To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Adding Color to the Wasps! I DID IT!

I am now officially past my "artist's block," 
thanks to you
I expect to be adding more entries from time to time, so if you want to know about it, put your email over there in that box to the right so you will be notified. Just in case you didn't do it before, you may have missed the second entry I made, a couple of weeks ago (this is the third one).  If so, just scroll down.

Here's the wasp drawing with color added.  It's a lot easier to understand what's happening, isn't it?

Check below in the previous entry to see what this drawing looked like before color was added.  I also wrote in that entry about how I painted the mural on my house walls -- lots of pictures.
Macal in May. Now it's 8' tall.
That's Nacho's thatched hut where
he stays when we go out to El Rancho.

Stay tuned. I'll be adding color to the cecropia drawing (my first one), and also to a drawing I just finished this week out at Micasa, my little house in the jungle at El Rancho.  I finally was able to get there after seven weeks of the road resembling a turtle pond (complete with turtles) and pretty much impassable. When at last I arrived, I fulfilled my vow to make at least one sketch during each visit. (Hint: this latest one is a fungus).  

And they're improving the road -- there's a crop of macal out there that's due to be harvested in January!  

Hasta mas tarde!  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Mural Painting Tutorial (and Sketch #2)

Onward with my quest to restart my sketch journaling while balanced daintily on a 6’ ladder. 

Where am I on my journey to Restart My Journaling? Well....I have actually gotten out my watercolor pencil box. It is lying on the desk. 

A ladder got me really close
nice, calm wasps
I have not opened it yet, but I will, because this sketch is a little confusing in black and white.

But color will improve it, and what better way to jog my hand to apply the color than to tell you about my intentions? 

I’ll scan in the colored drawing when I get it done.  Hold my feet to the fire, my friends!!!!!


a panorama photo of my house mural about half-way
before the house was re-painted cream.
Okay, now, I promised in my November 11 blog that I would do  step-by-step tutorial on how I painted the murals on my house walls. 
If you aren’t into details, this one may be a bit “much" and you can stop here. But if you’ve ever wondered how the heck one gets that art from a  sketchpad up onto the wall, read on.
I’d gotten a little experience at mural painting on the walls of the North Mountain Park Nature Center in Ashland, Oregon a few years back, so I was intrigued by the invitingly blank walls of my new Belize house. 

a Mayan ball player
My earthbag house, which I have cunningly named Casa de la Tierra (House of Earth)  is actually built on an old Mayan terrace, next to a completely buried (it is said) Mayan temple ruin, so obviously the most appropriate decorations would be Mayan in nature. I wanted them to look authentic, so I nosed around on the internet to see if I could find some good subjects. 

Chilam Balam texts of Chumayel
My research turned up ancient figurines, hieroglyphs, wall paintings bas-reliefs carved into stone stelae (like this one of Lady Wac-chanil-ahau standing atop a bound captive warrior), plus painted or inked codices – bark-paper books the Mayans created around the 1100s. Some were pretty gruesome, so I avoided those. Others, like this winsome little jaguar tickled my funny-bone.

With lots of subjects to choose from, I picked out several for my mural, looking for drama and detail and avoiding modern interpretations (as far as I could tell) with which the internet is flooded. I decided to copy them almost exactly to keep them authentic-looking.   
feathered serpent god and supplicant
I originally planned to make the serpent god, a really stupendously magnificent being, the first thing you see as you come up the walk to the house. I even had it all graphed out and ready to transfer.  But after a few months of thought (you shouldn’t rush such things) a benign realistic jaguar began to manifest itself, because really, the jaguars have a wonderfully strong presence here, they, and the other wildlife, are some of the main reason I chose to live here. I wanted to honor that. 

