Monday, September 8, 2014

September Garden

With the cooler days we're having now, I was feeling a little sad to see summer on its way out. I really enjoy all the flowering shrubs and perennials that brighten up our yard in the summertime, and I'm just not ready to say goodbye to them yet.

Then I started looking a little closer and realized that even though the masses of daylilies are finished for the year, and the daisies and campanula are drying up and turning brown, there's still plenty going on in my September garden.

9" x 12", ink, watercolor, and gouache in Aquabee Super Deluxe sketchbook. Drawn with Noodler's Creaper Flex Pen and Noodler's Lexington Gray ink. Lettering done with Pitt Artist's Pen, size S.

I planted several packets of zinnia seeds in the the front row of my vegetable garden this spring, as I do every year, and they never fail to provide loads of bright, cheery color, up until the first frost. I like to cut bunches of them to bring inside, arranging them in antique stoneware pitchers and blue Mason jars. I set one on the kitchen window sill, one on the kitchen island, and another on the coffee table in the living room. They make me happy whenever I catch a glimpse of them.

Bluebeard or blue mist shrub is a never-fail fall bloomer. When everything else is waning, it's just hitting its stride. The lavender plants growing above the stone wall by the basement door are all blossoming now, too.

The coneflowers are mostly over, but I found a few fresh flowers on a new variety that I planted in July.

The little flower with the blush pink petals, above, is from the coreopsis shrubs that spill over onto the stone steps leading down to the lower patio by the basement walkout.

The flower clusters on my 'Pee Gee' hydrangeas have turned from warm white to a soft dusty rose color in the past few weeks.

Most of the hosta by the garage finished blooming weeks ago, but one stalwart plant still has its pretty purple flowers.

One packet of sunflower seeds planted in June in my garden has yielded hundreds of sketch-worthy, sunshine-yellow blooms.

Our butterfly bush is true to its name - it's filled with butterflies all day long. The hummingbirds seem to like it, too.

My roses have suffered mightily this year, trying to recover from last winter's harsh weather. They haven't done too well, but I'm hoping next year will be better, and at least there are still a few blossoms to enjoy this fall.

Most of the spirea bushes in our yard put on a beautiful show in early summer and then rest on their laurels the rest of the summer, but one dark magenta variety is blooming nicely right now.

My favorite 'Nikko Blue' hydrangeas also took a hit last winter and didn't give me their usual bounty of blue flowers in early summer. But a few of them finally sent out some buds in August and are blooming now. Better late than never! I'm enjoying every one of them, and they seem all the more precious for their scarcity.

And last but not least, the dependable coreopsis. These cheery little flowers by the stone patio just keep coming and coming throughout the summer and fall.

As I wandered around the yard yesterday with my sketchbook, pen, and three-legged stool, adding one flower after another to this page, I was surprised at how much life there still is in this late summer garden. I just have to look a little harder and take the time to notice it.

Soon these flowers will be gone, replaced by the bright reds, oranges, and golds of fall, but I'm savoring these remnants of summer, and they'll still be blooming in my sketchbook when the winter winds are howling around the house a few short months from now. And looking at this page, I'll remember a warm September evening when I spent some time just enjoying the beauty that's all around me, right here at home.

A little bit about the lettering on this sketch ...

I drew the lettering (inspired by the Antrokas font) by hand with a pencil first, to work out the size and spacing on the page. I then outlined it with a black Pitt pen, size S, and colored in the spaces to make the thick ascenders and descenders. A cool violet-blue watercolor shadow was brushed on, spaced away from the black lettering so the words appear to be suspended above the page.

I toyed with lots of different ideas for borders but thought this swirly one would add a lot of movement to the page while echoing the curving lines of the flowers. I wanted this sketch to be filled to the brim with color and pattern, just like my September garden.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Feel Like a Kid Again in My New Fall Classes

Remember how much fun you had with art as a kid? Back then you felt free to create without fear or self-consciousness, and you were limited only by your imagination. Your style wasn't like anyone else's and you didn't care what anyone thought of your artwork - you did it just for yourself, for the joy of creating. Wouldn't it be great to experience that feeling again?

