Working With My Favorite Knife

Working With My Favorite Knife Carolina Elena gouache on board 9X12 2017


Working With My Favorite Knife 2017. gouache on board 9 x 12

Sorry folks, no time to write. I have been painting, but other responsibilities and the wicked flu, that has been going around, have prevented me from getting on the blog. I am not so sure about combining my painting blogging with my cooking blogging. I will figure it out. You can always find me on Instagram @carolina_elena_

Until next time,

breath easy.

oops! almost forgot - what's my favorite knife to work with in my kitchen? The Wüsthof Classic 7" Nikiri Knife. It makes me sing while chopping vegetables.




A friend, via Facebook, was intrigued by the gouache I used. I wrote a long response to her. I thought someone else might benefit from what I wrote, so I am copying it here, below. Hope it is useful to you.

Thank you Sheri, Sherri, & Lara. I appreciate your comments. Gouache is a medium that I, too, am intrigued by. My first few tries at it made me feel like it was under the guillotine - I am serious. It was the death of me. The first few tries at it where 100% flat and dead on arrival. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING worked. I came to the conclusion that it was a medium for illustrators, fabric designers, etc. and that it was the gouache paint, itself, that gave their designs that flat 70's look. It was not a medium for me. Then I saw the work of Mike Hernandez (I now follow him on Instagram) and I saw, for the first time, gouache with luminosity. I was stunned. I thought- " It is possible? I will just go to the source and take a 2 day workshop from the man and have him show me how the hell he did it." Easy, right? Not so fast, little grasshopper. The workshop, itself, was not that expensive, but after calculating costs for flights, hotels, rental car, meals, etc., it was out of the question. I was stuck with my flat results and "shelved" the gouache in a box... but I kept seeing this man's luminous work. Again... how the hell does he do that? It would not let go of my brain, then I saw the work of an illustrator called PixelPChan (I also follow him on Instagram.) His work actually looks almost pixelated... it was like a broken down Mike Hernandez gouache painting. This got me thinking on how to treat each brush stroke as an individual layer and make each answer the "call" to what I was seeing. Was the color just a color, what value was it that I was seeing? How to do that, and NO MORE, was the challenge I was facing. I had to let go of the "shape," or, rather, I had to let go of trying to paint the shape, and only paint the value in the hue I was seeing. This forced me to "sculpt" the shape into existence, but remain firmly entrenched in the goal that the value/hue had a higher priority in my attempt than the likeness. And so, I kept at it. The paint dries so fast, that it can be layered easily, just like watercolor, but since it is opaque, I can "correct & sculpt" as I go along. This was a negative when I first started working with it... now it is a positive. The fact the paint, in my palette, can dry to a crusty lump and be brought back to life with a spritz of water, is very forgiving- there is zero waste.

Gouache palette


The fact that I can paint on any piece of paper or board is a Godsend when I am concerned about how much money I spend. These past couple of paintings with gouache have been painted on canvas art board from Canson ( essentially a compressed paper board that is meant as a practice surface for oils or acrylics.)

Gouache materials

These boards come in a pad that I can either paint directly on and remove the top layer after I am done (as I do when I am painting plein air, or I remove a board and place it on my easel when painting a still life indoors.) I really like that one surface allows me to paint in any medium I want; it makes me feel like I am not wasting the material, it forgives me if I screw up and want to switch mediums. The gouache paint I use is like all gouache paint- a water-based medium that is opaque. This means that, like watercolor, you use water to mix colors with and for cleanup. The brands I can usually find are Windsor Newton (Designers gouache,) Holbein (Artists' gouache,) and M. Graham (Artists gouache.) All three of these brands, in my opinion, are interchangeable as far as quality goes. The reason I choose these three brands is the density of the actual pigment in each tube is high (think luscious color!) I use fairly short handled brushes with a synthetic fibers by Escoda (Versatíl.)

