nature journal

Warbling Vireo and Spotted Towhee

watercolor and white gouache in beige toned Nova sketchbook

As I said before, the woods now seem equipped with heavily amplified sounds systems (my new hearing aids!) to enjoy birdsong. It’s easier to hear than to see them lately due to the spring foliage extravaganza. The Merlin app tells me who I’m hearing, and then I go home and get to know the bird from the internet and taking the time to sketch them. The Warbling Vireo is one of them recently heard.

The Towhee is another one, heard on the Chehalis trail but very familiar and easy to spot in bushes along forest edges where they forage for insects, seeds and berries. Such a handsome bird! I had to include him in my journal.


Samish Island Camp: Last Day

It was the last full day at paint camp and I headed down to the water, wanting to see the baby bunnies again and the lone orange salmonberry and maybe catch sight of the elusive Black-headed grosbeak,  to sketch the colorful canoes and even see if the creepy caterpillars had spilled completely out of their paper sack. 

This bench was in exactly the right place by the boathouse, so I straddled it,  andavoided having to get out my tripod to attach to the easel. I just propped the back of the easel board on my art gear bag! Here you see the beginning of color application, bleached out by the bright sun. 

After lunch, a walk in the forest cathedral carpeted by wildflowers and then, to keep from descending into naptime, I sketched the mini-chapel, big enough for one meditator. Viewed from the outside it may have provided the same sense of peace as I sat drawing and painting in the spring afternoon. Here you also see the grasses that were studded with clover, daisies and buttercups, adding to their lush appeal.

On my last walk out to the lake I found friends, new and old, and got to see how this extraordinary setting had manifested in their art and to confirm that, YES! We will be back again and again to enjoy this land that gives and gives, like the indigenous people who have named it. “Samish: means, the people who stand up and give.”

There were minutes left for one last quick sketch before dinner and a drive to the other side of the island to watch the sunset over the sea. Next morning we moved out, stopping at Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park which is on the Camano Island Studio Tour. The art indoors and out in the cedar forest was breathtaking. Here’s some views of the sculpture garden.

I must leave the north coast there for now. Back at home in Olympia the irises are blooming so full that they’re toppling over. On my walk today on the Chehalis Trail the air was birdsong-heavy, so I turned on my Merlin bird sound ID app.  Fourteen different bird species appeared on my screen! But the vegetation is so thick now that for the most part the birds are hidden from view, making it rather frustrating to try to see them, even with binoculars. Time to join the Audubon folks again and get some more lessons! With my new hearing aids the woods are equipped with heavily amplified sound systems!

Samish Island (part 2)

The next day our small group of sketchers from Olympia headed over to La Conner, a picturesque town on the Puget Sound that boasts two art museums, lots of galleries and more to explore. 

We started out sketching on the street in the morning. The Museum of Northwest Art gallery was unfortunately closed for installation of the annual auction, so we found a table on the water for a seafood lunch at Nell Thorn Bistro. I started sketching the tribal community gathering structures across the channel, not realizing that soon it would become a gathering place for the revered tribal “ancestors”, the bald eagles!

The highlight of the day was the convocation of so many bald eagles above our heads at the restaurant that it was hard to count them until they landed across the channel, on the beach at Swinomish Community park!

At one point we counted ten on the beach. And later a talkative pair perched in a tree on the main street and held a raucous, animated conversation involving flapping wings and piercing vocalizations. Pedestrians came out of the shops and stood spellbound. A marital argument perhaps? Maybe it was about the young ones we’d seen earlier? Or one of them got a juicier catch?

We headed up the hill to the Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum which was as interesting for its glorious house as its exhibitions. 

A bit foot tired and weary we headed across the street to the Butterfly Garden, where my friends tackled sletching the intricate architecture while I let my eyes rest on the garden in bloom.


Stay tuned for Part 3 next!

Samish Island Paint Camp

Do you have memories of summer camp as a kid? My own memories go back to eight years old and the lake, woods, campfires and cabins of somewhere in Connecticut and my best friend (also redheaded like me. I was Copper to her Rusty that summer). Well, all that came rushing back at Samish Island Paint Camp on the north coast of Washington, where all those ingredients converged with spectacular spring weather and loads of like-minded artists. No workshops, just the freedom to roam the 87 acres and paint, with no responsibilities but to make it to meals on time (or not!)

