Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review - Carla Sonheim's Newest

Quarry Books has asked if I'd like to review some of their new books here on my blog. I don't get paid, so I can be as honest as I like. ;-) But I do get a free copy of each book... and these are books that I would have bought anyway... so, um, YES!

Today's book is the newest one from Carla Sonheim, Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals: A Mixed-Media Workshop with Carla Sonheim. Carla is one of my role models - I've taken a few classes with her at the Art and Soul retreats and some online classes too. Her website has links to more information about her and her blog (fun, colorful reading!). And if you are excited about this book, there is even a class that goes along with it! And to be really thorough, I'll throw in that Carla has an Etsy shop where you can buy her prints.

Her previous book, Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun (Lab Series), came out in 2010, and was #1 for Drawing books on Amazon for a year (My Totally Tangled was #2!!)

Drawing and Painting Imaginary Animals is even more fun because it is so obvious that she is passionate about animals. Her style is non-threatening and she admits that she didn't really start drawing until she was thirty. Her animals, some of which are completely unrecognizable as to parentage, are bursting with personality and attitude. If I had to sum up Carla Sonheim's style of creatures... the name that comes to my mind is "Snuffleupagus"! Her style and techniques are very close to the Zentangle philosophy - keep it simple, no such thing as mistakes, make it your own, one line at a time, enjoy the process... all that good stuff!

And since I am highly influenced by finding patterns in the world around me - her first chapter - "Blobs and Sidewalk Cracks" - makes me want to run outside with some chalk! I already can't walk to my mailbox without needing to make a note about how the tomato plant leaves might make a good tangle... now I will be overcome with an urge to turn my driveway cracks into sleeping elephants.

And, if you are hoping to learn how to make your creatures look more realistic, Carla covers that too. But she uses fun games and exercises to make it feel easy. It's not just about drawing animals though - Carla has projects using paint splatters, collage, fabric, even tape! All of these are ways to start your imaginary creatures.

My favorite part is Chapter 6 - "Junk Mail Creatures Book"! I took this class at Art & Soul, years ago and am still using what I learned. The book uses junk mail that overlaps in funny ways for the pages so a drawing on one page will peek through on another. The challenge is how to integrate the overlapping areas into new art. It's too hard to explain! I will go finds some pics of my own book...

(Art by Sandy Steen Bartholomew)

This is the first page (cover). The little bear is a small page in front, but it has to make sense with all the other parts of pages sticking out behind it.

(Art by Sandy Steen Bartholomew)

 Here's the second page - the envelope's windows still make sense here. The "fishbowl" is actually the clear window on a CD envelope. I found this exercise really challenging! But then, I tried too hard to create backgrounds and such. Using more imaginary creatures might have simplified it... I have to try this one again some time.

Another class I have taken with Carla is "Creatures on Wood" - Chapters 10 and 11 in this book. This exercise I found very soothing. Here are a few of my mini-masterpieces, not quite complete. Yes! Those ARE Lilah Beans in the middle! :-)

(Art by Sandy Steen Bartholomew)

If you ever get a chance to take a class with Carla - especially "live" - do it! Her teaching style is encouraging and supportive. She works hard to make techniques work for you and encourages you to infuse it all with your own style. You know how passionate I am about "making it your own"! I really have little patience for teachers who teach you how to create exactly the way they do.

The book itself is about 8.5" square (just the way I like it!) and laid out really nicely - easy to read with plenty of white space - and not too much text either. I like to see lots of images with step-by-steps. The text that is there is easy-going and funny. Galleries showcase images from other artists. It is nice to see how these projects are approached with different styles.

I don't tend to read the pages and pages of tiny text in most art books. Imaginary Animals breaks what text is there into differently styled chunks. I read the widely spaced commentary at the start of each chapter. I read the shaded boxes with tips. As I study the images, if I am curious to know more about the step-by-steps, then I can easily find the text that gives more details for those pictures. It's a pleasure to have an inspiring art book written for creatively impatient people like me!

(Extra note: Carla has another new book coming out in November: The Art of Silliness: A Creativity Book for Everyone. I took her online class version of this and it is exactly as the title says. What a hoot!!)


  1. Thanks for the nudge, Sandy! I've had this book in my 'wish list' anyway, since I have her Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists, but your review is going to be pushing me over the edge to buy it!

    See you at the CZT retreat!

  2. Wow! I just browsed Imaginary Animals on Amazon and immediately "got it". (And will "get it," too . . .)

    I've been combining Zentangle techniques with Paisley techniques and inspiration from my own photos of flowers. Now I will add imaginary animals to the list of things I draw.

    I alternate between realistic and fantasy (Zentangle) sketching and find that this process has sparked my imagination and improved my skills far more than sticking to one drawing technique or topic. Thanks Sandy for bring this book to our attention. I also hope you share with us the critters you're finding in your driveway . . .

  3. Hi Sandy... Carla is one of my favourite artists. I took her Imaginary Animals online class earlier this year, and I just received the book. I've been adding Zentangle patterns to some of my animals (you can see some here). Great fun!

  4. Aloha, Sandy! I've been hearing about this book. And now, after reading your review, I'm HOOKED! Mahalo for that!



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