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 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 hand.book 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 . . .

Autumnal Equinox

pen and watercolor in Etchr w/c sketchbook

Years ago a garden master taught me to appreciate the spring and autumn equinoxes for their way of marking the changing of seasons by giving us a day of paradoxes. Warm and cool, breezy and calm, blooming flowers and dried up husks. By tuning in and noticing our garden on the equinox we begin to get it that summer is over and feel a sense of nostalgia about it while getting excited about what comes next.

This year I spent a good part of the day in the garden, and especially in the vegetable garden, which is a riot of vegetable and flower plants in all stages of growth and home to an impressive population of bugs and insects. The air was warm/cool enough to sit in the sun/light-clouds for hours and watch all the activity. Coming fresh from the Wild Wonder Conference I was ready and armed with ways to put down as much as possible of the drama, both plant and creature, as well as to watch my most curious human mind!

As I was talking to the kale, imploring it to be less bitter so that I can perhaps like it a bit more this fall, I realized that it might have some thoughts to give back. . . which led to adding the showy zinnia and sunflower that towered over it and getting all the attention. As it told me how it feels I realized that I had been overlooking it and unfairly giving more interest to the flowers.

And then the cabbage whites were flitting everywhere in the garden, and I noticed that they didn’t overlook, but landed on the the kale (though I wonder what they were doing there for that split second when I tried to sketch one). As I finished my nature journal page, I was very pleased with myself for having gotten my own garden story down. Can you think what yours might be?

And I couldn’t wait to come back the next day and find another story!

And so i did. It was not hard to pick the subject. After all I’ve been quite perplexed about the strange shapes of my carrots, which remind me of those weird characters in Harry Potter books. . .which led to a fun few minutes refreshing my Hogwarts studies!

And this morning I decided to try pulling up some more carrots. Along with the forked ones I found some big fat 4-5 inch long fat beauties, along with all the rest shown here. Honestly is there anything more aesthetically and gastronomically and emotionally satisfying than garden successes?! (of course there is! but this was mine today.)

My Friend Flicker

Not the horse. (That was My Friend Flicka.) My friend Flicker arrived at the bird feeder station outside our dining room window when I got back from California. He was attacking the suet with savage intensity. But each time I snuck up to the window to take a picture surreptitiously, he bolted.

Meanwhile there was this new random sound coming from somewhere in the house that sounded like a metallic drilling. Loud! Bob noticed the same sound coming from the neighbor’s roof. It was Mr. Flicker playing woodpecker on some metal flashing. Go figure.

watercolor, white gouache in beige toned nature sketchbook

I thought at first it was a Sapsucker, but one of my new birdwatching friends was adamant that Sapsuckers only go for the insects in the sap of the tree and would not go for suet. Flicker’s a big flashy bird with a polk dotted chest and black dickie, and when it flies you can see the bright orange underside of its wings!

I’m a sucker for birds these days, though I couldn’t quite explain why I get so excited to see a new species. And yesterday I spent an hour practicing very quick-capture sketches of birds with the engaging John Muir Laws (online) in preparation for actually sketching them live and in motion. His steps 1-2-3 are supposed to make that possible. We’ll see!

Meanwhile there are other signs of spring of course. Like orchid frogs!

You might think I applied some kind of photo filter on my phone when I took this picture. I was walking across the lawn and saw something move.  This little guy measured about two inches long and was a master of camouflage. An hour later he’d changed colors to match the ground cover where he’s moved.

I would attempt to sketch him into my nature journal, but would I be able to even come close to those colors?! I was immediately catapulted into memories of the years I spent with two little boys, hunting tadpoles, frogs, toads, butterflies and more. So I borrowed my 2+ year old friend Ellis across the street to do some frog watching and hopping.

Kettle View Park in the Rain

I waited too long to get out for a walk a couple days ago and by the time I was out the door an icy rain was just getting cranked up. I knew this day would come to test my determination. So I went back in, donned the rain pants I’d purchased for just such an occasion, and drove to a new (to me) park about a mile and a half from my house. The midday sky was dark and the park abandoned by all but a dedicated dog walker who looked miserable.

There wasn’t much to this suburban park and the puddles on the loop were getting deep. But there was a narrow muddy trail into the woods that looked more interesting. I saw chairs through the brambles and thought “homeless encampment” but saw no humans and was curious.

The scene looked more like a secret spot where three musician friends might come to jam on a summer night. It opened under the leaden sky, and bordered on one of those pond-like depressions in the earth one sees everywhere here in the rainy season, where birds flock and hold their conventions in the frigid water.

bamboo pen and ink, watercolor in 9 X 12″ Canson Mix Media sketchbook

Home from my walk, I dried off and got a hot cup of tea in hand. . .and became totally absorbed in sketching the scene.

This morning the rain had turned to sleet when I went out to stock up on food for the week. Our son Ben arrives tomorrow, and we haven’t seen him in two years!

There’s an urgency to paint after being out in this weather, and a feeling of snuggling up with pens and paints, and no beautiful weather to lure me away! The silver lining of all these clouds. And a white Christmas is seeming more likely every day.