Saturday, June 26, 2010

Diving Right In (Ripple and Shadow Shot Sunday)

The heartbreak of the Gulf oil gusher: as many as 2.5 million gallons per day rush into the Gulf in a giant plume. Four hundred wildlife species are threatened, to say nothing of the economic damage and harm to our coasts. The largest oil spill in United States history does not cease. It spills and spills and spills. Since April 20th, from 67 million to 127 million gallons have spilled. It is difficult to imagine such numbers.

But it is easy to imagine a brown pelican in the paradise of the blue sky diving unwittingly towards the spill.

At Ripple, artists are invited to portray a subject that "should pertain somehow to the Gulf - the oil spill - the oceans and the creatures that live in it and around it." According to Kelly Light, "It's about not feeling helpless in the face of an overwhelming disaster. We're illustrators. We don't lose touch with that kid inside who marvels at the creatures who swim below and fly above the sea. We draw them. We are inspired by them. We need to help them."

Her request is that the artist create "a small 2.5" x 3.5" sketchcard. The cards can be submitted to as a jpeg along with your links and a few sentences about you (ie: where you live, etc). .. These will be made available for a small donation of $10.00 to either The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies ( or The International Bird Rescue Research Center ( .. Every penny will go. When the cards sell, we ask for a donation confirmation and you will be asked to sign the back with a thank you. Then mail them to the address you are sent."

Kelly says that "we may be too small as individuals to do some grand gesture- but together our small gestures can be grand."

I am privileged to have found a beautiful photograph at flickr upon which to base my card. The photo is by Ingrid Taylar whose inspired photographs of wildlife and nature can also be found at her website, The Free Quark. I call my contribution, "Last Dive".

I've recently purchased a few books on drawing hands. I'd like to be able to form hands in many different positions, almost without thought. These sketches of the back of the hand are copied from The Book of a Hundred Hands by George B. Bridgman, a book originally published in 1920. The other book I purchased is Drawing Dynamic Hands by Burne Hogarth, first published almost 60 years after the first. I am only just beginning this study, and as I progress I will give you my thoughts on the usefulness of the books.

One day I carried the wrong Moleskine with me - my other Moleskine, the one with the thick yellow paper that can only be drawn in and that will not take watercolors. As with most errors in art, this was fortuitous. It had been some time since I'd sketched a person without anticipating the watercolor later. I tend to minimize the inking when I know I am going to color (although judging from Raena's recent amazing colored sketch of a turtle, this thinking may be wrong). I saw a man with a very interesting face, and drew with much more detail than I would have done otherwise, just like the old days. I really do love bare pen and ink.

Finally, I contribute a shadow shot for Shadow Shot Sunday. I was struck by these odd bushes with their elongated shadows. I like taking photographs as exercises in composition, and had an interesting time with this one. I had considered cropping lower on the trees to emphasize the foreground. But ultimately I decided that a relatively equal field of blue above the trees, and green below the bushes was the most visually pleasing view.

Well, that's got to be three serious posts in a row, I think - this blog is going to lose it's reputation for mindless frivolity. I hope to correct that in the next post.

UPDATE: The Ripple sketch sold..

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Filling in the Blank

Many of you know about my Moleskine exchange with Raena of Raena's Sketch Journal, where we mail the Moleskine to and fro from Florida to Texas and back again, adding a little bit at a time, and post it on our blog, 2'nFro. I am excited to say that this is the page that I just completed.

Yes, page one is done. Finally. (Someone compared watching our page grow to seeing a movie. If so, it is a very slow movie.)

Before this installment, the page looked like this. I needed to decide what to place on the page beyond the ladies, and I needed to deal (gulp) with composition. Often I do sketches in my Moleskine and color them without giving composition more than a fleeting thought. In my few larger works, I have generally focused on one or two main objects. But here I would have to plan. I was nervous about this, but I knew that this was a skill that I need to tackle if I am to accomplish my long-term goals in art.

So I was kind of thinking about the gals being near some quaint shops - maybe an interesting storefront would fill the blank space to their right. My wife mentioned that to her the ladies looked like they'd be in a nice neighborhood, and I agreed. That shifted my thinking, and I snapped some photos of possible houses. It was my wife, again, that suggested the house I finally used - there are many interesting shapes in this house. It is kind of a shame that I couldn't use the whole thing.

So there they would be: two ladies standing in a residential neighborhood, one with dogs. A single word kept popping into my head: Boring.

There was another thing that bothered me too. It looked to me like the woman with the two dogs was looking beyond the other woman, and not straight at her. Why, I wondered, was that? What was it that she was looking at? It seemed a shame to just place them in a setting without rhyme or reason.

Then came the lucky day when I saw a dog near my son's school in the middle of the road. He had his nose in a paper bag. I knew then that this was what she had been looking at! I had the vague idea of her staring at this stray dog in a nice neighborhood with his nose in a paper bag, the other woman oblivious. So I snapped a picture of him with my cellphone. A few days later, I had a closer look, and snapped his picture again.

It was clear that I could not paint just the dog or the setting. I had to do both.

