Tuesday, September 06, 2011

They're back!

While I'm always sad to see our short, sweet summer come to an end, I do welcome back the chickadees.  I heard their melodic and soft songs as I drank coffe on the deck the other morning.  They were greeting me and each other in the big spruce tree where they hid and ate sunflower seeds all last winter.
Research has shown that chickadees can remember over 6000 hiding spots for their seeds.  That's pretty remarkable for a tiny bird.
Watercolor and pen in Moleskine sketchbook, from a newspaper photo.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Big Prairie Sky

I live in Alberta which is prairie grassland that has been planted with commercial crops.  When we drive from the city where I live north to the city where my parents live, I am always struck by the enormous sky that stretches all around, and the vast fields where you can see for miles.  As the old joke goes, you can watch your little brother run away from home for three days.
The early settlers to this land were often nearly undone by the long distances between water sources and the lack of any kind of sheltered spaces.  It truly was the land where the buffalo ran free and could stampede for days with nothing to stop them.  This is a field of brilliantly blooming canola flowers under a dramatic sky, with few stands of planted trees called windbreaks, whose job was literally to break up the wind and prevent the seeded crops from blowing away.  This is my world and welcome to a glimpse of it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

New obsession

We've had a lot of rain this summer, and I've spent a lot of time on the deck after the rain.  I've become obsessed with water droplets and how they look on the petals and leaves of all the plants around me. For such a simple thing, a water droplet is amazingly complex to paint realistically.  I've painted them every which way I can and it's been lots of fun.
These are how water droplets look on the Red Morn petunias.  Next to the roses, these are the prettiest.
Today my deck is covered with hail - small, and not very damaging but still...
Watercolor in the Pentalic Nature sketchbook.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Getting my mojo back

Awhile ago, I did a project for my university's 100th anniversary, but it had to be done in acrylic paint.  It was a new medium for me, and I had to learn from scratch.  If you've painted with both, then you know that shadows and hightlights are done completely differently.  And that messed me up big time!  Nothing I did in watercolor from that point on seemed convincing and real to me.  I just couldn't make watercolor work for me. I decided to go back to the drawing board (so to speak) and got some instruction and demo watercolor books.  This is a demo from one of them.  I learned a lot, especially about highlights and shadows.  Although I didn't have much emotional connection to this painting as I have never been to Italy, it was lots of fun.  The bricks, the reflections in the window, the shadows - the whole idea of suggesting, rather than shouting was really interesting to do.  It really helped me get a handle on how much detail to put in (like the weathering at the bottom of the door and the moss on the wall near the water) and how much to leave out (not every brick needs to be painted).  It boosted my confidence enough to do some more.
The title of the book is "Painting watercolour landscapes the easy way" by Terry Harrison.

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Good Life

What could be better than sitting on your deck in the hot sunshine and painting the flowers blooming all around you? I've spent a lot of time doing just that, and enjoying every minute of it.  My favorite part of this painting was letting the colors flow and mingle in the leaves.

These are Matha Washington geraniums - two different plants in the same container.  They are very showy and exuberant.

Watercolor in the Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

Hope you are having a lovely summer.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer Gardening

During this past long dreary winter, I discovered that there was a community garden a few blocks from my house.  I emailed them and asked for a a bed there, expecting to be on the waiting list for a year or more.  Community gardens are very popular in my city.  Early in June, they contacted me and said I was the proud renter of bed B8.
I grew this radish in that garden and I'm proud of it.  Every year, we plant radish seeds in a container on the deck, and every year we yield nothing.  This year, as I planted nasturtiums in the radish container  my beloved said "No radishes?"  "No" I said, "the seeds are old and we never get any radishes".  So when we planted the community garden, we decided to just throw all the (probably dead) radish seeds in and see what happened.  An explosion of radishes is what happened.  Hundreds of radishes!  We've been eating spicy, peppery radishes every day for two weeks. They were simply waiting for the right place and time.
This is also one of the first sketches I've been happy with for a long time.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


I bought these Gerbera daisies to plant in a large container on the patio.  They are quite flamboyant and spectacular.  The stems have a tinge of purple, and the new blossoms are green and ripen into a deep yellow.  The leaves look quite a bit like dandelion leaves (on steroids!) and also have a touch of purple.  They are actually from the sunflower family. They bloom nonstop, too.
Prince William and Kate are coming to town to attend the Calgary Stampede.  People are lining up overnight to get a wristband that entitles them to stand on the street in the hopes of getting a glimpse or a handshake.  They seem like a very nice young couple, but I can't see sleeping on the street just to see them.  The media frenzy is insane.  I want to go downtown to the river park to draw the ducks, but I think I'll wait till the insanity is over.  For now, I'll stay home and draw what's blooming in my back yard.
Ink and watercolor pencils

