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.