Monthly Archives: February 2011

Sketch Class Results Feb 2011


Light snow, no wind

We first hike the Black Oak Trail, to get our blood pumping and connect with nature. The heavy odor of burnt firewood hangs in the air. I do not know where the smell originates. Fresh snow makes identifying animal tracks a lot of fun. Three individual coyote tracks, traveling together, stays with us 60% of the trail.

We stop to hear a soft, “tap, tap, tap” sound, right above our heads. It is coming from a red-bellied woodpecker. My attention shifts as two crows flying high above the woodpecker, head southwest in the deep gray winter sky. One crow leaves me with a “caw, caw!”

Thank you very much!


On our hike, the beautiful winter landscape takes a hold of us, plugging us into nature and slowing our hectic modern lives. Slowing is necessary, for us to fully focus on what has been made for our benefits. Nature is erasing our stress and recharging our batteries to last another week.

We return to the educational center to begin our sketch class….


We decided to sketch wildlife subjects inside the new educational building. In this photo Alanna is sketching a flying goose. Go Alanna, go!


Fred, a newbie to the sketching class, decides to sketch a flying goose in graphite. Great choice!


Here is their subject.


Michelle and I decided to sketch this great horned owl. How fortunate we are to live close to this amazing Little Red Schoolhouse Educational Center!


This is Alanna’s amazing watercolor sketch of the goose.


Fred’s graphite sketch is breathtaking!


Michelle did an awesome job on her great horned owl watercolor sketch! Watch out, it’s going to get you!


Here is my great horned owl watercolor sketch. What fun I had!


Michelle, Alanna, Fred, and I

We did it! What a grand time we had as we studied nature while the snow was softly falling outside.

Maybe you would like to join us next month, on March 26th? This is a free event. Be prepared to take a short hike before we sketch. Most classes are held outside. Click here to see the class page and supply list.


Venom: Nature’s Killer NOVA on PBS

I JUST finished watching, “Venom: Nature’s Killer” on my PBS channel and I’m really HOT. Super MAD HOT.

Not because today’s scientists are sampling venom from jelly fish, spiders, and lizards and coming up with medication that combats heart disease, epilepsy, and possibly cancer (awesome)…but because in the last 10 minutes of the clip, one scientist said on camera, and I quote…

The only reason why people would conserve nature is to make money off of it.

That is exactly what he said and what I frantically scribbled down. He refers to the pharmaceutical companies. They [pharmaceutical companies] don’t care about nature, but want to gain wealth. They employ many, many, many scientists.

Enough with the greed!!!

We, on the other hand, are true lovers nature. Money is not our goal. There are several organizations that protect nature on a volunteer basis. I am lucky to know several in my area:

Forest Preserve Volunteers of Cook County

Bartel Grassland Volunteer

Orland Grassland Volunteers

Chicago Audubon Society

Cranberry Slough Volunteers

Lake Katherine Volunteers

This is only a fraction of the volunteer opportunities in the Chicago area. I’m sure your area has several site opportunities as well.

If you are limited on time and cannot volunteer, you can still help….

Take a picture of your favorite place in nature and show a friend, show a neighbor, show an elderly person. Describe in great detail the wonderful sounds you hear when you took that picture. Use as many sensory words as you can….what did you smell, what did you hear, what was the temperature, were you happy, were you peaceful? Just share your experience. You will spark a tiny flame for nature in that individual’s heart. That is your contribution. You didn’t do it to make money, you didn’t do it to profit, you didn’t do it to better yourself…you did it for nature’s sake.

You are a true lover of nature.


BTW: This Saturday is the next FREE nature sketch class at the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs, IL. Not doing it for money…doing it to ignite a passion for nature in anyone who wants it!

We LOVE nature!!!

Let’s Paint the Poplar Tree!


This is a picture I took about two years ago at Spears Woods. I’m not 100% sure this is a poplar tree, but I love its shape. It’s super tall and it’s the only one like it around. One interesting thing I learned is that all planted poplar trees are male, so they do not reproduce. That may explain why it’s the only one. For artistic purposes, I’m going to refer to this as a poplar. Someday in the summer, I will go back with my tree book and confirm its identification.

So here we go, this is an easy one, I know you can do it. Let’s paint the poplar tree in watercolors…


Step 1: This is a cold press watercolor block 6×9. Using a #2 pencil, lightly sketch out a road map. Place some masking fluid on the right side of the tree where the sunlight will be highlighted on the trunk. Let dry.


