Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vacation sketches

I gave my sketching kit a workout last week as my husband and I took a wonderful trip to Holly River State Park for a weeklong vacation.

Holly River is in an isolated area of central West Virginia, and it is our favorite of West Virginia's many wonderful state parks and forests. There are only 10 cabins, clustered in an amazing grove of old-growth hemlocks, and the soothing sounds of water rushing through Laurel Fork, down the hill about 20 yards, sends me peacefully to sleep each night.

We easily fell into a routine. After a morning of hiking, we would wash up and then venture out in late afternoon to find a comfortable swing or bench. I would then sketch or paint, while my husband read. Evenings consisted of lazy strolls through the park grounds, card games or a jigsaw puzzle.

I completed four sketches. A view of our cabin is at the top of this post.

Below is a view of the park office. All of the buildings at Holly River, most of which were built by the CCC boys during the Depression, are made of log or smooth river stone, or a combination of those materials.

My sketching kit performed admirably, and after the first sketch, I was able to adjust to the challenges of rendering linear perspective. Since I've fallen into the pattern of working from photographs, I find myself using the print's edges to develop vanishing points when drawing. For plein air work, that visual reference is gone. These sketches are a little off, but generally accurate, and I was pleased to make the adjustment.

For more about Holly River State Park, visit their Web site,

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mixed media

I've been doing a few miniatures as part of a project with my friend Mary VanMeter, owner of Water Street Gallery in Petersburg, W.Va. Mary's not into the internet or e-mail, preferring a solid correspondence as a way to stay in touch. So we've been sending notes to one another this spring, each containing a miniature original.

The last two I've completed have used watercolor and colored pencil. I did not save an image of the first mixed media attempt (Mary has it now), but here's the second one, which I'll pop into the mail tomorrow.

Once upon a time, I was very proficient with colored pencil, which suits my neat-freak, controlled style. But it fits me too well...

Watercolor allows me the opportunity to be bolder and less controlled. Happy accidents are just magical, and water and pigment provide those wonderful surprises in abundance.

This little piece, which is the size of a trading card (2.5" x 3.5") requires me to simplify shapes.

I've done a few small pieces which are quite detailed, but I think this miniature exercise should expand my techniques, rather than shrink my existing style. So I've been trying out new ideas in the series. The simplification of shape and the addition of another medium are just two of the ideas I've explored.

I'll continue to make some other attempts in this vein. I'm trying to make myself think in terms of woodblock prints, with sharp edges, simple shapes, and stark contrasts. I think contrast is what this piece still needs.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Sketching kit

I've put together a little sketching kit that's easy to transport and uses some interesting brushes that carry their own water supply.

Sketching works better for me if I start with a pen drawing of a subject. I'm using Pigma Micron pens with black waterproof ink. I use three nib sizes to create some interest in the drawing with the thicker and thinner lines.

Then I wash over the drawing with my watercolors. The final paintings have the look of book illustrations, but I enjoy the process and the final result. They feel very fresh.

For my travel-size kit, I'm using a postcard-sized watercolor block with Canson Montval paper. I also have a 4H pencil for initial drawing, the three Pigma pens, and a kneaded eraser.

The traveling brushes are moderately priced. These are made by Royal Langnickel, but I've seen other manufacturers offer them as well. The handle of the brush is a clear plastic tube. The plastic is somewhat flexible. Water goes into the handle, and then you squeeze the tube at a point near the brush tip (which screws onto the brush handle). Water then comes through the brush hairs.

It takes a little getting used to it, but, for this kind of light wash treatment over the pen drawing, it works well, and it's great to not worry about balancing a separate water container on my knee.

The brushes came in a package with three brush sizes.

You can see the entire kit, plus a paper towel and my travel-size watercolor palette, in the photo below.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

House model complete

It's rough, and I guess it looks somewhat comical, but this model does provide me with the information I need to move forward with this project.

My cutting tools did not provide the control I needed to make really clean cuts, so there are plenty of rough edges in the foamcore, as you can see. And I know my front steps and window frames are twisted as well.

But I can't explain how much fun it is to direct a strong light at the model and then move it around. I love watching the shadows that help define the shape of the structure move and twist with the changes in the light's angle and strength. I also enjoy examining how some edges are sharp and well-defined, while others are soft and fade away.

These are the elements that really draw me into painting: the interplay of light and shadow. The relationships are endlessly fascinating.

I believe the general dimensions of the house are correct, aside from the porch depth being a little too deep. I also have to take into account that the house really was situated on a slight slope, so that changes some of the proportions when I start drawing. The front corners of the porch are also angled in real life, but to simplify the model construction, I did not replicate that shape.