Saturday, December 31, 2011

Keeping Myself Accountable

Please finish me. I'm a nice spoonbill.

Everyone seems to have stories of moving and not unpacking things for months, even years afterwards. I'm certainly no stranger to the phenomenon. I am rather ashamed to have just discovered this unfinished painting amongst my still-packed stuff, though. I started this waaaay back last spring and it got put on hold and then forgotten when we moved over the summer. What a shame! I see so much potential in this piece. My subject is from Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida. It was sunning itself up in a tree in beautiful morning light. (I found it amazing to see a whole flock of spoonbills perched in the trees!) So I am posting this piece here to keep myself accountable. You all are my witnesses that I am making a commitment to finish this poor forgotten painting, agreed?

In other art news, for years I've wanted to have cards of my paintings available at my shows, or to send as thank you notes to anyone who buys my art, but the price and large inventory involved kept me from doing it. With the advent of online printing-on-demand, getting cards has now become quite manageable so I got a few made of some of my best work. I just ordered another two sets from, being very pleased with the price and quality of the first two. There are a couple of shops here in town that carry local artists' cards, so I may approach them with my new cards. I've toyed with the idea of selling on Etsy or someplace like that, but I have to admit to being a little intimidated by internet selling. (Cue chicken noises in the background.)

The beginning of my note card collection

I guess this will be my last post in 2011. Thanks for following my blog thus far. Happy New Year to you all!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Full Moon

I was too lazy to get up at 5 am on a cold Saturday morning and see the lunar eclipse, but I couldn't resist getting a photo of the full moon rising over the mountains at dusk the night before.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Painting Finished

It is done...or I am done; I'm not sure which at this point! This one really was a struggle. Thanks to Marianne, Sonya, Ken and Elva for their invaluable suggestions and support through this process.

My new favorite palette earned its stripes!

Because I suspected this painting was going to take a while from the outset, I was trying to figure out how to keep my acrylics from drying out so I didn't have to mix all the colors again every time I wanted to paint. A few years ago our local grocery store was having a give-away and we received a set of sealing plastic containers. When we moved last summer I threw out most of them (they weren't very practical) but there was one shallow square one that I kept just in case. Turns out it makes a perfect small palette and it kept my paints moist throughout this whole painting, even in this incredibly dry climate.

I may take a short break from painting now. I've been feeling the urge to work in pen & ink lately, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Work in Progress - Surfbird

Still a Work In Progress

I'm still struggling with this painting. It just isn't going where I wanted it to go. The scene around the bird feels flat to me, so I shall have to work on creating depth in it. And the bird just feels blah to me. Funny how I'm struggling more with a subject that's typical of my work than I did with the landscapes, which were new to me. I guess it is all about expectations - I expect more of myself when I paint birds. I didn't expect much when I did the French doorway or the landscapes so I just let the paintings happen. They were experiments, just as the abstract background of this painting was an experiment. I will have to try to approach all of my subjects with that experimental mindset!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Of Snow and Sea

Two snowstorms paid a visit last week, leaving everything in a blanket of the white stuff. It still feels too early for snow to me, but it's a La Nina year so I suspect I'd better get used to it. It's going to be a long winter.

I've mentioned the multitude of magpies on campus in previous posts. Their antics are wonderful, and now with snow on the ground I can see signs of their visits even if I miss seeing them.

After snooping around the birdfeeder, this magpie flew off,
leaving a beautiful pattern in the snow for me to discover.

I discovered this collection of tracks right outside our front door.
I wonder what they were doing.

While it is clearly winter outside, it is summer in my studio - at the beach no less! This painting is not finished yet; a few problems have slowed my progress a bit, but it's been enjoyable to loosen up and experiment.

Step 1

Step 4

I built up the sand and sea colors with layer after layer of thin acrylic glazes painted over the original background. I wanted to keep the textures but define the areas as beach and surf. I am very happy with the background, but I'm having trouble with the bird. As I develop the details even further than this photo shows, the bird image feels cut and pasted on, rather than belonging with that background. Looking at this photo now, I almost wish I had left the bird like this instead of adding more details. I'm going to let the painting sit for a few days and perhaps a solution will come to me.

