Category Archives: charcoal

Pine Tree on Sand Dune / charcoal and chalk


Life isn’t easy if you’re a pine tree on a sand dune. If a sensitive person saw this tree from far away, they might think it was dying, it looks so sad. It doesn’t have a lot of needles and the ones on top are an orange brown.

But when you get closer, you see how it’s filling in the leeward dip in the dunes with greener branches. It looks like the branches came back down to the dune and rerooted, which I heard some trees can do on sand. I didn’t test it for roots because I didn’t want to mess with it.

Then you notice it’s kind of graceful in the way it leans and twists. Is that how it is in the life of a human too? Can a hard life give a soul some kind of stark graceful beauty not seen in the lives of those that had it easy?

That’s my zen question for today. The beach makes me feel all zen. Can you feel the refreshingly cool breeze coming off the bay in my sketch?


Hell Hound / charcoal


It’s real name is Roaring Dog. It’s in the Asia Lanterns show at Norfolk Botanical Garden. This thing is big enough to ride into battle. I did this sketch in daylight but I bet it’s real scary at night. I’m going to transfer this sketch to black pastel paper and go back at night when the lanterns are lit and add color.  I’ll post more info on it when I get my pastel finished.

Does this make you want to armor your little hell hound?

studies of wave anatomy / charcoal and chalk


I’m still getting the hang of drawing waves. That’s my excuse for hanging around on the beach when it’s cloudy and a little windy in the mid 40s. I stood between 2 sand dunes and didn’t feel cold. The tide was high when I was there yesterday and today with bigger breakers and some curl in the waves. A beautiful mist was blowing off the top of the waves.

I spend a few minutes observing the waves. How many are breaking, building up or going back out. Can I remember the shapes they take in those steps? Then I start scribbling. I took a little break from sketching and observed again before I could continue and I thought, I’m studying wave anatomy. I have to be there. I’ll never understand it from a photo.


These studies are for the big plan I have to paint fog on the beach. My canvas is 19×38, too big to take out on the beach, so I’ll have to paint it at home. Especially since I’m planning on taping my paintbrushes onto yard sticks so I can stand back from the canvas like Matisse did. The size of the canvas, the wind on the beach, the yard sticks, make it seem like it might get messed up on the sand. I have my color rough from the beach in plein air, so my colors and values will be close to life if I mix them again at home. I’m almost finished with a full size sketch for my painting. If I can do another wave study or two, maybe I can combine the best parts of all my wave sketches into one scene. I really need to have my plan worked out in advance because this is a difficult challenge for me.

Do you remember the story about how Turner lashed himself to a mast on a boat in a storm and painted? Sketching on the beach in this weather is tame compared to Turner. He must have been a real thrill seeker. But if an artist is really there on the scene painting I get the feeling of the atmosphere or spirit or something intangible from it, like Turner had in his paintings. do you know what I mean? That’s what I want. It might take the rest of my life to achieve it.

Orchid / charcoal and chalk


Good news. friends! I got in a plein air group! Another artist forwarded the meet up email to me from The Artists’ Gallery in Virginia Beach to meet at McDonalds Garden Center this morning. They’re organizing the plein air group and it will be called PAL (plein air league). I was so happy to join!

McDonalds Garden Center was great to draw in. I took my charcoal and chalk to draw white orchids. I knew they have some nice ones. In fact, the whole place is like Spring, so very cheerful and sweet smelling.

Then some of the artists went to an Italian restaurant for lunch. I enjoyed talking to the artists and getting to know a few people who I’ll see again next month.

It was good for your plein air artist ( with limited social skills) to find acceptance! YEA on VA Beach!

Seaweed / charcoal and chalk


I found this sad and slightly gross thing on the beach. I went there hoping to sketch waves but the tide was out and the waves were very small so I gave up on that idea for today.

The seaweed caught my eye and it seemed appropriate for a gray day like today. I arranged it on the sand and sat on the side of a sand dune with less wind to sketch it.

