A moment in the shade

After a hectic week in which I did no artwork, it was a pleasure to pick up my pen and paints and sit under two old maple trees to sketch wild columbine growing in the shade. The nodding delicate flowers, like tiny silent bells, are a welcome sight in spring woodlands and gardens. The flowers attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and hawkmoths to feed on their nectar, while the leaves serve as a host plant and food source for the eggs and caterpillars of the duskywing butterfly. A child could well imagine fairies dancing among this spring beauty in the May woods.

Tips and Techniques– I’m often asked whether I use a water brush (a plastic brush that holds water in its handle) for field sketching. These brushes can be especially handy when space is tight or when you don’t want to carry extra supplies, but I find it hard to control the water to paint ratio and get the precise results I’m looking for. I used a water brush to paint this columbine but yearned for my regular brushes to capture some of the details. Once I had 90-percent of the painting done, I returned home to finish, using my regular brushes for a few additional details on the flowers and for the duskywing and hummingbird.

Keep in mind that you have many tools in your toolbox—use what you have on hand and what’s right for your working conditions, paper, time, and subject. Don’t be afraid to refine at home if needed to complete a field sketch.

After seven years and nearly 400 posts, I decided it was time to give my website a refresh. I hope you like the new look and I welcome your comments or suggestions. Check your calendar– I also have a few new workshops coming up.

18 Comments on “A moment in the shade

  1. I detest water brushes! Their super springy nylon bristles irritate me but I persist, as they are soooo convenient. I use a terry cloth sweatband on my left wrist (I’m right handed) to absorb that sometimes uncontrollable water. Love your blog. Keep it up.

    (BTW my maiden name was Mackay pronounced “Mac eye” that is rhyming with the orb out of which we see. I had a great aunt Jean Mackay.)

    Regards, Mary (Molly) Harvey


    • Hi Mary- I’m not quite to “detest” but waterbrushes can be irritating. Some people use them all the time, but I just don’t enjoy the feel of them in my hand. They do the trick sometimes though. I have a cut sock wristband, too. Interesting that you had a great aunt Jean Mackay. We pronounce “Mackay,” rhymes with “day.” Maybe you’re more Scottish. Thanks for writing! — Jean

  2. Gorgeous sketching across your pages! 👏👏🥰🎨

  3. Columbines look so fragile yet I’ve seen them withstand some pretty hefty wind. I have these wild ones popping up everywhere in my yard. And the hummers love them. Yours are so pretty. And thanks for the tips. I find waterbrushes challenging but still use them occasionally.

    • I hope this plant spreads in my shade garden. It seems like a perfect place for it. I’ve seen them growing out of rocks and in some surprisingly wild places. I’ll keep struggling with the waterbrush right along with you.

  4. Hi Jean, I have already put this in the Workshops section of your website, thinking I was answering this blog post. ha ha. I have just registered for the Tapping Audubon’s Passion. Thanks for letting us know about it. I will also be visiting the Currier website regularly from now on; lots of other interesting things there too. See you in August!

    • Great! Thanks for letting me know. The Currier Museum hasn’t started to promote this yet, so you may be first to sign up. I’m excited about the class and the programming at the Currier. See you in August!

  5. So inspirational!!! Thanks so much! I finally have a garden of my own to sit in and can’t wait to get started. Again, Thanks so much!!!

    • Enjoy your garden Pegi! I love being able to step out my door and find something to paint all summer long. I’m eying some big poppies now that will bloom in June.

  6. Beautiful pages. Excellent tips.
    My columbine will be out soon, which is a thrill because I’ve never been able to grow it until a few years ago.👍🏻

    • I hope my takes hold and spreads. I was glad to find a plant at a nursery early this spring. It’s looking good now. Enjoy yours when it blooms. It’s not the easiest flower to sketch– there a lot of complexity to those tiny flowers, as I’m sure you’ll see if you give it a go.

  7. I always enjoy your posts. Thank you for your generosity. Also – your updated website is beautiful. Your hard work on this and a great designer to bring your vision to life have resulted in a beautiful online home for you!

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