Goose Lake Prairie

I’m sorry I haven’t been very bloggie lately, but I ‘m having some transportation issues that are weighing me down. Nevertheless, I was able to take a wonderful trip with my mom to Goose Lake Prairie, which is about 1 hour southwest of Chicago.

I love prairies. You may have noticed that I like to paint prairies. You can see a few on the landscape page and one that I recently won a ribbon for on the schedule page titled, Indian Summer. What’s so great about a vast plot of not a whole lot? HA, HA, HA that rhymes! Well, I always fall in love with the different colors throughout a prairie that are not green. For example, on the day I walked through Goose Lake Prairie, there were yellow black eyed susans, yellow sunflowers, purple wild bergamot, and purple prairie blazing star. A prairie may look boring and green but if you look very carefully, you’ll be pleasently surprised with hidden color.

Here we found a marsh along the trail. Do you see those white specs in the background? Those are 4 white herons! What you can’t see are the killdeer that walked along the shore and the swallows that skimmed the surface of the water at very high speeds to take a drink. How much fun!

Here this barn swallow kindly posed for a picture. He was very close, but didn’t move…very brave. They’re so quick, I was surprised this one stayed put.

More pictures to come of Goose Lake Prairie.

Summer Harvest

This picture is from my garden right at the height of summer flower harvest. The purple flower is salvia and the yellow is carpet flower. Two contrasting colors sitting right next to each other! It seems that after this point, the flowers in my garden start to dry out and loose intensity under the scorching sun.

I think in the next few days I will attempt to paint this picture. A lot of things are going on in this picture, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be that way in a painting. Remember to always whip out that artistic license and add or subtract anything you wish! My focus will be on just a few flowers and not the whole group. Hopefully by the weekend it will be finished. It is very important, especially if you work full time, to set aside time for your art. If you don’t, there will always be a reason why you shouldn’t start…got to go to the store, got to do laundry, got to, got to. Setting aside time will insure that your art will grow and develop!

Suburban Visitor

Check out this photo that my daughter…who hates nature because I like it…took the other day! This is one gigantic hawk that landed on my neighbor’s roof. It’s HUGE! I’m guessing it’s a red-tail but not positive.

That’s my girl, I know the love for nature is in there somewhere!

Lovely Fritillary

With his caramel and chocolate markings, this male Great Spangled Fritillary unknowingly blessed my hiking adventure by posing for me as he sampled a bit of sweet pollen. My Butterflies of North America book, refers to his under marking as “silver spots”, but I like to refer to them as white chocolate droplets, in keeping with my sweet theme.

I tried to catch him spreading his wings, but met with great difficulty. The fritillary seems to like resting in a closed position and this human does not compare to his speed.

and those eyes….almost hypnotizing, put me right in my place!

The book also mentions that the males come out before the females do. They love to visit meadows, where you can find bunches of them foraging. That was sure the case, when I spotted several skipping from flower to flower, all males.

I am never settled but always amazed, when I consider how in one breath God can create such powerful winds of a hurricane and in the next breath, create such a delicate creature as a feather with wings.

Let’s Paint the Waterlily!

After visiting Mr. Green Frog at the swamp, I was in a good summery mood, wanting to take some of that swamp home with me. What a better way to have a souvenir than to paint one! I decided not to paint Mr. Green Frog, but to paint the beautiful place he rests on, the waterlily.

The first picture shows my set up. On this particular day the weather was perfect and I couldn’t resist painting outside on my patio table. One note when you paint outside with watercolors….everything dries super fast! Make sure when you start to paint you have all of your supplies readily available. There’s nothing more frustrating than to be in the “flow” of a painting and realize you’re missing a thing or two and have to stop at a critical moment!

The first step is to draw your waterlilies with a 2B pencil and mask out the lilies with masking fluid.

This is my most favorite part! Make a runny background with much water and 3 colors: mostly sap green, then ultramarine blue, and finally spots of lovely alizarin crimson. Be free. Let the watercolors do what watercolor do, drip, merge, float,  and puddle. Who cares if the paint runs off and drips on the floor! Let it do what it wants to do, that’s the mystery of watercolors.

