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Watercolor Paper Testing

Since moving to England I’ve had to look elsewhere when it comes to buying my art supplies. Back in Clarence Center N.Y., I had lots of local choices for supplies, and I really miss being able to go look at and ‘feel’ things in person. Nothing beats feeling the spring of a brush on your hand or the roughness of a sheet of paper. Of course I ordered supplies online too, if you ordered enough it was cheaper, but it always helps to see it in person first and maybe test it out.

Where we live now there’s nothing close by, you have to drive to Newcastle for choice; so shopping online is more convenient. Last year I ordered some watercolor paper from Jackson’s (jacksonsart.com) online and was happy with the price and it came pretty quickly. I meant to write a post about my tests but alas never got the time, maybe I’ll post those simple tests later. This time around I ordered seven different papers but two I didn’t bother to test yet, they aren’t anything I would use for my illustration but I couldn’t know that until I saw them in person! I also ordered a sample pack of papers that are big enough to do tests on, I’ll include them in my next round of testing.

Here are the five I started testing:

1. Canson Moulin de Roy HP

2. St. Cuthbert’s Botanical Ultra Smooth 140

3. Royal Watercolour Society HP 140

4. Saunders Waterford HP 140 High White

5. Arches Aquarelle HP 140

The Arches is the most expensive, but it’s the one I picked from my last testing, as working best for my illustrations. I’m hoping some of these cheaper options will be just as good so I can make it my ‘go to’ paper and get really familiar with it!

When my new full size sheets of paper come they mostly measure 22″ x 30″ or 56cm x 76cm each. I then lay them out stacked up on my cutting board and figure out the best way to cut them up to get the most sheets. I’ll draw a little thumbnail on scrap paper to figure it out, then mark the watercolor paper for cutting. So I cut the sheets, leaving a big chunk uncut, and some small strips.

 (click on pictures to see larger)

Test strips and my tiny field palette.

Test strips being worked on and my tiny field palette (lid is partly closed, those aren’t my paints!).

For this post I’m just showing you the little bit of testing I’ve done so far. I have long strips from each paper on which I did small quick sketches/tests. Next I will use bigger peices and do a small study to get a feel for the paper with my inks and color pencils added.

All 5 test strips together.

All 5 test strips together.

Above shows all 5 strips laid out on my scanner, they were only 1″ to 1 1/2″ wide so you can imagine how small the bunnies and owls were! The strips are numbered L to R 5,4,3,2,1.

5 Little Owls

5 Little Owls

For the owls I did light pencil sketch then drew with Sepia Pitt “S” permanent ink pen, then watercolor on dry paper, then some color pencil last. The color pencil was brown or black and used for shading areas. They all were just great for using the ink pen and color pencil showed up on the tooth of the paper. Good so far!

5 Little Bunnies in a row.

5 Little Bunnies in a row.

It’s always good to practice bunnies! Isn’t it funny how each one looks like a different personality? For these I did a light pencil sketch then watercolor for all the color. Then I used various brown colored pencils for shading and some outlineing and at the end, a touch of black Pitt permanent ink “XS” pen. Doing the tiny washes showed me I will definitely need to do washes on larger paper to really see how it behaves. I want to see if layers lift too easily or does it get blotchy?

On the owls and bunnies I was also trying out different color pencils, my familiar Prismacolors, Derwent Coloursoft and some new Derwent “Studio” pencils. The “Studio” pencils are harder than the pencils I’m used to, so they will hold their point longer but not sure if I’ll like them yet!

Back side of test strips, dip nib testing.

Back side of test strips, dip nib testing.

On the backside of the strips I did a quick wash, let it dry then painted some Bracken leaves. When they were dry I used my dip ink nibs to try out some new inks I ordered, I’m very excited about them so far! I tested “Magic Colour – Grecian Olive” and “Vallejo – Umber”, both are acrylic permanent ink and the Magic Colour is made in England (yay! or should I say hoorah!) I did get some special empty markers that you can fill with this type of ink, but need to play around with that more. What I need to test here is, how well do my nibs work on the papers? They were all smooth enough that I cuoldn’t see much difference, next time I’ll try them on semi damp paper for bleeding.

Test of lifting and color pencils.

Test of lifting and color pencils.

For the test above I did a simple wash of green and brown then while it was damp lifted color using a clean damp brush. Repeatedly wiping and cleaning the brush and dabbing the paper with paper towel, to help lift moisture and color. Then when it was dry I used color pencil to pick out the marks. The green area was just a quick area to try lifing color after it had dried. All did ok, the St. Cuthbert’s Botanical and Canson Moulin du Roy lifted the cleanest and brightest; though this might not be a good thing when adding washes, we’ll see when I do larger studies.

(c)wc paper test strips- bunny 1 re2One Happy Bunny!

