Saturday, December 29, 2012

Advancing art class: 6

Not all watercolor pigments are equal.  That is not to say that one is better then another, but they do perform differently, and so your choice of pigments can change a painting.  For my final paintings I used a palette of Winsor & Newton red, yellow, blue, and orange.  These are more transparent pigments then I had been using in the previous paintings.

I re-painted one of the previous classes painting using a this palette.  The difference between the transparent and semi-opaque pigments really standout in the jar.  The most notable other difference is the greens are more blue then olive.

I added glazes over the previously painted still life using this palette to increase the reflections on the copper and brass pitcher.  As I increased the bright reflections I also increased the darkest shadows.  These changes make the pitcher compete with the marble for the center of interest.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advancing art class: 5b

The second assignment for the second class was to paint a still life.  We were to start by drawing five small thumbnail sketches.  Each sketch was to have a different arrangement of elements.  While setting up each sketch we were to consider the elements of composition we had discussed in class: rule of thirds, using an odd number of elements, balance, unity, grouping, angles, repetition of shapes and colors, contrast of soft and hard lines, varied values.   The sketch that we felt exhibited to most pleasing composition would be use to create value and color sketch.

In a good composition there is both variety in value and amount of each value.  Less then a third of the values in the sketch are dark values, and only a small amount are light values (highlights on the marble, pitcher).  The majority of values are in the middle range.  To capture the copper and brass colors of the small pitcher and the fur of the Steiff bear, I added burnt siena and yellow ochre to my palette of cadmium yellow, cadmium red and ultramarine blue.  

The still life elements were set out on a blue piece of paper under a bright overhead light casting distinct shadows.  The focal point of the painting is the clear glass marble.  The marble reflected back colors from the blue paper, copper and brass pitcher and tan bear.  The bright light reflected off the top of the marble, and also passed through it creating a blue halo shadow on the paper.  The halo shadow was even dark enough to be reflected back by the pitcher.  The distinct lines of the pitcher circle the edge of the page, leading to the softer lines formed by the books and shadows, which lead back to the bear.

One item that was changed from the thumbnail sketch is the direction the bear is looking.  Instead of looking directly at the viewer, it is now looking off to the right.  This helped shift the focal point away from the bear, but also diminished the strength of the over all composition.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Advancing art class: 5a

We had two assignments for this class.  The first was to create a painting from a photograph using what we had learned about composition.  By cropping the photograph I was able to reposition the jar in one of the 'intersection spots' (Rule of Thirds), strengthening the focal point.  This also removed some of the distracting clutter of branches and leaves.  

While working on the value sketch, I removed some of the trees from the background that were competing with the focal point.  I lightened the darkest values in the building and trees effectively pushing the background back making the jar stand out even more.  I limited the number of values to just five, and noted which elements in the sketch were included in each value.  The focal point (the jar) exhibited both the lightest and darkest values.

For the color sketch I used a palette of cadmium red, ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow; with a little raw siena for the trees and jar, and a light wash of cerulean blue for the sky and pool.  The light and dark colors alternate in the sketch.  The darkly shadowed left side of the jar stands out in contrast from the light greens of the lawn, while the lit right side stands out against the darker shadowed lawn and background.
In the final painting the jar is the obvious focal point, standing out from the Reynold's Mansion in the background.  The shadows and lighter blocks of color form lines that lead into the painting from the edges.  Tree branches repeat the curve of the jar.  The pale windows on the building repeat across the background, their color is repeated in the shadows on the lawn and the jar.  The greens of the lawn are repeated in the moss on the jar, and the orange browns in the jar also occur in the background. Repetition of shapes and colors are said to  add interest and unity to a painting.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Advancing art class: 4

I am excited to be in Marilynn Brandenburger's fall Advancing art class at the Spruill Art Center.  This class builds on the class I took last Spring, focusing on the elements of composition.   The class meets once a month for three months (Oct, Nov and Dec).  For the first meeting we were each asked to bring recent pieces of art to share and critique.

