Monday, March 3, 2014

Sketches and a new piece

Happy March! It's been a long, cold winter, to say the least! I know we are not quite done with it yet here in Michigan, but it helps to be starting a new month, that much closer to spring.

Although I have not done any great quantities of drawing or big projects this winter, I have been keeping my pencils warmed up with sketches here and there.

Below are some studies of a pretty little African violet that I picked up at the store a few weeks ago. The petals are a beautiful purple/violet color with frilled, white edges. I started with pencil sketches using my 4H pencil for a lighter touch:

Such graceful, curving stems! Then I moved on to a more detailed study in ink and colored pencil. I enjoyed rendering the overlapping petals and you can see the variety of blues and violets I chose to layer to get the correct color. The view from behind the flower (on the right) allowed the light to shine through the petals more, so the coloring was slightly brighter and lighter. All of the stems and buds are covered with tiny, fine hairs which I indicated in pen.

Finally, I have started to work on new piece, which I hope will be a finished one, probably in ink and colored pencil. This will be the Spring Beauty wildflower that I have sketched and photographed in detail before. I am trying to decide on composition, but definitely want to include the opened flowers as well as the clustered buds that hang gracefully off of the main stem. 

I actually like this simple composition below, but may want to include some overlapping elements as these tiny flowers intertwine and carpet the forest floor each spring. Stay tuned for more on this one!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Back to Drawing! Powder Puff Tree (Calliandra haematocephala)

Happy New Year, all!

We have had a bit of an extended winter/holiday break from school since the polar vortex arrived here in Michigan. However, things are starting to thaw out and we will be back on schedule soon.

One bonus of the extra time was having the opportunity to get back into drawing after the holidays. Right before our most recent snowstorm and cold snap, we had a chance to get up to our local botanical garden (Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor.) Lots of wonderful plants blooming in the conservatory and my husband was able to take a number of great photos. I was thinking "reference photos!" for my files. Although not ideal, working from photos is still an opportunity to study a plant and practice rendering techniques, especially after a lull in creative activity during the holidays.

One of the things we saw really caught my eye, the Powder Puff Tree (Calliandra haematocephala.) It has beautiful, fluffy, bright red/pink blossoms and gorgeous buds right before they bloom. A challenging subject, but one I was really intrigued to figure out. All of those filamentous bits on the flower!!

So, I broke out the colored pencils and worked on a study of a blossom. I use Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils and chose a piece of 5 x 7 inch, 140 lb Fabriano Artistico Extra White, hot press watercolor paper. It has a nice weight and takes many layers of pencil well.

I started by using Payne's Grey to sketch out the flower bud and dark ends of the filaments.

This gave me a bit of confidence by mapping out where I was headed with all of the individual "fluff" of the blossom. Some botanical art friends suggested using different shades of red, so I did just that. I began with Deep Scarlet Red, following the shape of the filaments.

I continued layering with Middle Cadmium Red, Dark Red, and Madder, adding some brighter Geranium Lake at the end. 

I was careful to leave some white space (shading in light pink) that occurs at the base of the flower where the bloom first opens up.


I finished up shading the unopened blossom and branch by adding in some May Green and Olive Green Yellowish. Here is the finished study:

I think it turned out rather well for an intimidating subject! As one of my artist friends stated, it is a great start! I would love to do additional studies of the buds, leaves and branches and put them together into a more finished piece. 

What projects have you started on or would you like to begin in this new year?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I just want to take a moment to wish all of you who follow along on my creative adventures a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I really appreciate all of your support.

I have not updated this blog as often as I might and am not sure how it will evolve moving forward. I hope to post at least once a month. If you find certain types of posts useful or more interesting, please let me know! I would love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, enjoy the holiday season in whatever way you like best, and I look forward to a productive and creative 2014!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shop Small Business This Year!

Happy Small Business Saturday!

I am currently offering several different promtions my Etsy shop for your holiday shopping pleasure!

