Chasing Inspiration

Great Blue Heron, oil on canvas

These beautiful wading birds capture my imagination every time I see one. I would love to pinpoint exactly why but can’t. At times, I am awed by the sheer elegance of Great Blues as they take off for flight. Other days they seem to be playing hide and seek. Strutting along the edge of a body of water, they appear arrogant and snobby. I keep chasing them around different bodies of water with my camera. As I click, click, click with the camera, these herons get a little more familiar and I think of more ways I want to paint them.

Great Blur Heron in flight over Kentucky Lake.

The wing span is amazing as this Great Blue flies off over Kentucky Lake. He was fishing on the shore until our boat got too close and he took off. I’d like to watch the take off in slow motion as the wings open the legs bend to push off. As he gains altitude, the legs straighten out behind and he tucks his long neck down with his head and beak in line with the legs. Its a majestic sight. I haven’t painted one in this position yet but will soon!

Great Blue standing by the water at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida.

This guy looks decidedly grumpy. The scowl on his face is priceless. He didn’t move as I snapped photos but looked like he’d like to tell me what to do with my camera. He’s probably next up on the canvas. I can’t resist that expression!

The painting above was inspired by a Great Blue I encountered on the beach at Alligator Point in Florida. He was hanging out with a few brown pelicans, some Black Skimmers and a gang of Laughing Gulls. After a few minutes of looking out at the water as the sun was going down, he turned and arrogantly sauntered off into the sunset. His beautiful blue head and lighter blue back feathers became more vivid against the back drop of the orange sky reflecting on the sand as the setting sun slowly dropped.

Zooming Botanical Painting

“All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.” 
― Bob Ross

Adapting to new ways of teaching has been my focus for the past two months. Yesterday was the first Zoom workshop in Botanical watercolor. It went amazingly well. It was not as difficult as I had imagined. This could be a very good way of teaching for a number of reasons. For this first workshop, the participants were artists I had worked with previously, so their styles were all familiar.

Yellow flowers were the best option for this trial because they required fewer glazes of color. The workshop was held to a two hour format. Two people were able to completely finish their paintings except for some minor finishing touches. The other two were more than halfway to completion. For future workshops, I believe the 2 hour format is probably best but depending on the type of flower and whether or not the artists are beginners or advanced. More complicated flowers could be a series of 2 hour workshops. Beginners could be offered a series as well.

All in all, the zooming was a great platform for teaching botanical art. I am excited to set up some more. Additionally in the works, is a gallery page for workshop attendees to showcase their work here! The guide to daffodil painting will soon be available, as well.

Looking forward to this new adventure! All suggestions welcome!!

The Eden Project and Botanical Painting

For years my favorite book for teaching Botanical painting has been, Botanical Illustration Course with The Eden Project, by Rosie Martin and Meriel Thurstan.  The ease of following the book’s guidelines, the abundant illustrations, and demonstrations have made it my go-to textbook.  Sadly, I have just found that it is no longer in print and will soon be very difficult to get.  

Barnes and Noble found two copies for me.  Amazon still has a number of them available in new, used and hardcover. British bookseller, The Book Depository also has some copies available. Get one while you still can. It’s a great book for methods and materials of botanical watercolor painting in a simplified and easy to follow format.  Currently, I am in the process of finding a substitute that will work in its place.  In the meantime, I’ll keep using it until all available copies are gone.

One of my dreams has been to visit The Eden Project in Cornwall in the U.K. with a group of botanical artists.  From all accounts it is truly a remarkable place.  The amazing story as told on the website is of the transformation of an abandoned porcelain quarry repurposed to provide habitat for an array of plants from all over the planet.  Biosphere domes shelter the plants in two basic climates: rainforest and Mediterranean.  

Along with the plant life, The Eden Project provides educational opportunities for all ages in wide ranging topics from gardening tips to university degrees in subjects such as Horticulture, Land and Ecological Restoration and Sustainable Tourism. Many recreational opportunities are also available. You can opt for a Zip wire adventure, a visit to the Myth and Folklore garden where you might encounter a fairy or two, or spend time taking in the scents from the perfume garden.  Concerts and festivals are held frequently throughout the summer months.  A trip to The Eden Project includes lots activities for the kids and even an adventure for you and your dog. 

