Saturday, March 16, 2019

Unity Lake near sunset

I’ve been laid up and recovering from a virus, tired of reading and resting.  A good time to finish some sketchbook pages that somehow never were completed.  Did you know that art and playing with color are both very healing things?   I always feel better, even if my efforts are not quite what I intended.  

This page was started in January, nearly done except for the foreground.  Even though this paper is only 93 lb., it’s designed for wet and dry media, and I’m surprised at its toughness.  This page now has multiple layers of watercolor paint.  There is some buckling as you’d expect, but not that much.  The Aquabee sketchbook is useful to me for watercolor pencil, but I’m impressed with its’ response to watercolor.  

This page was drawn and painted as a plein air sketch before the sun set over the lake in the far background.  The light changed rapidly (why I didn’t finish!), and at one point there was an almost indescribable flush of turquoise that shifted to a blushing gold, filling the sky and water tucked behind the trees.  Long shadows tracked across the grassy spaces as hundreds of (sparrows?) twittered and circled and settled into the surrounding trees.  Colors glowed in the late afternoon sun and ebbed away slowly, as everything became very still.  

There is a great deal to be said for revisiting a sketch like this one; I will leave it to you to apply your own understanding.  

Art can be a wonderful thing.

Aquabee sketchbook, 6x9”
Pitt artist pen, dark sepia
Daniel Smith watercolors
#8 round wc brush

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

What’s in your nature journal bag…

… or tote, or backpack, or portable anything?  I mean your field kit that you take outside as opposed to painting inside.  Not necessarily a plein air set-up, but your throw-over-the-shoulder, Saturday afternoon walk, backyard-chaise-lounging kind of kit.  One that whispers “just fifteen minutes for a quick sketch or half an hour of some painting play.”  
Current portable kit.  Scroll to bottom for details.
Mine changes periodically.  I have favorites and I try out new brands and toys so it’s easy to load up on a little of everything.  So, let my “ordering” of my disorder help you make your art time more enjoyable. 

First things first
Please don’t look at what I carry now and make yours the same!  You can try it out, but make yours personalized for YOU.  You have different needs, wants, skills, and intents than I do.  I seldom erase right now, but that’s because I want to see how my lines work together to tell a certain type of story.  It might change next month.  Plus, I bet I have 20 years of sketching experience up on you.

Why order?
Well, because it makes your creating time easier.  So does simplification.  French novelist Gustave Flaubert  advised “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”   Having the right tools at your fingertips allows for unhindered creativity.  Don’t spend your energy looking through too much stuff or trying to make one decision over 30 pigment choices.  I found myself doing that because I had so many things I wanted to try out.  I still want to, and will.  But at that time I will change out my to-go bag accordingly. 

Keep it simple
Simplify what you take with you.  There is something to be said about limitations for artists.  Phil Hansen tells us that “embracing limitation can actually drive creativity.”  He knows this firsthand.  Phil is the artist who overcame a physical challenge to create amazing images using unconventional methods (does embrace the shake sound familiar?). 

My suggestion to you is to limit the choices of paints, brushes, and paper you use.  Not forever, just for the one outing.  Stay with single pigment primary watercolors.  Use one good #8 or #12 round brush.  Bring one pad of paper or sketchbook.  Add a pen if you like.  A pencil.  Leave the other 10 to 20 wonderful art supplies at home for another day. 

My limitations
It may seem that an 18-well palette is NOT a limitation, but for me it is.  I love color and the many nuances and permutations of color.  Believe it or not, I also have more palettes like this at home (LOL).  I present my tried-and-true current favorites that seem to cover any painting situation, but probably only because I’ve gotten to know their quirks well.    

It’s easy to become enamored with art supplies, as many of my art friends know.   And we love to share our latest discovery.  Plus those darn manufacturers and distributors keep enticing us with cool things we want to try.  Powdered pigments!  Pump masking pens!  German primo handmade paper! *Sigh*  My want list is long and my years are short.  In the meantime, quantity is a distraction.  And artists make art.  So get to it!

What’s in the photo?
Bag = a thrift store find with outside pockets and a couple of interior pockets.  Sturdy but light, double-stitched, very portable.

Paints = 18-well palette from Mijello has Daniel Smith tube colors laid out from this previous post.  I like this palette because it has a water-tight seal.  Your wet paints may run and get messy but they won’t leak out.

Brush = #8 round synthetic brush from Myartscape.  Purchased from Amazon when I was looking for inexpensive field-painting brushes (if lost, I’d not be heart-broken).  I’m surprised to find that I love the springiness, and the nicely-tapered tip allows me to paint details.  Since I’m working fairly small to start with, this brush covers a lot of ground.  I also wanted something a bit different than my normal waterbrush.

Paper = believe it or not, I am carrying around 90# paper!  This is because my field work includes sketching.  I’ve gone back to that for now, because drawing is my first love.   So my watercolor work in this journal is mostly light or layered washes over a sketch.  I also don’t mind a bit of buckling.  The 6x9” spiral-bound sketchbook is the Aquabee Super Deluxe, actually a 93# drawing paper but also for wet media.  Relatively durable and with a light tooth, it works well for watercolor pencil and won’t break the budget.  I’ve found it to be an all-around workhorse sketchbook.  Also included are sample pads from the Legion Paper Company, about 3.5 x 2.5” of their watercolor paper.  These were a gift from a friend (thank you!), and make great artist trading cards (ATCs) or are the perfect size to work out thumbnails on value, color, or composition. 

Pens = Faber Castell Pitt Artist pens in black and dark sepia, various sizes.  I also use Micron Pigma by Sakura which are similar.  They both feature professional-quality, lightfast waterproof inks.  Note that they are waterproof when fully dry -- if wet, they will still run.  I’ve found that I cannot draw faster than raindrops!  I bring a pencil, too, but seldom use it.  A mechanical .7mm pencil with a white vinyl eraser works best for me (no stopping to sharpen).  I keep the lead retracted until I need it. 

Masking fluid = because you never know when you really want some.  This is a fine-tip masking fluid pen by Fineline.  So far so good if the tip stays unclogged.

Water containers = I have a screw-top container for painting and a collapsible cup for cleaning.  I usually carry a couple of bottles of drinking water in the outside pockets and use that for painting as well as hydrating. 

Moisture control = plastic zip bag with spare paper towels and cotton fabric for absorbing extra water from brushes, paper, and palette.  Paper towels or similar are *essential* to controlling watercolor.  Essential.  Remember: pack out what you pack in, take extra plastic bags for trash. 

Hat = something to scrunch up in your bag for when the sun shifts and you don’t want to.  Your mother was right about wearing a hat – it makes a difference!

Interested in reading more about the idea of order and limiting choices?
 “Why placing limitations on yourself is the key to creativity,” By Ashleigh Allsopp  on Digital Arts Online.

“The Psychology of Limitations: How and Why Constraints Can Make You More Creative,” by Belle Beth Cooper on Buffer Social Blog.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Scars on a Cabbage palm

Click on any image to view larger.
The past years have left some scars.  Recent life events of sorts have left me a bit tattered and in need of repair.   No wonder this cabbage palm attracted my pen and brush.  This one has had experiences that have left their marks as well.
Cabbage palms in general seem to be always present in our area but seldom noticed.  They are like the fairytale stepchild of landscaping; going about their business in the background but never the star of the show.  Yet… they provide so much and ask for so little.  And to me they are beautiful in many ways.

The cabbage palm, or Sabal palmetto, is our Florida state tree (as well as that of South Carolina).  You might say that Florida was built with this amazing palm.

Early life in Florida was easier because of it.  The growing bud was harvested as food, the berries used medicinally, and the trunks became lumber, utensils, game sticks, and hunting implements.  The matted fiber tucked behind the “boots” makes excellent kindling, as boy scouts learn on overnight adventures.  
Cabbage palm with boots.
Boots are the old leaf bases that criss-cross in a spiral around the trunk.  The boots are not always present – sometimes removed by landscapers but they also show up that way in the wild, perhaps removed by fire or time.  The fronds can be woven into mats, bowls, hats, and baskets.  They are used for roofing chickee huts, for making rope, twine, and thread.  

Cabbage palms support a variety of wildlife.  Birds and small mammals eat the berries and find shelter in its fronds (not to mention a friendly rat snake or two).  Larger mammals eat the reachable or fallen berries.  The small white-to-cream flowers provide nectar for insects and bees, which in turn make flavorful honey.  Frogs and anoles make their home in the canopy.  It even provides larval food for the Monk Skipper butterfly.   Just one cabbage palm  might be thought of as a mini-eco system.  Wow.

My original sketch in pen.
With all of these gifts, we often turn to this palm only as a way to fulfill our native landscaping quota for new construction.  They grow in a wide range of conditions (salt, drought, and wind tolerant), are available everywhere, and reasonably priced (as palms go).  This hardy native palm is found naturally throughout Florida and along the coastal plains of Texas and up into North Carolina.  

The palm I sketched has no boots except at the very top of the trunk; the pattern of ringed scars around the trunk are where the leaf bases once held fast.  But there are also ravages from other escapades – perhaps a run-in with a large truck caused the deeper, ragged cuts near the top.  The trunk is thinner at the bottom and fuller towards the top.  Were there lean years and then better ones?  It sits alone alongside a major roadway, out of place yet standing tall, but with a slight curve along the stem – leaning towards or leaning away?  

This bit of poetry seems to fit so well:
“Task: to be where I am.
Even when I’m in this solemn and absurd
role: I am still the place

where creation works on itself.”
~ Tomas Tranströmer,
the poem “Guard Duty” (1973)

Aquabee sketchbook, 6x9”
Pitt artist pen, dark sepia
Mission Gold watercolors
#8 round wc brush

The small sketch (with boots):
on same paper with
Aquarelle watercolor pencils
Med waterbrush

More reading:
 All about the cabbage palm from FNPS (Florida Native Plant Society):
Edible parts of the cabbage palm from popular author Green Deane:
The many historical uses of cabbage palm:
 Ethnobotany from Native American Ethnobotany, A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants.