Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Eastern Screech Owl--The Finish

Sometimes art work gets finished in an orderly fashion.  You move through the work from start to finish in a steady progression.  At other times, the project gets set aside for many different reasons, mostly a shortage of time, interruptions, something else inspiring happens, or an indecision may stall the finish.
In the case of this owl, it was a persistent indecision about those eyes.  When you wake a sleeping screech owl, they don't have a very happy expression on their face. This owl was roosting in a screech owl nest box, sleeping as owls do during the day in late November of 2009.  The opportunity to see him up close was so special.  There was only time for some quick reference photos, and the one I used for this sketch page was taken in overcast conditions.  No light reflected in those eyes, making that beautiful face even more menacing than it naturally would be under these circumstances.  So when I initially painted the sketch page, I painted the dark pupils reflecting no light, as in the photo.  As you can see, this does not result in an appealing expression.  Light brings life into our wildlife sketches.
I was surprised when I saw how long ago I first created this sketch.  I had finished the right side of the face, leaving the left unfinished and the dark eyes scrubbed out.   Yesterday, when I came across this unfinished sketch, I was again struck by the beauty of this magnificent little bird, our only small eastern owl with ear tufts (feathers). Screech owls are only about 7-10" in height and are both predators (omnivores) and prey for larger owls and hawks.

While visiting this sketchbook, I looked at more pages.  Many were finished, giving me a feeling of deep satisfaction and pleasant memories of the moments they captured. Others were left blank with a note about what I wanted to paint in that space, and still others had a pencil sketch. Any of your sketchbooks look like this?
Above, you see a delightful moment in a cold November rain when a tufted titmouse was singing his heart out just beyond my patio in the midst of red holly berries.  I look forward to finishing this page soon.

Owls are among the most beautiful of birds, with very intricate feathering patterns around their face forming the facial disk that is characteristic of all owls.  The facial disk is composed of stiff, lacy feathers that serve to direct air flow and aid vision and hearing.  But beyond function these feathers are exquisitely beautiful!  The feather tufts that we often call "ears" help camouflage the owl while it sleeps during the day.
Eastern screech owls come in two colors, the rufous or red phase you see here and a gray phase.

To see more of the finished pages of this sketchbook, click this gallery link to my website.

To learn more about the eastern screech owl, visit Cornell's page on this species.  Be sure to listen to the owl's call!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Coneflowers--Wet-in-Wet and the Colors of White

Though it is late in the growing season, I had the urge to plant flowers this past week. It could have been because I ran across some of my favorite perennials that I couldn't find earlier in the season--coreopsis and coneflowers.
Besides the insects and birds that flowers attract, they are beautiful and fun to paint! Yesterday, I enjoyed an opportunity to sit near these garden additions and create coneflowers in my sketchbook using brush and paint without the detail of drawing. Coneflowers have a distinctive shape with daisy-like petals that loosely droop. How deeply the petals droop depends on the stage of the flower's maturity.  This characteristic makes them good subjects for loose painting.  By that, I mean watery painting with less concern about detail.
Besides planting purple coneflowers, I also planted a white coneflower variety.  The white in flowers is particularly fun to paint.  "White" in a watercolor painting is the lightest color/value in your painting.  Since white flower petals generally reflect the colors around them, they offer a fun opportunity to play with wet-in-wet painting, letting the colors blend on the paper and a brush stroke of clean water carry pale pigment into petal shapes.  I'll show you what I mean.
Below, you see how I created the watery flower images you see on the right hand side of the sketchbook at the top of this post.  If you would like to give this way of creating coneflowers a try, use one of the images above, or a flower from your own garden or collection of images as a guide.  If you already have experience with this type of painting, this exercise makes a fun and relaxing practice.

On dry paper, paint a coneflower head shape, as shown below.  I used WN Quinacridone gold.
Have two containers of water handy, one to rinse your brush between colors, the other to load your brush with clean water.  Brush clean water along the edge of the painted area and bring it down to form the shape of the flower head, as shown below.  Leaving white areas is one way to add interest and give the impression of light reflection. Learning how much water your brush holds and how much you need to use comes with practice.
While this area is still wet, drop in some cerulean blue (or another blue of your choice) along the bottom edge.
Rinse your brush and load it with clean water.  Touching the edge of the bottom of the cone shape, paint a petal shape with clear water coming down from the cone center. Pigment will flow into the water left by the brush stroke.  Tilt your paper if needed to aid this movement.
Continue to create petal shapes with brush strokes of water.  I enjoy the surprise of this technique and the richness of the color that is created when pigment is dropped into pigment.  The cerulean blue and quinacridone gold blend to create a nice green like the underlying color seen at the base of the yellow and orange blossoms of the coneflower head.
In the next study, I dropped in WN French ultramarine blue and a touch of Daniel Smith Alizarin Crimson along the bottom edge.  
Below, you see the variation that resulted.
Try a series of these studies and enjoy seeing a variety of interpretations of these lovely flowers.  Try adding a stem and a leaf.  And if you try this exercise and post your results on your blog, send me a link.  If you would like, I can post the link here.  If you don't have your own blog, and would like to share your results here, send an image to me at:  viclcsw (at) aol (dot) com.  Below, you see more of my studies.
I've used a scrap sheet of watercolor paper (with a rejected painting on the other side) and divided it with artist tape to create six separate painting areas for these studies.

Coneflowers are part of the aster (asteraceae) family, along with sunflowers and, like sunflowers, have a flower head with many tiny blossoms.  This is clearly one of my favorite flower families!

For an easy-to-print version of this demonstration, visit the same demo published on my website.
For more information on coneflowers visit Wiki's Coneflowers page.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sunflower Study

I have always enjoyed sunflowers.   They have so much character.
Fresh, lively, tall and strong, sunflowers are full of energy rich seeds for birds and other wildlife.  And I love the artsy, withered petals that remain as the seed heads mature.  Their twisted shapes are intriguing, and full of subtle colors--maroon, violet, gold, burnt sienna, yellow ochra, thin veils of purple, and deeper shades of purple in the shadows.  After enjoying a stroll through a sunflower field at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge, a favorite natural area near my east Tennessee home, I have a collection of images of sunflowers of all sizes, shapes and maturity levels, giving me plenty of inspiration and reference for painting.
Flowers are perfect subjects for practice and for playing around with different ways to interpret color and light in watercolor.  Above you see that I taped the paper to a backboard and set it on a table easel.  I also printed both a color and a black and white image of the subject.  The black and white image often allows you to see the values more clearly and encourages the use of your imagination in defining areas of light.  
To create the background, I wet the paper with brush strokes of clear water, and brushed on a wash of Winsor Newton New gamboge, Arylide yellow and Cerulean blue.  As I worked, I allowed these colors to blend naturally as they moved on the paper.  After this initial wash dried completely, I added color to the sunflower,working around the petals and the leaves, letting colors blend wet in wet.
I added color to the butterfly early in the painting so I could see how it looked with the background and all that rich sunflower yellow.  When I saw the butterfly on the sunflower in the field, I thought its pale under wings would not show up well enough to create a nice center of interest in a painting.  But, I was pleasantly surprised as the butterfly began to take shape in this study.  

Above you see I have lightly scrubbed the outer edge of the butterfly's wing to allow it to blend more with the background.  I have also lightened the area along the top of the butterfly's wing and the tip to give the impression of light.
What we generally refer to as the bloom on a sunflower is really a large inflorescence or sunflower head that contains 1,000 to 2,000 individual flowers joined together at a receptacle base.