The Samish Island Camp and Retreat Center is run by the Community of Christ church and was managed for this retreat and two others every year by the Northwest Watercolor Society.

on the grounds at camp, low tide on Samish Bay and oyster farming on the beach

We arrived and checked into our rustic cabins, where each person had their own! Mine was green and had two bunk beds in addition to my bed, and a heater which was useful at night. On the weeks when kids and families arrived, one could imagine a more “cozy” bunking experience.

We had our first meal at the Longhorn saloon in the nearby town of Edison and launched into sketching.

pen and watercolor in watercolor journal

Next day, while the majority of the 50 artists at camp settled into the studio for a day of painting, my friends and I headed back to Edison to try to capture the “flavor” of small town north Puget Sound before the anticipated weekend crowds converged.

The Hedgerow store attracted me with its color palette and rags? textiles? hanging from the telephone pole out front. Inside was jewelry and clothing with upscale S.F. prices! And the Smith and Vallee art gallery in this two block town was equally upscale and well curated.

Meanwhile I was struggling with this sketchbook, which has good watercolor paper and opens flat, but on some spreads exposes the messy glued seam in the gutter!

pens and watercolor in 9X12″ Canson mixed media sketchbook

After lunch there was the entire afternoon to wander around the salt water lake down below, stopping with each something to record. I started with the lake and tree reflection where I could also map the signs of oyster farming as well as the snow capped peaks of Mount Baker across the Sound. There were the creepy wriggling caterpillars and the first solo salmonberry of spring and so much more to notice.  I turned on the sound in the Merlin bird ID app and it lit up with birds! some I was able to see, and all I could hear. As I walked along the path baby bunnies scurried to the side and swallows swooped low.

When all the squares on the grid were filled, I was happy with my efforts and ready for dinner.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Easel painting

I’m off to Samish Island on the north Puget Sound today for five days of Paint Camp! Knowing that I would be in the company of plein air painters and might desire an easel, I bought a backpack size one on a light weight tripod to bring along. First time it took me about 30 minutes to get it put up! But I persevered and I think I have it down to five minutes max. Here’s the trial run in the back garden at home.

I like having my paper at arm’s distance and vertical, rather than so close to my body, though there’s a bit of insecurity in not holding onto it, as if it might get away from me. With a gust of wind I’m sure it would. But getting my whole arm into the action of drawing and painting is a decided advantage.

easel set up in back yard

The small easel opens on a hinge and the “table” part has magnets to keep the palette and water secure. My 5.5X8″ sketchbook fits easily on the back board. The easel attaches to an inexpensive tripod and weighs almost nothing because it’s made from bamboo. I purchased it in the Etsy store from Taylor Seamount. 

In this picture you get a sense of how small it is. I have to say the jury’s out on whether I can make it work for what I do. Likely I will be sitting on my stool. When there’s a lot of walking involved, I might leave the tripod behind.  And I can use the wooden easel flat on my lap without the tripod!

There’s so much going on in the garden right now that I’m anxious to get back to journaling in my nature journal. For instance, these two bugs, stuck together and moving as one.

some variation of Boxelder bug? on my vegetable garden gate

How do they decide and agree on which direction to move? It didn’t seem like they were having difficulty with the “engaged” situation. And they both seemed to have equal capacity at movement forward and backward.  Oh, where was my natural journal when I needed it?! 

Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

pen and watercolor in w/c journal

The sun was shining, the bird watchers were birding, the hikers walking on the boardwalk above the river delta. And at the twin barns, both the parents and the swallows were feeding their young. Every time I’ve reached this point on the path where the picnic tables are shaded by grand old trees, there are groups of parents with preschoolers charging around the trees in utter abandonment as parents try to herd them back to the snack table. “Caitlyn, do you want strawberry or cherry? Goldfish or breakfast bar?” The response is to ignore the question no matter how many times it’s repeated.

The twin barns, historically speaking dairy barns, are colossal and I’ve tried sketching them at least one other time, but the scale of them defeated me. So this time I thought I’d focus instead on selected parts and give myself a break placing myself with the tree in front of the barn. And the benefit of this was to attract the strawberry treat-avoiders into the sketch!

Another lucky stroke was the appearance of a squirrel, literally at my feet, within seconds of my unwrapping a nut-studded energy bar treat of my own. He/she was a highly sophisticated beggar with a wide range of beguiling techniques to achieve his purpose, including standing on his back legs and lifting paws in supplication. Since I was too hungry to share, all he got for his tricks was an accidentally dropped nut, which he immediately dispatched. Later he was thrown an apple core by a more generous Ineke, and that led to a scuffle with his squirrel partner who wanted some of the bounty.

eyes locked on mine. “put it here” he said, pointing.

