After Mary Oliver

“My work is loving the world.”

So begins the poem Messenger, by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who died this week at the age of 83. Oliver delivered intimate observations of nature and deepened our understanding of life’s essence in few, choice words.

“Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums…”

And though there were no hummingbirds or sunflowers to be found here yesterday, I nevertheless felt compelled to walk down the starkly cold winter road in honor of Mary Oliver and to satisfy my own need to find what beauty might remain along the roadside.

“Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished…”

Standing still in 21-degree weather means mostly frozen fingers. Still, there is no substitute for being present; for being astonished by the cold; by wingbeats of geese overhead; by curled leaves of grasses waving in the wind.

Barnacles!

It’s not every day an editor needs illustrations of barnacles. It’s not every artist who could say, “Yes, I’ve drawn lots of barnacles.” So when an editor from PassageMaker Magazine contacted me so see if I might like to illustrate an article on barnacles and boats, how could I refuse? All those days I spent poking in low tide pools at the edge of the sea and sketching its inhabitants prepared me well for just such an assignment. It’s not every day that natural history, art, exploration, and financial reward come together for me in such a satisfying way. I’m really pleased that this turned out so well.


Barnacle study, 2011

Tips and Techniques– “Day after day, never fail to draw something which, however little it may be, will yet in the end be much,” advised Italian painter Cennino Cennini in 1390. Don’t wait for a grand subject for sketching practice. Look at the things around you and jump in. Even a lowly barnacle — small, ordinary, and ubiquitous — may prove more fascinating and beautiful than you realized.

Bird Words

Letterforms and birds are subjects that frequently turn up in my journals. At first, I simply matched bold words with their subjects, but more recently, I’ve tried to get birds to perch on letters. It’s not always easy to do. You’ve got to know a bit about the anatomy of bird feet, and find the right placement to support the bird and balance the page. Here’s a fun one that I did today— the lovely winter wren.

 

Here are a few sketches and paintings that give a sense of my progression with this over the years.

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Tips and Techniques– Don’t shy away from learning to draw birds’ feet. You know you’re guilty if you are prone to hide this part of a bird’s anatomy behind leaves and branches. A simple Google search for “bird feet anatomy” will turn up lots of good diagrams and drawings for you to study and practice. If you have an opportunity to look at bird skins or mounted birds at a nature center or museum, take the time to sketch  feet. It’s a sure way to improve your bird art.

Celebrating 3,000

When I started this blog in the spring of 2014, my goal was simply to share my artwork more widely. Nearly four years and 238 posts later, I’m thrilled that more than 3,000 people are now following. Keeping a blog is journey unto itself– I’ve met people I would never know otherwise, swapped stories and art tips, shared everyday experiences, and received much kindness from strangers around the world. Drawn In has also honed and focused my artwork, and motivated me to keep seeking, recording, and sharing the ordinary beauty around me. Many thanks to you for your interest in receiving my art in your inbox and for taking the time to offer your thoughts, praise, questions, and stories! Here’s to another spin around the sun and to a productive 2019!

Hour by Hour

After all the hustle and bustle and merriment of Christmas comes a bit of quiet– which always feels just right.

Tips and Techniques– Yesterday, I captured some of my final holiday preparations using a challenge I call “Hour by Hour.” The goal is to sketch something every hour of the day, but each sketch should take no more than three to five minutes. The time limit makes it doable, and although some of the sketches seem random in the moment, the end result really conveys a sense of the day. I sketched everything in pen and then added watercolor as time allowed. This is a fun challenge to try while traveling. I also recommend it if you struggle with what to sketch or with finding time to put pen to paper.

Tis the Season

It’s a busy time of year in my workshop. ‘Tis the season for making lists, and creating gifts and cards and tags. This leaves little time for personal artwork. Instead, I glued my To Do lists into my journal and, as you can see, this page reflects the rather messy state of my affairs. 

My favorite project each year is the Christmas letter I create for my former neighbor’s children. I have been sending them tales from the North Pole for several years; and though they are now at the age when believing in such magic is increasingly met with skepticism, I can’t let the Christmas spirit go. Here’s this year’s card—just a simple note, but one that I am happy to share with them, and with you at this festive time of year. Wishing you joy!

 

The Gift of Inspiration

I didn’t follow many blogs until I became a blogger myself, but over the last few years I’ve come to really appreciate the artwork and wisdom that arrives from bloggers to my inbox. Some of my favorites are artists who produce things that I couldn’t or wouldn’t do, but who, nonetheless, push me to think or see things in fresh ways. Because I found many of them through the network of fellow bloggers, I thought I’d share a few favorites with you.

A Certain Line– Michael Richard’s blog is a quirky mix of his artwork and informed musings about art. He frequently paints quince and other fruit in experimental and thought-provoking ways, which helps me to think about pushing the bounds of my own artwork.

The Sketchbook– Shari Blaukoph shares jaw-dropping watercolor sketches and paintings mostly of her home city of Montreal, but also of other places she travels. She takes watercolor sketching to the highest level in every way.

BlueBrightly– Lynn Wohlers appreciates the incredible world we live in and shares its beautiful details through her remarkable photographs and observations. It’s a treat to glimpse the world through Lynn’s lens.

Christopher Gallego– Realist painter and teacher Chris Gallego’s oil paintings are simple, direct, and stunning. I am equally inspired by his words of advice for artists (including topics such as “7 Tips to jolt you right out of your artistic rut” and “How to paint when it’s the last thing in the world you feel like doing”).

Annerose Georgeson mainly paints changes in the forest near her home in British Columbia, including logging, fires, farming and the pine beetles. I love the intensity of her acrylic paintings, her dedication to a single subject, and her daily drawings, which remind me of the value small sketches.

If you, too, feel inspired by blogs you follow, I encourage you to tell a friend or two– a bit of art always makes a nice gift.