Ready to begin muraling, I took photos of my house walls (not so easy on a round house!).  I joined them together in Photoshop and created a flat view to use as a template with correct proportions (I could have just sketched out the plan, but I was having fun in Photoshop).
this plan is called a "cartoon" by muralists
On the house, I measured and recorded every wall space, the distance between windows, and the distance from the floor to what would be the bottom of every image. Then, in Photoshop, I superimposed a transparent grid sheet over the plan, sizing it so that each square represented one inch. Then I “pasted” a mural image into each spot onscreen.

my 8½x11" working cartoon
Now, with subject choices made, I created a fresh 8½” x 11” .jpg file for each image and superimposed a transparent grid on THAT so that every inch grid line on the house wall plan corresponded with the inch markings on my printed-out paper grid.

On the paper grid (my "cartoon"), I counted squares and wrote down measurements (in red on the ballplayer figure here) to correspond to measurements of the actual wall. That done I slipped the gridded diagram into a plastic sheet protector to keep it from getting wet or dirty – I didn’t want to have to re-count all those measurements.   

Time to transfer!  Using a #2 pencil, a yardstick, and a kneaded eraser, I measured the wall up from the floor and in from the window to find the outermost point of the ballplayer's toe (27” up and 4” in from the door frame – see the red arrow on the cartoon) and made a dot there.  Then I located a distinctive spot a few inches up, at the edge of his anklet (34” up and 7” in) and put a dot there.  I kept working, finding important points on the drawing, measuring VERY carefully.

the ballplayers feet, pencil outline
Finally, I had a dot-to-dot outline.  I went back and added some dots. Then checking back and forth frequently, I sketched the outline, erasing when I goofed, redrawing again, and re-checking measurements if something looked off. It is much easier to draw the outline with all the dots to aim for (I’ve enlarged the dots on the ballplayer grid so you can see them) than to try to do it freehand.

I didn’t put all the details in this pencil outline on the wall. I added those later when I was actually painting it.

the ballplayer, checking out my cleavage
At first, I thought I would color the figures, but after looking at the black outlines awhile, I realized that the simple black outlines looked elegant and that adding all the colors might make the mural too overpowering.

But it did need some color, so studying Mayan drawings online I found a motif called a skyband, a horizontal element which supposedly was used as a division between the natural and the supernatural worlds in Mayan mythology. It’s usually brightly colored in Mayan paintings, and I used it to connect all the murals into one continuous design.  

A short section of Mayan skyband
With the ballplayer outlined in black paint, I penciled in then painted a section of skyband in the colors that seemed typical to many Mayan paintings: teal green, cinnamon, a darker red-brown, light yellow, and yellow ochre (back to the paint store in San Ignacio!). Just for the record, the mural paint I’m using is Comex Vinimex, pintura vinil-acrilica premium, interiores/exteriores, satinado, which is pretty easy to translate: Interior/exterior vinyl-acrylic, satin finish house paint.

Ix Chel, holding Moon Rabbit
Over a period of several months, I penciled in, then painted outlines for the rest of the figures, plus some fascinating glyphs like these at left (I’ve no idea what this one  means.  Maybe “Your grandma was a howler monkey!”?  Fortunately, few other people can read them either, so I’m probably safe.) I continued the skyband as I worked my way around the house toward the entry, completing Ix Chel, the moon goddess holding the moon rabbit (did you know many people don’t see a Man In The Moon? They see a Rabbit!). 

Then I added that whimsical jaguar with a lotus on its head (jaguars often swim, coming up draped with pond -- or lotus -- weeds). 
Lady Wac-chanil-ahau

jaguar figure
Lady Wac-chanil-ahau with her basket of offerings (but without her doomed captive!) came next. 

One other thing happened before the mural was done. When I’d finished with the Mayan parts, I saw that I was having a problem with the natural red clay wall surface crumbling off, sand-grain by sand-grain. 

I realized that my murals were destined for a short life unless I took measures.  So I painted cream-colored house paint carefully around each figure while Freddy, who has been working at my house to pay off the price of items brought to him from the US, painted the rest of the house. 
house-painting in progress

That stabilized the walls around the figures, and I then varnished the figures themselves to glue all their little sand grains to the wall.

