“There is magic in the distance where the sea-line meets the sky.” Alfred Noyes
While in Maine recently, I had several opportunities to observe that magical place described by Noyes. When the light is just right, sea and sky merge. I’ve been playing with how to capture that on paper ever since.
A week on an island in Maine means only one thing: I’ve gone coastal. I shut off e-mail and social media, tune out news, turn off work, and I cram as much hiking, cycling, exploring, and, of course, painting as I can into seven highly cherished days. I live by the tides, stay up too late painting, wake up early to see the first light on the water, poke in tide pools, scour mudflats and rocky ledges for shorebirds, seek out new trails and vistas, dodge mosquitoes, and manage to come away both rejuvenated and exhausted. Here’s a peek inside my sketchbook…I’ll share a few more pieces in the coming days.
Click on any image to view larger in a slideshow.
“…Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…” – Mary Oliver, Messenger
I spent a recent rainy morning with two artist friends at Walker Farm in Brattleboro, Vermont. The sunflowers and peaches, carrots and tomatoes, and a riot of bright-colored petunias in the greenhouse were a painter’s dream. But somehow I found myself drawn to an old shed, where several bushels of onions caught the dim light. If you haven’t read Mary Oliver’s poem, Messenger, I recommend it in its entirety. This part about “mostly standing still and learning to be astonished” struck me as especially fitting for this particular moment — where something as ordinary as an onion becomes strikingly beautiful when we really look at it. What better work is there for an artist?
It is the season of abundance. Farm stands and farmer’s markets overflow with luscious color and variety. Gardens are ripening toward their fullest beauty. I am utterly drawn in.
Forgive me if you are a lover of cabbage. Aside from when it is disguised in coleslaw or egg rolls, I find cabbage hard to enjoy…except when painting it. Then the lovely blending of purples and greens and blues, of leaf shapes and of the spaces between them reveal the cabbage’s true beauty.
I got down on the ground for this perspective of pumpkin vines. So much happening at that level!
I painted these in my Stillman & Birn “Zeta” sketchbook and I really put it put the paper to the test. Zeta has 270 gsm smooth, white paper that is great for ink but sometimes tricky for very wet watercolor. The paint doesn’t merge in the paper, as it does with most cold press papers, but rather on the paper. I find that there is very little reworking that you can do while the paper is wet, but the paper holds up to lot’s of layers of washes. These were worked very wet to increasingly dry, light to dark.
How well do you know your watercolors? The response to that question at a recent workshop for sketchers led me to work with participants on a number of color tests. These experiments are really useful for seeing the full range of values that a single color offers. They also help you figure out simple color combinations (two or three colors) that work well together. Instead of doing a color chart with carefully controlled squares, I like to test colors more fluidly, doing graded one-color and two color washes. You can do this right in your sketchbook so that you have the reference with you, or use separate sheets of watercolor paper. Here are a couple pages to give you a sense of the great range of possibilities from just a few colors.
Test (Top left): raw sienna test with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and cobalt blue
Result: I rarely use raw sienna
Test (Bottom left): burnt sienna with phthalo blue and ultramarine blue
Result: great range of possibilities with ultramarine; I use this combination frequently
Test (Top Right): Burnt umber with ultramarine
Result: another winning combination
Test (Middle Right): Alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre
Result: I love the blue leaning combinations, especially for shadows
Test: I just bought two new blues—Indathrone and Indigo (Daniel Smith)—and wanted to try them with colors that I use frequently.
Result (Indigo, left): I was looking for ways to get some rich darks and this seems to do the trick. I suspect I’ll use it sparingly, but it’s nice.
Result (Indathrone, right): I especially like some of the greens and grays—a keeper!
This tree once stood on the shoreline of Hog Island in Maine, with a sweeping view of Muscongus Bay— not a bad place to raise successive generations of young birds. According to the US Forest Service, some 85 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, and swallows, nest in tree cavities. You might catch a glimpse of birds excavating a tree hole, or coming or going from one, but it’s rare, indeed, to see one from the inside. This old woodpecker hole was cut open after the tree fell, revealing the nest cavity inside. The sketch is much reduced from the real thing. The eggs of various birds that use nest cavities are painted actual size.
Click to view larger.
I cracked open a new sketchbook this week: blank pages stared back. Who knows what will become of them? Pieces of life, seasons, artistic experiments, birds, experiences, memories. It seems fitting then that my first page records a journey. These are quick sketches made while driving from Connecticut to Maine, pulled together with text about what I was listening to in the car.
I wasn’t really sure where the pages would go when I began. With each stop along the way, I added something more. Built over time, the page, like the book itself, is record of my journey. Here’s to what lies ahead!