Monthly Archives: May 2009

Overwhelmed by Green Sketch

I took a few vacation days from work and today decided to get in a quick watercolor sketch. For just about an hour, I stopped at Swallow Cliff Woods North, part of Chicago’s Cook County Forest Preseve  Zone #7.

Swallow Cliff Sketch 1

OK, I’m only human. I did not like this first sketch. It’s nice and perfectly “OK” but not what I was going for. It looked very labored and overworked. One mistake I did was to start sketching at 11:45 am. Think about the position of the sun. It was almost directly overhead. When that happens, true color seems to get lost. Saturation is messed up and all color looks the same. Everything was green.

Swallow Cliff Sketch 2

About 5 years ago I would have been discouraged, threw my sketch away and decide that I wasn’t going to paint for about a month. How ridiculous! See how lies control our behavior? Today, I calmly took a deep breath and decided to start all over again. In every section I asked myself, “What didn’t you like about the original one?” and then I painted the second sketch slightly different. Sometimes being a mature artist is hard work. It’s much easier to toss it out the window and feel sorry for yourself…but then you’ll never grow.

Sketch #2 does not look overworked but loose and free.

I know I was probably too hard on myself, but when you have a certain idea in your head and nothing like it comes out on paper, you just shake your head.

At this scene it was a warm 75°F. White wispy clouds were creeping in but the sun was beating down. Several barn swallows played all around me. Two in particular chased each other and landed right next to my car. Other swallows skimmed the grass at a high speed, searching for insects to eat. None of them made any sounds whatsoever. My eyes followed them for a long time!

Don’t give up when you don’t like the way your art turns out; #1 someone will always like it and #2 it’s a building block to grow from.


Lunchtime Escape Sketch

If you’re like me, there is no time for anything. 
Sure there is time for a full time job (yuck), chores (yuck some more), and running to the bank, grocery store, gas station (yuck, yuck, yuck).
Tell me, what’s left?
Isn’t this our life? When do we get to live it?

Well, I say to myself, “Get tough and make your life happen.”

This is a quick 20 minute sketch I did during lunchtime. I am fortunate to work next to a retention pond where luscious cattails and trees are free to grow.
Yesterday we had about 1.5″ of rain. Today was 75°F at 1 O’clock when I did this sketch. It was warm, humid, and rain clouds threatened us all day. There was so much moisture in the air that the distant trees turned blue. I love when that happens.  That look is very easy to do with a wet on wet watercolor technique. Make sure to mix your sky color with just a tad of your tree color.

When you are out sketching take time to breath deeply. Not only does it provide oxygen to your brain enabling you to make wise painting decisions, but most importantly, it draws you closer to nature. Today I could smell the wet soil and grass sweating in the humid moist air. The atmosphere was thick. I breath it in. Slowly.

I hope you enjoyed this quick lunchtime sketch. Don’t try to find time for yourself because you’ll never find it . Make it happen.

Let’s Paint a Little Creek!

I am grateful on this Memorial Day that I can do what I wish in a free country. What I wish to do is hike where I want and paint what I love. I do not take that for granted!

Today I am going to paint a little creek I found at Morton Arboretum . It was at this very spot I heard an owl whoot several times. When I first heard it I literally had to stop myself and ask in my head..”Did I really hear what I thought I did, or did I just imagine it?” After hearing another “whoo, whoo” and another…I knew I did not just make it up! I could not find him though, but I knew he was there.

So here we go! Let’s paint a little creek where the owl went “Whooo, woo”!

Step 1:Here you can see my set up. This will be a pastel painting with a watercolor underwash. I have my reference photo to the right, a pre-cut mat to the left (I like to know what’s going to show and what’s going to be hidden under that mat, and a piece of Kitty Wallis pastel paper mounted to an acid free foam board of which I made a rough sketch in charcoal.

Step 2: With watercolor paints, I made a loose wash. Blue for the sky and water, green/gray for the distant trees, a little yellow for the sunset, green gold for the distant grasses, and dark purple for the land around the creek. Let them mix and move around, you will be covering some of this with pastels later on, so it really doesn’t matter if you are exact. While the paint was still wet, I took a sharp edge and scraped in some distant tree shapes.

Step 3: After your background is dry, with watercolor paints, make a deep purple color by mixing indigo blue, crimson and a touch of green. Paint some tree figures in your painting. Don’t forget their reflections in the water. Remember…reflections are like mirrors. It your subject is tilting to the right, your reflection will too.  

Step 4: Wait until your painting is totally dry! This might take quite a while. Be patient or use a hair dryer like I did because I have no patients. In this step, I used a light sky color blue and a light yellow for the sky. Because we did a watercolor underwash, we do not need to cover every little inch of paper. That is the wonder of this technique, let some of the watercolors show through…it gives it a mysterious glowing look!

Step 5:Here I added highlights to the trees, also added a bold red color to the foreground. I made zig-zag lines to represent how the grasses really grow in the wild, not perfect, but wild (how we like it).

Step 6: Now the fun part! Just kidding, every part is the fun part!!! In this step I made rocks in the stream using a dark gray for the shadow of the rock, medium gray for the body, and a very light gray for the highlight. In the foreground, I made grasses using browns, light browns, blues, and purples.

Step 7: I added a mat to show you the final look.

I Heard an Owl at the Creek
image 4.5×6.5
off white mat outside dimensions: 8×10

This original pastel painting will be on display and for sale at the LaGrange Art Gallery  May 30 – July 31 2009. You can call them during these dates to purchase with a credit card (708-352-3101), I will pay for shipping.

I hope you enjoyed this step by step pastel demonstration of the little creek at Morton Arboretum where I heard the owl!

Baby Robin LOVE

My son has a way with animals. They seem to come to him all the time. I however, do not have this same luck. His situation is really wonderful and strange at the same time. He even chose “St. Francis” as his Confirmation name!

Well today I was called outside to see the latest animal that came right up to him…..

A little fat baby robin! Not only did it hop up to my son, but it hopped up on to his finger! What the heck???

When I came outside I immediately heard two robins call in a panic from a maple tree. I assumed they were mommy and daddy robin. I instructed my son and his friends to quickly retreat from the baby and let the parents help poor little baby robin. In just a few seconds one adult robin flew down next to the baby and scolded the young one good! Then they both hopped away!

Here is a close up…

Ohhhhhh how can you not have love for little baby robin? Go home safe now with your parents!

Who’s the Dark Brown Duck?

In this picture from Lake Katherine I have a male mallard (right) with a head injury (see next picture), but the duck to the left I’m not sure about. It looks too dark to be a female mallard. Does anybody know what it is? These two were inseparable. Any help would be great. Thank you!

Here is a close up of the male mallard’s head. Maybe a hawk took a swipe at him??? I don’t know.