Saturday, January 31, 2015

Water-soluble dual-tip pens

Today I bought a few Tombow Dual Brush Pens in a couple of shades of gray and one brown -- I already have a dark brown one and love it.  They have a brush at one end and a point at the other, and the ink is water-soluble.  They're great for quick sketches that you can add a little shading or pizazz to by adding water.

I'm planning to add these to my "art to go" sketch kit bag.  In the meantime, I tried one of the gray ones out on a sleepy Truman at home this afternoon:

Friday, January 30, 2015

Too many choices

While watercolor is my favorite medium, it's not the only thing I use, so when I think about a new drawing or painting (other than just sketches, that is -- more finished work), there are lots of questions:

1.  What subject will I draw or paint next?  I have thousands of photos.  Lots of birds, some landscapes, some dogs, some from various travels...thousands.  So that's the first thing to think about.

2.  Once I've found the next subject, what medium do I use?  Watercolor?  Acrylics?  Ink?  Colored pencil?  Multimedia?  What would best suit the subject?

3.  What surface do I choose?  140lb cold press watercolor paper?  Rough press?  Hot press?  Canvas?  Canvas board?  What will work best?

Well, sometimes I just don't know, and have to find out by experimenting.  Yesterday, for example, I sorted through the photos I've printed out recently, and found this one:

I took this photo last summer of a Pied-billed Grebe family, and wanted to do something with it, but had no idea what.  I considered watercolor and acrylics and decided against both, as I thought the level of detail in the feathering would be hard to convey in paint.  Colored pencil might work well, except in the past I've found that I haven't been able to depict water or smooth-looking surfaces with it very well.

In the end, after much dithering, I opted to give pen-and-ink a try, as it seemed a good medium for fine detail work.  I chose a light-blue tinted watercolor paper and focused on the birds rather than depicting the water itself.  Here is my set-up:

First I sketched in a very rough pencil outline of the birds and their main features.  Then I started in on the main bird with walnut ink, using a crow-quill pen.  I tried to follow the feather patterning as best I could, putting in overall light to medium tones and then going back in with extra strokes and a little crosshatching here and there for the darker areas.  I opted to hint at the reflections rather than put them in with the same value as the birds, as I thought that might distract from them.  Here is the final piece:

And now I'm back to square one:  what do I paint next...?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Briefly: birds

Here is an acrylic painting I finished this morning:

These are Black Oystercatchers, and I worked from a photo that I took last September at Semiahmoo Spit which is near Blaine, WA.  They were strolling along the rocky, barnacle-encrusted, seaweed-strewn beach picking up crustaceans for breakfast.

I spent a lot of time working on the beach part, throwing lots of colors at it in the hope that some of them would work out. The birds were kind of incidental.  Mostly I wanted to use up this odd landscape-format canvas I had lying around.  I think it's 6x10" or thereabouts.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What to sketch when you're stuck at home

Sorry for not posting the past few days -- I've been home with a cold, and while I still managed to sketch every day, nothing was all that exciting.  You can see for yourself the thrilling items I found to draw around my living room:

That's my coffee table...lots of cough drops and chicken broth.

And here's the view from the sofa, where I spend a lot of time...this is Truman's favorite chair by the front window.

And of course, I can always sketch Truman...though today I managed to get him to his day care so he could have a little fun.  So I will have to find something different to draw, hopefully something more interesting than cough drops!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

His Royal Highness

I decided to give acrylic paints another go, on something other than birds for once.  My long-haired dachshund Truman was posing ever so regally on his recliner recently, with his favorite purple blanket as backdrop.  I thought he made an excellent subject and I was fast enough to snap a photo before he moved.

Since he's mostly black (with scattered bits of blonde and reddish-brown fur), I painted the entire canvas black first, which turned out to be quite useful as it sure was easy to tell where the darkest darks were going to be in the painting.  I wound up going over a lot of the fur, adding highlights and midtones, so very little of the original black remains -- just enough to make everything else stand out.

