Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tracking changes, finding heart homes...


Many years ago...close to thirty, now...one of my lifelong dreams came true--with lots of blood, sweat and tears (not to mention exhaustion and expense) to be sure, but the dream came true all the same.

Down a dusty gravel road I found a bit of land with a pond, a creek, and acres of oak, hickory, walnut and cedar forest.  There were, in some places, a concentration of redbud trees, so that in the spring the forest was painted with splashes of pink.  Wildlife, plants and flowers were abundant...I was in love.

I found it in the midst of a hard drought, not unlike the current conditions, when small creeks and farm ponds were drying all around and wildlife searched for any source of life-giving water.

That small pond glittering in the sun made a backdrop for a dusty "for sale" sign that I almost missed under its coating of dust, and I had to stop to explore.  I jotted down the phone number on the sign, thinking perhaps the land would be in 5 acre plots or smaller, like the homes on the cul de sac on the hill...and perhaps I could think about buying this tiny bit of paradise.

I was working hard, in those days...as a freelancer, I wrote a regular column in Country Living Magazine as well as The Artist's Magazine and then Watercolor Magic (now Watercolor Artist).  I was doing a bit of screenwriting, as well as commercial illustrating for Early American Life, Country Life, and Sports Afield, among others.  Added to the books I was writing--two at a time that year--I often put in 14 hour days.  And was paid for it!  (And paid for it as well but that's another story...)

Turned out that it was NOT a 5 acre plot for sale but almost 20 acres!  I was sure that I couldn't afford it...but given all of the work I was doing, everything fell into place, and lo, I could...and did.

I hadn't intended to build...only to explore, and learn, and have a safe place to wander with few people.  But my childhood spent in tiny cabins all over the Ozarks and Colorado kept haunting my dreams...I knew a place in the woods would give me a place to work undisturbed.  And so the dream took hold.

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." --Henry David Thoreau

So, I took the old man's advice, and did.  With the help and guidance and mentorship of young friend and builder Greg Young, that's exactly what I did.

And of course, wrote a book about it...


Published in 1991, the book was the culmination of a dream. And what a joy, first to build the place and then get to share that process...
And to my great delight, nearly 30 years later the book has been republished, by Echo Point Books and Media!  You can find  The Naturalist's Cabin; Constructing a Dream on Amazon and elsewhere!

I've drawn and painted the place many times and written several books there.  I've shared it with friends, celebrated milestones, and gone to ground there when my heart was broken by grief.  And then, took myself there to heal...and start the cycle of life all over again.  It's one of my heart homes...

We've been through a lot, that little 14' x 16' cabin of mine...floods, droughts, losses, triumphs, celebrations...we're aging, hopefully gracefully, together.


And so, still, I find things to chronicle.  Closer to the cabin, these days, since arthritis curtails much of my wandering down the rocky creek or up and over the steep bluffs.  but even when I was younger, I was fascinated by details...like my covered bird feeder.  It once had plastic sides to hold more seed, but the resident raccoons soon made short work of that!


Triplets were a bit hard on the thing, and once I found the whole superstructure on the ground...
This is all that remains, today...it's aged, as have I!  What's left of the roof is under the deck, and the remainder is now a platform feeder--and moss garden!

But as always, I wanted to chronicle the changes...
Pen and ink and watercolor were my mediums of choice...first washes, here...

I was using my customized small Schmincke travel set--I'd removed the inner metal tray for half pans and replaced it will full pans with my own pigment choices.  A pen and a travel brush kept my gear simple!

I played around a bit with my kids' set as well--I ordered it online from Wet Paint in Minneapolis, where my friend Roz Stendahl finds such fun things.  I pulled the guard off the Niji flat waterbrush to make a longer, juicier brush...it's still small enough to fit in those little round pans, though!  (Check out Roz's linked blog and classes, she is a GOLDMINE of information!)

This is one of those progressive pages...testing inks, pens, brushes...