(c)wc paper test strips- owl 3 re

PS. Just wanted to mention on a more personal note, one of the reasons I did tiny strips was because I injured myself and sitting in the chair to work just kills me right now. I fell and cracked a rib or two and definitely injured the mustcles in my back! But what’s so unbelieveable is that I could do that in a muddy sheep field! I was walking alone along a very old line of trees in a muddy field. I thought, I need a stick so I won’t slip so much….I broke a long stick off a big dead branch on the ground then tried to break it again with my foot on the bottom. Well it still had quite a bit of spring in it and as it resisted I slipped and the branch kind of sprung and I got thrown back against the base of this huge old tree! AY CARUMBA IT HURT! The tree had huge rounded burly roots and that’s exactly what I slammed my side into. Wish I had fallen in the mud! So once I sat up, avoided crying and took inventory of what was working, I had to get up and walk 1.25 miles home. This included climbing over two or three slippery farm gates, muddy fields and a steep road home. I guess there’s not much you can do for cracked ribs but take pain killers and I hate doing that. So I have but avoid overdoing it and now am not taking much. It’s gettiing better and you’d think, “ah, I can’t walk much but at least I can sit and work in the studio”, well no, I can’t concentrate on anything other than small stuff! So, now you’re caught up on me, don’t worry I’m pretty healthy so I should heal quickly (she says!)

I’ll try to work on more testing of these papers and update you on that as I go.

(c)wc paper test strips- bunny 3 reThis little bunny says good-bye!

 

Garden Plant Studies

It’s gardening time again! I started a variety of seeds on the window sill and we’re really looking forward to the sunflowers! The spring has been so cold that I waited a bit to plant, but we can hope for warmer weather. Now the sprouts have been moved outside and a few are planted. Fingers crossed, we’ll see what happens!

Sunflower seeds sprouting.

Sunflower seeds sprouting.

Above are two very small studies of the sunflowers sprouting; I LOVE when seeds sprout! After messing around with my sunflower sprouts, I decided to get outside, now that the sun is actually shining!

Photo of the plant I did the watercolor study of.

Photo of the plant I did the watercolor study of.

I wanted to do a small study of some plants and decided on this one. I liked how the tips of the leaves at the bottom of the plant are reddish, a good alizarin crimson red. I’m almost positive it’s a weed, but who cares? It looks good for a study.

My sketchbook and paint kit, where I sat in front of the garden.

My sketchbook and paint kit, where I sat in front of the garden.

I sat on the grass and the plant was about eye level in a low bed. I clipped my sketchbook and the tiny paint kit onto a stiff peice of cardboard, then I could hold it in one hand. I used a waterbrush to paint and the tiny white bottle is water that I can squirt onto the pan for extra wetness, I also use it to wet my colors.

Close up of my kit and sketchbook.

Close up of my kit and sketchbook.

Here it is a bit closer. The sketch of the bird was done from a dead wren that my husband’s cat killed. 🙁 I would usually like to do a study from it but just didn’t have time, so I traced it’s outline. Poor sweet little thing. Happily though, the wrens are nesting behind our house, under the seat of an old bicycle! We keep the cat well away from there!

Coming up soon, a post about an adventurous hike and some watercolors that were inspired by it. (it involves little mice!)

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Views of Edlingham Castle, Northumberland

I wrote this post way back in July, when it was sunny and warm, now here we are at the end of October! I still have new drawings and paintings to share, it’s just been more hectic than I expected! I’m still settling into this new life, trying to learn how to drive standard (badly!), finding a new accountant, and not being able to find some of my supplies because many things are still packed and stacked in plastic bins! But what has been most excellent is our walks near our home and a few trips to the Lake District. The greatest joy Gary and I share is our love of walking in the countryside. I’m overwhelmed with subject matter, it’s just finding time to sit and work.

So, on to my July post! Please click on the pictures to see them enlarged and clearer, enjoy!

(July 2015) I’m very lucky to have an ancient castle near where I live.  I can go visit the site and walk around it, or view it from the fields.

(c)April 2015 Edlingham Castle from the field

Brown ink drawing of Edlingham Castle done in the field in April 2015.

I did this drawing in brown ink (Faber Castell Pitt pen) while standing in the field where only local villagers usually go, way back in April. It’s great to switch your mediums once in awhile when out painting. I think it’s great ‘brain training’ as you have to approach it in different ways, seeing shapes, values, lines, textures and measurements; and thinking what you will use to capture that.

As I am settling into my new studio space here in England, I am still re-organizing my ‘stuff’ and wanting to play with materials I’ve had packed for ages. One of those is charcoal, I haven’t really used it in a long time so lately I’ve been rediscovering it. Below I’ll show you how I did another small drawing of the castle en Plein Air or sitting in a field with my art kit.

Sometimes I set my stuff out on the ground, this is charcoal drawing supplies.

Sometimes I set my stuff out on the ground, this is charcoal drawing supplies.

This shows my small backpack, a big lawn + leaf type garbage bag, Altoids tin with loose charcoal sticks and one plastic box with charcoal pencils, tortillions, brushes, sandpaper and eraser. I almost always stand when I work but today I had a small folding camp stool to sit on. The garbage bag is great for when you want to throw your backpack or kit on the ground and it’s all damp OR use it for sitting on.

Here's part of my field kit for charcoals, good 'ol Altoids tin.

Here’s part of my field kit for charcoals, good ‘ol Altoids tin.

