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!

Wide Open Spaces

This photo was taken after a storm last Sunday in Grant Park, IL.
Farm land. Nothin’ but wide open spaces!
Notice the white capped sky, that was the trail end of the storm and oh what a big storm that was too! Tons of lightning and super high winds! The winds made visibility poor and unleashed buckets of rain.

I guess that’s exactly what the crops needed!

Henry Has a Boy!

Look at that!

Henry is hanging upside down to feed on a suet cake that is under the roof. Many of you may remember my Starling Bully problem….all starlings, no woodpecker. Shellmo gave me a great idea, she told me to buy this neat-o feeder because the starlings can’t hang upside down and won’t be interested in the suet.
She was right! Thanks Shellmo!

It did take two months for me to see a woodpecker actually use it, but then I noticed something else….
Henry brought a young male downy with him!!!
Henry’s a daddy!

Go Henry, go henry, you the man…

Here’s a bad photo, but you get the idea. Henry would take some suet, fly to the walnut tree and feed his son!
I am so proud of him!

Oh buy the way, I was looking through my window and the markings you see is cat snot.
Lots and lots of cat snot on my window.

Anyway, the first person to comment can name Henry and Stella’s son.
Good Luck!

Black Crowned Night Heron

Look who I found fishing at Lake Katherine!!! It’s my first Black Crowned Night Heron.
Here is an interesting note: Night herons are just like other herons except they feed at night. I took this picture at 5:30PM, so I guess he was having breakfast!


He was very polite and allowed me to watch him up close. I was surprised! He caught 3 small fish and swallowed them whole which left a large lump in his throat for a few seconds. It was fascinating to see.

Isn’t he handsome? Do you see that white line on his back? That is a really long feather attached to his head. So beautiful, it reminds me of hair. 

OK, maybe this isn’t the most appealing photo…poor Mr. Night Heron…..you look like a rubber chicken! I still like you though, especially your red eye!

Coming Soon

Nature blog and art website all in one!

This page will be updated in a few days and will take over for Christine Kane Art and the Chicago Nature Lady. Feel free to view the fine art pages.