nature sketches

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?

A Simple Cure for What Ails you

About 15 years ago I renamed my art business IMAGINE WITH ART when I wanted to change my emphasis to be more about creative process than about product. I wrote the word Imagine in the wet concrete outside my studio door and added the name to this antique brush which has hung outside my door since then.

I recently got around to sketching the brush, when I saw the flowers in the planter below, showing off in the late afternoon sun.

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And then, joy of joys, my current Muse group “sisters” were all invited to Pat and Lee Davis’ stunning home gardens (definitely plural gardens!) for a morning of sketching, which turned into a (kind of urban sketchers’ type) on location event with space for social distancing.

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Oh, to have that kind of sitting-separately-but-together-serenity-in-a-garden-with-friends experience again (after all the Covid-shut-down-fear-and-alienation, and even while it’s still going on everywhere)!

It’s a simple cure for what ails us. Pick up a pen or pencil: draw what you see: put some paint on: notice how you feel now.

Bud Book

Apparently the flip side of Corvids, those noisy crows and such, is Buds. At least that’s the case in my little Pentallic Accordian sketchbook which helped me to weather the first two weeks of sheltering in place.

Whenever the sun was out I took my pens, mini-watercolor palette and sketchbook out to the garden to watch what news was happening there. While I sketched buds I noticed other things, like the bumblebees hiving up in the birdhouse next to my studio door, and the pipevine swallowtail butterfly newly emerged from it’s chrysalis and drying its wings on the passionvine trellis. . .

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I stood and watched it with its stuck-together wings blowing back and forth in the wind until they were dry enough for it to fly away, leaving me standing, hair on end in awe.

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The vintners here in wine country call it bud break when this particular spring marvel occurs, as it did along my house this month. So I started there in my little book.

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I must admit that spring fever got to me while sketching these. I kept looking up to see the honey- and bumble-bees and loosing my place in the complexity of the succulents, but that was precisely the point, to catch the spring fever rather than the viral fever, right?!

 

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The apple tree behind my studio is one of those ancient hollowed out ones that still produces large quantities of apples. In February it attracts the bluebirds and in March, when the apple blossoms bud out, the butterflies seek them out for nectar.

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Euphorbias of all kinds love my otherwise rather wild and untended garden. The flowers are blooming now in a riot of miniature bow ties of different sorts.

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But my favorite spot in the garden is the pipevine, which is blooming and fruiting and attracting the butterflies in ever greater number each year. Here is what is found at this stage. The little orange eggs are “deposited” in the pipevine bank by the butterflies, like the one in the picture above, and next month the hungry munchers with the orange polka dots will be hatched and systematically eat the entire hillside of pipevine to the ground!

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And what is this magnificent sculpture? Another chrysalis on my studio wall which I noticed at the same time as the emerging butterfly. But this one is another species – the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, also known as Passion butterfly here on the wall where my passion vine grows. Last time I looked it was a yellow green color, but now is daily turning orange, the color of the butterfly, slow enough that there’s no point in watching it, but I do check in regularly.

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So I can’t help thinking that all this spring metamorphosis provides yet another silver lining to those of us who, while ruminating on the dreadful pandemic news, have time to notice the small things like insects and buds.

S.F. Botanical Garden

On Sunday I spent the day at Golden Gate Park’s Botanical Garden with over 40 nature journalers and John Muir Laws.  If you don’t already know, Jack is a Bay Area treasure; a naturalist, artist, author-illustrator of numerous nature guides, and entertaining guy who helps people to wake up and interact with the natural world by journaling about it.

 

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You can’t help but fall in love with the massive tree that greets you inside the gate. While Jack was talking, my eyes were tracing the curves, like a warm up doodle. I must admit, the tree got compacted to fit on my paper, but it didn’t seem to mind, and neither did I.

 

Next there were docent-led tours of the park to get us started thinking about what we might want to sketch.

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With such a multitude of exotic species to choose from, it was particularly hard to pick a subject to examine and sketch. I decided to try some of the more exotic varieties that would never be found growing in Sebastopol.

And started with a close up of this Snakebark Maple, which was labeled RARE. When you take the time to look closely, not only do you start to see so many different patterns and green mixes, but bright pinks and reds as well.

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The Ancient Plant Garden gives the opportunity to go waaay back in time and trace the evolution of plant life. Admittedly I used a bit of artistic license in the coloring here, but this giant fern was mostly in the shade.

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The leaves on this Gunnera plant from the Jurassic era were about four feet across, but I was drawn in by the reddish “fruit” cones, and the fact that there was a bench with a good view of this. There was also a lady from the sketch group who was drawing there. We engaged in lively conversation, which made it difficult for my eyes to follow the lacy folds . . .and I got quite lost and had to make stuff up. Once again lots of red in all that green.

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With just a few minutes to spare and no time to draw, I took a different approach, sketching a familiar plant, Anemones, from a distance and with watercolor. As my eyes began to focus better I caught sight of the familiar figure of St. Francis in the background.

