You Lookin’ at ME?

Yesterday, after we finished scrambling up and down streambanks and walking over gently sloped hillsides covered with pine straw, my husband and I headed back to the car. He had walked on ahead a few yards and was turned around in my direction when he saw a slithering not far from me. Experienced Boy Scout that he was, he did not yell “look out” or “freeze” or “stand where you are,” he uttered one emphatic word that instantly stopped me in my tracks. “SNAKE.”
I froze and quickly looked around me.
“In front of you and to your left about 7 feet.” Gingerly, I backed up and took the long way back up to the road.
He, of course, the intrepid and curious cameraman, had to investigate.

It was a rattler, and we were the interlopers. We gave the snake space and respect. It had already wound itself up into a neat coil and was ready to defend itself – firstly, by being smaller and inconspicuous, and secondly, if necessary, by striking.
My husband knew, of course, that it could only strike at 2/3 of its length, and it appeared to be about 3 feet in length (he had seen it extended, slithering.)

He offered to take a picture from a safe distance. “Don’t you want to draw it?” he asked.
What a guy! He knew I did.
I nervously hopped on one foot and the other and made frantic little yikesy noises as he approached it to get a better shot for me.
So the snake lived happily ever after and so did my husband, and I have a sketchbook entry to show for it.

From looking at photos on the net, my best guess is that this is a Crotalus oreganus helleri., which looks a lot like your generic diamondback rattler. I read that the western diamondback rattler has now been divided into 7 distinct species, but that taxonomy is disputed. Whatever you want to call it, it is a venomous pit viper, and unlike some other snake species, its babies are born alive and loaded with poison from the get-go.

Rattlers are known to be aggressive. They prey on small rodents, birds and insects, but are themselves vulnerable to birds of prey. Deer, cows and other large mammals will stomp them to death, so they are necessarily fearful of large warm bodies (like ours.)
We couldn’t hear the snake rattling, but the photo showed a blur where a neat tail should be, so I’m guessing that it was quivering slightly.
Did you know that rattlers can SWIM and hold their rattle delicately out of the water when they do? I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that they often lose their fangs when biting and always have a spare pair in reserve.

I don’t have a fear of snakes, per se, but I do have a healthy respect for them. The sight of one doesn’t send me away screaming and I will gladly hold a small boa or other small non-venomous snake if it is offered. Our son had a green snake named Stretch which I helped care for. So this experience didn’t panic me or discourage me from painting in woods and gullies. But it will certainly teach me to wear hiking boots instead of old sneakers on our next outing.

Tomorrow: a watercolor portrait or a wildflower moment …

Blues in the Woods

Today we drove up into the Angeles Crest National Forest to hear some music at Newcomb’s Ranch Inn … the only restaurant/road house in the vast national forest. Specifically, we drove the 45 minutes or so from our home to hear bluesman Barry “Big B” Brenner. We met Barry several years ago when he played at a restaurant in our town, and since that time we’ve enjoyed his music at sites all over Los Angeles – from a barbecue joint in Monrovia to a cajun restaurant in Toluca Lake to an outdoor concert at a golf course. His rare appearances at Newcomb’s Ranch Inn are worth the drive. Barry has said on numerous occasions that his mission is to introduce people to traditional blues and the blues legends that are the foundation of so much treasured American music. With his 6 string, 12 string and National Resonator guitars, he serves up a rich mixture of delta slides, Piedmont rags and Texas stomps – including numerous original songs. My favorite songs in Barry’s repertoire include “Deep River Blues,” “San Francisco Bay Blues,” and “Step it up and Go,” – but everything he sings is excellent. If you like blues, visit his site at the link above and give a listen … And if you’re in LA, get on his mailing list to find out where he’s appearing.

Barry was taking a set break when we arrived, but when he returned to play, I pulled out my sketchbook and did a painting of some of the pines and chapparal that grow on a hill behind the inn. This time, I didn’t make any attempt at composition, I just painted it like it was … a brilliant cerulean sky with fair weather cumulus, constantly changing light, pine trees clinging to a bare granite cliff, thickets of manzanita and mesquite and clouds of blooming ceanothus. More paintings of spring in our local wilderness will be posted this week.

Blues, sunshine, fresh air, a new watermedia sketchbook recommended by Roz Stendahl, my waterbrush and paints … and my dear husband to take me there and enjoy it with me. I can’t imagine a better start to a 3-day weekend.

Edited to add: I thought you might be interested in seeing what the scene actually looked like. This was a snapshot I took of that hillside. You can barely see the corner of the roof of the building in the foreground. The trees were about 30 yards or so away.
What I found interesting was my perception (above) that I just painted it like it was. I see now that I must have been improvising quite a bit, but I wasn’t really aware that I was.

A Young Lady

As I continue to work with watercolor in my year-long commitment to paint, I occasionally challenge myself to try a portrait, which is considerably more nerve-wracking than drawing plants or even some animals. A branch or twig can be in the wrong place and no one would notice. Put the nose in the wrong place and you might as well start over. Some day soon I’ll try a watercolor portrait from life, after I’ve practiced a bit with photos. This young lady’s photo was offered up for experimentation on wet canvas, and I enjoyed the time I spent with her.
I didn’t take the time to paint the background this time, as my objective was really to experiment with flesh tones and to try to get somewhat of a likeness.

Two of my favorite pups – 1998

Photograph | May 25, 2006 | By

“But time makes you bolder
Children get older
I’m getting older too”

–Landslide, Stevie Nicks

I was consolidating and cataloging some digital photos and came across this.
Today … Mike just turned 21, and Rip’s almost 8.
Bulldog puppies don’t get that characteristic jaw until they mature. When they’re this age they look pretty much like other puppies.

A more grownup picture of Mike and Ripley is on his masthead, here
Uh, the masthead, not the lampshades.

Draw something Mom

I had been thinking of an image to represent motherhood for this weeks “Draw something Mom” prompt when I came upon a beautiful reference photo of a mother swan and two cygnets at Wet Canvas for the Weekend Art Event.

Although this wasn’t a picture that I took, I felt very strongly attracted to it, and it holds a special meaning for me. So, it will be my interpretation of the challenge.

Arty bits: painted on Fabriano Artistico 140 lb. paper, 7″ x 5″. I did a very light pencil drawing first.

Zoo Story – Part 1

On our LA Zoo sketchcrawl on Saturday, I took along a bagful of different art supplies because I wanted to experiment drawing the animals using different tools that seemed appropriate for their textures and coloration. I’m going to be scanning them and posting them throughout the week, so please check back if you’re interested in seeing more. The smooth graphic lines of the zebra seemed to lend themself to ink, and our model posed quietly in the shade for quite a long time. Thank you, zebra – you were the most cooperative subject of the day! I scanned and painted it later in Photoshop – my drawing paper doesn’t lend itself to wash.

Next subject: A mother kangaroo who had recently given birth to a little girl “joey.” Following some of the advice given in David Rankin’s Fast Sketching Techniques I used a dark, soft pencil and brought a stomp to smudge the lines. I think this captures some of the feeling of the soft fur of the mother roo who was taking a much needed rest. That big lump under her tail is where her daughter is napping! After scanning the sketch I added a little Photoshop color from a reference photo so you can see the before and after. Rankin is certainly right, drawing with a smudgeable pencil does allow you to get a faster impression with volume – good for drawing animals that won’t hold still.

If you’re in the So. California area (from Santa Barbara to San Diego to San Bernardino) and you’d like the experience of drawing with a group of friendly art-loving people, drop me a note and I’ll put you on our list so you can find out about upcoming get-togethers.

My window view – a not so faraway place

This is my return to the “Draw the view from your window” challenge. My intention is to do it for every season and to notice the differences in foliage and flowers. The tree is a Chinese elm, a hardy and vigorous grower that puts up suckers all over the yard, and promiscuously drops seeds with wild abandon. This elm, in fact, is a child of the four large elms that line the front of our property. Unlike American elms they are not vulnerable to Dutch elm disease. Come to think of it, they’re not vulnerable to anything – even severe trimming and drought. You couldn’t kill them if you tried, which makes them a good plant for drought prone areas like ours.

I painted this in my sketchbook this afternoon, looking out my window onto the end of a sunny day – a welcome change from all the rain and cloudy weather. The colors snapped, the light was good and I just had to stop what I was doing. But here’s my question: If you paint a nature scene from life but you’re not outside, can you call it plein-air? Should I call it faux-air? Or office-air? I am so confused; I will have to ruminate on this for awhile.

Edited to add:

Here’s a fall window view …of the oak just to the left of the Chinese elm (elm not seen here.)


Approaching Storm

Much of the time I’m unsatisfied with the outcome of what I’m drawing or painting. I’m rarely unsatisfied with the process of practice and learning, just unsatisfied with the result. I think this is natural for a student of any age, and I consider myself a student.

However, every now and then I paint or draw something which I think shows progress in my study, and this digital study is one of those times. It’s subject is a bird, but thematically it’s about much more. As a minstrel poet of our times once wrote: “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Art details: The crow and stump were painted freehand in Photoshop, using a photo as a reference. It is not a paint-over or a photo manipulation, nor do I trace. I start with a rough sketch, black on white, just like with a ‘real’ pencil or brush, and build up the layers with semi-transparent brushstrokes, bit by bit. The Photoshop file was opened in Corel Painter, where the background was painted on other layers using customized brushes. The whole thing was brought back into Photoshop for final color correction, watermark and jpegging. I am working on a non-digital version of this also which may be available for sale. For this digital study I used a small Wacom tablet that’s about 5 years old, nothing fancy.