Step 2: Wet the sky using a 1″ flat brush and clean water. While the sky is still wet but not shiny wet, paint the top of the sky cobalt blue, working your way down in rows. When you get more than half way down, paint the sky a cerulean blue. This is called a watercolor wash.


Step 3: In the back, paint the distant trees using a mixture of cobalt blue and burnt umber. By the horizon where the trees touch the ground, paint that area rough, going up and down. This is where our grasses will begin. Leave room for them. Here and there in the background trees I also painted a few blobs of purple by mixing cobalt blue and alizarin crimson. While this is wet, use a sharp edge and scrape out some tree trunks.


Step 4: In the mid-ground make some dried grass shapes (just blobs). I used yellow ochre and burnt sienna.


Step 5: When everything is dry, take a rigger brush and make some blades of grass on top of your grass blobs. The blades of grass should be a shade darker than your grass blobs. Next use some cerulean blue and paint some snow in the foreground, but don’t cover everything, let some white paper show through.
Tip: Remember with watercolors it’s always lightest color first then overlap with darker colors last.


Step 6: Using burnt umber and a small round brush, paint the trunk and a few branches. remember to stay to the left of the making fluid…the sun will be on the right.


Step 7: Use a rigger brush to make thin branches on top. Some branches are burnt umber and some have cobalt blue mixed in to appear darker. Stay true to the shape of the poplar with long sweeping strokes bowed slightly inward on top.


Step 8 Final: Now for the yummy details! Take the masking fluid off the tree and kiss that trunk with sunlight! First I painted the sunlight with pure orange, when still wet tough the orange with some burnt sienna. Golden goodness.
Next, with cobalt blue and the side of a 1″ flat brush, paint those terrific shadows across the ground.
Finally, take a micron pen and make smaller branches and outline the trunk (optional).

We’re done!
I think you will be really surprised at how not difficult this painting is, if you try it for yourself. Go ahead…you can do it!

Painting is like keeping a piece of nature all for yourself. Another way to have a little piece of nature is by checking out local Chicago artist, Jim Milkowski’s, Wolflake Creation – wooden treasures. I personally have a birch pencil holder (with woodpecker holes and lichen!!!!) and I LOVE it! I also have a few polished crosses that have wonderful variegated wood grains. Check out his Etsy shop!

Crawdad Slough Sketch


Tree at Crawdad - watercolor and micron pen

I didn’t have much time today so I made a quick stop at Crawdad Slough, just to find something to sketch from inside my car in the parking lot. It sure didn’t take long before my focus centered upon a tree full of character. I fell in love immediately.

I like the way it was leaning left and how the setting sun made the bark glow a deep orange. As I studied the tree, I noticed its tiny, crazy, chaotic twigs. Years ago, this would have intimidated me, causing me to not even try. This is exactly why, at some point, you must push yourself….grow….develop….and conquer what scares you.

No problem now, I did it!

In this world, we sometimes perceive things to be scary that are not at all scary. It prevents us from blooming and becoming who God created us to be.  With a little help and our own step forward, we can do it.

I am currently praying for wisdom. The one who possesses wisdom can make choices and decisions without regret and find their true calling. Here is an interesting quote about wisdom:
“She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, And happy are all who retain her.”  Ps 3:18

I need me some of that.


Blizzard 2011 Chicago Sketch


Feb 2011 Blizzard in Chicago watercolor and micron pen

I’m alive!
As you may have heard, much of the United States was bombarded by strong storms recently. In my area we received 20.9″ of snow in a 24 hour period. This produced white-out conditions for hours and staying off the roads, if you could, was imperative. 200 poor motorists were trapped on Lake Shore Drive at around 7pm on Feb 1st and could not move. Some were in their cars for 9 hours. Emergency personnel evacuated the motorists leaving their cars behind. The next day, seeing 200 stranded vehicles on Lake Shore Drive on the news was pretty eerie, like Twilight Zone eerie.


I was lucky enough to leave work early and avoid the mess.
During the night as it snowed 3″ per hour with 50 MPH winds we experienced thundersnow! Thundersnow is when you have lightning and thunder in the winter as it is snowing. That is really something else, I’ve only experienced it 3 times in my whole life. Truly awesome.

 The next day we had a snow day, even for the adults too, as many roads were not plowed. It took us 3 hours to shovel because we had many drifts. My arms are sore and feel like noodles.


Here is a nice drift on my neighbor’s windows.


Here is a nice one that buried a car.


Notice this drift next to a 6 foot person. It reaches the elbows!

Call me crazy but I still love snow. I think I’m the only one I know that does right now though. Ha, ha, ha!