  • SALE ITEMS: Type sale in the search box to find discounts on regularly priced items.  
  • 15% off of all purchases made this weekend! (Sat., Nov. 30 - Mon., Dec. 2) Use Code:
    SMALLBIZSAT13 at checkout.
  • FREE GIFT with every purchase made this weekend! (Sat., Nov. 30 - Mon., Dec. 2)

Botanical Silk Wrap Bracelet: Silver Morning Flower on Red
100% silk, hand-dyed ribbon. This one has a beautiful focal button, others have natural stone beads. See the shop for the full selection!

Note Card Sets - choose 6 per set
These feature my original botanical and nature artwork and are printed and packaged for gift-giving.

I also have leather wrap bracelets, adjustable natural stone pendants, earrings, original art and more!

I will continue to add new items to the shop each week, so check back often to see what is new! Also, feel free to contact me directly if you have any specific requests for stones, colors, etc. 

Please keep me in mind as you go about your gifting this holiday season!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Legacy of the Land Through Art Exhibit - Artwork Finished! Part II - Wildflower Leaf Survey

Update 10/11/13: Auction Site for Legacy of the Land Through Art is up! 
Visit the site to view, bid on and/or purchase artwork from the exhibit!
And here is Part II! Wildflower Leaf Survey in graphite pencil. How did I end up deciding to do a piece like this? Why not another plant portrait? 

Well, as I mentioned in my previous post (see details on my plant portrait of the Jack in the Pulpit,) I inadvertently missed the peak blooming of the wildflowers at Creekshead Preserve (oops!) so I actually spent a lot of time walking the trails, looking at leaves and plants and wondering what they were! I grabbed my trusty Wildflowers of Michigan Field Guide and along with many, many reference photos, identified a number of species that I encountered there either in a few, blooming plants or by leaves, including:

  • Spring beauty
  • Trout lily
  • Great white trillium
  • False Solomon’s seal
  • Bloodroot
  • Jack in the Pulpit
  • Wild geranium
  • Cut-leaved toothwort
  • Hanging or nodding trillium
  • Ferns (not sure what type)
  • White baneberry
  • Blue cohosh
  • Mayapple
I am sure there are even more that I missed, but I was thrilled to realize that I encountered and was able to identify so many different species in my few outings.

Using my reference photos, I did do a few sketches of different plants (see my post from May 28), and initially I thought I would like to do another plant portrait for my second piece. Although I was able to capture some beautiful mayapple blossoms, saw a couple of gorgeous nodding trillium (new to me) as well as pretty purple wild geranium with wonderful, fuzzy buds, I kept coming back to the idea of leaves. Doing a portrait of just one other plant seemed to shortchange the variety that are present in Creekshead Preserve. What if I wasn’t the only one who wanted to explore this area, but happened to miss the 1-2 week period when everything was in full bloom? 

So, I decided that a survey of 4-6 leaves found in the preserve would best represent it for my second piece. As this exhibits focus is awareness of local land resources and conservation of those, educating an audience about what can be found there might be helpful.

What to include? I wanted to make sure I represented some of the plants with broad, umbrella-like leaves that conceal flowers or seed pods, such as mayapple and bloodroot. I also wanted to include more popular ones like trillium with its deeply veined set of three leaves. I first took just four plants and put them into an evenly-spaced layout.Here is a quick, rough sketch:

It looked OK, but I kept thinking I wanted to add more and include different-shaped leaves that I found intriguing, such as the False Solomon’s seal and cut-leaved toothwort. With the helpful advice of my husband (my go-to second set of eyes on these things!), I decided to go with six different species and put them in a vertical format. I think this allowed for more visual interest and gave me more flexibility on where to place which leaves.

For example, I love the way the False Solomon’s Seal leaves droop gracefully forward on the stem. Placing this in the upper left corner of the piece worked well compositionally, pointing the eye towards the rest of the leaves on the page.

