Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A House Portrait with a Twist

A good friend of mine moved to Florida a few months ago (even though I tried my darndest to talk her out of it!) I guess icy cold winters and shoveling snow can't compare to beaches and sunshine.

Her husband and daughter wrote to me shortly after they arrived in the Sunshine State and asked if I would paint a portrait of the house they had left behind. It was to be a birthday gift for my friend, Judy.

What made this house portrait a little different, though, was that they wanted me to paint the back of the house and to focus more on the yard and the pavilion than on the structure of the house itself. I was a little taken aback at first, but then I realized that they were right, After all, isn't the back yard where most of the living takes place and the memories are made? 

After doing my preliminary drawing and inking the lines, I masked out the foreground weeds and flowers using masking fluid. That way, I could apply washes to the yard area without having to paint around a lot of fiddly little bits.

I spattered more masking fluid to suggest the fine spray of white baby's breath that was growing among the butterfly bush blossoms.

I painted the first light green wash on the yard area, then masked some leaves on the tree that extends into the left side of the painting.

The house was painted and shadows added.

Bricks and roof shingles were indicated with a few strokes of watercolor here and there.

The flowers were painted with the lightest tones, then medium shades, and finally the darkest accents.

A final spattering of paint in the grass and trees to add some texture..

and it was finished! I boxed it up, shipped it off and waited hear how Judy liked her surprise.

She loved it, and agreed that the backyard view was the way to go. It reminds her of morning coffee in the pavilion, family cookouts on a warm summer evening, and a lifetime of happy memories - a little piece of her Pennsylvania life hanging on her wall in Florida.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fall Harvest Journal Page + Step-by-Step Border

This page from my new nature journal shows a selection of what I collected the other day when I took a walk in the woods near our house. I wanted to see how many "crops" (seeds, nuts, and berries) I could find as fall dwindles down and winter moves in.

Ink & watercolor, two-page spread in 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman and Birn Beta Series sketchbook

I found lots of acorn caps hidden under the carpet of leaves, but I had to look long and hard to find even one or two acorns. The squirrels and chipmunks must be sitting on a gold mine of winter stores, because they didn't leave much at all for a budding naturalist to pick up.

A few of the multiflora roses had rose hips on them, but many had already been eaten by the birds or deer.  

I've always loved the smooth, silvery-grey bark of the huge old beech trees in our woods. I really should sketch one of them sometime. For now, here are a few beech nuts that they produced this year.

The shag-bark hickory trees dropped plenty of nuts this fall. I managed to find a few that had been missed by the squirrels.

Wild grape vines grow high up into the tree tops around here, but luckily I found a bunch of grapes that had fallen to the leafy forest floor.

Most of the black walnut husks had turned black already, but I picked up one that still had some of its pretty apple green color.

The wild barberry that I happened upon was covered with beautiful red berries.

I did the calligraphy on this page with a regular dip calligraphy nib.

I filled the reservoir with watercolor paint using a brush, so I could match the color to my sketch.

The border was simple to do...

First, I drew two parallel guidelines, then followed these steps:

See how easy it is? :)

I love sketchbook pages like this that are filled to the brim with interesting things to look at!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dogwood Sketch & Time-Lapse Video

I've painted quite a few fall leaves in the past couple of weeks, but I was especially struck by the deep, rich colors of these leaves from the Kousa dogwood tree in our yard. It seemed like every possible autumn color was right there in the leaves on this one twig - deep burgundies, rich golds, and shades of green ranging from chartreuse to teal.

Two-page spread in 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" Stillman and Birn Beta Series sketchbook, ink & watercolor

The leaves had layers of color which I tried to capture by layering my paints in multiple washes. Colors used were:

Yellow ochre
Raw sienna
Permanent rose
Ultramarine blue
Olive green
Hooker's green
Burnt umber
Burnt sienna

I did a little bit of scraping with an Xacto knife to pick out a few vein lines.


The rough bark was a lot of fun to paint.

 Aren't these seed pods cool-looking? And they're edible!

The drawings of the twigs and leaves were done with a Noodler's Nib Creaper Flex Pen filled with Noodler's Walnut ink, which was permanent on this Stillman and Birn Beta paper.

The border design and lettering were drawn with a brown Pitt pen, then painted with colors that echo the tones in the leaves.

If you like this border, you might want to check out my new Pinterest board that features an ever-growing collection of borders from the pages of my sketchbooks. Stop by to be inspired! (You must have a Pinterest account to see the page, but it's free to sign up.) I also have a Sketchbook Page Layouts board with lots of great ideas to jazz up your pages.

