Native Haven Oasis – Watercolor

native plants for insects

Fake vs Real.
Modified vs Natural
Beautiful vs Functional

I started to think about these things.
I’ve spoken about my native garden on this blog several times. Every morning that I do not have to work, I sit on the front porch with a cup of coffee or tea and watch the activity in the native garden.

Now, native gardens can look messy. I’ve tried to incorporate plants that will bloom in each season for color, attractiveness, and food for native insects. Sometimes the flowers are inconspicuous and barely noticeable, so I also planted some non-native flowers in containers. The flowers I chose were the Wave Petunias in yellow and pink.

Then I sat back and watched.

While the Wave Petunias are showy and demand your attention, they offer little to insects in my area. No insects visit the genetically modified flowers when I’m sitting outside. But the native flowers are teaming with action. You can watch at any time of the day and in a few minutes I can guarantee you’ll see a pollinator visit a native plant.

Some may think….Well, good. I don’t want insects around. I’ll stick to my non-natives.

But insects are near the base of our food chain. They pollinate plants, feed animals, etc. And they’re rapidly dwindling in numbers over the last few decades. Right now drones are being produced to help pollinate plants because humans could not possibly hand pollinate as quickly and efficiently as insects.

I’m not against Wave Petunias, I bought them myself. But the native plants are so important. I wish they had the same popularity as the GMO plants. Maybe consider planting a native alongside a non-native? Even if it’s in a container! It can help so many native insects!

Winsome Weevil – Watercolor

weevil watercolor sketch

I know weevils can be troublesome. They eat plants and can even infest homes…but that snout…it’s so darn cute!

Side view rhubarb weevil
Top view rhubarb weevil

This rhubarb weevil (Lixus concavus) appears to be yellow, however that’s just a powdery coat which can be rubbed off. Underneath is a brown beetle. From the picture, it seems as if it has bored a hole into the stem where it will lay an egg.

I encountered this one on a nearby bike trail. I just love that snout!

That Pine Smell Though – watercolor

Scrub Pine watercolor sketch

Saturated.
The air was so.
Soaked with a thick and glorious pine aroma.
I swam in it.

Soft was the carpet of pine needles.
I settled on it.

Serene was the light filtering through…
Shadows dancing.
I was swooned by it.

Scrub pine.

Potable Painter watercolor field kit fits on leg

I was very excited to try my new toy, the Portable Painter (this is not sponsored, btw). It’s a compact mini watercolor field kit that fits on your leg. It has two water containers that slide on the sides of the kit. The water containers fit perfectly on your thigh. This is great because one of the challenges when painting in the field is trying to hold everything in one hand while painting with the other hand. I was laying on the ground with it on my leg, but you can also sit on a camping chair with it. Convenient!

The kit does not come with watercolors, so you’ll need to fill the pans from your own watercolor tube paints and allow them to harden for 24 hours at least.

Portable Painter stands on its own

It also stands on its own quite well.

Scrub Pine photo

This scub pine (Pinus virginiana), is amongst many other pine species, which contributed to that wonderful prominent pine scent.

Pine cone ink close up

I found one of its cones still attached to a branch and decided to make an ink detail. I like its spiky tips. I’m spiky, but only in the morning.

Get outside my friends, and explore nature. The time is perfect.

Spring Sketch at Willoway Brook -watercolor and video

Sketch of Willoway Brook at Morton Arboretum

I would say that springtime in the Chicagoland area has been phenomenal this year. Around here, we usually go from winter directly into summer. Or spring teases us with a few nice days, then we’re bombarded with humid, hot weather. Not so for 2021. It seems as if March and April were mild, and May so far is beautiful too.

So I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and go to the Morton Arboretum to sketch one of my favorite streams, Willoway Brook. This location has wonderful memories for me because when my son was small, I took him to this waterway to collect aquatic organisms to inspect under a toy magnifying glass. How excited he was when he identified squirming life right in his aquatic insect kit!

Fast forward 20 years and he now creates music for my videos.

Enjoy this 2 minute video of some highlights at the Morton Arboretum and watch a watercolor sketch of Willoway Brook come to life!

Video of Willoway Brook watercolor sketch coming to life.
Photo of Willoway Brook

And remember when things get tough in life…..

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8

Bobble Head Baby Bubo watercolor

Watercolor of baby and momma great horned owl
Mom and Baby Bubo

First, I am sorry I have been away for soooooo long. I just finished an overwhelming semester at school of 5 classes and by the grace of God, I passed chemistry (which almost did me in, btw). Secondly, and unrelated, can you pray for my Mom, she is sick with Covid and I’m very concerned. Much appreciated.