Links and resources:

The watercolor study, "American Lady and Sunflower", is available for purchase in my online shop.
Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) information
About the American Lady at Butterflies and Moths of North America
Scrubbing in watercolor
Posts with paintings of butterflies and flowers, the most recent post will be first.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Forever A Student

I think I will forever be a student.  I love to learn, explore, venture past the edge of what I know, into the fresh and new.  It's exhilerating.  It expands my world and brings me joy and laughter.
This is how I feel about watercolor, creating gourd art, about watching and learning about birds and other favorite nature subjects, and about life. Creativity comes from a deep place and it can be tapped by many different activities. Eventually, they all come together in a compelling desire to create. I want to have plenty of choices at my finger tips when I make art and write, choices available from my mental library, so I can snatch anyone of them and use them at the moment I feel inspired.
This is what makes practice so valuable. Practice is play time, an unfettered chance to explore, exercise curiosity, try something new without knowing how it will turn out. The benefits? Using current skills and pushing beyond them, feeling your way through a decision, tapping your senses for help, using your intuitive abilities, and opening up to greet whatever you learn--all of these get exercised when you try something new! This is great for the soul, great for building courage, and great for having fun! When the results are disappointing, you gain a sense of what to do differently (the value of mistakes), and when something turns out beautifully, it's exhilarating. You expand your wings and your world enlarges.
After reading Jean Haines' book How to Paint Colour and Light in Watercolour, I wanted to give her suggestions a try. I was drawn to the book because of the boldness and movement of her style. What you see here is an exercise from her blog, a monthly challenge. The August challenge was to paint a shell (click on the link to see the image on Jean's blog).

Below, you see the point at which I was thinking this is a mess! When I started adding shape and shading to the shell, I ran into new challenges. But I kept going and used more contrast. Scroll to the top again to see the finished study.
I initially worked without sketching, a big challenge for me. I love to draw. But it is also clear to me that when I sketch, I naturally limit myself by trying to "obey" the lines. It's like coloring inside the lines as a child and loosing your expressive freedom. Watercolor doesn't like to behave that way. It likes to move. Learning about that movement and keeping it in mind as you go is a great way to get to know the medium. It's also a great way to learn more about yourself. How do you work your way through obstacles?

"Painting the light" that is reflected on and around a subject is a great exercise to challenge your ability to see light and to express it on paper. As I was painting this shell I thought of many other ways I could approach the subject and the light.

Links and Resources:

Visit my review of Colour and Light on this blog.
How to Paint Colour and Light in Watercolour by Jean Haines is available online at Amazon with the "look inside" feature.
Also be sure and visit Jean's blog:  Watercolours with Life, to learn more about her products, workshops and enjoy seeing more of her painting activities.

Friday, August 12, 2011

How to Paint Colour and Light in Watercolour--Jean Haines

How to Paint Colour and Light in Watercolour, by Jean Haines, is a lucious book full of the artist's vibrant paintings and her jewels of wisdom, as she shares her style and how she achieves it.  And that style is unique, characterized by no pencil sketching before painting--just loose and joyful applications of color, light, and imagination.
While painting Jean likes to "break rules", letting the water and pigment flow, forgoing conventional efforts to control the medium.  Instead, she aims for a painting that gives a fresh and unique interpretation of the subject leaving plenty of room for the viewer's imagination.   This means blooms (watermarks) and drips are welcome, as well as, exciting and unusual combinations of color.  She encourages every artist to practice, experiment, and above all, smile and enjoy the process of discovering their own unique style of painting.
For the eager artist student, Jean introduces her favorite materials, important things to know about using color, ways of seeing light and painting it, a range of watercolor techniques, and some basics to keep in mind while arranging a painting's composition.  The last chapter is devoted to three demonstrations that the reader will find useful for practice.  And throughout the book, you will find easy to read boxes with quick tips and "try this" exercises to get you painting.
My favorite sections of this book are the two chapters on light:  Light and how we see it, and Painting Light.  Jean introduces the topic of painting light, by saying:  "If you think seeing light is exciting , try deliberately setting out to paint it!  Put the subject completely out of your mind and focus only on where you can see light"  That caught my attention.  Put the subject out of your mind and paint the light---an intriguing idea that made me eager to get started.  And in these two chapters, Jean suggests a number of ways to achieve this.
An exciting book you won't want to miss for its ability to loosen up your watercolor practice, and stimulate your thinking about color and light.

How to Paint Color and Light in Watercolour by Jean Haines is available online at Amazon with the "look inside" feature.
Also visit Jean's blog:  Watercolours with Life, to learn more about her products and workshops and enjoy seeing more of her paintings and activities.

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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