Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Watercolor Nature Journaling Workshop

Join me for a fun day of exploring nature with watercolor on April 8th at the Chota Recreation Center, Tellico Village in Loudon, Tennessee.
Nature journals are the earliest source of information that we have about our natural world.  Holding a journal in one's hand evokes emotion and awe because we innately relate to the sensory details captured in the artists words and images.  The added bonus to creating our own journals?  We see and enjoy more deeply and that comes with calming health benefits!
Join me for a relaxing day of exploring watercolor and nature. We will review helpful sketching techniques, use of values, basic watercolor washes, negative painting, representation of sky, clouds, rocks and trees, and choice of colors for the season. Using all our senses to enhance our observations, we'll leave our traditional artist fears behind and enjoy a day of exploring nature with watercolor.
The workshop is sponsored by the Art Guild of Tellico Village.  Visit this link to sign up!  
For more information about the workshop and the guild visit:  the Art Guild of Tellico Village Workshops

Friday, March 10, 2017

Inspiration from Cuba

I took a sketchbook and a tiny watercolor palette on my ten day trip to Cuba in January, but our schedule was so full, there was no opportunity to sketch.  I was very glad to have my camera with me and recorded what I was seeing even while we traveled on the bus.    
There was meaning, beauty and inspiration everywhere I looked--in revolutionary symbols, in color and texture, in tropical scenery and endemic birds, in age and youth--a country lingering in a time past with so much energy and vitality in its art and culture.  Artistic images were everywhere.  A warbler perched on a porch lamp, green bananas ripening in a rusty blue wheel barrow, colorful chickens scratching to feed their young, a team of oxen pulling a plow, a sturdy horse pulling a cart loaded down with people.
My photos captured much of what I saw, but I came home with a burning desire to paint these different and challenging subjects in watercolor.  The young girl from Las Terrazas, pictured in the sketch above, is dressed in her school uniform and paused to display her flag for us before heading home after her day at school.
Above, a study of a young horse being trained to accept the noises and confusion of road travel.
In Cayo Coco, Cuba, I was on my way to breakfast and stopped to watch Cuban Emeralds (hummingbirds) nectaring blossoms in a nearby tree.  I also discovered a beautiful Yellow-throated Warbler perched on the light fixture on the second floor balcony above--an unexpected setting for a life bird!  Wintering warblers were everywhere in Cuba!

Visit Cuba on the Discover Birds Blog

Saturday, December 17, 2016

White-throated Sparrow on Ice

The cold winter months provide opportunity for gathering inspiration, as well as, quiet indoor time to create watercolor paintings! 
The above painting was inspired by a harsh but beautiful ice storm in east Tennessee in February 2015.  Ice coated everything so I not only spent a lot of time making sure the birds in my yard had food and water, I took many photographs.    
The limbs of an ice-coated Burning Bush were breath-taking, looking like lace.  I watched birds move in and out of its branches, some plucking berries, others perching near the feeders. Above and below, fluffy White-throated Sparrows perched among the limbs.  Birds fluff their feathers to trap air giving them an extra layer of warmth trapped under their feathers.
Painting ice in watercolor means "saving the whites".  The white of the paper is the white in your watercolor painting.  Ice presents an interesting challenge, more so than snow, because it reflects light and color from the surrounding area.  .  
Above you can see how I began this painting.  After carefully drawing the limbs and sparrow, I began negative painting with light washes of a mixture of burnt sienna and ultarmarine blue. Together these hues range from blue to blue-gray, to brown, to brown-gray to rust and subtle shades in between.  .
In this case I applied the washes in layers, with each area drying before I applied another layer over it.
While painting you can also drop paint into damp pigment to vary the color.  The key to keeping the paint underneath from moving is to avoid dabbing your brush but rather, add pigment with a stroke or two and leave the area until it dries.  
Watercolor painting takes patience because we often spend a lot of time waiting for the right moment to add the next brush stroke.  Paint will have a shiny appearance when wet and look dull when dry. Waiting for that right moment will reward you with satisfying results.  
Look for inspiration in the neutrals of winter and have a great time painting while its cold and wet outside!

