Nature Abstractions

A True Tree Friend

There are those trees that end up being old friends. I have lunch with this well-worn apple tree each day lately. I’m watching for birds in its boughs as I munch my salad, but it’s the tree memories that are revealed.

It remembers the day after we moved in over 19 years ago and a neighbor boy arrived to play with our boys of the same age. The boy climbed the little tree and landed on the ground as one of the major limbs broke off. The little tree kept growing and giving shade and shelter to animals in its hollow core ,and fed many generations of goldfinches and Jays and doves and even some flashy Orioles. The occasional squirrel noisily raided its stash. The cats climbed into its arms to see why the birds were getting fed before them! And then there was the time when an errant rooster, that was terrorizing the neighborhood with its untimely crowing, could be found returning to the tree each day.

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So after lunch I responded to the tree’s need to have it’s story told. It wasn’t the first sketch I’d done over the years. There’s somehow more feeling in it each time though – a kind of bitter-sweetness as we age together.

Yesterday we went around propping up the leaning towers of hollow apple tree trunks. It would be too sad to lose my old friend and the others which are bending under the weight of Gravenstein apples right now.

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My friend, twisted and bent, a bit like I feel sometimes – I study the beauty of your curves and knots. It’s my way to pay homage to your grit and endurance. . .I’m always listening for your complaints, but hearing none but my own. Stay with me a while longer dear friend.

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Sierra adventure continued:

Laurie had done some pretty good scouting in the area and found a spot with one of those barns with the gorgeous weathered wood, and nearby a dried up bog with clay the color of the barn! Apparently it was an old Basque sheep herders’ camp.

So we followed her out to the spot where she dug up the clay, and adding gum arabic and glycerine (which she had brought along), proceeded to make watercolor pigment for us to paint with! Gotta love that enthusiasm for connecting with nature in our art.

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I took my little sketchbook out to the field to get a quick sketch of the barn and the wonderful cement? oven in another small building – kiln or bread over, we couldn’t tell. It would have made a great pizza oven too!

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Practicing sky, weathered barn, distant hills and grasses here. Greener and lighter blues on the horizon and warmer/darker ones higher up.

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The last morning we drove out to the wide open expanse of grasslands with the backdrop of mountains and constantly changing cloud formations. The lesson was to go BIG! BIG brushes and paper. So that we wouldn’t get all attached to getting it right, but rather feel free to be more expressive with our brush strokes without fear of screwing it up, we played the pass-the-painting game.  With each new step of the painting a new person added their personal touch! Skies, distant mountains, nearer mountain, trees on the near mountain, grasses, fence, etc. Here are our creations all laid out before we said goodbye to our wonderful teacher and new friends.

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Before Bettina and Anni and I headed over to Sierra Hot Springs for an afternoon soak, I added this one to my travel sketchbook.

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Next day Bettina and I went to Salmon Lake for a bit of hiking and sketching. Sometimes even on a gorgeous day, there are times when it is almost impossible to get comfortable enough to focus on sketching a scene. Can you relate?  For some reasons the mosquitos were quite hungry – for me, not Bettina! – and the sun was so bright I couldn’t see my colors, and when I finally got enough bug spray on I could still see the mosquitos circling over my head as they cast moving shadows across my paper! And then I got numb-butt while sitting on granite. But hey, it was great.

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Later we headed up to Frazier Falls and took the trail out to the overlook. The sign read that the falls is at 6500′ and has a 248′ cascade. Here’s Bettina tackling the falls while standing. I found a little spot for my stool in the shade next to her. Meanwhile groups of sightseers looked over our shoulders as they arrived.

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As we left our spot we passed 2 or 3 groups of men who asked “Did you put me in your painting?” Unbeknownst to us they had been watching us from the other side at the top of the falls.

So we headed to the spot at the top, where you can’t see the falls, unless you bend over the granite edge (no thank you). A fellow sits down at the edge for just long enough for me to sketch him and later build the scene around him.

He noticed me and came over to take a look and was delighted that I’d sketched him. (It’s interesting that it never seems to matter to people that it doesn’t look like them.) Soon we’re talking and I find out he’s a local physician who is writing a book about the mind/brain/spirituality or something and dictating it into a microphone while walking, as well as doing video for his vlog.

FrazierFalls_Paul So the caption here is Vlog meets Blog.

And that completes the bird’s eye view of a week in the Sierras.

Hope you’re enjoying your July 4th celebration! I’m delighted to be home, eating fresh picked plums off the tree, and leaving the roads to other people.

