Thursday, February 28, 2008

"10 degrees Means Quick Sketches!"

Well, as you gather from my title, it is cold outside today! The past two days it's been in the 'teens' only 10 degrees F. But it's been awhile since I did some outdoor observations so I threw my little 5 1/2"x 81/2" sketchbook into a gallon ziplock bag and three micron pens. NO playing with color today, I knew it'd be too cold to get into that, especially with wearing big gloves and my water freezing!
I mostly drew with a .02 micron pen, wearing huge mittens! I forgot my flipback pair that my English friend encouraged me to wear, so I was stuck with the big, cumbersome old leather pair of mittens that I wear when I do barn chores in the winter. I should post a picture of them so you could have a laugh...they have duct tape around parts because of wear! haha...
So, about my drawings, the first was a small clump of weeds by the barn with snow on top of them. It was really beautiful, even the colors were nice. Then I walked over to the garden where my flowers are all standing dead but looking interesting with their bareness of form. I especially liked the Black-Eyed Susan's because they were almost like abstract black dots against all the white.
Then I used my micron brush pen, which I think is a bit dried out, but that can be a good thing. I sketched the Blue Spruce and some trees next to it very quickly. I was running out of space here. So then I flipped the page and did a very quick rendition of a group of trees that I like to draw in the summer. I used the brush pen again for that.
Oh a side note here, I'm always trying out new it was an old thing. I had a pair of battery operated heated socks that I pulled out of the closet. The kind that you put a huge D cell battery in the top side of the sock, I wore them today but I think they don't work! Well they're old, I have a new pair still in the wrapper, I plugged them in when I got back inside and they seemed to work, so next time I'll have to try them out. They're not the most comfortable as the battery jams against your leg if you're wearing tall boots like I do. I'll have to test them again to see how they work.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Cooper's Hawk" 2-21-08

I was inspired on Tuesday (19th) to paint a Cooper's Hawk when I saw one (or a Sharp Shinned Hawk) swoop over my bird feeder. I talked about it in my post on the 19th. So I did this small study from a field guide in my 5"x81/2 " sketchbook. First I did a "Gesture Sketch" then added some details when I felt the drawing was correct.
I started first with black watercolor in various values to 'draw' more details in, feather markings, wing values and shape. Then I dabbled on with my fine pointed round brush, a light value of breast color. While it was wet I sprinkled on salt to see if it would help break it up, in a random way, I love the way salt does this. I also put in an orange red for the iris of his eye.

In the third picture I have laid on more breast value, defining more of the 3d shape of the hawk's breast and body. I put a pale wash of purply pink under his tail and touched it to his wing feathers and by his eye. I put a tiny bit of blue on the beak and behind the eye to shape his head more. I also colored the branch, legs and put some browns up onto wing feathers.

The fourth picture I added some more colors here and there on the hawk, more color on the grey wing feathers and around eye. If you notice the longest tail feather in the last picture I rubbed out in this one. If you need to change something, wet it and repeatedly brush it and dab with a papertowel. I wanted to shorted in because it was making the whole tail look too rounded. I used my favorite little Chinese brush to make the pine needles in the background. I have a picture below about this.
The final picture of my painting shows another little Cooper's Hawk study, this one done with Inktense watercolor pencils, Prismacolor watercolor pencils and one Graphitint water soluble pencil. You can see the difference between the transparent watercolor painting and the wc pencil painting. I like the grainy look of the wc pencils, it has a softness to it. On my sketchbook I've listed the actual colors for those who like to know! You can click any picture to see it larger.

This photo shows how I used a plastic bag to block the birds breast so I could brush right from his breast out, without getting him green! It's a little trick you can do to protect your areas you've painted. I would be holding it down with my fingers normally, but I had to hold the camera! (I need a camera man!) Then I show how I use my little Chinese brush by splaying it out, to make pine needles, it works great! The next photo shows me putting the needles on with the brush tips.
Now here's a little tip that I just put to good use, you can see in the last photo I have two pencils in my hand. You can brush the tips of your wc pencils to get a limited amount of color for light washes. But this time I held two, an Antique White and Tangerine. I brushed the Tangerine then the White to make an opaque wash of orange. I used this very nicely on his eye as it had gotten a bit dark. Then I used the white alone to dab repeatedly to make a highlight on his eye. Besides the Chinese brush, I used the one small brush to do all of the painting on both, a round, cheapo brush from Walmart!
I hope you enjoyed my painting today as much as I enjoyed doing it! Please leave me your comments if you like and you can sign up to receive email announcements when I do a new post!

