Sunday, August 30, 2009

Plant Shopping Spree

Not bad for the first year, eh?

I am a plant addict. Other women get off on buying shoes or handbags or the latest must-have piece; I get off on buying plants. This weekend I noticed that our neighborhood nursery was having a sale on native plants and my palms got sweaty and my heart began to race. Should I get kinnick-kinnick for an evergreen ground cover, or our local lonicera honeysuckle to bring in the hummers? I've been pining for some penstemon, but sticky geranium would add some nice spring color. Decisions, decisions!

When I got to the nursery, I realized I had completely forgotten about native grasses. How I love grasses, particularly in fall when they change colors from greens to golds, tans and reds, and in winter when they add a little something to the bleak landscape. So first into my cart went a little bluestem - a lovely clumper with hints of red and not too big for my little garden.

Little bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium meeting its new friends in the garden.

Then, just as I was about to put a sticky geranium in my cart, I realized that it had pink blooms! Gorgeous blooms, but pink, none the less. I really need some spring color other than pink. Jacob's ladder has sky blue flowers in spring, which would be a nice change, and this fantastic fern-like foliage to add interest (as the gardening magazines say). So into the cart it went. Little bluestem - meet Jacob's-ladder. Jacob's-ladder - this is little bluestem.

Jacob's-ladder - Polemonium pulcherrium

I was just about at the end of my budget, but I had to get one more plant (I'm an artist - things look better in threes). I hadn't gotten anything to attract hummingbirds yet, and I still wanted more color variety in the spring. So I opted for a penstemon with showy bluish pink flowers.

Large beardtongue - Penstemon grandiflorus

I rushed home with my precious plants, awash with the flush of success. I couldn't wait to get my loot into the ground. However, the weather had other ideas - dark storm clouds were building over the mountains to the south and the wind was starting to pick up. So I left the new editions in their pots and retreated inside.

I was able to transplant my purchases into the garden this morning, and take a few pictures of the other treasures I have there. And they are treasures. In a few weeks the fall rains may start, and then our first frost and then that will be that for the garden until next year. Six months of winter is long time for a plant addict!

Liatris blooms up close and personal

A grasshopper retreats into the leaves of Autumn Joy sedum.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Daily Sketch - False Lily of the Valley

Maianthemum species - false lily of the valley

I don't often get to enjoy the luxury of having time to sit and sketch a plant in depth. Even on our vacation to Oregon in July, there was so much to see and do that we were always on the go. One afternoon, however, I did have some free time and so I wandered around outside the house we were sharing on the coast with Denise and Jim. I found all sorts of wonderful plants growing right around the house, including this one. It is a native, but was being used in the landscaping - a smart choice for low maintenance gardening. Why fight the climate you are in, after all. Grow a plant that's genetically adapted to the area! This one made a lovely shade groundcover. The leaves are thick and deep green, it has delicate white flowers in spring and then these mottled berries in summer. What's not to like?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Painting 25 - Goose Family Robinson

Does anyone remember Swiss Family Robinson? I so wanted that tree house! It must've been incredible to be the set designer of the movie. I have a fantasy that someday I'll have an art studio tree house... Meanwhile I plod along in my subterranean studio space instead.

Arrgh! Since I'm thinking of childhood movies, I could throw a childhood temper tantrum right now. I'm all stressed out at work, then I come home and the painting doesn't go well. STILL having problems with the masking fluid affecting the paper. This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder why the heck I am struggling with watercolor instead of using acrylic or colored pencil which is so much easier to control and correct. It's too late at night to eat a hot fudge sundae, so I have to figure out some other way to calm down. Breathe...Breathe... must find my Happy Place...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Painting 24 - Does It Pop Yet?

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of graphic designers like the phrases "Jazz it up" or "Make it pop" (except maybe a client insisting on text being in comic sans...). Yet as I struggle with this painting, "pop" is exactly how I would describe what I'm trying to accomplish. I should be moving on to Painting 25 but for some reason I can't let this one alone. I guess the vision I have in my head seems so attainable this time. The background is getting better; I can't see my brush strokes anymore. I think possibly the color is getting richer as it gets darker. The egret may even be starting to glow a little. I'd like to add some leaves fading into the background. The big question is how much more abuse can the paper take? I am tempted to start over. The painting is only 6" x 4", so it wouldn't be a huge undertaking to start with fresh white paper again. Then maybe I could attain that elusive "pop" I'm looking for.

However, this will all have to wait to be resolved until tomorrow. I've been up since 4:30 am (not by choice) and I am tired. Meanwhile, Madeleine is letting us know in no uncertain terms that she is going to starve to death in a matter of seconds if she is not fed RIGHT NOW, even though she ate about 4 hours ago. So anyone who is still with me at this point, I bid you bonne nuit.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Painting 24 - Great Egret

I am not an astrology follower; I tend to think of it as a diversion, a fun thing to check out after the fact and see if by chance it was correct. And my skeptical, scientific mind can come up with all sorts of explanations for any seeming correlation to my life. But I have to admit that there is one astrologer who has been eerily correct over the years: Rob Brezny of Free Will Astrology. Our indy newspaper here in town carries his column and I've always looked forward to seeing if he's been spying on me lately. This last month he certainly has! Each of the last four weeks he has been right in tandem with my life.

