Let’s Paint Maple Lake East!

Let’s talk about the importance of using a sketch book before we paint.

Using a sketch book on a regular basis is good practice. Practice, practice, practice is just what I need. I can tell how rusty I get when I try to paint after not drawing for several weeks. YUCK! When I keep up on my drawing, I’m always amazed how the level of frustration goes down and good pieces of art are produced.

Once upon a time, I made my own nature sketch book…but then a year ago I discovered the wonderful world of blogging! I stopped sketching and started taking pictures so I can post about them on Chicago Nature Lady, just about every few days. While I still love to blog, I realized my sketch book has suffered. Now, I blog a little less and sketch a little more! Balance is the key.

Yesterday I went to Maple Lake East, part of Chicago’s Cook County Forest Preserve System.

This is what I saw. It was a beautiful day with people enjoying some fishing off the pier. At this spot I saw more nut hatches at one time than I have ever seen before! There were several darting from oak tree to oak tree, making sounds and keeping a watchful eye on me! I also saw and heard two blue jays and watched sea gulls skim the water in flight looking for dinner. I was really interested in that pier, so I decided to sketch it…

Here is how it came out. Not 100% exactly like the photo, but that’s OK, It will always remind me of how it looked while practicing my drawing skills! I used watercolor and pen and ink (micron pens). I like to note the date, time, weather conditions and what I see and hear right on the picture.

When keeping a sketch book, don’t be concerned with neatness or accuracy. It is meant to be done quick. Go easy on yourself! Oh how much fun!

Let’s Paint Goose Lake Prairie!

Remember this photo of Goose Lake Prairie? Let’s paint it.

Here’s an early tip: Get a nice glossy, large reference photo, of real good quality before you try to paint. I only paint from my computer screen when I absolutely have to. My screen is really small and my eyes bug out from that bright screen even if I dim it. Now, my home printer never has color ink because nobody will refill it, so I found a little trick…..upload your photo to www.walgreens.com, pick a nice size (at least 8×10), choose a glossy finish, pick which Walgreens to pick it up from, and pay when you get there….and it’s only 3 bucks! The best thing is, if you’re in the mood to paint they can have it ready in one hour! For some reason, we have a Walgreens on every block…just like McDonalds, so picking up a print is super convenient for me. Now, Walgreens is not paying me a thing to advertise their store, but when I know a helpful trick that works, I like to share it.

The only other thing I would advise is to put your photo in a protective clear sleeve before you start to paint. You’ll be surprised how fast you can damage the photo from a dot of turpenoid or water! I’ve done it plenty of times.

First, we make a nice under painting. I chose to crop the photo which I decided at the last minute. I realized my focal point was the white herons and the black soil, if I painted all those grass blades, the viewer might be distracted and frustrated. Let’s make viewing art pleasurable, real life is distracting enough! Notice I didn’t use a ton of pastels in the first step, actually I could have used less and would have been just fine. A little turpenoid goes a long way.

Next, with a cheap 1″ paint brush, we dip it in some turpenoid and spread the pastel around. Remember we are using Kitty Wallis paper, it allows us to get it wet without falling apart. Nice bold amethyst color anchors our painting. Good beginning.

In the third step, we overlap with more subtle colors. In the sky first, distant trees and grasses next, and then in the water.

Here comes the fun part. Move the surface of the water with your finger! Blend it horizontally from side to side. Don’t cover up all of the bold amethyst color or your painting will feel heavy.

Finally we add our heron friends and an island of grasses. There were four herons that day, but an odd number of objects is always safe to use in artwork, it makes it more interesting. Don’t forget their little white reflections in the water too! Oh yeah…just like your trees should have “sky holes”, don’t forget your grasses should have “water holes”, they need to breath too.

This painting is titled: Prairie Oasis, and is 14×11. This painting is a gift for my mom, who is also a nature lover and it will always remind her of our fun adventures at Goose Lake Prarie!

Man Made Beauty

Ooooh Ahhhhh!

My trusty digital camera took this kick butt picture of Buckingham Fountain in Downtown Chicago a few nights ago. What a summer sight! Every Wednesday and Saturday night, the city provides fireworks at Navy Pier which can be seen from Buckingham Fountain. Last Wednesday, my family, some neighbors, and a bunch of neighborhood kids took the train downtown to experience this summer time treat. Not only can you enjoy fireworks but the fountain displays in several illuminated colors as it rhythmically spays in tune to some fantastic American songs!


Beauty of Goose Lake Prairie

“Earth laughs in flowers…” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Remember when I talked about the colors of a prairie? Look what grows at Goose Lake Prairie, blue vervain wildflowers! How I love the bluish-purple hue which breaks up the over powering green of the vast prairie. If you have any kind of a gentle breeze, it’s rather hard to take a clear picture of wildflowers closeup. Just a tiny sway and your subject is blurry! When you’re standing in the middle of nowhere, nothing blocks the wind…even if you think there is no wind.

Next to Goose Lake Prairie is Heidecke Lake, here you can find boat docks and on this day, still waters. This is one of my favorite pictures. At the end of a long day, it represents rest and peace. This will definitely be a painting one day!

Let’s Paint Spears Woods!

Spears Woods of the Palos Division Forest Preserves in Cook County, is one of my most favorite places to hike. Not only does it have many trails to choose from, but is also contains a few wetlands and tons of wildlife! When I hike I take many photos, not because I want to clutter my computer with a billion pictures and make it run slow…but because I know I can pick and choose sections that I like and piece them together in a painting. I’m using that artistic license again!

That’s exactly what I did here. Do you see those two pictures? I placed them next to each other to make a panoramic view. Next I decided to change the season to autumn, and make a focal point in the distance of a separation in trees. First, we lay out our photos and make a sketch on Kitty Wallis pastel paper (museum grade), taped down to a piece of form board. My paper size is 12×18 and the frame size will be 18×24.

Next, I make a nice under painting using pastels, turpenoid and a brush. If you’re not using wallis paper, don’t try this at home because you cannot get most pastel papers wet, you will ruin the paper! This under painting step is so important because it saves you time and you end up using less pastel to finish the painting. It also helps me set the tone of the painting.

Next, I like to start with the top and work my way down. Here, I just overlap the sky with lighter shades of blue. Don’t forget to make “sky holes” in your tree tops. Sky holes are patches of the sky that show through the tree branches, very important, this gives your painting breathing room and makes it not so “heavy”.

Ooooh, it’s starting to come together. In this step, I made some autumn leaves, painted the field, and worked on the water. Remember when painting something in the distance, your eye doesn’t see detail so don’t go crazy painting every blade of grass or leaf!

Final painting! Here I worked on the foreground. As the viewer, you are standing in the shade looking over the water where the morning sun is starting to illuminate the distant trees. You feel cool as this autumn morning is crisp and you hear the activity of the birds that reside at Spears Woods, but you also hear the activity of the migrating geese flying above…..I’m sorry, I can get carried away!

This painting is titled, Early Morning Autumn, when framed it will be 24×18. It will be on view at the LaGrange Art Gallery August 30 – Sept. 27th 2008.

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!