Someday I may make it to The Eden Project.  If you are fortunate enough to go, please share your adventure with me. I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, happy painting!

A Tale of Two Roses

Rose One (no eraser)
Rose Two (with eraser)

In the ongoing process of making a better rose, at least in painting one, new tools are always being sought, tried and incorporated into the technique.  Art supply stores are the garden where new tools are harvested.  On one particular scouting expedition, I was overjoyed at what I thought would be a wonderful new tool for streamlining the under-drawing portion of the painting.

My favorite method of painting flowers is based on one of the techniques outlined in Botanical Illustration Course with The Eden Project.  In this technique, a complete pencil drawing is made that can be used as part of the layers of paint-washes speeding up the time to the finished piece.  I have experimented with different pencils and mark making applications and have come to a place where I am happy with that process.  But I still find it necessary to use a white eraser until I get the shading where I want it. (More on erasers in another post.) Occasionally, I’ll use the eraser to clean up the edges, as well.

While perusing the feast of erasers at the art supply store, my eyes hit on a battery operated power eraser complete with white eraser inserts. My heart jumped with excitement imagining faster and more productive painting.  I couldn’t wait to get home to try it out. As soon as I got home, I pulled out watercolor paper and started what would be a red rose. The eraser worked so well, I used it more.  I became almost careless with the drawing because I could clean it up so much more quickly. And then my newfound excitement began to shrink.

The first thing I noticed was the paint was pooling up and not spreading smoothly.  As it dried, I started to see splotching. As the painting progressed, it became evident that the eraser had erased large portions of the “tooth” of the paper. This particular tool would not be as useful as I thought.  It would be great in drawings not intended for painting, but would not be helpful in making an under-painting drawing.  It’s back to the drawing board to start over.

Moral to this story: there is just no substitution for good drawing.

Follow the link here for more on The Eden Project.

Get the book from The Eden Project

or from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Botanical-Illustration-Course-Eden-Project/dp/0713490748

Poetic Musings

Seagull at sunset

“I want to paint the way a bird sings.” Claude Monet

Sometimes I wish I could compose beautiful poetry.  If I could, I’d write some lines about the beauty of a bird in flight, the graceful curve of the wing, the focused determination in the eye, head down, feet up. There is just something magical in the sight of a bird soaring through the air that begs for poetry.

If I could be a storyteller, I’d make up a story about the birds chattering in the trees and swooping down to the feeder to snatch a morsel or two.  I wonder if they talk to each other?  They make funny little noises when they congregate in the trees around the feeder.  I imagine them gossiping about who’s hogging all the seed or who flew off for a few days and didn’t tell the others where they were going or whose feathers were looking a little shabby.  Can cardinals understand the chatter of chickadees? Do finches converse with sparrows?

Since I am not a poet or a storyteller, I paint birds. Sometimes I paint the single bird in a stance I believe to be a pose for the camera.  At other times, I paint them in groups or pairs and arrange them as though they are conversing.  While I paint them, I imagine what they are thinking and what would they say if they could talk? Maybe they do talk. I just don’t understand bird language.

Since joining the American Birding Association, I am learning more about different birds and bird behavior.  My camera has become a constant companion as I wander around searching for subjects to paint.  Every now and then, I capture the image of one I don’t know so I go to the ABA’s bird identification Facebook page, “What’s this Bird?” I post the image. The identification returns quickly and my bird knowledge expands.

As I learn more about which bird is which and why one swoops and another soars, I’ll go on wondering if they talk amongst themselves or if they concentrate on each flight and not on what their companions are doing?  Maybe a story will come to me. Or possibly some lines of poetry will pop into my head.  Perhaps a painting will be a poem one day or possibly tell a story. Paraphrasing Monet, I hope to paint like birds fly. In the meantime, I’ll just keeping painting.