Monday, August 19, 2019

Summerhill Sketching Retreat Recap - Part 1

Is this heaven?
No, it's Summerhill.
Beverlee Moreno-Ring (Summerhill Sketching Retreat guest)

That quote from Beverlee sums up the euphoria felt by all of us during the first Summerhill Sketching Retreat that I hosted in July here at my home. It was perfect from start to finish. What a relief! I've been planning for it since last November when I had the nugget of an idea, to host painting getaways here at Summerhill and give women a chance to relax, paint, learn, and bond with each other while being pampered with luxury accommodations, gourmet food, and nurturing love and support. It turned out to be so much more than I had envisioned. Here's a visual scrapbook of all that we did during our six days together....

The first evening, after everyone settled into their rooms,

we had a yummy lasagna dinner then headed to the patio to get acquainted and enjoy some homemade panna cotta with blueberries for dessert.

The participants had flown in from all over the US for the event. Having women from different parts of the country (California, South Carolina, Michigan, and Arizona) really made things interesting. (I knew everyone from other workshops they had taken with me, but they didn't all know each other.)

The next morning, after a scrumptious breakfast, we gathered in the studio. Eager with anticipation, the students were ready to learn and ready to PAINT!


After a lesson on "41 Ways to Sketch a Garden" and a watercolor demonstration about how to paint masses of green foliage, they headed outside to sketch. There was so much to choose from! Flowers, fountains, architecture, was probably a little overwhelming, but they each picked their favorite spot and got to work.


Buddy the cat was so happy to have some company (with Kay and Beverlee)

Pat and Kay

After all that fresh air (and heat), it was nice to return to the studio to finish up the morning's sketches...

Pat and Terry

Pat with her garden sketch

Beverlee with her garden sketch

Then it was time for a well-deserved lunch.

Beverlee, Pat B., Terry, and Pat J.

On the menu: broccoli salad, sweet, juicy watermelon, pickled eggs (a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty that I wanted them to try), marinated cucumber salad (with cukes from our garden), and California roll-ups.

A yummy (and beautiful!) chocolate Pavlova with whipped cream and red raspberries rounded out the meal. (It's everybody's favorite dessert here at Summerhill.)

Although they were probably ready for a nap by then, everyone wandered back to the studio in the afternoon for more painting lessons and free painting time. They didn't want to sleep through any of the fun!

After dinner, we all took a relaxing walk.

Buckley came along...

and Buddy the cat, too.

The next morning, we took our breakfast out onto the front porch where it was cool and shady.

Then we were off to Waynesburg for our first field trip, a visit to the Greene County Historical Society Museum.

I taught a lesson on drawing buildings, then we took a tour of the museum to see some of the rare artifacts and quirky collections housed there, like this fancy purple martin house...

We enjoyed a catered tea party luncheon in the parlor, then sketched a little longer before returning to Summerhill.

Here's my sketch of the day:

Ink & watercolor in an 8" x 8" Handbook watercolor sketchbook (I have to admit I finished this after my guests left.)

In the afternoon, I did a quick demo of how to paint brick texture on buildings. It really helped when it came time to add color to the museum sketches.

Student sketches...

That evening, my husband Fred offered scenic rides in his Piper Super Cub. Participation was optional, but almost everyone decided to take to the air.

They took off from our grass airstrip...

and Fred gave them an aerial tour of the countryside for ten minutes or so, then brought them in for a gentle landing. They were all so happy and excited about the experience, and all the California and Arizona folks were surprised at how green everything was here in Pennsylvania.

On day 4, we loaded up the Sketchmobile once again and headed for a little piece of paradise right here in Greene County, PA.

My friend Jan Shipe's garden is a wonder. How one woman can do all this is beyond comprehension!

Goldfish pond and flowers in Jan's garden

It has masses of flowers and unusual trees and shrubs, plus surprising touches like a huge old arched church window, painted purple and suspended from a tree. There's also a Zen garden, goldfish pond, a wine bottle tree, and a river of glass pebbles.

