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?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Retreat 2013! Afternoon of hiking and sketching...

If you have been following along, you know that I had the opportunity to spend a wonderful day at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute yesterday at an art retreat. I, along with about 8 other nature artists, spent time together catching up and creating some new artwork. We had a fantastic introductory class in etching with PCCI's first artist-in-residence, Doet Boersma. Read about it in my previous post.

After our etching class and a tasty lunch, we all spent the afternoon hiking the many trails at PCCI, sketching and painting whatever caught our attention. After such a long winter, it was a pleasure to have temperatures in the 60s and lots of sun! The woods are just starting to bud and spring plants are beginning to bloom.

I decided to hike one of the easier trails so I had plenty of time for drawing as I spotted wildflowers or other interesting subjects.

Three of us headed down toward the boardwalk behind the visitor's center, passing many,  pretty little spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) along the trail. These delicate, pink-striped flowers are among the first to pop up through the leaf litter each spring.


As we headed onto the boardwalk, I spotted a few blooming marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris). I missed the chance to sketch them last time I was here, so I set my gear down and decided to do a little drawing.


Marsh marigold sketches are in graphite at the top of the page. Another plant that we saw everywhere was skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). They have some really interesting shapes and colors, so I had to stop and capture those, too. I ended up doing graphite and added colored pencil on top. Not the best combo, since it gets muddy and smears. But I wanted to add some color to indicate the deep maroon next to the light yellow-green in the same plant. 

In the swampy area near the rest of the skunk cabbage, I did a quick sketch of a tree with bright green moss growing by the roots. I chose to use gray toned paper for this one.


 Tree with skunk cabbage growing all around.

 My quick sketch on toned paper. I didn't do a great amount of detail, but really wanted to capture a bit of the moss.

I made my way up the blue trail to the Maple and Beech forest next. This is one of my favorite spots and one I visited before. The beech trees look so beautiful and delicate, especially the smaller ones, with their papery white leaves rustling in the breeze. 

Along this whole area, the forest floor is covered in leaf litter and other winter debris, but up throughout all of those leaves, sometimes growing right through them, are the spring wildflowers. I saw trout lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves everywhere, but only one blossom so far. My guess is that in the next week or two, that area will be bright with the curling stems and yellow blossoms. 


I also spotted more spring beauties and some clumps of light purple flowers that are slightly bigger than spring beauties. They also have a wonderful, hairy white stem. I believe these are hepatica

I found one with its three-lobed leaves intact and did some sketching on the same toned gray paper as the tree I did earlier. 

After I finished this study, I simply enjoyed walking the rest of the trail, looking for more flowers and listening to the birds singing. 

My last interesting find was right at the edge of the trail as it came out of the maple and beech forest into the prairie section. It was sunny on the path and I had my walking stick with me, as usual. I was studying the left side of the trail for wildflowers and heard a rustling off to my right. I stopped and saw a thick snake, about 14 inches long, with light tan and brown markings. 

It blended in perfectly with the surrounding leaf litter. It has stopped and was waiting for me to move on. Can you see it in the photo above? Its head is toward the top of the photo, right in between the sideways "V"-shaped tree branches and has two black patches on either side.

I took my camera out and captured a few photos before moving on. It flared its head out as it waited for me to leave, reminding me of a cobra. I thought it might be the elusive Massasauga rattlesnake, Michigan's only venomous snake. 

However, further research when I returned home revealed this to actually be an eastern hog-nosed snake. It is often mistaken for the Massasauga rattlesnake. Those dark head markings really clarified it for me - in any photos you see, the Massasauga has more of a striped appearance. Also, I read that the hog-nosed snake tends to flare its head when disturbed. Either way, a rare and beautiful sighting!

We finished the day by gathering in Doet's studio again to pick up our etching prints that we created earlier in the day and exchange business cards and contact information. I am so glad to have had the chance to visit PCCI and my artist friends, even if just for one day. I look forward to returning again!

Pierce Cedar Creek Institute Retreat 2013! How I spent the morning...

I had an opportunity to return to Pierce Cedar Creek Institute (PCCI) in Hastings, MI yesterday for an artist's retreat. I had a terrific time and met a great group of artists two years ago when we went.

Many of the same folks and a few new ones gathered again this weekend. I was only able to go for the day, but it was a gorgeous day. Temperatures were in the high 60s and the sun was shining. Fabulous after this long, cold winter! I managed to get some good sketching done and also had a surprise workshop from the first PCCI artist-in-residence, Doet Boersma

I arrived to PCCI at 9 a.m. and the day simply flew by. We started the day by heading to Doet's studio. She is an amazing artist and so generous to share her knowledge, time and equipment with us. A gracious host, she made sure we had our coffee or tea before we started! Then she proceeded to give us a quick class on etching (technically, drypoint - using an etching press to make prints.) We each chose a drawing or photo - either something from our sketchbook or a photo of our own from online that we printed out. I chose to work with one of my magnolia photos that I took last summer in South Carolina.

From there, we each cut a small piece of plastic binding cover material and chose an etching tool, which could be anything from a screwdriver to a scratchboard point or whatever hard-tipped scratching tool you prefer, as long as you can scratch your design into the plastic. The focus is on scratching the dark areas of the design as the print will be done in reverse, e.g., whatever you scratch the most will retain the most ink and print the darkest.

It turns out that my choice was a little ambitious since there is a good bit of dark background around the magnolia blossom and within the leaves. However, I plugged away and managed to get something decent to work with on the press.

Once our designs were finished being scratched into the plastic, Doet showed us how to choose various ink colors, with darker ones working best, roll them out and coat the plastic or "plate", working ink into the scratched areas with our gloved fingers, if needed. After wiping the excess ink off, we held the plates up to the light to see where we wanted to remove or add a little more ink. Using cotton swabs, I was able to take more ink off of the white flower to bring more light into the design.

Once we finished inking, we took a piece of water-soaked cotton rag paper that we prepared earlier and placed it onto a scrap piece of paper on the etching press. Carefully, I centered my etching ink-side down on the damp paper and put another scrap piece on top. I rolled the blanket layers down and then cranked the press to create a print. You can reuse the plate again and again, applying more ink, different colors, choosing to darken or lighten areas depending on how your print comes out.

My first print included mainly some green ink and turned out alright, but I wanted to tweak it some more.

First of 3 "magnolia" prints.

For my second print, I  added some brown ink to the background and darker areas, but clearly did not incorporate it as well!
 Second of 3 "magnolia" prints. 

My final print turned out the best, I think. I incorporated some reddish-brown ink and pulled out some highlights in the flower and bud a bit more. The sepia tones really compliment the magnolia as the back of the actual leaves is a rich, red-brown color.
  Final of 3 "magnolia" prints. 

It was such a fun process! Once we all did our first print, you could feel the creative energy rising in the room as people started thinking of how they wanted to tweak their prints, bustling about for more paint, wiping their plates to get the right amount of ink and "dirt" in the background. Everyone did at least 3, some 4 or 5. It was a productive few hours! Great to learn more about this traditional craft.

We left the prints to dry while we took a lunch break and spent the afternoon outdoors. Stay tuned for my next post with photos and sketches from the afternoon hike!

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