Again, if you'd like to read about finding the land, exploring its natural wonders, and building a cabin in the woods, here is the link!  Just click on the title: The Naturalist's Path

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Dry Spell...

Flute making--transitioning to sketching more again.  I hope.
I've been exploring the meaning or origins of my dry spell--we all have them, and they can be simply cyclical, or indicative of time for a change.  Growth, perhaps. Sometimes other things capture our interests...and this past year, it was flutemaking, for me.  This is a vessel flute, sometimes called an ocarina.  It was made from a cedar tree from my land that bark beetles had excavated their beautiful designs on, and I love it.

My first flute, of deer bone I found in the woods...
I became fascinated by the earliest bone flutes, some 40,000 + years old, and imagined it would be simple to make one.  It's not...but the challenge captured my imagination, off and on, for 2 years.  I was playing it yesterday, out at the lake...

But honestly, in thinking about it--and coming across old journal entries--I see it's an ongoing challenge to keep sketching, keep making art, keep simply being who I always thought I was, despite the changes life throws at all of us.  I've sketched when traveling, at family gatherings, in meetings, in big cities, deserts, and deep forest.  I've sketched broad vistas and tiny microcosms at my feet.  I've sketched to celebrate and to calm myself in a hospital setting, to cope and to delight.


Waiting through Joseph's long surgery a few years ago...
 So what does contribute to our dry spells?

Probably many factors, and perhaps as individual as we are.

I just came across a note in an old journal--years old, actually: "feeling frustrated with my sketching time, lately--always hurried and shallow and meaningless."  Uh oh.  That wasn't good.  I need meaning...and I suspect most of us do.

Part of the problem, at that time, was adjusting to my recent remarriage...supportive though Joseph is, and he is, I realized I didn't want to bore him, keep him waiting, inconvenience him.  We often feel that way when traveling with non-sketchers, I've heard it over and over from fellow artists, and I was no exception.  (And yes, J. used to sketch some with me, and that was lovely!  But his interests have taken him in a different direction...) 


One day, I simply told him what I needed--what a concept, right??  Time to finish, not to feel rushed...and he of course understood completely!  If I said I needed to finish a sketch, we sat there till I finished.  Sometimes he read, sometimes he napped.  He even initiated sketching opportunities, asking if I wanted to stop by a gorgeous lake in New York state, or if I wanted to go to Cooley Lake.  When my sis died, he knew I need to process loss by sketching in nature, and bundled me into the car to get OUT there.  That's one problem solved...

I did a LOT of sketching in parking lots...J. shops and I don't like to.  And in fact that became the inspiration for my quick sketching mini-classes on my website!  Lemons to lemonade...
Sometimes, it's outside pressure.  It begins to feel like a job, and obligation.  Meeting the expectations of others, especially if you're an inveterate teacher, as I am.  A sketch a day.  People telling me to sketch this or that, whether or not I felt moved to do so.  "Aren't you going to sketch that?  Where's your sketchbook?" As I said above, meaningless begins to wear on our pleasure in doing it.

I have several friends who have quit or madly scaled back sharing online...again, it began to feel like an obligation.  It's not.

That's one reason I don't do challenges.  I want meaning, not an assignment, and I don't enjoy the pressure.  No "30 sketches in 30 days" or "100 People" (or noses, or eyes, or whatever) for me, thank you.  I know many people who thrive on it, and produce wonderful, imaginative work...but I feel trapped.  It's a personal quirk.  (I discussed that in some length in this post.)

Part of the problem sometimes, is frustration with materials.  I know--"it's a poor workman who blames his tools," blah blah quack quack.  But dammit, it IS frustrating!  I moved from technical pens to fountain pens, and years later I am STILL searching for the line variation I like, with a smooth nib, in a super dependable pen--the right size for my small hands.  Oh yes, and ideally that will work with water-resistant ink so I can watercolor over it.  Like my technical pens used to do.

And yet, I keep experimenting, so there you are.  I must like frustration!