I spent a lot of time working out the composition and making sure my line drawings were accurate. I liked it so much that I decided to do the final piece entirely in graphite pencil. I wanted to eliminate any distractions and emphasize the shape and veining patterns on each of the leaves. I added a light grid around each leaf so that the leaves could slightly overlap it and pop out of the "frame" a bit, and it also allowed me to create space under each for a simple, printed label.

I started out with clear line drawings of the leaf perimeters as well as major veins, using my Faber-Castell 4H pencil. I ended up using a fine-tipped embossing tool to do much of the veining, especially on the bloodroot and trillium as the veins appear lighter than the surrounding leaf. I also did all of my initial shading with the 4H as it allowed me to map out the shading on each leaf, maintaining a consistent, light layer. 

I continued layering graphite with a softer 2H and sometimes HB, darkening shadow areas and overlaps, giving more depth to each leaf. After setting the piece aside, I took one more look and lightened some areas with my trusty, kneaded eraser.


Once I was satisfied with the shading (and at the point where I did not want to start overworking it!), I darkened the grid lines, erased any extra guidelines and added labels for each leaf, printing in graphite along the bottom of each row.

The final touch, of course, was to have the finished piece framed. The kind and talented staff at Dexter Picture Frame Company really completed the piece, helping me to choose a double mat with a light gray interior that really highlighted the graphite work. I also chose to use the same, clear cherry wood frame that I used for the Jack in the Pulpit piece. The wood is from Paul Hickman (Urban Ashes) who uses urban salvaged or deconstructed wood from right here in Michigan.

I delivered both pieces to Matthaei Botanical Gardens today, along with all of the other 40+ artists in the show. The show opens next Saturday, October 12 and runs through November 10 and will be on display in the Botanical Gardens building at at 1800 North Dixboro Road in Ann Arbor. The exhibit will be available in an online art auction as well, which I will update here when I get the details.

All pieces will be for sale, with part of the proceeds going to the artist and part going to Legacy Land Conservancy. After November 10, the exhibit will be stored again until spring when it will be exhibited again at the Sandhill Crane Vineyards in Jackson, MI. 

Be sure to stop by!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Legacy of the Land Through Art Exhibit - Artwork Finished! Part I - Jack in the Pulpit

Update 11/8/13: SOLD! Thank you to the purchaser!

Update 10/11/13: Auction Site for Legacy of the Land Through Art is up!  
Visit the site to view, bid on and/or purchase artwork from the exhibit!

It has been quite some time since I updated you on my pieces for the Legacy of the Land Through Art Exhibit (via Legacy Land Conservancy) coming up next month. I spent a good deal of time working on sketches this summer and ended up with two final pieces for the exhibit by the September 9th deadline. This post covers the process for finishing the first of the two, my Jack in the Pulpit portrait in ink and colored pencil.

Jack in the Pulpit is a woodland perennial that I encountered quite a bit in my forays to Creekshead Nature Preserve, my assigned project property. Creekshead is known for its spring wildflower display, and I made a number of trips out there in April, May and June to explore the area.

Ironically, due to some tight scheduling in the spring and weather-related delays, I actually missed peak bloom! Luckily, my focus is on plant portraits and details. There were still a number of individual plants blooming during my explorations that I was able to get a broad picture of what species were in the preserve and which I might want to depict on paper. Jack in the pulpit was one of the species that was present in great numbers, right alongside the trail, each time I went to the preserve. Its distinctive flower, a large, cylindrical, hooded flower with beautiful maroon/brown stripes, made it top on my list for a plant portrait.

I was able to observe and photograph the jack in the pulpit through early spring when the leaves were just starting to form and unfurl through mid-late summer when the berries were present in green, before the fall turn to bright red. I worked mainly from my photographs as my time in the field was very limited.

Studies and Sketches

Here are some of my initial sketches and studies as I began to get a feel for the plant:

Field study - sketches and notes.                             Graphite study from reference photos.

  Color study - using Faber-Castell Polychromos colored pencils.  

