Water as Artist

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.

Good Find 2

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.

Special Delivery

Many thanks for following Drawn In and for your many “likes” and comments throughout the year. It is quite a remarkable thing to send artwork out into the world. You don’t know where it will land or what people will think of it or who it may touch. But therein lies the simple beauty of it. I’m grateful that you are on the other end of this nebulous network that connects us!

A note about this artwork: I created eight arctic stamps this year as part of a Christmas letter I write each year from the North Pole to several special children. I included the stamps in a different format in the Christmas letter, but thought they made a nice collection when viewed together. Have a wonder-filled and Merry Christmas!

 

On the Solstice

I might prefer sun, but it seems right for the solstice to be overcast and cold. I headed out with my sketchbook this afternoon when the temperatures climbed into the 20s to capture a glimpse of the shortest day. This old sugar maple, overlooking fields and evergreens, has seen its share of turns around the sun. It’s limbs stretched outward and upward from the frozen ground. Stark, against gray skies, it yet possessed a warmth about it that was inviting on this winter day. A solstice tree.


Tips and Techniques– If you prefer sketching plein air, but find temperatures in the teens and twenties a tad cold, you might try sketching in the car. I made this drawing from the comfort of my front seat, parked on the side of the road. Not ideal, but not bad either.

Sketching in the Field

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.

The Next Best Thing

February in upstate New York is typically cold and cloudy. With two months of winter already past and another two on the horizon before spring arrives, it’s time to head to the tropics or the desert for a midwinter getaway. Except when you can’t. Then, we have to settle for the next best thing: a trip to a greenhouse. I spent yesterday afternoon at the Lyman Conservatory at Smith College in Massachusetts and it felt like paradise. Warmth. Light. Rooms full of greenery. Art supplies in hand. What could be better?

Tips and Techniques– Based on my experience at the conservatory, my tip this week is: don’t give up too soon on half-baked sketches. Painting conditions at the greenhouse were difficult—tight aisles, lots of people, and no way to spread out or relax while painting. I painted both of these pages standing up, and believe me, they were very rough watercolors when it was time to leave. Nevertheless, I had the concept and basic colors down, which enabled me to add details and text when I got home. How many times have you found yourself in the field without enough time to finish? I say: at least get started. Take some notes or a photo and finish later.

After Mary Oliver

“My work is loving the world.”

So begins the poem Messenger, by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who died this week at the age of 83. Oliver delivered intimate observations of nature and deepened our understanding of life’s essence in few, choice words.

“Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums…”

And though there were no hummingbirds or sunflowers to be found here yesterday, I nevertheless felt compelled to walk down the starkly cold winter road in honor of Mary Oliver and to satisfy my own need to find what beauty might remain along the roadside.

“Let me keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished…”

Standing still in 21-degree weather means mostly frozen fingers. Still, there is no substitute for being present; for being astonished by the cold; by wingbeats of geese overhead; by curled leaves of grasses waving in the wind.