Thursday, September 27, 2012

Painting and Petroglyphs

The scenery around Dubois was arid but beautiful.

Being surrounded by so many talented plein air painters can be a little intimidating when one is just a newbie, but by Thursday I was itching to get out in the field and give it a go. After another delicious lunch at the conference center, we headed south-east of Dubois to the Torrey Lake area and set up our easels below some interesting boulders and rocks. Painting was a bit challenging, however. The sun was strong and the wind had picked up, so any bit of moisture in my paints (not to mention my skin!) evaporated in record time. I realized that painting in acrylics was going to be nearly impossible so I switched to watercolors and just did some sketches of the area. Not for the first time I wished I worked in oils, but even the experienced oil painters were cursing the conditions.

Watercolor sketch of the boulders above Torrey Lake. I used a lot of dry brush technique on this one without really meaning to!

 In the rocks above our easels, other artists had left their mark hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. Petroglyphs were scattered on the rocks and boulders around the area we set up in. According to the book "Plains Indian Rock Art" by James D. Keyser and Michael A. Klassen, this ancient rock art is considered part of the "Dinwoody" tradition, found almost exclusively in the Wind River area of Wyoming. I was in awe and wished I knew what the pictures meant.

There was a bird-like figure to the left of this petroglyph. I can't even guess what this one depicts, though.
I spotted these petroglyphs under a rock overhang, sheltering them from the elements.

After sketching for a while, I drove further around Torrey Lake and spotted some immature common mergansers out on the water. Mergansers are diving ducks and have very thin bills with serrated "teeth". They eat fish and other aquatic life. 

An immature common merganser having a nice day at the lake.

It seems like there's always some sort of Murphy's Law of Wildlife Observation at work; if I see some great wildlife, there won't be any place to pull over or safely observe it from. This time however, the birds were kind enough to be near a lake access area so that I could watch them for a while. 

Some pencil sketches of an immature common merganser sunning itself on a rock.

As the afternoon wore on, the angle of the sun just lit up the fall colors around the lake. I took lots of reference photos for future paintings. The trip out to the lake was not particularly successful for plein air painting, but I enjoyed sketching the area and the birds, and the petroglyphs were definitely icing on the cake.

The Fall color was spectacular.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Brain Is Full

I just got back from one of the most amazing weeks in my artistic life, to date. I attended the 11th annual Susan K. Black Workshop and Art Conference in Dubois, Wyoming. Five days of watching painting demos, sketching and plein air painting in the beautiful Wind River valley, and rubbing shoulders with some very talented artists! I feel like I could sleep for 12 hours straight as my brain tries to absorb everything I learned, but I can't sleep because I'm so energized to paint, paint, paint!

The conference was held at the Headwaters Arts & Conference Center in Dubois, WY.

I found out about the conference when I took that wonderful workshop with John and Suzie Seerey-Lester in 2010. They urged me to look into going to the SKB conference that year but it took a couple more years for the planets to align. It was worth the wait!

I'm a messy plein art painter, but I do clean up after myself.

As promised, a photo of my painting in the miniature show.

I'll be sharing stories and highlights from the conference in a series of posts over the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I've got a heap of laundry to tackle before I can do anything else! 

Thursday, September 20, 2012


When you go out and look for birds it's called "birding", so if you go out to look for mushrooms it's called "mushrooming". Right?

Whatever it's called, it's an activity I look forward to. I have noticed that Fall seems to be the time of year with the highest diversity of mushrooms, at least that's the case here in the northern Rockies. One year we visited Glacier National Park in late September and were amazed at the variety of fungi we found in the cedar forests there, including a magnificent purple mushroom! Unfortunately the forest was so dense that I couldn't get a good well-lit photograph of it.

Most of these photos I took a few years ago in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho. The trail leads to a very popular hot springs, but I was there to enjoy the fungi.

I find mushrooms fascinating, but I'm no expert at identification. The process of identifying a mushroom is much more complex than birding. It's not enough to simply look at a mushroom and figure out what kind it is from the guide book (plus they don't have calls or chip notes).

Creating spore prints is a common form of identification. Some types of mushroom have a certain odor that can aid in identification. But in some cases, the only way to know if a mushroom is of a certain species is to cut it open and check for coloring in the stem!

If you'd like to know more about the complexities of mushroom identification, I recommend 

And if you can identify any of these mushrooms, let me know!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Blackbird Painting Finished

"Who Ya Callin' Yella?"  7" x 5" acrylic on canvas board
It's done! And on time, too. I hope to post some pictures of the exhibit soon. My husband came up with the name for this piece, playing off the bird's brilliant colors and their territorial nature. He also found this frame. What a great guy!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

WIP - Yellow-headed Blackbird

Ahh, the beginning of a painting. There's so much potential at this stage.

I'm entering a piece in a miniature show and the painting is due by the weekend so no more time to procrastinate! As usual, I'm trying to find a happy medium between my tendency to be overly detailed and my desire to be more painterly. We'll see how it goes. The painting is acrylic on a 7" x 5" canvas board.

I'm pleased with my chosen color palette, but I feel like the bird and the cattail need a little more oomph.

It always amazes me how just a few brush strokes can make such a difference. This is the point where I began to really like the cattail but felt that something wasn't right with the proportions of the bird's body.

I'm now at the awkward painting stage where one doesn't know if it's time to start all over again or if things will turn out okay in the end. I find it best to step away from the easel at this point, but I can't step away for too long. Stay tuned as I paint down to the wire. And then I still have to find a frame!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Sketching at the Local Watering Hole

If I were a portrait artist, this post might be about a completely different place but...

Colored pencil sketch of a medley of mallards.
Pen and ink drawing of two Canada geese. Notice that's Canada geese, not Canadian geese. Not all Canada geese are actually Canadian. Where is the furthest from Canada that you've seen a Canada goose?