Sunday, May 31, 2009

Painting 5 in Progress

I spent the weekend helping my husband move his graduate paraphernalia back home, so I haven't had a chance to complete Painting #5 yet. I'm having fun with this one though. Mallard drakes just seem to be so full of character. As a child, I poured over the illustrations in Make Way For Ducklings and although I want this painting to be realistic, I can't help thinking about illustrating childrens books as I work on it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

First Printing!

It's here! I got the first print of my great horned owl piece from the printer today. This is the illustration that made the cover of Montana's Cultural Treasures booklet a few months ago and I've gotten enough inquiries about prints to seriously consider this step. Nerve-wracking but exciting.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Great Birding Morning

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
We took a walk along the river one morning recently, following one of our favorite river trails with riparian habitat on one side, full of chokecherry, willow and cottonwood, and forest on the other side, with douglas fir and larch rising up to rocky cliffs. It is usually a very birdy area, and this morning was no exception. You couldn't throw a stick without hitting a yellow warbler (we didn't try, though) and there was one particularly vocal and acrobatic black-headed grosbeak. But the thrill of the whole walk was the hummingbirds. We were seeing them zooming around, going about their hummer business, too fast and far away to identify.

At one point however, we got lucky. We had stopped to check out another bird and spotted this broad-tailed hummingbird up on a twig. He sat and watched us watch him for quite a while. Occasionally he would take off, buzz around and then come right back to the same twig. I was able to get a few photos of him, these two being the best of the bunch. It is hard to imagine that these two photos are of the same bird. It is a good illustration of the control that they have over their brilliant iridescent feathers.

Then as we were heading back, something vibrantly reddish-orange flashed at us from across an open grassy area like a beacon. Another hummer! This one was a rufous hummingbird and he was catching the sunlight directly on his gorget and we just happened to be at the perfect angle to see it. It was almost blinding for something so small. If he hadn't been flashing - probably trying to impress a female hummingbird hidden somewhere in the brush - we would have never spotted him. With a display like that, he's got to be lucky with the ladies.

A few years ago a hummingbird chose to nest right in front of my cousins' cabin and they got to watch the progression of the next generation from their window. I was able to get some photos of the nestlings a week before they fledged. This pen & ink illustration was the result.

We haven't seen any more hummers at our feeder at home since the one Paul spotted last week, but that's not to say they aren't visiting. We live in a basement apartment and I didn't want to hang the feeder at the level of our windows or it might tempt the neighborhood cats. Instead, I have it hanging high up on top of a trellis. Unfortunately it is out of sight from our windows but more importantly it is out of reach of all but the most athletic kitties.

Painting 4 - Butterfly

This is not truly Painting #4. Painting #4 is now a crumpled up wad in the trash. I know I'm not supposed to judge these, but that was just too...

Anyway, after some frustration, and then some comforting words from my husband who is used to this sort of thing, I picked myself up and started the new Painting #4 to make myself feel better.

Between the old Painting #4 and the new Painting #4, I think I've learned a couple of things. Firstly, as my husband gently reminded me, I've once again fallen into a trap that I've often fallen into before; expecting to be good at something I've never tried before. The original Painting #4 was a landscape scene of sorts, in watercolor. Landscapes are not something I've painted much before and when I have, I've used acrylics, which handle much differently than watercolors. I know that to grow as an artist I need to push myself, but perhaps this early on in the 100 paintings challenge, I shouldn't be trying something quite so completely outside of my experience.

Secondly, in reference to the new Painting #4, do I really need to force myself to do something one way when I know how to do it better a different way? I've done butterflies before, usually using a combination of paint and colored pencil so that I can achieve the control needed for the fine detail of the scales, tiny legs and antennae. This butterfly I painted completely in watercolor. It is fine as is but I know I could've gotten a much more lifelike result if I had used colored pencil as well. Had I intended to have a very loose painting of a butterfly, watercolor would have been totally appropriate, but I meant it to be a detailed piece. Do I have to be a purist with my paintings to gain artistic growth? Is it "cheating" to combine mediums that I know will give me the results I'm looking for? I sure hope not because I'm not doing this challenge to become a better artist in a particular medium, I'm doing it to become a better artist.

I welcome your thoughts on all this.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Paintings 2 and 3

Yesterday evening was so beautiful that I couldn't resist a walk along the river (and an ice cream stop) with Paul, so I am posting yesterday's and today's paintings together.

When we got home from our walk, I spotted Madeleine up in the window, totally focused on a couple of starlings in a neighbor's yard. Her concentration and the fading light appealed to me, hence Painting #2.