"Lunar Eclipse" 2-20-08

Last night I went out at 10pm to catch the Lunar Eclipse. I bundled up as warm as I could, I brought my Canon 20D on a tripod, my tiny Olympus FE230 in my pocket and so I could see what I was doing with settings on my camera, I little reading light that I clipped to my coat near my neck. Um...yeah, I looked like a total photo geek~haha.
The sky had clouds coming and going, passing over the moon then totally clear for long ranges of time. I just couldn't get over the beauty, solitude and peace the stars, moon, clouds and trees gave. I stood 'night' dreaming about how it would be to watch these same stars in Ireland or England; are my friends there looking at them too? Then I wondered if I could go there and longed to be these feelings were on me, I saw a huge shooting star, right where I was looking to the North!! It went right into the cup of the Big Dipper, no kidding! I was so excited. This was between taking pictures of the moon and trees, I couldn't believe how bright and starry it was. Then as the excitement ebbed, I felt another emotion of loneliness. Sometimes when I look at a vast night sky with gorgeous stars, such a special moon and clouds, I have a feeling of infinite aloneness. These same stars have had countless people not unlike myself, over thousands of years, gazing up in wonder, perhaps feeling lonely too. My warrior "Orian" stands above my house waiting to follow me on my journeys.
Today I talked to my very talented photographer friend Gene Witkowski, who is also an avid Astronomy buff. I told Gene that the moon looked like it was part of a big S, he told me it is in the lower part of Leo. Leo being the 'backwards question mark'. In my first large picture you can see a star directly over the moon, that's 'Regularus' (in Leo) and the bright star to the lower left is not a star at all but Saturn! Saturn moves so slow that it takes 2 years to go around the sun, so it will be a part of a constellation for awhile.
Gene told me an interesting story about Christopher Columbus and a Lunar Eclipse. I guess when Columbus and his crew landed here in the Americas, they started to run out of food. This was a serious problem obviously, they were in dire straights. He had seen in his star charts that there would be a Lunar Eclipse. So he told the local Indians that he would make the moon disappear if they didn't feed him and his men. They didn't believe him until the moon disappeared!! So they gave them food and it is what saved their lives.

Moral of the story I guess is be learned, be aware of the changes of nature around you, it could save your life! Hmmm...I wish more people would pay attention to nature and what's going on with it.

"Field From My Window and Hawk" 2-19-08

I thought I'd do a little color practice using my watercolors, to sketch the field in Winter. I just love the brown, soft tans and red of the bark on the bushes in the far field. My studio is on the second floor so I have a good view.
As I was sipping my coffee and playing around with the field sketch, a hawk swooped down right in front of me over Ginger's head and across the yard. It was going for the birdfeeder I'm sure, looking for a light lunch of juncoe or sparrow! It landed up in a tree on the side yard and I had to look quickly with my binoculars, hard to see much as it was turned away and not close.
It is hard for me still to tell the difference between a "Sharp Shinned Hawk" and a "Cooper's Hawk", and being a stickler for correct identification, I can't say which it was.
I feel it is a Cooper's hawk, but need to see more to learn about their size and see the tail better.
If you look at my blog coming up...I did a nice little painting of a "Cooper's Hawk", inspired by today's sighting.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Backyard Sketching" 2-16-08

Today I decided to sketch some tracks before we have another snow or melt. I'd prefer a melt...but I don't have any control over that! So I bundled up and after feeding the chickens, started drawing. My dog Ginger is a maniac, as I said in my sketchbook, but really smart. When she sees that I'm wearing my field bag, she goes nuts, she thinks we're going for a hike! She spun around in circles, rolled in the snow, ate some snow!...Poor thing had to be content with my company in the yard, which was probably boring to her because when I draw, I stand still. Not much fun for a hyper dog. (She's an Australian Shepherd btw)