Meanwhile, a very happy Thanksgiving to all of my US friends out there!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Spring Flowers in Autumn

Nearly all the leaves are off the trees now, and I have to scrape the frost off the car windshield every morning. Fall is well on its way to winter. I have summer stored in my computer though, in all the photos I am still slowly processing from our trip. The sunshine, warmth, and potential subject matter will sustain me through the long winter.

Pencil sketch of trillium

I believe this is Pacific trillium, Trillium ovatum. It was blooming in profusion at the DeVoto Cedar Grove along the Lochsa river in Idaho. Such a peaceful place. The only sound was the river, extra high this year because of all the snow in the Rockies. The smell was of rich, damp earth. And the ground under the silent, towering cedars was strewn with trillium.

The DeVoto Cedar Grove always makes me think of my father. He grew up in Idaho and loved the Lochsa river. He fished, hunted and camped along the river as a young man and then as a father he brought our family here on vacations. In many ways he was not well-suited to be a parent, but he did pass on to me a love of nature and art and I will always be grateful for that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

More Experimenting

I just can't seem to stop painting new subjects. And I am finding these 5" x 5" Gessobords a bit addictive as well.

A few years ago, Paul was lucky enough to be invited to Paris to present an academic paper. We jumped at the chance to go to the City of Lights. Despite the raw November weather, I was in heaven. And I discovered a fascination with all of the old doorways scattered throughout the city.

This particular doorway really inspired me. It was in a lovely old neighborhood near the Sorbonne. I don't have much experience working with perspective, but by carefully studying the photo and working the angles over and over until they looked right, I was really pleased with the result. I then sketched the doorway onto the Gessobord with vine charcoal and started painting in layers of color.

Obviously I took some artistic license with the doorway. There are some things that make sense in a photograph but I don't think I'm at the point yet where I can make them translate well into a painting. The beautiful, intricately designed metal panels in the windows were one such element, so I made them look like glass instead. The wood panels in the upper windows were not aesthetically pleasing at all, so they were replaced with glass, too. I also filled in the chunk of doorway that was missing in my model.

The wood texture on the door was fun to paint, as was the stone archway and building. I continued to build up the color and details carefully layer by layer.

Voila - the finished painting. My husband was so thrilled with it that he begged me to let him hang it in his office. How could I say no?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Photo of the Day - Biting Off More Than You Can Chew

Ever have a day like this?

We spotted this perplexed gull on a ferry pier in Seattle, WA this summer. It was trying to eat a starfish, but the starfish was too large and kept getting stuck in the bird's throat. The gull would try to swallow the starfish for a while, then it would cough it up and patiently try a different angle. At one point you could clearly see the jutting outline of one of the starfish's arms in the gull's throat. I have a distant memory of hearing about this sort of thing happening. I consider myself (but not the gull) lucky to have witnessed it. Unfortunately the ferry we were on left the pier before we got to see how this situation resolved itself. I suspect the starfish won, but the victory was likely short-lived as other birds probably came and pecked away at it, or it eventually dried out and died. A starfish version of "from the frying pan into the fire"? Ah, the trials of life...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pittsburgh Aviary

On our road trip this summer we made a special trip to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This has been a favorite place of ours for many years and I was happy to visit again. It is essentially a birds-only zoo, so I was like a kid in a candy store. We'd had a long drive from Kentucky that day, so we only had a few hours at the Aviary before it closed but I took full advantage, snapping reference photos and sketching when I could.

African or Jackass Penguins; so called because they are said to make a donkey-like sound.
They were being cute but quiet when we visited.

An Inca Tern sporting its chic white mustache.

Victoria Crowned Pigeon from the rainforests of New Guinea.
Imagine this as your typical city pigeon!

Rhinoceros Hornbill. How cool is that?
I am in love with these guys. Plus they sit fairly still for sketching.
The Aviary says they are from the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java and Borneo
so I will probably never get an opportunity to see them in the wild.