Links and references:
Negative painting:  Fun with Fall Leaves and Hummingbird Inspiration
Helping wintering bluebirds

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Elkmont Cabins En Plein Air

Just across the road from the Elkmont campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you can explore what is often called the "ghost town" of the Smokies, cabin remnants of a vacation community that was built in the early 1900's.
The cabins, even in their deteriorated condition, offer interest, texture and intrigue for sketching.  Juxtaposed against moss covered stones, graceful woodland ferns, wildflowers and falling leaves, this setting was a spectacular place to join friends, Kay and Doris, for a morning of outdoor painting--en plein air.  The possibilities for visual exploring were endless.
It is often hard to remove the pressure to "produce" while making art, but this setting made it easy.  Among the trees, in the midst of an early autumn coolness and surrounded by so much stimulation for the senses, sketching became a way of enjoying more deeply.

The slide show below offers a glimpse of the cabin community along with its peaceful natural setting and the sense of tranquility we experienced while painting there.  I hope it inspires you to venture out and take your paints with you!

Links and resources:
For more posts on this blog about painting in the outdoors, visit en plein air  and
sketching hummingbirds in flight.
Visit Kay Alexander Watercolors and see Kay's beautiful en plein air paintings.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

One Decision at a Time

I have been blogging since January of 2008--eight years!  Google sent me an email message today saying some of my links on Vickie Henderson Art are not working and I should clean them up.  Good idea.  In doing so, I ran across this early post published April 1st, 2008.  I love the message.  I am astounded that I still paint this way.  Its wisdom lives on!  

One decision at a time, a painting is formed.
One decision at a time, a life is lived.
The name of this painting is “Pink”. It began as a wash of pigment brushed on wet paper with nothing in particular in mind, except to see what a bit of rock salt sprinkled here and there would create. The next step was to define something, a shape, a form, a suggestion. The first time I tried this, I struggled. My mind was blank. I saw nothing. Nothing came to me, except frustration and the feeling, maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I hate this.

I revisit that place from time to time, where desire and doubt butt heads. Desire wins out with a little perseverance. And the next thing I know something magical has happened and I created it—me and the water and the pigment and the Universe--one decision at a time.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hummingbird Inspiration!

Hummingbird migration is one of my favorite seasonal events.  In mid-July our first hummingbird nestlings fledged, more than doubling the number of hummingbirds at our yard feeders.  In a short time they were joined by migrants, increasing activity in the garden substantially. If you sit still for a while you can pick out the youngsters by watching their behavior.
Young juveniles look just like adult females with the exception of feathers that are more gray than green, a characteristic that is hard to see at a distance.  Behavior is the primary give-away to recognizing a recently fledged juvenile.
While females are all business--coming to the feeder for a drink and leaving quickly to return to nesting activities--juveniles hang-out.  They sit on limbs, hide in the foliage, watch the activities for a while and tentatively approach the feeder.  They also explore everything, especially the flowers. 
Juvenile hummingbird observations inspired my two "mini-bell" sketches above.  Both were created using negative painting to form the leaf shapes that make up the tangle of foliage so characteristic of minature petunias.  "Hummingbird and Million Bells", above, began as a wet-on-wet multi-colored wash of Quinacradone Gold, Quinacradone Rose and Cobalt Teal Blue (all Daniel Smith watercolors). 
These three primary colors--red, yellow, blue--provide the basic palette for the sketch. Variations of green were made by mixing the gold and teal together.  Only two additional pigments were added, Burnt Sienna and Lunar Black.  Lunar Black was added sparingly in the final touches for texture and as the darkest dark shapes.
With each layer of paint, the goal is to add some new leaf and stem shapes appearing behind the lighter shapes. Because these shapes are darker and the space around them, darker still, they recede into the background and give the painting depth.
Negative painting can feel intimidating at first because it's easy to get lost and forget where your layer begins and should end.  Taking your time, imagining leaf and stem shapes as you work, and working in small areas at a time will help transform a confusing effort into a relaxing experience.
The nice thing about leaf shapes is there is natural variation in their size and shapes and you don't have to worry about getting them down perfectly. Mistakes happen and disappear!
If you are new to negative painting, visit my blog post, "Fun with Fall Leaves",  for a fun exercise to get you started.

More posts about hummingbirds:  hummingbird studies and hummingbirds in flight

Visit my companion blog and enjoy the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Art Workshop with Brenda Swenson--Skill-building, Inspiration and Community!

We are all students and always will be as long as our minds and hearts remain open and curious. Art workshops provide creative opportunities to not only learn new skills but also rub shoulders with other artists and gain new ideas, encouragement and inspiration.
Negative painting practice after the workshop.