And the ever popular ‘Altoids tin’, once used by me for watercolors but now I put my charcoal sticks in here. The rubber bands on the lid are holding a piece of paper towel and some cotton balls in place.

Here it is open and ready to use.

Here it is open and ready to use; I put the messy hard and soft sticks in here.

The base holds an assortment of soft vine and compressed charcoal sticks also a piece of chamois for blending and shading.

You can use the 'messy' charcoal powder in the tin to draw with a stiff brush.

You can use the ‘messy’ charcoal powder in the tin to draw with a brush.

When I sharpen points on sandpaper I let the powder fall into this tin and then it’s great to pick up with brushes for shading. A great way to start your sketch with soft blocked in areas of value, using soft or stiff brushes.

Work in progress, my support is just the cardboard back of a sketchpad.

Work in progress, my support is just the cardboard back of a sketchpad.

Above here it is almost finished, just a few touch ups and strengthening of darks and details to do.

Charcoal drawing of Edlingham Castle,  July 2, 2015.

Charcoal drawing of Edlingham Castle, July 2, 2015.

And it’s finished! I hope you enjoyed seeing some of my kit and how I worked. I’ll try to post more of those sketches I’ve done! Leave me comments below, I love to hear from you all.

And my other facebook page: Mary McAndrew Painting and Illustration

A Last Look at Winter

I’ve been meaning to post these pictures as I did them at the end of this winter. All of them were done outside while wearing mittens, so I was going to title the post something like that, but now that winter is gone I can’t bring myself to think about mittens! So, here’s a bunch of tiny sketches done at the end of winter, using my tiny square sketchpad.

Tiny sketch kit I keep in my winter 'backyard coat' pocket. I also keep a mechanical pencil and kneaded rubber eraser in it.

Tiny sketch kit I keep in my winter ‘backyard coat’ pocket; I also keep a mechanical pencil and kneaded rubber eraser in it.

The baggie is sandwich sized and in it I keep a permanent ink pen, one mechanical pencil, a kneaded rubber eraser along and the homemade 4″ x 4″ sketchbook. This small size is great for winter because just capturing a small sketch on a freezing cold day is better than trying to do something bigger and your fingers fall off from the cold before you’re done! 😉 I also keep a few pages of printer paper at the back for notes or creative ideas for poems.

(c)3-16-14 tiny sketchbook (400x391)

Aspen leaf deep in the snow…very cold outside!

I’ll add my small sketches in order that I did them.

(c)3-16-14 tiny sketchbook -2 (400x392)

“Waiting for Spring”

The tree sketch above was done the same day, after strolling around the frozen yard. The two trees at the back corner of my yard had dark, dead leaves and swirled dried grasses all about them, like an oasis in the white snow.

(c)photo 2 (500x373)

“Waiting for Spring” photo of sketchbook.

This photo above just shows how small the sketch is. Like I said the idea is to keep the sketchbook handy in my pocket and keep the drawing time to a minimum.

(c)3-20-14 tiny sketchbook (400x392)

“Cocoon Leaf” that I’ve been watching all winter.

This is a sketch of the leaf I’ve kept an eye on all winter. I wondered why one dead leaf never fell from this little tree in my yard, I suspected what I found, a cocoon. Very interesting to look at up close and see the silk spun around the stem.

(c)3-21-14 tiny sketchbook (400x399)

“Cocoon Leaf” sketched from the other side.

And this is sketched the next day after my walking. It was difficult to draw with bulky mittens on, sometimes I pull back the top and use my fingers. I like this sketch because it shows how beautiful the form of the leaves wrap together.

(c)3-22-14 tiny sketchbook (400x391)

A tree by the lane (Long Lane).

Today I went further than the yard, up Pasture Lane into the big field. It was just great to be out in the open and not cooped up inside, though it was still very cold. All the ground that had flooded in the winter was covered by ice + water, so I had to watch my steps. As I sketched the tree I imagined a squirrel could be looking down from that one ‘V’ branch, in a story, then I thought of England as usual. “My mind if full of leaving, my mind is full of returning…to England”. Then it started to snow again.

(c)3-23-14 tiny sketchbook (400x399)

“Cocoon Leaf”, another sketch…I like this one.

The next day I walked in the yard again and drew the leaf. It’s great to repeatedly study one object, every sketch a different angle or different lighting.

(c)3-24-14 (398x400)

“Cocoon Leaf” gets covered with a plastic mesh bag.

I decided to play more the ‘scientist’ and hopefully get to study what kind of critter comes out of the cocoon, if any!  I took a plastic mesh bag from some onions and gently tied it over the twig with the cocoon. I made sure the bag won’t move and disturb the cocoon leaf. The only thing about doing this is now I’ve signed on to be “Cocoon Keeper”, it’s my responsibility to watch it everyday in case something does come out.

The other neat thing about drawing outside that day is the sounds I heard from the treeline. There’s a ditch that drains the fields there and all winter it’s full of water and ice. Today the ice made such interesting cracking sounds, I assume it’s to do with temperature changes between air and earth.

(c)3-25-14 1 (400x398)

Sketches of what I think are Woodcock footprints in the snow.