Poor guy. All his efforts got him was one small nut and a cameo spot in my sketchbook.

The little kids left with their parents and a group of second graders appeared with their teachers and guide. “A quick rest before we continue!” the adults declared, as the kids were trying to figure out how to climb the trees. No snacks for them though. Instead they given the warning “Remember, no climbing the trees!

Meanwhile my sketch buddies were busy Not avoiding the barns and doing a great job of it.

Bird Bee Bloom

gel prints, cardboard print, acrylic paint on w/c paper

On this fine spring afternoon, while I sit idle in the garden, the first white irises, closed this morning, have now fully opened. I, who have scarcely ventured out into the garden for these cold months, go round taking pictures-painting-writing-noticing their return, as if it were their first. Were they really this enthralling last year? this luminescent?

My birds, bees, blooms shown here are not copied from “life”.They are strange visitors from the crowded population of my imaginings. None of them wants to identify with one species, preferring to declare their one-of-a-kind status, even if they sacrifice beauty in the bargain. They mingle with each other in ways that can seem chaotic to the observer.

But ask any one of them a question. Ask for advise. Go on! They will answer at no charge to you, and you may possibly go away the wiser for it.

Listen carefully though, for they all speak different dialects, though of the same language. Bird chirps, sings songs, and can have long conversations. Bee is more prone to whispers, buzzes, bzzzzzzz. And as for Bloom, she holds her tongue out for Bee, who needs no sound from Bloom.

three gel prints

These may actually be my first gel prints. I knew I’d get to it eventually, especially since my husband Bob is a printmaker who uses gel plates along with many other techniques and is always offering to teach me. But my Arts Olympia group, which meets monthly for an art Salon, scheduled a gel printing session led by Diana Fairbanks in her studio last week. What fun! And can you see where the Birds Bees Blooms were hatched?!


Daler Rowney sepia and antelope brown acrylic inks painted with brush and water

Gentle you are, subtle too

Formed by earth and water 

A helping of atmosphere

Sepia the ink stuff of squid

Granulating in pools

Particles pairing with H2O

To whisper the story/tale of creation

Of blooms too impossibly perfect to be believed

As how can one wrap the senses adequately

Round the wonders of spring

The first wasps, sheer moments from pupa 

Bunnies lounging eye deep in grass

Munching munching munching

How impossible it seems to the winter wearied soul

Who had almost abandoned the thought of a sun

Committed to undressing and warming bare skin and

The petal tender garments encasing the bloom.


And so, while the ink was out, I thought I’d see how it looked in a portrait, as always, from the Sktchy Museum app.


pencil and sepia ink applied with brush on w/c paper

The water shapes did the work of sculpting this wonderful face, starting lightly with a touch of ink and charging in a darker concentration where needed. After the pencil drawing was done, the portrait came together in minutes with the ink. Sepia, after all, the luscious tone of antique portraits in early photography. I call this painting-with-water-shapes though much of water media painting can be viewed in this way.

Have you tried this? Would you like to? What’s your experience?


Great Blue

watercolor and gel pen in toned Nova sketchbook

A couple weeks ago Bob and I were on our favorite walk around Capitol Lake and his superior eyes caught sight of a strange bird in the marshes by the trail. It was perfectly camouflaged with the colors of the brown sticks and grasses. I took the best picture I could with my iPhone and have been trying ever since to ID it. 

mystery bird, about the size of a heron

It didn’t entirely fit my picture of a great blue heron, which are frequently seen fishing on lakes in the area. On another day we spotted several herons in a nearby spot. Although they seemed browner than I remembered, they matched the usual features of the species, which are quite distinctive. We watched them fishing and flying off with that slender bodied, startling wingspan. So I added one to my nature journal. 

However, the mystery bird has yet to be positively identified. Shall we call it a Great Blue Heron? perhaps a grandfather whose beak has faded to white and chest whiskers, I mean feathers, become stained with fish juice? You bird watchers out there. Please help!

Tulips at the Market

fountain pen and watercolor in travelogue sketchbook

It was one of those PNW mornings at the Farmers Market when it was too wet and cold to sit, so I found a spot to stand quite close (with her permission) to the tulip lady’s display I’d picked out for a quick sketch. You can’t go wrong with tulips after all! Cedar Slope Farm is a one acre micro-farm located in Olympia, WA. I’ll be coming back to sketch and eat their tomatoes when that season arrives!

Later in the parking lot I snapped a quick pic of this blossoming tree  to try out an idea at home.