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!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nature Sketch-Journaling, May 9-10, 2009

A new venue! The Jefferson Nature Center on Bear Creek just south of Medford, Oregon, is a lovely place for a workshop. On the weekend of May 9th, it was warm and sunny, the air was scented with lilacs and other spring flowers, and we had a wonderful time. As one of the students said on the second day: "This is a great Play-Day!" And it was.

First, I showed them how I outfit myself to go out and sketch ~ that's a picture of me unloading my sling bag. It carries my Robert Bateman sketchbook (6x9), a sitting pad, my specs, a fistful of watercolor pencils and a sharpener, mechanical pencil, kneaded eraser, ballpoint pen, my waterbrush and a wipe rag, magnifying glass, snack, and a bunch of other things as well. It's always fun to unload it for a class, as things keep coming and keep coming, like from a magician's hat. I really should put a couple of colored scarfs in there for a finale!

We started out with the right-brain warm-ups, as usual, the students producing some great "blind" contour drawings of their hands as a beginning. Contour drawings always look best with all the wrinkles, hangnails and gnarly stuff included. The results are always fun. There's no way to be critical of a drawing you did without even looking!

After that, drawing the curled oak leaf was easy, and every drawing was excellent. The women in this group are definitely candidates for my intermediate drawing class.

With no further ado, they graduated to drawing seashells, planning their drawings as journal pages, leaving space for text, title, interesting dividers and other items to be added later. They practiced some "fun font" lettering to use for titles, and soon their journal pages began to emerge.

On the first day of my journaling classes we concentrate on drawing, and on the second day we put our minds to creative writing, poetry and haiku. But I like to see what they can do on their own that first day. I was quite impressed with the output from this bunch. [Remember, you can click on any of these images to see a larger version.] Here's Tiffany's initial journaling page. Notice the bull kelp seaweed she used to set off the text from the drawing.

Usually the students stick to the assignments, but sometimes I get one who wants to go off on her own tack. Maya drew an excellent shell, then took off on a tangent to journal an imaginative lighthouse. She worked faster than the others but used her time inventively to decorate the opening pages of her journal with a Celtic knot and other imagery. I think the other students found it inspiring to watch her fearless efforts.

Since I had added a couple of ideas to this class plan, I decided to offer the students the opportunity to add some watercolor pencil color to their journal pages on this first day instead of waiting till the second day. It was an inspired idea! Simone is at work here, adding color to her shell (see above). All the journals sparkled with color in short order. Here's the first day's colored entries:

The two that have "torn" edges were actually cut with "torn edge" scissors, which give a much better control of where the edge ends up. Since Simone and Tiffany were working on single sheets instead of in journals, they cut their pages out to mount in their journals later.

On the second day, my students produced some VERY evocative creative writing, haikus and poetry. In order to not bother my students as they work on meaningful word combinations, I write in my journal, too. While they were making 4-liner poems, I did this one (which, fortunately, wasn't taken too seriously):
"My workshop students stare, intent,
Focused on their page.
If they don't write a poem right now,
I shall get enraged."

Having fun with the watercolor pencils, they did creative things with their poety and colorful borders. Then I brought out the Microfleur press (a microwave plant press), and we all went outside to select wildflowers (and tame flowers, too), grasses and leaves to press and add to our pages as ephemera. Journals can really brighten up with pressed foliage and flowers, especially when the leaves are colorful in the fall.
Here Maya loads up all kinds of small florets to decorate her page, and taking turns, everyone got a chance to try out this innovative "instant plant press" (we were mostly using 2 or 3 thirty-second nukes for each group of flowers/leaves).

We broke for lunch after an intense morning of play, enjoying the warm sunshine (perfect temperature!) at the picnic table in the Nature Center yard... then back to work arranging dried flowers, titles, haiku, poetry, writing, and colorful dividers on the pages. Students read their haiku and poems out loud, as well.

Occasionally I would shoo everyone out of their seats to go around and look at what the others were doing. In my journaling classes I encourage people to share and copy ideas from each other. If someone does something cool, it's okay for the others to try something similar out on their own page/s.

The day ended too soon for all of us, although workshops are generally so energy intensive that I'm exhausted at the end of the day. Maya's Dad took this picture of us out the side door of the Nature Center under the wisteria (did you know wisteria smells like jasmine tea?) at the end of the workshop.

Great day, great place to work, great people, great fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wildlife Sketching Basics Workshop 5/2-3/09

Oops, missed my deadline... I'd hoped to blog the Wildlife Sketching Workshop before I held last weekend's Journaling workshop, but there's too much happening. F'rinstance, I'm sitting here at my computer damp and steamy from planting my little garden in a light misting drizzle. The poor little plants were getting wimpy sitting on the kitchen counter, and a rainy day is perfect to the blogging is just now beginning while I am trying to keep warm-though-moist.