I had a nice walk on this day, March 25. The sun was out, it was cold but calm and I got to see a Woodcock walking on the ground! First I saw these tracks which I noted, then just further on I saw a Woodcock in the treeline walking! I’ve never seen one on the ground, they always flush as I come upon them. I tried to grab photos but, NO WAY, it was too quick for me.

(c)3-25-14 2 (400x398)

Tree in Aspen Hall with interesting marks on it.

Last sketch of ‘Winter’; though it’s officially spring, with snow on the ground and mittens I still call it winter! This was sketched the same day, after seeing the Woodcock. I walked up Long Lane to Aspen Hall and sat for a bit on a pile of dead branches I use for a seat. Aspen Hall is a special place for me because it’s a place on my land where my sons and I would first hike to. Just far enough for a 2 + 4 year old to make it to, one in a wagon when tired, but far enough to be an adventure and secret place; I always loved secret, special places. We planted daffodils and crocuses 20 years ago, and some still come up now! I can’t believe it’s been so long ago.

Well that’s it for ‘wintery sketches’! I do have more in my tiny sketchbook but they are officially done ‘without mittens’! so I’ll save them for another ‘tiny sketchbook post’.

If anything, I hope this encourages some of you to stick a small sketchbook in your pocket and just do little studies when you’re out. Some of us spend far too much time focused on work, the house, the kids, the computer….when it’s so important to get out and walk and see. The best way to see is to stop, study and draw!

(Just a note on my actual drawing techniques, sometimes I use a pencil to sketch and correct with a kneaded rubber eraser. Afterwards I’ll go over it with the permanent pen, let it dry, then erase the pencil. I do this because I don’t like pencil in my field sketchbooks as it smudges. Many, many times I don’t use the pencil first at all, I just take my time and sketch directly with the permanent pen. It can be a freeing feeling to do this, but also can make you think a little more before you make your mark!)

Hope you enjoyed my tiny sketches and notes, please leave me comments and ask questions if you like, I love reading them and replying!

A New Sketchbook!

My New Sketchbook! (please click pictures for clearer view)

I had fun decorating the cover of my new sketchbook!

I had fun decorating the cover of my new sketchbook!

Sometimes you just need a new sketchbook. A fresh start along a new path. Something that allows you to jot down all your creative ideas, no matter how small. I’ve put so much of my art career on hold this past year because of preparing to move to England. Lately (as you may know) I’ve been exploring the art of felt making and silk painting and that ties in here too! I wanted a sketchbook that I could draw ideas in and tape things in like a scrap book. So I created this big sketchbook that is meant to stay in the studio, not venture outside for hikes.

I surrounded myself with color pencils and just had fun!

I surrounded myself with color pencils and just had fun!

A sketchbook to an artist is like a living thing; we tell it our inner thoughts and ideas, inspirations, by drawing, writing and painting in it. It becomes the very closest, best friend you’ve ever had! Sometimes we share what’s on the pages freely, enjoying the reaction and feedback from those we share it with. But it’s also nice to have a sketchbook that is just for you, that you decide how much of it you’ll share. Most of my sketchbooks the past few years, have been very public; nature sketches done while walking here in New York or in England. I LOVE sharing them! When I was in England it was enjoyable to let interested strangers look through my pages, finding out what they liked best, hearing their comments about places I painted that they recognized. But my new sketchbook I’m ‘allowing’ myself to share only what I want, PHEW! It’s funny the feeling of freedom you get just making that decision as a teacher and one who loves sharing their work.

The first page in my sketchbook, totally geared towards felting and silk painting.

The first page in my sketchbook, totally geared towards felting and silk painting.

This is the first page in my sketchbook; you can see it’s all geared towards felting and silk painting. Instead of worrying about this new love distracting me from my illustration and painting, I embraced it because I saw it as good practice while my mind is occupied with other things. I taped some watercolor studies in later used the space around for more notes and ideas.

Working on the letter "S".

Working on the letter “S”.

I drew the letters free-form on the cover (which by the way is a piece of colored mat board), later realizing that I should have made them fatter. So I added onto them and it still worked alright. I had fun making the letters look like shiny ribbons.

Ok, what I love about my new sketchbook is the size! I used full sheets of 9 x 12″ papers from various sketchpads. I put bristol board, watercolor papers, card stock and plain drawing paper for an assortment and labeled each in tiny letters along the edge. This way I can continue to test and evaluate what paper I like best. I’m used to working in sketchbooks half this size for drawing and painting in the field.

My sketch in progress, for a new poem, "Red Dragonflies".

My sketch in progress, for a new poem, “Red Dragonflies”.

The very best thing I’ve found use for on these big pages, is that I can jot down a new poem and then right next to it do sketches of my ideas for illustrating it! I was in the garden in September and enjoyed watching two red dragonflies, landing on the leaves, sunning, glittering. When I went in the house I started writing a poem about them and did four stanzas. The next day I added two more and then at the end of the month I tied it up with two more! But the best thing is I sketched an idea of an illustration right next to it, while looking at photos I took of the dragonflies. As I have time I’m adding a bit of watercolor and working on the little sketch.

I also put notes around sketches for ideas of what to put in the painting, like colors and subjects, as below.

An idea I had for a funny illustration, while walking around my backyard.

An idea I had for a funny illustration, while walking around my backyard.

One day while walking around my yard I noticed the little paths that go into the tall grasses along the edges of my yard. I always look at these and imagine the critters who walk on them and think they’re great subjects for my stories. Well there’s a stray black cat that hangs around my yard sometimes and after seeing the paths and thinking of the cat, I drew this funny little sketch! The cat is waiting in the shadows…but he doesn’t look mean, is he going to eat them? Or is he a friend? The one mouse beckons to the other, “C’mon”….as you wonder what will happen. The little wren at the top looks on.

So there is the evolution of my new sketchbook! Lots going into it and I’ll try to post more soon! Please leave comments below, I love reading them and responding!

Sketch for a little girl mouse.

Sketch for a little girl mouse.

Mouse Family in Ink

Though I’m working on illustrating a story with Teddy Bears at the moment, I just can’t leave behind my love of nature. I haven’t had much time for my usual nature studies but what I have been doing is testing out different papers to use for illustration. Arches, Fabriano, Canson…cold press, hot press, dual sided even!, they are all getting tried. I was surprised to find the ones I thought I’d love I hated and the cold press was feeling pretty nice. Cold press paper is rougher and can show nice textures when working with watercolors, but not as nice if you’re doing fine detail.

"The Mouse Family" in Windsor Newton Nut Brown Ink on Arches 140lb watercolor cold press paper.

(please click the pictures to see larger)

So I combined my experimenting with papers with wanting to draw some mice, my subject in many, many little children’s poems I’ve written. I want to keep a realism but cross the line into children’s illustration…make them a bit cute and giving them humanesque qualities.

Just showing the start of my drawing; I did it without a pencil sketch first!

I started by drawing freehand in permanent ink (no pencil sketch) this mouse on Arches 140 lb cold press paper. I used Windsor Newton Nut Brown, a really nice brown ink. (Forgive the yellow picture quality, I snapped this with my camera at night-time so I could record the stages of drawing.)

Windsor Newton Nut Brown Pernanent Ink

Then I went outside and grabbed up a bunch of leaves to add around it, and drew some of them.

my pile of leaves I first brought in to sketch from

What started all this was a cute sketch in ink of the mouse (mother) but she had to have some leaves to be tucked into. I brought in a good variety from the yard, they looked more colorful than this in the beginning. They all curled and dried but that’s ok, I like keeping some dried leaves around in a small box, for sketching.

Here it is on the easel, you can see my dip nib pen and brown ink there.

This is my set up, a small table easel that has a little drawer you can slide out. I like to put my watercolors there and anything else I might be using to draw. You can see my bottle of ink and my small ‘dip nib pen’ laying there. I have my paper on a piece of plexiglas. This is great to use when you are tracing a sketch onto ‘good’ paper, just go over your sketch with dark ink, put good paper on top, stick a lamp behind and sketch lightly with pencil. I didn’t do that with this drawing, as I said, I just started in and the drawing grew.

Here’s a picture of my “dip nib pen”.

Small "dip nib pen" with a little study after Beatrix Potter's Dormouse in the background.

You can see my two favorite pens here, when I want to use loose dip ink that is. I just love the detail I can get with this little nib! There’s something nice about using loose ink. I decided I liked when it ran out of ink regularly, it gave me a pause to check my drawing and think before making marks!

Just a little more drawn in...

As I drew the mouse I started to think maybe it could become a story, so I felt I needed to leave the area in front of it open to possibilities. *Very important when working with permanent ink to take your time and plan a bit!

A little close up of the mother mouse and baby.

I was going to put a grasshopper in because they are everywhere in the grass right now, but I decided on a baby mouse. At this point I started sketching with pencil…the rest of the leaves, mushrooms and babies, because now it had become an actual illustration to NOT mess up! haha. You can see I changed the mouses face, added an open mouth, eyes a bit bigger with lashes, just a touch! I’m looking for my ‘mousy style’.

And a close up of the other little baby mouse!

And you know with mice…where there’s one there’s many!…so I added this baby on the right. It’s good for the composition because it leads your eye around the page. Keep this in mind too when arranging your leaves, all the curves, waves and curls can really be exciting to draw and look at as they lead your eye around the composition.

Below are a few photos of what inspired me to keep adding to my drawing.

baby nursery web spider

I’m fascinated by the Nursery Web Spiders in my yard. In spring I see them living half under water and half above, then all summer they have their webs in the tall grasses on the lanes. Now as I walk through my yard in fall I see tiny baby spiders darting across the leaves everywhere!  I couldn’t wait to sneak them into an illustration!