Brenda Swenson in Boone, NC

I had the delightful experience this past week of visiting Boone, North Carolina, for a five-day "Sketching in Watercolor" workshop hosted by Cheap Joe's Art Outlet, featuring award-winning artist, Brenda Swenson.  I admire her watercolors and sketches and couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn from her when I discovered she was visiting the east to give a workshop.

Porch outside the class room--a place to retreat for breaks or to enjoy lunch. 

Each day of the workshop we practiced drawing skills that will help us paint a subject from life. The first skill practiced, and our warm-up practice for each day, was continuous line contour drawing--drawing with a continuous line without lifting your pen.  And yes, pen, not pencil.  No erasing or correcting.  We were encouraged to slow down and "see", and yet, each drawing had a time-limit and a timer running to keep our hands and minds moving.  Three minutes were allowed for one object, six minutes for two objects, and nine for three.  The objects were household items or "junk", any vase, tool, figurine, pitcher, anything that might be laying around the house or garage.
Above, a class exercise--combining elements from more than one photograph to create a sketch composition. Tombow water soluable burnt sienna pen with watercolor on Canson multi-media sketchbook paper.

The daily warm-ups accomplished so many things.  Practice in concentrating, accepting the wobbles in our drawings, awareness of time, moving continuously without getting stuck on any one area, focus, and just getting it down no matter how imperfect.  In fact, one of the mottos of class-- "perfect is boring".  What we found as we looked at each other's work was that the wobbles contributed to the uniqueness, charm and style of each drawing.
Above, members of our class waiting to have our work critiqued.  (I'm third from the left in the front row).  Photo credit:  Brenda Swenson

We learned as much from our critiques as we did from the art exercises and they were fun! Everyone's art is different and the variations in style and creativity are exciting.  Brenda pointed out positives in each work and gave suggestions for improvements, providing great visual examples to aid memory.
For example, the white cloud in my sketching practice on tinted paper (above) was created with opaque paint.  After pointing out the vignette design and how the light travels through the color of the tinted paper through the columns, Brenda mentioned that the white cloud wasn't needed.  I looked at it later and realized that the cloud is not only not needed, it draws the eye away from the main subject which is the lovely columns.  This is the value of practice and having someone else critique your work.  We're often too close to our own work to be objective.
The continuous line contour drawings felt awkward to me, at first, and I initially wondered why I ever thought I could draw!  Drawing is a skill that becomes rusty when not used!  For me the additional challenge was a combination of new tools and the timer.  With a timer going, I couldn't obsess about the details.  I couldn't erase!  This represented a huge leap forward.  I have wanted to sketch as I travel but the stopper has always been "too little time".  The skills we practiced were the very ones I needed to create possibilities for sketching in all types of circumstances.
 Above, Brenda Swenson demonstrates her negative painting technique.
In the classroom, a video camera was mounted to project the art demonstrations on a large screen so that while seated, members of the class could view the demonstrations.  The images above and below are pictures of the screen during the demonstration.
Delicious catered lunches were enjoyed daily and for the eager student, Cheap Joe's art supply store was right in the next room open for business!  Add a skilled and patient instructor to the mix and you have the ingredients for an ideal art vacation!
Tennessee artist Kay Alexander (left), Brenda Swenson and Vickie Henderson in Boone, NC.

Resources and information:

Brenda Swenson's website
Brenda's blog
Kay Alexander's website
Cheap Joe's Art Supplies

Ocean Trail at Rancho Palos Verdes Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Rancho Palos Verdes Preserve, California--2015

Joshua Tree National Forest, California, with son Chad and daughter Thuan--2015

Joshua Tree National Forest, California, with son Chad and daughter Thuan--2015
Photo credit: Thuan Tram

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park - 2014

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park - 2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Birds Close-up

Birds Close-up
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill, Manitoba

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill, Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky Expeditions, Churchill, MB--2014

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky Expeditions, Churchill, MB--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Churchill, Manitoba--2014

Churchill, Manitoba--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky

2014 Hummingbird Festival

2014 Hummingbird Festival
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John--2014

Muir Woods on the Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach, California--2014

Muir Woods on the Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach, California--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Checking out the gulls at Stinson Beach--2014

Checking out the gulls at Stinson Beach--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Discovery Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska--2012

Discovery Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska--2012
Photo courtesy of Ruth Carter
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