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.

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.


I got a late start but decided I would take part in Wet Canvas’ All Media Event. It’s a pretty interesting activity. Reference photos are posted over the weekend and you have a half an hour to select one and two hours to finish your piece (unless you don’t, and then you can post it as a work in progress.) This took me more than an hour, but less than an hour and a half, somewhere in there. I was working quickly – it’s little more than a sketch, really, but it was fun to do. You can execute your piece of work in any medium you want. I need practice in painting people so I picked this one and changed the background and attitude of the head to suit myself.

Illo Friday – Robot

Robots don’t work all the time, you know. Sometimes they go for walks in the woods with their kids. And pick berries and stuff. So, if you’re camping and you see glowing red eyes in the bushes … just remember, it might not be bobcats …

Three Sisters at the pool

Descanso Gardens changes by the season, the day, sometimes by the minute. Especially when the morning sun is weaving and dodging through the dense canopy of oak trees. Yesterday I was so captivated by the morning light that I spent the first hour there shooting photos for reference. In the Japanese garden, one of my favorite areas, the light was changing so rapidly that even ten minutes might highlight a plant that had been in deep shade before. Not even enough time for a wash to dry before it utterly changed. When the light is steady – either full sun or full shade – this is not so much of a problem unless there are moving clouds. Take a look at a time lapse movie and the challenge of changing light will become readily apparent.
I tried cropping this differently, and I think I like it better.

Watercolor in a Canson Montval 7 x 10 watercolor field book

Spotted Nubian – Illo Friday

Click to enlarge

I got busy this week and missed the chance to do something for Illustration Friday. So here’s something done earlier this year that wasn’t used for any previous project …

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I very seldom do any graphite drawing. I don’t have any negative feelings about it. In fact, I love the beautiful halftones that some of my artist friends like Detlef and Felicity so skillfully achieve. For some reason, perhaps negative experiences drawing with a pencil when I was a child, I just don’t gravitate to it. So today, as part of my ongoing animal series I decided to do something radical and to draw this spotted Nubian goat in graphite instead of ink or paint. The paper was not particuarly smooth or fine, much to my regret. I used 2B, 6B and 8B pencils, a kneaded eraser and a tortillon here and there.

(Edited to add: The paper size was 8 1/2 x 11 – for some idea of scale. K.)

In reality the goat is colored burnt sienna, deep burnt umber, black and white. Maybe I’ll try her in watercolor next. After I finish cleaning my refrigerator, that is.

Arroyo Twilight

I think I tend to be a little too conservative with color. It’s a rut I’m trying to get out of by occasionally getting experimental and pushing the colors far beyond realism. So, today my husband and I went out for a little “golden hour” painting time – the last 25 minutes of the day before the sun went behind the nearby Verdugo Hills. There wasn’t time to fiddle and fuss about being neat or getting the shapes and values right – the light was changing rapidly by the minute. I had a very good time splashing around while he read to me about Calder from today’s LA Times.

This watercolor sketch is another view of the same arroyo I painted last week – an area that is either dustbowl dry or full of water depending upon the season. Right now there are cattails in a marshy area – redwinged blackbirds everywhere and ponds full of poliwogs. It’s my idea of a great painting location.

If you draw or paint, in what areas are you ‘pushing yourself’ to be more experimental, regardless of the outcome? Are you taking chances? How does it feel when you do?

Ripley again …

It’s been a few weeks since Ripley has made an appearance here and she was calling that to my attention earlier today. So here you are.

Because I know someone will ask, I will answer it ahead of time – I did not paint this from life. In fact, here’s the secret code to to figuring out whether a particular Rip-painting has been done from life. If Ripley is sleeping or lounging in a mostly horizontal position, there’s a good chance it was done from life. If she appears to be standing up, bouncing around, digging, begging, panting or wearing a plumed hat and pearls, there’s a good chance it was painted from a photo. I do sketch her from life a lot, but mostly when the switch is set to ZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Pasadena spring

A watercolor sketch of a local streetcorner, influenced in part by a recent demo I saw by Joseph Stoddard, who is, himself, a student of Charles Reid. I think I’m going to be leaving the Niji waterbrushes behind for plein-air sketching, or else I’ll be using a lot more water for juicier washes.

Still pursuing camellias

I’m still in search of the secret of shiny leaves. So here I am, Day 2, after a night’s sleep. (See the day before yesterday for my first attempt, in watercolor.) This is an experiment in acrylic, suggested by Cynthia on the botanical art list. I have very little experience with acrylic – my practice has been almost completely in watercolor and pen and ink – but acrylic is starting to grow on me.

Watercolor is a stern taskmistress. She’s like the Olympics. You get one try on the 10 meter board and if you do a belly flop there are no do-overs, you just have to go find another piece of paper and try again. (Unless you can lift or scrub your mistake out, but that’s a different story.

Acrylic is like your favorite aunt that says “Relax, have fun, you’ve got a little wiggle room. Don’t stress.”

That being said, I’m still not satisfied with the leaves but I like the fluffy camellia a bit and most of all I liked the experience. I am always surprised with what a project teaches me; it’s never what I would expect. Maybe that’s what makes art such an addictive experience. There’s always something new to learn and you can mix it up infinitely and never, ever be bored.