Trumpeting Summer

A row of trumpet vines stretched along the old wall, forming a thick hedge of green and orange on the side of the road. I love the blossoms’ long tubular shape; a perfect fit for a hummingbird’s slender bill. I didn’t have a lot of time, but how could I pass them up? Like summer and hummingbirds, these blooms are fleeting.

Tips and Techniques– When doing a sketch or painting in my journal, I may only get as far as the drawing or a beginning layer of paint before time runs out. Such was the case with this, and after a week, I’ve only just managed to finish it. Good thing—I have several unfinished pages that are on the verge of going nowhere if I don’t get back to them. Do you find that If you wait too long, you lose interest or momentum, or just move on to something else? Lesson learned: start and finish before the moment gets away from you.

Basil Time

When the basil in our garden comes into full force, it’s time to make pesto and caprese salad and fresh tomato pie. But first, it’s time to sketch. I wanted to try something different here to bring out the shapes, patterns, and summer colors of the basil. And now, to the kitchen!

(Click to view larger)
Tips and Techniques
– Sorry I didn’t take a photo of the initial pencil sketch and first layer of wet in wet wash. But this shows the progression thereafter of painting mainly the negative spaces between the plants and adding additional shapes to suggest layers of basil in the garden. I find this technique especially useful for foliage. Deciding when to stop is sometimes difficult…I probably could have stopped at the second image, but I wanted to see what would happen if I pushed the darks. 

The Big Reveal

Big news! I’m thrilled to share that I have a book coming out in November, The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook. The book is primarily intended for young people (9+) and aspires to help them look more closely at nature and capture what they discover with pencil, pen, and paint. I hope it invites kids to begin a lifelong journey of exploration and creative expression with ideas, tips, and plenty of space to draw.

This book has been a year in the making and it’s exciting to see it all come together from concept to completion. I deeply appreciate several fantastic early reviews from educators, nature journalers, and artists, including Cathy Johnson and John Muir Laws.

THE LAUNCH
In the next few months, I’ll give you a sneak peek inside The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook. I am also putting together a “launch team” to help me spread the word about the book. I would love you to be part of it. Here’s what’s involved:

Starting in mid-September, I’ll provide the launch team with a social media post once a month to share on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. If you are a blogger and would like to write a review, I can provide you with an advance copy. Once the book is available, I’ll be looking for people to write a brief review on Amazon. Reviews are key to having the search engine drive traffic to the book.

If you are interested in joining the launch team, let me know in the Comments section below. And, of course, I welcome you to buy a copy of The Nature Explorer’s Sketchbook for the special young people in your life—or for yourself—when it comes out November 1.

The book is being published by Tumblehome Books, a small publisher with a big mission: inspiring kids to think critically, love learning, and become fascinated by science. It will also be available at Independent Booksellers and Amazon.

ONLINE CLASS NOTICE! The Artist Sketchbook, Tuesdays, August 18, 25, Sept. 1, 8
6-8pm Eastern / 3-5pm Pacific; Offered by the Winslow Art Center, Bainbridge Island, WA
Registration opens later today, 7/26.

Lessons from an Onion

Sometimes simple things teach us a lot. In this case, the lowly onion had much to say. I used it as a subject for my online class, The Artist’s Sketchbook, which I started teaching last week.

Lessons from an Onion
1. Pay attention to basic ingredients: lines, shapes, and values.
2. Don’t overlook commonplace subjects. The most beautiful is not always the most interesting.
3. Add layers. Layering transparent color adds depth.

Here’s the progression from start to finish. You can see how adding layers of watercolor and values from light to dark makes all the difference in bringing the loose lines and shapes of the initial drawing to life.

Note: The Artist Sketchbook, which runs through August 3, is currently full. Watch for future course announcements here or contact the Winslow Art Center.

In and Out of the Garden

When it’s 80-degrees with 90-percent humidity, sketching outside—or doing much of anything outside—is not easy. But flowers in full bloom don’t wait for ideal weather and I figured I shouldn’t either. Pen and sketchbook in hand, I found myself quickly wilted among the daisies. So, my afternoon became a dance between painting indoors and sketching outside, with welcome breaks in between until the page was complete. I can hardly wait for August!

Beach Bonus

I’m not sure what was most exciting: seeing yellow horned poppies in bloom, watching recently hatched killdeer chicks scurrying in the strand line, or sketching on the beach in sunshine while northern skies blackened in advance of a terrific thunderstorm. Just being at the ocean seemed bonus enough. I love this rocky beach in southern Massachusetts. It’s full of speckled granite cobblestones and larger outcroppings of glacial-striated bedrocks. Beachcombing always proves fruitful and the birding is great. What’s especially nice is the pleasure of revisiting it through my sketchbook now that I’m back home in New York.

