Drawn In

Noticing

Sometimes, painting is about the obvious things: the beauty that’s right in front of you, bold colors, compelling light, big picture views. But more often for me, it’s about the things you might pass by: the subtle, the small, the imperfect. Learning to notice is more important than pencil, paper, or paint.

I had ample opportunities to sketch both bigger views and subtleties when in Maine recently. Which is more compelling to you?

Blue Mussels on a Rainy Day

October in Maine: a gift. As lovely and as simple as blue mussels on a rainy day. As steady as the ocean lapping on shore, loons calling their lonesome cry from the expanse of blue. As surprising as a pair of kingfishers rattling in flight across a cove. As beautiful as flames of crimson and gold maples and burnt sienna salt marsh hay glowing in the sun. Today, I send you the mussels. More gifts to come.

Finally Fall

The season of brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows is upon us here in the Northeast. While the changing foliage of trees steals the show, those same colors echoed in roadsides and fields are just as lovely. I’d better get painting– the season’s peak doesn’t last long. Step out and enjoy the colorful show while you can.  

Tips and Techniques– Don’t be intimidated by painting tiny flowers. They can be niggly, but keep in mind that you don’t have to draw every tiny shape and detail. Look at the overall structure of the plant and sketch enough detail to suggest it. Then paint the overall color loosely. You can go back in with a second wash to add a few details. The same is true for detailed leaves. You can sketch the main ones and then let your brush suggest the rest.

Not the Last Afterall

Whatever happened to posts about birds or flowers or trees? There will be more of those to come, I promise. But first, just a few more mushrooms which, as you will see, were worthy of paint. First, the pear-shaped puffball, whose smoky spores release when gently squeezed. And then the inconspicuous tannish-brown clitocybe. Who would have thought lavender gills would be hiding underneath that unassuming cap?

Tips and Techniques– Use your sketchbook to try a variety of artistic approaches. Part of what’s keeping me going on mushrooms week after week is not only the incredible variety, but also the challenge of finding new ways to paint them. The pale puffballs growing from leaf litter seemed perfectly suited to negative painting– a series of layers that move from loose to defined and light to dark. In contrast, the diagram on the right side of that page was simple and quick. The clitocybe and cortinarius page is my traditional pen and ink approach, which works well for fitting a lot of specimens on a page, noting key features, and trying to figure out what they are. I recently saw an artist who created a whole jumble of mushrooms on a page and I thought that would be fun…but maybe next year.

Coming up this week on 10/6: I’m looking forward to the second class in the DRAWN TO NATURE- SKETCHBOOK SERIES, Poetry of Nature at Winslow Art Center (via Zoom) 3-5PM Pacific Time, 6-8PM Eastern Time. REGISTER >

Until Next Year (maybe)

Okay. This is it! The last of the mushrooms for 2022. I don’t think I can paint any more, try to identify any more, read any more. I must clean my desk and turn a new page! But then, who knows, I haven’t gone outside yet today to see if anything new has come up.

Tips and Techniques– For this page, I thought it might be fun to try something different and just take a top down view of mushroom caps. This gave me a chance to look at patterns, texture, and composition, more than the previous pages of studying the whole mushroom.

Another way to capture an intriguing top down view is to make spore prints. Cut off the stem and place the cap on black paper (or white paper for dark spore mushrooms). The spores drop out, leaving a print. I used spray fixative to set and preserve the print.

Mushroom Time

After 48 hours of rain earlier this week: BOOM, it’s mushroom time. I’ve been cataloging mushrooms in our yard for several years (2018, 2020, 2021, 2021) and I am constantly amazed by the number and variety that appear. Most come up under a small grove of oaks along our driveway, but a few show up in the lawn, or in piles of mulch.

Mushrooms are the fruiting body of a much larger network of underground thread-like filaments called mycelium. This network is either breaking down and recycling dead stuff, feeding on weakened organisms, or contributing to growth of plants in exchange for carbon. Nearly 90 percent of all plants have a symbiotic fungal root partner!

Identifying mushrooms is a bear. There are several thousand species in northeastern North America, with lots of look-alikes. Sometimes it takes a microscope to make a positive ID. So mostly, I just paint them and take notes.

My desk is a wreck. There are trays of mushrooms both whole and cut open, spore prints, magnifiers, rulers, field guides, paints, and brushes. But now that I’ve started, I can’t stop. And there are more coming up every day, with more rain in the forecast. Look around where you live and a take a closer look at the mushrooms that come up there. See how many different ones you can find. But beware: you may soon get hooked too!

Coming up! I’ve got both online and in person workshops this month…check the workshops page for details.