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back yard drama

I have a contract with the universe to care for the birds in my corner of the world.  I live in the end unit of a condo block, and the back yard is surrounded by a fence and a high, thick hedge.  There are also some big dense trees.  In the winter I put out a bird feeder and in the summer a bird bath.  It's  a perfect place for small birds - robins, sparrow, chickadees, finches, nuthatches.  The bigger birds like magpies and crows don't come in much because it's small.  The sparrows build nests under the hedge and the robins in the spruce tree.  There are plenty of fat worms in the garden for food.The pets are all well-fed and belled.
This year, a baby robin fell out of the nest before it was able to fly.  It flopped and hopped in the long grass.  The parents were, we think, trying to build a nest on the ground to protect the little one.  My tabby cat, Holly, walked out on the deck and sat down to survey her kingdom as usual.  The robins began to screech and dive bomb  her.  She crouched down and backed up to the door, wondering, I'm sure, how she lost her position as supreme ruler of the back yard.  We put her inside and the birds calmed down.  But the crows and magpie got word that there was a tender morsel available and they came in, once more causing the parents to go into safety mode.  That little robin went  right after that big crow and chased it away.  I flapped the rug at the rest and they flew off.  Eventually the new nest was ready, predators were averted, and they herded the little one into the bushes to safety.  A few days later the big robins spent lots of time in the birdbath, which is usually what they do once the little ones have found their wings and left the nest.  So I hope they all survived and left to start their own lives.  And Holly can reign supreme over the yard again.
Pen, ink. watercolor pencils in the little sketchbook

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Fresh Start

It's been  long, cold, sunless winter and its left me feeling discouraged and disheartened. It seemed that everything I attempted went wrong - colors smeared under a second layer of glaze, paper buckled unattractively and left ugly blotches, my wireless network was under relentless attack and so on.  I started many things and abandoned them.
One day on a routine mission to empty the garbage, I stood in a rare and unusual bit of sunshine (Ouch, what's that bright light?), and noticed the tulips blooming in the front.  I mean, I really noticed them.  I saw the voluptuous brashness of the yellow tulip, the graceful curves of the red one, the slender pointed petals of the purple ones, the tall straight stems, and the graceful leaves.  And I heard again that quiet, still voice that said "I could draw that".  And so I did, and determined to make a fresh start against the discouragement.  Start with what I've always loved to draw - flowers, birds, nature. Maybe with that simple start, my soul can stand as straight and bloom as bright.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

East Gate

The university that I work at is celebrating its 100 anniversary. In the library, we have a small art gallery where we showcase local artists and encourage members of the university community to contribute.  For the centennial, we are highlighting art work that celebrates the University's history.
I've always like the east gate entrance to the main building.  It's tall and elegant and full of windows that reflect the wide open sky.  The spacious walkway in the summer has huge pots of petunias that lead up to the entrance.  This is an exploratory draft of a painting that, if all goes well, I would submit to the gallery in the fall semester for the September celebration.
I really like how the sky is reflected in the windows, and the close up of the flower pot.
Ink and watercolor.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

New Library

Last weekend, I attended the grand re-opening of my local public library branch, also known as my personal library.  It had been a long renovation, and they remained open throughout, but most of the books were in storage for the duration.  If you wanted a paperback you could find it, but if you wanted a particular title, you had to place a hold on it.  Our book club had to meet in  other places, and arrange for our own books.  Sometimes you'd get them in time to read them for the meeting and sometimes not.  There was no place to sit and browse books or magazines.  It was trying times.
But now it's open and it's beautiful.  They expanded the back of the library into the green space.  That back wall is now a curved expanse of windows, with a nice padded seating all around.  This plus a skylight means lots of natural light.  This is me standing in front of the new display shelves.  To the right is a beautiful fireplace, and in front of me are soft, buttery leather chairs. We were offered coffee and cookies.  It was nice to see the staff smiling again.  This is a good use of my tax dollars.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Winter Cheerup

Last weekend, my beloved bundled up in all his winter gear to go to the grocery store across the street.  He asked me if there was anything else I wanted besides lettuce and milk.  I glanced out at yet another gray, dreary day in a long succession of gray, dreary days and said wistfully "Orange tulips?"  He nodded sadly.