At the end of the previous class, I had done two color sketches based on photos take on Sapelo Island beach at sunrise.  The first looked out across the darkened pre-dawn dunes at the sun as it was just clearing the horizon, backlighting the low clouds and reflecting off the calm ocean.

The second was taken soon after sunrise, when the light still had that warm early morning glow.  The photo looks back at the dunes, which faced the rising sun, as the warm pink morning light washed over the sand and beach plants to the sea oats on the crest of the dunes.  Pink light and purplish shadows played across the sand.

What interested me in these photos was the play of different colors and the emotional feeling of peace and warmth they had.  The rough color sketches I had done last spring were layouts for bigger paintings, which I never had a chance to complete.  


Small color sketches like these can be invaluable for determining composition as well as color palette.  Using the photos and these color sketches I painted the two larger watercolors below, which I brought to the first class.

For the sunrise painting I used a limited color palette of ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, and cadmium light red.  This color combination allowed me to match the warm yellow of the sun, as well as the darker shadows in the clouds, water and dunes.  What was not at first obvious in the photo was a break in the dunes that I was able to capture in the painting.  The dark purple shadows on the dunes and clouds make the painting more dynamic.

The dunes painting used ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, quinacridone rose, and yellow ochre for the Sea oats.  These colors matched the warm glow of the early morning light on the sand and plants, as well as the darker shadowed areas.  

Friday, October 12, 2012

Little St. Simons Island, sea turtles

Little St. Simons Island is 10,000 acres and has 7 miles of beach.  This quiet expanse of pristine beach attracts shore birds and Sea turtles.  Sea Turtles are protected and their nests are carefully guarded.  During nesting season, there are daily beach patrols to locate signs of nesting and hatching.  Nests that are dug to close to the ocean are carefully moved to a new location higher up the beach.  The position of each egg in the nest is recorded and put back in the exact same position in the new nest, ensuring the embryo will have a chance to develop into a baby turtle.

Five days after the little turtles start to emerge the resident naturalist excavates the nest, counting the hatched and unhatched eggs.  We were able to watch two nest excavations while we were on the island.  Baby turtle tracks marked the progress of earlier hatchlings leading from the nest to the ocean.  Not all the tracks made it to the ocean, some were intercepted by Ghost Crab tracks.  Ghost Crabs, Ocypode quadrata, are the major predator of hatchlings on the beach.

In one of the nests two small, 2 inch, hatchlings were found digging their way up through the sand.  We all  watched them crawl down the beach, cheering when they finally reached the ocean.  The majority of sea turtle nests on the Georgia coast are from Loggerhead Sea Turtles, Caretta caretta.  The hatchlings we watched may spend some time in the marshes or near the coast of Georgia, but they ultimately swim out to the Sargasso Sea where they spend 7 to 12 years.  Juvenile turtles return to coastal waters where they grow and mature.  In about 35 years (2047) the females from these nests will return to dig their own nests.

While at the beach I did a sketch of a shrimp boat that was passing off shore.  Shrimp boats can be a hazard to Sea Turtles.  Turtles breathe air and if they become trapped in a shrimp net they can drowned.  After many years of research, a turtle excluder devices (T.E.D.) was developed and is now required on all shrimp nets.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Lt St Simons Island, history

This island has a rich history.  The Lodge (in the photo at left) and other original Berolzheimer family houses are situated near the landing dock.  This cluster of buildings sit under a tangle of ancient Southern Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), dripping with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and the occasional Ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata).

Helen house, one of the family houses, can be seen in the background of this sketch.  Sitting just past the white picket fence in the shade of the Live Oaks.  A bird bath and Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta, in full bloom sit between Hellen house and the dock.  Surrounded by a sea of prickly dry grasses.  An oasis for the birds and butterflies.  

When you step off the dock, away from the open expanse of marsh and open area around the buildings, you quickly step into what seems like a jungle.  Giant Live Oak, Cedar, and Pine trees filter the sun light and a thicket of Cabbage Palms cover the ground.  Flocks of Wood Storks (Mycteria americana) and Spoon Bills (Platalea ajaja) pass overhead on their way to the marsh.  

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Little St. Simons Island in the fall

Little St. Simons Island is one of my favorite islands to visit.  This year we visited the island in fall.  It was still hot in the middle of the day, but morning and early evening were quite nice.  Painting in the early morning and evening was also when the light was best.  We stayed in one of the modern houses which have a beautiful view of the marsh.  So I could sketch while I drank my morning coffee.  Perfect!

To some people the marsh is just a bunch of grass and water that often smells.  But Georgia's salt marsh is really an amazing place.   It is also always changing, with the tide, seasons and years.  As old channels become clogged with mud and spartina and new channels form.  The new green spartina of the spring fade to yellow in the fall.  The early morning sunlight shines on it and the spartina turns to gold.  Earning the name "the golden isles".

The blue of the sky is echoed by the blues of the rivers and creeks, along with reflections of the greens and yellows of the spartina and the red of the mud banks at low tide.  The marshes protect the land from tidal surges, are a nursery for shrimp and crabs, and a home for many animals.  This quite ever present expanse is an unseen web of life.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

State Botanical Garden of Georgia, building

The Conservatory building can be seen from the International gardenHerb and Heritage gardens.  I find bits and pieces of the building in several of my sketches.  I like the way the building reflects the environment around it, as well as the contrast the hard scape against the organic shapes of the garden that the man made structures in provide. 
This sketch was done from the other side of the arch in the photo, looking across the lawn the large glass building reflects the blues of the sky and greens of the forest trees that surround the lawn.  It was one of the many days where fleets of clouds filled the sky, passing over head on their journey from the mountains to the sea.  
This is another view of the small pavilion in the photo above.  This sketch was done from the lawn sitting on a bench in the International garden facing the  Conservatory building.  There are benches all around the gardens which are great places to sit and sketch.  This was on a bright sunny day where there were sharp contrasts between areas where the sun lit the plants and the shadows under the tress.

Looking back toward the International garden from the Heritage garden pavilion.  I sheltered in the pavilion during a light morning rain.  The benches provided an inviting place to sit and work.  A corner of the Conservatory is just visible in the upper right of the sketch. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

State Botanical Garden of Georgia, herb garden

The Herb and Heritage gardens are laid out in formal patterns with brick edged bed.  Fences and brick walls add a solid background for the garden plants.  While arched trellises stand as gateways between garden areas.  The garden plants contained here are not as formal.  Vegetable vines climb up and over trellises and herbs insist on spilling out of their beds onto the walks.    

I can usually find flowers to sketch in these gardens.  Though I have to watch the bees that love these flowers too.  These cheerful Black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, were in a transitional bed along the path between the International garden and the Herb garden.  In spring the same flower bed was filled with bright red poppies.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

State Botanical Garden of Georgia, new flower garden

A new garden space was carved out of the woods between the Heritage garden and the Day Chapel.  The Flower Garden walk winds down terraces with beds of colorful Annuals and Perennials.   From the top level you can only see some of the flower beds.  Others can only be enjoyed by walking down to them.  

Terrace walls wrap the formal iris garden like a terra-cotta bowl, sheltering and hiding the garden from view.  The gardens path invites you to wander among the irises.  I used a wax crayon to preserve the white of the paper for the white irises in front of the urn.  

All the irises in the garden have wonderful color and form, but my favorite is the Louisiana Iris.  I love the soft lavender that shades to pink, and the contrasting light yellow center. 

The path finally ends at a shelter sitting on the edge of the surrounding forest.  From the shelter you can look back up the terraces to the Heritage garden, or out into the green and brown woods.

Both of these sketches were done plein air, while standing, balancing my Koi Pocket Field Sketch Box and Strathmore 5" x 8" 140 lb watercolor journal.  I'm not sure I could do this trick with larger paper.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

State Botanical Garden of Georgia

The State Botanical Garden of Georgia has grown over the years, and now contains several distinct gardens.  Early mornings are a great time to wander and sketch without many interruptions.

A trail leads from the lower parking lot across a bridge to the International garden.  In spring and summer colorful flowers fill the flower boxes on the sides of the bridge.  This garden highlights the plants discovered by the famous explorers John and William Bartram and Ernest Wilson.  There are numerous flowering trees and bushes along the path, and trails that wander into the woods where shade loving plants reside.  

Other trails head toward the sunny lawn where the small creek wanders.  The creek is a popular spot for families to interact with nature.  We spent several hot summer nights sitting on a blanket enjoying a Sunflower outdoor music concert on the lawn.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

UGA Trial Gardens

The University of Georgia has a wonderful little Trial Garden hidden away on campus.  When everything else is beaten down by the heat of summer, the trial gardens are a riot of colors.  Beds, pots and hanging plants filled with annual and perennials of every color.

There is so much packed into such a small space it is hard to decide what to paint. everywhere you look there is something to catch your eye, begging to be painted.  Over several weekends I have managed to paint just a few of the many plants at the Trial Gardens.

The Trial Garden had a whole bed of ornamental pepper plants.  They have been selected for both form and color, both the leaves and fruit come in many colors.  Some were large bushes, others trailed along the ground.  Some held their fruit up high while the fruit on others were hidden by the leaves.

Black-eyed Susans , Rudbeckia sp., are a common garden flower, but there are many different varieties now.  The Trial Garden has a bed full of different varieties.  Some are yellow, others orange or brown.  There are large flowers and small flowers, tall flowers and short flowers.  I made a composite sketch of only a few of these beautiful flowers.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tao of the rocks on Ellison Bay

Many people think of an expansive white sandy shore line when they think about going to the beach.  But not all beaches are made of 'sand', and not all sands are white.  I've walked on 'black sand' beaches made from tiny bits of lava, and 'pink sand' beaches made from coral.  I spent many summers on the rocky beaches along the north shore of Long Island, but the beaches on Ellison Bay were different still.

Door Peninsula is made from Silurian Dolomite of the Niagara Escarpment.  In some places, the bluffs along the bay are 200 feet high.  Silurian Dolomite is hard, and fractures horizontally and vertically.  This makes it a good rock for building structures, like the School House.  They also readily crack off the cliff sides along the bay, and formed a sandless beach.  Piles and piles of roughly square rocks are a enormous temptation to the builder inside most people.  There were man-made stacks of rocks as far as the eye could see.

The general term for a man-made pile of stones is 'cairn'.  Cairns were used to mark trails, landmarks, serve as a monument, or act as a protective entity.  The 2010 winter Olympics in Canada introduced the world to 'inuksuk'.  An Inuit word meaning "something which acts for or performs the function of a person".  Often rock stacks are made to resemble to human form.  So often, in fact, that there are words for these rock forms in several languages:
  • inunnguaq - Inuit meaning "imitation of a person"
  • steinmann - German meaning "stone man"
  • steenman - Dutch meaning "stone man"
  • ometto - Italian meaning "small man"
Some of the cairns on the shore of Ellison Bay could be called 'inunnguaq', others are just 'inuksuk'.  But as the rays of the setting sun washed over them, standing on the shore facing out to sea they all remind me of 'Sea marks'.  

The question remains, Do they protect the shore from the ships, or the ships from the shore?  

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Berries at the Clearing

While at The Clearing I took many photos of the local plants.  Often they were flowering, but just as many were covered in berries.  Berries in shades of yellow, orange, red and blue filled the woods and gardens around us.  I was able to identify several of them, but one remains a mystery.

Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemes, bushes surrounded the cabins.  Tree like shrub have compound leaves with 5 to 7 lance-shaped leaflets with irregularly serrated edges.  The panicles of flowers at the ends of the branches had long since been replaced by bright red-purple fruits.  This is not the edible Elderberry, that is the Black Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis.  It is however eaten by birds, and we watched Bluebirds eagerly feeding on the berries. 

The kitchen garden had a Red Currant, Ribes rubrum.   The small bushes have palmate 5 lobed leaves that spiral up the branch.  Pendulous racemes of yellow to red translucent tart edible berries. 

Thickets of thornless Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus, covered clearings in the forest floor.  Their 8 inch palmate leaves are soft and fuzzy.  Composite bright red 2 inch tart fruit stand above the bush.  Like other raspberries and blackberrires, the fruit is not a true berry, but numerous drupelets around a central core.

The unknown groups of blue colored berries sat above short plants that had leaves that reminded me of anemone plants, but they have seeds not fruits.  The mystery remains.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Owl Hill

Sometimes things just don't work as planned.  Last summer I had written a post to go with the sketches I did at Owl Hill.  For several reasons I didn't publish it at that time.  Latter, when I tried to 'Publish' it the post simply vanished!  So this is the second edition of the post.

Day Lilies never seem to mind the heat as much as we do.  While other flowers are fading, they are opening new flowers daily.  I have a few day lilies in my garden and look forward to seeing them bloom every year, but they don't compare to the day lilies around Owl Hill.   Here day lilies of every shade fill the summer garden with wonderful color.

There are many other plants in the well tended gardens at Owl Hill, and not all of them provide just flowers.  A zucchini runs along the ground, spilling over the rock wall onto the lawn.  Its large leaves reach for the sun between the rose bushes.  The birds don't mind the leaves that circled the base of the bird feeder, and the zucchini this plant produced were used to make many delicious breads.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Heading home

On our way home from The Clearing we took a side trip to see Cana Island Lighthouse, one of 10 lighthouses in Door County, northeast of Bailey's Harbor.  The steel cladding encases the original 1869 Milwaukee cream brick lighthouse.  The lighthouse and associated structures sit on a small island surrounded on three sides by Lake Michigan.  The rooms in the attached Keepers House have exhibits and displays that explain what life on the island was like.  Excerpts read from the Keepers journal fill the air, describing interesting and dangerous events from the past.

At 89 feet it is the tallest lighthouse in Door County, and you have to climb up a graceful cast iron spiral of 97 steps to for a view from the top.  Luckily for the climbers there are three landings along the way with port hole views which allow you to catch your breath, and for ascenders and descenders to safely pass each other.

The third order Fresnel lens was hand-crafted by Henry Le Paute in France.  The lens previously lit by an incandescent oil vapor burner that used oil (whale, lard or mineral) or kerosene, later an acetylene light was installed.  Electrified and automated in 1944, no Keeper is needed today.   The current apparatus uses a 500-watt bulb, and can tell when it is burned out and automatically rotate to put a fresh bulb in place.

The lighthouse was once described by a Keeper as "one of the most inhospitable and undesirable places that can be imagined".  Which is not surprising.  Due to its location it is vulnerable to severe storms which resulted in waves flooding the causeway and crashing through the buildings.  However, the view from the top looking out at Lake Michigan is wonderful.  As you move around the top, views of Moonlight Bay, North Bay, the island grounds and the peninsula appear.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Door county Wisconson

While at The Clearing we managed a few side trips to other locations in Door County.

From The Clearing we had a view across Ellison Bay of the tree covered bluffs of Peninsula County Park.  When we visited the park instead of a view looking back at the rocky bluffs of The Clearing we looked far across the lake at Wisconsin.  Even so, it still was a nice park with a great view.

Sister Bay and Fish Creek, are two tourist destinations on the western side of the peninsula south of The Clearing.  We drove through the towns several times while we were staying at The Clearing.  They were both pretty (if crowded) lake side towns with colorful shops.  One thing I had never seen before was a live bait vending machine.  They can hold containers of live night-crawlers, leaches, meal worms or minnows (apparently the marine versions have frozen bait as well).

Newport Point State Park is the state's only designated wilderness, located at the top of the peninsula.  It is a lovely park with hiking trails and 12 miles of lake front.  From two of the parking lots trails lead to a sandy beach.  We spent an hour or two one very hot afternoon happily lounging in the cool waters of  Lake Michigan.