Sunday, June 4, 2017

Local color ~ connecting to place

Trying out a new resource and exercise!

 I was recently gifted with a book by one of my watercolor students titled  Local Color: Seeing Place Through Watercolor, by Mimi Robinson.  What a fabulous resource this is turning out to be!  I have been entranced by the color palettes and swatches throughout the book, but hadn’t tried my hand at doing them until last Saturday.  

Simple, but not easy...  yet also very enjoyable!
Saturday morning, sketch-group friends and I met at Naples Zoo to draw and paint.  After a leisurely walk through the park, I chose a section of landscape as my focus and decided to warm up with a series of color swatches.  I found that what seemed to be an easy exercise was (in fact) more complex; while it was challenging, it was also rewarding.  I spent most of my time analyzing what I saw in terms of hue and value and then creating squares of color that reflected the colors around me in the landscape. 

I tried a larger rectangular swatch of the colors and movement in the water, and learned what NOT to do.  I then created a thumbnail sketch based on my color investigations that I felt was very successful.  Then of course, it was time to move on to lunch and to work. 

The landscape
Looking back, I can see that creating the 25 watercolor swatches taught me a great deal, both in mixing color, and in finding value.  I realized that the assumptions I made about what colors I saw in the water and sky were off.  While we often exaggerate color and value for effect, decisions about how far to go should be based on seeing colors correctly in existing light and in relationship to each other, not based on faulty presumptions (Isn’t the sky always some shade of blue?  hmm…). 

Exploring online later, I found the “Local Color Collective,” where artists can email Mimi to share their own local color palettes and create a world view of place through color!  Take a look!

Click on any image to view larger.

The Naples Zoo is an amazing 43 acres that’s gone through many transitions.  It’s based on the tropical botanical garden first planted in 1919 by Dr. Henry Nehrling, plant and hybrid pioneer, but now is home to primates, lions, giraffes, alligators, and water birds, as well as many other species. 

You can buy the book Local Color through my Amazon Associates store to help support this blog.  Thank you!

Sketchbook entry:
Strathmore Visual Journal (140 lb. CP watercolor), 5.5x8 in.
Daniel Smith watercolors
Niji Aquabrush, large

Monday, April 10, 2017

Everglades Found

Everglades Found, an exhibit at the Museum of the Everglades 

Enjoying time with friends, sharing ideas and inspiration!

A wonderful reception given by the Friends of the Museum -- thank you everyone!
Come view my multimedia exhibit in the Pauline Reeves Gallery at the Museum of the Everglades, with watercolor and acrylic paintings and assemblage pieces celebrating the Everglades and nature, all through April and May.

Museum of the Everglades is located at:
105 West Broadway
Everglades City, Florida

Open Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 4 pm

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sketching in the Food Forest

My nature journal entry after my visit. 
Click on images to view larger.
The class
Tuesday I had the opportunity to be with a group of Professor Mary Voytek’s Environmental Art students as we scattered throughout the Food Forest at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. Sketching plein air in a nature journal is one of their assignments for the course, but what I saw from their work went beyond mere obligation. I was inspired by the deep observations made as they struggled to translate a moving forest of color and light and shape onto a two-dimensional rectangle of white paper. Some captured small bits of landscape while most focused on a smaller detail or a plant portrait.

 Making art
One of the things I always find fascinating is the way different artists translate the same subject. We each see the world through a different lens, informed by our interests and experiences. The story we record on paper is our story: our relationship and reaction to our subject. For instance, several students drew in the banana tree area. Some were caught by the torn and fluttering flags of the leaves, some by the structures of the entire tree, some by the contours of a close-up leaf. Each was unique, each a different story, each wonderful in itself.

And drawing and painting en plein air is a struggle, no matter how experienced you are. In the classroom or studio, we are surrounded by an environment we control to some extent. Outside, we are subject to all of our senses, to weather, temperature, other people, insects, and animals, noises from natural and manufactured sources. Our light source changes as the sun moves. Air currents lift and drop delicate leaves and branches. All of these serve as the backdrop of the story we tell with marks on our pages.

Red mulberry tree is native to Florida; its story
is linked with humans over centuries.
That particular story has deep roots. Back to the human who interacted with plants and some form of medium – a cave wall? A piece of blackened carbon? Is this plant good to eat? Does it help with pain in the head? With healing? Our entire food and pharmaceutical chain is founded on plant life. Humans have shared information on the plants good for food, shelter, healing, and making tools. When we put pencil or brush to paper, that action connects us to all those who came before, who recorded their story of the plants around them.

