The path in front of the Casa de los Artistas, where I was staying in Boca de Tomatlan, ran through the “courtyards” of the homes above the riverfront, into “the jungle” on the way to the plank and suspension bridges across the river. I never quite got over the feeling I was trespassing on the lives of the people who lived there. In that tropical climate people live most of their lives outside. The residents didn’t seem particularly bothered by the intrusion and would respond warmly to an Hola!
And the roosters were always there to crow their greetings, the hens and baby chicks would go about their business, and the ducks were the friendliest of all, waddling up close, perhaps hoping for a treat? I snapped my pictures for later sketches to include them in the story.
The tourists. They would arrive in town geared out for the hike along the cliff or the boat ride to an island or other beaches, maybe some snorkeling or even zip lining. Tourists are often very intent on checking off those experiences. I was content to be the observer with phone camera, pen and paint, watching all nationalities and species, imagining the stories my sketches might tell.
The next morning I headed down to the riverside just below our house, anxious to sketch the boat life. Bob, our instructor/host had warned us about this. With all the activity on the river in the morning, a peacefully anchored boat will be boarded and motor out to the ocean in moments, aborting your best sketch yet. However, I would be quick with this one, I thought.
A parade of hikers crossed in front of me on the narrow trail which was the only place to roost on my stool. A quick pencil sketch was done, and the boat still lingered. But I discovered I’d forgotten to bring my water brush. I raced upstairs to fetch it and when I returned the boat had disappeared! I borrowed a boatman from another craft and proceeded to paint from memory and the rest of the scene which had luckily not moved.
Then around 11am we piled into a van and were driven along the mountain road above the river. We were having lunch and spending the afternoon at the spectacular Vallarta Botanical Garden.
I could happily have spent days in that tropical paradise with my nature journal in hand. I guess it was a good thing that I’d left my iPhone/camera drying out from its quick dunk in the ocean the day before. Because at every turn of the head a new plant or butterfly or bird was screaming Look at me! Take my picture to prove there is really a lily pad that gigantic and a bird with every color of the rainbow! Good thing not to have the camera between me and all that beauty.
I sat by the fruit feeder and was rewarded after a while by first one, then a flock of Yellow Winged Caciques having a raucus bird party under the cacao tree. I sat as still as I could as they frolicked mere inches away.
To be continued tomorrow. . . with another trip to the mountains and beach life.
Vacation? Adventure? Painting workshop? Urban Sketcher “assignment”? As I was bumping down the coastal highway south of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico in a taxi from the airport heading to a small fishing village on the ocean, the sun was setting over the Pacific. I was traveling alone to a place I’d never been and where I would know no one. But with a magical sunset like that, I felt ready for whatever happened.
And with my arrival at Boca de Tomatlan I found myself. within moments, with bare feet in the warm sand, friendly artists to meet, margarita in hand and a dinner of freshly caught red snapper. . . a few feet from the ocean, in candlelight and Mariachis playing by our side. OK I thought. I can deal with this.
The next morning on my bedroom veranda I was greeted with this view, where the ocean meets the shallow Horcones River. I was spending the week at the Casa de los Artistas where room and board, art mentoring with master artist Robert Masla as well as local excursions were provided and friendships developed.
My first sketch here after breakfast in the morning, looking through the palms to the river harbor below and the village opposite. My eyes focused on the palm thatched beach restaurant. I was greedy for a big picture, and didn’t care about getting it right! My eyes were able to focus only slightly better than the picture above, the cataract having traveled with me to Mexico. Certainly not a reason to stop sketching and enjoying the daily sunshine and exuberant jungle leaning up against river, beach and ocean!
And such an abundance of activity there was, day and night. With no road on our side of the river, we walked or climbed a narrow dirt path through outdoor courtyards with the dogs, roosters, hens, baby chicks, a friendly parrot, laundry drying, babies nursing, children playing, workers carrying heavy loads, and each morning a parade of tourist hikers headed to the ocean cliff trail. To cross the river we walked a three wooden plank-wide bridge propped on rocks just above the rushing water. When tide was low, we could wade across.
The next day was Sunday and a beach day for families. Hungry to get the joyful activity packed into a sketch, I kept adding people to the sketch. This middle aged couple stood contentedly nn the shallow riverbank holding hands, unaware that they were a prized foreground for this sketch.
I stood uncertainly on the river’s edge, wondering about the current and depth and presence of rocks, but wanting to cross. These children with the ancient boat saw me pondering and offered a lift. English not needed. Pointing to the boat and smiling at me was enough. They helped me onto a wet seat and ferried me to the other side, two on either side outside the boat. The girl was intent on my safe journey and gestured for me to wait til they got close enough before signaling me to rise and de-boat. After that sweet initiation, I was able to ford the river, at low tide, on my own.
On Monday we were taken on a boat trip down the coast to another beach and the village of Quimixto for a picnic. We pounded the waves in our water taxi and surfed it onto another beach down the coast, with a turbulent and rather wet disembarking amongst flocks of pelicans and snowy egrets.
,The one sketch I managed. While eating our lunch on the beach, this fellow appeared with his iguana.
Of course I whipped out my iPhone camera, greasy fingers and all. You may see this in a sketch at some point. Who could resist?! Then I watched all the crazy activity of the egrets and pelicans and a few frigate birds, and picked through the colorful rocks on the beach. The surf was too wild and rocky for swimming. And accidentally, because I was so intent on taking pictures, dropped my phone in the ocean. It survived but needed a day to dry out.
Therefor the next day at the spectacular Botanical Museum I was camera-less. Sigh. But how fortunate to not have that distraction. I guess.
Two days before Christmas the ground was frozen solid and icicles cascaded from bird feeders. The suet basket outside my studio window was swarmed by a band of tiny birds unlike the Juncos and Chicadees, Finches and Sparrows I’d been seeing. The winter light was low, and they were so fast and their heads so thoroughly embedded in the suet that I couldn’t see their heads or any species identifying details. They had enough shape though to venture a color sketch!
And God Bless my birding mentors, this group of savvy women I occasionally go birding with. On Monday this week I joined the monthly meet up and sure enough, my simple description was enough for them to venture an ID. Bushtits! These tiny birds crowd-cluster a feeder, just like the one above, with tails helter skelter. As we walked along the trail, sure enough the little guys made a frenetic, tittering appearance in a tree.
As a beginner birder I used to think birding was just about seeing and hearing a bird and knowing its name. But the behavior angle is even more interesting, especially with these Pacific Northwest gray skies, when any but the brightest colors against tree branches is hard to discern.
And leaves that remain on trees masquerade as bird shapes! Location and type of movement can be the final identifier.
No, this picture was not taken at 5pm. It was 10am. Could you ID these birds? Too big for Bushtits. Robins probably.
We were at Pioneer Park which is 5 minutes from my house. At first the bird activity was minor, so I paid attention to the vegetation, which is so dramatically different from other seasons. And my mind was brought back to the crinkled masa paper painting I’d just finished. When you wet the paper and crinkle it, you get a complex filagree of spidery texture. And that turns into instant vegetation when paint is added.
It becomes impossible to not see the branches and trunks and brambles and . . .birds! I turned a dark smudge here into the crow I’d imagined and otherwise let the imagination take over.
You can see more examples on my blog here and here I learned the technique from master artist Cheng-Khee Chee a good twenty years ago and have been exploring with it ever since, often in Muse Groups, but also on large abstract canvases. The Masa paper is inexpensive and available online and in large art supply stores if you want to give it a try.
The migratory birds on Capitol Lake have been a spectacle lately! The American Wigeon is one of the classiest I’ve seen. A real challenge to sketch. All those flashes of white on the head and the beak and wings make for a very well-clad bird and difficult sketch subject. They’ve been sharing the waters with flocks of coots and buffleheads and ringed necks and shovelers, and in a different pool all their own, the Trumpeter Swans!
I’ll throw in some belated mushrooms here, from over three weeks ago before the frost turned them to gooey mush! Evergreen College has a magical trail to the beach. I was pleased with myself for finding two of them in my mushroom ID book. But don’t take my word for it. On my own I am no expert.
My thanksgiving holiday was pretty much like many people’s with lots of cooking and eating, visiting, getting out to see some sights around town. Ben flew in from North Carolina and Andrew and Holly joined us from Seattle. I snatched some pictures and decided to do so quick sketches from them after the holiday, using the same kind of technique I would use in on-the-lap-on-location sketching/storytelling.
