Today seemed like as good a day as any to switch things up and go all ink. This started with the notion to sketch random things on my desk, but the addition of the nests and a few insects from a very brief visit to the Pember Museum of Natural History rounds out the collection nicely. Art and nature…pretty much what is always on my desk.
The November garden is as stark as the rest of the world. The vibrancy of the August palette has given way to browns and grays. A touch of green and ocher and russet remain. It isn’t much, but I’ll take it. A tangle of once-scarlet runner beans is all there is for a final garden painting.
I love the way you can be drawn to something for one reason and end up some place completely different. In this case, I simply liked the detailed pattern of a friend’s blue and white porcelain teacup. I ended up not only with a painting, but transported to 18th century Germany. The “Blue Onion” pattern was introduced by Europe’s oldest porcelain manufacturer, Meissen, in 1740, and inspired by blue and white patterns from China. From there, I researched further to learn that the distinctive blue glaze used in Chinese porcelain for centuries came from cobalt ores imported from Persia. It turns out that cobalt oxide can withstand the highest firing temperatures required for porcelain. I like to think of this enduring color passing through centuries, from glaze makers to artists around the world, to a single teacup painted in cobalt from my small watercolor paint box.
Last weekend, I cut the last of the frost-wilted flowers, fed the compost pile, and left a few flower heads for the birds. I thought the garden was finished for the season, until I took a second look at the blackened seed heads. They became the perfect subject for testing my new Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen. I love the way the pen glides over the paper—smooth and fine, not scratchy, just a pleasure to use. The ink is not permanent, so I can’t add watercolor to it, but the line quality is lovely. I’m almost looking forward to sketching what’s left of the dried tangle of runner beans.
It’s hard to resist Seckel pears in the fall. I don’t mean eating them, so much as drawing and painting them. There’s something lovely about the squat shape and subtle variety of green and gold and red. My instinct was to fill an entire page with pears, but after beginning the first few, I quickly realized that I didn’t have the patience to do ten or twelve. So, four pears on a Saturday morning is all there is.
Tips and Techniques– I did these using a combination of colored pencil and watercolor. I set out to do them entirely in colored pencil, but quickly remembered why I am not a colored pencil artist—it just takes so darn long to shade forms. Although I like the control of colored pencil, I love the speed and luminosity of watercolor, and I’ve come to appreciate what watercolor can do all on its own when you learn to let it go. Still, it’s interesting to combine these two mediums and I recommend trying it just to play with the possibilities.
My yard is littered with walnuts, the driveway with acorns, the side yard with sugar maple keys. My desk, too, is nearly taken over by tree seeds of all shapes and sizes and in various states of decay. I have been collecting them for the past few weeks in order to make this painting. Collection pages are so much fun to do. Whether seeds or mushrooms or amphibians or moths, I enjoy learning about each species and about the group as a whole. And I enjoy the challenge of making the individual parts come together on paper. This piece is nearly done, but for labeling each of the tree seeds. What script to use is my final decision— as is figuring out what those three wiry balls on the right are (I know the rest—do you?)
Arts and Birding- For Photographers and Artists- July 19-24, 2020
Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine
Registration for this workshop opened on 10/21 and is already half full! If you are thinking of signing up for 2020, don’t wait too long or you’ll end up on the waiting list. Arts and Birding provides a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and rhythms of life on an island on Maine’s stunningly beautiful rocky coast. Yes, we’re enthusiastic about birds, but we also explore the island’s spruce forest, tide pools, and striking vistas, take a boat trip to see puffins, and offer daily skill sessions in your choice specialty of sketching/painting or photography. Beginner to advanced participants are welcome. We work in a fun, positive, collaborative atmosphere. Please feel free to leave a comment to ask questions– I’ve been directing this program for six years and it is truly a highlight of my year!
I love going out along the roadside and seeing what’s there to sketch. I have yet to do it every month, but at some point I’ll have a nice record of the year. I bring just my journal and a pen, which gives me the ability to safely walk the weedy margins and sketch things that strike me as I go. I make color notes or take reference photos and paint later at home.