I have page after page of pen tests...

...and brush tests, and color tests...

Drives me nuts when I don't like my drawing instrument, brush, or paper surface.  And so a LOT of my journal pages are just testing, like the two above.  Looking for what works best for the effect I want or the way it feels in my hand.

Now our lives have changed again, with the elderly dog we've rescued.  I have indeed sketched her some, but I also find she's not exactly conducive to sketching on the spot...Joseph's fishing has changed more into walking the pooch, as well.  She's a love, but she's made a big change...

Lady
And sadly, here is the most recent journal entry on the subject of the latest of my intermittent dry spells, just about a week ago:

"I think I have lost confidence in my sketching--as if it matters if it's not a perfect likeness.  Guess what?  It never was.  Perfect is not possible.  I don't want to lose my plesure in the moment, in the act of sketching itself, in capturing the moment, however fleeting, not worrying about making a false step.


Well.  not worrying, exactly.  I know I will, and do, and always have. 

So what is going on with this?  Yes, criticism bugs me, I'll admit it.  It sucks the fun out of it for me--the life out of it, really.  But that's after the fact, after the actual act of sketching.  What, I'm pre-emptively defensive now?"  It was good to get it down on paper.

(That issue is addressed beautifully in the brilliant Terri Windling's blog post, here, by the way.)


And then there's the issue of just not feeling like taking on some complex subject.  It's too much. I adore Stephanie Law's work, and my botanical artist friends, and so many others who incororate texture and color and pattern and detail.  But...it just feels overwhelming to begin.



And yet...what I find truly fulfilling is to sit and draw contemplatively...a tree, an interesting stone, a tangle of brush...


I suppose the upshot of all of this musing is that we all have been there, and will be there again.  I am beginning to enjoy sketching again.  I'm not doing all that much with flute making.  I'm exploring materials, yes, but actually feeling the glimmers of "yes, I'd like to sketch that!"



And so, last night, I did.


Frustrations and all--whiney pooch, too-smooth paper, ink I'd forgotten was water soluble, I enjoyed this!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Sketching on the Spot, again...

It's been a long dry spell for sketch journaling, for a lot of reasons.  Of course, as some of you know, I've been learning to make Indigenous-style flutes, and learning anything well is a challenge.  (Okay, not sure I'd say "well," yet, but well enough to bring pleasure...)  It IS time consuming as well as fascinating.  But more on that another time...

I've been re-refining my tools, and trying to lighten my load while still having what I need with me.  Sometimes, I slip up, like this day at Lawson Lake!

I didn't want to work with waterbrushes, exclusively, I wanted "real brushes"...and a water container.



OOoops.  No water container!  Not much water, either. 

Happily, there had obviously been a BIG whoop-te-do at the park and the trash bins were stuffed full...I found a lot of bottled water containers, and whipped out my little Swiss Army Knife to make a waterbowl.  Voila', another bottle was almost full! 

Obviously I wouldn't DRINK it since it's been opened, but it was fine to paint with....

It was a hot say and I couldn't settle on what I wanted to sketch...till I noticed the beautiful blue shadows on the curving road into the park.

This was what I had with me for supplies...my little customized Altoids tin, my TINY kids' set I put my own artist-grade paints in (don't laugh, I filled an entire sketchbook in Charleston 3 years ago with that wee tiny kit!), my new water cup, a couple of brushes, and my new pen carrier from JetPens, which holds just a wee bit TOO much stuff!  (The tiny set fits in the pen carrier, the Altoids tin doesn't.)
The summer colors were lovely...and yes, I edited out the signposts!  Love that artistic license...

I was fairly happen with the resulting sketch...and a lovely record of the day.  The little black cat at the curve drove me nuts, every time a car would come down the road into the park, but he never moved a whisker!

Last I saw of him, he got bored and wandered off into the woods!
It was a satisfying evening, challenging but a learning experience.  (Nope, my big watercolor brush ALSo drove me nuts, need to change it out...)  And happy to say I've been edging my way back into more frequent sketching...more on that anon...

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Thinning the Herd--and selling the new Conklin Omni-Flex Duragraph Fountain Pen!

 


All right, many of you know I've been simplifying and doing a lot of decluttering, selling, donating, giving away...and I did very well for the first 5-6 months.  Very well!  I'd been able to pass up the more expensive model, talking myself out of a purchase I didn't really "need."

But then Conklin came out with an affordable Omni-flex pen, the holy grail of nibs for many of us...

And I couldn't order it fast enough!

I was already chiding myself as soon as the order was made, of course...but I just HAD to try it out!  And it is a gorgeous pen...

It's that unique nib shape that offers the flex.


Streamlined!

I wanted to try it on a variety of papers, to put it through its paces...smooth nib, handsome design, feeds well...you do have to press some to make the flex, as you do with any pen that doesn't have a gold nib, like the vintage ones!

The drawing of the sistrum, an ancient rhythm instrument, is on Arches paper, the others are on smoother paper.

This one is on super-smooth hot press paper--which makes a line go down thicker.  The pen has good line variation, especially when you go slower...(the writing part above was very rapid, not making an attempt to flex)  The second sentence with the nib held upside down.
I tried the pen upside down here, too, for the writing, not for the flex samples.

It is a sturdy pen, fairly large...and I have small, arthritic hands. Uh oh.  A bit heavy for me...

And I kicked myself--I was NOT going to buy anything I didn't actually need.  So before feel too guilty--and before I have second thoughts!--I'm offering it on eBay.  It's a wonderful instrument...here's your chance to try it out!

Here's the direct link to my auction...good luck!  https://www.ebay.com/itm/263788929354


Friday, June 15, 2018

Sketching in Nature is Back!!




I am so delighted that Echo Point Books has brought my Sketching in Nature back into print!  It was originally from the Sierra Club, and I had an absolute ball writing and illustrating it in 1990, working with one of the best editors ever, Jim Cohee (actually, on that book and on Painting in Nature, also in the que to be republished!) 

In 2005, I was asked to speak on sketching in nature to the first International Sierra Club gathering, in San Francisco, an amazing experience.  (It was also the first time Joseph and I were able to take a trip together--or rather meet up in that iconic city--heaven.)

As usual, I walked right into the ocean, clothes and all...PRIMAL!!

Imagine my shock...along with many other authors, photographers, and editors...when Sierra Club suddenly got out of the publishing business!  The book languished, out of print, for some time, and although I had a few author's copies I was able to share with people, it was just gone except for aftermarket sellers.

Now it's out in brand new, crisp, beautiful form, and I'm stunned at what Echo Point was able to do...the cover is different, of course, but the book is intact, just as it was, all 230 pages!

The book covers almost everything, from the very basics of composition, format, and lighting, exploring tools and mediums, to field sketching and a whole chapter in sketching in color, including colored pencil, watercolor pencils, and watercolor, as well as working on toned paper. (Upcoming Painting in Nature has many more mediums included, so watch for it!)

Format and composition...

Choosing a subject and deciding how you'll depict it...

Suggesting form and volume with values...

Using a round brush...



Using a variety of tools, in fact...this is the pencil page, with examples of marks

A variety of color pages...

Loved the color wheel exercise I set for myself...
A whole scene in watercolor, from planning to finish...

Or focusing on a single tree...
A chapter on field sketching is one of my favorites...the how, when, and why of it...

Maine tidewater and bird life...,

Working on toned paper is almost like sculpting!

Learning to observe when field sketching...

Capturing a biosystem...

Observing and sketching birds and other creatures...

And the table of contents....LOTS covered in this dense, heavy book!




Can you tell I'm really excited to have it available again?? Grateful, too.  Sketching in Nature is on Amazon, as well as a number of other sites!

**Amazon link is here, added by request: CLICK

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