Everyday Sketches

Ashley Creek Farm

What is it about pumpkins and autumn? Is it the pie? or the color orange which we experience as sun saturation that warms the belly and the soul? Is it orange’s tendency to make a blue sky electric?

I think I’ve probably painted pumpkins every year since my beginning in watercolor in 1992 and possibly even longer. So when the local sketchers got permission for a private access to what I’m guessing is the primo pumpkin harvest farm in the county, Ashley Creek Farm, I couldn’t wait!

The farm was getting ready for the hoards of pumpkin-loving families to arrive for their season opener, when their field fills up with carloads and they sell pumpkins so fast that they are constantly replenishing them from the fields nearby. It’s not just the pumpkins that draw folks, but the idyllic and beautifully cultivated farm by a creek with hundred year old trees and house.

I was drawn to the contrast of blue-green to orange and red pumpkins and orange tractor! and anxious to practice with my new bamboo pen and India ink, followed by the Derwent Line and Wash palette.

And while I was sitting there painting I kept glancing over to the farmer who was feeding the cows and driving the tractor. He was a much older gentleman who walked with a cane and moved through his farm chores slowly and with great care. I was delighted when he came over to see the art makers and show interest and gratitude for our efforts. 

And so I got to hear Robert Sand’s story of moving in the 1950’s to Tumwater, Washington  from eastern Nebraska where he grew up on a farm. He raised 6 (or 7) children on this farm, teaching them the work ethic of farming.

He wanted to join us for our “critique” time after sketching and shared specific appreciation for each of our sketches, charming us all!

But Robert was not the only art lover. His black kitty stole the show by making a big deal of the art, particularly Ineke’s lovely sketch of the house!

Daily Visits

I told myself that moving to a place where we knew (almost) no one would be a challenge at our age. I would have to overcome any natural shyness and join groups, participate in local activities, get out and mingle to make new friends. Ha! Not on your life during a pandemic, and especially lately with the Covid numbers spiraling upward. 

So instead I spend time with plants and animals that don’t need vaccinations and masks. The daily visits I refer to here are mostly the ones I make out to the garden with its infinite diversity and lessons to teach. Most of my outside painting is with eyes and other senses and without brushes. What can you call that blue of the sky? and what’s that rustle sound of those leaves that shimmer like golden coins? And if you close your eyes where in your body do you hear that bird song?

Sometimes lately though I get some paint on too!

I have been eating my lunch out where I can watch the Juncos and chickadees dribbling bird seed from their red perch. 

bamboo pen and ink and Derwent Line and Wash paletter

Another day just as the sun slanted toward the horizon I brought my sketch kit out to the back where two gigantic sunflower “volunteers” were luring me. The challenge was to hold the ink bottle and sketchbook in one hand and the bamboo pen in the other and draw. You’d think the flower would be facing the sun wouldn’t you? But for some reason these two plants are contrarians. Instead the sun was shining directly in my eyes and back lighting the flower. Speed was required to finish before the call to dinner and blindness from the sun. What fun!

Tried the other sunflower another day, this time with my usual watercolor palette and in a bigger 9 X 12″ sketchbook with more room for gestural strokes, and once again thought, wow, this is a lot more fun!

But today I brought my subject indoors and focused on detail. I’ve become the garden clean up crew, with Bob’s help of course, since we’ve had a hard time hiring help.  I had just pulled up a flower bulb in my vigorous clearing of dead growth. And what I found stopped me dead in my tracks as I contemplated my cavernous ignorance about plant biology. Perhaps you could help me understand what I saw? 

I mean really, all that bewitching beauty is underground! Just imagine what we are missing out on, just living our lives on top of all this and never seeing it. Those were my thoughts which ranged more to metaphor and visual poetry and spiritual ecstasy than scientific explanation.

Neverthless I would appreciate knowing more about the function of those jewelled clusters! Any suggestions? Ellyn, are you there?

