November Birches

Like many artists, I want my paintings to turn out well. But that typically means that I sacrifice experimentation for tried and true techniques. Risk vs. Return. At some point, though, I start to feel stale and uninspired, and then I know that it’s time to change the line up and go for risk. Such was the case with painting these birches.Birches_November

Here, I cast off my usual careful drawing and painting style and tested a variety of watercolor techniques. To achieve background depth, I built up layers of color behind the birches and used plastic wrap and masking fluid to add texture and variety. Here’s what I learned:

  • It’s time to buy new masking fluid when there’s a glob of congealed goop in the bottle.
  • Good paper makes a big difference! This is Fabriano soft press 140lb watercolor paper. The layers of paint went on beautifully.
  • I like precise drawing – and it would have made for better results here. But a less careful drawing freed me to experiment more with painting techniques.
  • Once is not enough…but it’s a start.

The Art of the Croissant

Pastries and painting—what could be better?! I recently enjoyed a lengthy watercolor session with fellow artist friends, one of whom is also a master pastry chef. Making croissants, I learned, is a two-day affair of rolling, layering, folding, and chilling dough—an  art in itself, which seemed fitting to commemorate on the page.
Fit for a queen, Marie Antoinette is credited with introducing the Austrian kipferl , a crescent-shaped pastry that originated in Austria, to France around 1770. French pastry chefs jazzed the simple crescent to create the croissants we know and love.

Winter Wren

Small in stature, but with an exuberant song that makes up for it, the winter wren is more frequently heard than seen. The song always surprises me— warbled and sweet, it goes on and on, ringing through deep, moist northern forests in Maine where I hear it each summer*.
I went to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven for a reference for the winter wren. On display in its ornithology collection are five species of North American wrens. None is very large, but the winter wren is astoundingly tiny— only about 3-4 inches (8 cm). I much prefer drawing and painting from specimens than photographs, as there is much finer detail to see in the feather pattern and color. I also watched a couple of videos of winter wrens and looked at different images of the bird, so that I had more than a single reference for the final piece.Winter Wren_Journal
I did the studies in my Stillman & Birn Beta watercolor journal; the final painting is on Arches 300lb cold pressed paper, which is a superior quality paper that allows you to build up many layers of paint. I took a couple of photos of the painting in progress to give you a sense of how the bird took shape:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*ARTS AND BIRDING, 2016, Registration Open!
Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine
You can hear the beautiful song of the winter wren, along with the calls of puffins, terns, gulls, and the gentle lapping of waves on rocky shore during Arts and Birding, 2016. I’m heading up a 5-day session for artists and photographers July 10-15, 2016. Get details on my Workshop page or on the Hog Island website.

My Mother’s Essentials

M&Ms, Diet Coke, butter, and a pharmacy of prescription drugs keep my mother going these days. But after drawing her kitchen table while doing an overnight shift to care for her this week, I quickly realized that my drawing would be incomplete without the addition of the other essentials that keep her alive. In spite of physical decline and hardship, her 70-pound, arthritis-riddled body is no match for her indomitable spirit and force of will.

My Mothers Essentials

Drawn with Micron 02 and 005 black pens, watercolor in Stillman & Birn “Beta” sketch journal. Click to view larger

Admittedly, it’s strange to share a page like this one. But it’s also the honest reflection of my life at the moment, which is what I like to capture in my journal. And hopefully, my mom won’t mind too much…

Moods of Autumn

I met Connecticut artist Jan Blencowe last week and we headed to Hammonassett Beach State Park to sketch together. The Connecticut coast is on the Long Island Sound, rather than directly on the Atlantic, so there is no surf. Instead, stretches of quiet beach and boulders dropped by glaciers some 17,000 years ago line the coast. Hammonassett also preserves 460 acres of salt marsh and that’s where we headed to try to capture the color and mood of Autumn.


click to view larger

The day was bright, but windy and cool. After sketching the salt marsh for awhile, I retreated from the wind into an upland area of oaks and, sheltered behind a boulder, I did some quick and admittedly sloppy sketches of leaves directly in ink. Back at home, I added color, keeping the washes loose to mirror the quality of the sketches. At that point, the page looked rough and unfocused and, disappointed, I set it aside. Several days later, in a fit of frustration over something I couldn’t find, I decided to use the page to record things I had discarded in my recent move to Connecticut that I wish I’d kept. That gave the page the focus it needed. It also helped me see how small and insignificant those things really were. And like so many leaves in the wind, I let them go.


click to view larger