I struggled with what exactly to show in my finished piece. I wanted to depict the different stages of the plant as I observed it, but also wanted to show both the male and female of the species, the former with one set of three leaves, the latter with two sets of three leaves, each with one of the unique, pitcher-like flowers. I played around with sketches on tracing paper and also printed and cut out sketches so that I could move them around, trying out different layouts.

I played with the idea of making more of a composed floral piece vs. showing the plants in a more linear fashion in order to better see the features of the striping on the flower and hood as well as the mottling on the stems. 
Above is a test composition that I liked as it shows the broad, mature, umbrella-like leaves above the flower, as well as the female plant and some of the early spring versions of the plant with leaves unfurling. However, I felt like the composition was hiding some of the details of each of those and I also thought that if I rendered them all in color, they might blend together too much.


Here is another composition that I felt showed the plants more clearly, but it seemed to be a bit too busy, without a clear path for the eye. I also started running out of time and with the level of detail I wanted to give each plant, I wasn't sure I could complete it by the deadline!

Ultimately, I decided on a more linear composition with fewer plants - just one male and one female. In one of my last trips to the preserve, I did get a chance to photograph the fruit directly, so I used that to fill in the last bit of the portrait, showing more of the life cycle of the plant, which is what I wanted to achieve.

I worked with a local gallery, Dexter Picture Frame Company, to get both this and the other piece framed professionally for the exhibit. I chose to go with a natural wood frame, in keeping with the organic nature of the piece. I also kept the ties local by choosing a Paul Hickman frame from his Urban Ashes line which uses salvaged or deconstructed wood from here in Michigan. This is the clear cherry wood, and I thought it complimented the colors in the stem very well.

Stay tuned for Part II for details on the second piece that I completed for the exhibit!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vacation! Myrtle Beach, SC

It's been awhile since I have posted! Summer is flying by and I am still plugging away on my drawing project for Legacy Land Conservancy.

I did get a chance for some travel this month with a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. In addition to our usual beach trips, we made a brief visit to my favorite Brookgreen Gardens. I really must try to get there when it isn't blazing hot! Though I didn't do much sketching, I did get some photos:

Captured a dragonfly sitting still in one of the beautiful fountains.

Lilies in the children's garden.

Live Oak Allee with gorgeous, colorful caladiums underneath.

And, of course, lots of magnolias, some with their fruits forming.

I loved this curly plant, also in the children's garden. No idea what it is, but it is wonderfully whimsical!

We also had a chance to visit Alligator Adventure, which had quite a lot to see! Alligators, crocodiles, birds, and other reptiles. We even saw them do an alligator feeding.

Baby alligator sunning on some roots.

Lots of young alligators hanging out in the hot weather.

We even saw albino alligators!

It was another great trip, and I look forward to going again! Now, back to the drawing board... :)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Artwork for Land Conservation - a new project!

I am excited to be one of approximately 40 artists chosen to participate in the "Legacy of the Land Through Art" mixed-media art exhibit to be on display later this year. 

The exhibit is being hosted by Legacy Land Conservancy, in association with the University of Michigan, Matthaei Botanical Gardens, and the Nichols Arboretum. The first exhibit will be at Matthaei Botanical Gardens this fall and a second exhibit will be at Sandhill Crane Vineyards in the spring of 2014. Fostering recognition of the connection between land and people is a key component of Legacy’s mission, so this exhibit is one way to bring this connection to the public.

Each participating artist is given a land assignment in Washtenaw or Jackson counties to explore. Some are assigned to a preserve managed by Legacy Land Conservancy, while others are assigned to private properties of interest in those two southeastern Michigan counties. The artist is to experience the land directly and create 1 to 3 pieces of art inspired by their interaction. 