I liked the twist of this leaf so I used it in my drawing

Well these leaves aren’t colorful but I love the curve of the big one, and the other small one fit in nice. You can see them on the right side of my drawing. I used this photo on my computer screen when I drew these leaves.

dead fall leaves in the grass

This is another one I added on the right side by the baby mouse. I tried not to go too heavy adding the shadows, since the leaves were all photographed at different angles in the sun. I also looked at this on my tiny computer screen while drawing, late into the night!

little golden mushrooms in the grass

One day when I was walking through the yard I spotted an area of mushrooms, each were about 2″ across at least. They blended in so well I almost didn’t notice them at first, but looking for “things in the grass” for my drawing they were a nice find. It wasn’t until the next day I went out to photograph them and they were all gone! I searched and searched and finally started noticing these tiny mushrooms around under blades of grass. NO, my lawn is NOT neatly mowed, I’m lucky when my son comes and gives it a cut, so I get all kinds of things growing and hiding in the long grass!

more tiny little golden mushrooms

I love looking at mushrooms, though I admit I don’t know too many species names. If anyone can tell me what these are I’d be grateful (Western NY-wet area)

This is the small Ink Cap mushroom I used after the first one disappeared

This one was the best find! It’s a Shaggy Ink Cap mushroom and I’ve never seen one here before, I’ve only ever seen them when I was in Ireland and England. One day I spotted a big one growing in the yard, I wasn’t able to get out to photograph it until the next day. To my great disappointment it had all but disappeared! I never saw one ‘roll up’ as fast as that! For those who have never seen this, the mushroom will start to roll up from the bottom, disappearing until just the top is left, surrounded by a black inky goo. It’s really quiet interesting and yuchy at the same time!

But lucky me, walking my laps around the yard the next day I spotted this small one growing not far from the other spot. So I grabbed my camera right away and got some good shots. I couldn’t wait to use it in my drawing and already knew it would be perfect as a backdrop.

"The Mouse Family" Ink on Arches watercolor paper.

So there you have it, all the parts together! Now that I’ve scanned it, I can play around with watercolors on it and we’ll see how that goes! Please visit my shop to see the Note Cards and Gifts I made using this and other photos in this post. I’ll add a few picture links you can click to visit it, please please share my shop links with friends once you get there! 🙂

Glossy Note Card with plain white background
Glossy Note Card with changeable text and brown background
Customizable Mug
Shaggy Ink Cap Glossy Note Cards
Hope you enjoyed my post! Please leave me comments and share on your Facebook or Pinterest pages!

“Winter Field Sketch” oil

"Winter Field Sketch"

This is a little (5 x 7″) oil painting I did “en plein air”, or translation… “while standing in the snowy field freezing my fingers off”! What I wanted to do was study the colors in oil and not get too caught up in the finished look of a painting. It was a good exercise in study of color for me, it would not have been as successful if I did it from a photograph.

My oil field kit, closed.

I rigged up a little field kit for oil painting, just for taking out on hikes. Here’s a picture of the kit closed, it’s a plastic case you can buy at an office supply department. I’ve only used it this once but hope to work with it more and ‘tweek’ it. The main objective was to keep it as light as possible.

Here it is open to show you the metal pencil case and use of 'sticky tack'.

This shows the kit open with two areas of gessoed canvas ready to use. Notice the four dots of ‘sticky tack’ on the left, they’ll hold the lid of the metal pencil case when I want to paint, using the lid for mixing. I used tape to make loops to hold brushes; just put tape sticky sides together to make it ‘not’ sticky in the middle.

I created a loop of tape to slide my medium cup into.

I used the tape in the same way here, keeping it sticky on the ends but not in the middle, I created a loop that my medium cup would slot onto. At the angle I would hold the kit, the cup would not come off! It was then held from behind with a dab of ‘sticky tack’.

Here is my field kit in action!

I held the homemade kit in one hand, using my arm for support, and painted with my right hand. It’s all in my reach and I brought no tubes of paint. Notice my fingers are holding one brush at the ready and the other ‘dirty’ or ‘in use’ brushes are kept on the left of the hinge, clean ones to the right in the loop.

Of course Ginger was along for the adventure and waits patiently to continue with our walk!

I put a squeeze of my colors in a metal pencil case and put some in a pill box from the pharmacy before I left the house. The pill box was an experiment and I wasn’t really satisfied with it, it gets too messy on the lids and doesn’t keep the paint really airtight. Since then I’ve moved to using contact lens cases that screw shut…we’ll see how the paint lasts in them as they’re all back in England and I won’t see them until spring!

This shows you my view of the field as I worked.

The above picture shows you the view I had as I worked, it also illustrates how dull the colors look on a photograph and how I perceived the colors with my eyes to be a bit more vivid. This is why working in the field is so important whether you are oil painting, using watercolors, pastels…etc.

When I came back home, I stuck the little study up on a wood post in my living room using ‘Loctite” sticky tack. I hung there for ages and I enjoyed looking at it whenever I walked by. It wasn’t until I found a great frame and laid it on top that it popped out and said “HEY…I’m a good little painting!” hahah…yes sometimes my paintings talk to me…don’t yours? It also told me to stop ignoring it and get it framed so it could have a proper place on the wall! Yes…yes, the voice of guilt, this painting actually was done last year (12/31/10) and since I traveled to England it got sort of forgotten!

Click to see photos enlarged:

How it looks framed on the wall

"Winter Field Sketch" framed and in cool daylight

Original framed painting $165 contact me

Go here to see all my Landscape Paintings in the Gallery.

I also made some nice products in my Zazzle Gift Shop with this, please click on the pictures to have a look!