Tips and Techniques– Glaucous green! Who knew there was such a thing? But sure enough, here it is. While researching beach poppies, I found a poem that described “Her leaves are glaucous-green and hoar…” That led me down a rabbit hole of looking up information on the word “glaucous.” Turns out, glaucous has Latin and Greek roots and describes colors ranging from pale yellow-green to bluish-gray. The Latin name for this poppy is glaucuim flavum (glaucium = green and flavum = yellow). A mix of lemon yellow and cobalt blue are perfect for mixing glaucous greens. Combine and experiment with them for your next blue-green foliage.

The Catbird Seat

I set out to trim the lilac, so tall and thick that its few blossoms are unreachable. But tucked deep in the greenery I found a catbird quietly perched in its bulky nest. I was not sorry to trade loppers and pruning shears for pen and paint.

Tips and Techniques– It’s much easier to sketch nests after birds have finished using them. But it’s exciting to find them in season and capture a glimpse of nesting activity. The key is not to disturb the birds or call attention to the nest. I began this sketch from about 20 feet out, using a step ladder and binoculars to get a close-up view. I spent about 5 minutes blocking in the nest placement among the lilac branches and the position of the catbird. Later, when the bird was off the nest, I took a photo of the nest itself to use as a reference for the leaf shadows and nesting material. The young hatched a few days ago, so I will add dates for hatching and fledging (hopefully) in the bottom corner in the days to come.

Poppies

For two weeks now, poppies have been opening each day in our garden. Light and airy as ballet dancers, their moment center stage is short, but oh so lovely. I started this page when the first pink flower bloomed and added more as they opened— plant after plant, all pink. And then, a single red blossom opened. Outstanding in its singularity, it seemed the perfect punctuation to a page—and to a garden in need of a bit of diversity to really make it shine.

I did this second painting of poppies while visiting the garden at Olana State Historic Site. These bold, frilly-edged perennial poppies were in full late-day sun, which forced me to work quickly. I like the resulting freshness and fullness of this one.  

Tips and Techniques– Notice the treatment of foliage in these two pieces. In the pink annual poppies, I decided to leave out the leaves to to showcase the simple grace of the stems and flowers. In contrast, putting in a suggestion of gray-green foliage offers a useful compliment to the red poppies at Olana. Remember that as an artist, you are also an editor. Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to paint it. Make choices about what’s in front of you to simplify and hone in on what you want to convey.

Hatch Out!

The hardened frothy glob attached to a goldenrod stem has sat motionless in our garden since the day I found it and brought it home from the meadow back in January. No change. Nothing happening. I had nearly given up on it. And then, it happened. Hundreds of mini praying mantises emerged from the ootheca. They crowded around the opening, marched up and down the goldenrod stem, and one by one dropped from their home base and wandered into the garden. By evening, nearly all were gone.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen this phenomenon and it was pretty exciting. I hope they find the aphids that are feasting on my poppies and grow up to devour other insects in the garden. Come fall, I’d love to find an adult or two hiding among the sunflowers or laying a frothy glob of eggs for next spring.

Tips and Techniques– Don’t miss the moment! If ever there was a time to have a simple painting set up, this was it. I sat uncomfortably on the edge of a wooden raised garden bed in the noon-day sun, sketchbook and travel palette in hand. I painted as the nymphs emerged, which gave me a long time to watch them and to study the ootheca from different angles. My palette and paper dried too fast in the full sun and I found it challenging to get the right amount of water/paint ratio. Still, I have no regrets. Had I waited for a better set up or a better time of day or a better day, I would have missed it altogether.

Home

Ten weeks of working at home has meant a lot of things, including isolation, quiet, and focus. It has afforded opportunities to more closely observe the unfolding of spring and the comings and goings of birds in and around our property. Every. Single. Day. As you can see from the Bird Map, there’s a lot to watch. We’ve recorded more than fifty different species– some are just passing through, but we see or hear the ones that made the map nearly every day.

There’s a lot of information on this map—too much maybe—but it serves as a useful visual record (click the map to view full size). Bird populations may change from year to year, globally and locally. For example, tree swallows didn’t make this map, though they nested here just last year. They haven’t disappeared, they have simply taken up residence in my neighbor’s nest boxes. Ten years from now, it will be interesting to look back at the Bird Map and see who is calling this place home.

Tips and Techniques– When making a map, I use Google Maps as a reference to get a good aerial perspective. It works whether you are zooming in on a single property or outlining a larger region or country. Begin by sketching a rough outline in pencil and then embellish it with ink or color as you like. Consider whether there are elements that you can add that would lend a unique flavor to the map. The color scheme of the place you are visiting, elements of local art or architecture, indigenous plants or wildlife, or a unique label will help to convey the place you are trying to capture.

Along the Roadside in June

NEW ONLINE CLASS! 
The Artist Sketchbook, Mondays: July 13,20, 27 and August 3.
I am excited to announce that I will be teaching an online Zoom class through the Winslow Art Center in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Visit the workshops page or head to the Winslow Art Center site for details and registration.