She generously allowed us to spend the morning sketching, then hosted us for lunch.

Pat B.

Pat J.

It was so quiet and peaceful there, with flowers all around, blue sky overhead, and the soft splashing of a waterfall as background music.


I sketched a daylily variety called "Heavenly Pink Fang".

Ink & watercolor in an 8" x 8" Handbook watercolor sketchbook 

Do you like the patterns on the color blocks? Here's how I made them:
I first painted the blue and green blocks of color and let them dry. Then I laid a plastic stencil over top and gently swiped across the stencil with a dampened Mr. Clean Magic Eraser pad. After removing the stencil, I blotted the sketchbook page with a tissue, leaving a subtle decorative pattern in the paint.

Here's a picture of us all having a delicious lunch of pesto spinach pasta salad, coleslaw, garlic breadsticks, and mojito watermelon. Dessert was orange-almond cake with a dollop of whipped cream.

That's Jan the Wonder Woman on the far right in the picture. Thanks, Jan for a fantastic day!!!

Speaking of wonder women...I can't write about the sketching retreat without mentioning my mother, Saundra Conklin.

I couldn't do any of this without her. She's behind the scenes prepping ingredients for meals, making tea, setting the table, and making emergency runs to the grocery store for things that I forgot. And she entertains us at every meal with her quick wit and wise insights. She loves being a part of my workshops, and we all can't imagine Summerhill Sketching or a Summerhill Retreat without her.

Her Lemon Sponge Pie ain't bad either!

Pie on the porch

Fred and I enjoying dessert with the ladies

Well, this post is already l-o-n-g and I have lots more pictures and sketches to share, so I'll close for now. Come back tomorrow to read about our visit to a famous historic site and to see some fantastic student sketches.

Till then, so long from Summerhill!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

"Road Trip Chit-Chat" Sketch (or How to Avoid Going Bonkers on an 11-Hour Drive to the Beach)

I love the beach, but the trip from our home in Pennsylvania to Oak Island, NC, is l-o-n-g...about 11 hours with stops. This year, to pass the time, I decided to write down (and sketch) everything we talked about during the drive.

Ink & watercolor in a 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 Stillman & Birn Zeta series softcover sketchbook

While there were four of us in the van (my husband Fred, sister Donni, mother Saundra, and I), I'd have to say that Fred mostly drove and the girls talked. He did come up with the idea for the page title though - go, Fred!

Click to enlarge and see all the details

I did pencil sketches throughout the day, with input from my traveling companions on what warranted inclusion on the page. It made the time pass quickly for all of us, and there was a lot of laughter about the randomness of our wide-ranging subject matter.

My sketchbook page was full by the time we made it to Oak Island that evening. I painted the sketch over the next few days, whenever I needed a break from sun, sand, and grandkids.

This was such an enjoyable project! It's full of family memories and inside jokes that are hilarious to us but probably mean nothing to anyone who wasn't in the van that day. And isn't it amazing how much three women can talk about? We could probably answer the question "What is truth?" and bring about world peace, too, if we put our minds to it.

Well, I hope you're having as much fun this week as we are here at Oak Island. I'm heading out to the beach now to read a book and watch the waves roll in - there's nothing I like better!

Have a great summer, and do some sketching to capture those summer memories.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Drawing Hints for Complex Subjects

Drawing complex subjects can be intimidating for even experienced sketchers. We often take the easy way out and end up drawing just a small part of the scene rather than deal with the overwhelming complexity of a subject like this....

Well, there's no need to run from complicated scenes that you'd love to sketch. The key is to break the complex scene into smaller, more manageable parts. Let me show you how I did just that when I drew this quick 30-minute sketch of the altar of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal, Canada. (Click here to see the complete collection of sketches from my Canada trip.)

5" x 7" ink sketch in an Earthbound sketchbook with 90 lb. paper

I always start any sketch by roughing in the image with pencil. This enables me to judge a sketch's proportions, size, and position on the sketchbook page. Then I ink the sketch, adding additional detailing as needed. I find that I can draw very quickly with ink once the major shapes are correctly roughed in with pencil.


For this sketch, I first drew the columns on the left side and had them arch across the page, leading the eye into what would be the altar, framing it, and giving a sense of depth.

All of the guidelines shown in the following steps are similar to what I drew in pencil when I laid out the altar sketch. For this step-by-step explanation, new guidelines are shown in red and guidelines from previous steps are blue.

I studied the altar to find a pattern or a repeating measurement that I could use to figure out the proportions of the sketch. The uppermost turret was about 1/4 of the total height, so I used that as my measuring unit. The entire altar was four turrets high, so I divided the sketch height into fourths with horizontal guidelines. By holding my pencil out in front of me and marking with my finger how tall the large turret was, I could hold that measurement and move it down the altar, noting what elements would fall at each quarter guideline on my sketch.

Here's a good tutorial from urban sketcher Andrew Banks that explains further how to use sighting techniques when drawing architectural subjects.

The three largest turrets were the dominant vertical elements, so I drew guidelines running down through each one. (Remember, I was drawing this very quickly, so my sketch isn't absolutely accurate...but you get the idea, right?) This also served to divide the sketch into fourths horizontally.

Then I continued dividing up the sketch into smaller sections. I drew guidelines for center lines on the turrets and to mark heights, columns, and niches. I looked for relationships between the various elements of the scene. How did they relate to one another? Is the top of that turret slightly lower than the larger one next to it? Is the statue 2/3s as tall as the niche it's in? Is that crosspiece about halfway between the turret top and the column base? I kept comparing sizes and positions to estimate where things should be drawn and how large they should be. I drew as many pencil guidelines as I thought I needed to position elements for inking, but I did not waste time drawing all the details in pencil.

Once the main elements were drawn, the hard work was over and it was time for the fun stuff! I grabbed my pen and began inking the larger sections and adding all the little details like the triangle tops on the turrets, the turret bases, the statues in their niches, smaller crosses and columns, and other minor details. This was fast and furious sketching! (And I was having trouble with my fountain pen while I was doing it!)

The sketch is messy and not entirely accurate, but it captures the essence of what I saw that day in Montreal.

Let's look at another example of dividing a subject into manageable-sized sections to make finalizing the details easy later on.


This is the exterior of the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal...

and this is my sketch, which was drawn in about 20 minutes...

Looking at the church, I noticed that it was divided approximately in half vertically by a broad band across the center. I checked the measurements by sighting with my pencil.

The upper half divided neatly into thirds, and the lower half was divided into two sections. I drew these guidelines in pencil on my sketchbook page.

I decided to draw the church in perspective rather than straight on. I thought it would emphasize the height of the cathedral and make the sketch more interesting. First I drew a center line, so I could judge the angles of the towers to be drawn next.

Measuring with my pencil, I could see that the space between the towers was wider than the towers themselves, so I allowed a wider space in the center when I sketched guidelines for the sides of the two large towers. I paid attention to the angles of the lines, trying to make the left and right towers mirror images of each other.

I continued adding guidelines that would help me when inking the sketch. First I marked more of the major horizontal divisions on the towers and center section.

Then I added vertical guidelines for the side columns and center lines for the arched openings.

With the large shapes blocked in, it was time to rough in the arched shapes for the windows and doors. Then I inked the sketch, adding detailing like crenellations, statues, windowsills, etc.

I hope this gives you an idea of how to handle complex subjects when sketching. Just focus on large shapes to work out your sketch size, proportions, and placement on the page, then gradually break the shapes into smaller, more manageable section, as I've shown above.

And remember, it's unlikely that your sketch will ever be compared with the original scene to see if it's accurate. Energy, enthusiasm, and capturing the essence of a place are what's most important. Wiggly lines, tilting walls, and lopsided figures just add to the charm!

There's a whole big world out there just waiting to be drawn. Why not dive in and give it a try? Remember, all that's at stake is a piece of paper.

Creativity takes courage.
Henri Matisse

Be courageous, and sketch something wonderful today!
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