Monday, October 10, 2011

First Snow

When the clouds finally lifted over the weekend and revealed the first snowfall on the mountains, it lifted my heart as well. There's not much that is as beautiful as snow-capped mountains.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Visitor

Pencil sketch of the mystery moth.

I went hiking with a good friend on Saturday evening. The last time we went for a hike together we had to walk back in the dark, so this time we brought flashlights to avoid potential twisted ankles or surprise attacks by bears. When we arrived back at her house, this lovely moth was waiting for us near the porch light. Except for the delicate black marking on its wings and fuzzy body, it would have blended in perfectly with the wall. Notice the lack of antennae - just two stubs; I thought that was interesting. I have been trying to identify the moth, but I haven't found this specific type yet. I suspect it is in the subfamily Acronictinae, but I'm no expert. Has anyone seen one like it before?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Coasting Along

Ouch, bad pun for the title, I know. Sorry! But I do seem to be on a landscape painting kick here. I learned so much from the last one I did I just had to try again. As usual, I chose a challenging subject despite my beginner status; the Oregon Coast on an overcast day!

This time I decided to try a different painting surface. Our old art store had these Gessobords on sale last year in 4 packs so I bought some to try out. I did prime* the surface before I painted on it and the first layers of paint took a bit better than the unprimed surface of the Claybord. The Gessobord has a very slight texture to it, which made it feel almost sticky as I was applying the paint. I didn't like that, but I made it work. I guess I really do prefer painting on an extremely smooth surface.

* I should probably clarify that both the Gessobord and the Claybord are already primed and ready to paint on. I just like to add another layer of primer in a mid-value gray.

Although I've been really enjoying the challenge of landscape painting, I think I'll be going back to one of my usual subjects for my next painting. My brain needs a rest and time to absorb everything I've learned this week. And I've got some butterfly reference photos that are just calling out to me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Learning Landscapes

I love landscapes, but haven't had much of a chance to practice the painting technique. The challenge for me is getting my head around the color value choices that allow one object in the painting to appear in the foreground while another seems to be pushed way back into the distance. Since most of my work is essentially bird portraiture, this is not something I regularly think about when painting and I haven't worked with it enough for it to feel natural yet.

Although I well remember the classic exercises in art class where you draw a series of mountains going off into the distance and the mountains become bluer and fade as they progress, those always seemed to be stereotypical mountains. What happens when the distant mountains are not all that distant and are covered in dried grasses (warm colors) rather than trees (cool colors that lend themselves to distance)? I suppose the next question would be why would I choose such a subject when I'm just a beginner at this. I have to learn to crawl and then walk before I can run, right? Well, I've always been stubborn like that.

Anyway, while Paul and I were essentially homeless this summer we took a road trip across the country and one morning we had the good fortune to go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. I know North Dakota ends up being the butt of a lot of jokes and people look at me funny when I say it is beautiful there, but it is! We had a wonderful time in the park (stay tuned for future posts on that), the wildlife and scenery was so inspiring and I knew that eventually I'd be using my reference photos for some paintings.

So here I am, twiddling my thumbs waiting to hear back on the countless job applications I've filled out in the last few weeks. What a perfect time to put all of that nervous energy to work! I also had some Claybord laying around that I was just looking for an excuse to try out.


Everything was in place but it lacked depth. (The trees also looked suspiciously like evergreens, not cottonwoods.) Time to think about my color values.


Hopefully this version has more depth, with the river, trees and hills falling visually
into foreground, mid ground and background.

I'm not sure the study is actually done yet. I may still go back and change a few things, but you hopefully see the difference (and some improvement) between the two versions. I had fun with this and hope to do more again soon.

And now some thoughts on painting on Claybord -

1). Prime it! Even though the Claybord is essentially already primed, I paint using very thin washes of acrylic and that pure white background just shown through my first few layers like a light. Next time I will use a good layer of mid-tone grey before starting my painting.

2). I liked working on something with a good solid back and being able to pick it up while I was painting on it. I know a lot of painters work on masonite for the same reason, but I haven't tried that yet. I've worked on canvas panel before and although that's solid, it does have a tendency to warp a little with use.