Well, that's what my sketchbook journaling classes are all about - about having fun with art again, about silencing that little voice in your head that tells you this will be too hard, or you won't be any good at it, that it will take too much time and you'll probably give up.

With my guidance and encouragement, it won't be too hard, and you will be good at it. It won't take too much time, and you won't give up! You'll learn to draw (yes, you!) and paint with watercolors (really!) and you'll discover a whole new way of looking at the world.

I'm offering two 8-week sessions this fall. These are comprehensive classes that teach drawing, composition, watercolor techniques, hand-lettering, and page layout and design. They're loaded with information and inspiration. I hope you'll join me!

 Sketchbook Journaling 101
at Summerhill Studio near Ruff Creek, PA
8-week class
Tuesday evenings
September 23, 30, October 7, 14, 21, 28, November 4, 11
6:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Sue, from my Spring 2013 Summerhill class

Sketchbook Journaling for Beginners
at Wash Arts in Washington, PA
8-week class
Thursday afternoons
September 18, 25, October 9, 16, 23, 30, November 6, 13
1:00 pm - 3:30 pm

My Winter 2013 class at WashArts

Click here to learn more

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Flashback to the Fifties: Alice's Jello Salad

Here's a fun commission piece I did recently...

This is a recipe that's been in my customer, Pam's, family for generations. It's a favorite at every large family gathering. The long-running joke is that it's usually forgotten in the refrigerator until after all the other desserts have been eaten. Then suddenly someone will remember Alice's Jello Salad, sitting in all its pink, fluffy glory, just waiting to be devoured.

Do you have a great idea for a unique gift
for someone special?
Contact me today to discuss the possibilities.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mushroom Sleuthing

I was on a quest. A mushroom quest. As I rambled through the woods, I had noticed a few colorful little gems peeking out from under the carpet of dried brown leaves beneath my feet, and that only made me want more.

Aquabee Super Delluxe sketchbook, 9" x 12", watercolor and Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pen

I felt like I was on a treasure hunt, as my eyes darted this way and that, looking for bright pinks and yellows, as well as the camouflaged tans and greys.

Aquabee Super Delluxe sketchbook, 9" x 12", watercolor and Sakura Pigma Micron 01 pen

If I hadn't been paying attention, I would have missed them...

I sketched the mushrooms directly in ink while I was there in the woods and snapped a photo of each one.

It was dusk by the time I finished, and the mosquitoes were finding me every time I paused to sketch, so, after filling two pages in my 9" x 12" sketchbook, I headed indoors.

I spent the next hour or so with a field guide to mushrooms, trying to identify the ones I had drawn. I'm not sure I was too successful - so many of them look similar to one another. 

 It sure was fun tromping around in the woods, though, just seeing what I could see.

I need to give myself permission to do this more often. To wander, to paint, to really look at the things I might normally pass by.

I need to remember that my to-do list will still be there tomorrow, but summer will be over in the blink of an eye. 

 I'm going to savor each moment.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Step-by-Step Watercolor: Lake Scene

I visited my mother last week at Alpine Lake, West Virginia, and while I was there spent a wonderfully relaxing couple of hours following the walking trail that meanders through the woods along the shoreline. There are so many pretty, sketch-worthy scenes, but I finally chose this one:

Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook, 7" x 7"

Sketching provides a great excuse to slow down and enjoy life. What could be better than to sit by a lake on a beautiful summer day just listening, watching, and painting?

Would you like to see a step-by-step of my sketching process? Well, blissed out and relaxed as I was that day at Alpine Lake, I actually had the presence of mind to snap some pictures as I worked on this page. I thought you'd enjoy seeing them. Here's step 1...

Step 1 - Quick sketch of the scene

I had a new toy to play with, a set of Koh-I-Noor "Magic Pencils", so I used one of them to do my sketch. It gave me a soft variegated line that would easily blend into my watercolors later as I painted.

"Magic Pencils" by Koh-I-Noor. I used the second one from the top for my sketch.

The lines are colorful yet subtle.

I painted the sky first, wet-on-dry since I didn't want too much spreading of the color. I softened edges where needed with a damp brush.

Step 2 - First washes (sky and grass)

The grass was a bright yellow-green, so I laid in some leaf green, olive green, and cadmium yellow light, allowing them to mingle on the paper. In the lower part of the page, I dropped some ultramarine blue into the wet paint.