When I began Painting #2, I could immediately feel myself starting to rush again, so I took a couple of deep breathes and slowed down. I used a big brush on this one, looking for form not details.

It is so hard to do these paintings and not judge!

Today I painted this trillium (Western trillium Trillium ovatum), which is the subject I had originally planned to paint last night. I did a preliminary sketch during my lunch break yesterday and then transferred the sketch to watercolor paper this evening.

I again wanted to keep the brush strokes loose, but with a little more detail than yesterday's painting. Typically I work on hot press watercolor paper for that smooth surface that is so good for fine details, but I used cold press for these last two paintings since I have been working in a looser style this time.

97 more paintings to go!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

In Anticipation of Hummingbirds

I'm running a little late this year getting my feeder up. I usually have it ready and waiting for the first arrivals by the last week in April, but with one thing and another, I only put it up two days ago.

This is the first year I've put up a hummingbird feeder at our new apartment (we've been here for two years). We're in a much more downtown neighborhood than we used to be, and I'd been wondering if there were even any hummers in the area. But one morning last August I surprised one feeding at my petunias, so I made a mental note to put up a feeder this spring, just in case.

I can't remember lunch dates with friends, or where I left a very important phone number, but I sure as heck remembered about the hummingbird feeder so out it came on Monday. Tuesday morning I boiled up a batch of nectar and when I got home from work I filled the feeder and hung it on the trellis just outside our door, with cautious anticipation.

The nectar mix I make is ridiculously simple:

• 1 part sugar to 4 parts water
• Boil to kill any possible contaminates like mold
• Let cool, then fill your feeder
• Leftover nectar can be kept in the refrigerator

Notice there is NO red dye in the nectar recipe. It is totally unnecessary and could be harmful to the hummingbirds. Also, never ever use honey. There's a spore in it that can kill the hummers.

Still Life with Sugar

I had great plans this year for buying all sorts of red and pink flowers to plant in the yard to attract hummingbirds and figured that maybe in a month or two we might get a visitor. So I was so surprised and delighted when Paul e-mailed me at work today to tell me that he had spotted a hummer at our feeder already! "Green and female - that's all I got." he said. Wonderful!!! But not all that helpful for identification as I believe that describes the females of all three species of hummer that we get here. Nevertheless, I did a little Happy Hummer Dance. If only more of my projects were successful that quickly!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Painting 1 - Tree Swallow

After hearing me whine about being frustrated with my art and where I am with it, Laure from over at Painted Thoughts has challenged me to paint 100 paintings in a year. The idea is to paint these paintings with no judgment, no worrying about whether they are good or bad, just paint one after another. This process of immersion will teach me so much about painting and about myself.

So I am going to take this challenge and do my very best to paint 100 paintings in the next year. That's basically one painting every three days. The clock starts NOW!

I used my lunch break today to start a rough sketch of my first subject; this dapper tree swallow. I think that doing the prep for the painting during my lunch break will save time at home at night and also let me start thinking about the painting and let my brain stew on it for the rest of the work day so that I am eager to paint when I get home.

As is typical of me, I didn't plan ahead very well and I discovered when I set up to paint this evening that I had run out of watercolor paper, so I had to paint on Bristol. Bristol is my preferred choice for pen and ink, but when painting on it, it can only handle so much water before starting to slough off, so I had to be really careful about the amount of water I put down as I painted this.

One thing I noticed immediately as I began painting was that I was rushing. I never used to rush when I did art, but a few years ago I had a job that often ate up 10 or 12 hours of my day, sometimes 6 days a week. When I did have time off I was so exhausted. So I wasn't able to do much art and when I did, I would paint at a feverish pace as I didn't know when the next time I could do art would be. This apparently has turned in to a habit, and one I need to break!

See - already I am learning.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Home Is Where The Heart Is

(Sorry about the possessed kitty eye glow. Photoshop has a red eye eliminating function
for humans but has yet to include an anti-flash-eye feature for pet photos in their programming)

I'm apparently not the only one happy to have my husband home. Madeleine has been purring even louder than usual and giving lots of head-butts to both of us, as if to say it's about time the family was reunited again. TWO humans to see to her every need - what a dream life!

I'm feeling like I'm leading a dream life now, too. My birding buddy/back rubber/ice cream sharer is back! No more Real Housewives or reruns of The Cosby Show to keep me company while I eat dinner. (Plus Paul is a very good cook, so no more spaghetti 5 nights in a row, either.) The mornings are a little tricky; learning to get ready for work with 2 people and only one bathroom again, but it is well worth the trouble.