There were no tulips to be had, so he bought a big, lovely bunch of orange lilies, hoping they would do.  As they are my other favorite flowers, they would indeed do nicely.

I spent a lovely week watching the lilies go from pale buds, to glorious full blooms.  And the weather improved so much that we were able to skate outside this morning.

I did these with my new box of 36 yummy Faber-Castell watercolor pencils.  4 shades of orange!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

EDM 307 - Draw something raw

I started this drawing last summer, when I brought home my latest coup from the Farmers' Market.  I loved that Market, and the highlight of my week was going there on Friday mornings and wandering through the bounty of gorgeous vegetables and fruit. But I had to break up with them.  They became less and less of a "farmers" market and more of a boutique type of market that sold trendy mustards and upscale teas.  But I stuck with them to support the local farmers.  Then they lost their lease in the center of town and moved to the far southeast corner of the city where both of the other farmers' markers also are.  The final blow (and what led to the actual breakup) was that they didn't invite a lot of the local farmers to have space there, deciding instead to go with the imported boutique type shops.  That's unforgivable and they should forfeit the right to call themselves the "Farmers' Market" since very few of the vendors are selling locally grown produce or even locally made products.  A few of the disenfranchised farmers set up a make-shift market in the parking lot of the casino, and I'll go there to support them if they are allowed to continue outside of the umbrella of the "official" market.  Sad but true.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sparrow Cafe

These cheerful, resourceful, little sparrows hang around the bird feeder in the back yard. It's a small, enclosed space. The big birds don't come around, so the little ones have taken over. Sparrows and chickadees, mostly, with a few nuthatches. Occasionally, a family of Grey Partridge shows up.
The other day we noticed that the large white rabbit, the model for the previous post on the Year of the Rabbit, was also back there.  It was eating the corn that is too big for the little birds to eat.  Nice how they all share. The good news that the rabbit had to share was that its ears are turning from white to brown.  That means spring is just around the corner!  That's welcome news.  The sparrows were all gossipy about it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Year of the Rabbit

Welcome to the Year of the Rabbit, which will usher in a year of peace and moderation.  It will be a chance to rest and catch up after the tumultuous Year of the Tiger.
Last year was quite a rollercoaster with lots of unrest in many areas of the world - rioting in Europe and clashes in the Middle East.  Floods, hurricanes, avalanches, and volcano eruptions proved that even the weather was in discord.
So welcome to the Rabbit.  The world could use a return to manners, civility and good taste.
I wish you all the best in this year.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

A bit of sunshine

My beloved bought me these beautiful miniature daffodils as a way to banish some of the winter doldrums.

They did  make me smile and feel that maybe the cold weather and snow will end, maybe the sun will shine again, maybe the breezes will be warm and pleasant again.

Many years ago, I heard an interview with a woman who lived in northern Scotland where it got cold and dark early.  She said they coped with it by "Drawing the drapes against the dark, lighting a fire against the cold, and having a wee dram to warm the heart".

I have daffodils and a shot of Kahlua in my coffee.  Yeah, that's better!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Snorkeling at Isla de Ixtapa

Enough whining about the cold.  Nothing ever changes due to whining alone, and besides the weather is much warmer and I like winter now.

This is a sketch I did to remember our times snorkeling at Isla de Ixtapa.  We took the little bus to the marina.  The bus was lots of fun, blaring salsa music, windows (and sometimes doors) wide open, stick shift grinding through the gears.  At the marina, we got onto a little shuttle boat to go over to the island.  Sometimes we got on several boats, changing  from one to the other in open water, for no discernible reason.  There were two beaches on the shore side of the island.  The water was warm and calm and lovely, but due to traffic, there were very few fish.  Walking a short distance across the island led to Playa Coral and this beach was snorkel heaven.  Tons of fish, a small coral reef that was wickedly sharp if the waves nudged you too close.  There were white snappers that liked the shallows and brushed around your shins, little sergeant-majors, yellow and blue tangs, angel fish, and may more that I have not identified.

