I’ve just returned from a week in the Pacific Northwest—land of big trees, mountains, skies, water, and wilderness. I had the privilege of teaching a four day watercolor sketching workshop with an enthusiastic and talented group of artists from Anacortes, Washington. I’ll share a few lessons from the workshop here soon…but first, let’s start where so many of my travels begin: with a map. It has been 30 years since my last trip to the Northwest, so this painting helped me to get a good sense of the lay of the land.
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I had hoped to see some western bird species and was delighted that Anna’s hummingbirds were near daily visitors to the backyard where I stayed. I mainly saw the female, which is less colorful than the male, but no less interesting.
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Before the workshop began, I took two days to explore and hike. I painted this octopus from a video in anticipation (i.e. wishful thinking) of seeing one in a west coast tide pool. No luck; but I did see nearly a dozen egg yolk jellyfish, a fairly common west coast species, as well as other fascinating denizens of rocky tide pools in the Puget Sound.
“There is magic in the distance where the sea-line meets the sky.” Alfred Noyes
While in Maine recently, I had several opportunities to observe that magical place described by Noyes. When the light is just right, sea and sky merge. I’ve been playing with how to capture that on paper ever since.
Though I typically work in watercolor, I swapped my paints for pastels to try to get a more ethereal effect.
A week on an island in Maine means only one thing: I’ve gone coastal. I shut off e-mail and social media, tune out news, turn off work, and I cram as much hiking, cycling, exploring, and, of course, painting as I can into seven highly cherished days. I live by the tides, stay up too late painting, wake up early to see the first light on the water, poke in tide pools, scour mudflats and rocky ledges for shorebirds, seek out new trails and vistas, dodge mosquitoes, and manage to come away both rejuvenated and exhausted. Here’s a peek inside my sketchbook…I’ll share a few more pieces in the coming days.
People often ask me, “What happens if you make a mistake in your journal?” Sometimes I live with it, sometimes I work through it until I can correct it, and sometimes, it’s best to start over. That was the case with this page, which started out as a watercolor sketch of mountain laurel trees in a dappled afternoon woodland. I jumped into it without any drawing and never recovered. So I glued an old dictionary page over the laurel to experiment with painting on book paper– something I’ve long wanted to try. This brought an immediate sense of relief and new possibilities.
Click to view larger. Acrylic and ink in Stillman & Birn beta sketchbook collaged with old book paper.
I found a killdeer nesting on the beach two weeks ago and went back to check on it again this week. These robin-sized shorebirds nest right in the open– sometimes at the edge of parking lots or ballfields. The adults sit on the nest for nearly three weeks and when the young hatch they are fluffy and mobile. Once their feathers dry, the chicks totter around after their parents in search of food– a sight I hope to see on my next visit.
A note about painting on book pages: Think of it like working on toned paper. Subjects with strong lights and darks will work really well. The tricky part is that it’s really hard to see pencil or pen lines when there’s a lot of text. Watercolor is my usual medium, but book paper is much too thin for it. Gouache, acrylic, or colored pencil are better suited. Check out artist Alissa Duke’s Exhibition Preview “Can you draw in books?” to see some outstanding examples.
I drew on 15 years of journal entries to make this piece of art for an exhibit marking the 80th anniversary of the Audubon Camp on Hog Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine. I have been exploring the island once a week each summer since 2001, first as a camper, then as program director for Family Camp, and for the past three years as an instructor and program director for a week-long workshop called Arts and Birding. Many of my favorite journal pages capture treasured experiences, memories and discoveries of marine life, birds, spruce forests, and rocky shores.
click to view larger; watercolor and ink on Fluid 100 cold press paper
Since 1936, the Audubon Camp on Hog Island in Maine has offered environmental education programs for adults, teens, families and conservation leaders. Here’s a look at some past journal pages. If you are in Maine this summer, stop by the Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland to see the art exhibit inspired by Hog Island.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” – Rachel Carson
Thanks for joining me in the art of exploration throughout the year. Here’s to finding great places to explore, mysteries to probe, beauty to behold, and the company of others to share it with in 2016!
At Slocum’s River Reserve near Dartmouth, Mass, I found myself drawn to the quiet beauty of the salt marsh on an overcast day— all gold and green, tinged with red. In between land and sea. In between one place and another. There is a silent ebb and flow; life in flux each hour, each day, each season. My time here is a gift at the end of a hectic summer, made possible because I too am in between. This place, painting it, is my own calm between seasons, between moving out and moving in.
Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook