Monthly Archives: February 2009

Of Nature Real and Manipulated

My love affair with nature will never end. I often think, “What will I do if my vision fails me as I age? Will I fall out of love?”
I think not.

You see thankfully nature is not just sight. It is smelling moisture in the air before a storm, it is hearing the wind rush through tree branches in the distant as it quickly gets closer, it is the touch of slippery algae covered rocks in the pond, and the taste of wild chives growing in spring. I don’t know why I worry so much but I do and I need not to. Thank you God.

What would become of my art should such a fate befall?

Limited but not destroyed. My friend and co-member of the LaGrange Art League, Lloyd Bradbury has overcome this limited vision obstacle. He did not let such a problem paralyze his creativity but continued on. He gives me great encouragement.

I learn to love nature by all senses real and maybe a little manipulated for fun:

This picture I took has been touched up on the computer. Not because it wasn’t beautiful on it’s own, but just for the fun of it. The picture seems to exaggerate the bare twigs against the sky, one of my favorite winter features.

This picture I took yesterday is real. Can you find the hawk hiding in pine camouflage? I saw him fly at great speed and land right in the middle of the pine.

All of us in our own way can enjoy what was made for us. I will never take that for granted.


Asian Ladybugs Hibernating Sketch

Oh Boy! Look what I found! It’s a cluster of Asian Ladybugs (or Lady Beetles) hibernating under tree bark:

I’m currently reading a wonderful book by Bernd Heinrich titled, Winter World.  In Heinrich’s book he describes various animal techniques for survival in the winter. The book takes you through animals/insects who look dead but are not and simply “defrost” at springtime to birds which do not hibernate, but have adapted strategies to keep their warmth and energy at a controllable levels. Very interesting!

Anyway, Heinrich encourages peaking under tree bark to see what you may find in the dead of winter. So I did! Oooooo!

I counted 18 Asian Beetles huddled together. I did not break off the bark, but simply pried it with one hand and took a photo with the other, recovering them when I was finished. Asian ladybugs are various in color (red, orange, yellow, yellow-green) and do not have predictable dot patterns on their back. One beetle may have two black spots and another eight.
With those exciting characteristics I couldn’t resist sketching them! Oh the variety!

Hiking at Palos Park Woods

Let’s go hiking at the Palos Park Woods, part of Chicago’s Cook County Forest Preserve System Zone 7.
Do you think a winter hike is boring? What can you possibly find in the middle of winter to hold your attention or to justify walking in 30 degree weather?
Why, let me show you!

Ooooh! No leaves on the trees but the stream is surely active and sounds wonderful. There’s nothing like loud babbling water to get your heart pumping and your senses excited!

This picture was taken on the trail next to Kean Ave. where an ephemeral pond was half frozen and in the process of defrosting. As you stand in this spot you can actually hear the ice crack. At first you might walk by and not know where that loud popping sound is coming from. Then you stop dead in your tracks and realize…that sound is the ice! The ice is speaking! I wish I had a recorder to document the sound so I can play it for you. It was not a constant tone, but a series of higher and lower pitched cracks and pops. The earth is not silent!

I love this squirrel eye view of the melting ice from behind the tree. Notice the tiny roots from that vine trying to reach the main tree. Nature is so cool.

As I walked ahead I heard one chickadee and saw many (6) white breasted nuthatches “beeping” constantly. Hopping down tree trunks as they notoriously do.

Then I spotted something really interesting….

This tree has several brown “icicles” hanging off of its bark. These formations could not be real icicles because the temperature was way too warm. no, these were I believe, sap icicles.

This same tree had mushrooms all over. Are these sap wounds? Here you can see one growing in between two mushrooms.

Here is another view of the bark. I bet my friend David Fischer from American Mushrooms would know exactly what kind this is!

This deep ravine held my interest for a long time. Notice the little bit of snow remaining after our warm weather. The snow side in constant shadow is on the south side and the sun is warming the north side of  the land.  You may not be able to tell but this was very deep.

On the next post we will see who hibernates in these woods during the wintertime!

Let’s Paint Orland Grassland Prairie!

Oh Boy! Let’s paint that sunset we saw at the Orland Grasslands a few days ago! Here we go:

Here is my easel set up. I have my photo attached to the easel so it is easy to view as I am painting and I do not have to hold it. Today I am using a new product: a tan colored pastel panel by Ampersand Pastelbord. How much fun it is to use a new art toy/supply! Why do I like the panel? Because I like to paint my foundation before I apply soft pastels and I know this panel will never, never warp, plus I do not need a mat when it is time to frame this painting. All I need is a few plastic spacers underneath my glass to separate the painting from the glass. Step 1: With a piece of charcoal vine, sketch in a rough draft of the landscape.

Step 2: With soft pastels, lay in some basic color. Don’t worry about exact colors or exact subject positions, have fun scribbling like a little kid.

Step 3: With Turpenoid (see my bottle?) and a brush, go over the pastel and move everything around….touching each color to the next. Let this dry completely, be patient. Notice how the sky is beginning to glow, ooooh we want that, we like that!

Step 4: When dry, start layering the beautiful sky with light gray, light blue, light peach, darker peach, purple, and finally yellow where the sun is peaking through. Follow the cloud pattern in the picture, you can almost see where the wind is shaping them as we speak. Add a medium blue for the snow in the front.

Step 5: In this step I added a non-saturated dark brown for the distant grasses and a dark blue for tiny distant trees. Variate some lighter blue colors for the snow. The lightest color for the top of the snow and darker blue for holes or divots.

Step 6: This is the fun part! Make a million grasses using the side of your pastel stick and different brown colors. Then place dots in a few places to represent a bloom or weed head. Keep in mind where you want to place your trail and stay clear of it. Do not place grasses on your trail, this is where you and I walk and there are no grasses or weeds there!

Step 7: This is a close up of the right hand corner. Time to make trees and twigs. Notice the twigs are not all blue in color but are highlighted with the setting sun. Add warm red twigs and a few light blue ones too. I love this picture!!!

Step 8 Final: Hot Dog!!! It is everything I remembered from my time at the Orland Grasslands during the most beautiful sunset in the wintertime!
While standing here I felt the cold wind press against my face. I felt the wind whip around my body behind me. I heard some birds in the distance which I did not recognize. The snow beneath my feet was soft and melting but the ground was not muddy. Oh how I wish I could stay in this spot all during the night, I wonder what wildlife I would encounter!

My son told me to name this painting “Ring of Fire” because of the sun pattern through the clouds. He thought that was very cool. So it shall be.

Ring of Fire, Orland Grasslands, 14×11 Pastel

I hope you enjoyed this pastel step by step painting demonstration.

Stormy Day Sketch

Why, it was just a week ago I told some friends I would give them $20 bucks if they can give me a thunderstorm! How I miss a nice rumbling thunderstorm. The kind that starts low in the distance, gently getting louder as it approaches. I do not get cabin fever in the wintertime because I spend my time outside hiking, oh but how I miss my spring and summer storms!

Today came pretty close. I didn’t actually hear thunder, but the storm was strong none the less.

This morning I awoke to heavy rain beating at my windows. My favorite way to wake up. There’s nothing more soothing than to be warm under blankets, in your jammies, listening to the rain.
Today’s sketch shows the layers of rain saturated clouds that passed through at high speeds. For most of the day rain soaked the earth in buckets. The wind was strong and it made the rain fall sideways. I was happy.

I think I should have studied meteorology, because disturbances in the atmosphere always gets me so excited! I guess for now I’ll just keep painting storms instead.