I’ve been busy these past two weeks working on over 20 spot illustrations for The Oakland Museum of California. The museum will soon be opening a new group of beautifully crafted natural history diorama exhibits. One exhibit depicts the rocky crag of a sea mount top at Cordell Banks, 120 feet below the ocean’s surface. These illustrations will be used on a set of “field guide” cards so that visitors can identify the animals and plants in the scene.

Red rock kelp. Pencil and watercolor on paper.

Ringed topsnail. Pencil and watercolor on paper.


Painted greenling. Pencil and watercolor on paper.

Rosy rockfish. Pencil and watercolor.


Sharpnosed Decorator Crab. Watercolor on paper.

Lingcod. Pencil and watercolor on paper.

This past Saturday I participated in the opening of a group show of new paintings at the Graton Gallery in western Sonoma County. The opening was very well attended and the work was well received. The show runs until September 30. Stop by the gallery and check it out. Original oil and watercolor paintings, prints and greeting cards with the images from the show are all available at the gallery. Thanks to all my friends and family who came out to see the work and support me, and to the Graton Gallery members for their support and assistance.

The Graton Gallery

9048 Graton Road

Graton, CA 95444

(707) 829-8912

Point Reyes Red Barn. Watercolor on paper.
©2012 James Freed

Little Red-Nicasio. Oil on panel. 6″ x 8″
©2012 James Freed

Come by the gallery and check out the show!

Join me July 15, from 2 till 4 PM, for a mini-workshop at Infusions Tea House in Sebastopol. I’ll be discussing and demonstrating linear perspective drawing techniques. Come by, sip some delicious tea, sample some excellent hand made chocolates, and learn how to use elements of perspective, including eye level and vanishing points, to add realism and depth to your sketches.

A $15 donation is requested at the time of the workshop. (Sorry, tea and chocolates are not included, but will be readily available for purchase.)

Please bring your friends, your own sketch book, pencils, sharpener, erasers and/or pens. Hope to see you there!

INFUSIONS TEA HOUSE, 6988 McKinley, Sebastopol, CA  95472

(707) 829 1181


What Makes a Drawing Work Well?

I recently taught a sketching class for interior design students, many of whom had little or no drawing experience. What I have found over many years of working with students who are just starting to explore drawing is that the first obstacle to overcome is the fear of not being able to draw well. I begin class by asking them to go outside, make a drawing of something they find interesting and return to class within 45 minutes. I do not provide any other instruction or help while they do this.

When they return I ask them to put their work up on the wall so we can all discuss it. This is usually met with groans and protests, but they take the pins provided and put the drawings up. I then ask each of them to look at all of the work and find something that is working well in each of the drawings. The drawings on the wall likely run the gamut from very crude line drawings to accomplished sketches, depending on each student’s previous experience. I ask them “What do you like about each one? What is working well, and why? What can be improved, and how?”

This begins a discussion of what makes a drawing work well, so I ask them what they think the basic elements of a good drawing are. Many ideas arise from this line of inquiry and I write them down on the board as they are pitched. I have my own ideas of what constitutes a good sketch, and usually the students themselves are able to verbalize most of these elements without my help. I then pull the five elements that I like to focus on in this particular class out of their words and highlight them, which organizes and simplifies the list somewhat.

After this short discussion, I ask them to go outside again and make another drawing of a scene similar to their first one, this time focusing their attention on the elements of good drawing we have all discussed and agreed on together. Their second attempts usually show some small improvement, and some show great improvement. All this happens before I “teach” them any specific technique. I find that once some trust has built up, over several weeks of the class looking at each others work and supporting each others learning, the fear seems to lessen. Fear is then replaced with an eagerness and excitement over their own progress, as well as the progress of the other students in class. This is an exciting and most rewarding experience for me.

New Workshops Coming!

Over the coming months I will be offering several drawing and painting workshops that are geared toward students with beginning and intermediate levels of skill who wish to improve their artwork. I combine a fondness for nature and the outdoors with 16 years experience of teaching art and design at the university level to create unique workshops. My goal is to have these workshops provide an environment that fosters creativity, direct observation skills and expression in the students that participate.

The workshops are intended for students ages 17 and older, and will cover many different subjects including: Linear Perspective for Artists, Creating Form with Value Contrast and Shadow Shapes, Creating an Illustrated Field Journal, Basic Color Mixing and Other Watercolor Techniques, Working from the Live Model, Quick Sketching, and more. Check out the Workshops page for additional information and an upcoming class schedule.

9" x 12" - Oil on panel

I went and visited several open studios in and around Point Reyes yesterday. It was a beautiful spring afternoon in West Marin, sunny with a hint of a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean. A dear friend of mine suggested we go see some art.

First stop was in the town of Pt. Reyes Station at the gallery and then studio of photographer Marty Knapp. Marty has been making photos for over 30 years and has mastered his craft. Of particular note was a new series of work shot inside an old barn. Very large prints featured dramatic light from the sun filtering into the dark barn through ventilation spaces intentionally left between the siding boards. Stunning work, with an excellent sense of contrast, perspective and composition.

Next on our list was Nancy Stein, who creates lovely, rich pastel land and seascapes, delicate etchings, and ceramics as well. We wound up the steep heavily wooded road to the ridge top above Inverness Park to find her sun lit cabin overlooking Tomales Bay and Black Mountain. She welcomed us in with a warm smile, and showed us around, while her nephew played guitar upstairs. This provided some beautiful original background music while we took in Nancy’s work. Given the breathtaking view from her studio windows, I would have a difficult time getting any work done for many months of staring outside!

The penultimate visit of the day was to the very tidy and organized studio of wood block print maker, Tom Killion. I have been an admirer of Tom’s amazing work for many years and have always wanted to meet him. I did not realize that he and I were so close in age. I was a bit star struck at first, but his easy going and welcoming demeanor quickly put me at ease. A friend of his was there helping his visitors and showing work. She also showed us how to work the proof press, and each visitor was given the chance to make a small print from one of Tom’s hand carved blocks. I’ve included it with this article. Tom explained his process of creating as many wood block plates as there are colors in the print. He also showed us the intricate carving tools and linden wood plates he gets from Japan to create his work. He and I share an affinity for the Sierra high country, which is featured in many of his prints. What a great treat to discuss these things with a master of this artform.

Our last studio stop was to the home of Mark Ropers to see his watercolors. Mark’s work captures the quiet side of landscape views with fine graded washes of color, and subtle contrast. The skies he creates are exceptional. He explained to us that he is a self taught artist and has been working in the medium for just over ten years.  He has taught himself well and has a finely developed sense for composition and design, along with his beautifully applied color washes. Seeing his work was a relaxing way to end the tour for the day. I drove home, inspired by the art I’d seen, and the late afternoon light on the landscape of Marin and Sonoma counties. Time to paint!


Welcome to my brand new website and blog.

I am an artist, designer and teacher with many and varied interests. This blog will provide a venue to share my work and thoughts about art, design, the natural world, sustainability, and education. For me these subjects are all wrapped up with each other.

In the fall of 2010, I began a masters degree program in education at Sonoma State University. I’m now a little over half way done, and will begin writing my thesis this summer. It’s been an amazing adventure to be back in school while working full time and teaching part time. I’m interested in how art and design can help shape the discussion and pursuit of sustainability, and especially how young people can activate and drive this discussion. The nexus of design, sustainability and education is an important one. It’s an exciting and important time to be an artist. Solving critical issues facing the world today will take many people thinking and working creatively on the problems. Young people need to have good background information on the subject to be able to set their powerful minds to the task. I want to help with this.

I also love to paint and draw, and discuss art and art making. I hope to share some of this here. Please feel free to contact me via the contact page if anything you see or read here in the coming months resonates with or inspires you to do so. I’d like for discussions to develop around these topics, and to meet new people who have insights and perspectives different or similar to my own.


James Freed- May 2012