Monthly Archives: January 2010

Let’s Paint Winter Woods!

About three years ago I went hiking at Bull Frog Lake, right before evening in January. I came upon a scene that made me pause for a moment and fall in love. Winter’s intense setting sun was casting long shadows from the trees in the woods. Right on que it seemed, three crows in the distance began to caw. I almost wanted to cry. Call me a fool for nature, but West Nile almost eliminated all the crows in my area and I haven’t heard that beautiful, “CAW, CAW, CAW”, in a very long time.  They are my 2nd favorite bird in the world.

So here we go! Let’s remember that moment forever by painting the winter woods…

Step 1: I am using an Ampersand Pastelbord 16×20. This is going to be a watercolor and pastel painting. With charcoal, make a simple sketch before you paint. Remember the 3rd’s rule…great composition happens in thirds. Notice my horizon line is 1/3 from the top. My deer tracks will be 1/3rd from the left.

Here is my reference photo. I had it enlarged and printed at 8×10. Notice I have a clear plastic cover on it. This will help you greatly! I am a very messy painter and get junk all over the place (and I don’t care…it’s part of the process), if I didn’t protect the picture it would have been destroyed.

Step 2: Turn your board upside down. This will help the paint flow down with gravity. Spray the sky with clean water. Using watercolor paints, paint Naples yellow in the sky (remember we are upside down so it is at the bottom). Next, with a mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt umber, paint some distant trees using up and down strokes.

Step 3: When dry, paint some far trees using ultramarine blue and a lot of water so the mixture is not dark. Paint closer trees using a darker mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.

Here is a close-up of the distant trees. I love how the watercolors spread out at the edges representing rough bark…YES! Effortless painting!

Step 4: When completely dry, turn your board right side up. In this step I am just laying down big blocks of color using watercolors. I am only using cobalt blue, ultramarine blue and alizarin in different mixtures. You might be thinking, “Are you nuts? Those colors are so dark!” Don’t worry, most of this will be covered by pastels.

Step 5: With sap green, ultramarine blue, and alizarin crimson, make a black mixture and paint the closest trees. Try to vary their sizes. That took me a long time to accomplish in my early years of painting. Your brain just wants to make trees, so after a while you realise they are all the same thickness. NO! In nature they are all different.  

Step 6: We are done with watercolors. When everything is dry, start painting with pastels. I used a medium Unison purple for the tracks and shadows and a medium blue for snow.

Before Dusk in Deep Snow - watercolor and pastel

Step 7 Final: Make layers and layers of snow, using three different light blues. I also used light purple for the snow as well. On the tree trunks I painted spots of deep dark purple and fuchsia. You can’t really see it, but it is there. I also painted tiny spots of yellow in the snow to reflect the setting sun.

Don’t worry if you do not paint with pastels. You can use the same principles to paint with oils. It’s all about layer upon layer.

“Before Dusk in Deep Snow”

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Bone from the Woods Sketch

Do you remember the awesome raccoon sleeping in the tree-top discovery? Well, that’s not all I discovered that day…I found the most interesting bone laying right on top of the ice on my trail. Yes, a bone.

Where did it come from? Who was chewing on it? Could this be a deer bone that a coyote cleaned off and then left on the trail? I don’t know, but it sure is an awesome find.

The neat part of this bone is all of the colors it contains. I can see green, blue, tan, and gray colors. It’s not just a white bone. Another fascinating aspect is the chew marks that an animal left as evidence on the bone. Some animal was very hard at work taking all the meat off.

Here is what the real bone looks like. I have no idea what animal this belonged to or where on the animal it should be located. Maybe someday I will figure it out, until then all I can do is sketch it.

Where Do Raccoons Sleep…Right Here

I’m not kidding, every time I go out into the woods it’s a different adventure. Something new each time catches me off guard. As I took a hike this morning, I just happened to turn my head and noticed something odd.

Do you see anything strange?

What’s that lump on the branch? To make matters worse, it was raining and I left my glasses in the car because I knew the rain would spot them, frustrating my view. All I can see is a big fuzzy lump. I take a picture but have to wait until I get home to zoom in.

Holy cow, what a huge raccoon sleeping on a branch! No doubt he had cabin fever and took the first chance he could on this mild spring-like day (45°F) in January, to take a snooze outside his hollow. This raccoon has to be a monster. He was at least 30 feet up, several yards away and he still looks huge!

Hike at Palos Woods and Sketch

Today I took a quick hike at Palos Woods. Freezing rain? No problem!

During the first five minutes of my hike I heard something wonderful…the creeking of tree limbs. What a distinct sound, created by wind, that broke the silence on this quiet winter afternoon! What fascinated me was the different tones of creekiness. Some were deep and achy, others were high pitches and whinny. Some were slow and drawn out, others were quick and to the point. Will nature ever cease to amaze me? I doubt it.

Over the creek I smiled at animal tracks on the ice. Coyote and raccoon tracks were the two I recognized right away. Some wondered right up to a break in the ice, probably to drink some water. How I wish I could stay all night to watch them stroll under a moonlit winter sky along the babbling creek. 

This picture was taken in the hole of a dead tree. We are actually looking down. Yes, this tree is completely hollow, you can even see a patch of snow at the bottom. I had to reach up and stick my camera in the hole to get this picture. I like to do this because my flash will light up the vacancy and I will be able to see inside. Cool!

Just a mile away, I stopped at Swallow Cliff North, not to hike but to just sit in the parking lot and make a quick sketch.

Like I said, I didn’t have a lot of time left, but I wanted to show you that you don’t need a lot of time to complete a basic simple sketch. No, it doesn’t look exactly the same as the picture, but that’s okay. When constricted for time, just block in simple shapes and colors. I got the jest of the scene and will remember this day forever in my sketchbook, a day of freezing rain and gray winter colors. I love it.

Bittersweet Sketch

Oriental Bittersweet is invasive and American Bittersweet is native but becoming rare…I didn’t pay attention to which kind I found in the woods, but oh how excited I get when I see this plant in the wild. It’s a real, “Stop spacing out and take a look at me”, kind of plant. Hiking on a gray winter day, surrounded by browns, blues, and tans, this show stopper really pops out.

I love the warm yellow and red colors right next to each other. It’s interesting to study how each yellow shell opens up and peals away and I’m glad I caught it before it disappeared.

I wonder what bird will eat these bittersweet berries?