At first I laid out the page very horizontally: horizontal road, horizontal sidewalk, straight-on view of the house. Again that word, boring, sprung to mind. Finally one day I realized that I could use diagonals and it would be much more interesting. I drew a small thumbnail on a post-it-note, maybe a half an inch square, setting forth the basic arrangement. And I tried to apply (roughly) the vague recollection I had of the concepts of this post in Kathy's blog about composition.

I had to deal with perspective, how large the house, how big the dog. And the details of the composition: Where would the ladies be standing, on the grass? Was the dog in the street?

It was only after playing with this for some time that I wondered why it was necessary for the second woman to be in the picture if the first lady was looking beyond her at the stray dog. Woman no. 2 was almost irrelevant. So what if she wanted to talk to lady number 1, and didn't realize what was happening behind her? I finally realized that for her to be an integral part of this picture, it had to be her dog! But the dog was a little far, hence the retractable leash.

Raena made it very clear with her shadow where the sun was coming from, so I had to take another picture of the house when the sun was right, because try as I might I could not guess at the proper shading. Then the sketching in pencil (I never do this and I realize that I need a much more precise pencil), then the painting of the house (I needed many layers to get the values right, and some subtle splashes of color to make it interesting), the painting of the stark difference in color between the shaded grass and the grass in light(I had to make a color chart first to feel comfortable), etc.

At every step there was a challenge. At every step, nervousness and hesitation. So, all in all, it was a great experience.

Thank you Raena! I don't believe I ever would have put forth the effort had I not received such a wonderful drawing back from you.

I realize that ultimately I pretty much dominated this page. I give more reasons for this at 2'nFro. But I figure that some pages will be more Raena, and some more mine, and some pretty evenly half & half, and that'll be the way that it goes. Raena and I exchanged a few e-mails, and I believe that she understands this and agrees.

So it's off to Texas, and on to page 2!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Spirit of the Gulf, and Shadow Shot Sunday

5-1/4" x 13" watercolor on yupo.


Needle-billed, needle-legged,
Companions all.

Race with the tide,
With the pendulum
Sway of the moon's baton
In the glorious sun.

Or one-legged, stand
In the shallows between
Beach and sea,
Earth and sun.

Glorious blue.
Glorious sun.
Needle-billed, needle-legged,
Together stand.
Together run.
Companions all.

My contribution to the Spirit of the Gulf Challenge is a painting of the small birds found at the edge of the gulf (and of all of our beaches), and a poem.

Suzanne McDermott challenged "every artist who receives this invitation to make one drawing, painting, collage — or to use whatever medium you work in — to create a piece of beauty with love and gratitude to honor some scene or living being in the Gulf."

Thank you to Barbara Weeks, who was kind enough to invite me to participate in this challenge.

Lately I have found it hard to think of the Gulf without grief, anger, or a feeling of helplessness. I am sad for the potential loss to the birds and habitat that I have grown to love and feel so bad for Louisiana and Mississippi who have had more than their share of misfortune. I am angry that man would be so arrogant as to build a well that he could not control and to lie all the while to the rest of us about how safe it all is. And I feel helpless .. as we all feel helpless.

I have been very concerned about my State, and especially about what happens if (or when) the oil attacks the pristine Keys or defaces my beloved South Florida. I worry about a hurricane lifting the oil from the Gulf, and raining it across my State.

So I am grateful to have been invited to depict "some living aspect of the Gulf of Mexico before the oil disaster." It has been cathartic, in a way, to think of the Gulf beaches as I know them, without the looming threat.

I decided to be loose with this one. I have been wanting to try Yupo (an extremely smooth paper with a feel like posterboard) for ages, and decided this was to be the project. And to completely throw caution to the wind, I taped the Yupo to a board on an easel, so that it was almost completely upright when I painted.

The first thing I noticed was that wash would not go on smooth, but was uneven. This made it interesting. And since the paper had no teeth it would drip and run, as I had hoped. Then I found that you can actually wipe chosen portions of the paper clean of paint, also as I had hoped. In fact you had to be careful. Sometimes it was too easy to wipe too much (or all!) I also found that if I used drybrush, I could target areas for more accurate rendering, but mostly I was too impatient yesterday to continue using drybrush. I made liberal use of wiping and blotting with some interesting results.

In short, I loved the experience. The loose, runny watercolor on Yupo was like running through a waterfall with hands raised, whooping and hollering! So, thanks again, Barbara.

It is my pleasure to invite the following artists to participate in the challenge, if you'd like. For the rules, go to Suzanne McDermott's blog here.

(1) Janey of Janey's Journey, another proud South Florida resident,

(2) Alex of Rainbowbox, who is a fairly new resident of Louisiana,

(3) Diahn Ott of Art by Diahn, who paints beautiful birds (I am proud to own one), and recently visited her sister-in-law, Melinda of Lunar Epilogues, in Louisiana,

(4) Raena of Raena's Sketch Journal, who lives not far from the Gulf on the Texas-side, and

(5) All of you. You don't need to be connected to the Gulf in any way to feel the impact of this man-made disaster, or to love nature and feel the pain of this violation. I am cordially inviting every reader of this blog to participate, if you care to.

Finally, for Shadow Shot Sunday, I contribute a sea turtle: