Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Scents of the garden

The Star Jasmine is an evergreen vine that can easily climb 40 feet high, covering fences, trees and just about anything.  So choose your location carefully!  I have heard it can be used as a ground cover also, but mine likes to climb and is always reaching up.  It is very hardy and can survive the drought conditions we often see in the summer months.  It really is a lovely plant in the right location.

It has nice dark green pointed leaves which form a great backdrop for the clusters of small white flowers that appear on the end of each branch.  The small buds appear twisted, and the open flowers resemble pinwheels with yellow centers.

I always know when the flowers are in bloom because they fill the air with the sent of Root Beer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Capturing a flower

I seem to be working on a series of garden views from our back porch.  It didn't begin as a series.  The porch was just a comfortable location to work from.  I just keep spotting new things to sketch and paint.  Now that there are 11 finished journal pages and two more in process, I realize it has become a series.

The first journal entry was done last March, shortly after I finished the Watercolor Journaling workshop.  It is all about lines and shapes and almost monochromatic due to the lack of flowers and birds.  A winter garden view.

The latest entries in the series were started on July 4th, and include a Lavender Crepe Myrtle in full bloom.  As I was working on inking the sketches today I realized the Crepe Myrtle blooms are fading and may all be gone before I have time to finish them!  So I decided to spend my 'paint time' today doing a study of the Crepe Myrtle flowers.

I have always liked the soft lavender color of these flowers.  Each flower emerges from a pea sized green pod.  The petals are pinkish-red at the base, lighter lavender at the crepe-like crinkled edges, and have darker lavender veins.  In the center of the flower are numerous stamens topped with bright orangish-yellow anthers.  The mature stamens extend above the others on thick red filaments.  Filaments of old stamens grow thin and pale, and coil back toward the center of the flower.

Groups of these flowers form large clusters at the ends of each new branch on the bush.  The young branches are reddish-brown, while the older branches and trunks have a mottled appearance due to shedding bark.  The dark green leaves are simple and opposite.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Butterflies of Costa Rica

We spent one morning at the Si Como No Resort & Spa Butterfly House, during which I had the opportunity to get a close view and sketch several of their beautiful butterflies.  Inside the house is a garden of plants selected to provide each of the different butterfly species food and a place to lay their eggs.

The butterfly eggs are gathered each day and carefully incubated until they hatch.  The hatched catepillars are individually raised on their food of choice until they pupate.  When the pupa are ready to hatch they are taken to the upper deck in the Butterfly House.  When the butterflies first emerge they have to pump fluid into their wings to expand them.  Once expanded, the wings have to dry before the butterflies can use them to fly.  This takes quite a while.  From our vantage point on the deck we could watch the butterflies emerging from the pupa as well as view all the others flying around the Butterfly House.

Before leaving, we wandered the trails viewing the butterflies up close.  It was a very relaxing and fun morning.  I had a great time sketching the different species we saw that day.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Colors of the tropics

The last stop of our trip was Quepos, where we stayed at the Hotel La Mariposa.  We had beautiful views of the ocean from our room, the hotel dinning room and the infinity pool.  Besides the wonderful view (even from inside the pool); the hotel bar made a refreshing pineapple mojito and they delivered pool side.

One of the reasons we went to Quepos was for the beaches, the other was to see Manuel Antonio Park.  From our room we could see the park, it didn't seem that far away, so we decided to walk instead of waiting for the hotel shuttle.  It was farther then it looked, there were limited sidewalks, and it was down a steep hill.  We stopped at a sidewalk cafe for refreshments before going on a guided tour of the park.  The guide kept us walking so I had little time to sketch the insects, lizards, birds, bats and sloths we saw.

We did take a several photos, which I was able to use later to finish the journal entries of the park animals, local beach and town.  It was well worth hiring a guide.  We never would have spotted many of these animals without him.

We got caught by the rain and were totally soaked by the time we got back to the hotel.  Nothing that a hot shower and great dinner at the hotel couldn't fix.  This photo was taken from our table looking across the patio at Manuel Antonio Park.  When it was really raining the tables were moved farther back under the roof and awnings were lowered to keep any blowing rain off the dinner guests.   It rained every afternoon, and often into the evening while we were at Quepos.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

So much to see and paint

The abundant flora and fauna in Costa Rica provided me with numerous subjects to paint.  I carried my watercolor kit with me just about everywhere so that I could capture a sketch and a few notes about color, light and shadow.  During afternoon siestas and in the evenings I would work on inking and painting.  We saw many more interesting birds then I expected, and I often ended up capturing several birds on a page, like these birds we saw at the UGA EcoLodge at San Luis.

With so many beautiful birds it is hard to pick a favorite, but I think it would have to be the Blue-crowned Motmot, Momotus momota.  Their crown is black and surrounded by a blue band.  They have a black eyemask and red-orange eyes.  Their nape is chestnut, and their backs are green shading to blue on the lower tail.  The tail is very long with a bare-shafted racket tip in adults.  I love their turquoise color and iridescent's of their feathers.  They sit very still on a branch for a quite a long time, surveying the dense forest around them for small prey such as insects and lizards.   The pair that hunted around our cabina at the UGA Eco Lodge would call back and forth to each other; moot .. moot-moot.

I ended up with several Mot-mot paintings in my journal, this one was done while sitting on the deck of our cabina the day we arrived.  There are several trails that run through different habitats at UGA Costa Rica, so you don't have to go far to see a lot of different birds.  But it does help to go with someone who knows the bird calls.

Once a month UGA Costa Rica does a bird count and we just happened to be there for the April 2011 one.  Something I hadn't really though about was how many of the birds we see around our yards at home also vacation in Costa Rica.  Birding with people who know birds well is really a great experience.  And we didn't just see birds, there were trees, flowers, insects, frogs and mammals too.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Layers of color and form

I love using the Koi water brush!  It is quite easy to control the amount of water, and you use much less water because it is so easy to clean the brush.  The brushes come in three sizes: small (#2 round), medium (#6 round) and large (#8 round).  There is also a choice of two barrel sizes: 4 ml and 9 ml.  I have been using the medium brush with a 9 ml barrel.  In many of the paintings I used several light washes to build depth, shadows and highlights without over wetting the paper.

This was especially useful when painting leaves and forest trees, such as this example of a Howler monkey we saw on a hike at El Silencio Mirador, a vast, 555-acre nature reserve located between La Fortuna and the Arenal Observatory Lodge.  We actually heard these monkey much more often then we saw them.

Arenal Volcano is one of the worlds most active volcanos, spitting rocks, hot gases and lava on its slopes. All these eruptions cause clouds to form around the top of the volcano.  We were very lucky that on the first day of our visit we were able to see all the way to the top of the volcano.  The remaining days of our visit the clouds clung the sides of the volcano, completely obscuring the top.

Most of the buildings at the Arenal Observatory Lodge had large windows through which you could view the lushly planted grounds and distant volcano.  The restaurant (pictured here) had a comfortable lounge and wrap around deck for enhanced viewing pleasure.  Between the garden, birds and the volcano, I had a lot of subjects to choose from.  I spent several hours one rainy day finishing up journal entries while comfortably sitting in the lounge.  Sketching and painting in a public area was a new experience for me.  Children are quite comfortable coming up to look at what you are doing and ask questions.  The are sincerely interested and listen closely to your answers.  Adults are more shy, stealing glances at the work in progress, and only engaging in conversation when it will not interrupt active sketching or painting.  I found it to be a very positive activity.

I sketched the below painting while sitting in the restaurant at the Arenal Observatory Lodge.  I liked the way the window beams of the building restated the triangular form of the volcano.  Now I realize that I never finished painting the inside of the roof!  The squirrel on the opposite page was done while sitting on the deck outside our room. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Journaling in the wild

One of the reasons I jumped at the chance to take a watercolor journaling workshop was because I wanted to create a more artistic journal during my trip to Costa Rica.  The journal I purchased for this trip was a handbook travelogue made by Global Art Materials.  It is a hardbound book of 100% acid-free heavyweight buff colored drawing paper that accepts light watercolor washes.  It has an internal ribbon to mark your place, an elastic closure and a clear envelope inside the back cover.  They come in several sizes, I selected the Pocket Portrait 5.5” X 3.5” version since it would easily fit in my travel pack.

I enjoyed using this journal even though it could only take light watercolor washes.  One interesting aspect of the paper is that you can easily use a kneaded eraser to erase both the watercolors and the ink.  Something that is not usually easy to do.  The buff color of the paper also gave the paintings an 'old time' look, which is a nice attribute for a travel journal.  The journal opens flat making it easy to create a painting across two-pages, like this one done while finishing our first breakfast at the Orquideas Inn in Alajuela Costa Rica.