Home in the garden

I’d planned to sketch at Sebastopol’s Apple Blossom Festival last Sunday, but it was hot and when I thought of the crowds and my lovely cool garden at home, the plan changed. From my chair on the patio beneath the redwoods there would be no musicians to sketch, no lively festival activities. Just the same old house and garden I look at every day. But I could sit in the low flight pattern of the birds on their way to the bird feeder and watch the gold finches bathe in the fountain and listen to variety of bird choruses and loud humming of the bees in the Australian tea tree.

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fountain pen and w/c in Hahnemuhl Watercolor Book, 6 X 8″

And of course the butterfly action, Tiger Swallowtails and Pipevine Swallowtails.

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I tend to suffer from the malady of all enthusiastic souls. . .FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) but I think I discovered for now at least a way to avoid the symptoms while staying home.

Oh, but then I guess I will have FOMO when I’m away from home too, knowing I will miss the baby quail parades and hungry caterpillars growing. I guess there’s no cure for FOMO.

Annas and Mourning Cloaks

We’re finally getting some rain today, intermittent with the sun breaking through clouds. Nature has been so bountiful this week with brief hailstorms, the blooming of those miraculous orchid-like Pipevine flowers which look like Dutchmen’s pipes.

And there was the morning I was standing in our front walkway talking on my cellphone while scanning the garden and my eyes fell on this jewel.

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Regrettably no, this little Annas Hummingbird was not just tame or friendly, but rather quite dead, newly so, and with no sign of external damage and no cats around to blame. And so brightly festooned in neon iridescence that I was quite awestruck. He may have been the one buzzing around my head in an urgent greeting some mornings. There was nothing to do but say a prayer for him and. . .

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. . .to immortalize him in sketches! I have been watching these beautiful creatures for years and wondering how to paint that color, which changes into a multitude of pinks and reds and purples and russets and even blacks with each turn of the head. The dot you see on the top of the page is one of those head feathers that came off. I glued it onto the paper, and when you turn the paper in the light, all those colors manifest!

The next day on an afternoon stroll at Riverfront Park not far from my home, I was delighted to find myself practically alone on the trail, except for a pair of Mourning Cloak butterflies that accompanied me the whole way, weaving back and forth and stopping just ahead to open wings wide as if waiting for me. At one point one of them came repeatedly to rest on my scarf almost touching my chin! No way to sketch this in real time, so I just enjoyed the conversation.

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watercolor in 5 X 8″Stillman + Birn Beta sketchbook

But as I sat on a bench overlooking the lake I heard a drone overhead – the electronic kind which we will be seeing more and more and everywhere. Such a strange world. I wonder what the butterflies and birds think of those flying “brethren”?

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It was time to leave, but this view delayed my departure. Another challenge for the artist here in wine country, to get the color right on those impossibly yellow (actually the definition of yellow!) mustard plants that abound in the winter vineyards with a backdrop of blue violet hills.

Nature Sketching in the Sierra Buttes

Three of my sketch buddies and I rented a house in Sierra City, CA for a few days last week and indulged greedily in things we love passionately, nature and sketching in equal parts. Oh and some swimming, hiking, boating, and eating. The weather was sunny and hot of the dry mountain sort which is comfortable in the shade and sometimes even in the glaring sunlight for a while.

 

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Day one we explored the Wild Plum Trail and falls, soaking our feet in the rushing mountain stream. I brought a concertina folded w/c “book” to explore whatever caught my eye, starting with the roaring stream.

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Sketching rocks and rushing water and ferny side shows is a an entrancing form of meditation. There’s no way to get your drawing “right”, so you satisfy yourself with diving deeply into the shapes and colors, all the while experiencing the awe of discovery.

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In the afternoon we moved to Sand Pond at the foot of the Sierra Buttes and went swimming. I struggled with the sky color and so tried out my different blues. Since that day I have decided to add Manganese Blue Hue to my palette and see if that helps. Please let me know if you have another suggestion.

The sun was literally blindingly white making it quite impossible to judge color or value while painting. I decided it was far better to view the sketch in the context of the natural setting where it makes the most sense!

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My favorite shapes were the bare white ones against the dark green forest background, so I painted a strip of green and used dark paint and my white pen on top.

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The dragonflies were everywhere. At one point three of them stopped on my towel and I was able to sketch quickly and then take a picture to finish .

sierrabuttes15This sketching in nature is no elegant affair, as you can see here where I sit perched on a rock, post swimming, with as much protection from the afternoon sun as I can muster.

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Next day we found a lovely spot where the Wild Plum creek and Yuba River meet. I’d played around with spraying inks over seed pods from the forest floor and glued them into my sketchbook for a start. The tree was added on site and then more forest floor gems added for the picture on the rock before adding writing in the white space.

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This mossy tree base just invited one to sit. But then it seemed to say, “sketch me” and,so I did, imagining the creatures that live in that hole.

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Another day we took the ferry boat across Salmon Lake and hiked up to Deer Lake.

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At times it was a steep climb up wildflower strewns meadows, past tiny lakes and even patches of snow.

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And always the search for the perfect sketchable view of the Buttes, here once again.

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And here in town with the last of our energy a timed 15 minute sketch of the church above below the Buttes.

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On the last day I got my wish to take a boat out on Salmon Lake. We lasted about 30 minutes in the antique row boat we’d rented with the clunky paddles and found another sweet spot for the last sketches of the trip.