Next, take some dark color and flick some droplets onto the background with a saturated brush and the tip of your finger. It will cause your finger to get messy, don’t worry it won’t fall off. It’s rather fun actually. After the background COMPLETELY dries, take the masking fluid off.

Next, with yellow and a little green gold, fill in the waterlily pads….remember to leave some white space for breathing room! Add a few blobs of rose for the flower. Just a blob, don’t cover the whole flower. With a clean brush and just water, move the rose color around to form petals.

OK, it still looks like a third grader painted this, but don’t fret! Watch what happens next!

With a little fine tuning a completed painting comes to life. In this picture I made some thick ripples with some more blue watercolor paint and detailed everything else with Staedtler’s Triplus Fineliner markers.

Hot Dog! Look at it now! Floating waterlilies with an intriguing background.
This little painting is only 3.5×5 and will be made into a postcard so I can send it to a family member.

What’s that? I think I hear a green frog!


What are we looking at, green muck? Look closely, there’s a prince in there somewhere! Can you find him?

There he is! This little guy is about 3-4 inches long. Now I’m not really sure if this is a green frog or an American bullfrog. The pictures in my, Amphibians & Reptiles of the North Woods book, looks almost the same! I did hear the sounds of a green frog call right before I reached the pond. Green frogs sound like someone plucking one string on a banjo. But this frog’s ear (that circle next to the eye) doesn’t appear to be larger than his eye, the sure sign of a green frog. On the other hand, he is small. Green frogs are 2.75 to 3.5 inches long and a bullfrog is 3.5 to 6 inches long. Hmmmmm.

Here’s another one! These frogs were brave. Many others were too chicken to stick around, making a loud “yelp” before diving underwater in an attempt to escape from mad nature photo taking woman!


Flying Flower

Is that a flying yellow day lily?

Nah, not a flying flower but a flying male American Goldfinch! He’s looking right at us!
I love him.
He’s so bright and cheery with a pleasant song, always happy and chipper.

These next few pictures were made possible by a tripod and a camera on sports setting with rapid fire!

Ooooh, my favorite shot! Look at that wing span and the shape of the tail feather!
On this frame Mr. Goldfinch was coming in for a landing…..

Nice and steady! You did it! I love studying his form and how the individual feathers are positioned just so to allow him balance.

What a nice profile he offered us. After this shot, he began to munch on thistle seeds that I supplied in the bird feeder.

You will always find a nice meal at my house, Mr. Goldfinch!

Let’s Paint a Nature Trail!

OK, I first have to say that I’m longing for autumn, my most favorite season ever! The greatest thing about being an artist is that you never have to follow any rules. Do I have to paint a landscape summer scene just because we are in the middle of summer? Of course not! If I want snow while it’s humid and 90°F, I can just make it myself with a little paint!

Today, I was really missing autumn. The cool breeze, brilliant colors, and crunching of the leaves as you walk on top of them, were some of the things I was daydreaming about. So I went to my photo archives and pulled up a picture that my friend Kurt took last year of a trail at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

The first picture shows my set up at the computer. I made a little (2×3) thumbnail graphite sketch on a piece of paper just to show myself composition and value. Next, I sketched the real thing on a piece of Wallis pastel paper with a 2B pencil.

Next, I painted a watercolor wash under painting and made a big mistake. My colors are way too light and saturated with color. I did not realize this at first, but later became frustrated and questioned my own skills as an artist. You know how it is when things are wrong and you don’t know why…you start asking yourself, “What are you doing? Do you even know how how to paint?” Yeah, it may be a little harsh, but when things don’t turn out they way you expect, you have a tendency to go a little overboard. Well I do at least. When this happens, step back, walk away for 10 minutes and return with the idea that you don’t care if this painting makes it or not, you just want to learn. Sometimes that break gives you “fresh eyes”.

When I returned, I realized my under painting needed to be a lot darker so I laid on the pastels. The whole idea of an under painting is to use minimal pastels. Live and learn.