I sketched with a permanent ink marker, (Faber Castell) so you have to be careful as it's not erasable. I drew the tracks of a little bird from under the bird feeder and what was interesting were marks left from it's wings when it took off. The snow was soft so there wasn't any detail of toes, but out front on the walkway there were great tracks. Now that I'm sketching all the time, I'm in the habit of looking around me all the time! Then before Ginger jumped all over them, I drew the bunny tracks that crossed the yard. It was really cool to imagine how I think the rabbit must have been hopping, sometimes fast and long hops? , sometimes short and looking around? This is a great time of year to study tracks, every season has it's good points, so even though it's cold, get out and find some tracks to draw!
I brought my Derwendt Inktense color pencils with me. I tried to put just a hint of shadow in the tracks to show the depression better, but it's really hard to control the value. You have to use a really light touch, not too much pencil because when you wet it, it gets very strong. Then I did the small landscape view of my field. Instead of my waterbrush, I used a regular watercolor brush and a small jar of water that's attached to my field bag strap. Besides the cold of my fingers, it went ok. I added two photos, one is the field I painted, the other is looking south with the sun behind a cloud. The sky was the most intense blue, like my painting, the photo didn't capture the intensity. Hope you enjoyed looking my day in the backyard.

"Sunrise Photo" 2-16-08

I had to add this picture just because it's so beautiful. I just love watching the sun rise...the time between it's first color hitting the clouds, then a straight column of light shoots straight up from the horizon, as if to say, "Here I come, watch me!" The column lingers quite awhile as the sun gets ready to peek over the horizon. Then you see the glare of the sun, but it's not quite the real thing yet! You can see in the photo, the top of the actual sun is the rounded bit below in the trees. I smiled when I took it, thinking how it looked like the sun had a bald head and was going to look over the trees any minute at us. Sorry, always thinking of something silly, must be the little kid in me!

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Hiking at Como Lake Park" 2-13-08

"Come Walk with Me"

On Wednesday, Feb. 13, I asked my friend Sue if she wanted to come exploring Como Lake Park with me. Yes, it was cold but we both have a love of the outdoors and Sue isn't afraid of a little snow! I even brought my snowshoes hoping to give her a lesson and get in a little snowshoe time myself, but the trail was too uneven with huge slabs of ice from Cayuga Creek. We drove through the whole park to see what was there, it's pretty much a 'picnicey' type of place, not too many trails, but then we are visiting in winter and need to find out more. We explored one trail labeled "Boy Scout Trail" and I have a picture of the sign here. From the time we started out and returned it was only one hour, we didn't get to do the whole loop, our toes were getting too cold and we started having thoughts of hot cocoa!

There are many views at this park, where I could see I'd like to teach a landscape painting class and my nature sketching classes. The creek is great and reminds me of my walks to the Susquehanna River where I grew up, except that was MUCH larger than this creek!
You can see I'm drawing with my small sketchbook, my bag is slung across my shoulder mailman style so I can get at everything easily. (Sorry the picture is dark). My small camera is attached to the strap, as is my sandpaper block, a compass, and a tiny bottle of pepper spray! Ahhmmm yes ladies, you should be carrying this or something like it when hiking, and try to never hike alone, there are too many weirdos out there, yes I've met some!
You can see on my sketchbook page, I started by drawing a square in the center of the page. I stuck a post it note in the back of my sketchbook to use for tracing a perfect square. It's fun to add some design elements to your pages sometimes. You can then draw whatever you want to highlight in the box, and fill around it with little sketches, notes, tracks etc. I decided to sketch behind it a view of Cayuga creek looking south, you can see this view in the picture of me looking straight across the creek. Remember it's cold, and even wearing flip back mittens (as my friend in England recommended!) I still had to draw very fast. Especially when hiking with a friend, I feel more pressured to 'hurry up'.
I found a Hawthorne tree and noted several birds that I heard. At the end of our walk, I heard a loud woodpecker call, we stopped and watched for awhile and then saw a big Pileated Woodpecker fly out through the high branches! It was exciting! Perhaps the large, fresh woodpecker holes I took pictures of, were from this one? Here's a link for Como Lake Park with how to get there and picnic info etc. (if link doesn't work, I've listed it in my links column to the left, under Buffalo nature links.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Sunrise Oil Pastel" 2-11-08

Late last night I decided to play with my oil pastels while watching 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Well between scenes of Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas I did a painting 9x12" on canvas paper. I worked from a photo I took just the other morning when I did the Sunrise, Coffee and PJ's post. So you'll see a similarity between the sunrise paintings, but in this one the sun is UP now, more contrast in the clouds and color in the sky.