As a gift for reading this far, here's a time-lapse video showing the process I used to paint this page from my nature journal:

Total time to paint the dogwood leaves and border was about two hours, not counting a few breaks that I took to let things dry. I hope you enjoy watching it!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nature Sketching

In September 2015, I'll be teaching a four-day workshop called "Sketchbook Journaling in Nature" at Touchstone Center for Crafts. Touchstone is a residential learning center located in the Appalachian mountains about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh. We'll be visiting during one of the prettiest times of the year and will have plenty of opportunities to get out in the woods and soak up all that nature has to offer. (For more info about the class, click on the "US Workshops" tab, above. The 2015 classes aren't up on the Touchstone site yet.)

So, in preparation for the workshop, I thought I'd start a dedicated nature journal that I can work on throughout the coming year. All of my other nature sketches are scattered throughout random sketchbooks; I think it will be nice to now have one book dedicated to nothing but trees, bugs, skies, flowers, etc. Here's the first page, from the last weekend in October...

Two-page spread in a Stillman and Birn 5-1/" x 8-1/2" Beta Series sketchbook, ink & watercolor

My plan is to have a decorative border on each page. I really enjoy the mindless repetition of drawing border designs like this. Each little element is so simple, but they all add up to make a nice frame for the page. It's like a meditation for me when I'm working on them.

The lettering and border were drawn with a black Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen, size S (Superfine.)

For the sketches, I used a Sakura Pigma Micron, size 01.

I've made a good start on my new nature journal. Now let's see if I can keep it up through the winter. I may have to really think creatively to find subject matter at times, but I think it will be good exercise to look for signs of life in nature when it's ten degrees outside. Brrr! It's hard to even think about that right now!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Out & About

One of the homework assignments I give my sketchbook journaling students is to paint a variegated wash on a sketchbook page without any thought as to what they might decide to draw later on the page. Then, after the wash dries, they are to begin their sketches, using the earlier wash as a unifying color theme for their drawing or painting. Since what's good for the student is also good for the teacher, I did the homework assignment for myself...

8-1/2" x 11", ink & watercolor in a Stillman & Birn Zeta Series sketchbook

It started out like this:

First, I used cobalt turquoise, cerulean blue, permanent rose, and one of my yellows (not sure which one) for the variegated wash. Then I penciled in the grid boxes and did my first two sketches...


These little drawings only take a minute or two to do. The painting takes a little longer, due to drying time. For many of them, I started painting them onsite, then snapped a photo and moved on while the paint dried, adding the final touches later at home.


What's great about this technique of doing a preliminary wash over the whole page is that, when it's time to paint your sketches, your work is half done for you! Take a look at this little sketch below. The sky, sidewalk, and street were all left as the original wash color.

The warm colors on the page worked beautifully for this picture of pumpkins outside a shop in Waynesburg.

Having the background wash as the first layer on a sketchbook page adds continuity to the page and offers exciting color possibilities that you might not have thought of without it, like the rainbow sky that is reflected in the sidewalk and grass in this sketch...

This technique is a lot of fun - give it a try!

Monday, October 27, 2014


10" x 8", ink & watercolor on 140 lb. watercolor paper

I plant a packet of mixed sunflower seeds in my garden every summer. I water them, weed them, and prop them up when a storm blows through.

I don't harvest the seeds to eat or to fill our bird feeders. The birds usually cling to the centers and peck the seeds right off the plant without any help from me.

Those big, ungainly plants don't serve any purpose at all in my garden. They just take up space that could be put to use producing a nice practical crop of beans or broccoli. So, why do I plant them year after year?  

I plant sunflowers because they make me happy! Because those big, beautiful explosions of yellow, rust, and gold make my heart sing. Because that $1.59 packet of sunflower seeds is the biggest bang for my buck that I get all year.

(This original watercolor painting is for sale. Beautifully framed and double-matted, $300.00.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Blue Hydrangeas

My hydrangeas barely bloomed at all this year. The winter of 2014 was so harsh that every one of my hydrangea bushes died back, and it took all summer for them to recover and reach any size at all. Two of them began to blossom around the end of August and are now covered with blooms and buds...just in time for winter Sheesh!

8" x 10", ink & watercolor on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico paper.

The other fifteen or so hydrangeas that I have planted around the house are still sporting nothing but leaves. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that next year will be better. I missed those beautiful blue blooms this summer.

In this painting, I combined two different varieties of hydrangea. The one in the foreground is Nikko Blue...

and the other is a variety that has pretty pale yellow centers.

If you visit this earlier post, you'll find a step-by-step tutorial showing the process I use in painting hydrangeas.

The flowers in the background were painted with less detail...

Leaf veins were painted in various ways:

negative painting...

The leaf was first painted a golden color, then darker areas were painted with green, avoiding the vein areas

scratching lines into wet paint...

Vein lines scratched in with a wooden skewer

lifting dried paint with a damp brush, and drawing lines with a pen...

This leaf shows veins detailed with negative painting, lifting, and ink lines

The pen I used was a Noodler's Nib Creaper Flex pen filled with Noodler's Lexington Gray ink, available from Goulet Pens.

(This matted & framed original watercolor painting is available for $300.00. Please contact me by email if you're interested.)
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