Next, I blocked in shapes and colors with pastels. My focal point is down the path were the sun is shining through, but look….another mistake! My path looks like a hill and everything is drifting down the right side. How did that happen?!? Working a few inches from the paper, I didn’t see it. Stepping back, it became clear. Make sure when you paint, you step back every 30 minutes or so even though you don’t think you have to!

Here is the final painting. The path is not a hill now, the tree in the foreground is nicely anchored, and shimmering individual autumn leaves are added to the path and tree.

It satisfies my autumn hunger. This painting is 16×20 and titled, Let’s Take a Walk. It will be available on the “landscape” page soon.

Happy 4th of July! Maybe you can find some time on this long holiday weekend to try a painting of your own?

Follow the Leader

Today’s theme is: Follow the Leader. Everybody’s doing it. Ooops, does that phrase make me a follower and not a leader? Naaaah.

Here is a group of geese playing the same game. It was fun to watch these guys swim from across the lake and then, one-by-one step onto land in a single filed fashion. No pushing or shoving occurred at all, I was very impressed.

I wish driving to work was that calm!

Let’s Paint the Heron!

Let’s both paint the night heron that we saw at Lake Katherine a few posts ago! I believe with good instruction and practice anyone can learn to paint. How do you know you can’t draw or paint if you’ve never tried?

OK, here we go!
First, I have a blown up picture next to my watercolor paper (140lb cold press) which has been stretched and securely fastened to a wooden board. Next, I mask out the spots that need to stay white, which are his thin white feathers on his back, above his eye, below his eye, on the rim of his wing, and a dot in the middle of his eye for light reflection. My masking fluid is light orange. Masking fluid comes in blue, orange, white and pink. !Let masking fluid completely dry before you continue painting or you’ll have a big yucky mess!
Because I’m inpatient, I started painting his legs while the masking fluid was drying. His legs have light yellow in front and ocher yellow in back.

Next, do a wet on wet wash on his body. For his neck use light yellow and pink. For his wing use ultramarine blue, and alizarin crimson with a heavier emphasis on the blue. For his head and back just use the blue. Remember, if you get carried away (me, always), and you use too much paint, you can blot it with a towel or Kleenex and you will really be able to lighten a mistake. For the rock, a wet on wet wash of indian yellow, sap green and ultramarine blue. Let everything dry completely!

Next, we need to darken his back, wing, and bill. Make a black mixture, never use tube black…it’s so flat and lifeless, mix ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson, the sap green and a little dark brown to make an almost black color. Paint his back, head and bill, going right over the dried masking fluid.
For his wing, use less water and mix a purple color with um. blue and alizarin crimson. Paint the edges of his wing. To smooth the wing area (while wet) out take a clean brush, add clean water and touch the edges and move around. Paint his eye red. Let everything dry!

Next, give him shadow on his “cheeks” and throat with water and a touch of um. blue and a touch of brown, just a touch…mostly water to get a light color. Remember every time you layer with watercolors your color gets darker. Add another layer of paint to the rock (same colors), blue and green to the right represent the wonderful moss growing on a wet rock. Detail his feet with brown markings on his “knees” and talons. Don’t forget his claws!
For the water in the background, mix a lot of water and prussian blue or thalo blue. Make sweeping strokes back and forth. With a knife, scrape wave lines while the paint is wet, it will make a nice pattern when dry. Let completely dry!

Finally, take the making fluid off by rubbing it with you finger or rubber eraser. Now, if your painting isn’t fully dry when you do this you’ll have a nightmare, so be patient or dry it with a hair dryer. Darken his eye with some dark brown on top of the red but leave some red show through. Darken his bill with more homemade black. Darken under his wing with a thin line of of that same black.
Lastly, make another layer of paint on the rock with the same rock colors except less water and more paint.

Two secrets for success: Always let dry in between steps and let little pockets of white paper show through for breathing room. If you make sure to do these two steps with every painting, you’ll surely have a better painting! It took me a long time to learn that with much frustration in between. I wanted to save you the trouble!

TA-DA! Job well done!

Don’t forget to sign your masterpiece! You did it!