The canvas paper is something I've never used oil pastels on, but it's supposed to be good because it's coated with gesso to protect the paper from the oils in the pastels. I liked how easy it was to smear or blend BUT...I did not like how soon everything got too slippery to add more color.
I will try the Fredrix brand of canvas paper next to see how that behaves, it's real canvas in a tablet form. The one I used for my 'sunrise' painting is Daler-Rowney oil painting paper. Besides trying out the Fredrix brand I'll also try gessoing some illustration board and see how that works. I have a feeling I'll like it without the weave and still be able to play around with linseed oil or turpintine if I want. This isn't something I have ever used with my oil pastel paintings, but I would like to try it more and you can't use these mediums if you are working on regular paper.
I hope you liked my Sunrise!

Monday, February 11, 2008

"Cold Morning Sunrise"

This morning, what can I say? It's really cold outside and I'm not looking forward to going out to feed the chickens! Last night it dipped to -18 or -20 wind chill, now the sun is coming up to a cold but very clear morning.
I did a quick little impression of the sunrise, again by my coffee pot at the window. I used the Inktense color pencils so I could practice with them. If you click the pictures, you'll be able to read the actual thoughts I had.

In the second picture I'm showing you how I held two pencils at a time to recreate how I sketched in the land area. I stroked side to side then did some zigzag marks up and down for quick tree impressions. When you wet it, it's hard to control what happens, that's why I'm practicing! The Inktense colors are very saturated, it takes a tiny bit to make a mark.

I also show the waterbrush (in the last picture) that I often talk about using in the field. I don't watercolor with it, I prefer to carry a cup of water and use my own brushes for that. But for wetting watercolor pencils it's great!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Sunrise with Coffee and PJ's"

At around 7:30 this morning I was making my coffee in the studio. My studio looks out over fields and faces east, so I usually get great views of the sunrise. I grabbed an 8x10" sketchbook and my oil pastels and did a quick little landscape while still in my pajamas! Hey you gotta do it when you can and gorgeous sunrises don't stick around!

I first quickly laid on light greys for the clouds shapes because the wind moved them so fast. Then I built up the greys and blues and added light blue for the light parts of the sky. With oil pastels it's hard to get a very light blue so you have to add lots of white. I put the blue on very light then rub white on top and smear it with my fingertips. The heavier you put oil pastels on, the nicer it is to blend, but you have to plan ahead. It's not like blending paints, you can't really go back and alter colors very much. After the sun broke through the clouds it was too hard to look at, so I worked on the ground and trees to finish it.
I scanned the colors I used for you to see them alone.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Hiking on my Land" 2-6-08

Today, I felt a great urge to be outside, the weather was terrible for painting and drawing but actually not bad for a nice cold hike! The air was fresh, the wind steady but not too strong, and Ginger was very excited to go for a run. I used permanent ink fine point markers, no pencil for sketching and even tried out my watercolors. I must be crazy on such a cold day but I really felt like capturing some of the colors with some quick watercolor sketches. You can click on pictures to see the pages of my sketchbook close up or the photos. On the first page we had made it to the 'maze' an area of my land that I cut like a maze, and Ginger found something. I could tell it held great interest for her, it was scat (droppings) from I think a fox. Now don't get grossed out, but any naturalist would record and study it, so I did. It was very full of hairs, probably from the rabbit it ate.
Then I did a quick study of the open field, mostly to capture color, not detail. Detail would be almost impossible in this cold wearing the huge, stiff leather gloves I had on! A flock of geese went over...I tried to catch them through the trees, and some lichens growing on stick in the icy water of the lane.

I think artists should show themselves in their environment, here I was, thoughtful, studying the land...umm freezing! ha! You can see I'm wearing my heavy coat with rain coat over that, wool hat, big gloves. I kind of like the little sketch of my big old 'sister' oak tree on the second page of the sketchbook. I'm looking across the field, where there's the red barked bushes in front.

