Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 4

Andrew Wyeth painted hundreds of paintings in Maine during his life, and the Olson House was one of his favorite subjects. It's now part of the Farnsworth Museum. We visited on a beautiful summer day and had a chance to sketch for awhile after touring the house and watching a documentary about Wyeth.

The house is stark and spare. It looks like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life. From the house, grassy meadows lead down to the shimmering waters of Penobscot Bay and a small cemetery where the artist is buried. I chose a spot among the wildflowers and settled down to draw.

All sketches were done in a 9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook.
For this one I used pencil and watercolor.

My landscape vignette has the breezy, sunlit look of coastal Maine, with its clapboard house and barn, evergreen trees and beautiful meadows filled with wildflowers. The border frames the sketch nicely without overwhelming it.

Each year when I'm in Maine I take my students to visit the Rockland Breakwater Light in Rockland harbor, but this year I decided to stay on shore rather than walk the breakwater out to the lighthouse. While I was waiting for them to return from the nearly two mile round trip walk, I sketched a dredging barge anchored just off-shore.

The sketch was drawn with a black Pigma Micron 01 pen. The border was added later. I used a variety of pens for it, including several sizes of Pitt Artist's pens, a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with Platinum Carbon ink, and a Pitt brush pen (color cold grey 232).

After the workshop wrapped up, my mother and I headed up the coast to Acadia National Park where we met some friends for a week. We had a little cottage near the water on Goose Cove, not too far from Southwest Harbor in the part of Mt. Desert Island that they call "The Quiet Side". It's away from the hustle bustle of Bar Harbor and the main attractions in the national park.

I thought the little "Beach" sign that pointed the way to our private cove was really cute, so I did a quick sketch of it the first morning we were there. I used a Pentel Hybrid Technica gel pen that Joe Miller had given me when I taught at Cheap Joe's back in May. The pen glided over the Stillman & Birn Alpha paper nicely and was a pleasure to draw with. The ink is water-soluble, so after the drawing was finished, I used a waterbrush filled with clean water to dissolve some of the lines and draw out the gray color to make shadows. I love this technique, and it's so quick that I'm able to get a sketch finished in no time.

The tides in northern Maine are dramatic, with huge changes in the shoreline happening every day as the tide comes in and goes out. At low tide, I enjoyed exploring the cove to see what I could find. Mostly I was searching for sea glass, but there was lots more to see. I sketched various types of seaweed, a sea urchin shell, barnacles, a dead crab, mussel shells, snail shells, sea glass, and even a few minnows that had been trapped in a tide pool.

Trying to fit all the different shapes in on my page was a lot of fun. The minnows were the last thing I drew, after the lettering had been added. I wish I had planned for them a little earlier, so I could have had one of them actually coming through the "D". Still, I love this page.

This last sketch was a quickie done at a sidewalk cafe while we waited for our lunches.

I'll share the rest of my Maine sketches when I have a chance to finish them, but they may have to wait awhile. I have a couple of house portraits to paint, a three-day "Sketch Your Life!" workshop next weekend here at my house, and Italy coming up in September. These are busy days!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 3

During my June workshop in Maine, I waited all week for the perfect day to drive to the top of Mt. Battie and spend some time sketching. My patience was rewarded when we awoke one morning to abundant sunshine and clear blue skies.

The view from the top of Mt. Battie is spectacular - deep blue ocean as far as the eye can see, dotted here and there with low-lying islands. Off in the distance, fifty miles or so to the northeast, Mt. Desert Island and Acadia National Park jut out into the sea. Down the hill lies the picture-perfect village of Camden.

"Pretty Little Camden, Maine, "9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook, ink & watercolor

The expansive view from the top of the mountain can be overwhelming for an artist. How do you capture the vastness of it all? Well, this year, I didn't even try. Instead, I focused in on the pretty little town of Camden and attempted to capture the feeling of its houses nestled in among the trees next to a snug, protected harbor. Zooming in on a scene is a great way to limit your view and narrow your selection of subject matter.