On the other hand, hopefully, I have set out my cherry, grape and yellow tomatoes before they wilted ENTIRELY away, planted basil and cilantro, salad nasturtiums and a stevia (the "sweet" plant), and tried to get my sprinkler system going. Since it's raining, it's hard to tell if I got it right, though. It's a paltry garden this year. I have been too busy to poke my nose out the door (see last week's entry. And I'm working on a new project now, too.). That's the garden, big tree pots plunked down on my steep wooded hillside with a deer fence around it to keep out the wild turkeys and deer.

At any rate, about the Wildlife Sketching Basics workshop. I taught a similar class (Raptor Sketching) a couple of years ago for the Siskiyou Field Institute, and although the evaluations from the students were good, I wasn't satisfied. I didn't have time to teach them the basics of drawing properly before they were confronted by those imposing birds.

This time I had a full day to prepare them -- and it STILL wasn't enough. I'll show you how it went, then tell you how I think I'll fix it if SFI wants to try again next year.

On Day 1 I did a version of my basic drawing class, but with the sketching exercises oriented to things they might be sketching.

The first thing to do when sketching a living, moving thing is to study it quietly before beginning to sketch. I was actually very pleased with the way they were able to begin to see how to translate what they were viewing onto the paper. Here's one of the first exercises. They only had fifteen minutes to work on this, and they applied themselves to it vigorously. (And no, we didn't draw any frogs the second day!)

Next, I showed them a number of textures which they would find useful for not only wildlife feathers and fur, but many other subjects as well.

One particular goal is to avoid a lot of erasing, which slows you down considerably, and also can frighten away your subject. So, believe it or not, I taught them to sketch with ballpoint pens. The fascinating thing about that is that after the first fright about working in ink, the students quickly become attracted to the way you can get tonal variety and quality from an ordinary ballpoint, and the fact that since you know you will be drawing without erasing, you observe much more carefully and accurately.

Above is the texture exercise, which we did in both pencil and ballpoint with almost identical results. It was an epiphany for several of the students. I think I may have produced a couple more ballpoint converts with this class.

We quit at 2:30, all of us pretty worn out with the intense effort. This workshop was held at the Deer Creek Nature Center near Selma, Oregon, and although it was threatening to rain, I went for a walk along the creek to get some research photos for a trail signage project I'm working on for them. This is the Center, looking east. If you turn around toward the west, you see the huge old trees along the creek, and the mountain rising behind it. The side of that mountain is a tilted, boggy fen, covered with cobra lilies (Darlingtonia) which eat unwary insects. We sketched those in a workshop last September.

I couldn't cross the creek to see them since the water was pretty high, but the creek banks were beautiful, covered in mosses and populated by a gorgeous endemic plant found only a few places in the world. I forgot what I was told it is, but it grows in the water, standing more than two feet tall, and has candy pink pompoms of flowers at the top of thick, hairy stems. Any ideas?

Across the hillside, in dry serpentine soil, Indian paintbrushes of orange, red, and nearly yellow, dotted the stony earth. This is a fascinating environment. But it started to rain, and it poured all night (much to my dismay, thinking of our wildlife sketching scheduled for the next day). The rain made quite a racket on the canvas roof of the Center's yurt, in which three of us were sleeping.

Day 2. With all that deluge, I didn't have high hopes for the next day, but when you're doing a workshop you have to take what comes, rain or shine. We had prepared as much as we could for the possibility of rain, and when we met at Wildlife Images, Cyndee brought an owl, a bald eagle, and a Harlan's hawk (a variety of redtailed hawk) into the nice dry classroom for us to sketch for the morning. I think the students did remarkably well for a first try. Pat's sketch of the Harlan's hawk, here, is really nice.

After our break for lunch, it wasn't raining so we went out to try to sketch cougar, bears and wolves. The grizzly bear fascinated us by clutching a sappy tree and gnawing on it (see the picture) but it all happened too quickly to draw.

The students tried valiantly to sketch, but the animals were NOT pleased with the soggy day and weren't terribly cooperative. And I think the students were a bit overwhelmed, by then. Still, Richard turned out a nice cougar drawing, particularly considering that he had to look through heavy wire fence to see it.

At 2:30, getting sprinkled on and done in, the group headed back to the classroom for close-ups of Nubs the Badger. Nubs is a hoot, reminding me a bit of a furry, low-built tank. I got some quick sketches of him (see below), but without previous experience in sketching moving things, the students weren't able to catch much of this wiggly character. I encouraged the students to take lots of digital photos to work from later, so this turned out to be more a photo session than a sketching exercise.