Glossy Note Cards- 2 sizes
Glossy Post Cards

“Stink Bug…What a Name!”

Yes I know, what a name! This bug is a type of “Shield Bug”, so named because when viewed from above it looks like a shield. I don’t have a definitive identification on it but closest I could come was a type of Stink Bug.

My sketch page with finished paintings of Stink Bug

This one I found was much smaller than others I’ve seen in the garden, you can see from the picture below.  I put my subject into the “Crisco” container that I like to use for bug study and photographing. It crawled around constantly and was a real challenge to draw!

Stink Bug and sketch book

Below you can see an experiment I tried, I colored swatches of watercolor pencil on a heavy piece of watercolor paper. I used it with a waterbrush to paint the Stink Bug studies. I wanted to try it because it’d be great to take along right in my sketchbook into the field. It worked pretty good for small studies and I’m going to try it out some more.  It helped to mix the colors on a small metal palette to the side to keep this color palette clean.

Watercolor pencil palette and waterbrush

Another tip, if you need to show some white highlights you can carefully scrape off layers of paint using a very sharp blade. This was just a small penknife I sometimes have in my field bag. Scrape sideways, gently and repeatedly to remove layers; sometimes scrape the opposite direction to remove it.

Scraping with a sharp blade

Here’s a bunch of pictures of the interesting little bug. If bugs aren’t your ‘thing’ I want you to just take notice of a few things.  You can appreciate some things in insects that you may also appreciate in birds. What catches me about birds is how you identify them by checking their shape, patterns, colors and behavior. Well the same is true of insects; you can identify species by their special shape, patterns, colors and behavior!

Stink Bug 5

This guy has an interesting shape from every angle you look at him. Just check out those red antennae!

Stink Bug 4

And the spotted legs! Looks like he needs a shave! But isn’t it fascinating that it has such pattern?

Stink Bug 3

This angle is very interesting, his head seems to streamline right into his body, and the eyes are right along the edge.

Stink Bug 2

Stink Bug 1

Here we see his pointy shoulders, like he’s wearing football shoulder pads! And I love the pattern along the edges of his back. Can you see the fine veins patterns in that little section at the bottom of his back, that’s part of his wings folded up. His underside was a gorgeous light green that reminded me of marble, but it was hard for me to capture as he kept running around! After I took all these photos in the garden, he flew away, I think just to show off!

Hope you enjoyed my insect study, I’ve been on a real bug kick this summer! More coming!

PS. I have a Flickr page that I’m trying to add to when I can. Check it out here.

My Photography Equipment

I thought I’d include a post about my photography equipment, that is my cameras, and then later I can expand a bit by giving tips about how I use them. Mostly how I use them in the field for reference photos but maybe some of my tips may help someone out and that’s a good thing! When I do a post that includes something useful about photography, I’ll link it to the category on the right under “Lessons + how to’s > Photography”.

I consider photography to be a hobby, though I sell lots of note cards and gifts with my photos on them (see my Photography page here), I still like to take pictures just because I love doing it. I love traipsing through a field following behind a flitting butterfly, or capturing a bird up on a branch (not blurry while hand holding my camera) or wading around in water studying frog eggs and frogs, all while smacking at mosquitoes, black flies etc and sometimes balancing my sketch book! I LOVE IT!

I have learned to put picture files into different folders on my computer under Reference photos.  Wow my collection of reference photos has grown and I could use it for painting for quite some time! I say it’s best to study from life, but take pictures too if you can, to study later, they are loaded with information.

Here’s a few pictures of my simple cameras I use right now when I go in the field to sketch or just shoot pics for references and study. I have a long lens and tripod I’ll get pictures of later to include.

my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28

I just love this camera! It’s lightweight but takes great shots. I put a different strap on it using one from some other bag that’s nice and long. I wear it across my body, not hanging from my neck; this way it stays relatively out of the way and doesn’t strain my neck.  I put special little rings on the clips from a binocular strap I got, it allows more movement of the strap without stress on the clip. Do you see how I put clear tape on the clip too, that’s to keep the clip from slipping off the tiny rings.

My Lumix is pretty lightweight and not too bulky

You can see it fits in my hand and sometimes I hold it up to take pictures of myself working, a little awkward but it works. It has automatic settings and manual, I use both. Most of the time I use the “Landscape” mode because it has super zoom capacity (that’s as far as my tech talk goes!) on that setting. From there I select manual only when having difficulty getting the auto focus to ‘see’ what I want it to focus on.  That’s a lot tougher to use! More about that another time.

My tiny Olympus FE-220 7.1 megapixal

This little camera deserves a gold star! I’ve had it years and years, use it all year round and never fails me! My favorite thing to use this camera for is close-ups. It has a Macro and Super Macro, I always use the Super Macro. There is no zooming on this setting you just get as close as it allows you and snap. It’s just great for bugs and for peeking under mushrooms where a larger camera can’t go (or you just can’t get your head under with it!) I’ll show you why I have the super long lanyard on the handle later.

The backside of the tiny Olympus.

