Gazzam Lake Panda turns 10 — a continual work in progress

Gazzam Lake Panda 2019

I originally painted the panda mural in 2010 to cover up offensive graffiti on the Gazzam Lake water tower. Although I was concerned about making “unsanctioned” public art, I felt someone needed to take action to improve the look of the water tower, which was such an eyesore on an otherwise beautiful wooded walk.

Panda 2010

The original inspiration for the mural came from an online game of photoshop tennis I was playing over email with an artist in the UK, screen name “Bugdozer”. He and I met doing photoshop contests on and posting altered pictures back and forth was a common pastime amongst the fark photoshoppers. I had wanted for a while to move Bugdozer’s and my game from the digital into the real world and I saw the opportunity while also performing an act of artistic community service. Besides creating a cheery image for people of all ages to enjoy at Gazzam Lake, the mural has had other great results, including that Bugdozer and I were married in 2012!

There is always a risk with street art that it will be negatively-altered or suddenly gone. I painted a mural in Birmingham UK a few years ago that I absolutely loved that was covered over with a giant tag. It really depressed me and after that, I decided unless there’s an art emergency, I’m not doing more street art. (I decided since writing this blog post that my mural being painted over does constitute an art emergency and I will remedy the situation as soon as I am able when I’m back in the UK, please stay tuned for a follow-up…)

There have been various alterations and additions to the panda over the years. Someone added a quick sharpie marker mustache to the panda ala Duchamp’s Mona Lisa, which I found extremely funny. That faded away over time and most of my original “extras” around the periphery were painted over. I view the situation as a collaboration and continual work in progress I’ve had to touch up the panda over time, between offensive graffiti and the elements. It was defaced at least three times with red spray paint saying Trump. Other people have come and touched it up, so there are a lot of layers and I try to leave what I can of other people’s work if it adds to the piece and I always try to improve.

Sept, 2016 – Off-white belly paint by a good Samaratin is covering a Trump graffiti.

At one point, someone painted completely over the Bugdozer and about half the panda’s body with black paint, maybe to cover a trump graffiti. Luckily, I was on Bainbridge Island at the time because if I hadn’t acted quickly to restore it, the panda might have been gone for good.

I was able to touch up the face, roughly restore most of the body and add a crystal ball place-holder where the bugdozer had been before I flew home to the UK, where I had several months to think about what changes might be made.

The panda and the bug are best friends, so it was important that the bug return. The original ‘dozer had a small, sparkling pink ball in it’s shovel which has now magically grown to replace the machinery. If one looks closely, the pink dots can be seen to spread out and around the water tower. I did my best to respond to what other people have done on or near the panda and relate to the art around it. I have some more ideas that will have to wait for warmer, dryer weather next spring, so stay tuned!

Whenever I discuss street art and graffiti with anyone, especially young people, I believe it’s important to differentiate between positive street art that is creative and improves an area and negative vandalism that damages or destroys an area. One should never paint over nature, over pristine brick or rock or in a way that makes a place less beautiful. Only improve.

Current Artists I’m learning from

I've been learning to paint from classes, workshops and tutorials in person and online from the following artists and I recommend them all!


I love Prof. Lieu's videos!  So incredibly helpful, well done and so many interesting topics.

Art Prof: Create & Critique You Tube Channel


Inspiration & Perception 6-week online video course and the Hermit & Introvert's club.


Online courses & Threads online artists' community -- business of art, color mixing, painting and studio skills.


Online tutorials on creativity and abstraction


water glass painting tutorial



online oil painting and studio practices tutorials


Rose Painting Workshop, Lyme Art Association, Old Lyme, CT


Oil painting basics, 6-week course, Winslow Art Center, Bainbridge Island, WA


Birds and Blooms collage workshop, Winslow Art Center, Bainbridge Island, WA

To project or not to project – thoughts on the camera lucida and other projectors

Kato (work in progress) oil on canvas, 5x7 inches

I'm driving myself a bit crazy stressing over whether it's ok or not ok to use a projector.

I've had on my mind for a while to paint some portraits of my pop culture icons, including Bruce Lee as Kato using a freeze frame I selected from an episode of Green Hornet as a reference. I drew his face over and over, upside down and right side up from the photo, with and without a grid and it looked honestly, well, crap.  The fact is, I can't be as accurate as I want with the likeness without the help of a lightbox, projector, tracing with carbon paper underneath or a camera lucida.

I could give up and say well, I'll just not do it.  I could print my reference picture out on my ink jet printer and use carbon paper to get the outline on canvas, but the carbon can smear and mess up the painting.  Plus, I am constantly having to buy ink for the printer.  I saw an ad on instagram for the Lucy camera lucida and did some research, with an amazon reviewer saying I could get a similar result from a $5 iPhone app, so I decided to give the app a go.

It is easy to use for 5" x7" paintings like this one.  I'm happy with the accuracy of what I was able to make, but the painting looks a bit stiff and I consider it an underpainting because it needs more "painterliness". I used the app to do the outlines in pencil (see pic above left) and then used the posterize greyscale feature to help me see the values.  It took me pretty much a whole day to get this much done.  I used only three colors -- titanium white, ivory black and a mid grey from the 12 shades of grey line.

I've used the lucida also to practice some water glass and toilet paper paintings.  I'm super happy with the realism of the lucida assisted paintings, however I can feel trapped by the lines and afraid to violate them because I didn't find them on my own in the first place.  That said, being afraid to violate the good bits of a non-outlined-first painting is also a problem for me.

used projector to nail ellipses

I do feel guilty and like I'm cheating to get direct photo assistance with the rim of the glass and water line or exact location of the cardboard tube and shape of the roll and feel  I should disclose the use of the lucida when I post on IG, just like when i use a photoshop hashtag to indicate I've significantly altered a painting with photoshop.

I also worry about a stigma or scorn of anti-lucida people and I don't seem to be the only one because there are only 3,500 posts out of 10 million art posts that are tagged #cameralucida and I'm pretty certain a lot of people use it or projectors or tracing photos for realist art.

My goal is to make more better art, which includes drawing better, to express beautifully the points i want to get across.  I believe just drawing every day, painting every day, lucida or no, is helping my drawing. I will still need to use a projector for accurate portraits at my current skill level if that's what I feel motivated to paint.  I totally want to do some bike parts next and they are very geometric.  I have a drafting background and love the precision of scientific drawing and vintage technical engravings, but I also want to find the path to more  expression.

What happens in future layering on Kato will show if I can, to my satisfaction, use lucida for accuracy but then find a way to break out of the outline box...

What do you think about your own use of a projector?  Has it helped or hurt your art or artistic development?  Should the process be disclosed if one uses (their own or open source) photo references directly (tracing outlines)?