I rarely take an inkpot out with me because of the chance of spilling it! But this was done in my studio and I didn’t spill it! That’s me at the end of the table. Can you tell?
The day after Thanksgiving Ben wanted some Pacific Northwest nature drama, so we drove out to the ocean at Westport and lucked out by arriving at high tide, a King Tide crashing against the sea wall in 15 foot vertacles, spraying onlookers and flooding the nearby streets. We stuffed ourselves on fish n chips watching the water creep down the road out front.
Afterward we took a walk above the dunes, not wanting to be ON the beach where the tide sometimes drags people out to sea! A very dapper looking pheasant was not to be deterred from his walk on the trail so we followed him for quite a way. And later stopped for coffee at a coffee shop with unique decor. The mannikin at the window seemed to be inviting visitors to come and sit a while with her!
Back home again, Drew (Andrew) took up his favorite spot in the living room. My boys are masters of comfortable poses!
Last weekend I got to go back to elementary school. No, not with a grandchild. I don’t have any of those. I was visiting friends in Portland for a three day weekend. Saturday night Janet and I took a picnic lunch up the hill to Chapman Elementary to sit on the hillside with the crowd and wait for the swifts to arrive, the Vaux’s Swifts to be precise. They’re the ones that arrive in Portland for the month of September each year and perform their jaw dropping show each evening at sunset.
We got there early, having heard that it would get crowded. At our blanketed spot on the hill we ate our dinner and watched the back up show of children “sledding” down the hill on the cardboard left there for that purpose, and the soccer players on the field below, as the hill filled up with all ages of happy spectators, their dinners, their dogs and small children colliding around us.
And finally the headliner act arrived in chaotic rushes, flying around the gigantic chimney where they would spend the night. Plunging and soaring, spiraling and dispersing, returning to circle round again. Where were they coming from? Were they aware that the crowd of spectators had grown to over 1000? 2000? 3000? I started sketching the building, looking for flight patterns, gasping with the crowd when the inevitable hawk appeared, afraid to keep my eyes on the sketchbook for fear I’d miss something.
At sunset the patterns changed. The swifts appeared like swarms of bees, became almost a funnel shape. And then someone in the crowd gasped and clapped and all heads turned toward the mouth of the chimney as the birds disappeared one at a time into the chimney. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who imagined what it would be like to spend the night inside a chimney in the feathered company of thousands of your kind. Cosy? Comforting? Smelly? Claustrophobic?
That night their were 4,940 bedfellows, to be (not) exact. Apparently there are bird watchers who get trained to make this count. Could my thumb actually keep up with the clicking of the counter to capture each one in time? I doubt it. Perhaps the final count is an average of many findings.
Finally after many minutes, the final swift disappeared down the chimney. The crowd applauded and worked their way home in the dark.
As I was finishing my sketch of Mr. Black Headed Grosbeak, I caught myself thinking like a bird (?) “Oh you are a handsome fellow!” Something debonair in the way you. . .oh really!
These two were my picks of the month from our monthly Gals Go Birding audubon group of sage women bird watchers at Millersylvania Park in Olympia. I tag along with them each month for the thrill of it, since I would see not a fraction of these birds along with trail without their skills and generosity.
Honestly I am happy as a clam just to explore a different PNW park each time, always with water and sky and . . .
the dense forest carpeted with wildflowers and ferns, under the towering sentinel trees. Birding gives an excuse to walk slowly, stop a lot, attuning all the senses to nature’s cues and clues.
Meanwhile back home the pink peonies out front had started their metamorphosis, losing petals and gaining a new kind of pod-beauty resembling a jester’s floppy hat, which I almost prefer to the flower!
I’d come to sketch the historic brewery across the water at Tumwater Historical Park, but first the Canadian geese were putting on such a show of preening, with feathers and beaks going in all directions while also holding stiller than usual. . . so how could I resist?
Of course that meant putting my stool down in, well you know what happens around flocks of geese. The two standing characters in the show actually held their posture for a good 20-30 minutes, leading me to think they must be the sentries, watching over the preeners.
I sort of remembered getting waylayed by the geese (or ducks) last summer when I was intending to focus on the brewery. See that sketch here. So, determined to have another go, I got a drawing and photo done and worked on that at home.
And I’ll happily give it another go another time. Maybe it will be an annual thing, a way to show my fealty to my new home town.
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.