Big skies, sweeping vistas, far horizons. So much to see, too much to record. As an artist accustomed to rendering the details of small things—birds, butterflies, plants and such—I struggle when it comes to simplifying and capturing large landscapes or streetscapes in watercolor. So, I’m experimenting. My idea is to try working small on the premise that it will not allow me the space to get lost in detail. My goal is to get good in advance of an upcoming trip to Ireland, where I’ll have fantastic scenery and limited painting time. Here are my initial attempts, a few from the salt marshes of Westport, Massachusetts and two from Harbor Island and Franklin Light, Maine. (Click to view larger.)
Granite Cliffs, Harbor Island: 4″ x 2.5″, Franklin Light: 5″ x 2″, Egret: 4″ x 2.5″; Salt Marsh and Osprey Nest: 2.5″ x 1.25
Tips & Techniques– You tell me! What works for you in translating complex landscapes to paper? How do you decide what’s important and what to leave out? How do you scale from small to large without getting too fussy?
Imagine a week on an island off the coast of Maine. No cars, no stores, no streetlights…just good company, good food, starry skies, blue horizons, and long days spent almost entirely outside. These are the essentials for Arts and Birding, a week-long program I facilitate each year at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. Because I’m teaching, I don’t have time to complete much artwork of my own, but I did manage a few pages. And as always, I came away inspired to keep observing, sketching, and sharing my work with the wider world.
Notes:(Clockwise from top) It’s not all birds! We also explore and sketch coastal scenes, plants, and life in the watery realm between high and low tide; Hog Island has a great collection of bird specimens, including a drawer of bird eggs; Young osprey nesting on the island are banded by wildlife biologists each year. It makes for fast sketching, but it’s a thrill to see these birds up close; Just the essentials for a week of Arts and Birding.
Arts and Birding is open for both sketchers/painters and photographers. Here’s a few photos from the week taken by photography staff and participants.
Registration for Arts and Birding 2019 opens in October; the session often fills quickly. Stay tuned here.
Were it not for relentless deer flies and record-breaking heat, it might not have taken me four days to complete this page. But it is hard to sketch on the roadside under such circumstances, no matter how determined, and so, one flower at a time, the page grew. Still, sometimes it’s good not to rush a painting. It lets things evolve; insights emerge. What started as a simple painting of flowers grew into a recognition of how much of the world is at our very doorstep.
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from the naturalist John Burroughs (1837-1921): “The most precious things in life are near at hand, without money and without price. Each of you has the whole wealth of the universe at your very door. All that I ever had, and still have, may be yours by stretching forth your hand and taking it.”
Note: I will be taking a break from posting for the next week or two as I head to Maine to facilitate and teach the Arts & Birding workshop at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. It’s a fully immersive experience for me, and life on an island is better without phones, computers or social media.
How do you capture a day? In hours? In moments? The premise of the Hour by Hour sketch challenge is to put pen to paper every hour of a single day on one journal page, with no sketch taking more than five minutes. I introduced this challenge during a week of teaching at the Hog Island Audubon Camp, where the days are busy and intense. The challenge forces you to work fast and loose, while helping you capture small things that together convey a sense of the day. It’s a good challenge to try when traveling or when you are too busy to take time for a longer sketch. But it’s also a worthwhile exercise if you want to practice being less fussy with your sketching.
I did these 1-5 minute sketches with a Micron 02 pen and added watercolor later to finish the page.
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.
How well do you know your watercolors? The response to that question at a recent workshop for sketchers led me to work with participants on a number of color tests. These experiments are really useful for seeing the full range of values that a single color offers. They also help you figure out simple color combinations (two or three colors) that work well together. Instead of doing a color chart with carefully controlled squares, I like to test colors more fluidly, doing graded one-color and two color washes. You can do this right in your sketchbook so that you have the reference with you, or use separate sheets of watercolor paper. Here are a couple pages to give you a sense of the great range of possibilities from just a few colors.
Sample 1; click to view larger
Test (Top left): raw sienna test with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and cobalt blue
Result: I rarely use raw sienna Test (Bottom left): burnt sienna with phthalo blue and ultramarine blue
Result: great range of possibilities with ultramarine; I use this combination frequently Test (Top Right): Burnt umber with ultramarine
Result: another winning combination Test (Middle Right): Alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre
Result: I love the blue leaning combinations, especially for shadows
Sample 2; click to view larger
Sample 2: Test: I just bought two new blues—Indathrone and Indigo (Daniel Smith)—and wanted to try them with colors that I use frequently. Result (Indigo, left): I was looking for ways to get some rich darks and this seems to do the trick. I suspect I’ll use it sparingly, but it’s nice. Result (Indathrone, right): I especially like some of the greens and grays—a keeper!
This tree once stood on the shoreline of Hog Island in Maine, with a sweeping view of Muscongus Bay— not a bad place to raise successive generations of young birds. According to the US Forest Service, some 85 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, and swallows, nest in tree cavities. You might catch a glimpse of birds excavating a tree hole, or coming or going from one, but it’s rare, indeed, to see one from the inside. This old woodpecker hole was cut open after the tree fell, revealing the nest cavity inside. The sketch is much reduced from the real thing. The eggs of various birds that use nest cavities are painted actual size. Click to view larger.