What to do when your TO DO list is longer than the hours in a day? When “unpack office/studio” makes the list of chores necessary for settling into a new house, but doesn’t yet rise in priority? When painting walls takes precedent over painting watercolors? My solution: make a simple sketch and go wash the bedroom floor. Still, I can’t complain. I’m settling into a beautiful place and managed to take time to explore the stream and woodland that runs alongside and beyond the house. And I trust that there will be days—and years—ahead for putting more of this lovely place on paper.
A window seat over the American mid-west provides an astonishing view: a landscape of squares spreading in all directions. Striped in shades of tan and green with occasional non-conforming blue snaking its way between the squares, the American heartland is the ultimate grid.
I had been working with grids in my sketching workshop in Anacortes, and had already marked out a journal page for future use. When the view from the airplane on my way home presented itself, it was a perfect fit. I quickly sketched the patterns and later used Google Earth for additional reference.
Grids are frequently used for design because they provide a flexible framework that breaks the space of a page into related parts. I devised a 12 square 2-page grid in my 5” x 8” Stillman & Birn journal, with about ¼ in of space between the squares. The beauty of it is that the squares can be combined in numerous ways—long or tall rectangles, a larger box, and smaller squares. No matter the combination, the grid holds the design together.
I find grids to be especially useful when I’m hiking or traveling and want to capture a number of experiences or scenes on a single page. You can fill a square quickly with a sketch and paint later if needed, so it works well when with non-sketching companions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How do you draw something when it is in constant motion? How do you get the shapes and colors and patterns right when you only get a fleeting look at your subject? That’s the challenge of sketching birds—which requires good field identification skills, some study of bird anatomy, and solid drawing and painting skills.
I like to study and sketch specimens and use photographs for reference materials before going into the field. By working out shapes, identifying details, and making notes about a bird’s habits, I’m more prepared to sketch quickly when in the field.
That’s what I’ve done here, in preparation for a weeklong program on Arts and Birding at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine at the end of June. I’m on the teaching team, which also includes experts in field ornithology, photography, videography, and writing.
During the week, we’ll explore coastal islands and habitats, and we’ll have a chance to see Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and other seabirds. I’ll be leading a journal making workshop on the first day, helping people make a simple accordion fold journal that they can use during the week. This is my mock up, which I’ll continue to work in before heading to Maine, but hope to finish when I’m there.
I’ve been cycling a lot lately and wanted to map some of my routes and record mileage for various rides. I love making maps—but this one made me realize how many decisions go into making them and how many possibilities there are for variation. Deciding what to include and what to leave out; what color scheme to use; how to design elements like a legend, compass rose, and border; what kind of lines for roads; and how to mark special places is part of the fun.
I toyed with painting each segment of this map in bright colors, but decided to put the color into the cycling routes themselves, since that’s what I wanted to emphasize. I chose my handlebars for the compass rose—though I considered alternative designs with bike wheels. The crow is there in part for interest and in part because there is a steep escarpment (that I don’t ride up) where the crow is flying that attracts soaring hawks, crows, and vultures. This map is too small to add scenery details, though I’m inspired to try a larger map that includes some of the countryside vistas that make these rides so nice.