OK, I admit it…I’m a dragonfly geek. While most people enjoy a boat ride or swim at my mother’s summer cottage, I’m often out rowing around in the hot, mucky backwater shallows in search of dragonflies. Sketching them is a highlight of my summer.
Dragonflies are exceptional flyers, which makes it particularly challenging to identify and sketch them in the field. But, like birds, dragonflies perch for short periods, often returning to the same spot between patrols. Some species perch longer than others and the position in which they perch– horizontal, at an angle, teed up, or straight down—is distinctive for each species…which helps with identification.
I got lucky last weekend when I rowed out in the late day sun in search of dragonflies. A number of Spotted Spreadwings—a new sighting for me– were perched at the water’s edge, hanging from willow leaves or small twigs. Spreadwings are more delicate than other types of dragonflies, and finding one feels like discovering a small jewel in the weedy margins of an August pond.
I also was treated to a fast flyby of a remarkably bright green and black female Eastern Pondhawk. A beauty!
I love the sheer mass of this old cottonwood, towering above younger trees in my neighbor’s abandoned field. Less than a year ago, its hollow trunk still supported most of its aging, weighty limbs. But summer storms recently brought a good portion of the giant to the ground.
At first sight, I was struck by its brokenness in the late day sunlight. Only later, I realized my shortsightedness. Trees, like people, can weather many storms—their character often enhanced by years and trials. Sending greenery skyward, they go on living—aged and scarred, but resilient.
Sketched on location in ink; watercolor wash and text added later.
Hail to the urban sketchers! I don’t know how they do it.
I recently spent three days in Montreal and was eager to try my hand at sketching buildings and cafes and street scenes. Instead, I found myself challenged at every turn. With so much going on—so many people and so much activity—I hardly knew where to begin. My family had a full schedule of activities, and I thought I’d just sketch along the way, but that proved harder than I anticipated. I stole five minutes here and there—a pause while hiking, a moment before lunch, a few minutes at museums. The result, as you see, is a fairly random mix.
And so, I wonder, what’s the secret to urban sketching? No fuss? Work fast? Travel alone? Sketch anything? Sketch everywhere? Dedicate time? Or, perhaps, just stick with a camera next time!
In the interest of speed, I jettisoned my paints on the second day, in favor of a fountain pen and water brush. Both of these pages took less than 10 minutes and I added the colored background later.
I was fortunate to grow up with a grandmother who I adored. Though she took up painting in her later years, what she did best was nurture other people’s talents. She praised accomplishments, encouraged her grandchildren to explore the world, find things we liked, and pursue them.
When I was thirteen, she enrolled me in a plein air painting class. Everyone else in it was grown up. I painted a willow tree, struggling to see the red my instructor wanted me to add to the green leaves. My finished painting was not good, but it didn’t matter. My grandmother had planted a seed. She believed in me as an artist.
Now all these years later, I look at the August moon and she is back with me…looking up and out into that vast universe of possibilities, and encouraging me still.
(Watercolor, Stillman & Birn Beta 5.5 x 8.5”)
Farmers markets are an extravagant display of color and form at this time of year– the sheer abundance of summer’s harvest is astonishing! I went last weekend in search of both culinary and artistic treasures, and found a wealth of choices. Though tempted by the deep red-purple of beets and onions, I set those aside knowing that they would keep until winter. Instead, I selected some of August’s finest– ripe tomatoes, succulent apricots, and several varieties of the year’s first apples.
Fortunately, my family is well trained– they know not to delve in until the painting is done. But with this page complete, we can begin to enjoy one of the season’s simple pleasures.
(Watercolor and ink, Stillman & Birn- Beta journal)