appearance of my time as I see them – in a word, to create a living art – this has been my aim. (Gustave Courbet)

It is fatal for art if it is forced into official respectability and condemned to sterile mediocrity. (Gustave Courbet)

Art or talent, for an artist, is merely a means of applying his personal faculties to the ideas and the things of the period in which he lives. (Gustave Courbet)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Alchemy: a creative shape-making tool

I'll speak for myself as an artist: sometimes it's really difficult to look at a blank piece of paper and invent something. I need something to spark an idea.

If you've ever looked up at the sky and saw random cloud shapes that looked like a bear, or a dragon, or whatever, then you understand what it's like to invent and imagine. Well, there is a new program called Alchemy that helps artists design and invent by generating random shapes. After doodling in the program for a bit and creating some random shapes using the mirror tool, I imagined seeing a greedy goblin character. So, I sketched it out based on the shapes, but turned the shapes into the character above.

To download the free program, go here:
Check out some of these YouTube videos for tips and ideas. They are really inspiring!!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Recent Inspiration: the Titanic

I've become preoccupied with the story of Titanic ever since the re-release of James Cameron's 3D version that commemorates the centennial of the ship's sinking. I went to see the movie on April 14, 2012...100 years to the day the ship sank in 1912. I stayed up all night following the History Channel's tweets of the Titanic's demise as it happened 100 years ago. It officially foundered at 2:20am on April 15th. I can't seem to get the sad story out of my much so that I wander through cities looking at tall buildings comparing them to Titanic. She was 882 feet long - that's almost as long as a 90 story building is tall!

The first time the movie came out in 1997, I saw it 10 times in theaters, partly because I had a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio (I was in high school, ok gimme a break). But now watching it again on the big screen 15 years later, something deeper has captivated my imagination. I want to know the true stories, to empathize and experience the bitterness, to cry with those who lost loved ones. I am inspired by the brave souls who went down with the ship, the women who climbed out of the life boats because they would not leave their husbands, the parents who tossed their children into a life boat and stood on deck, waving goodbye. It's heart-wrenching, and somehow learning about the historical catastrophe offers courage and strength to deal with life.

On April 15th, I drove to Orlando to a brand new museum called "Titanic: the Experience". The place was packed and I was forced to tour with a group of about 50 people. I barely had room or time to sketch anything, but I lingered in the back and was able to experience a life-size recreation of Titanic's grand staircase all to myself. It was fabulous and eerie. I imagined myself on the ship, what it would be like to be a passenger and walk up those stairs, admiring the beauty and feeling so proud to be on the maiden voyage.

Try this experiment: place your hands in a bucket of ice and count to 10. One one thousand, two one the time you get to ten, that's what your body would have felt like being plunged into the icy Atlantic as a doomed passenger on the great Titanic. Most people didn't drown, they froze to death. Having a taste of what that would feel like somehow makes me a apply the lessons of Titanic to my own life.

What lessons?

A lesson in humility.
A reminder of the sublime.
A test of self-sacrifice.
That when the game is over, both king and pawn go back into the same box.

Logan Marshall, editor of the book On Board the Titanic, sums up:

"Whatever view of the accident be taken, whether the moralist use it to point out a solemn warning, or the materialist scout a theory that it was nothing more than the 'fortuitous concurrence of atoms', there is scarcely a thinking mortal who has not been deeply stirred in the sense of personal bereavement, to a profound humility and a conviction of his own significance in the greater universal matter what one believes, the effect is the same. To reduce man from a swaggering braggart - the self-made master of fate, of nature, of time, of space, of everything - to his true microscopic stature in the cosmos....How little is the 882 feet of the 'monster' that we launched compared with the arc of the rainbow we can see even in our grief spanning the frozen boreal mist!"

"Lest we forget! Lest we forget!"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Influence Map

These influence maps have really become popular, just Google it to see what I mean...

I wanted to make an influence map because I'm often asked who are my favorite artists. I have a lot of favorites, but they don't all influence me. When an artist influences me, that typically means I look to their work for inspiration on how to problem-solve, how to paint, how to tell a story.