I have been assigned to Creekshead Nature Preserve, a 27 acre mature beech-maple-basswood forest with spectacular spring wildflower blooms. I have made about 4 or 5 trips out to Creekshead this spring. Ironically, due to a scheduling problem of my own right at the peak, I missed the height of the spring wildflower blooms. Yikes! I nearly panicked, but in my trips to the preserve, I did manage to see and identify a number of species of wildflowers, including:

  • spring beauty
  • jack-in-the-pulpit
  • large white trillium
  • nodding trillium
  • baneberry
  • cut-leaved toothwort
  • bloodroot
  • mayapple
  • trout lily 
  • wild geranium
My trips out were sometimes brief and other times with my husband and young kids, so I only did a few field sketches. I took nearly 250 reference photos, though, and am currently working on more detailed studies from my photos. Some of these preliminary studies are below:

Jack-in-the-pulpit field sketches and notes.

Jack-in-the-pulpit study in graphite. This was done in my sketchbook which is Stonehenge paper, so it has a slightly rough texture.

This is a study of wild geranium that I just started. It's in graphite (apologies for the quick photo, rather than a scan). The lower right corner has a small color study (ink and colored pencil) of the flower buds. This was done on Fabriano Artistico Extra White Hot Press watercolor paper. It takes layers of pencil well and also has a nice, smooth texture for blending.


This is a graphite study of a mayapple blossom done in my Stonehenge sketchbook.

And here is an experiment on tan, toned paper. This is a white trillium (Trillium grandiflorium) study. I used graphite and then layered some colored pencil on top. The paper did not take the layers of pencil well, so I only did a partial study. Still, interesting to get a feel for the subject.

I am looking forward to doing additional studies and then deciding on what my final pieces will contain. I found it very intriguing to be in the preserve past-peak, wondering what the different plants were without an identifying blossom attached, so I am considering doing a piece of just leaves from different plants.  

What do you think might make a compelling piece? What would you be curious to see in an exhibit like this?

I will keep posting with my progress as I continue drawing and making composition decisions. I do also post updated sketches on my Facebook page and Flickr account, so feel free to check those more frequently. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Mixed media experiment - tulip study in watercolor and colored pencil

I have some gorgeous red and yellow tulips in a vase this week. One of my very favorite flowers, I have always wanted to draw them, but get intimidated by the feathery red that blends into the yellow on the petals. I tend to use colored pencil and sometimes get too heavy-handed with it. I often end up with a muddy mix, rather than a delicate layering.

Clearly, I could practice just using a lighter touch and sharper pencils! However, today I wanted to try out a little mixed media technique and lay down a watercolor wash to give me some background on top of which to add pencil.

One of my retreat friends used this technique beautifully this weekend while painting a skunk cabbage in all of its maroon and cream glory. It reminded me that although I have not done much painting with watercolor, I could definitely use it as a base for a detailed colored pencil drawing, especially when layering very light colors with darker ones.

I started out with a light graphite pencil sketch to get the shapes. I have a small Windsor & Newton travel watercolor kit and used one of my travel watercolor brushes to grab a little bit of yellow and do a light wash on the petals. I also did the same with a light wash of green on the stem and leaves.

I painted on Fabriano Artistico Extra White hot press watercolor paper. I took some quick snapshots to show the process, but apologize for the poor quality of the photos! It should give you an idea of how I worked through the study, at least.

Next, I started adding in layers of colored pencil. I use Faber-Castell Polychromos pencils. For this particular study, I used dark red for the deepest shadows in the petals and layered deep scarlet red and pale geranium lake on top for the red sections. For the yellow, I added some shadows with light yellow ochre and dark naples ochre. I kept layering, attempting to capture the subtle texture of these silky petals.



I used light green, permanent green, may green, and pine green for the leaves and stem. 

As you can see below in the photo of my whole page, I did some test patches for each pencil before I used them to make sure I had the right colors. I need to do a color chart of all of my pencils to use as a reference! Those can be fun to make and good pencil practice - perhaps another blog post?

When I finished, I set the drawing aside for a few minutes and came back to it, darkening some shadows for definition and adding some highlights with my kneaded eraser. Here is the final. It's a photo (couldn't get the scan to look right) and even this doesn't quite show the darker reds as much as the actual.

Overall, I really liked using a watercolor wash as a base. I have more practicing to do, but look forward to using this technique again. 

Do you use mixed media in your work? What combinations do you like and why?

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