I used a Platinum Carbon fountain pen with Platinum Carbon ink and an extra fine nib for the drawing. The extra fine nib was a good choice for this scene with its tiny details. The sky and water were painted first...

Step 1 - Paint the sky and water

The next step was to paint the distant islands and fingers of land jutting out into Penobscot Bay. Moving into the mid-ground, I painted the bright yellow-green fields and some grassy areas along the water's edge and put the first bits of color on the buildings.

Step 2 - Paint the distant land and begin picking out some of the mid- and foreground details.

Moving into the foreground, I painted a lone evergreen and the light and middle values on the rocks.

The foreground grasses came next.

Step 3 - Paint the foreground grasses

While the first light yellow-green washes were still wet, I added darker tones to indicate shadows. As they dried, strokes of darker color were added to suggest texture/foliage.


Next, I painted the dark spit of land above the Camden woods and began adding more color to the houses so that when I began painting all the green trees in the mid-ground, I wouldn't accidentally paint over a tiny house.

Step 4 - Paint the dark peninsula and add more color to the buildings.

It was finally time to tackle all the greenery in and around the town.

Step 5 - Begin painting the trees around the buildings.

I started with light to medium values of olive green and varied it by adding ultramarine blue for shadow tones. Sap green was used, also, and combined with ultramarine and burnt umber or burnt sienna for the deepest shadows.


I contrasted light, sunlit sides of trees with darker areas that were in shadow. Individual trees were painted wet-in-wet, but, where I wanted a hard edge, I had to let some of them dry so that the adjacent tree color wouldn't run into them.


The last step was to paint the woods that were beyond the little town.

Step 6 - Finish painting the more distant middle ground woods and the buildings in town.

I made these darker and more subdued, to make them recede into the distance and focus the eye more on the foreground and the town. They were painted wet-in-wet, but I left bits of sparkling white paper here and there to keep the area from feeling dull and lifeless.


The homes and commercial buildings peeking out from behind the trees were finished simply and blue-grey shadows were added.


Then I called it done!
Pretty little Camden,'s always held a place in my heart, and now it's in my sketchbook, too!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Part 2

Picture yourself sitting in an Adirondack chair somewhere along the coast of Maine, water gently lapping at the shore in front of you and seagulls soaring lazily overhead. The sun is sinking low in the sky and there's a stillness in the air, as if the earth is holding its breath, waiting for darkness to come.

All sketches were done in a 9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook

That was the scene at Primrose Cottage when I painted "All is well". The peace and serenity I felt that evening flowed through my paintbrush and onto the page. I painted directly, with no preliminary drawing, a first for me, and it felt very freeing, just letting the color flow without worrying about accuracy or page layouts or trying to be perfect. It's just a simple little sketch, nothing special really, but the memory it holds will be with me for a long time.

Another way to pack a lot of memories into a sketchbook page is to include photos. I often make a page of photos in my travel sketchbooks. I use Microsoft Publisher to lay out selected photos on a page, then print the page on matte photo paper and glue it into my sketchbook. On this particular page, I left an empty white border around the photos, then drew a black and white border design with a Pitt Artist's Pen after it was in the sketchbook.

Everyone really enjoyed the quirkiness of Primrose Cottage, and I think most of us did at least one sketch of the interior. Mine is of a corner of the original kitchen, with it's pretty antique china, enamel table, pink chairs, and white curtains with pom-pom fringe. I drew it directly with a Pitt pen, not worrying at all about perspective or straight lines. I wanted the style of the sketch to feel kind of funky and fun, like the room itself.

Pitt pen and watercolor

Later in the week, we made a second excursion to Birch Point State Park. It was a warm, sunny day, and the water was sparkling and beautiful. I enjoyed watching all the happy children busily digging, pouring, running and splashing. What a contrast to earlier in the week when we all sat huddled over our sketchbooks, bundled up with jackets and hats on, wishing we had brought gloves!

