watercolor on toned paper

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. 

Yellow’s the Color!

watercolor and white gouache on beige toned Nova paper.

Yellow was the color of the lovely little birds I spotted on Monday at McLane Creek Nature Trail, with significant help from the veteran bird watchers in the Gals Go Birding monthly meet up. You can imagine how effectively these tiny birds are camouflaged now in the spring green forests. The Common Yellowthroat is not the least bit common with his black mask and neon yellow breast! And the Wilson’s Warbler has that adorable black toupe setting off the vibrant yellow body. So sketchable. But don’t go imagining I sketched these from life!

There are so many glorious distractions to draw ones attention away from the spring bird spotting – like the wildflowers in the forest floor, and the newts swimming in the shallows of the pond and making their way across the path.. . in search of mates? We walked, and then stopped and listened, when the group heard a familiar birdsong, and stood quietly til we saw movement in the tall trees. (The trees here are very tall!) Then whipped up the binoculars. I’m finally beginning to get the hang of focusing with my binoculars a bit quicker, but am still often the last to see the bird. But can you tell? I enjoy every minute!

Oh, but perhaps the biggest treat was the Mallard mother with her 13 baby ducks parading right by us at the pond. They scrambled to keep up, clumsy in their rush to follow, running across the lilly pond leaves and plunging in and out of the water. Ahhhhh!

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.

Mushroom ID 101

Have you watched the documentary Fantastic Fungi on Netflix? Yes? then you know that much of the footage was shot in Olympia, WA and guided by our very own local, Paul Stamets.

Haven’t seen it? then watch it and take the magical mystery tour, without the need to ingest any psilocybin.

Small wonder that I would see my move here as an opportunity to delve into the world of mushrooms. So last week I took a Mushroom ID 101 workshop with the South Sound Mushroom club at Watershed Park, a seven minute drive from my house. The teachers were a team of two young mycologists from Evergreen College whose enthusiasm for the wonders of the forest erupted in a constant flow of shared discoveries and encyclopedic knowledge. With their guidance, the trees, mosses, leaves, and streams, which I am accustomed to enjoying, became a backdrop to a fascinating and downright magical other world of bizarre and beautiful “fruits” that I had never noticed before. 

fountain pen, watercolor and white gouache on beige toned paper

Only a rudimentary vocabulary of mycology managed to find a home in my awestruck brain. Instead I found myself thrilling at my own “discovery” of a lone mushroom with a colorful cap and pure white veil and stipe nestled in the leaves. The delight of the scavenger hunt. The feeling that Nature herself had left it in my path as an invitation to join in. And then the pleasure later of sketching and matching nature’s shapes and colors with my brush and paints. And with no need to taste them or get any high-er on them.

collection basket

Some mushrooms that made it into the basket after being passed around the group and discussed. Gilled mushrooms, corals, boletes and polypores.

And at the end of the day, all forest treasures spread out on the classroom table. Some tiny mushrooms were so small that a jeweler’s loop was required to see the intricate beauty.

Meanwhile at home, work has begun on the garage studios and the sound of a saw and hammering has become music to the ears.

Yes, it rains a lot here, about every day at some point. And it’s cold and damp. But there are warm clothes to wear, and so much forest life yet to explore!

I Can’t Stop!

I can’t stop painting portraits! It helps that I spend most of my time at home now, because of the pandemic, and often in my studio. And it helps that Andrew has started a daily regime of portrait sketching with me. So here’s my latest. I promise to show some of his here again soon. All poses found on the sktchy app

Watercolor on beige toned paper

Gotta love that attitude!

white gouache on black toned paper

Black and white drama without subtlety or any control of the values. Frustrating, but I’ll keep at it, because the stark values get the point across without all the niceties.

watercolor on gray toned paper with a bit of pastel pencil

The light reflecting off the glasses is what makes this such a great pose, by Rick N.

watercolor on gray toned paper

Initially it was the wispy white hair I liked, but then as I started to draw I thought, “This guy [Duke KM] probably has interesting thoughts and would be fun to talk to. That’s what happens when you draw/paint someone. You start to get really interested in them.

More fun with faces

watercolor, pastel pencil, gel pen on gray toned paper (Stillman + Birn Nova Trio sketchbook)

Every couple days I “stalk” the Sktchy app for some particularly intriguing/challenging portrait subject that other artists have drawn/painted.

Gouache on black paper

I haven’t made much headway on painting with gouache on black paper. I at least imagine it would be so much easier to use pastels since they are opaque, but I keep trying to make the water media work. Oh well, at least it’s a great exercise in seeing negative shapes!

I easily get bored with big hair, but for this I got lost in swirling with my brush and prefered the dark lilac-gray to her black hair.

More swirls with the brush and coming in at the end with some gouache color in the shadows really woke this one up.