We claimed a table on the beach under the umbrella and ordered cerveza nestled in an ice filled bucket, accompanied by a dish of limes.  After snorkeling several times, we had lunch.  The first day we had grilled shrimps and rice, the second time we had mahi-mahi, and the third day chips and salsa.  It was very crowded that day so we didn't stay as long.  All three days were wonderful and I'm grateful to have those memories on a cold, snowy day.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

EDM 303- Frozen

Draw something frozen.  Well that would be me.  This past week has been brutally cold here.  Windchills have been down around -35 Celcius which is approaching dangerous level.s  Exposed skin can freeze within a minute.
Time t get out the serious winter gear and not take any chances.  Double layers of everything.  When I bought those shearling lined boots, I thought they were expensive, and it's not often cold enough to wear them more than about 10 times a year.  But this year, they justified themselves.

I wanted to draw in my journal the steps I take to keep warm when outside.  It really is an issue when it's this cold and becomes sort of all-consuming.  Doing anything outside when it's this cold requires time and forethought, even taking out the garbage or walking pets.  And it's way too cold to do fun things outside like skating or tobogganing.  So here are the eights steps required to go outside. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ixtapa sketches 2

On Dec 11, we borrowed bicycles and a guide.  Ixtapa has a very nice bike path, known as the ciclopista, that is about 8.5 kilometers long.  It starts in downtown Ixtapa and dips down into the forest reserve, and ends up at the pier at Playa Linda.
Along the way, we stopped to help that turtle cross the road, and watched a roseate spoonbill feeding in the swamp while another one took flight.  Near the marina, we stopped at the Zona de Cocodrillas.  It's a natural crocodile habitat that has simply been fenced off so the crocs don't wander out into traffic and frighten children and tourists.  They are small, as crocs go, only about five feet long from snout to tail and they looked pretty indolent and sleepy.  But those teeth are long and the eyes are prehistoric and predatory.  We also saw lots of those white egrets and iguanas.  The ride was long and hot but lots of fun.  Round trip was nearly 20 kilometers, including the sidetrips.
When we got back to the hotel, we saw that during the morning they had planted pointsettias amongst all the palm ferns and pothos in the lobby and grounds.  It looked lovely.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Ixtapa sketches

This is the sketch  of my memories of our bus tour through the towns of Ixtapa, Zihuatenejo, and the surrounding countryside.  We visited a coconut plantation and learned about how all the parts of the coconuts are used for something - from fuel, to food, to skin creams.  The yellow coconuts are not quite ready for harvesting. There are many plantations in this area, and the trees are all planted in neat, perfectly straight rows.  For those of us used to seeing haphazard palms leaning over the beach, it was a revelation to see them so cultivated.
Then we went on to a brick making...well, place, I guess.  I want to say "factory" but both the shaping and the baking areas were outside.  No buildings at all.  The hand-shaped tiles or bricks dry in the sun, and then are fired in an outside kiln that is heated by burning coconut husks.  That quintessentially Mexican sun and moon piece was bought there.  It will hang on my garden fence in the summer.
We drove on to the coast where we boarded a small boat and toured a huge mangrove swamp.  There were many species of birds and tons of fish.  The birds feasted well.  I think that is a cormorant that I saw sliding a pretty sizable fish straight down its gullet.  We humans feasted on freshly caught and grilled Spanish Mackeral on the beach, along with salsa, beans, and icy cold Coronas.
Back at our hotel, just as the sun sank in the ocean, we guests and the hotel lifeguard released the baby turtles (a.k.a tortuguitas") that had hatched that morning in the protected area of the grounds.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New year everyone and welcome to my blog.  I wish you all much health, happiness and creativity in the coming year.
In December, I spent two weeks in Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo, Mexico.  It was absolutely beautiful there, and we had a fabulous vacation.
One of my intentions for this new year is to draw more in public.  I want to record the things that make up my life, the things that ignite my passion and curiosity, and the things that reflect the beauty of the world we live in.  What better place to start that than on vacation in a place where everything is new and beautiful and wondrous.
We sailed and snorkeled and zip lined and walked and I tried to record the things I saw - everything from sunsets over the ocean, to crocodiles.  I had to draw some of it from my memory, as some things, such as sailboats and bicycles are not conducive to drawing!
So here is the first sketch, drawn while reclining by the pool with a margarita close at hand.  The perspective on the chairs is way off, but it did serve to get me over the nervousness of drawing in public.
Thank you for visiting my blog.  The artistic communities I've discovered on the Internet are the most creative and supportive groups I've had the privilege to belong to.  You are all wonderful!