3). I don't actually know if this is a function of the Claybord or of the extremely dry environment we're now living in, but my paint layers dried almost instantly. Sometimes I didn't have time to move the paint around on the surface before it dried. Also, sometimes when I painted a new layer on top, some of the previous layer lifted off a little. Again, I don't know if that was the climate or the Claybord.

I'd be interested to know anyone else's experiences with painting on Claybord, and your thoughts on landscape painting as well. Thanks!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Can't Believe I Climbed The Whole Thing

Looking south from the mountain

I have this sense of urgency, this drive that I've got to be outside doing outdoorsy things every waking moment before winter sets in. And around here, winter lasts a looong time. I've heard rumors of it snowing during finals week in May and when we came here for a visit early last June, the trees had only just put out their leaves which makes me inclined to believe the rumors. So I've got my snowshoes at the ready, but I still want to soak up as much warmth now as possible.

To that end, the other day I decided to go out and do some sketching in the field. There's a magnificent mountain, with cool rock formations jutting out of it, fairly close to town and I had it in my head that I wanted to sketch that mountain. I knew that there was a US Forest Service office at the base of the mountain with some nature trails around it and I thought that would be a good place to find a sketch-worthy view. I walked some of the nature trails and was having a hard time finding just the right vantage point when I stumbled onto a trailhead I didn't know about. This looked promising - a trail up another mountain that was across from my objective. I wouldn't even need to go all the way to the top, I reasoned; just get high enough up to be above all the dense shrubs and small trees on the nature trail and have a clear view of my subject. Just a little hike, sketch, and come back down. It didn't even matter that I was wearing jeans and had no water with me - this was going to be a quick climb.

Not far from the start of the trail, I came to a fork. The left-hand trail was labeled "steeper" and the right-hand trail was labeled "easier". But the easier fork was headed back behind the mountain, away from the one I wanted to sketch, so I took the steeper fork to get the view. I quickened my pace, anxious to get to the perfect spot. And as the trail wound around the side of the mountain, my mountain started to come into view. But now the trail was going into forest! This was no good! Well, I would just have to continue until I was clear of the forest again. But instead of opening up, after a little while the forest became denser and I started thinking about bears and mountain lions and the fact that even though the trailhead parking lot had been full, I hadn't seen any people on this part of the trail in a while. At this point I also realized that if I wanted the view of my mountain, I was going to have to hike all the way to the top of this mountain, and since I'd come this far already, I might as well suck it up and go the whole way. So I did. And I promised myself that I'd take the "easy" fork back because I'd probably never hear the end of it from my knees if I took the "steep" route down.

Long story short, I got to the top of the mountain. The trees gave way to scattered junipers and I had a beautiful 330 degree panorama of the surrounding valleys and mountain ranges. There was even a thoughtfully placed bench on which to rest. But the remaining 30 degrees were taken up by a thick tangle of wind-twisted evergreens and my magnificent sketch-worthy mountain was right behind them.

Later in the week when I was running some errands I found that the best view for sketching that mountain is in a box store parking lot. But somehow by that point I'd lost interest.

One of the lovely views from the west side of the mountain.

The Towsend's solitaires were not being very solitary,
probably because there were lots of junipers, too.

False Solomon's seal


And look, another magpie!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sketching Magpies

Magpies have had no trouble adapting to life around humans. This magpie spent quite a lot of time checking out the bed of this truck and eventually I saw it jump in and fly off with what looked like a small piece of brick.

There are lots of magpies on campus. Many people are annoyed by their loud calls and opportunistic habits, but I find them highly entertaining. And how can you not admire the iridescent feathers and that gorgeous long tail?

A family of them live around our apartment building and I've been enjoying observing them. When we were moving our furniture into our new home, we had our front door propped open and at one point we watched as a very bold magpie stood in the doorway peering into our place, deciding whether to explore further. Luckily it didn't - I'd hate to think of the carpet cleaning bill.