Only then did I paint the jaguar on the cream-colored wall, using the same grid and dot technique. Jaguar spots were applied free-hand. Here’s my feline friend, the life-size jaguar in full color, who now greets visitors with his inquisitive and riveting gaze. I still need to paint the rock he is perched on. The skyband will continue around the rock to be covered by his front paws. 

The jaguar is a powerful god in Mayan mythology, so to my mind, he guards the entrance and graciously protects all within.

SO!  Now to show you the whole series, finished (including the guardian jaguar above) in the order in which they appear from the front door to the entrance,  where the guardian jaguar dwells:

So there you have it -- "How I Painted My House Murals." 
That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it
Hasta mas tarde - until later!

Friday, November 17, 2017

It Started Two Days Ago...

“It’s time,” I said to my hand.  “Pick up the sketchbook.”

“uh-uh!” my hand crept behind my back.

“Pick it up.” I said sternly. My hand slowly, slowly, emerged and picked up the sketchbook gingerly.  Yes! I thought. This is working! 

“And the pen,” I continued. “Sketching won’t happen without the pen.”  I watched my fingers reach out and wrap around the pen. Squinting at them, I thought I could feel my new 
determination to draw getting a grip.

“Out to the veranda,” I directed my reluctant self. It was a struggle, but with the sketchbook and pen in hand, my resistance was losing its hold. I softened my tone a bit. “You can do this. You used to do it all the time. It’s gonna be fine!”  Really? Really can I start up again after more than two years?

We (my mind, my body, my hand, my determination – the whole package) walked out and sat down in my hammock chair on the veranda overlooking my rainforest yard.  There, a few feet directly in front of me were two cecropia  (see-CRO-pee-uh) trees, with their bamboo-like hollow sections and gorgeous umbrella-like 2-2½’ broad leaves.  One was skinny and scarred, the other was fat and saucy. Maybe I'd just do the trunks. Perfect subjects, stationary, hard to mess up – mostly straightish lines. Not too ambitious for this first try. 

I sat down, opened the sketchbook to the first empty page after my July 7, 2015 sketch of a Giant Red-winged Grasshopper and hesitantly sketched the first bit of outline. Okay, that's a start... 
I took a sip of coffee, made a few more tentative marks with the ballpoint pen. I watched a blue-crowned mot-mot flicking its tennis-racket tail in a tangle of leaves a few yards away. Stop procrastinating! I drew a bit more, and finally, at last, I settled down to my first sketch-journal drawing in more than two years. Ahhhhh....

Things were a little shaky at first. My lines were not clear and concise, my attention wandered when it needed to focus, I seemed to have forgotten movements that once were easy – all things that I hope will improve with practice. I was using a pen since using a pencil here is not an option. In the tropics the high humidity makes the sketch paper soft, and a graphite stroke that would be black and forceful in a dry climate leaves only a soft gray line on damp paper, so shading is next to impossible. The pencil stroke indents the paper as well.  Forget trying to erase, as that destroys the damp paper immediately.  

I started the drawing on Wednesday afternoon, day before yesterday, but I had other obligations Wednesday night and Thursday, so I only was able to return to it this morning, which is good, actually, because after a day without looking at the sketch I could see that the design was pretty skimpy and it needed something to anchor it and to make the page more interesting. So walking out into the yard, I found a young cecropia top to sketch into the upper right corner.  Ah!  Much better.

Next I added a title and some things I know about cecropias. The page is not as good as it would have been when I was sketching steadily a couple of years ago, but it’s good enough to tell me I haven’t lost the ability to draw (I was wondering). 
and it is

Below are some photos of what I was sketching. I always try to take photos in case I can't get back to the original to draw for some reason, such as:  it starts to rain; my subject runs away, rots, or otherwise changes or disappears; daylight ends; or I want to work on it or add color later.  Maybe I'll add color to this one later.

left to right:  2" cecropia,  4" cecropia, new cecropia leaves
I want to thank Carol for commenting that she hoped I would be able to start up again and continue on. 

Carol, this sketch/journal page is dedicated to you. Thank you!  Thanks for giving me a specific goal and a reason to get it done. I told myself I didn’t get to answer your comment until I had created something in order to show you that I was serious about starting up again.  It worked.

Maybe this will give you a nudge as well, since you said you’ve been finding it difficult to keep sketching without a cheering section. 
Shall we keep going?  I'll watch for yours if you'll watch for mine.  Anyone else want to join us?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Back In The Groove

After a long pause, I've made my way back to my blog with hopes that I'll find some of the people who used to visit way back in 2014. I've lost contact with so many good people -- I'd love you to join me again on my adventures.

This being 2017, a lot has gone past which may never get recorded, but a lot of cool things have happened, such as moving to Belize, building and moving into my earthbag house, painting murals of ancient Mayan art and a life-size jaguar on its walls, and dipping deeply into the lives of my Belizean neighbors here in western Belize, a few miles from the Guatemalan border and ten miles on a rocky, rocky road south of Benque Viejo del Carmen in an intentional neighborhood called Better In Belize.

my house in Oregon, now sold to other artists
In my old life, in southern Oregon, I was a wildlife illustrator, writing and illustrating nature books for kids (you can get a glimpse of them here), making art for interpretive signs on forest trails and for nature centers, teaching drawing and painting workshops, and other stuff. 

I also did a lot of sketch/journaling not only the amazing natural habitat around my house in a douglas fir/madrone/ponderosa pine forest, but for several years I also traveled to a different tropical place to experience the wonders of nature there, too.  Then I scanned in my sketches and notes to create downloadable how-to sketchbooks for people wanting to create their own.
Casa de la Tierra -- my house

Actually, you can find out about a lot of that stuff by reading the older posts. Enjoy! I myself can really get lost in them -- they're so old, it's almost like reading about someone else.
That's me, sitting on my veranda
So here I am, living in the rainforest in Belize in an earthbag house.  The weather here in the Maya Mountain foothills is very gentle as a rule, with daytime temperatures ranging from 65° to 85° and night-time temperatures never getting below about 55°. The weather is divided into rainy and dry seasons, which means it is a great place to experience a multitude of fascinating creatures all year round.  

Mayan ball player
It's taken me a couple of years to get everything sorted out, what with building then furnishing the house on a budget, painting those murals, and most recently, creating a little Belize-style hideaway for an even more intense experience in the jungle, with more subjects to sketch and journal about.

I have been trying to make myself a part of the Belizean community by learning Spanish well enough to talk to neighbors who don't have English, then by becoming a go-to resource by creating a Wi-fi hot spot for neighborhood folks who have cellphones but no signal, and for kids needing a place to study with access to the internet and also occasional printouts of items from the web. It's been a real change for me, this hermit who used to live in the woods and see another human maybe once a week.....and I'm loving it.
Jaguar painting on my house wall
As well, I deliver cokes and chips to the Belizean construction crew building houses here six days/week. I've made some good friends among them
But I am not surrounded by a...well, a support group of people who enjoy investigating nature through art and writing, desire to be artists, or even have any particular interest in what I am doing. 
  Giant Red-winged Grasshopper
As a result I've pretty much stopped working on my sketch/journaling, much to my dismay.  It's a brick wall I can't seem to get over or around, so I'm thinking that rejoining my blog again will help me find a community of people who love nature and art as I do, or at least will appreciate or be interested in what I'm working on and will let me know. This grasshopper was the last sketch I produced, around the time I stopped blogging in 2014.

Why should you come back to visit this blog?

Micasa, my Belizean-style hideaway in the woods
I'm planning: 
  • a step-by-step tutorial on how I painted the murals on my house walls
  • an overview of details of  building and furnishing an earthbag house
  • to share my sketch/journaling 
  • to show how my Belizean hideaway in the jungle was built
  • to share the joy as I bring solar lights to my neighbors' houses and 
  • to answer any questions you might have about the flying leap I took to transport myself from 20 wooded acres and a lovely little house in Oregon, USA to .9 acres and an off-the-grid earthbag house in an ecovillage in Belize. 
I hope to see you soon. Please come and leave a message?  Introduce yourself and let's have a conversation!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Snowbirding in Belize

Howler Monkey descending
It's about time  to finish the saga I began earlier this year. I started to tell you about it here in May, and I was planning to update it within a week or two with ongoing events, but that was May and this is October.  Oh MY! 