Olympia Harbor Day

With the Puget Sound running right through the center of it, Olympia is among other things (like the state capital) a seafaring town of the recreational sort. So each year there’s three days of tug boat races and all kinds of showing off of the boat arts. Last year Covid put the cabash on it, but this year became this very low key one day event with music and model tugs on dry land and non stop live music, fully masked though outside, and no food or drink served. 

This suited my friend Shambhavi, fellow urban sketcher who lives in Seattle, and I just fine. No crowds to worry about. Tuneful folk music as a back drop and the sunny harbor scene to sketch.

While I waged war with the water reflections on a tugboat in the distance, Shambhavi chose a colorful model tugboat, and did a lovely sketch that the owner of the boat asked to photograph. He then climbed in his boat to show that it is indeed seaworthy for an adult human! and a race winner!

Then we became the front row audience for a folk singing group, Cosmo’s Dream, singing a medley their own songs, sea shanties and favorite folk songs.

All in all a pretty fine afternoon, and next year I’ll be here for the three day harbor extravaganza!

More Exploring

I’m still new enough here that every time I leave the house I think of it as an exploratory mission. There are different driving routes to learn and places along the way to commit to memory. . .the bank I will need at some point. . .that cute lunch place I’d like to try out, that walk along the lake. . .the UPS store, etc. And if I have the presence of mind and time to spend, the sketchbook gives me a chance to focus in on the particulars of shape and color, atmosphere, human activity and flora and fauna.

pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

My friend Janet was visiting for a few days and I knew she’d enjoy beach combing at Priests Point Park above the Olympia harbor.  Not wanting to gaze into the glare on the water for a landscape sketch, I sat down and focused on the busy shore textures of shell and rock, leaves and wood. The wonderful stick with the hole in it that looked like a bird’s eye came home with me!

Another day we drove to Seattle for a day in the city. It started with a disappointing tour boat ride, followed by a long harbor side walk to see many of the tourist spots. Our favorite was the Olympic Sculpture Park.

What I could see was the sculpture of the man with hands out, and a challenge to try to quickly sketch the water. Challenge indeed! But after I’d finished, the fountain switched in its cycle to reveal the son, a little boy on the left side and the father had vanished in the water. So clever of Louise Bourgeois!

But the real show stopper was Echo, a collossal stone sculpture facing the water and Mt. Olympus in the distance. I sketched this with my scruffy waterbrush only, just to see what would happen. 

But here you get some of the effect of this 46 foot sculpture.

The short version of the Greek myth that inspired this sculpture:

Echo, in Greek mythology, a mountain nymph, or oread. … To punish Echo, Hera deprived her of speech, except for the ability to repeat the last words of another. Echo’s hopeless love for Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image, made her fade away until all that was left of her was her voice.

The Gum Wall

But Janet wouldn’t let us end our day in Seattle without a visit to the notorious Gum Wall. Does it kind of make you feel like you could get Covid just by looking at it?

Nevertheless people were reverently chewing gum and having their friends photograph them as they said their prayer? made their wish? and added it to the wall. Maybe I missed the boat not getting my wish out to the Gum Genii!

Snowberries and Leopard Plants

I always thought I’d enjoy working in a florist shop, having an abundant supply of plants of different textures and colors to work with. The garden in my new home has new plants constantly blooming.

For a while I would just take my basket out and fill it with dahlias. But then I realized I was missing so much, putting myself on this diet of big blooms when there were berries and heathers and thistles and firs to add texture. It’s so much fun just to fill the basket every couple days and then try my hand at arranging.

 

Many of the plants are new to me, like the Leopard plant and pink snowberries which I see all over this neighborhood. I always have my phone with me and love to use the LeafSnap app which gives instant identification of plants as well as information about their habits.

Another day I sat on a bench at Capital Lake with Bob to see if I remembered how to sketch buildings in the distance.

The midday light was so brilliant that it encouraged rich colors, as well as speed, since even with a good breeze the sun gets pretty hot.

