Ripe red strawberries, delicately patterned china cups, and a spread of sweets and small sandwiches fit for a queen. The table could not have been better set for a meeting of sketchers eager for camaraderie and a few hours of painting.
Out of the winter…out of my life…these hours spent in focused creativity stand starkly against the backdrop of my mother’s move this week to a nursing home. She—no longer able to hang on in her home in New York; me—sketching tea in Connecticut. Inexcusably incongruous…but there it is: a daughter’s respite and sadness contained in a few strokes of paint and bitter lemon. Sweet sorrow.
Sketching at a museum is a pretty fun thing to do—especially when the collection is as rich as the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The place is a treasure trove: birds, gems, butterflies, objects from native cultures, and fossils of all kinds—from giant dinosaurs to tiny ancient plants. I decided to try two very different approaches to painting on a recent visit. See what you think…Inspired by museum sketches of Canadian artists Marc Taro Holmes and Shari Blaukopf, I jumped in with watercolor to sketch the ancient fish Xiphactinus audax. I used burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to float color from head to tail. It was important to keep the paint wet to facilitate the flow and enable the colors to bleed into each other. I added the text back at home to complete the page.
For the Sea Lily, I made a very detailed sketch directly in ink before painting. The arms and cirri are made of many small plates of calcium carbonate so I had to decide whether the draw them all or just suggest them. The museum specimen was bleached white, but living crinoids are quite varied, so I took some liberty with color. In the end, I wish I had kept it simpler, using only earth tones, to give it a more ancient look, though the blue is fitting for a creature of the sea.
There’s not much to say about this one, except that sometimes drawing ordinary, everyday things ends up being very good to do.
Click to view larger.
I once lived in the shadow of the Helderberg Escarpment—a great sweep of limestone cliffs and slopes that rise west of Albany, New York. I hiked its trails, crawled inside its caves, rode my bike along its base, felt the fierceness of its winter winds, and ate the fruit of farms and orchards that spread out in the valley below. Needless-to-say, I miss it.
This page was inspired by my affection for the Helderberg landscape and a photo taken from a high altitude balloon. The balloon was launched last June by my son’s high school physics class, but due to GPS failure was retrieved only last week when landowners 25 miles away discovered the payload hung up in their woodlot. They contacted the school and reunited students– now in college and quite dispersed themselves– with the results of their grand experiment. And so, a beautiful ending.
I probably shouldn’t have mentioned to the farmer that I was selecting carrots for “artistic purposes” when considering the most colorful and interesting bunch at the farmers market. But I thought it might be a compliment. Instead, I got a thinly veiled, perturbed look that suggested she hadn’t toiled all season long for me to paint her carrots. I dug myself in deeper trouble when I asked for advice on prolonging the freshness of the greens. I saw the eyes roll and quickly agreed to paint soon or refrigerate. Alas, I think this bunch was well worth the effort to grow and paint.
A note about colorful carrots: Carrots trace their roots to Afghanistan, where cultivation is believed to have begun sometime before the 900s. A diversity of colors was the norm as carrot cultivation spread to Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until the 1500s when the Dutch selectively bred and then popularized the orange carrot. Visit the virtual World Carrot Museum for tons of information, including a gallery of carrots in fine art.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” – Rachel Carson
Thanks for joining me in the art of exploration throughout the year. Here’s to finding great places to explore, mysteries to probe, beauty to behold, and the company of others to share it with in 2016!