I still prefer watercolor but am not averse to using acrylics now and then.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Art on the Go

Ever since I started taking art supplies to the field in my attempts to draw birds and plants and landscapes, I've been refining my equipment.  For some time, my standard kit contained pencils for initial sketching, waterproof ink pens for final sketching, plus water-soluble colored pencils and a water brush in case I wanted to add color easily.

The colored pencils, though, while easy to use for instant color, had one problem -- there were too many of them!  So many colors were needed to get just the right result, either with straight color or a layering of two or three, that it seemed as if I spent more time sorting through them than using them.

So I've recently switched to a portable watercolor kit instead -- one simple tool to mix any color I want.  I resisted it in the past, wanting to keep dry supplies, because I'm a klutz -- but having watched people using it without making a mess, I decided to give it a try.  Here is my current field kit:

Small watercolor palette, pencils, Sakura Micron waterproof pens, a brown water-soluble pen, water brush, and 6x9" watercolor paper pad.  All fits neatly into a 10x13" over-the-shoulder bag, into which I also put paper towels and a water bottle.

I have a slight addiction to buying sketchbooks -- in all sorts of sizes.  Here is what I pulled off my art supply shelf just now:

I have three more that I keep at the office, because you never know when you might want to sketch something!  I usually don't take anything bigger than 9x12" with me in the field.

Here are a few of the sketches:

Today at work I wanted to sketch during lunch -- alas, it was raining, so I wandered around my building looking for inspiration.  The corridors and offices and people were not doing anything for me, but I finally found a collection of plants at the end of an out-of-the-way hall.  I plopped down on the floor and because my wanderings had not left me much of my lunch time, I skipped the pencil sketch and drew directly with ink.  Then I mixed up a few watercolors to fill it in.

This is a very quick method for capturing a small scene, and the new kit works well for me.  I'm looking forward to doing more.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I Hate Oil Paint

Having had some success with an oil painting class a year or so ago, I decided to try another oil painting, and boy, did I hate it, even though I had professional grade paints.  The subject was a Varied Thrush in a tree with berries.  Here is the background stage:

The paints were thick and even with a medium added, difficult to get to the consistency I wanted.

As you can see on the tree trunk, oil paint often produces a sheen -- apparently people who actually know what they're doing can control this via the direction of the brush strokes.  I sure couldn't!

What I truly disliked was the smell, and the mess of clean up.  Watercolor is so much easier to deal with!

Mixing colors was not too hard, all in all.  But the overall feel of the paint, the difficulty in controlling where I wanted it to go, and my inability to get thin enough paint for fine detail work were all horribly frustrating.  Plus the smell...gah, the smell.  And the clean up...did I mention the smell and the clean up?  Awful, just plain awful.

So I've tried oils, and acrylics, and pastel chalk of late.  And I've reached a conclusion:

I am sticking to watercolor!!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Urban Sketching

Today I tried something new -- I went to the monthly get-together for the Seattle Urban Sketchers group, which meets in a different location each time.  This month's spot was the Pike Place Market.  The idea is to meet up at 10am, chat a bit, then disperse to sketch for two hours before meeting up again to look at each other's work.

It was low-key and there were three other new folks, and we were made very welcome.  It was a bit rainy at first, so after a quick sketch out front, I headed down to the lowest level.  My subjects are usually birds and nature, so it was a challenge to do buildings, and I tried to find areas without any people about or just ones passing through.

The lower level was nice and quiet.  Then I moved up one level and found this lovely shop selling colorful clothing, and sat down out of the way near the top of some stairs to sketch it.  About half way into the sketch, another member of the group turned up and plopped herself down right in the scene!  I told her that I didn't draw people, and she happily ignored me.  So I had to put her in.

Here we are meeting up to look over everybody's work -- that's the interloper at bottom right.  Her name is Nancy and she was really quite nice about being sketched, and she liked the way my portrait of her turned out.

Another woman asked me about my sketch, and I told her what happened, and she said, "We have a phrase for that, when someone gets into your view -- it's called a Sketch Bomb."