My horoscope for this week talked about how hard I've worked and how I have gotten a "taste of victory" over my "old bugaboos" but Mr. Brezny pointedly asks am I going to stop there because it is comfortable or am I going to push myself to complete success. Whether he is really able to see my future or not, he does bring up a very good point. Lately I have indeed felt that I have at last reached a comfortable level of achievement over my personal ghosts and demons. Hurrah! -But this does have a down side. This week in particular, I have not been pushing myself as hard as I had been. When pain and fear are nipping at your heels, taking chunks out of your calves and threatening to pull you down into the feeding frenzy, you run and you run hard, but when they are not the force driving you forward it is much easier to get lazy, much easier to ease up on the effort.

This is no less valid a point in my artistic life, either. A few days ago I had my goal of 25 paintings in 3 months in sight, easily achievable, and yet here I am a few days after my goal date and I'm only just finishing Painting 24 and haven't even started Painting 25. What the heck happened??? I could come up with all sorts of excuses: too tired, too much sugar, still recovering from the MIL, freelance work, etc., but the bottom line is I didn't do it and I could've. There was nothing really stopping me except me. Live and learn.

Painting 24 was a bit difficult. I've included one version of it below that I just wasn't satisfied with. (Truth be told, I'm not satisfied with the final one either). I see so many watercolor artists produce these beautiful rich dark backgrounds with smooth textures. I wanted that for this painting, and then to have the bird and groups of mangrove leaves absolutely light up in the places where the sun was the strongest. I feel like it ended up rather drab. I also found myself getting overwhelmed by each individual leaf and losing track of where I was supposed to be painting each one. I've come a long way, bu I've still got a long way to go...

1st attempt

I want to thank everybody who left me birthday comments or e-mails this week. It was a great day and it is going to be a great year - as long as I don't get lazy!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Painting 23 - Bison

My in-laws were in town over the weekend, so between the pre-visit mass cleaning and the post-visit recovery, I haven't been able to put paint to paper in a while. I've missed it. Really missed it. When I picked up the paintbrush last night and made that first brush stroke and saw the colors spreading on the paper, it just felt so good. I thought I'd challenge myself with another mammal painting and another dreaded shadow. This shadow didn't end up with the mass and volume that the onion shadow had, so definitely an improvement there.

Happy Birthday to me! For the first time in our entire relationship, Paul won't be able to be home for my birthday this year. So instead of sulking, I'm going to go hike up a local mountain that I haven't hiked yet and have ice cream with friends to celebrate instead.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Will the Real Painting 21 Please Stand Up (and Painting 22)

After I posted on Monday night, my artistic conscience just couldn't let me keep the color charts as a part of the 100 Paintings Challenge. Plus I really wanted to play with those new paints and brushes more! So I stayed up and did this quick watercolor sketch of a couple of onions I had hanging around. Loved the onions themselves, not so crazy about the shadows - gotta work on that.
All day at work yesterday I was so anxious to get home and paint more. Yoda would not have been pleased with my lack of attention to the tasks at hand. The clock went soooo slooooowly. Finally I was released and I hurried home to my paints. Kelly's post about the hummingbird at Red and the Peanut inspired me to try a subject I've been meaning to paint for a while now. I know there's a trick to painting iridescent colors, but...

Don't let the cute little pose he's got fool you - these critters are ill-tempered!
That's what too much sugar will do to you.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Painting 21 - Er, Sort Of. And Some Inspiration

A treat to myself arrived today. Of course it arrived right as I had to leave for work, so no time to do anything but open the box and admire my goodies. But knowing it was there, waiting for me when I got home gave me a buzz to get me through the work day (but sadly didn't make the clock go any faster).

When I started on the 100 Painting Challenge back in May, I did not intend to complete the whole thing in watercolor. I looked at the Challenge as a way to kick-start my painting again, not necessarily to master a particular medium. I started out with watercolor because it was easier to use in my little studio space. Acrylics and canvases take up so much room. Plus if watercolors dry out, you can wet them again. Acrylics are much harder to save from day to day. (One time I did manage to keep them moist for a while but they eventually grew mold) But here I am having completed 20 paintings and I am finding that watercolor is really growing on me. I find myself curious about watercolor and its potential. I even bought a watercolor instruction book this weekend. I am pleasantly surprised by this turn of events. And what was my gift to myself that arrived today? A new set of watercolors, paper, and watercolor brushes! And not the student grade watercolors I've been using to "save money". I've got Big Girl watercolors now.

So Painting 21 is actually me testing out the new paints. I don't know if this counts as a painting really, but...

Ooo, look at me getting all fancy with the color testing.

