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!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Short Foray Into Brazil

In Petropolis with Johann and Alessandra
My journey to Brazil in December of 2013 was sort of accidental.  I'd been having coffee with my friends Johann and Alessandra when they passed through my little hometown of Talent, Oregon, when they mentioned that they were planning to go home to Brazil, in the mountains just north of Rio de Janeiro, for Christmas.  

Wearing funny hats, Christmas Eve
I think I said something wistful like "well, if you decide you want company for Christmas, I'd love to come...," and forgot all about it until Alessandra's email arrived inviting me to do that very thing!    
A magical tree fern, 15' tall
So there I was, a few days before Christmas, welcomed into a lovely Brazilian family celebration, in a truly exotic and fascinating country I'd always wanted to visit!

Does this look ominous to you?
a gorgeous butterfly laying eggs
Of course, I had taken my sketchbook, so all of my time not spent in family doings was dedicated to wandering up and down the lane flanked on either side by dense jungle-ish vegetation, filled with marvels like tree ferns, peculiar plants resembling venus flytraps (but with no moving parts), gorgeous butterflies—one I photographed was laying eggs, ferns that resembled octopi (or octopuses, if you prefer), and any number of other wonders. My mouth hung open in amazement a good deal of the time. 
Since it was still the rainy season in Brazil, I also spent some time on the veranda with my sketchbook (and in a hammock, I admit), trying to do justice to the marvels all around me with drawings and paintings in my sketchbook.   
The ultimate "picture window!"
As in other tropical countries I've visited, the house was open to the outdoors, and much of the family's time is spent in an open room next to the kitchen, sort of a combination veranda and lanai opening onto a little walled garden. It's one of the most "scenic" window views I've ever encountered.

Even when it was raining, this "wallpaper" was enchanting.  I just loved sitting there watching the birds who came to eat bits of fruit scraps the family put out for them. 
I love to sketch in a hammock
Sometimes I even disciplined myself to draw. Frequently on my forays up the lane, I was dodging raindrops or scrunched under densely-leafed trees waiting for the weather to clear and trying to protect the sketchbook page as I drew.  That's not really conducive to finishing a sketch in any detail!
Fortunately, I've discovered that drawing in a hammock can be very comfortable provided I can find a pillow or two to prop myself up in a relatively erect position. I got some nice sketches from that hammock.
Rainy afternoon sketching session.
 Unfortunately, my sketchbook for that marvelous interlude is buried in storage, so I can't share my drawings/paintings of this fantastic trip—but more about THAT later!  
(Actually, I really should have posted this entry before I posted the previous Belize one, since it happened before. But that didn't happen, so you're stuck with this out-of-sequence tale.)

Meet Mr. Toad!
A giant toad came to visit numerous times while I was there, often after dark. I took photos of it, hoping to sketch from the view finder, which I find an invaluable tool. In fact, I've made it a habit to always photograph things as I'm sketching so that I can add details or color later when I am in more comfortable sketching/painting circumstances. 
A "vegetarian" octopus...fern, that is!

So, while I haven't yet actually sketched the toad, I can, one of these days when I have some spare time, sit down with my sketchbook and camera (or maybe I'll actually print out my photo) and add that marvelous 6" toad to my sketchbook.

An ornate cathedral in Petropolis
Alessandra, Johann and I spent most of one day in the nearby historic town of Petropolis, the former Summer Palace of the second Brazilian emperor, with its fascinating buildings and places to marvel over. I'm not a connoisseur of historical buildings, but I found Petropolis charming and quite interesting. 
Marmoset feeding on sap.
Of course, with my natural history leanings, I thought the little marmosets roaming the grounds of the Imperial Palace were fully as interesting as the more human-oriented structures for which the town is famous. 

Cashew fruits au naturel
I think the family was amused at some of the things I found fascinating, since to them, they're everyday items. For instance, I was intrigued by the cashew fruits sold in the supermarket in little styrofoam packages covered with a clear film, exactly the way tomatoes are marketed in Oregon. 
View from Johann's balcony
With cashews, you have a choice—eat the sweet fruit you see here and trash the nut, or forego eating the fruit, leave it on the tree, and let the nut ripen. The fruit is pretty tasty, actually.  There's a great article about the cashew fruit/nut here.

I also thought the mountains were astonishing. Many of them rise like perfect volcanoes (although they're not), and the sides of many are solid, nearly vertical, basalt (I think), with bromeliads growing out of them like hairy moles. 
Bromeliads dot these near vertical slopes.
I was never able to examine them close up (we only drove past these monoliths in the car) but I'd love to spend some time exploring these steep mountainsides!
This is a MUSHROOM?
During my stay, Alessandra and I encountered this brilliant red mushroom which we mistook for a piece of plastic rubbish at first.  I's so outlandish! 

The day after Christmas, it was time for me to leave, as NOW I was headed for Belize to scope out the possibilities of buying some land in the lovely Better In Belize Eco-community I had been exploring online.  But before I leave this post, I want to show you some of the more interesting/beautiful things I encountered in those Brazilian mountains just before Christmas.

A lovely cream-colored, sculptured 8" wasp nest

I needed a good plant ID book, but never found one. What is this?
AHA! My brother David sez it's  Hamelia patens
Common names: Firebush, Mexican firebush, firecracker shrub, scarlet bush

This 3" caterpillar must morph into a LARGE butterfly or moth.

An inch long, this is the biggest leaf hopper I've ever seen!

There were lots of cecropia trees all around the house and mountains.

Even the lichens on the trees were beautiful.
My flight, leaving from Rio, would dog-leg me through Newark, New Jersey before depositing me in Belize City some thirty hours later, so it was a marathon event—but very much worth my time since it catapulted me into the next frame of my odyssey.  (okay, now go back and re-read the post before this one ;o}.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Big Moves

Did you think I'd bought the farm, kicked the bucket, keeled over, whatever euphemism you care to attach to leaving life behind?  Not.  In actuality, I have been on an amazing odyssey from hither to yon and back again, and today, with a little Memorial Day Weekend time on my hands, I sat down to tell you all about it...only to discover I had already started to blog it some time back, then apparently forgot to post it.  Aughhhh!  I think I was waiting for photos, and when I didn't have time to prepare them I checked out of the blog and never made it back. A bit symbolic of my suddenly changed life. 

An astonishing number of things have happened since January, but I think I'll just start with this old post and try to fill in the rest of the story in a following post or two. Maybe someday I'll get caught up. I'm pretty sure the draft below was written sometime in late February.  Here goes:


Near Macal Bank lodge
Some gigantic things have been happening in my life since I last wrote, and they're ongoing even as I write.

I went to Belize again in December to stay again at Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge. I first went there two years ago, and ever since I had been poring over maps of Belize and reading forums  posted by people who live in that area, and wondering how I could make it work to go live there because, to be perfectly frank, I sincerely dislike cold weather.  But I love it here in Oregon in the summer, and I love all my friends and neighbors, and it didn't want to make an ill-considered leap into the unknown.

So I arranged for a realtor and builder from Better In Belize, an
The permaculture garden at Better in Belize
eco-community just a few miles from the lodge, to come pick me up for a visit. Here's how they describe it on their webpage:  "Better In Belize is committed to low-impact development practices and has developed plans to enhance this exquisite, natural environment and protect the remaining intact ecosystems in perpetuity."   Now, that sounds like just my cuppa tea!

And when I visited, I was charmed. The area is very similar to the jungle I'd been exploring downstream— same river, parrots, iguanas and oropendulas (my favorite bird at the moment— listen to it here . Imagine waking up to THAT!). There was the same incredible lush green growth all around, positively balmy and moist air (all my wrinkles went away and I looked ten years younger!) and the people living there were very welcoming.  I absolutely loved it, even though it rained the entire time I was there. 
Building under a tarp in the rainy season

On the way back to my lodge I talked with the builder, Jorge, who was accompanying me on my tour, about what I might build.  He suggested that I go for an earth-bag home with a metal roof and tank to collect rainwater for household use, a solar array, and composting toilet, plus a propane refrigerator and water heater, because this settlement is entirely off the grid. All for much less that it would cost in Oregon.
Jungle vegetation is rampant

And the community is serious about the environment: For starters, if you cut down a tree on your property, you have to plant five native seedlings either there or elsewhere in the community. There are other strict rules in the covenant, designed to keep the settlement environmentally friendly and green. So green, in fact, that you can pass right by someone's house and barely notice it because it must be behind a 10' natural vegetative barrier. Love it!

And to make a long story short, I am in the process of buying about half an acre within sight (well, almost) of an unexcavated Mayan ruin, which is right in the center of the community.  I can hardly wait to get to my new plot of rain forest and start my house. 
Riverbank tapir tracks

If you've never heard of earth bag houses before you're not alone.  Here is a link to find out more about them—they're cool.  Literally.  Especially in the tropics.  The walls are 18" thick, which is the ideal width to foil sunshine all day but keep the house cool inside, then radiate warmth into the house at night.  Since my new home will be in the Maya Mountains, where it can be a bit chilly at night, that will be absolutely perfect. Mine will not have a beehive shape but regular vertical walls topped by the metal roof for rainwater catchment. 