Since it's probably been awhile since you read it.....I'd started to tell you about my decision to Snowbird in Belize, and the incredible chain reaction that set off in my life (okay, NOW go back and read it if you have a minute ;o}


The road past my door-to-be
Upon returning from my Christmas vacation and my visit to Better In Belize, the intentional community I wanted to build in and move to in Belize, I pondered how on earth I was going to pay for the property.  I didn't have enough savings in the bank to do it; I didn't want to mortgage my house and make payments on that for rest of my life; and I finally concluded that the only way to swing it would be to take the plunge and sell my little house in the big woods.
my little house in the big woods

Now, I love my Oregon woods and its creatures, and my little house suited me well. I mean, just check out this year-long sketch/journal I did there in 2012!

But for some years now I had found myself sinking into a sedentary old age, swaddled in long underwear through the long, cold winters grudgingly warmed by a wood stove. 

fetching firewood—blechh
It gets really tiresome to fetch wood and keep the home fires burning, and only yearly trips to the tropics made it bearable.  Why not make the leap? I'd been considering it strongly for YEARS!

So January found me putting my house on the market and showing it for a whole three days before it was snapped up by a sculptor/videographer couple, just the perfect buyers.  

February was an incredible stew of packing, planning, organizing and executing.  I would live in Belize for the coldest six months of the year, but I plan to live here in Oregon for the other six months, so I needed a residence. 

35 years of "stuff" in storage
My first idea was to buy into a tiny community just up the road from my house, but that fell through due to zoning problems.  Still, the idea of a self-contained movable home was born. 

Plant Oregon, where I weed in summers
 March came, and Daniel, at Plant Oregon, the nursery where I weed most afternoons in the summers, offered me the use of his cabin, which he wasn't using, until I could get things straightened out.  I accepted gratefully, because I had to be out of my house by the middle of March, barely six weeks after making my decision to sell and a month after the sale was finalized! 

Sorting, storing, hauling, selling....
Imagine excavating, sorting, pitching, storing, giving away and/or moving 35 years worth of belongings in six weeks! I vacated into Dan's Cabin at the nursery, settling as comfortably as possible into temporary quarters, and weeding to keep my brain from exploding.

In the meantime, I deposited the payment for my house and land, and I was negotiating buying my lot in Belize, discussing house plans with my Belizean builder, and looking at Tiny Homes  to live in here in Oregon. It finally dawned on me that although Tiny Homes are darling, and speak to my Hobbity soul, they are REALLY SMALL and they are very expensive if you don't build them yourself. Since I'd be building a house in Belize, I didn't want to also be building a house in Oregon—I wanted something quick, simple, less expensive, easy maintenance....ah......a 5th Wheeler. They're quite a bit "glitzier" than really suits me, but they have lots of room, are low maintenance, and I knew the price of a used one would beat that of a Tiny Home by a huge margin—maybe only half as much!

My house plan- 1075 sq/ft
So I started looking for one of those that I liked, and at the same time I began the house plans for my house in Belize.  In 1980 I designed and built my little house in the woods, so I knew how to design a house and draw house plans, and I know what works for me and what doesn't, so this was very doable (and a lot of fun). And my builder was interested in building an earth bag house!  Serendipity!

Delivering my home to its spot
April.  Finally I found a good 5th Wheeler at a price I could afford (less than $20,000) and a friend offered me a place to settle, complete with water, electricity and sewer. 

packing a shipment of books
It was 30 miles from "home" but actually, to tell the truth, I was "homeless" now, so I jumped at the chance.
In the meantime I started thinking about selling the printed part (books) of my business, Nature Works Press, because there would no way for me to fill orders from Belize. Besides, it is time to "retire."