So thank you again for letting me take the week off and I hope you enjoyed Denise's subbing for me (she's planning on starting a blog of her own soon, so I'll keep you posted). I hope to have some art or nature photos to share with you soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Strong Family Resemblence

Birds are hilarious, and if you’re not on board with that, please don’t ask to come with me. It’s bad enough monitoring an army of ticks crawling up my pantleg without having humorless bird-nerds in tow.

Blue-gray gnatcacthers are funny enough in their own right: how can a woodland sprite—so tiny so adorable, so blue—be so perpetually ticked-off? How can little tweetie boid, who cunningly constructs a charming little nest of lichens and spider webs, cuss a blue streak and talk trash all day long?

The finishing touch, however, is the uni-brow. It looks, quite frankly, drawn on. And it also brings to mind some other funny characters I’ve enjoyed over the years.

(Gabrielle thinks birds, as well as The Simpsons and Seinfeld, are funny, and is therefore on my A-list.)

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Birder

Once again, I invite you to joint me as I guest blog for my dear friend Gabrielle.

My parents were not readers, so there were few books in our house. I, however, craved books, and devoured those that were on hand. One made an indelible impression on my young mind: its ravaged cover and tattered, oft-viewed pages testify to the love it has known. My painting is a tribute to its glory days.

The book is a green, cloth-covered 1947 edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s classic A Field Guide to the Birds. It was my father’s book. He grew up in the Camden neighborhood of Cramer Hill. Ah, the life of a young river rat along the Delaware! In a teen-age duck-hunting adventure, he was mortified when he shot and killed a bittern, and realized some education was in order. From this book he learned his ducks, and when I was only five, he sat me on his lap, opened the guide, and taught the ducks to me.

For years, it was simply a book that I liked. I would have liked almost any book, I suppose, if it was about nature. From it, as well as from a similarly beloved book of Audubon plates my dad received for a 10th birthday gift in 1945, I copied pictures of birds. A summer morning in the early 70s would find yours truly, over a breakfast of King Vitamin or Quisp, the Guide open in front of me on the kitchen table, planning the day’s art.

Except for enjoying the birds coming to our feeder, I hardly dared dream that such things as warblers could be real. When a merry band of spring-plumaged Myrtle Warblers came migrating through our yard, fly-catching at just above eye-level and oblivious to me as I stood very still, it hit me: the birds in the book are real! They live in South Jersey! I can see them in my own yard!


Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Market Report: Flat

Some days, the market is flat. Smart investors and savvy cats lay low. Caution and watchful waiting pay off eventually. The days of irrational exuberance are over. Careful there, no sudden moves. See how the paws barely extend above the baseboard—easy does it!

Has it really come to this: investment advice from a cat and an artist?

The Market Report

Pressing matters of a mysterious nature keep our friend Gabrielle away from her blog. But never fear! Faithful readers who visit Selling My Soul for all things artistic, natural, and feline must not be disappointed. Therefore, while G. attends to top-secret bid-nezz, I, her good friend Denise from South Jersey, will fill in. Sort of like a guest host on a talk show. But in blog form.

The Market Report, you ask? You don’t visit Selling My Soul to be enlightened, much less distressed, about the current economic crisis, and I certainly don’t have any answers. Well, maybe one:


Your office, or place of business, needs a cat.

My office has a cat: Her name is Market. She was found as a kitten at an Amish market near our office, hence, Market (pronounced in the high-class, Frenchified manner, “Mar-kay”).

To paraphrase Charlotte, of eponymous web fame, this is “Some Cat.” Not to mention “Terrific” and “Radiant.”

Market officially belongs to the family next door, but the fine folks at the South Jersey publishing company where I work have adopted her as their mascot. She greeted me at the door on my first day of employment, and is easily worth many thousands of dollars of compensation. But hey, that’s me.

Her many “aunties,” and even a few “uncles,” attend to her every need. A typical day includes numerous waterings at the restroom sink -- as well as naps in there with the door closed for privacy -- a steady stream of baby-talk, meals and treats, and her choice of sleeping places. Moments of high drama include a gallant rescue from a swooping Red-tailed Hawk, the offer of a lollipop,* and a chaotic de-ticking by a team of five, with yours truly wielding the tweezers.

All of it is a little thang I call “Crazy Middle-aged Cat Lady Improv Theatre.” We have hip young fellers working with us (the “uncles”), and how they recover their cool and go out of an evening to be suave and urbane after the daylong exposure to these shenanigans is beyond me.

But wait, there’s more. So thrilled was I to be working in an office with such sweet, pet-oriented people, not to mention the terrific and radiant pet, I created a painting for our break room. It measures 22x28 inches, and Market looks like a third-world dictator up there, much larger than life. I was a ROCK STAR the day I brought this in: it is the pride of the office, and graciously brought to the attention of visitors. What more can an Illustration major (Moore College of Art & Design, 1994) ask for?

While that art background precludes my offering any coherent counsel regarding the economy, I can say this with confidence: The Market is looking good.

*Yes, after being reprimanded for taking up too much time in the can by one of the cat ladies, another cat lady unwrapped and offered to Markay a lollipop. I kid you not. Said offer was rebuffed, and the lolly, lemon as I recall, was discarded. 

Saturday, May 09, 2009


It has been a long two years of doing the commuter marriage thing, but at last it is over and my husband has completed his doctoral coursework and is coming home! So please forgive me for taking next week off from blogging while we get reacquainted with each other and to living under the same roof again.

However I would not leave you on the lurch for a whole week, so my dear friend Denise will be acting as Guest Blogger/ Blog-sitter/Substitute Blogger while I am attending to family matters. She is a very talented artist, birder, and fan of felines, with a great sense of humor, so I know you will be in good hands.

(The photo of this french "Do Not Disturb" sign is from a wonderful trip we got to take to Paris last year. If you are interested, you can see more of that adventure at We'll Always Have Paris)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Canada Geese

I am starting to see this year's Canada geese chaperoning their squadrons of fuzzy yellow goslings about. Here's a little pen & ink drawing of just such a scene that I have not completed yet.

The species is not very prolific where I live, but I know that in some places they are everywhere and can be a real nuisance. These birds seem to generate a lot of debate and strong feelings in some people. I did this goose painting many years ago and was surprised by the reaction to it. I had one woman get absolutely irate over the subject matter. It seemed that somehow I had personally insulted her by choosing the bird she hated most for my painting!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award!

Wow, what a surprise! Laure over at Painted Thoughts has bestowed a Kreativ Blooger Award on me! This was really an unexpected honor, especially since I've only been blogging publicly for a little while now. Thanks so much, Laure!

There are responsibilities that come with this award, and I fully intend to live up to them, but it may take me a few days, so please be patient. (If I were more of a computer geek, I'd add some "on hold" muzak to play here.)

[05/05/09 - Ooops, that would be "blogger" NOT "blooger" - or perhaps a creative blooper maybe. Sleep deprivation is a sad thing...)

Why I don't Make The Bed Anymore

Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Impatient Artist

I've been working on a pen & ink drawing of a bunch of pasque flowers for about a week now. I manage to put down a few more dots each day during my lunch breaks and such. This weekend I got impatient with the process and wanted to see what it looked like with some color added. So that I didn't ruin another good drawing (See - I am learning), I scanned the not-completed pen & ink drawing and printed it out on a piece of bristol paper and then added watercolor to the printed piece.

Overall I'm pleased with it so far, but I discovered two important things through this process:
1). my new printer ink is not as waterproof as my old brand was and
2). I may have gone a little too heavy with the pen & ink in some areas. I think that I should have been a little more judicious with the ink shadowing and allowed the final watercolor step to imply shadows, too.

Now I need to figure out what to do with the background (oh, those dreaded backgrounds!) - pale green wash to imply other plants? Pale blue wash to imply sky?

In this case, I think my impatience paid off by satisfying that instant gratification side of me that had to know if this would be worth all the effort in the end. Now I can go back and complete the drawing in ink, easing up on the rest of the shadowing, and then add the watercolor to the original with confidence.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


My art training is mostly grounded in realism and scientific illustration, but every so often I get the urge to do something abstract or stylized. Unfortunately I tend to do this spur of the moment and not plan it out. It is play really (at least this is my rationale when it becomes clear that it isn't going to work out the way I'd envisioned).

So today I'm working on this butterfly and suddenly I'm swept up with the idea that there should be an abstract background; kind of implying a bunch of lush tropical leaves and the dappled light in the rainforest. "Oh yes, great idea!" says my mind, and off we go. My inner child is delighted - madly coloring with bright colors and sheer exuberance. My focus is on one single square inch at a time, watching the pencil blend and mix the colors together right on the paper. And then when I finally come up for air, well...all together isn't as brilliant as I had hoped. The butterfly came out - carefully rendered in colored pencil before my inner child took over - but the background? Not so much. It is as if this tropical butterfly somehow ended up in the Arctic and is observing a northern lights display through a window (which I suppose is a good thing because if it was actually outside it would be a frozen butterfly and not capable of enjoying the northern lights).

So was this whole thing a waste of time? No - I really did enjoy the process. My inner child got lots of play time and now might settle down for a nap so that I can do some more detailed work. And who knows, maybe I am destined to write a children's book about a tropical butterfly that visits the North Pole.