In step 3, I began painting the masses of foliage, varying my greens to add interest.  I also added the first indications of the dirt path and foreground grasses. The boulders received their first light and medium tone washes.

Step 3 - Began painting leafy foliage, path, grasses, and rocks

I always think of this part of the process as being the awkward adolescent stage of a painting. It's hard to foresee a satisfactory outcome, and I'm usually thinking, "Augh, this looks so bad!" I try not to get discouraged at this point, though, because I know things will get better if I just keep plugging away at it. 

In step 4, I defined the tree trunks, first with a light grey wash, then a darker one after the first had dried. I added some spattering in the tree foliage and painted the deep green undergrowth behind the tree trunks. The boulders received their first layer of shadows, and the path had some darker tones added to it. More texture was added to the foreground grasses with spattering from my paintbrush, a size 6 or 8 round.

Step 4 - Tree trunks, undergrowth, foliage spatters, rock shadows

A lot happened between steps 4 and 5 - I painted the distant hills, began painting the water, added deeper shadows on the rocks and foreground foliage, and further defined some of the branches and leaves.

Step 5 - Add darker shadows, hills, grasses, and water

Step 6 shows the final touches: trees on the distant shore and a few touches of darker shadows here and there.

Step 6 - Distant trees, spots of darkest color

Total working time was about an hour and a half. I like the way this turned out using the colored pencil for the drawing, rather than my usual ink lines. It's a looser, less defined look.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Painting a House Portrait Using Simple Sketching Techniques

How did this little sketch...

5 1/2" x 3 1/2", ink & watercolor in a Moleskine watercolor sketchbook

lead to this finished painting?

14" x 10", ink, watercolor, and gouache on 140 lb. Saunders Waterford paper

Well... when my dentist and his wife saw the sketch I did of the coffee corner in their office waiting room, they loved it so much that they checked out some of my other work online and decided to have me do a house portrait of the wife's family home. Her mother had recently moved from the house into an apartment and was still missing her old place. The painting was to be a gift for her, to remember the home she had loved for so many years.

Even though this finished house portrait might look very detailed and complex, up close it's not much more complicated than a simple sketch. Let's zoom in and take a look...

The trees were painted with variegated washes in shades of greens and yellows, with touches of blue and purple dropped into the darker areas. Most of the work was done with the initial wash. To finish up, I added some spattering and a few marks with a round brush to suggest leaves. Easy as pie!

Although the flower bed in front of the house may look complex, if you examine it more closely, you'll see that most of the plants were painted with a wash of light to medium value, then after that dried, a few touches of a darker tone were added to indicate leaves and shadows - two simple steps to a convincing-looking flower bed.

The stone wall was also painted in two steps: a light overall wash of grey/tan, and a darker shadow color. 

I painted the windows by simply wetting the area, dropping in touches of paint and allowing the colors to blend on the paper. Later, I drew the muntins with white Speedball ink over top of the watercolor. It worked great and was so much simpler than trying to preserve the white of the paper.

I usually just suggest the bricks on a house by painting a few individual bricks here and there, but for this painting,I went into a little more detail. It took more time, but it wasn't difficult. I brushed on a warm base of yellow ochre mixed with a bit of burnt sienna for the mortar color. After that dried, I painted the bricks with varied tones of burnt sienna. Here and there I washed over the finished bricks with a pale yellow ochre/burnt sienna mixture to soften the lines a bit.

My house portraits usually include little personal touches, like this "Dad's Garden" sign, which was a special request from the family.

The lettering on the sign was painted with gouache

And, if you look closely, back in the bushes you'll see a friendly fox who made it part of his daily routine to walk through this yard every day, right in the middle of a busy neighborhood!

The address sign was another special request. It doesn't take much time to add these personal touches, and it means so much to the recipient of the artwork.

The line work on the painting was done with a Sakura Pigma Micron pen, just like the one I often use for my sketches. I did the ink drawing first, then added watercolor.

As you can see by these detail views, my paintings are really just larger versions of my sketches. The same techniques I use in my sketchbook serve me well when doing a house portrait.

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