The palette I chose to purchase consists of a warm and a cool version of the 3 primary colors taken from an exercise in Nita Leland's book "Exploring Color". As you can see in the photo, I tried mixing them into a color wheel and then checked their transparency (Cadmium Red Light is definitely NOT transparent!). It's a shame the photo washed out a little, but I love the richness of the colors already! I can't wait to use these new paints in a formal painting.

I also wanted to share a post from Christine Kane's motivational blog. I've bookmarked her blog for myself and I check on every few days. I originally found it through a link on Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo's blog, and today I noticed a post about inspiration and how to do things even when you don't feel like it. You'll have to weed through her workshop self-promotions, but I thought the essence of the post worth sharing.

As for the big box that my art supplies came in, once I unpacked it, it was put to good use...
Mmm, it still has that new box smell!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Painting 20 - Daylily

Whew - twenty paintings under my belt! No wonder I needed a two hour nap today. Now I have to complete 5 more paintings by August 20th to keep on track for my 100 paintings in a year challenge.

I've been admiring and studying the watercolor floral paintings of Laure Ferlita at Painted Thoughts and Jacqueline Gnott at Contemporary Realism and have wanted to give it a go myself. So this morning I took my camera and walked to our local natural food store to photograph some of the beautiful flowers they have growing in their water-wise landscaping. This lily particularly caught my eye. I think this type is a Stella D'Oro daylily. Unfortunately the photo I took included a dead bloom in front of the right hand side of the flower. When I started the drawing, I chose not to include the dead bloom. It would've just looked like a blob and not added anything to the painting. But then I had to invent what the right hand side of the flower looked like! The stamens were the most challenging part of the painting, though - they got quite confusing to paint and in the end the angle that they went back into tube of the flower is not accurate. However, I am very pleased with how this came out overall.

As I mentioned with Painting 19, I am feeling very comfortable with the watercolors now. I think that since I'm no longer fighting with the paint, this will free me up a bit to concentrate on improving my backgrounds and compositions.

Daily Sketch - Li'l Wabbit

I haven't posted one of my daily sketches in quite a while, so I thought I'd share one again. This l'il wabbit - or bunneh for LOLCats fans - lived in our yard in Pennsylvania. He (I'm assuming it was a boy rabbit, as we never had baby bunnies about) was a well-behaved neighbor who resisted feasting on my garden plants, which I very much appreciated. He would just sit, serenely nibbling on a blade of grass.

After the painting of the deer, I realized I needed to work on my understanding of mammal eye placement. I ran across a picture of this guy when I was cleaning out my studio area a few weeks ago and thought it would be an excellent reference shot for a sketch; possibly even for a nice pen & ink of him, so stay tuned...

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Oregon Tidepooling

I've been so busy since we returned from our Oregon vacation in July that all of my photos have remained on my photo card, languishing without my attention. It seems so long ago now that we were on the coast. I miss it, and I miss laughing my a** off with Paul, Denise and Jim, and poking around in the tidepools with them. Here are a few of the interesting things we saw...

A giant green anemone at low tide remains open in the little bit of water that is left in its pool. In the lower right hand corner of the photo you can see a shiny dark green thing - that's the edge of another giant green anemone that has retracted in on itself for low tide.

A bit of kelp makes a beautiful pattern against the beach pebbles.

Gooseneck barnacles and mussels on an exposed rock at low tide.

This crab had shuffled off this mortal coil (did I mention I'm a Monty Python fan?) by the time we saw it. A gull was trying to get the last bits of tasty meat out of the nooks and crannies of its shell when we happened upon it. The coloring and patterns on its shell were just fantastic.

These pink sea anemones, called aggregating anemones were much smaller than the more common giant green ones we saw. These were clustered in a sandy-bottomed tidepool at Hug Point.

There's a really cool website with great pictures all about the critters you can find in the Oregon tidepools at
Their focus is on southern Oregon tidepools but many of the things we saw in the north are included on their website.

Hope you enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane with me.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Painting 19 - Flamingo

I really like this one. It is not at all what I started out to do but I love how it ended up. This was going to be an exercise in careful planning. I was going to have a background, the bird was going to be highly detailed. For once I had every step of the painting planned out ahead of time. But when I put down my first wash of color on the flamingo's neck and saw how it interacted with the paper, I suddenly knew I needed to paint loose with no background and that I needed to not fuss with the painting but just let it be as it was. After 18 paintings, I think I am finally beginning to understand the unique properties of watercolor and how not to fight that but use it to the painting's advantage. This is a very exciting step for me.

I believe my reference photos for this were taken many years ago at either the zoo in Seattle or the zoo in Philadelphia. I don't remember which. But I do remember spending a lot of time watching them preening and fluffing and doing their flamingo thing. Such great, beautiful, awkward birds! Their feathers are not naturally pink - the color comes from carotenoids contained in the algae and little crustaceans that they eat. When the birds live in captivity, such as in a zoo, they need a special diet to keep their coloring or their feathers will become white.