Gel pen and watercolor

Watch for lots more sketches coming in a few days!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Sketches from Maine - Step-by-Step Iris Watercolor

Merryspring Nature Preserve is an idyllic little gem in the heart of mid-coast Maine. The day we visited, we had the place entirely to ourselves. There was so much to draw that I found myself wandering around for awhile just taking it all in, waiting for something to "speak" to me. Should I do a landscape scene with a grey weathered shed in the background, or a composite page with a variety of flowers? Or should I focus on just one flower or plant?  

Finally I chose a stand of iris as my subject matter and sat down to sketch.

I began with a pencil drawing of the iris, then lightly sketched in an idea for lettering across the top of the page. This could change later - I was just trying it out at this stage.

Step 1 - Pencil drawing
I decided to paint the leaves first using a variety of colors, rather than plain green. There is some green there, but I also used yellow, teal, lavender, pink, red, and blue on the leaves and stems, allowing the colors to blend wet-in-wet. Using a larger size brush (#10 or 12) helped me keep things loose.

Step 2 - Paint base washes on the leaves

While the washes on the leaves were drying, I started on the flowers, painting the yellow centers first.

Step 3 - Paint the yellow centers on the flowers

I also added some muted purple to the buds at this point.

Next came the lavender and purple flower petals. And this is the point where I got so engrossed in what I was doing that I forgot to stop and take pictures. :(  So, let me explain what happened between steps 3 & 4....

Step 4 - Paint the flower petals

I first painted the light lavender-pink petals. If you look at the photo at the top of this post, you'll see that the light-colored petals on the iris were actually almost white. I chose to make them lavender because I wanted them to contrast with the white background. Artistic license!

Next I painted the darker purple petals, dropping in some red in places, wet-in-wet, to vary the color. After that all dried, I went back in with a few touches of darker color on the lavender petals and added the darkest yellow in the center of the flower (a mixture of yellow + raw sienna).

Since there was so much white space around the flowers, I decided to break it up with some spattering. I am usually careful not to overdo the spattering, because I don't want it to be too obvious, but in this case I thought more was better. The larger spatters were done with a paintbrush, and some of the finer ones with a piece of window screen. (Simply brush some paint on a piece of screen, hold it over your paper and give a strong, quick blow.)

Step 6 - Spatter

The lettering was changed slightly from my original sketch. I just played around with it in pencil until it seemed just right, then painted it with the same colors I had used for the sketch.

Step 7 - Finalize lettering

All finished! Most of the painting had been done on location at Merryspring, out in the wind and sun, but I ran out of time before it was completed. The final touches on the flowers and the lettering were done at home. Total time to paint it was probably 1-1/2 - 2 hours.

It seems that painting directly from a pencil sketch makes me feel a little freer than when I do an ink drawing first. This painting is looser than my usual style, and I like that.

On this trip to Maine, I resolved to try new things. This sketch was a departure from my usual routine in that I didn't use ink lines, I varied the leaf color substantially from what was in front of me, and I minimized detail. I think the sketch reflects the fact that I felt relaxed and happy that day at Merryspring, sitting in the sun in that peaceful garden with beauty all around me and my friends nearby. And it makes me happy again every time I look at it and remember.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sketches from Maine, Part I

I've been finishing up some of the sketches I did while in Maine earlier this summer, and it's been a lot of fun reliving that special time that I shared with my mother and five students. Three of them flew all the way from California to be there!

All sketches were done in a 9" x 6", Stillman and Birn Alpha series hardbound sketchbook

I added this year's sketches to the sketchbook that I started last year in Maine, but I gave this section its own title page. (See the 2015 sketches here.) The design was drawn with five different colors of Sakura Gelly Roll pens on a prepainted watercolor background. The lettering was done with watercolor.

Primrose Cottage, where we stayed, is such a beautiful old house, with lots of character. This year I sketched some of my favorite details. A tiny sketch of my students during their first walk on Crescent Beach rounded out this composite page nicely.

Ink and watercolor

Our first outing was to Birch Point State Park, where I did a sketch with watercolor pencil then painted it with watercolor while several of the students sketched alongside me. It was a cool blustery day, and by the time we finished, everyone was ready to go back to Primrose Cottage for a hot cup of tea.