 I love the artists above for their sense of color, design, and conceptual narrative. Subject matter is also key - I love all things adventurous, emotional, uplifting, and fantastical. If an artist is crazy-talented but their subject matter is very dark, I typically won't be inspired to go paint like them. The message and the technique have to vibe with my soul in order to inspire me. When I discover an artistic soulmate, their work typically makes me want to race home and bust out my paintbox to create something beautiful.

So, I'll briefly cover why each of these artists has made it to my shortlist:

1. Jacob van Ruisdael - I discovered this Flemish northern renaissance painter while studying abroad in Holland. I fell in love with his depiction of clouds and landscape.

2. N.C. Wyeth - what can I say besides "hail to the master!" I really love his technique and use of color. Subject matter is also inspiring.

3. Justin Gerard - Subject matter is so epic! I study his compositions and color choices.

4. Jeff Soto - Jeff is from my hometown and has made it so big that I can't help admire him for an uber-successful career. His work is meaningful, bold, well-crafted, and very creative. Plus, he's a really humble, hard-working fellow which greatly inspires me.

5. Jon Foster - amazing compositions and color schemes. Plus, the subject matter is always intriguing. Sometimes it branches out into Sci-Fi which I'm not that into, but I still admire each piece created by this man.

6. Robert Mackenzie - emotion, technical sensitivity, character-cuteness factor, subdued color palette, has an old-world appeal.

7. Joe Sorren -  bizarre, very creative, bold and painterly use of color, very juicy oil paintings (must see originals to appreciate the glorious oil technique!!) emotional, makes you want to empathize with the characters.

8. Vladimir Kush - conceptual and brilliant at combining disparate subjects into a new idea. His paintings are very colorful and refined. I'm always in awe of how he blends oil paint.

9. Mary Blair - Color!! Design!! Fantasy!! Disney, Golden Books, her career was incredible.

10. Chris Buzelli - very generous in answering questions and talking about his process. I love how he stylizes people and animals, his color palette, and editorial concepts.

11. Peter de Seve - Brilliant character designer, which is what I look to him for the most. I also love his painting technique.

Chop Chop! I cut off my hair!


I've always had long hair ever since I had a say in the matter (the exception being my long bowl cut in preschool, but that was not my doing). However, last Wednesday I decided it was time for a change...

I chopped off my long hair into a pixie cut!! 

The idea had crossed my mind months ago - in fact the thought is documented in a tweet I posted one late night while contemplating life. I had asked myself why do I bother with long hair when all I ever do is wear it up? Granted, I wore it down occasionally, but it always bugged me. The tangles, the frizzies, the weight, the heat, the straightening and curling and blowdrying - UGH. After a while I began to default into a no-maintenance ponytail or bun. And I wore it like this for years!!  

Until one day last week, I was just over it. Just like that. Over it!! I called up my friend who is a hairdresser to make an appointment. Sitting in the salon chair, she put my hair in two ponytails and with scissors in hand, said "Ok, I'm going to cut!" CHOP! CHOP! I was past the point of no return and very happy about it. The experience was an adrenaline rush - very exciting to do something drastic, yet not too risky because luckily, hair grows back.

I have no regrets, haven't shed a single tear, and have yet to say I miss my long hair - because I don't! I love having short hair!! It's so easy to wash, to style, to drive with the windows rolled down and not have pieces of hair flapping in your face or blinding your vision. It's just wonderful :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rainforest Faces

 I recently went with a friend to the lovely Selby Gardens in Sarasota, FL, to see the annual Rainforest Mask Exhibit. A family of artisans from Boruca in Costa Rica work year-round creating these masks from soft balsa wood and then hand-paint each one with acrylic color.

 As you can see from the drawing above, I had my sketchbook handy and was drawn to this particular face. Many of the masks portrayed a face of some sort, known as a Diablito intended to ward off enemies, but some masks featured flowers, birds, frogs, and other rainforest creatures. I LOVED all the scary fanged faces, such as this one...

Haha! He is so cool. I wanted to buy him but he was sold, as was practically the entire show!

It's obvious that the artistic process to create one of these masks involves a lot of skill. I was most impressed by the quality of carving and the vibrant colors, patterns, and details. On average, a design is carved in 3 days, then painted in another 3 days, so nearly a week of hard work before one can be called "finished". If you are interested in learning more about these masks, check out this overview presented by Selby Gardens. 

Here are a few pics of my other favorites (awesome fangs).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Top 5 Go-To Book for Ideas & Inspiration

Whenever I'm searching for inspiration, there are a handful of artful books that never seem to let me down. I'd like to share this shortlist with you in case you too are looking for a few words and pictures to pick you up and get you dreaming.

1. One Thousand Beautiful Things, compiled by Marjorie Barrows, published in 1947 by the People's Book Club. I found this old book in my parents library on February 7th, 2002. Apparently, I immediately recognized it as a treasure because I signed and dated it on the inside cover, and it has traveled with me all the way to Florida. This book is a great companion while sitting in a comfy chair with a glass of wine or cup of coffee. It's chock full of short stories, poems, quotes that you can savor slowly and contemplate. Here's one of my favorite quotes to ponder, by Henry Miller:

"Develop interests in life as you see it; 
in people, things, literature, music - 
the world is so rich, simply throbbing
with rich treasures, beautiful souls, 
and interesting people. Forget yourself."

2. For Spacious Skies, by Eric Sloane. Being a lover of clouds, and a proud member of The Cloud Appreciation Society, I adore Eric Sloane and his books on weather (he has several titles, including Look at the Sky and Tell the Weather, Eric Sloane's Weather Book, Skies and the Artist: How to Draw Clouds and Sunsets, and more!) His stories entertain and inform, while his illustrations make you want to grab for pen and paper. Here's a little tidbit for you:

"Rainy days are regarded as depressing, not conducive to work, 
yet I find that my best writing and painting occurs during the
 lowering pressure of stormy days. When the day is dreary and the falling 
barometer foretells a storm, I hurry home to my studio to make use 
of the "good weather" for working."

3. What It Is, by Linda Barry. I came across this book while browsing Barnes and Noble a few years back. I was drawn to the playful, high school-ish illustrations, but even more so to the deep probing questions that the artist/author was asking. Linda Barry's illustrated journal explores creativity. She asks questions like "what is an idea made of?, "what are we doing when we are looking?"and "how does making art and writing change as we grow up"? Each page of this book is covered in thought-provoking imagery and ideas. Here's a teaser:

"Two questions: Is this good? Does this suck? I'm not sure when these two questions became the only two questions I had about my work, or when making pictures and stories turned into something I called 'my work' --- I just know I'd stopped enjoying it and began to dread it. When I was little, I noticed that making lines on paper gave me a certain floating feeling. It made me feel like I was both there and not there. The lines made a picture and the picture made a story. I wasn't the only kid it happened to. Every kid I knew could do it."


  4. The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton. The title sold me on this book, combining two of my favorite things ever. However, it's not the title alone that puts this book on my shortlist. It's the author's cross-connections between his observations of travel, art, history, literature, philosophy, aesthetics, and science. Each chapter offers meaningful explorations on how travel can enrich life and restore your sense of wonder. Here's a snippet from the beginning:

"If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, the perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest - in all its ardor and paradoxes - than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and the struggle for survival."


 5.  The Education of the Heart, edited by Thomas Moore. What draws me to this book is how Moore introduces each chapter topic but then lets you assemble the meaning and relationships between all the references within the chapter. It really offers food for thought on a variety of topics pertaining to the mystery of life, allowing plenty of room for interpretation (which inspires me to create!) Here's a one-liner from the introduction:

"Becoming sensitive to the stories embedded in everyday discourse is a useful way to stay in tune with the soul, and a good way to remain sensitive is to read, listen to, tell, write, and illustrate stories of all kinds."