In the Shoal

The thrill of being at the beach is not only experiencing the ocean, it’s also about never knowing what you might find. While treasure hunting last weekend on the south coast of Massachusetts, I was hoping for perfect shells or shorebirds, but instead found beautiful purple and silver colored fish recently washed up on shore. The fish were small and not long dead, one here, two there, all told, about ten as we made our way along the beach. Later, while swimming nearby, huge shoals of these same fish moved all about us, jumping above the surface, tumbling in the surf, slicing through the warm, shallow water. Gulls were having a field day. Beachgoers were both delighted and unnerved. We had never experienced anything like it.

Back at home, I did some research to identify the species and confirmed my hunch with a Massachusetts’ fisheries biologist. These were juvenile Atlantic menhaden, a common forage fish that is a valuable part of the ocean food chain. Menhaden dine on plankton and provide a hearty meal for larger fish, mammals, and seabirds. This second page is not of menhaden, but rather hundreds of much smaller fish that we saw in a small tidal stream. I painted them on the spot, trying to capture their movement, as they swirled and circled together like a single organism.

Tips and Techniques– Fish are a perfect subject to paint with watercolor. Each time you look at them, there are more and more layers of overlapping color. I started by using masking fluid to save some whites and then I painted the lightest colors wet-in-wet. Once dry, I added successive layers of additional colors, adjusting values and using loose brush strokes to keep the layers lively. I don’t have the opportunity to paint fish often, but if you do, I recommend giving it a try.

Vegetable Explosion

It’s the season of abundance! Farm stands, farmers markets, and gardens are at their peak– full of rich color, variety, and freshness the likes of which no supermarket can match. It’s time to celebrate! Pick your favorite vegetable and you are likely to find it feted somewhere: there are OkraFests, GarlicFests, Potato Festivals, even a Butterbean Festival in Alabama, a Great Northern Squashfest in Wisconsin, and an Eggplant Festival in California—every veggie, it seems, gets its due. My personal favorite was a family celebration held each August called Corn Sunday, a gathering of my distant cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents where everyone rolled corn-on-the-cob in mounds of butter and ate as many ears as they liked, along with an unhealthy helping of corn chips, hot dogs, hamburgers, and my Great Aunt Rose’s baked beans. This page celebrates the season with produce from my garden and local farm stands. Enjoy!

Tips and Techniques– Keep your colors fresh! I painted this mainly by mixing just three primary colors: ultramarine blue, nickel azo yellow, and alizarin crimson. I also needed a warmer red for the tomatoes and used quin magenta, which mixed well with the yellow. Using bright primary colors will give you a full range of hues and values. Cleaning your palette and brushes frequently and changing your water when its murky will also keep your colors from getting muddy.

CHECK IT OUT: I’ve added a new lineup of workshops for the fall.

Of Maps and Meaning

Maps convey both a sense of place and the experience and agenda of their maker. This map commemorates my trip to Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine this summer for the Arts and Birding workshop. It’s one thing to have your daily schedule or itinerary on a piece of paper; quite another to illustrate it and imbue it with additional meaning and memory: puffins flying overhead, the sound of the sea gently lapping on shore, moss carpeted forests of spruce and fir, winter wrens trilling their song in the silence. I hope you are enjoying summer and making good memories of your own.

p.s. Registration for 2023 Hog Island programs is expected to open in October. Registration for the final session of Savoring Summer Sketchbook Series at Winslow Art Center on August 23 (virtual session) is open now.

Many thanks for all the kind wishes of good health to my husband last week! He’s doing great!

The Things We Take for Granted

The gallbladder— like so many things— is something you can take for granted and forget about, as long as it is functioning properly. Frankly, I hadn’t given it a moment’s notice since high school biology…until this week, when my husband urgently needed to have his removed. Suddenly, I needed to know where it was, what it does, and what happens when you don’t have one. So, naturally, I drew it. Fortunately, it seems that this little organ is something that many people live without and don’t miss at all. Alas, I am sharing my findings on the gallbladder with you this week. And now you can go back to ignoring it, happily, once again.

Tips and Techniques– 1. Don’t let a crisis go to waste. Making this page was not only an excellent way for me to learn something, but it also gave me some restorative art time amidst many hours in the hospital. 2. If you are experiencing abdominal distress, fever, and extreme fatigue, see your doctor– you may have a problem with your gallbladder. 3. If a surgeon shows you photos of your spouse’s gallbladder taken during surgery, whip out your sketchbook to show that you’ve done your homework and know where the gallbladder is! 

p.s., My husband is doing fine, though his gallbladder most definitely was not.