I decided to keep the sketch/journal e-book part of the business, and in fact even grow it.  But I needed to find a home for the book end of it.  So I put out feelers on a self-publishing forum. 

the view from my veranda-to-be
Life was chaotic, with belongings scattered all over the place: in two storage units in a nearby town, a stack of stuff in an empty building at the nursery, and the rest in Dan's Cabin, and I needed to return to Belize to begin the building process with my builder.  

So in May I returned to Better in Belize for a week of reconnaissance, conferences with Jorge, and to just sit (and sometimes sketch) on my building site for hours at different times of day to make sure I had planned everything correctly.
Black Orchid and frog in my yard
It was a wonderful interlude, with my dreams taking shape and focus to the accompaniment of crickets, cicadas, frogs (and a visit with a nearby tarantula clasping her egg sac).  

Mama tarantula with 2" egg sac
I had to sit outside the tarantula's entrance for more than an hour before she worked up the courage to come out this far, and the twitch of a finger sent her scrambling back inside.  I don't think I'll be afraid to live with tarantulas in the dooryard. They're real wusses.

Jorge, my Belizean builder

I was pleased to find that I liked Jorge and that we could work together as we prospected around San Ignacio, Belmopan and Spanish Lookout for building supplies and appliances, and outlined my earth bag house with spray paint on the building site.  Jorge is looking pleased in this photo because he had just rescued the orchid (by his left arm) from a fallen tree and replanted it in the hollow stump he's leaning on.

But arriving back home in Oregon,  it was time to reconvene my old life and wait for things to settle down since my house wouldn't be finished in Belize until autumn. Jorge promised to send me pictures taken  with his iPad or cellphone throughout the project. 
Lava Butte illustration

All spring and summer, while this was going on, I was also working on several illustration projects that would appear in nature centers and national forests in Oregon. I did a couple of blog entries about the making of this Lava Butte illustration, then after that I created the Benham Falls and the Benham Bridge illustrations here. 

These were all done at Daniel's Cabin, while the rest of my life swirled about in in total disarray.
Benham Falls illustration
Benham Bridge illustration


It's kind of amazing to me that anything at all could have come out of the astonishingly convoluted quagmire of my overloaded brain, but there they are.  And there was also a huge illustration (40" high) of a Ponderosa Pine which nearly ate my laptop awhile ago when I tried to convert it into a JPG so I could post it here, so it's not shown.  

JUNE  To relax my brain a bit, I drove to Idaho to visit my brother David, who helped me sort out details with regard to the change from Microsoft XP to Windows (Why did they change? XP was a GREAT operating system!), showed me how to use Skype (which will be my only telephone in my off-grid community), helped me upgrade some programs, including Quickbooks and Photoshop, with which I run my business, helped me sort out my laptop and tablet, and showed me how to download ebooks to read on a Kindle program, and just generally soothed away a lot of the angst that had been building up.  

Home in its new spot in a madrone forest
Thank goodness for a generous (and patient) brother!

In early June, Jorge informed me that my house plans had been approved. I was also moving into my new 5th Wheeler.  Dan bought and carted away a recliner and the dinette set which had crowded the interior, so I could start converting the dinette area into an office.

Next, I needed to start planning which of my belongings I wanted to take to my new home in Belize. And I needed a truck. Too much happening! My head was spinning.   

Now, this isn't the end of the story, as I've only gotten us midway through June, and here it is October, so I'll start work on the remaining bit of summer in the next blog entry.  I'm sorry I kept y'all in the dark for so long.  I just didn't have the time or energy to spend on it with all the other stuff going on.  Right now, I'm tapping my fingers while .....but more about that in the next blog entry.  

In the meantime, to assuage your disappointment about the truncated story, I offer you  this delightful little being I discovered while weeding a couple of weeks ago. The tiny jackrabbit toddler (it would fit in your cupped hands) never blinked an eye as I snapped its portrait.  I left it in peace (after about thirty seconds) to make its way in the world after The Giant left.  —Leap through life with happiness, Little Guy!

Here's a grab-bag of other entries...

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