This is the backside, small, easy, compact. I put some of that special ‘stuff’ on the viewing area, ahm…bought it in an office supply store, I’ll have to look up what it’s called. I put it on all my cameras.

Then there's always the cell phone camera in a pinch!

And then there’s always your cell phone in a pinch. They take better pictures than ever, but it’s hard to see what you’re shooting when outside, but sometimes it’s fun to take a picture and upload it to facebook immediately so your friends can see what kind of trouble your getting up to! (or just wish they could be there with you walking in the fields!).

I also have a Cannon 20D that is just a beautiful camera and takes marvelous pictures, but I don’t use it anymore. I have given up the extra weight so I can carry my art kit, I have to be careful how much weight I carry because I get trouble with my neck and back if I don’t.

Beautiful Wood-nymph Moth

(Click on any picture to see larger, picture links at the end of the post go to my shop, enjoy!)

The "Beautiful Wood-nymph" moth...my newest discovery!

As your family and friends get to know how much you love to study new bugs and things, they will start to point things out to you that they find. This is great because it’s more ‘eyes’ watching for things than just your two. Well my son Paul, home from college, said there was an interesting moth on the back screen. I didn’t pay much attention until he again said, “Mom, you really should look, it’s really different looking!”

My two page spread of studies from life of the moth.

Glad I listened and glad I looked! It was a small moth who must have made it’s way onto my porch looking for the lights. Above you can see how I used two pages of my sketch book journal to do studies. I’ll share with you the steps I usually take when I find a new bug to study.

View from above taken with my tiny Olympus camera.

Before anyone gets their portrait painted, I get as many photos as I can to file for references, maybe for a future painting or at least to properly identify it.  I usually have some plastic containers around that I use, this one was perfect, it’s from a “Crisco Sticks” shortening package; the kind you buy with three sticks in a pack and they’re easy for measuring. One of the plastic containers has a lid and the whole thing is nice clear plastic!

View underneath the moth, many times reveals a surprise color!

I also have some fine mesh that I can put over the top with a rubber band, I never want to kill the creature (unless it’s a house pest, I may not be so nice then!) I love using my tiny Olympus camera to take the close up photos, it works great on the macro setting. This shot is through the bottom of the container. Another tip, I go outside into the natural light if I can to take pictures, the color is always so much better; this was taken in bright sunlight.

This is my set up showing how I positioned the moth under a magnifying glass.

This photo shows you my set up  for drawing. Now that I have lots of pictures to save, I put him under an old magnifying glass that stands up and start sketching. Do you see there is no lid? The moth was staying put, maybe because of the light, so I kept the lid off to work. I start with a light pencil sketch and then use permanent ink (you can see my pen in the background, this was an Itoya Finepoint System .2)

I did a 3/4 view to show another angle.

This is a close up of one of the sketches, I try to do different angles to show various aspects of the bug. I thought the furry legs were fascinating! (and made it look ‘cute’ actually!) I colored him in after drawing with the ink, but sometimes I do it in the opposite order. I laid the washy blue background in after I colored all the moths, I wanted it to be lose and just ‘pretty’.

View from above of the Beautiful Wood-nymph.

What an appropriately named moth…”Beautiful” really is in it’s name!

Beautiful Wood-nymph in the 'wild' on a leaf.

Now here’s the cool part of my story! I went for a ramble the very next day, hoping to find some interesting butterflies to photograph. I was into the first pasture and saw a tiny fluttering in a low plant, I watched for where it seemed to end up then just studied the leaves and grasses, looking for a butterfly. See below:

Hiding down low in the grasses, can you believe I found him?!

Ok, I’ll brag a little here, I think I have good eyes for spotting things, because I found him! Hiding amongst all those grasses and leaves. Can you see how well he can blend in, but then, not totally.

Another shot showing how well they hide on the leaves!

Then he flew around again and re-landed; this shot shows him pointed downward, always keeping his legs stretched out in front.

The Beautiful Wood-nymph imitating bird dropping, that's his job!

When they do that, it makes them look like bird droppings and that’s their defense!! I’ve seen pics in books about such things, but never saw one myself.  Though he imitates such a yuchy thing, the moth itself is really pretty! I enjoyed studying how the wing pokes up through with a curling flourish and the fuzzy legs that remind me of a Poodle dog. The wings had a sheen in the sunlight that looked like white satin.

The big thing all of this made me realize, was that I’ve been living here for about 17 years and I never noticed one of these before! Well, much of that time I was busy raising my boys, taking care of animals and whatever else. I didn’t go out walking in my fields all the time as I do now. What I’m trying to say is there is SO MUCH around us that isn’t seen, unless we start looking closer to see it. And then, like this moth, once you see it and study it, it’s more likely you’ll see it again. Try not to miss anything, try to capture it all and the best way is in a sketch journal!

(No moth was harmed in the making of this blog entry, the names were not changed because he’s not innocent, he’s guilty of being “Beautiful” heehee)

The following pictures go to glossy Note Cards I created using my painting and photographs of the moth. Please have a look and share the links with nature loving friends you think may enjoy them!

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This one has customizable text!
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And here’s the last one!
Let me know if there’s anything you want created or customized in my shop, I’m glad to do it for you!