Today’s post is the epitome of spring. New birth. A fuzzy ball of cuteness is this baby great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) with its mother, who lovingly preens it. My very talented cousin and photographer, Jackie Novak, took the video below of the couple. This was filmed in Indiana about 2 weeks ago. As you can see, the baby bobbles its head at the 1:32 mark. What it’s doing is trying to listen to something. This behavior is called triangulation. Great horned owls look as if they have great big ears on the top of their head, however, those are just feathers in an effort to make them look larger. Their ears are small holes asymmetrically located to the side and a little lower than the eyes. When owls move their heads in a triangular pattern, they are honing in on where the sound is coming from. Imagine that their head is a great big satellite dish and they’re locking into the orientation of sound.

Jackie Novak’s video of baby and momma
close-up of baby and momma great horned owls
Puffy Baby Close-up

Don’t they just melt your heart?!?

Have a wonderful day my nature and art friends! ❤
Glad to be back.

Infected Pines Watercolor

3 Infected Pines
watercolor in a cold press sketchbook

Sometimes nature is not always beautiful. It has as we perceive them, imperfections. One day, I noticed young red pines (Pinus resinosa) in a nearby park that had brown patches all along the bottom perimeter of each tree. I did not pay much attention nor give the situation importance. But then, I noticed that every red pine along my 50 minute commute to school had the very same problem. Every very last one of them. Suddenly the tiny issue at the park took a much greater significance.

I’ve heard it could be a fungus. I don’t want to pinpoint what the problem is because I’m not completely sure. When contemplating how many pines are involved, I began to worry. But then I remembered the question a young summer camp attendee once asked me as we were hiking in the woods. She noticed a dying tree and asked, ” Why don’t we just cut it down?”

This response is so human. The tree is imperfect…why don’t we get rid of it? What value does it have? It’s not serving me, so let’s do away with it.

I began to describe the plethora of wildlife that depends on dying and dead trees. From birds to beetles to worms to microscopic organisms to fungi and eventually to the soil itself. The next generation of new plant growth needs the minerals from this dying organism.

So what exactly is imperfection?

One of my favorite verses of all times:
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the LORD.
Isaiah 55:8

So, could it be that everything has a purpose? Who knows, maybe in the future if thousands of these pines succumb to a dismal fate, many organisms will be, at that time, in need no longer. So be it.

Nature is beautiful the way it is. And I do believe there is a plan. One in which, thank goodness, I don’t have to be in control of.

winter pines as night descends watercolor

Night Descends #1
watercolor on Arches cold pressed 140lb block

Winter is one of the most beautiful seasons in existence. Not for flashy obvious reasons like autumn’s bold colors, but for very subtle quiet reasons which must be sought. One of my favorite aspect of winter is that dramatic twilight sky…the one that changes second by second. When you find yourself under a winter twilight sky, don’t move, watch the colors melt and grow dark until night takes over. Try to do this in silence with no distractions like the cellphone, television, or radio. It truly is a sacred moment.

This tiny watercolor (3.5 x 5″) looks like a pine under the Northern Lights. I’ve never seen the Northern Lights in person. What a blessing that would be if I could one day! Wow!
The paper I used (Arches cold press block) has a lot of texture. I was surprised at how much I liked it. With these two paintings, I experimented with a wet on wet sky. It really made the transition between colors smooth.

Night Descends #2
watercolor on Arches cold pressed 140lb block

The texture of the paper is really visible in this painting. I held the painting vertical so that gravity could pull the dark blue sky and make it “fall” down. It almost looks like sheets of rain. While the sky was wet, I painted some distant pines which made them out of focus…perfect for distant pines.

Let’s embrace the beauty of winter even if the moment is fleeting. I hope you find yourself under a dramatic twilight winter sky soon.

May God bless and protect you in 2021,
Christine

The Greatest Love Story

Oscar and Griffin (my dogs), Niles and Vinny (my cats), all have different personalities. Each one is distinctly unique. But they all have one thing in common…their need for love. Even Niles, the anti-social cat, needs love in his own good time.

Every morning we sit together (except for Niles) on the living room couch as I sip my tea or coffee. We stare out the window and watch Canada geese feed across the field. I take the time to pet each one of my animals and tell them I love them individually.

When one of them is getting attention the others seem jealous, especially Vinny, who sometimes interrupts me by throwing his body on me and shoving his head in my face so that I can kiss him.

What is this power – love?

The Word states that God is love. (1 John 4:16)

That means every being, human and non, yearns for God without even knowing it.

As I contemplated the idea that God is love, I literally read about it a few moments later in John, chapter 10, The Good Shepherd.

Jesus talks about the role of a shepherd. He states that if a hireling (someone paid to watch sheep) encounters a wolf he will run away, because he’s afraid of the wolf and he really doesn’t care about the sheep. But the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

I think to myself, we are the sheep and He is the Shepherd.

