nature journal

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.

Geese at the old brewery

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?

fountain pen and watercolor on 9 X 12″ Canson Mixed Media paper

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.

fountain pen, black brush pen and watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

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.

Papaver Orientale

Papaver Orientale with a bee visitor in my garden

I was shocked! Double shocked. I’d forgotten how blue the sky is, for one. And three monster poppies emerged in our garden. Since we didn’t plant any of the flowers, bushes, and trees on our property, having just moved here a year ago and having lots of other things to keep us busy, we have been in a constant state of discovery this spring as colorful plants emerge from bare soil. The red poppies were like an anniversary present to celebrate our first year here. 

So I got busy studying the unfolding of petals. 

The first bloom popped before the others opened, and the sheer weight of it, combined with a steady drizzle that toppled it, made it an early casualty. The seed pod on the bottom here was the “final” stage in the cycle. I was ready to stake the other two so they would live a bit longer, and the rains finally stopped, giving a few more days to study the full expansion of beauty.

And then this morning, of all things! another casualty after a combination of direct water spray from the irrigation and sudden scorching sun.

But can’t you just imagine the most ravishing outfit on a Flamenco dancer? It put my sketches to shame as nature always does, and rightly so!

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

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. 

Birding and sketching: Scatter Creek Wildlife Rec. Area

watercolor, gouache and gel pen in beige toned sketchbook

Memorial Day didn’t look like it was going to be a good barbeque day with rain forecast as it is every day here in the northwest, but it was great for birding! The choruses of birdsong were particularly symphonic in this open prairie land carpeted with wildflowers, grasses and gorgeous invasive Scotch Broom bushes. While the experienced birders identified the birds by their unique songs and often found them with binoculars, sharing them with us all, I also stumbled along the trail with eyes on the wildflowers and ears enjoying the songs in happy ignorance.

Our leader Kathleen bore the high powered scope and tripod on her back and seemed to know when to set it up. So we got to see Cowbirds copulating in a tree some distance away! The Tanager above was so striking in color that we could follow its movements in and out of the foliage, rarely seeing the whole bird at once. But that much was surprisingly satisfying.

So yesterday I returned with sketchers Jane and Ineke to enjoy the walk, the colors, the rapidly changing skies and to plant ourselves among the grasses, now grown about 2 feet in one week’s time, to sketch.

direct watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

Plunging right in with watercolor

I’ve discovered that this new sketchbook (hand.book journal co. 90# w/c paper), a lighter version of the last one I was using (also hand.book with 140# w/c paper) This lighter one handles wet watercolor very poorly, probably not the best for direct watercolor painting. So, I’ll be going back to 140# 100% cotton paper when I want to paint skies like these!

Same problem here resulting in sky, tree and puddle muddle. Blame it on the paper, haha! But while I was painting I was thinking, “I should come out here every day to paint in this place!”

So I’ll end on this note. Just get out and do it, and enjoy the process. Don’t you just love the feeling of paint coming off your brush!?

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.

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.

Tumwater Falls Salmon Research

Watercolor and brown and black fountain pen in Travelogue sketchbook

Tumwater Falls never fails to impress! I took the walk down to the lower falls recently hoping to see the enormous dogwood in bloom where it presided over a trickle of smaller falls anointing a fern and rock covered grotto.

But the real surprise was this research vessel anchored at the bottom with its stern message , which actually read “Wild Salmon Research. . .Extreme Danger. . .No trespassing”! and blocked half of the river. The spray from the falls made it impossible to sketch on site (and I didn’t have my sketch bag along anyway), so i captured the photo and sketched later.

I would like to be able to explain to you what the danger was that had to do with wild salmon. I mean I always thought we humans, and the bears up river of course, were far more dangerous to the fish than the other way around. Of course, looking at the large funnel in the picture I imagined that it would not be fun to be caught in it. I would like to think of this vessel as a friendly lift for salmon making their way up river to lay their eggs. If you know the meaning of the sign, please let me know!

Tulip Festival!

my favorite tulip! ink and watercolor in Travelogue sketchbook

It was a fierce competition between the sky and tulip drama in Skagit County, WA last week! I’d been watching the weather forecast for a week, hoping the rain would not drown the tulips, or Janet and I, as we finally launched our three day road trip to the north coastal section of Washington. . .

snow capped Cascades in the distance

and arrived at Roozen Gaarde to glorious peak display and no rain! Instantly I knew I would not take the time to sit down to sketch these impossibly color saturated and magnificently designed flower displays, so I joined the throngs of every-man photographers. I’ll share some here, taken with my iPhone (forgive the crooked horizons!) If you’re a painter/designer/illustrator you may appreciate the color combos. And if you’re a figurative artist you’ll enjoy the people sprinkled throughout, some of them dressed for picture posing! And photographers will note that the reds and hot pinks are seriously “out of gamut!”

What garden have you ever seen where all the blooms are standing up straight like so many soldiers and with no gaps between rows?! 

. . .and no yellow leaves or spent blooms?!

Every year Roozen Gaarde digs up all the gazillion bulbs and replants them in new designs for the next season.

One gets a bit drunk on color after a while and the horizon starts to tip, haha!

Washington Park, Anacortes, across the sound from the San Juan Islands

We cleared our palate the next two days with a visit to nearby La Conner, WA to enjoy the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum and Museum of Northwest Art

I’ve dreamed for a long time of a trip to the San Juan Islands off the coast, and here in Anacortes we got a good glimpse in Washington Park. Some time this summer maybe?