So here's my thinking on this workshop. While the students gave the course a general thumbs-up, and did learn a lot about drawing, they also suggested that a half-day of wildlife sketching would be plenty. The brain wears out after so much input.

They also suggested that it might be helpful to spend the morning drawing from photos of the animals they would be sketching, just to get features and shapes firmly fixed in their minds and form mental templates of each animal. Then they could draw from the live animals in the afternoon. We had done a bit of hawk template drawing the previous day, but they would like even more.

I'm also thinking that we tried to cover too much ~ and that birds alone would be plenty to challenge the students. That would also mean that we wouldn't have to depend on good weather for the class since we draw the raptors in the classroom. We could hold that workshop any time of the year instead of having to wait for warm outdoor sketching weather. Excellent!

So next time, the class will be called "Raptor Sketching Basics," and I think everyone will be pleased as punch. Me too. I can hardly wait to try again.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Watercolor Pencil/Computer Interpretive Sign

Sometimes I do illustration jobs, and at the moment I have two in the hopper, both interpretive signage for nature trails. I just finished a really interesting one which took a great deal of time ~ a section of Jeffrey pine trunk with three lichens on it. It was the third in a series, the first two being a distant view of the entire tree and a composite of bark, branch/needles, and cone.

In case you've never met a Jeffrey, it's a western pine similar to the prickly ponderosa pine, but the cones generally won't make holes in you if you play catch with them. DON'T try catching a tossed ponderosa cone!

The trunk of both is very similar: reddish, with a bark composed of layered jigsaw-shaped pieces. The bark has a sweet scent. Some say it smells like pineapple, others say it's a vanilla odor. I smelled one once and couldn't quite place the scent ~ but it was very pleasant.

At any rate, it took ages to work around all the jigsaw pieces then color them appropriately. I had a good photograph provided by the people who wanted the sign, and in order to meet the deadline I followed the shapes of the bark pieces closely (after some judicious artistic rearrangement) using my Wacom tablet and a stylus. To envision and create the shapes from scratch would have taken forever. Click on an image to see a larger version.

The first image (above) is the first run at the flaky bark, the original photo I was working from, the selection of watercolor pencils I chose to color it, and my waterbrush with the water in the barrel. My drawing is on the left and that's the photo on the right.

When I had the outline finished, I printed out the b/w image to paint. I needed to work large since it's a large sign, so I separated the original illustration into two sections and printed them on two sheets of heavy, slightly toothed paper that I knew would take the moisture required by the watercolor pencils.

I was working out on the deck to enjoy the warm spring sunshine, so I taped a plastic dish to my masonite drawing board to hold the pencils so they wouldn't slide when I tilted the board on my lap. In the second image, with the photo on the left, I've started applying the color to the b/w image on the right. It looks a bit faded in the bright sunshine. I'm leaving unpainted the areas where the lichens will go.

The third image (above) shows the drawing taking shape and color. The photo is still on the left here, and while I'm using the reference fairly closely, I am taking some artistic license with the color and details.

In the next image you can see all the parts and pieces. The two-part illustration is on the left. The lichen illustrations will be layered into place after I blend the two parts together in Photoshop.

There is a slight overlap of the two bark sections, but since they're hand-painted, the two aren't exactly the same. The solution to join them seamlessly is to layer them into perfect place then use the eraser on 1% to remove the top layer until they blend. It works amazingly well, the joining being invisible when finished.

The photo is on the right in this composite. Down at lower left is a printout of my original drawing, showing a red outline where I planned to put the lichens ~ I didn't want to waste time and energy drawing or painting the area behind them.

At this point, I scanned the painted bark illustrations back into Photoshop to blend the two pieces together, add the lichens, and tweak the shading.

And the final image is a detail of the finished illustration. I darkened the fissures between the bark slabs to visually deepen them, using the "burn" tool in Photoshop CS2. I also used the burn tool to darken the right side, to make the bark appear to recede as it goes around the cylinder of the trunk. I also darkened a shadow below each lichen.

I'm pretty happy with this combination of design, handwork, watercolor pencil coloring, and computer blending. It took a long time, but the results were well worthwhile.

The more practice I get with the watercolor pencils and waterbrush, the more I like them. It also gives me a better handle on presenting watercolor pencil painting to my workshop students.


BTW, I taught my new Wildlife Sketching class last weekend. It was quite a ride. I'll try to get at that before this next weekend because I have another journaling workshop on the 9th and I'm trying to keep my ducks in a row! Wish me luck!

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

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