The Right Brush

I’ve had a paint brush in my hand every day for the last few weeks. It just hasn’t been the kind of brush I most prefer. Still, I can’t complain: my to-do list has grown considerably shorter and our house is much improved. But now that this round of projects is complete, I am eager to get back to a regular routine of journaling and adventures with watercolor.

Tips and Techniques– Do you struggle with finding subject matter for your sketchbook? There are lots of online sketch challenges that provide daily suggestions, and they may be a good option for you. My preference, however, is to pick subjects that relate directly to what I’m doing or what’s happening around me…even if it’s old paint brushes. When you choose subjects that relate to your day-to-day experiences, your journal will reflect more of your life and tell more of a story about what you see and what is important to you.

 

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Flyover

A small but vocal flock of Canada geese flies over our house every day now. They emerge from the tree line, calling to one another and, it seems, to anyone who will listen. I know better, but still, I hear them implore: look up! The maples will not be golden for long.

Tips & Techniques– Painting birds in flight is challenging—and it takes practice. It helps to study the anatomy of the wing so that you understand its major feather groups. It’s also important to have a general sense of perspective so that you can begin to see how the plane of each wing moves and how they align together. Even then, it’s not easy. In addition to time in the field, watch videos to study flight in slow motion. I made several pencil sketches and marked the angles between wings, head, and tail to try to get the proportion and position right before starting this page.

The Naturalist Sketchbook

Workshop Opportunity!
I’m excited to be offering a one-day workshop hosted by the Maine Audubon Society this winter. Though its months away, it’s filling fast.

The Naturalist’s Sketchbook: Sketching Nature in Pencil, Pen, and Paint
February 3, 2018, 10am-4pm; Snow date February 10
Maine Audubon Society, Gilsland Farm, Falmouth, Maine
Maine Audubon Members: $68, Nonmembers: $85
Get inspired to explore the rich diversity of life around you in pencil, pen, and paint. This 6-hour workshop will help you prepare to sketch outdoors, cover drawing and watercolor painting techniques, and explore ways to capture a sense of place on paper. Whether you are looking for renewed inspiration, seeking to nurture your creative spark, or hoping to build your artistic skills, The Naturalist Sketchbook will set you on a journey of discovery that is much more than just an illustrated record of what you see. Sketch after sketch, year after year, you’ll cultivate a sense of wonder and deepen your understanding and appreciation of the world around you. Some experience with drawing is helpful, but instruction will be tailored to various skill levels. Materials suggestions provided upon registration, please bring lunch.
Limit 12 students. Age 16 and up.

Nest

I walked out and found the nest in the gravel driveway, not by the step as the poem says, but close enough.
Nest by Marianne Boruch

I walked out, and the nest
was already there by the step. Woven basket
of a saint
sent back to life as a bird
who proceeded to make
a mess of things. Wind
right through it, and any eggs
long vanished. But in my hand it was
intricate pleasure, even the thorny reeds
softened in the weave. And the fading
leaf mold, hardly
itself anymore, merely a trick
of light, if light
can be tricked. Deep in a life
is another life. I walked out, the nest
already by the step.

Poem copyright © 1996 by Marianne Boruch, whose most recent book of poetry is “Poems: New and Selected,” Oberlin College Press, 2004. 

The Final Journal

My mother kept written journals off and on for most of her adult life. At first, they were straightforward records of day-to-day happenings, holidays, and milestones. Later, she kept a journal she called The Joy Book, with entries about things for which she was grateful.

Last year, after decades of suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, my mother moved to a nursing home. Weighing a mere 70 pounds and with joints so deformed that she could no longer walk or hold a pen well enough to write, she surprised me one day by asking for a journal. Her plan was to keep it on her dresser so that visitors could sign it or leave a note about their visit. My sister bought her a hardbound Italian-made Fabriano Venezia Art Book with heavy weight creamy paper and paired it with a plastic Bic four-color pen. With these incongruous materials, the final journal began.

The entries are mostly brief and primarily from my six siblings and me, my mother’s sisters, and a few dear friends. Day after day, week after week, the entries are almost entirely mundane– a stroll outside, the status of her comfort, notes on the weather, things brought or taken, and references to lots of chocolate milkshakes. Occasionally, I’d take a minute to add a touch of artwork to enliven the pages.

My mother died this week at the age of 81. And as I read the pages of this nearly full book, I see that we wrote for her what she could not write herself. We wrote her final journal. It is a painful reflection on how terribly diminished and boring her days were, but likewise, it is a powerful reflection on caring, compassion, simple joys and pleasures, and the love and support of family…the very things that mattered most to her.

There are lessons here: about gratitude and determination, about the things we leave behind, and about saying what needs to be said long before final words are spoken or written. I’m grateful to have all that captured here, and a lot more, to carry forward.

Church’s View

Painter Frederic Church (1826-1900) designed every detail of his exotic Persian mansion and expansive surrounding landscape as works of art. Every view overlooking New York’s Hudson River Valley– from every window, door, and balcony– is carefully planned and framed. Every facet of the landscape, including woodlands, open fields, lake, and carriage roads were planned or planted to offer quiet scenes and sweeping vistas no less grand than Church’s spectacular canvases. Olana, as Church named the property, is one of his greatest masterpieces.

It’s also intimidating as hell to paint. In part, that’s because the sky and sweeping views are so vast, and the house—both inside and out—is so full of architectural details. But it’s also Church’s stature as one of the 19th century’s most preeminent American painters that makes it hard not feel small, even foolish, when attempting to paint his view. I took a half hour on Church’s front step to try anyway, and made several smaller sketches from photos later. I much prefer the small stuff, and plan to stick to my own backyard for a while.