New Friends

It’s obvious, when you move to a new place where you know almost no one that you have to stick your neck out of your shell a bit to make new friends.  So I posted an invite on Facebook for a sketch meet up at the LoveOly Saturday event downtown and Jan and Ineke joined me.

fountain pen and watercolor

We plunked ourselves down in a row at the crossroads where everything seemed to be happening at once or at least successively – concert music, street entertainers, people meeting friends, often in front of us, beer drinking, giant chess playing, etc. So it became one of those sketches which grows across the page helter skelter with no planning possible and direct fountain pen to splashed on color. . .telling a story in pieces across the page. . .while getting to know my new sketch friends.

Meanwhile the amps on the concert stage nearby were turned way up, to make sure everyone for blocks around could hear, and I think a bit of the rhythms worked their way into the jerky line work as well.

And another day, in a more peaceful moment indoors at the dining room table, I settled on a favorite garden view out the window.

pencil, white gel pen and watercolor in Stillman + birn sketchbook

 Well that’s part of the art picture lately. Meanwhile there’s all the everyday stuff of registering cars and getting started with new healthcare and finding local stores and tradesmen, etc.

And Andrew moves to Seattle tomorrow after living with us for about 11 months!  Gulp. Things are still in constant motion!

Quan Yin

When we moved from our home in California we left behind the garden statues of Buddha and Quan Yin, because it didn’t feel right to disturb the nature sanctuaries that had grown up around them. They would continue to protect and bless the land that we’d come to love so dearly, and the new owner was delighted to have them.

Our new garden is a wonderland that we have “inherited” and yet it had no statuary or bird feeders, -houses, -bath or garden art. But luckily we found a garden statuary place in nearby Lacey and brought home our own goddess of compassion to preside over the fountain in the back yard. Quan Yin is known as the One Who Sees and Hears the Cry from the Human World and her presence is gentle and healing. She stands now in the shade of a tree with round, coin like leaves that rustles in the breezes.

pen and watercolor in Stillman + Birn sketchbook

I finally tore myself away from the endless tasks of “getting situated” in a new home and brought my sketchbook out to Quan Yin and the waterfall fountain. As usual I took on more than I should have in the sketch, but I really want to practice the water and rocks and flowering plants and trees that are such a delight! “Do it every day!” I said to myself. That’s always the way to learn.

view from the gazebo

True confession: I haven’t started the daily sketch regime yet. But several times a day I spend some time picking blueberries, watering the tomatoes, watching bunnies and picking flowers. Also all phone calls with friends happen here in the gazebo, like yesterday when I caught this moment that just struck me as so colorful! It begs to be sketched.

Thanks to all of you who let me know you visit this blog and follow along. I can add you to the faces of friends I “talk” to in the blog. I loved getting reactions to the purple boating hat in an earlier post and reassurances about getting over the hard parts of moving. The meeting-with-Bronka story engaged some folks in the practice of walking to stay young! When I know someone is paying attention to whether I stick to the sketch-a-day pledge, then it’ll happen! That’s human nature for you. And it’s even better if you join me!

The Fourth

It was kind of a joke on us that we moved up to the northwest coast to get away from the heat/drought/fires and arrived just after a a week of downpour and in time for a historic heat wave. What could we do but use some of that cardboard we’d brought with us to cover some windows and keep the hottest part of the sun out. 

It was one of those worrisome global warming shocks, but the nature here in our yard at least seems to have recovered quite nicely. The bunnies that went underground for a few days are back munching the grass in the yard and the hydrangeas are blooming again above their crisped leaves. And my basket is still overflowing with flowers. 

My friend Shambhavi from Seattle visited over the weekend and we took our sketchbooks out to Tumwater Falls.

watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook

There were lots of families out on the trail around the falls and one particular group was proud to show off their patriotic attire.

I’m not particularly a fan of July 4th, but I sure appreciated their style and spirit. When evening came we got to experience another kind of holiday fervor. . .fireworks, which by the way were outlawed here this year due to the recent heat wave that elevated risk. Ahem. You wouldn’t know it from my neighborhood. There were all kinds of sizzles and pops and airborn light shows going off in all directions. Who needs to go to a public display when you can just stand on your sidewalk and gape.

Departure and Arrival

Golly, has it been only 10 days since I last posted?!! More like a lifetime ago. Now I know why all my friends were sending encouraging comments to help me weather this move. No matter how positive it is, it is a severe jolt to the system. The best metaphor for the experience is that of squeezing awkwardly down the birth canal.  Leaving the comforts of the womb for a sudden arrival and realizing. . . there’s no going back now! Gulp.

I promised myself I would not stop making art through the move and packed all kinds of fun materials. But honestly, what was I thinking?! Too ambitious, at least for this first couple weeks. So I’ll just take you along as I like to do after I’ve traveled – with a few pictures to satisfy curiosity and tell a tiny bit of the story that is unfolding each minute.

the 80 foot monster truck

June 15 the driver of the monster truck decided not to try parking in front of our home in the country, so the movers loaded everything onto a smaller truck and ferried three entire loads over to a spot on River Rd. to move it again into the big one.

the garden on moving day

The garden posing for a last memory. Friends on the street were stopping by to say goodbye all day. 

Andrew says goodbye

Andrew filling his eyes with the view we’d enjoyed for 21 years, since he was 8 yr. old.

the studio emptied out of all but the floor splatters!

I know, this is a hard one to look at. But I guess it’s part of the moving on process. Art and the comradeship of making it has not ended. The Muse group has a life of its own which has grown outside the boundaries of these walls. Brave words from me as I allow myself to feel the loss as well.

Olympia city harbor, view of the Olympic range.

We arrived in Olympia just after a significant rain. Sunny and warm. The right kind of weather for a vacation and for moving in. But I’ll admit we had been looking forward to rain after months of drought and elevated temperatures in California. Now we face a record breaking heat wave. Did we bring it with us?

the view in the opposite direction from the harbor tower of the marina and Washington Capital building

We moved into the Doubletree Inn on the harbor for a week’s wait until we could move into our new home. Time to explore the city and pretend we were on vacation.

And I did one quick sketch just before sunset, staring into the setting sun. It felt so good to finally get the watercolors out!

fountain pen and w/c Stillman + Birn sketchbook

Stay tuned for more pics of this quirky town (and I mean that is a positive way!) with more than its share of natural beauty!

Mission Accomplished!

We have a new home in the Pacific Northwest! Last week, about ten days into my Washington state odyssey, just when I was feeling a touch of despair at soon being “homeless”, we found an Olympia property that we fell in love with. When I say “we” I mean me, and my husband Bob (at home here in Sebastopol and with me on Facetime), and my dear friend Janet who was with me every step of the way, driving me around, helping me with sanity checks, while we explored the area with walks in the woods and on the beaches. And then there was our tireless realtor Connie, whose energy in this thoroughly nerve wracking endeavor never flagged. Our offer was accepted and we move in June!

My best estimate is that moving takes up 95% of ones mental real estate for weeks/months, and possibly a larger percentage of physical energy! For three days after our offer was accepted I took an average of two naps a day. So in between naps and phone calls to arrange details, I would pick up my brush and paint a bit. One day I even walked to a park across the street to sketch a “living table” for a half hour!

watercolor and pen in Stillman and Birn Beta sketchbook

And then a couple more portraits. . .

watercolor on beige toned paper

My weariness shows here! I couldn’t bring myself to finish the clothing!

watercolor and white gouache on beige paper

(Both portraits from pictures posted on the Sktchy app)

And now I’m home in Sebastopol again, enjoying the spring garden explosion, looking forward to seeing friends, and little by little packing and clearing. Will it never end? Ah, but yes!  Now I can see the end and am breathing deep again.

Thanks for hanging in there with me! The blog isn’t going anywhere and I hope you’ll stay with me.