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.
90-degrees – 50% humidity. Needless to say, it’s hot.
It’s the kind of day you’d like to have air conditioning in your car for the four-hour drive from New Haven to Philadelphia. The kind of day that’s too hot for six rounds of unloading my son’s college gear up two flights of stairs into an apartment with no fan. The kind of day when an air conditioned coffee shop with a 12-foot-square living wall packed with ferns is the perfect respite before saying goodbye and taking a train back home.
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.
I cracked open a new sketchbook this week: blank pages stared back. Who knows what will become of them? Pieces of life, seasons, artistic experiments, birds, experiences, memories. It seems fitting then that my first page records a journey. These are quick sketches made while driving from Connecticut to Maine, pulled together with text about what I was listening to in the car.
I wasn’t really sure where the pages would go when I began. With each stop along the way, I added something more. Built over time, the page, like the book itself, is record of my journey. Here’s to what lies ahead!
I anticipate spring’s arrival for most of February, March and April, eager for its fresh greens, new life, and abundant sketching opportunities. It arrives slowly at first, with skunk cabbage, red-winged blackbirds, and daffodils. But by mid-May, it takes off like a rocket and I can’t keep up. I’ve been sketching and painting in snatches of time—10 minutes here, half hour there—due to an especially hectic work and family schedule this month. Here are a few of those snatches:
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The carriage barn at the first home in America of artist John James Audubon in Mill Grove, PA. Click to view larger.
Robin’s nest on the visitor center porch at Weir Farm National Historic Site in Connecticut. Click to view larger.
It might have been easier simply to list my paint color palette when recently asked about it by an artist friend, but where’s the fun in that? I hadn’t sketched art supplies in years, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. What I especially love about my basic art kit is that it I can get so much from it. Almost every painting and journal sketch I’ve ever made has sprung from these simple materials (add an F pencil and kneaded eraser for my detailed paintings). These supplies are as simple as they are portable– they fit in a 4×9-inch zippered pouch that tucks easily into a backpack or handbag. I’ve carried them into fields, forests, stream sides, rocky tide pools, and cities. How great is that?
A few notes:
I bought this Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolor set long ago and, over the years, swapped in artist grade paints and changed out colors to better suit my liking.
Ultramarine blue is a must have. It mixes beautifully with just about everything else to get an incredible range of colors.
I rarely use cadmium red; it’s likely the next color to get swapped out.
What’s that lovely background color? It’s my most recent addition to the palette: Quinacridone Gold from Daniel Smith.
Although I’m a minimalist compared to many, I love art supplies as much as the next artist. I’ve tried all kinds of pencils, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, pastels, acrylics, intense watercolors, and inks. I just keep coming back to basics.
What’s next? I’m pining for an old, black metal Prang watercolor box that can hold larger sized pans of color. I’ll paint it when I own one someday.
Hail to the urban sketchers! I don’t know how they do it.
I recently spent three days in Montreal and was eager to try my hand at sketching buildings and cafes and street scenes. Instead, I found myself challenged at every turn. With so much going on—so many people and so much activity—I hardly knew where to begin. My family had a full schedule of activities, and I thought I’d just sketch along the way, but that proved harder than I anticipated. I stole five minutes here and there—a pause while hiking, a moment before lunch, a few minutes at museums. The result, as you see, is a fairly random mix.
And so, I wonder, what’s the secret to urban sketching? No fuss? Work fast? Travel alone? Sketch anything? Sketch everywhere? Dedicate time? Or, perhaps, just stick with a camera next time! In the interest of speed, I jettisoned my paints on the second day, in favor of a fountain pen and water brush. Both of these pages took less than 10 minutes and I added the colored background later.
It’s tough to keep up a sketchbook when traveling by bicycle! But here’s the result of my recent 400 mile, 8-day cycling trip along the Erie Canal in New York State. (You can click on the image to enlarge it a bit.) Because I needed to cover 50 to 60 miles a day, I found it impossible to sketch until the riding was done. No matter how tired, I made a point of extending the schematic map eastward each evening, filling in some of the day’s adventures in words or pictures.
Packing light was essential! I brought a black Micron 02 pen, a small watercolor kit, water brush, and 5”x8” Moleskin watercolor sketchbook packed in a ziplock bag. The birds and bicycles page (below)– a record of all the birds I’ve seen while cycling– was completed back at home.