Jesus goes on to say that He doesn’t have to lay down his life…nobody can take it from Him, He willingly gives it up for His sheep. And this pleased God.

Why?

To cover a multitude of sins.
Not just for Christians, or Jews, or any particular race, but for the world…

It says that He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we may become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21) This makes us pure to God, not of our own works or ways, but because of what Jesus has done.

True love.
And a free gift.

As I write this Vinny is strewn across my writing arm and pressed up against my chest. I can feel him breathing and he must feel me breath too. He is content and happy being as close to me as possible.

This need for love, which every creature possesses, played out on a cross 2 millennia ago, as blood must have dripped down this cross by a Shepherd willing to lay down His life for His sheep.

Today it’s a derogatory remark to call people sheep. I hear it a lot when one wants to convey that people are blindly following someone or something. I smile when I hear this. I remember Jesus said, “When he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him for they know his voice.” (John 10:4)
I hear and I will follow.

May you hear His voice and begin to understand this love story which was orchestrated for you.
Amen

Let’s Paint a wondrous winter sunset

Have you ever seen a winter sunset so gorgeous that it left you breathless? Just for a second? One particular sunset did just that as I drove home the other day. I held my breath as I admired all of the colors in the sky, for I know how quickly the sky changes from minute to minute.

What stuck me was this thin layer of deep red in between tree trunks in the distance. It was mesmerizing.

Hey! Do you want to learn how to paint this wondrous winter sunset using watercolors in 10 easy steps?

Let’s get started!

Step 1: Draw an outline. The sky is my focal point in this watercolor painting, so the horizon is 2/3rd the way down. For some reason, I really like a slanted horizon instead of a flat horizon. Maybe it’s because I’m from the most flat state in the US: Illinois!

After you draw your sketch out, wet the sky with clean water.

Step 2: While your sky is wet but not so wet that the paper is shiny, take a large flat brush and paint a few sections of yellow sky, then go around the yellow with a blue/gray mixture of paint. Do not touch the yellow paint with your brush when applying the blue/gray mixture or the colors will mix.

Step 3: Paint a red horizon. Next, paint another layer of the blue/gray mixture just above the red horizon and above the yellow patches in the sky. This will dry much lighter, so don’t be afraid of how dark it looks.

Step 4: Take some turquoise or viridian green paint and add some color to the snow. Don’t cover all of the snow, leave some pure white paper showing. I love viridian green, by the way, it’s such a good winter color!

Step 5: Using a thin flat brush and some blue/brown paint, paint many tree trunks in distance right above the snowy horizon. Don’t worry if they do not look perfect. It does not matter.

Step 6: Using a thin rigger brush, paint some branches. This too does not have to be perfect. Most of it will be covered anyway.

Step 7: Using a small round brush, paint some foliage on the trees. These could be young oaks which hold on to their dried leaves all season long.

Step 8: While the oak trees are still wet, take a cloth towel or paper towel and blot up some paint, by pressing on the paper lightly. This step gives dimension and a little bit of mystery in the background.

close up of blotting with cloth towel

Step 9: Paint in your tree using dark colors such as: blue, purple, and brown. Don’t worry about covering every single line you made in your sketch at the beginning. Add extra branches if you want or add less. Have fun and stay loose.

Step 10 Final: Here comes the exciting part! Add a little magic snow! I used permanent white gouache paint, saturated my brush, and spattered some falling snow by tapping my paintbrush on another paintbrush. Next I painted some accumulating snow on the branches of my tree.

I hope you enjoyed this free step by step demonstration on how to paint a winter sunset using watercolors. This painting doesn’t take a long time, especially if you keep it small. You can do it! My painting was only 3.5×5″ and I’m using it for a Christmas card.

May you have a wonderful Christmas and Happy Holidays. May your 2021 be much better than 2020!

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 6:23

When snow turns to rain – watercolor

winter watercolor of tree and field

It is a spiritual thing to walk in the woods while it rains. You are alone with your thoughts, the drops echoing under your hood, and the Lord walks by your side…

The other day I awoke to a fresh blanket of snow on the ground. I never tire of that happy childlike feeling I get as I open the curtains and gasp in awe. I knew I had to get to the woods before it melted because the rain was coming.

The rain saturates leaves on the ground giving them a distinct earthy aroma. Rain keeps most visitors away, encouraging wildlife to come out. Rain also makes designs on the snow as it’s melting it, sort of like pockmarks. I love walking in the rain after snow.

winter landscape
Winter landscape. Part of the DuPage Forest Preserves.

This photo was the inspiration for the watercolor. The ground was quickly being exposed. I snapped the photo and painted at home.

Hopefully you can get out and enjoy the season…even if you can’t walk about, just sitting in your car in nature can help.