Animals

Mr. Flashy Bumblebee

brown fountain pen, watercolor, white gel pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

Mr. Bumblebee had his haunches loaded down with red pollen while performing his nectar retraction on the purple lupine, with no idea of how flashy he was! Did the red come from the flowers next to the lupine? Or was the yellow waist pack another pollen carrier, and how did he keep the pollen colors separate? Watching nature always leads to innumerable questions. I looked up the dainty red flowers on the Leaf Snap App which I make daily use of, and found a great many variations on the name. My favorite is Purslane. So Shakespearean.

I’m trying to sit out and nature journal from life more now that the weather is cooperating. The patch of shade under the tree was working fine, though eventually the tiny green spiders covered my arms and legs; nothing scary/creepy, mind you, but it got pretty itchy, so I put the finishing touches on inside.

Squirrel Acrobatics

watercolor, fountain pen and white gel pen in beige toned Nova sketchbook

Ever since I took away the squirrel and bunny picnic table feeder (it was attracting raccoons) my squirrel friends have become even more adept at bird feeder acrobatics. So I thought I’d try to capture the action. Not easy! but lots of fun to try. Can you imagine going through all that leaping and swinging and eating while hanging upside down, just to get a few seeds? It makes me dizzy to watch.

The bunny action here is ramping up too with lots of cottontails bouncing around the garden. I caught one getting through an opening in the fence around the vegetable garden and chased him around the beds til he stopped and took a nibble while looking me boldly in the eye. I felt as foolish as the Mr McGregor character in the Beatrix Potter books.

Marsh Wren and more

watercolor, white gouache, white gel pen and brown ink fountain pen in Nova beige toned sketchbook

Such a funny little songster, the Marsh Wren. What I like about them is you can see them close up in the marshes and watch that beak open alarmingly wide while the strangest squeeky sounds emerge, plentiful and varied.

On that same walk on the Chehalis Trail here I can stop now to gaze at the osoberries and salmonberries and honeysuckle climbing out of sight up towering trees. The moth was in my backyard where I’m making an effort to appreciate insect life as well, in hopes that most of these tinier residents are the beneficial ones not eating my vegetables. At the moment it seems rather unfair that the hungry green-eaters are focusing on my spinach and chard while the abundant “weeds” in the yard are given a pass. 

Insects

watercolor, gouache, gel pen in beige toned sketchbook

It’s become quite irresistible to be out in the garden lately. I don’t have the kind of strong body that can spend hours weeding and other heavy gardening pursuits, so I’m learning to “waste” all kinds of time in closer observation of the birds and the bees and other crawling and flying insects. They don’t particularly appreciate me nosing around them when they’re going about their business, and you can be sure they wouldn’t sit still for a detailed drawing. So I use my iPhone camera to take a bunch of shots and then study them up close to learn their jewel-like markings. Will I remember their names? Probably not. Dragonflies and Bees are enough for me, though my phone is now loaded with apps to help me ID what I’m seeing and hearing.

Bunny Town

brown fountain pen and watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

Langley on Whidbey Island is a pretty little North Puget Sound town with colorful buildings, views of the snow covered Cascades and the art/restaurant/shopping scene tourists like. But my favorite was the omnipresence of bunnies cavorting everywhere like they own the place! And not just the little brown bunnies that populate our lawns now in Olympia, but a smattering of other breeds of different sizes and colors and fur types. Like these above. And the story goes that the 4H’ers had a show in town and somehow the bunnies got loose and did what bunnies to so well to populate the town with their offspring. Reminded me of the bunnies we raised when my boys were little. I’ve forgotten their names but remember the soft twitchy trembly-ness of holding them on your lap.

From Whidbey we took the half hour ferry back to Port Townsend and then the two hour ride home. Port Townsend, another colorful sea town with its own character, preserving its 19th century history of glorious and sometimes ornate downtown buildings. I got greedy trying to fit as much as possible into the one sketch I had time for.

Now I’m back in Olympia and staying local for a while. People here are complaining about the record breaking cold wet spring this year. I gotta say though, when the sun shines like it did all day yesterday, and with the exuberant blooming and birdsong, it seems worth the wait!

I’m even considering joining the #30X30DirectWatercolor challenge this month. It’s become a yearly tradition now among Urban Sketchers and other folks and I have not participated for a while. But I think I’ll give it a try. Marc Taro Holmes and Uma Kelkar are both inspired artists and teachers and the founders , offering lots of coaching and ideas for exploring your own artistic goals. Check it out!

https://citizensketcher.com/30x30directwatercolor/

North Carolina

Just back from a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina visiting my son Ben. He lives in a little town outside of Asheville. To my utter delight his apartment overlooks a marsh which is teaming with birds and other life. Behind that is a green strip of woods and an open green meadow where a white horse grazes and behind that, a red barn and behind that, many layers of blue mountains dissolving into a tapestry of billowy clouds and blue sky. I have to describe it here, because I had very little chance to paint, sketch, or journal, though I have been playing a bit of catch up today. 

w/c in 5″ X 7″ mix media spiral sketchbook

Due to travel delays I had a whole day to myself before Ben joined me. He recommended I head over to the U.S. National Whitewater Center not far from the Charlotte airport. So I spent a sunny warm day watching white water rafters, kayakers, rock climbers, zip liners, and other sports I have no name for. . . listening to shrieks of delight. . . chatting with other observers, eating delicious food and occasionally trying to sketch the action. Finally Ben arrived to join me.

Another day we drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, this time with me watching him doing his elegant white water maneuvers, holding my breath at times when he rolled under, before popping back up again. Whew! The water was so cold that my bare feet could handle only half a minute before the chill became an ache.

It takes skill to kayak safely in rivers like these, so I wasn’t about to try it. But watching the zip liners flying across the water, and feeling the spray of the rubber rafts bouncing along the rapids, I thought, another time. . .yes, I’d try that!

w/c and white gouache in beige toned Nova sketchbook

From Ben’s balcony we watched Barn Swallows, brilliant Cardinals, noisy Red winged Blackbirds, melodious Mockingbirds, Yellow Warblers, and one night listened to (what the Merlin app identified as) a Yellow-breasted Chat, that carried on for hours in what must have been courting behavior!

The river otters were another day. Stay tuned for more about the week.

Bunnies and Rhodies

When I start to get tired of this rainy weather, which shows little sign of ending, I refocus on the friendlier aspects of this climate: like a white blanket of snow for Christmas morning! and bunnies cavorting in the garden at Easter! 

blue ink, watercolor, gouache on beige toned paper, Nova sketchbook

I’m sure you’ve wondered, as have I, how bunnies keep their tails so white when they sit on them in the mud. Now that I have two customers dining at the same time on the miniature picnic table I have been able to view and compare their table manners. Not only does Ms Bunny keep her cotton puff white, but she doesn’t put her feet on the table, like her counterpart, the highly athletic, but poorly mannered Ms Squirrel.

blue ink in fountain pen, watercolor and white gel pen

Right next to the picnic table is a  pink rhododendron in many stages of bloom. So I took my stool out in a brief patch of sun to contemplate rhodi- and bunny-ness.

Hope you had a lovely Easter Sunday!

My Friend Flicker

Not the horse. (That was My Friend Flicka.) My friend Flicker arrived at the bird feeder station outside our dining room window when I got back from California. He was attacking the suet with savage intensity. But each time I snuck up to the window to take a picture surreptitiously, he bolted.

Meanwhile there was this new random sound coming from somewhere in the house that sounded like a metallic drilling. Loud! Bob noticed the same sound coming from the neighbor’s roof. It was Mr. Flicker playing woodpecker on some metal flashing. Go figure.

watercolor, white gouache in beige toned nature sketchbook

I thought at first it was a Sapsucker, but one of my new birdwatching friends was adamant that Sapsuckers only go for the insects in the sap of the tree and would not go for suet. Flicker’s a big flashy bird with a polk dotted chest and black dickie, and when it flies you can see the bright orange underside of its wings!

I’m a sucker for birds these days, though I couldn’t quite explain why I get so excited to see a new species. And yesterday I spent an hour practicing very quick-capture sketches of birds with the engaging John Muir Laws (online) in preparation for actually sketching them live and in motion. His steps 1-2-3 are supposed to make that possible. We’ll see!

Meanwhile there are other signs of spring of course. Like orchid frogs!

You might think I applied some kind of photo filter on my phone when I took this picture. I was walking across the lawn and saw something move.  This little guy measured about two inches long and was a master of camouflage. An hour later he’d changed colors to match the ground cover where he’s moved.

I would attempt to sketch him into my nature journal, but would I be able to even come close to those colors?! I was immediately catapulted into memories of the years I spent with two little boys, hunting tadpoles, frogs, toads, butterflies and more. So I borrowed my 2+ year old friend Ellis across the street to do some frog watching and hopping.

On Becoming a Birder

My willingness to hang out with the bird watchers here has been challenged, not by waning interest, but by freezing cold (and damp) temperatures. I thought I’d be willing to bundle up and meet on the waterfront at 8:30am, but when it comes right down to it, my warm house prevails.

However last week’s field trip on the waterfronts in Olympia with the Black Hills Audubon Society afforded the option of showing up two hours late and still getting in on the last hour and an opportunity to see the flock of Trumpeter Swans on Capital Lake, a few Tundra swans, and some pretty flashy ducks. My enthusiasm even leaked into my husband Bob, who came along, and my sketch friend Jan. 

fountain pen, gouache in beige toned sketchbook

Of course it’s a thrill to be able to spot these remarkable creatures and focus on the brilliant feathers and amusing behaviors observed with magnification of binoculars. And learning to identify and name the species is a fun discovery game to be played with others. Being so far behind the others in spotting and identifying I decided to try and catch up in the way that my memory works best, by sketching them.

I am no John Muir Laws, who balances binoculars and paint brush to render them in the field. And I don’t have a camera lens or all the gadgets to take a magnified photo unless the birds are close to shore. But I can go home and find pictures to study and draw and paint in my nature journal. And this Green Winged Teal duck was a first for me, so I slowly explored every part of its body with my pen and gouache and am not likely now to forget it.

gouache in beige toned sketchbook

From a distance the Bufflehead is a striking black and white, and quite easy to identify. But with the light just right, the iridescent greens and reds shine. And look at those bright orange feet!

I’m not sure how this one got labeled Ring-Necked, since the ring appears more on the spectacular beak. Can you see how much fun I’m having with the thick creamy gouache application?

Coots are another easy identification. Black body, white beak. That’s when they’re swimming. But oo-la-la those enormous green feet that look like they belong on a bird twice the size and make its movements a comedy act.

I was wondering how the expression “you old coot!”, used in modern times in an affectionate way towards elderly men, came about. It was first used in the 1700’s to refer to a harmless simple person. because the coot bobs its head as it walks and swims, similar to some (other) elderly people.

I was having such fun with the creamy gouache paint that I treated myself to this luscious new 24 color HIMI paint set, only $30 on Amazon. The problem with gouache is that when it dries it often cracks and crumbles on the palette. With this set you peal off the foil on each color and seal the whole palette back up with the lid when you’re done, so it stays creamy and ready to go.

fountain pen and watercolor

Back to watercolor again here. Sometimes when eating lunch I get to watch this trapeze artist. He’s willing to do all sorts of gymnastics to chow down on the birds’ suet block, while swinging wildly back and forth. The peanuts I sometimes throw on the ground don’t last very long. And I wonder if the challenge of the swing adds to the appeal anyway.

Evergreen

The word evergreen is of course very descriptive of the west coast of Washington state where I live. It’s on our license plates, the state college here in Olympia, as well as innumerable public places, groups, and commercial products.  

When I set off to explore the forest at The Evergreen State College on the opposite side of Olympia from where I live, I was searching for yet more varieties of fungi life. A few paces into the forest on the Beach Trail (trail to the Eld Inlet of the Puget Sound) it felt like someone had hit a dimmer switch on the day. The greens had all gone greener or darker and momentarily felt ominous. Gulp. Until I switched into something I will call forest bathing vision and started to feel like a kind of relaxed excitement. There was just so much life there talking to me! I slowed way down to listen, sense, absorb, linger, and take time to look in a different way.

fountain pen, watercolor, white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

The trees were like alien creatures, reaching their visible roots everywhere, entwined like fingers, claws, hands held. Trees growing out of downed trees (aka Nursery logs) like this image I had to paint.

Then I remembered I was there for the mushrooms!

And was not disappointed, because even though this one had already been found, it lay on the ground where it could not only thrill hunters like myself, but contribute its spores to the living forest floor.

So I decided to take nothing, even the smallest sample, home with me. I mean, would you take even the smallest votive candle from a cathedral?

like this translucent umbrella

I walked slowly so as not to trip over roots, staring up in puzzlement at the towering giants with their fuzzy monkey green tails.

then putting on my reading glasses to focus in on the tiny creatures like this elegant slug

until the waxy cap mushrooms stole the show for a few minutes

At some point I started to realize that without eating the magic mushroom I was being given an almost psychedelic ride in this enchanted forest!

And then I arrived at the promised beach of the trail’s end and was given a reminder of the drama of the salmon run and evidence that at least one of the salmon did not make it back up the river, but nevertheless contributed its nutrient rich flesh to the circle of life. Or is the footnote here about man’s destruction of vital habitat and sustenance for the indigenous tribes?

Back home again I confronted the limitations of my palette in the quest to celbrate the infinite greens of my evergreen home!