The third page I had frozen fingers by this time, you can tell by the loose, quick grasses I did. I also show a photo of how I held the sketchbook, palette, watercups and brush. In my hand of course, I also had picked up several 'treasures' to take back to the studio. I'm going to design a better way to hold a few brushes or pens, and the water. I was constantly on the move and this was too hard to handle with the gloves and weather. Did you notice the sarcastic note I wrote on my sketchbook about drawing with frozen fingers? At the end I was aggravated with struggling with my watercup lids so I just dipped my brush into the icy water at my feet. I tried not to swish it in where it was muddy and as I painted, it really was cold enough that I was getting icy crystals on my paper! YES, time for cocoa!

The last page of the sketchbook was done in the studio, I took more time to work from some of the 'treasures' I brought back. I drew most of it with a permanent fine point marker with no pencil sketch first. When you do this, it helps to make some little marks where you think your line will go before you commit to a solid drawn line. Pay attention to negative spaces especially on things like the center weed, it helped me to look at the spaces between the stems as I laid it out. Hope you enjoyed coming for a hike with me today at Long Lane Farm! ps. I drank two cups of cocoa to thaw out!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Walk in the Yard 2-4-08

Today I wanted to get outside without spending too much time thinking about it. Sometimes you can waste time just planning and packing so I kept it super simple. I took a gallon ziplock bag, my 6x8" sketchbook, a tortillion, a small stiff brush, one small set of charcoal pencils (already in a clear pouch so I could grab them), and something new to me a set of "Cretacolor" leads or sticks with a lead holder. I have a bigger picture of them laying on my sketchbook pictured. The set comes with a 4b graphite stick, a white chalk, two shades of brown chalk, and sanguin? stick that is like a color pencil and doesn't smear or blend easily.

I should have brought a simple pen for writing, hard to write with charcoal! oops! Next time. I wore these work gloves because they offered a bit of protection but they let me use my hands better than my heave work gloves! I use these when I do oil landscapes in the fall or spring when it's still chilly.

Something I've mentioned before, it's when you really stop and be still for a time that you start to notice little things you might have missed before. Today I was setting my ziplock bag in the snow as I worked on drawing standing up. When I crouched down to retrieve something from my bag, I noticed a tiny, tiny bug on my bag. Then I noticed there were more tiny bugs on the snow under the dead Zinnias I was drawing. Then as I looked around, no kidding, they were all across the snow everywhere! Yikes, glad they were tiny, but it's a sign of spring. I'm not sure what they were.

"Connecting to Nature"

(click on the photos for a larger view, these were taken in my own backyard)

“Connecting to Nature” by Mary McAndrew

"If you’re feeling tired, stressed out or sort of ‘disconnected’ today, consider taking time to visit some place of natural beauty, a place that fills you with a sense of awe and wonder. The ocean, a river, canyon or forest would be great because they carry their own energy of power to marvel at. Let go of worrisome thoughts and just immerse your mind in the beauty around you. Our problems fade away when we are in the presence of such wonder; our mind and spirit expand and open.

Actually the more you experience these great feelings and positive feedback, the easier it will be to draw the memories up when you need them. You don’t have to visit a grand forest or the Grand Canyon for that matter, to experience this, just take a walk out your back door for some fresh air. Even a dead looking yard in winter can hold beauty and life. Find a place to sit or stand quietly and close your eyes, just listen, feel the breeze on your face and hands, smells of the earth, rain, snow; the sounds of birds or leaves blowing. Let them visit you, touch you and enter your being. Feel the warmth of it entering your heart space, a beautiful green color glows within. Did you get a shiver? That’s the energy moving through your body, it’s a great thing!

If you can’t get out to nature, sit and quiet your mind and breath slow, let yourself wander out an imaginary door to the places you’ve really been before. Remember the sounds, sights, smells and feelings you had when you were there. Let yourself smile and see how it changes your feelings or mood!

If you can, next time you do go to a beautiful place, take a journal or sketchbook with you. Write how you feel, paint some colors or do a drawing of an interesting or beautiful plant. Memories will stick with you so much deeper if you write about it or draw it, the thoughts going from a deep place within you, to your head, to your hand, your pen then the paper. Look back on these notes and sketches on a day when you feel you need to connect with nature and you’ll be surprised how the feelings and memories will come back to you!"