Last week at Sierra Camp

Have you ever chased a sunset with your brush? Mixed paint for an old weathered barn from clay dug up in the woods? Dipped sticks found on the ground into ink to draw trees at twilight while the mosquitoes swarmed?

If you’d been with fifteen of us at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus in Laurie Wigham‘s workshop titled Rock, Wood, Water, Sky you would exclaim Yes! and so much more.

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It’s been a while since I’ve “roughed it”. Some might consider this glamping. I mean, a big tent on a platform, hot showers and all meals provided. Bettina and I shared the tent which was named for a not particularly dangerous snake, the Rubber Boa.

A fork of the Yuba River ran right below us in a roar that drowned out our voices as we spoke to each other across the tent. That, combined with the birdsong in the morning and the stars at night. . .ahhhh!

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When I wasn’t in class I collected memories in my little sketchbook.

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This was no painting -botanicals- in- detail- workshop! Laurie encouraged us at every turn to use new materials and capture the essence of the forest and sky.  We were encouraged to do practice paintings on 5″ tall accordian-folded watercolor paper. I did these trees at dusk with sticks dipped in black and brown inks. Later I practiced sunset colors over the top.

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One evening we had a picnic by our cars to paint the sunset by the wetlands where there was more birdlife than I’d ever experienced in one place! Note that all the black marks on the photo above are not dust, but birds. Swallows, yellow headed and red winged blackbirds, Ibises, Sandhill Cranes, a Harrier or two, Grebes, singly or in massive flight patterns in the skies; all adding their melodious vocals to the night air. . .along with the bass notes of the bullfrogs.

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We lined up with our stools on the one lane dirt road to paint the changing light on our 5X5″ pieces.

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Suddenly it really was sunset and the colors changed so rapidly that each painting was about 3 minutes worth of trying to capture the impossible chromatic changes.

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And then it was over, and  on the drive back we kept calling out colors that we saw and the watercolor pigments that would express them.

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Next morning we spread them out on the table to share.

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Another morning we were up at Yuba Pass (6700 ft) painting the aspen trees with their white trunks and shimmering leaves. The lesson was to try many different ways to save whites. Here we are sharing masking fluids, gouache and special brushes (have you tried the eradicator?)

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Here’s one of my 5″X2.5″ test pieces with a combination of negative painting the white trunks and painting branches in white gouache.

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And here’s the woods with a combination of techniques.

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And did I say that one of the best parts of the week was the people; our wonderful teacher Laurie Wigham and the other students? Here is Janet with the tortoiseshell butterfly on her hat. Happily, we had some nature-nerds along who could identify birds, bugs and plants!

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And although the days were filled with activity from breakfast til nightfall at 9pm, some of us found some time to relax. Like my friend Cathy McAuliff, Laurie’s trusty assistant and veteran nature/urban/etc sketcher.

If this learning scenario sounds appealing to you, you can sign up for Laurie’s workshop nest year or one of the other wonderful workshops later this summer. Check out the workshop calendar.

Stay tuned for more sketch stories from my Sierra week.

Back Yard Nature Journaling

It’s raining hard now of course, but earlier this week I treated myself to an hour in my studio garden without feeling compelled to pull any weeds! But I’m not one for idleness, so I found the largest Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar munching away on a vine, and brought him and the vine to the garden bench where I had my sketch stuff.

He/she hardly paused in the munch munching while I held the vine in one hand and sketched/painted with the other, observing up close the wonder of that marvelous insect body with all it’s colored spikes and feelers and legs it employed in the balancing act of moving the fat body sections along the stem. I have a hard enough time coordinating the movement of my four limbs. It’s hard to imagine all those parts moving in concert!

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The leaf was almost gone by the time I finished the painting and moved to the Matilija Poppies which were fluttering their ballerina tutus in the wind. And then I added the “adult”, parent? of the caterpillar. They were fluttering around the garden too quickly so I’ll admit I pulled out my phone and got a picture to source the image of that beautiful midnight blue and black butterfly.

There was no idleness anywhere around on this spring afternoon. The air was filled with bird song, that monotonous cooing of the doves and loud buzzing of scores, hundreds? of bumblebees.

Well actually there was the idleness of Phil the cat, who dozed while I sketched and later woke up to get his picture taken and claim some credit for the art.