Ooh.  I was ever so excited -- the club was telling me their secret lingo!  I'd been accepted!

Here's a sampling of the other sketchbooks -- lots of variety in style and medium.

All in all, a very successful and enjoyable experience.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Done with Walls

Yesterday I decided it was time to finish the bedroom mural project, as I felt ready to move on to new things.  So first I added some dirt, rocks, and grass to the foreground.

Next, I looked up Pacific Northwest wildflowers on the web, and tossed some in.  These took some time to do, since the colors refused to go over the blue of the pond or the brown/green of the foreground without being transparent -- which meant I had to first paint every flower and its stem and leaves in opaque white first, wait for that to dry, and then go over it with the colors.  Every flower was therefore painted twice.  What fun!

Here is a close-up:

The left hand side needed at least one bird, and I opted for a simple Killdeer in flight.

At this point, I called it good.  For one thing, I wanted my studio space back!  Here is the whole wall:

Perhaps I need blinds now instead of the curtains.  Also, there should probably be some far off hills or maybe Mount Rainier in the background instead of empty space...though I've decided that, despite the northwest wildflowers, this is really a secret pond in the heart of Kansas and beyond the cattails there is nothing but flat wheatfields all the way to the horizon.  Either that, or just beyond the cattails, it is very, very foggy.

I did put the book shelf back -- I knew all along it would cover up the right hand wall and most of the tree trunk, but luckily, it did not cover up the woodpecker.  Whew!  I really have nowhere else to put it.  Here is my art studio returned to its normal, cluttered state:

Wonder what I should work on next?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Minor mural update

Tonight I added one duck to the pond.  I thought about putting in some teal or wigeons, but this is a summer pond in a temperate zone, and they wouldn't be there then -- it would pretty much be Mallards, Gadwalls, or Wood Ducks.  Wood Ducks are prettiest, so now there's one on the pond.  I think I'll work on the bottom shoreline next.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mural Update

I added more leaves to the tree (I think that's done now), and filled out the cattails and grasses along the shore.

I think I'll test out some ducks on the right hand side of the pond -- that way if they don't work out, they'll get covered up by the book shelf.  Handy!  Although the more I work on this, the more I'm wondering if I want to put back the book shelf on the right hand wall.  But I don't have room for it anywhere else in the house and it holds half of my art supplies.  Oh, dear.....

Anyway, here is the updated view of the main area:

I also decided the wall to the left of the window would need some continuation, so I added pond and rocks and plants over there:

I'm thinking that a bird or two in flight would look nice over on that side -- maybe a Killdeer coming in to land, and a swallow heading off into the wild blue yonder.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mural Time: Long Post with Lots of Photos

I've always enjoyed painting on walls and there are already two murals in my home, but hey, there is still a lot of blank space left to play with, so I had the idea to paint another mural in the bedroom.  The wall is the one that my art desk faces, and I decided to do a tree with a pond and a few birds.  I made a rough sketch first, and also looked online for ideas.  Then I painted the wall a pale sky blue and waited a week for it to dry completely.

This weekend I started on the mural and made good progress.  Here's what I've got so far:

1.  The tree trunk is extra thick because there's a bookshelf that stands against the right hand wall and when it's put back, it will cover a lot of the trunk.

2.  I added the beginnings of the pond, and added highlights and shadows to the tree.  I'm trying to use up those craft-grade acrylic paints, as this is not meant to be long-lasting or fine art.  I'm going for a more illustrative than fine-art look.

3.  I have a Dover clip art book of simplistic black and white bird drawings, and used that along with my field guides (for the colors) to put in a few woodland birds.  Here are a Great Horned Owl and a Pileated Woodpecker:

4.  Next I put in a few smaller birds -- a Blue Jay, Common Yellowthroat, and a Bewick's Wren:

A close-up:

5.  The right hand wall will be mostly covered when the bookshelf is put back, but I decided to add one bird there, a robin:

6.  I may add a nuthatch or creeper to the trunk later, but at this point, I was a bit tired of painting birds and wanted to move on to the landscape.  I started with a line of dark brown along the pond to indicate shoreline, and then added some small rocks all along it.

