I could have titled this: How one thing leads to another and I end up with this painting. Or: How my failure to plant bulbs leads to a small success in learning to paint light. Either way, I had intended to plant 80 daffodils this fall, but only 60 went into the ground before an early freeze thwarted me. The thought of those 20 unplanted bulbs sitting in my basement has been nagging at me, so I bought an amaryllis in hopes that it would lessen the disappointment. Unfortunately, the amaryllis had already started to grow in the box—sending up a ghostly, stunted stalk. I rather liked the dried roots and the shape of the thing, so I painted it here, followed by the daffodil bulbs. And though there’s nothing spectacular about this page, I am pleased to have put my angst on paper, and I especially like the light-filled quality of the final bulb in the upper right.
This is just to say…buy some plums (or tomatoes, corn, or apples). Paint them. Eat them. And savor the moment.
Tips & Techniques- I realize that several of these plums look more like purple potatoes than plums, and you may have artwork that doesn’t quite turn out as you would like, too. One way to “save it” is with text that captures something of your experience. Another is to try again (this is my second attempt—my first had better plums but a less interesting layout). Another is to turn the page and be glad that you took the time to practice.
I planted garlic for the first time last fall and it took me a while this spring to figure out where I had interspersed it among other bulbs and perennials. Then this! ….this fabulous showing of curling greenery in the garden! And although I am moving next week and will never see the harvest, at least I have this journal page – and the promise of next year in another garden.
It’s always nice when good sketches sneak up on you. They’re often the ones where you’re not trying too hard or thinking too much. Where your lines are loose and flow from object to paper quickly and without criticism. I wasn’t trying to create anything detailed or complicated here; I just wanted to capture form and light…which, I suppose is what we’re always striving for on paper.
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Tips & Techniques- If you need to loosen up with your artwork, I recommend grabbing a pencil or pen and leaving the eraser behind. Look at whatever you’re working on for a minute or two, and then jump in. Keep your lines moving and your eyes on your subject. If you don’t like a line, go over it with another one (and another one, and another one). Give yourself just a few minutes to capture the essence. Then turn the page and start again. Do a couple of these quick sketches in succession. When you’re finished, take a read on how it felt to work this way. Freeing, eh?
Tomatoes are the new zucchini! One neighbor dropped off a dozen; another went away and left a garden full, ripe for picking. That leaves me eating and painting and looking up new recipes.
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I did the first sketch in my Stillman & Birn journal with Zeta paper, which is a smooth, heavyweight 270 gsm paper. The recipe page is in a homemade journal with Fabriano soft press watercolor paper, which is a dream to work on. I wrote the main text in watercolor using a dip pen with a drawing nib. If you want to try it, simply load the nib using a watercolor brush. You’ll have to reload frequently, but that will give you a chance to alter the color and get varied tones in the letters.
It’s no wonder the bluebird is associated with happiness. This lovely thrush is a harbinger of spring, chattering its warbled song as soon as the days start to warm. I have had the good fortune of seeing and hearing bluebirds frequently over the last few weeks. And whenever I do, I can’t help but feel grateful for its brilliant flash of blue and notes of good cheer. Thoreau was right: the bluebird carries the sky on its back—and glimpsing it is one of the simple pleasures of spring.
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A little more about this journal page: I love this quirky fence. Made of old bed posts by my friend Camille, it makes a great backdrop for her country garden. I was short on time and drawing fast directly in ink, so I didn’t quite get the proportions right. Maybe that was good. I didn’t fuss much with the painting either, which gives it a loose and casual feel…much like the garden and fence. Drawing and text were done with Micron 02 pen with a couple of washes of watercolor in a Stillman & Birn Beta journal.
When I first decided to do a series of root vegetable paintings, I had no idea that it would take me so long to finish that the greens would have a chance to wilt, die, and then regrow. After choosing the beets and radishes I liked best, I stuck several rejected vegetables in water and set them aside on the back porch. Then the greens died on my working specimens and I couldn’t finish them. Two weeks later, I discovered new green shoots growing on my reserved vegetables and beautiful, delicate rootlets threading into the water. Re-inspired, I have been rooted to my desk ever since, painting beets and radishes and watching lovely greens unfurl.
The stems got a little blown out in the scanner.
Surrounded by beets and radishes.
And one more- quick and loose in the journal (and a little blown out in the scanner).
For more roots see carrots and beets.
I probably shouldn’t have mentioned to the farmer that I was selecting carrots for “artistic purposes” when considering the most colorful and interesting bunch at the farmers market. But I thought it might be a compliment. Instead, I got a thinly veiled, perturbed look that suggested she hadn’t toiled all season long for me to paint her carrots. I dug myself in deeper trouble when I asked for advice on prolonging the freshness of the greens. I saw the eyes roll and quickly agreed to paint soon or refrigerate. Alas, I think this bunch was well worth the effort to grow and paint.
A note about colorful carrots: Carrots trace their roots to Afghanistan, where cultivation is believed to have begun sometime before the 900s. A diversity of colors was the norm as carrot cultivation spread to Europe and Asia. It wasn’t until the 1500s when the Dutch selectively bred and then popularized the orange carrot. Visit the virtual World Carrot Museum for tons of information, including a gallery of carrots in fine art.
I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching a full day workshop on Illustrated Watercolor Journaling at the Killington Arts Guild in Vermont last weekend. I’m always inspired by the creativity and enthusiasm that comes from gathering people together for a day of painting! I don’t usually paint much when I’m teaching, but I started this beet as part of a demonstration and then finished it back at home. I always aim to make my journal pages reflect something meaningful or interesting from my experiences, so I finished the page with some of the lessons and tips we practiced and a bit of my joy from teaching the workshop.
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I brought a variety of props for people to sketch, including some beautiful beets with weary looking greens (they were gorgeous when I bought them!). And – wouldn’t you know, I spelled “journaling” incorrectly on the page—I hate that, but oh well!
It’s very satisfying to grow your own tomatoes. Not just cherry or grape tomatoes, which are fine, but full-sized Brandywines or beefsteaks. While other gardeners have been harvesting their tomatoes for a few weeks, my late-maturing heirlooms are just beginning to ripen. And I suppose that’s good. The slow yield has given me one or two to eat and more on the vine to paint.
This page is a bit of an experiment. I recently bought a new fountain pen—a Lamy Safari—and I tested it with a deep blue-gray waterproof ink from De Atramentis called Fog Gray. The extra-fine pen nib is still much, much thicker than my go-to Micron 02 pen. Although I loved the smooth line, I’m not quite used to the bolder stroke. I found it hard to get much subtlety, especially when shading, which I tend to add in ink before beginning the watercolor. I look forward to more testing!