It's been a bit showery lately, with the usual post-rain worms scattered about the ground and sidewalks. Today I watched as our group of magpies went worm-hunting. There was a lot of picking them up and then dropping them again, so I was never quite sure if they actually wanted to eat them or were just having fun playing with their food.

Pencil sketches of some of the magpies on campus. Sketching them is a little challenging as they never stay still for more than a few seconds. I had to use photos to supplement my live sketching.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

New Home, New Birds

One of my new favorite walks in town.

I was so disappointed when I woke up to rain this morning. I had planned on going on a walk in a lovely preserve area on the east side of town. But by the time I had showered and eaten breakfast, the rain stopped and it looked safe to venture forth.

The walking trail is at the top of a rise that overlooks the town and you can see the whole valley stretched out to the farthest mountains. On a clear day, you can see all of the mountain ranges that ring the valley but today I could only see the ones closest to the northeast. Still, a lovely view.

The walking trail is in a natural area that has been carefully preserved. In summer, there's a great diversity of prairie wildflowers in bloom. Now in fall the aster family puts on a show, including this blazing star.

Dotted blazing star - Liatris punctata

I was disappointed that there weren't more birds in evidence on my walk, just the usual robins and ubiquitous magpies. As I was descending back down to the parking lot at the end of my walk, I saw some little birds hopping around in a shrubby area. I pished a bit, and one bird popped up in a clearing. I'd never seen one like him before but my brain was recalling an image from the field guide. I flipped it open and Bingo - a lifer!

My lifer green-tailed towhee. He was a bit of a stretch for my little point and shoot camera.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.

Our new home comes complete with complimentary Richardson's ground squirrels.
We named this one "Hawkbait", but our ground squirrel-watching was short lived.
They are now already in their burrows for hibernation.

It was 33F this morning when we got up; frost on the car windshields. It's only September 15th!!!! Our new home will take a little getting used to.

We've moved 1,600 feet up in elevation and 30,000 people down in population from our previous home and we're noticing the differences. I haven't tried baking any cakes yet to see if 4,800 feet above sea level is enough to affect them but during our first week here we certainly noticed the change in altitude on our daily walks. Even the slightest incline made us feel like we had been couch potatoes all summer. (Hardly the case, or I would've been blogging before this!)

So Paul is now officially a professor and loving it. We're living on campus in a nice little apartment and I'm enjoying this grace period for a few weeks and the opportunity to "nest" before I really start stressing out over finding a job. As I've been unpacking the mountains of boxes (mostly books - whoever says books are becoming a thing of the past needs to come to our home!), I've been doing a lot of reflecting as we enter this new phase of our lives and thinking about those times when I was the most artistically productive and I think I need more balance in my life again; a more active, people-oriented day job to even out the solitary and sedentary aspects of making art. Having spent the last four and a half years working full-time as a graphic designer, I'm also thinking that unless it is a dream job position (like doing graphics/exhibits for a museum) I should steer clear of any creative type jobs so that I can reserve my creative energy for my own art endeavors. We'll see how it goes.

As I said, it was a very busy summer with the move but I've been sketching and taking photos when I can. I'm eager to get back to it on a more regular basis. My studio area in the new apartment is mostly set up now (you know that was my first priority!), although I haven't unearthed all of my art supplies yet. We paid a visit to Ikea in Portland, Oregon over the summer and I finally got an Alex rolling storage cart (in black) - an item that I see in so many artists' studios and have wanted for years. I also got two of their basic desk combination packages (I chose plain white tops with black legs) and created a U-shaped workspace in my studio. It turned out to be a very efficient use of small space as I now have room for computer work, art work, and sewing with just a turn of my chair. The only thing I didn't have room for was something counter-height for cutting mats or other stand-up projects, but I can just go use the kitchen counters for that when needed. I love my new studio space!

I've begun a campus birding list, of course. Here's what we've got so far:

Black-billed magpie
Brewer's blackbird
Mountain chickadee
Black-capped chickadee
American crow
White-breasted nuthatch
European starling
Rock dove (sounds so much better than "pigeon", doesn't it?)
Mallard duck

Considering I've had my head inside boxes ever since we got here, I'd say that's a pretty good start!