Watercolor pencil, watercolor, graphite pencil, and Pitt pen (for the lettering)

I used self-adhesive mesh drywall tape to make pencil guidelines for my vertical stripes. After I painted the blue stripes freehand with a brush, I decided not to erase my guidelines. I like the way it gives the look of a ticking stripe. Usually I use the mesh drywall tape horizontally to make straight guidelines for text, but using it vertically gave me a new appreciation for the versatility of this tool. I always keep a piece of it handy, stuck to the Coroplast board that I use as a lap desk.

You're going to love tomorrow's post! I'll be sharing a step-by-step tutorial showing my process for painting a stand of beautiful purple irises on location at Merryspring Nature center in Camden, Maine.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Road Trip Sketches

When I taught my Maine workshop a few weeks ago, I had to do all the driving to Maine and back - 16 hours each way. I generally don't enjoy driving on a long trip. It's boring, exhausting, and sometimes frustrating, like the time I blindly followed my GPS into a traffic jam in the Bronx! But when we go on our annual beach vacation to North Carolina each summer, I get to sit back and relax in the co-pilot's seat, because my generous husband does all the driving. I read magazines, watch the passing scenery, drink coffee, talk to my mom in the back seat, and sketch.

Yes, I sketch in the car. While it's going down the road at 70 mph! It isn't always easy, but it's a great way to pass the time, especially on a long trip like our annual pilgrimage to the beach. It takes eleven hours to drive from our home in western Pennsylvania to the beach at Oak Island, North Carolina, where we've been going for years. That's a lot of time to fill, so this year I did a sketch every hour on the hour as we traveled along...

5-1/2" x 8-1/2" ink & watercolor in a Stillman & Birn hardcover sketchbook 

As you can see, I was very excited about the price of gas in Virginia. (Back home it was $2.45/gal.!)

This isn't great art, but that doesn't really matter, does it? It's just fun to be doing something during those long, seemingly endless hours. It makes the time pass quickly, and it's fun trying to think of different things to draw (like M&Ms!)

I used the simplest of supplies for these sketches...

...just a pencil, eraser, pen, water brush, and tiny toy watercolor set. This one was given to me by one of the students in my Maine workshop.  (Thanks again, Gretchen!) I found them on Wet Paint's website here.

This is a party favor type of watercolor set, so the paints it comes with are not the greatest, but I decided to use them for these trip sketches just so I could try them out.

I found them to be a little gritty, and they probably aren't lightfast, but the colors were fairly rich, and I enjoyed using them. I thought I wouldn't like the small size of the palette, since I usually like a generous mixing area, but when I wanted to switch colors, I just wiped the mixing area clean with a tissue, so it wasn't a problem at all.

This little baby-size palette was a lot of fun, and I quickly got used to its small size. It was handy to be able to just hold it in the palm of my hand to paint, and it easily fits in a pocket of my purse.

Today, back home, I cleaned out the original paints...

and replaced them with artists' quality watercolors.

I created three additional wells by using a hot glue gun to build a "dam" in the gap that originally held a tiny paint brush.

Here are the new colors I decided to try in the palette:

DS=Daniel Smith, AJ=American Journey (Cheap Joe's), HWC=Holbein Watercolors, WN=Winsor & Newton

It might be nice to have several of these little sets, each with a different selection of colors. I think I might just need to send in an order to Wet Paint sometime soon!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Summerhill Sketching Hits the Road! (+ Corn & Basil Tart Recipe)

Every month I host "Sketching at Summerhill" here at my house. It offers an opportunity for my creative friends to get together, learn a little something, paint a bit, and enjoy some fun and fellowship away from the daily grind. I love having everyone come to my home in the summertime when the flowers are in bloom, but this month I took my show on the road to a beautiful garden just a few miles away.

My friend, Jan, is the creator of this wonderland. She designed it, planted it, and cares for it daily. It's a big job, but she loves it, and, best of all, she loves to share it with others!


She graciously offered to host our monthly sketching get-together for July, and the sketchers were really excited about the prospect of getting to see this amazing space.