Gouache paint tubes and brushes


I have two flats (sizes 16 & 18 nearly identical in case I want to switch colors with out washing the brush) and a cat's tongue brush in size 16 that gives me a bit of a point, also from the same brand. I have to admit, though, that I bought the three brushes not really knowing which one I really needed, but find that I can paint an entire painting with only the 16 flat. Those sizes are a fairly large brush ratio to the board size, this keeps me from getting too precious about the shapes I am trying to paint. Talk about a weight savings when I am out there en plein air. So the canvas board pad, the 16 flat, an old plastic peanut butter jar with fresh water in it, a cheap plastic palette that comes with it's own cover, and a handful of paper towels... where the hell was this when I was spending $$$$ along my path of learning how to paint? Going forward, as I learn to paint, I get the fact that what I am really learning is how to compartmentalize each brush stroke into a layer of color and to use those layers of color to sculpt the object I am trying to portray. Sherri... I hope this helps. The lack of a bazillion pieces of equipment is beginner friendly. All you have to do is get past the fact that the guillotine phase is normal. I am not like Lara, who has a talent beyond talents, but I am sure she would attest that her skill has come from repetition and not inborn ability... that is the how it is with most painters. I feel like I am on my way to being a "club member," despite not having anyone show me how it is done. If you can afford to take the workshop, by all means DO IT, it will get you "there" that much faster. If, like me, the money or the flexibility to fly off somewhere to take a workshop, just "ain't happening" for you, don't let it deter you from figuring it out on your own. Face the damn fear, and realize that there is, actually, life after the guillotine. It only takes acceptance of the fact that failure is an integral part of mastering this thing we want to be able to do. Good luck. Let me know if you try it.

My gouache palette set up


and like I said before... breath easy.

Pear And Cranberry Crisp

Ingredients for pear & cranberry crisp 2016



Are you ready for something really yummy? As some of you (who follow me on Instagram) already know, I have been using my art supplies and working on pears lately. Pears are such a good subject to try and paint because they teach you the basics of form (i.e.. value.) The way light, whether natural or from a lightbulb, caresses those pears, lets you work on your painting skills at your own pace. Going at your own pace is critical to getting your head wrapped around the crazy thing you are doing - which is using mark making tools to fool your eye into believing that your two dimensional surface contains real three dimensional objects.

Well, the very same thing holds true when you are learning how to cook; you need to start with something foolproof. I chose pears, to work on for my progress in art for a reason - I have an AWESOME recipe for pear and cranberry crisp that will knock your socks off. Not only is it over-the-top delicious, but it could not be an easier recipe to pull off even if your cooking skills are at the absolute beginner stage. If you cook already, your kids could make this for you as long as they can handle working with a knife to peel the pears with.

Gather your ingredients and let the show begin! This recipe is so easy, and fast. Perfect for a chilly evening treat, and great timing in the fall or wintertime when both pears and cranberries are cheap and plentiful. You will need a package of cranberries. In the US, they come in a 12 oz. package at the supermarket; and one package is all you will need to make this dish. This time of year, you don't have to look far for them as most folks are busy making cranberry sauce for the holidays with them, but, soon, the cranberries that the market does not sell, will go into their freezer (look for them there if the fresh ones are gone from the produce section.) Once they are gone, that's it until next October or November. I buy a few bags and put them in my freezer until I need them. For this recipe, I don't thaw them. They go into the baking dish frozen rock solid... and the recipe works great. 

You are going to need 3 or 4 pears - get the bartlett pears. In the photo, below, they are the greenish yellow ones. The brown (Bosc) pears, in the back of the photo, are great for eating sliced with a good stilton cheese, but aren't the ones for this recipe. When you buy the pears, buy them green... they will turn a beautiful golden yellow in a few days time. If you want them to ripen faster, put them next to bananas on your counter. The bananas will cut the ripening time by a day or so.

Bartlett pears at the market 2016

Don't wait too long before you use them. Once the skin begins to feel leathery to the touch, the pear will be mealy and not good for eating. Your pears will be perfect when they are golden. As you can see from the very first photo in this post, a few of mine had a bit of blushing red going on. This just makes them worth painting, don't you think?

Once you have peeled your pears, slice them, avoiding the core which gets tossed out. These cut pieces of pear don't have to be all the same, or even bite-sized, as after baking they will give easily to the slightest pressure from your spoon. The roasting pan I used is roughly 8 x 13 inches. A cookie sheet won't do, as you need higher sides to hold it all in there in a good 2 inch layer. If you only have a bigger baking pan, you need to adjust the recipe to fill your larger pan. Mix the pears with the cranberries, and also add the juice of a lemon and the maple syrup. give it a slight mix with a spoon.