Tips and Techniques– Several of you have asked about my travel art supplies, so here you go! What you see above is what I typically bring, whether close to home or farther afield. These supplies fit in a plastic bag that I can tuck in my backpack or handbag, or in a dedicated sketch bag with a long shoulder strap that I sometimes carry. I love being able to do so much with a few basic supplies.
- Sketchbook: Stillman & Birn 5.5×8.5” Zeta or Beta
- Pens: Pigma Micron 02 and 005 black for sketching and text
- Pencil: Steadler F and kneaded eraser
- Brushes: Escoda Versatil Travel Brushes, size 2,6,8. A bigger brush for painting landscapes would be helpful for larger washes.
- Paint: Schmincke box with Windsor and Newton, Daniel Smith, and QoR paints
- Miscellaneous: Paper towels, clips for holding the pages, spray bottle for moistening paints, small water container
If you are looking to carry less on your next sketch outing, try paring down to only what fits in a large Ziploc bag. Lighten up and enjoy!
I’ve been wrapping up the sketches that I started while on my Great Western Road Trip— a 10 day drive from Boulder, Colorado, to Pasadena, California, via Arches, Canyonlands, and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah. This trip had a much tighter itinerary than previous vacations and it put me to the test in terms of sketching on the go. I thought I’d share a few tips gleaned from my experience in hopes that they help you on your next trip.
- Pare down to a few basic supplies. The more stuff you have the harder it will be to carry, set up, and break down quickly. I put my journal, pencil, pen, and paints into a large Ziploc bag that fits in my handbag or backpack.
- Seize the moment. Travel sketching requires a combination of seizing opportunities and making opportunities to fit art into your trip. It isn’t easy. This is especially true if you have a hectic itinerary or if you are traveling with non-sketchers, or both. Make the most of the time you have, whether five minutes while waiting for your traveling companions, a 30-minute airport layover, or an hour in your hotel at the end of the day.
- Create the moment. If you know in advance that you will be going somewhere you’d like to sketch, tell your traveling companions and let them know approximately how much time you need. This enables everyone to plan their time and spares you from feeling as if you are slowing the group.
- Start, even if you can’t finish. If you see something that strikes you, put down a line and take a photo for reference. Draw what you can in the time you have. You can always come back and finish later, but if you don’t start, you’ll lose the moment and the freshness of sketching live.
- Adjust your expectations and the size of your artwork. You’re not out to make a masterpiece; you’re out to record fun, interesting, and memorable parts of your trip. Work smaller if it helps.
- Mix it up. Sketch a variety of subjects, from landscapes to single objects to food. The more varied your pages, the more you will capture the essence of your trip.
- Incorporate artistic elements from the place. This may include colors, fonts, or designs drawn from the art or culture of the place you are visiting.
- Let enthusiasm fuel you. More than likely, there will be no ideal conditions for drawing or painting while traveling. You may not have great seating, weather, light, or time. Expect to be challenged and let your enthusiasm drive you. Your sketches may not be perfect, but they’ll convey a sense of fun, discovery, and excitement from your trip.
Workshop Opportunity: Travel Sketching in Watercolor
Saturday, November 9, 2019; 9am – 1pm, Art School of Columbia County, Ghent, NY
Sure to be worth the trip, this workshop will focus on techniques and layout ideas for sketching on the go and capturing your travel experiences in watercolor. Register by emailing: email@example.com
Big skies, vast landscapes, towering rocks carved by water, wind and time. The American West is a place like no other on the continent. Under the guise of driving our son from a summer internship in Boulder, Colorado, to his senior year of college in Pasadena, California, my family took to the open road last week for a Great Western Road Trip. Along the way, we hiked the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains and explored Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah. And then we drove out of those untamed spaces and into the sprawl of freeways in southern California before flying back east.
In the words of John James Audubon, “I wish I could draw it all.” Alas, with so much hiking and driving, it was hard to find the time; I still have several pages to finish. So here is part one. Stay tuned for the next installment with my top tips for travel sketching.