I'd like to put up a bird feeder by our apartment but there are very few trees on campus. I'm concerned that the birds I attract would just be sitting ducks for the local hawks without any available cover to give them a sporting chance but I doubt we'd be allowed to plant a tree or shrubs by our apartment. In the winter it regularly gets -10 or -20 F here so shrubs in containers probably wouldn't survive. Would a small pile of dead tree limbs on the ground near the feeder be enough cover? Does anyone know of a better creative (and inexpensive) solution?

This horse seems to have no trouble attracting birds, but a horse doesn't fit into our budget.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Experiments in Printmaking

Magpie - 4x6 linoleum print - water-based ink on mulberry paper

I've been wanting to try printmaking for a while and this winter our local adult ed school finally offered a beginning linoleum printmaking class so I eagerly signed up. It has been fun to learn another creative activity that is achieved in a completely different way than painting. I have also been surprised by how detailed I could get with my carving. The trick, I learned, is to lightly heat the surface of the linoleum with an iron on the lowest heat setting. Then the linoleum cuts like butter.

Have you ever noticed that when you take a class or workshop, there are certain personalities that are ALWAYS in a class? There's the person who thinks what they have to say is equally as interesting/important as what the instructor has to say and you end up with two teachers, or there's the person who thinks they are better at whatever is being taught than anyone else. My printmaking class was no different. In fact, I could pick out these personalities within the first hour.

The young woman who fit the "thinks they are better" personality went so far as to openly scoff at our instructor and roll her eyes. It was extremely disrespectful. We had our first critique in the third class and everyone was asked to show the best print they had achieved so far (we were all still getting used to how much ink to apply, how deeply to cut our lines, etc., so the print quality of each individual print we made varied wildly.). Our instructor talked about the technique successes and problems with each of our prints and as far as critiques go, it was pretty mild and positive. The young woman who was too good for our class was critiqued second, and got no bad press. Her print came out nicely and her design was strong. However, the three students who followed her got spontaneous oohs and aaahs from the rest of the students for their lovely designs. As each of these prints was presented to the class, I could see this young woman getting more and more fidgety and uncomfortable. I found her rising indignation palpable. She clearly expected that her print would get the best response of anyone's and she didn't seem to take any comfort in the fact that her critique was positive and other people in the class also did not receive responses to their prints from the group. Given her behavior during that critique, I wasn't surprised when she never returned to class.

We were, however, still stuck with the other person who was trying to share the stage with our instructor. Luckily the instruction portion of the class was pretty much over at that point and it was just a matter of us applying the techniques to our pieces and getting individual help. Thankfully our co-instructor then became too busy with her own work to talk much.

The magpie print that I've included here was from our second assignment. We were to create a print with a social commentary. Our instructor had strong leanings and wanted us to voice our opinions as well. However, I am just not a social commentary type of gal. I remember so vividly visiting my grandfather as a child and the fights he and my mother would get into at the dinner table because he was very conservative and she was very liberal. They thrived on this interaction - it was their weird way of bonding - but the rest of us found it very uncomfortable and frankly I was scared by it. How could two people whom I loved so dearly be yelling at each other like this? How could they be saying such nasty things about each other when they were supposed to love one another? How could they be enjoying this? And why were both of them saying that people who thought X or Y were bad when I personally knew people who thought X or Y, but they were good people? It confused me terribly, and I have avoided any type of political or religious discourse ever since. So making a print with a social commentary created a bit of a conundrum for me. I figured I'd start with something I was comfortable with - birds, of course - and then add in some human element (that's supposed to be a cemetery ) and hope that I could somehow bluff my way through the meaning of it. Much to my relief, everyone was too eager to get to the carving and printing part of the exercise to spend time thinking up a profound statement first and so I was off the hook. Once the pressure of having something clever to say was gone, I was rather pleased with how this print came out.

I am really glad I took the class and look forward to experimenting with printmaking more in the future. But now the paintbrushes are calling.