Mixing the cranberries with the pears for the crisp 2016

Then mix the oats and brown sugar with the the melted butter with a couple of tablespoons of all purpose flour:

Mixing the rest of the crisp ingredients 2016

Pile this oatmeal mixture on top of the pears and cranberries. You are almost done. The hardest part of cooking this recipe is remembering the next step: that is to put in a preheated oven set to bake at 400° fahrenheit for 10 minutes, THEN lower your oven to 350° and continue to bake for another 25 minutes. That is it. I have made this exact recipe at sea level, at 7000' above sea level, and several altitudes inbetween. It works... deliciously. If your having guests over, your biggest dilemma will be not dipping your spoon into it before they arrive.

Pear & cranberry crisp 2016

To print a copy of my recipe for this delicious dish, click on:

Download Pear & Cranberry Crisp

you are going to L-O-V-E it. I wish I could be in your kitchen to hear you swoon when you put a spoonful of the crisp into your mouth. YUM!

Here is my latest little painting:

Four Pears 2016 gouache on board, 8 x 10 Carolina Elena

Four Pears. 2016, 8 x 10 gouache on board

I painted it using gouache - an opaque water based paint that, like watercolor reactivates if, after drying, it gets touched with water. Acrylic paint, which is a water-based paint does not reactivate after it dries because it has so much plastic in it. I am new to gouache, but I am trying to figure it out. My hope is that I figure out how to layer colors well enough so that I can go out and paint en plain air with a minimum of stuff to schlep, yet still be opaque. The trick is getting your gouache to look luminous. Practice, practice, practice.

Let me know if you make the crisp... and if you shared it with anyone else!!

Until next time,

Carolina Elena


Three Pears To Help Slay The Dragon

So here I am... dealing with my demons, trying to paint. It is tough when you are just learning how to paint, when you have been away from your paints for a long time, or even when you paint every day, therefore you face a blank surface often.

Painting, or rather, getting better at painting is tough stuff and not for the faint at heart.

When I want to paint, here is what I do:

I start by procrastinating. I clean the house, start laundry, eat something, anything to avoid facing the drama of it all. It is the impending disappointment that is oh so reliable. I know it is coming. I think of it as a dragon. This dragon rears it's ugly head from behind me. It breaths fire onto my art surface before it is ready to be judged. I can sense the snickering going on as I begin to paint..."she thinks THAT is the right color to start with?"..." she really should have learned to draw as a child," and it goes on like that from there.

In an effort to keep the dragon quiet yesterday, I chose to work with pears. I find that working with a subject I know really well already, helps tame that silly dragon. Because pears are organic shapes, painting them, vs. a hard edged object, like a building, allows me a little more wiggle room. By painting pears, then, I can attempt to slay the dragon.

I start with a pencil sketch. This forces me to spend time looking at my subject. By not jumping right into paints, I get myself "in the zone" and am more able to detect the nuances of what I am painting. Three Pears 2016 Carolina Elena Palomino soft graphite on paper 8x6

Note how dirty my table gets. I just use my kneaded eraser directly on the table surface to clean up my mess.

Regardless, of the drawings I make before painting, it still almost impossible to quiet the voice of the dragon completely. As I paint, I try and recall the words of Ira Glass, below.



Thank you, Ira, from all of us. We need to hear that- again and again. Someday that dragon will know it's place and hang out in the corner until the painting is finished.

After sketching with my Palomino soft graphite pencil, I turned to my pastels. I like to work on a painting, from start to finish, in one sitting. It just works best that way for me. Below, you will see how I start. Since my drawing skills are sketchy (pardon the pun. I couldn't resist,) I tend to use my pastels, not as drawing tools so much, but rather like sculpting tools. I tend to work out the shapes as I go along. I work one plane, then another... stand back, adjust, stand back, adjust again, and I repeat this, over and over again, until the shape starts to emerge. I am sure there is a better way, but without lessons, this is what I found works best.


Here is the final painting:

Three Pears On A Tray, Carolina Elena 2016 16x20

Pears On A Tray, by Carolina Elena

pastel on sanded board 16 x 20"

Until next time,

Carolina Elena