7.  The basic technique for illustrative landscape like this is to draw the object, paint it entirely in the midtone color, and then add highlights and shadows.  Up close, it may look fairly rough and lacking in detail, while from a distance (which is how it will generally be viewed), it looks just fine.  Here is the same technique used to add cattails and bulrushes:

8.  And here it is again, applied to the tree foliage:

It's now Sunday afternoon around 4pm and I'm tired of painting on the wall!  The foliage is especially labor-intensive and there's a lot more of it to paint.  I also want to add a Great Blue Heron to the shore, a few ducks to the pond, and I'll need to finish off the lower part of the pond edge with more rocks and plants.  I might put some ivy on the lower tree trunk.

I'm pleased with what I've done so far, and find myself eyeing the other blank spaces on my walls.  The only real problem is doing the parts up on top that require getting up and down off a chair -- my sixty-year-old knees don't care much for that!

Friday, January 9, 2015

As promised...

The description of my blog is "Art. Birds. Nature. Maybe a dachshund photo now and then.  Well, here it is, as promised!

This is Hairy Truman, my two-year-old Longhaired Dachshund, playing with his Christmas gift, a stuffed opossum, which I'm pretty sure looks more like a big rat to him.  We had the occasional rat in our yard last year when I had the bird feeder up, and they drove poor Truman absolutely crazy.

Tru is a very sweet and very shy guy with a mostly calm, couch potato attitude towards life (unless there are rats or squirrels in his yard).  He loves his home and yard and hates to go out for walks if he can see his house, so the only way we can go for walks in our neighborhood is if I put him in the pet stroller, walk him away from home, and then when we turn around to head back, take him out.  Then he will go as fast as his short little legs will carry him to get back home.  

Thankfully, he does enjoy car rides, and will happily go to my favorite birding place, the Union Bay Natural Area (AKA the Montlake Fill) and walk around the Loop Trail with me.  He can't see his house from there.  He's an excellent bird dog -- very quiet, very patient when I stand around staring at birds, and completely disinterested in them.  Last weekend there were several Golden-crowned Sparrows hopping on the path about four feet in front of us, and he just sat next to me, waiting until we moved on.  The only time he has ever chased birds is when they dare to trespass in his own yard.

Truman is a funny, happy little guy.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lunch time sketchiness

It's difficult to do anything significant for my "year of art" project on work days, but today I was able to sneak away during my lunch hour with a sketchbook.  First, I checked out the botany greenhouse, where there were far too many fascinating plants to choose from, but eventually I found a Bromeliad that I liked, Hechtia argentia.

Obviously, this is toned paper*, on which I used a 3B pencil and a white pastel pencil.

The greenhouse was a bit too warm, so I wandered back outside (a comfortable 50 degrees) to the nearby Medicinal Herb garden.  Most of the plants there are withered and in decay, with lots of dead foliage about, very captivating, and I found a large dried pod on the ground which turned out to be Cynara syriaca, or Wild Artichoke.

A very pleasant way to spend a lunch hour!

*Strathmore Toned Gray sketch paper (400 Series) 50-sheet spiral notebook, 5.5 in. x 8.5in. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Merganser, part two

I did a little work on the Common Merganser acrylic painting yesterday evening, mostly to just put down a mid-tone over the body and play around with a few feather colors.

Today I popped into the Artist and Craftsman Supply store in the U-District on my lunch hour to pick up a few other colors and a better brush.  This evening I finished it (for now, anyway, as there's one area I'd like to smooth out a bit). Here I'm testing out new colors and adding details and highlights here and there:

And here it is looking a bit messy as I fuss even more with getting the colors right, and putting lots more detail in:

And finally, here it is now, and I'm about 95% pleased with the results, though may refine it some more when I'm not so tired!

Not bad if I do say so myself.  

My new oil paints arrived today -- can't wait to see what I can do with them.