Shaded paths circle and criss-cross for access to all parts.
The garden 
In the Food Forest, it is easy to imagine that scenario. It is indeed a forest, not a traditional garden with plants in regimented rows. Tropical fruit and nut trees shade paths that wind through herbs and shrubs. Most of the plants yield edible parts, while some are there to entice pollinators. Tomatoes and other vegetables grow in sunny spots, there are fruit and flowers on several mulberry trees, and the bananas have finished flowering, stalks of miniature fruit on their way to becoming edible adults. Splashes of yellow, blue, and red signal flowers of pigeon pea and papaya, blue porterweed and Cuban oregano, Turk’s cap and tropical sage.

With permission, I brought home some things to sample and sketch – a perfect way to extend my visit! And to remember the participants and their wonderful artwork, their stories told with pictures. These are the people who are changing our future. It was a student who first conceived of the Food Forest, and students who maintain and plant, harvest and educate. How exciting to think of the new and ancient paths they are making and taking! I appreciate being part of this as a guest speaker and artist, even for the short time I shared with them. Thank you, everyone.

Read more about FGCU’s Food Forest on their website (also created and maintained by students): 

And learn about the day-to-day plants and activities on their Facebook page: 

 Strathmore Visual Journal sketchbook, 
140 lb. watercolor cold-press, 5.5 x 8 inches .
7 mm mechanical pencil 
Mondeluz watercolor pencils Niji waterbrush M 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Along the Borrow Pits

Click on image to view larger.

Our Fakahatchee annual outing led to the creation of this plein air watercolor in my journal/sketchbook – a view of one of the roads along the Borrow Pits within Fakahatchee Preserve State Park just south of Alligator Alley near SR 29. 

A Borrow Pit is a location where rocks, sand, and soil have been removed, usually to be used as fill for a project, in this case the re-vamping of an existing highway into an interstate.  Borrow pits in Florida often turn into lakes and ponds, as our water table is high. Florida ground is full of limestone, which makes for excellent gravel and is in high demand. 

Borrow Pits and quarries are great fossil-hunting sites as well, and in the past some companies have opened their sites to the public for weekend fossil field trips.  Much of Florida was undersea, so many of our fossils are marine related: shark’s teeth, shells, portions of manatee ribs.  Beads and other  artifacts sometimes turn up around previously inhabited sites.

I’m guessing that the term “Borrow Pit” is a common name now become proper through usage, and refers to the idea that stone and soil are “borrowed” for use elsewhere.  I suppose through time and erosion some may be returned… but doubtful! 

Regardless of the origin, it was a gorgeous morning ~ quiet and serene, hawks and vultures and tree swallows out breakfasting.  Cool sunlights cast deep shadows… this is a right place to be.

Aquabee Super Deluxe spiral sketchbook, 93 lb, 6 x 9 in
Daniel Smith transparent watercolors
Niji waterbrush M and S

Sunday, May 22, 2016


“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” ~ Orson Welles

Forced to retreat
I have had an eye infection for the last few weeks that has been healing quite slowly, sometimes seeming stubborn and sullen and uncooperative.  O, the lessons I am learning…

Do you know how important eyesight is to a visual artist?  How it is their bread and butter as well as dessert?  And do you know how at 62 years old, I am kicking and pouting and being a poor example of adulthood to myself and the kids I teach on Sundays? 

Yet the restriction of using my eyes has opened new doors.  I have been thinking about limits and boundaries, about how artists are continually restrained by media, talent, or culture.  About how artists live in a physical body that limits what we can do, how we can express ourselves, how we can create.  About the boundaries of physical reality for all life.

I tell my drawing students that limitations are good for artists because they force us to be creative, to be excellent problem-solvers.  We discover things we may never have tried if left to trundle along in our comfortable wheel-ruts.  We reach a little higher and dig a little deeper, think sideways instead of left-brain linear.  We grow and we evolve, the honorable goal of all living things.  Limitations are vital to growth; the contradiction is that they assist in our unlimited-ness.

Fluffing and freezing - "I am big and invisible."
Because of my forced inaction, I have been tuned to the life-and-death dramas around me in the immediate natural world, dramas I normally miss because I am busy, busy, doing human things in a human world.  Yesterday as I rested my eyes, I heard a change in the drama soundtrack: birdsong had erupted into screeching warfare.  The source turned out to be a blue jay fledgling under the car, guarded by a housecat.  Tiny bird rescued and cat banished.  What to do? 

Ah, Google.

If bird appears unhurt (yes), has some feathers (yes), hop and flap their little-almost-wings (yes), then we are to leave it alone and let mother bird continue to feed and watch over their little one.  It is okay to move the bird to safety (I did).  It is a myth that parents will abandon their young if handled, and yes, mother bird did come back and feed her baby bird.  She also dive-bombed me several times during the move to safety, grabbing my scalp and hair with sharp little claws. 

The drama continues to unfold.  This tiny puff of blue jay fluff and pin feathers has become a kind of pivot point in my life.  Mom stays around and protects and feeds.  Baby hops about half-heartedly, waits for more feathers, and opens wide.  One night was tough, it rained and I worried.  I pace and urge them both to get on with it so I can relax and know that all is well.  I feel constrained by common sense and desire to help.  More limitations.  But then I remember the maxim of doctors, first do no harm.  As hard as it is, I leave things alone to unfold as they will.

Learning lessons
Patience, patience, awareness, and connections deepened are lessons I am learning.  I am attached to a tiny bit of God-life in a bird-body.  I am learning that it’s okay to age and to have the physical parts break down a bit here and there.  It is what it is.  It’s okay that first we live and then we die. To suffer loss.  It is what it is.  Limitations lead to freedom eventually.  Freedom leads to letting go…

Click on image to view larger
Watercolor sketch from photo
Daniel Smith watercolors
Arches cold-press 140 lb. wc paper

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Floridian in Montana ~ I am found and lost again

"Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time."    ~  Thomas Merton

Upper Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone National Park
I recently traveled to Montana through the generosity of a new friend, and had the opportunity to visit the towns of Bozeman and Gardiner and then Yellowstone National Park.  My past memories of Yellowstone include black bears begging for treats along a road filled with a line of family sedans from the 50’s and 60’s.  I also vividly remember the colors of minerals in the hot springs, the many earthy tones of rock, and the unforgettable fragrance of pine and spruce needles wafting up from the warming forest floor. 
Sketching the page above.
Although I love to sketch, one of my complaints is the process of separating oneself temporarily from immersion to get out drawing materials and begin.  And although I love to share my experiences, it is also difficult to set oneself apart in order to think and write coherently.  If only there was a way to share without that process!  Once started, my hope is that I can regain that immersion, that feeling of connectedness that is unexplainable. 

Along the road in Yellowstone,
this is actually the Gardner River.
Quick composite sketches from
the passenger side of the car.
All I can do now is to point at something that caught my eye and to use my ungainly words and making-of-marks to communicate.  So bear with me… (ha, no pun meant here)…
There is something in the geography and geology of the northern west that feels like completion.  That along with the quote above are about all I can say that will make sense right now.  I came home to Florida in time to be present at the death of a good friend, and on top of that my brain is still processing the depth of beauty of the northern spaces of Yellowstone Park. 

Tatanka (Lakota word for bison), car-sketching.

Aspen, skull, rock, and wooden birdfeeder.
Sketching in Yellowstone did enable me to both find and lose myself while I was there, and I am still mucking about in my right brain when I least expect it.  Those handy left brain skills have jumped ship and left me to scratch out misspellings, gape at proportion errors, and wonder why I’ve become non-verbal.  In the meantime, life moves on… and on.  There are cats to feed, laundry to tend to, phone calls to return, and life in general that requires finding myself when I so long to be lost.  Just for a bit longer…
Click on any image to view larger.

The two sketchbooks here:
Strathmore Toned Tan spiral sketchbook, 80 lb, 5.5 x 8.5 in
Sakura micron Pigma black 01 ink pen
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer and General Pencil’s Kimberly watercolor pencils
Niji waterbrush M

Aquabee Super Deluxe spiral sketchbook, 93 lb, 6 x 9 in
Sakura micron Pigma black 01 ink pen
Sakura Koi coloring brush pen (sap green)
Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer and General Pencil’s Kimberly watercolor pencils
Niji waterbrush M