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The Laguna de Santa Rosa

When I first moved here to Sebastopol, California 19 years ago and saw the flat lands below my house fill up with water and birds after winter rains; saw the mustard bloom stretch out like a neon yellow carpet, I knew I would have to find a way onto the land and water to explore. This area, known as The Laguna de Santa Rosa, encompasses the ecologically rich watershed lands that span from Forestville and the Russian River south to Cotati.

Eventually I managed to get out on the water and paddle, and I joined the plein aire painters who sometimes had access to the private Laguna lands. Later I learned of the vernal pools and explored them on the magical Lynmar Winery lands on the Laguna. I became convinced that I’d moved to one of the more exotic places on Earth!

Fast forward to this week when the winter rainstorms abated, the sun came out, and I parked by the side of Sanford Road to do some mini Laguna captures.

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The traffic was roaring by so I wasn’t particularly comfortable and needed to find a place a bit more relaxed.

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This time I visited the Laguna Foundation which is open during weekdays and not only has views of the mustard bloom and Mayacama mountains behind but also the Heron Art gallery that features nature oriented art by a different artist every four months and Stone Farm with its weathered barns and farm equipment.

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And my sketch buddies joined me for a day of sketching and picnicking on site. I remembered sketching this barn 18 years ago when there were also cows, and not yet the offices of a Foundation with nature workshops, land stewardship programs, native plant gardeners, community education programs and so much more.

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Sitting here with my back to the “pond” and listening to a chorus of marsh birds.

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At this point my eyes were weary from the bright sunlight, so I sat in the shade of the maintenance man’s truck and enjoyed a closer subject matter. It’s so much easier to see what you’re doing when the sun isn’t shining either directly in your eyes or on your white paper!

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I’ll have to save a watery Laguna sketch for another day! This is the view from Lynmar Estates.

The mustard bounty will last a while longer. It’s a great excuse to get out with your sketchbook, listen to bird song, and experience that gratitude that we feel for living in the midst of such abundant natural beauty.

For more of my Laguna art see Herons on the Laguna, A Tale of Wings, Vernal Pools and A Harvest Gala

 

New Mixed Media Group starts Oct 29!

A new 6-week session of Muse Group fun starts at the end of the month and you’re invited to join!  We’ll be doing more lessons like this one, applying acrylic inks and gesso in abstract designs, adding textures and collage, and words. For more information and to register visit my website.

Two weeks ago we started out with a familiar Zen concept, that of enso, a Japanese word meaning circle and symbolizing the absolute, enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, the void. . .the expression of the moment when the mind is free to let the body/spirit create! enso1

If I were to step into this ENSO, there might be repercussions. Well, I hope so. There’s got to be a something in the white nothing. I can stand here forever on the outside, weaving my wreath of inks and collage, but the inside is where the ad-venture starts. . .the journey to the center of a swirling mass of colors and shapes, the bottom of the well. . .the ____ ?

The circle shape does raise the question of “what’s inside?” It points to what often cannot be seen or even if seen, words may fail to describe it adequately.  Of course that’s the business of the image, to suggest without spelling it out. In Muse Group we write for five minutes after the image making, not to describe or define the image, but perhaps to go deeper into the mystery of it.

In another enso piece, exploring the radiating form of the circle shape, the appearance of crickets led to more disturbing thoughts.  . .

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What attracts them to the maelstrom which may be their oblivion? Is it the march of their species rising out of a wrong turn by some of its members, with the inexorable pull of primitive tribalism?  (Are we only talking crickets here?)

Who do we follow in life’s march, the one who we recognize as most familiar, or the wise one(s) who takes off down a new road that we cannot yet see the end of. Either way oblivion is terrifying, but also inevitable.

 

June 1 and the challenge commenses!

I decided to start out the month of doing a direct watercolor sketch each day by treating myself to garden sketching. The delights of sitting in the garden at peak season, listening to bird choruses and bumblebee rumbles seemed a good way to get the habit going. When I’ve got a bit of confidence in the line-less approach I might even try the goats at the bottom of my road.

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It’s hard when the sketch has to compete with the beauty of nature. I thought I’d made of mess of this until I threw it down on the ground and saw it from a bit of a distance.

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Same thing happened today when I attempted a view from more distance. I was ready to start over, then looked at it on the ground and decided to put a few more strokes in. You might have to step back from your screen to get the impact, but I’m actually quite pleased. Not the overexact contrivance I sometimes get.

Are you rising to the 30X30 Direct Watercolor 2018 challenge this month? Doing it along with 100’s, 1000’s(?) of people worldwide makes it so much fun, regardless of how any one sketch turns out. Like when you were a kid and all the kids on your block got together to play softball or build a fort.