I'm hoping to spend some time sketching every day like I did on my Oregon
An owl butterfly subject
hillside a couple of years ago. If I do, my journal may look like this, only with tropical subjects: thorny palms, frogs and iguanas, cacao nuts, pineapples (from the permaculture gardens there), toucans and oropendulas, etc.A teaching center is planned for there, as well, which I would like to be involved with.  Sounds perfect for me.  

  • The learning annex may include tropical rainforest preservation; sustainable land management; enhancing wildlife cover and nesting areas; developing trails and study areas; learning and preserving through the landscape of a rainforest; raising awareness and understanding of the interconnected nature of the rainforest and the world; energy and water conservation; propagating native plants; use of plants for food, drink and herbal medicine; and fair trade agricultural initiatives.
fresh produce in a roadside market
And, so, my friends, as you can see, big changes for me. I've leapt off the "path well-traveled" and struck off through the jungle! Stay tuned!

[and now, back to the present, May 25:  Big changes indeed, and much more than I mentioned in this post, because they hadn't happened yet.  I'll try to post more this week. Actually, I might tell you about my short foray into Brazil at Christmas, just before I went to Belize.] 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Step-by-step Watercolor Pencil Painting Part II

Okay, so in my last post I mentioned that I had hit the proverbial wall on part of the painting of Lava Butte. 
I toyed around with trying to turn the highly stylized jaggedy lines I had made to indicate trees into what they should look like.  In #20 here you can see where I practiced on an extra printout I had made for this purpose—it has the identical b/w drawing and is printed on the same paper stock so my results would be the same—but what I had simply didn't look like a sparse ponderosa forest.

After a day of thought on the knotty subject, I realized there was no way to make it work using what was on the paper. It needed to look more like #24, at right.  
I was going to have to turn my illustration into a computer composite of two separate paintings—a background and a foreground—since there was no way to remove the stylized trees from the already painted part.  Fortunately the edge of the lava flow and the forest made an easy transition point.
#20 is a photo of my desk and one of the photo images I was using as a reference on my laptop screen.  (I'd show a better copy of the scene, but it isn't my photo and I don't have permission to use it on the blog.  I don't think anyone would object to this small representation, though).  
This is the size the illustration will appear on the trailhead sign, by the way.  It's printed out on an 8½"x11" sheet of heavy paper.  
To guide me in where to draw the new trees, I held the painting up on my glass door so the light would come through it, placed the fresh sheet in front of it, and very lightly sketched the outline that needed filling in with trees on the new sheet.
#22 shows the original unworkable stylized forest above and my solution to the illustration challenge below.  Every tree has been drawn within the forest outline and given a tiny little trunk. They were drawn very quickly, though, because this isn't a highly detailed picture, and it only took about half an hour to complete the outlines of all those tiny trees.
Before I would go any further, I wanted to practice drawing the  earth between the sparse trees. Using the yellow ochre and cinnamon I had designated in my rough palette originally,  I carelessly stroked the pencil lines vertically, which would not correctly interpret flat earth.  Like flat, calm water, which must always be stroked horizontally, I realized I would have to stroke all that area between the trees horizontally.  I was glad I had not just started out on the actual artwork.
Using #24 (at the beginning of this post) as a guide, I made the trees cadmium yellow lemon on the side catching the light, and cedar green on the shadow side. Each tree would need a shadow on the ground, also, and I experimented with caput mortuum and black in #26, but the caput mortuum made the earth appear too reddish, so I decided to go with black on my final illustration.  

Finally, in #27, you see the trees pretty much as they appear on the final illustration. Now I needed to fill in the earth  and make the shadows.   
On my practice sheet I tried out some black shadows, but they looked way too harsh, so instead, beside each tree I put a little lozenge of warm gray deep. Better! Now the trees looked ready to join via my computer graphics program into one picture.
Scanning the two illustrations into my program, I enlarged the lava butte canvas at the bottom, and pasted the trees from the other file onto a new layer, cutting and erasing away most of the white along the treeline.  Now I could see that the trees were a bit gaudy-looking, being too yellow, so I calmed the tree layer down until it more closely matched the feeling of the lava layer.   The tree layer needed to be smoothly integrated with the lava edge because I could see white outlines where I had roughly removed the white background behind the trees.
The best way to do that was to put a temporary black layer behind the trees to make them stand out, then go in with a small eraser tool and erase out around the trees.  In the image with the black background, I have finished the trees on the left half.  
Once the trees were cleaned up, I got rid of the black layer and smoothed the lava on the lava layer with the clone tool to make sure it flowed nicely behind the trees.  
To give the lava layer some thickness, I darkened the edge where it meets the trees, using the burn tool. 
Look closely at the sky in the image above. As I predicted in the previous post, that color of turquoise blue turned granular during the scan, so I knew I'd have to repaint the sky in the graphics program. 
To do this, I dabbed the color picker in a "good" spot on the sky to select that color, made a very large brush, and painted in the sky a solid turquoise blue.  With a small brush, I went in closer and made sure the sky joined to the horizon smoothly. And finally, with a large eraser tool set very low, I smoothed out the edges of the sky to blend them out to nothing.
Then off it went via email for its debut with the client.
They liked it, with a couple of requests. 
1.  they wanted the sky to be light on the horizon deepening to the deep blue you see in the high desert, making it higher and giving the entire image a more more square ratio.  
2. they wanted the lava butte to be the same color as the lava, and they felt it should be darker.
All of the photos I had referenced showed the butte ALL different colors, depending on how the sun hit it, but I knew it should be roughly the color of the lava.  Still, wanting to get the picture a little more colorful I had put a little caput mortuum into the mix.  My bad.  
The cinder cone first: With the sponge tool set very low so I could work gradually, I desaturated (removed the color) from the black of the cone, being careful not to desaturate the trees, too. Then, with the burn tool set on "highlights" at a very low setting, I gradually darkened the shadow side of the cone, working around the cone carefully to make a smooth transition.  The two fixes only required about half an hour of work, and I was perfectly happy to make them.  Then I sent it off to them (a small JPG through email—the larger TIF file will later be uploaded to the server).
They liked the changes (I did, too, especially the sky), and requested one more: Could the sky be given "corners" to better fit the space on the sign? Sure!  Not problem: working on a copy of the original (just in case I muffed it), and using the clone tool with a very large brush, I cloned the center of the sky, and pulling down a horizontal guideline I simply ran the clone tool to each side along the level line until the entire sky was the height of the center, squaring it off nicely.  I used a large eraser set on very low again to blend off the edges, and sent it back again for approval.

And here it is, the finished watercolor pencil painting, ready to go on the trailhead sign..  
I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt through a watercolor pencil step-by-step tutorial.

And yes, that sky IS a realistic color, and in fact I've seen it an even darker blue.  
In the Oregon High Desert country there isn't a lot of pollution to get between you and the sky. 


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Step-by-step Watercolor Pencil Painting of Lava Butte

Dang!  Sidetracked again. I HAVE been working on the re-edit of Illustrating Nature, and in fact I have worked my way mostly through it (still have to rewrite the computer chapter) but I had to stop and work on illustrations for interpretive trailhead signs I had previously contracted for.  

That's not to say I'm not enjoying working on the trailhead sign art—just that it's not what I said I'd be doing right now.. The reworking of Illustrating Nature is going great, and I'm thinking it might go to press in February or so. At right is one of the many illustrations I've added—this one to show how a bird's bill opens. The hinge is actually behind the eye, not at the edge of the opening as you might think....

 In the meantime, I thought I'd give you a peek at the watercolor pencil painting process I've been working through on the trailhead signs. 

I was keeping track of the steps because I wasn't sure I was on the right track with it, and if I did something good I wanted to be able to repeat it. So every time I added a new color I took a snapshot of it with my little digital camera (I know, I know, everybody else uses their cellphone, but being a troglodyte, I don't have one). 

Anyway, as I was working along it dawned on me that I have been letting y'all down by not posting in so long.
So herewith, I post my work process on Lava Butte, a small volcanic cone just south of Bend, Oregon.  It's quite a fascinating place, with the cone jutting up out of the earth, and its lava flow that covers the ground like cake dough, the rough black cindery edges dropping off suddenly to powdery yellowish soil (originally just ash, if I remember correctly) sparsely covered with pine trees.  

For each step, I wrote down on a little slip of paper the name of the watercolor pencil I was using, and placed it next to the area I just worked on. So in photo #1, the slip of paper reads "caput mortuum," which is the name of that pencil.  
To digress slightly...the "ink drawing" is a highly contrasted pencil drawing I scanned into Photoshop then printed out on heavy paper that would take the pencil well, then let me add water to blend it without buckling or disintegrating. 

