When it’s 80-degrees with 90-percent humidity, sketching outside—or doing much of anything outside—is not easy. But flowers in full bloom don’t wait for ideal weather and I figured I shouldn’t either. Pen and sketchbook in hand, I found myself quickly wilted among the daisies. So, my afternoon became a dance between painting indoors and sketching outside, with welcome breaks in between until the page was complete. I can hardly wait for August!
The hardened frothy glob attached to a goldenrod stem has sat motionless in our garden since the day I found it and brought it home from the meadow back in January. No change. Nothing happening. I had nearly given up on it. And then, it happened. Hundreds of mini praying mantises emerged from the ootheca. They crowded around the opening, marched up and down the goldenrod stem, and one by one dropped from their home base and wandered into the garden. By evening, nearly all were gone.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen this phenomenon and it was pretty exciting. I hope they find the aphids that are feasting on my poppies and grow up to devour other insects in the garden. Come fall, I’d love to find an adult or two hiding among the sunflowers or laying a frothy glob of eggs for next spring.
Tips and Techniques– Don’t miss the moment! If ever there was a time to have a simple painting set up, this was it. I sat uncomfortably on the edge of a wooden raised garden bed in the noon-day sun, sketchbook and travel palette in hand. I painted as the nymphs emerged, which gave me a long time to watch them and to study the ootheca from different angles. My palette and paper dried too fast in the full sun and I found it challenging to get the right amount of water/paint ratio. Still, I have no regrets. Had I waited for a better set up or a better time of day or a better day, I would have missed it altogether.
Ten weeks of working at home has meant a lot of things, including isolation, quiet, and focus. It has afforded opportunities to more closely observe the unfolding of spring and the comings and goings of birds in and around our property. Every. Single. Day. As you can see from the Bird Map, there’s a lot to watch. We’ve recorded more than fifty different species– some are just passing through, but we see or hear the ones that made the map nearly every day.
There’s a lot of information on this map—too much maybe—but it serves as a useful visual record (click the map to view full size). Bird populations may change from year to year, globally and locally. For example, tree swallows didn’t make this map, though they nested here just last year. They haven’t disappeared, they have simply taken up residence in my neighbor’s nest boxes. Ten years from now, it will be interesting to look back at the Bird Map and see who is calling this place home.
Tips and Techniques– When making a map, I use Google Maps as a reference to get a good aerial perspective. It works whether you are zooming in on a single property or outlining a larger region or country. Begin by sketching a rough outline in pencil and then embellish it with ink or color as you like. Consider whether there are elements that you can add that would lend a unique flavor to the map. The color scheme of the place you are visiting, elements of local art or architecture, indigenous plants or wildlife, or a unique label will help to convey the place you are trying to capture.
NEW ONLINE CLASS!
The Artist Sketchbook, Mondays: July 13,20, 27 and August 3.
I am excited to announce that I will be teaching an online Zoom class through the Winslow Art Center in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Visit the workshops page or head to the Winslow Art Center site for details and registration.
It’s hard to imagine a lovelier “garden” in May than the meadow I stumbled upon while hiking at the Martin Van Buren Nature Trail in Kinderhook, New York. The preserve is mostly woodland, with stately oaks and maples that Van Buren himself would have seen more than 150 years ago. But a small clearing in the forest was gloriously golden this week, with masses of yellow flowers that any gardener would be hard pressed to recreate.
My own gardening efforts began in earnest several weeks ago. Unfortunately, I think I jumped the gun in a restless attempt to get things growing. Either from planting when it was still too cold or lack of regular watering, few of my seeds sprouted. So, I replanted last week and recruited my husband to do the watering. Fingers crossed, you’ll be seeing scenes from the Art Garden in the weeks and months to come.
Tips and Techniques– Gardens offer so much to artists! While flowers in full bloom are favorite subjects for many, consider the possibilities of sketching in the garden throughout the season. From seeds to seedlings to blossoms to faded foliage—challenge yourself to come up with creative ways to showcase what’s happening each month. This year especially, when so many of us are staying home instead of heading out to favored vacation spots, having a garden—or a few pots of flowers—may prove to be just the subject matter you need.
Last week’s post An Extraordinary Collection generated a number of questions about bird eggs. I thought I’d answer them with another egg page and a bit of background.
How eggs are made: It all begins with a female reproductive cell called an ovum. As it travels through the bird’s oviduct, layers of albumen (the egg “white”) and shell membranes are added. When the egg reaches the shell gland, more albumen is added, along with a calcium rich shell. The hard outer shell takes about 20 hours to complete and the whole process takes a day. The egg is then expelled from the bird’s body, and Voila! there it is.
- It is illegal to collect bird eggs, so working from museum collections or photos are your best options. Looks for Victorian-era collections in natural history museums. I’ve also seen them in libraries and historical societies.
- Practice getting the curve of the egg with just one or two lines. You may want to rotate your paper to help you make the curve. The cleaner the edge, the better.
- Some eggs are glossy, and others dull; regardless, leave a highlighted area on the egg to help give it dimension.
- Work like a bird. Build up color on the egg in several layers. Start with the “ground” or base color. Then add darker tones and shadows, followed by surface markings.
- Build up surface colors and patterns in layers, working from light to dark. A rigger brush is excellent for scrolls, while a spatter brush is most effective for creating random spots.
I am fortunate to live by a stream and I’ve been especially curious about the ice that forms along it in winter. My favorite formation is the sculpted pillars that drip from exposed roots and fallen limbs at the water’s edge. They are created by a combination of water seeping, dipping, rushing, polishing, freezing and melting. Water is both artist and artwork, creating and sculpting as it flows in an ephemeral streamside gallery.
Tips and Techniques– When you sketch directly from nature, you also experience it in ways that working solely from a photo cannot offer. Frigid wind, rushing water, and awkward footing meant I had about 15 minutes to complete a base drawing and take a reference photo before retreating to the house to paint and do some research. Had I simply taken a photo and sketched entirely inside, my drawing would have been neater, but I would not have looked as carefully or felt so keenly the cold beauty of the stream in winter.
Surrounded by greenery even in January, what a treat to find this nest, perfectly sheltered in the crotch of a young white pine. A small grove of new trees has grown up in the unkempt neighboring field—a good find for birds looking for hidden places to raise their young. I like to think of new life hatching last summer when the field was golden and the sun was warmer than it is today.
Tips and Techniques– Try sketching while standing up. I drew this nest in pen while standing in the field and painted it later at home. Standing encourages the use of your entire arm, rather than just the hand and wrist, which helps to keep your sketches loose. Sketching in the cold also encourages you to work quickly and not fuss too much.
I love days like this: when I go out in the cold and roam through the woods and fields, sketchbook in hand; hopeful. Sometimes I come back with nothing to show. But then there are days like today, when I’ve almost given up, but decide to double back. I head down a new path, find something that strikes me, and begin. Then, I am reminded of how good it is to look, and of how much I like being outside with a pen in hand.
Tips and Techniques– If you are going to sketch outside in winter, I suggest using it as an opportunity to practice sketching directly in pen. Don’t worry about being too precise; put pen to paper and keep it moving. I start by staring at my subject and getting in a focused zone where I’m just looking at the lines and shapes, darks and lights. I work light and loose, trusting what I see more than what I put on the page. Soon, the shapes pull together into recognizable objects. Today, I made a mental note of color, but sometimes a quick photo will provide adequate reference for adding color back at home.
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