We had such a great time, from the moment we walked through the wrought iron gates into the backyard. There was so much to see!

A Japanese-style garden complete with waterfalls and a goldfish pond...

beautiful flowers and bushes...

garden sculptures...




bottle trees and borders...

wine cork mulch...

a river made of glass pebbles...

a window that Jan rescued from the trash when a local church was being remodeled...

a HUGE wind chime...

and over 100 varieties of daylilies!

I think this variety might be my favorite

We tried to see everything, but there was just too much! We kept discovering fun surprises, like a collection of glass suncatchers on a fence or an antique washtub overflowing with petunias. Jan's sense of humor and eye for design have made her garden a treasure.

After wandering around the yard for awhile, we headed for our temporary classroom, a.k.a. Jan's garage.

Click to enlarge

I taught a step-by-step lesson on painting daylilies, and showed everyone how to get from this...

to this!

6" x 8", watercolor on 140 lb. paper

After I explained the painting process, some of the students went out to the garden to sketch, some picked a daylily blossom and brought it into our "studio" to paint, and others painted from photos they had taken with their phone or tablet. 

We worked up a hearty appetite with all that sketching, so everyone was happy to set aside their paints for awhile to enjoy an al fresco lunch.

How idyllic is that?

Lunch was really yummy. I made Corn and Basil Tarts...

California Coleslaw...

Mint & Lime Fresh Fruit Salad...

No, that's not pepper on the fruit! It's little bits of chopped mint and lime zest. :)

and Lemon-Pecan Muffins...

A few daring women even tried nibbling on daylily blossoms after our host told us that they are edible!

Jan treated us to berry buckle with vanilla ice cream for dessert. The buckle was made with a combination of blueberries, blackberries, and red raspberries, plus black raspberries she picked on her property.

After lunch, we painted some more. The pace was relaxed. A nice breeze drifted through the studio while classical music played in the background. I walked around and helped anyone who needed it. What a blissful way to spend an afternoon!

Then it was sharing time. Several of my Summerhill Sketchers did an alphabet challenge during the month of June, and they brought their completed (or nearly completed) sketches to share. It was amazing to see how much they accomplished in such a short time. They all spoke about how they could see a huge amount of progress in their drawing and painting skills as a result of the time invested. Practice is the key!

Teresa did a flower for every letter of the alphabet...

I loved the water and reflections on this "F"lamingo sketch of Cathy's.

And Colleen takes her sketchbook everywhere with her now, including when she volunteered at an arts festival in Pittsburgh. She's fearless!

Next month we'll be back at Summerhill for sketching on August 4, and this interlude in Jan's garden will be a happy memory for all of us. If you'd like to experience a little bit of our summer garden party, why not try making this delicious Corn and Basil Tart? Here's the recipe, just for you!

Corn and Basil Tart

Crust ingredients:
1/3 c. butter, softened
2 T. sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 egg
2/3 c. cornmeal
2/3 c. flour

Filling ingredients:
2 eggs
1 c. half-and-half or light cream
1-1/2 c. fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)
¾ c. cheddar cheese
½ c. coarsely snipped fresh basil
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper

Optional add-ins:
1 small can black olives
¼-1/3 cup green chiles
Pimento, chopped
Artichoke hearts, chopped

Optional toppings:
Chopped tomato and basil
Or salsa

1. Make the cornmeal crust: In a medium bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar and ½ tsp. salt. Beat until combined. Beat in 1 egg until combined. Add in cornmeal and flour. Mix until ingredients form moist clumps or a ball.
2. Preheat oven to 350ยบ. Pat the dough onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom.  Line the pastry with a double thickness of foil and bake 10 minutes; remove foil. Bake 5-6 minutes more.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 2 eggs and half-and-half. Stir in the corn, cheese, basil, ½ tsp. salt, and pepper. Add any additional optional ingredients. 
4. Pour into prebaked pastry shell. Bake 35-40 minutes or until set. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove sides of pan to serve. 
5. Sprinkle with tomato and additional basil, or with salsa.

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