So in #2, I have penciled over the caput mortuum with gunmetal gray.  I have used the watercolor pencils fairly lightly because while you can always add more, you can't remove color very well.
Warning ~ if you have ever tried to photograph artwork (except in well-controlled lighting circumstances, you'll know that I had to do quite a bit of work to lighten these and get reasonably faithful colors. I was working under diffuse sunlight coming through the window and fluorescent lights, and while the images looked great on my camera view screen they were a LOT darker when I uploaded them into the computer.  You can see in that dark image after #4, what it looked like before I tweaked it.
In #3, you'll see the little slip of paper that said "painted."  

By that I mean that I blended the colors with my waterbrush to get the color you see there. In case you aren't familiar with the waterbrush, I blogged about it a little here

#4. I've begun to work on the orangey cinders found within the mouth of the cone.  I'm using terra cotta and a bit of caput mortuum in the shadow areas, and in #5 I waterbrushed again.

#6. When working with watercolor pencil paintings, you must wait to let things dry before adding more color to an area, or you will get uneven and blotchy color.  So while the inside of the cinder cone was drying, I added more pencil to the outside of the cone. While THAT was drying, I penciled in some turquoise blue sky.

#7. Turquoise blue can be a real problem.  When you scan that particular color into a graphics program, it often becomes granular or parts of it drop out entirely. This might just be my scanner or graphics program, but it's been a problem I've had  to work around.  
I left out #8, because my tweaking couldn't get it even close to the others.

In #9, I started on the far-away mountain and the trees.  When green trees, such as the ones in the forest and flanking the mountain, are this far away, the atmosphere comes between the viewer and the green of the trees, getting bluer the farther away they are.  By the time the trees get to the mountain here, I can duplicate the color with the cobalt blue-greenish watercolor pencil. 

#11 (there isn't a #10) I added juniper green to the nearer trees, with a bit of the cobalt blue-greenish in diminishing amounts the closer it gets.  I then painted the further-off trees, and when they were dry I went back over the blue with the juniper green and a little turquoise blue just to get the colors nicely blended and matched a little better with the sky.   The juniper green in #12 has just been penciled in here, and it's ready to be painted.
Up to this point, the picture has not been very encouraging to look at. I keep wondering if this is going to work.  But now, with the forest coming along, it's starting to appear the way it should.

You'd think by now I'd have a little more confidence, but I'm afraid it never seems to get any better.  Sheesh!
If you click on the close-up here you can really get into the details of the pencil and brushwork.

With #13, I have waterbrushed the far forest and the closer parts, adding deeper color when it dried, then wetting it again.  

Painting with watercolor pencils is an additive sort of thing, and while one part is drying another part can be added to and darkened.  The paper I use dries quickly, so if I work on a different area for a just a few minutes, when I come back the original area is dry.

In #13, I've penciled on some color, but now I have to start using a different technique since there are some tiny trees on the flanks of the cinder slope that I want to make green.  With the brush tip I pull color off the end of the juniper green pencil and apply it to the little green trees.  This gives me much more precise aim than trying to get into the spot once with the pencil point to lay down color then again with the brush to wet it in. Additionally, I can get a nice intense color on the brush by dabbing repeatedly at the pencil, so it only takes one application of color.
In #14, the last one I've got ready for today (the painting is finished now and sent off to the client, but I only had time to tweak the first half of the photos), I've painted in the juniper green trees on the sides of Lava Butte, and deepened the cinder color within the cone.  

My next step will be to tackle the lava flow that comes up to the foot of the cone, and the foreground of trees and ashy soil they're growing in.  

The last image here is the rough I sent to the client along with the color palette I expected to use on various parts of the picture.  I have worked with this client before and she trusts me to do things right, so this minimalist rough worked for us.  Usually, at least part of the work would need to be colored in for the client.  

Although the client had approved the rough, I was very aware that the forest in the foreground was NOT well represented—I couldn't see how I could make it translate to how this area actually looks, and I had already put the painting off longer than I should because I was trying to work out the solution in my mind.  
The dead black of the lava troubled me, as well, because it's not considered the sign of a good artist to use a lot of black in a painting, but, well, lava is dead black....

So I took a day off to ponder further at this point, then got back to work.  More in the next post.
I hope you'll come back to see the rest of the story! 

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

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