I just wanted to be on the beach a little while.IMG_1988

This is a sketch I did yesterday. The waves were small then too, but today it’s practically calm. I need to sketch waves again before I start the painting I’m planning of the beach in fog. If it’s foggy the waves will be small, especially if the tide’s going out. I can give up on painting large breaking waves with sunlight showing through the curl here. I get the feeling this spot never gets waves like that. If it’s stormy the waves could be bigger but the sun wouldn’t shine through. I’ll find large waves another time.

I’m excited about my plan for this painting because I want to tape my paintbrushes onto yard sticks and stand back from my canvas to paint, like Matisse. And also, it will be a challenge because I want to try to represent fog. With less waves and less contrast, it’ll be mostly gray. I want to use warm and cool glazes close to the same value to make my grays brighter, and I also hope I can get a foggy atmosphere into the painting. It could take a few tries. The better I work out my plan before I start, the better my chances the painting will work.

Ocean Waves / charcoal and chalk


I’ve been hanging around on the beach sketching. Here’s the plan for my next big project. I’m going to use a technique of Matisse. I’ve always loved his work and recently read an article that reminded me of a fun project I tried in high school.

A few days ago when I went to the beach it was so foggy I could hardly see the waves 50 ft. away. Looking in this direction I could see the fence all blurry in the fog. Looking the other direction down the beach nothing was visible except gray mist. It was eerie. It was soft and muted. That atmosphere was inspiring. So now I want to try to represent fog. I want to make a real smooth painting using glazes. That last painting I finished of the Port Authority was fun working on a larger canvas and trying to get a panoramic view. So, I’m going to try to do the beach in the fog next, and do it big. It will be mostly gray, but I enjoy mixing my grays. I think they look pearly.

The thing about Matisse is that he sometimes put his paint brushes on a long stick so he could stand way back from his canvas. I did that long ago and it was fun. Also it’s good to stand back from your canvas so you can see it better. Now, I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a smooth painting if I tape my paintbrushes to yardsticks but I’ll try. It will eliminate the detail from the painting, so it will look more Impressionistic, but I’ll still use my glazes since getting the values right will help get the illusion of fog. I know I won’t get it right on the first try. Impressionists don’t use glazes, so I don’t know how they would represent fog. My painting won’t look anything like a Matisse either.

I can’t start a project like this without a solid plan for the waves, even though they will be covered with fog. I still need more practice drawing waves. I can’t go by a photo because of a teacher I had in art school. ( I’ll update my about page soon and tell that story since it had a big influence on me. ) That means, I’ll be going to the beach a few more times to sketch. And I’ll need to do a smaller paint rough before I start on a big canvas. This could take months because I’ll have to wait for foggy weather. We should have more fog soon, but not all the time, so I’ll also start on another painting and have two in progress, the fog and the swamp.IMG_1985


Cherry Tree on Sand Dune / charcoal and chalk


When I was on the beach today a couple people stopped to talk to me. They saw me sketching this yesterday. I asked them if they knew what type of plant it is and they said it’s a cherry. It’s branches go back down to the sand and reroot farther away from the main trunk of the plant. I’ll go back and find a Live Oak to sketch another time. I think the Live Oaks must be the trees with the layers of lichens along the path, and smaller ones on the dunes. The plants on the dunes have a bleak look.

The sun came out in my neighborhood and I wanted to go out and sketch so I went to the beach hoping to draw some waves. I want to practice drawing and painting moving water. I could hear the waves but not see them until I was down on the wet sand because it was so foggy. I stood in the fog for a while and looked down the beach. It was definitely spooky. The waves were small. The sky and sea blended together. So soft, I thought. I wondered if I could paint fog and it looks like fog. I might go back and try to paint real real smooth glazes till I get it. That might be my minimalist painting, a foggy beach. But it might not qualify as minimalist if it takes me a few layers of paint to do it. I’m not sure, since I’m not really up on defining different styles of painting. The fog was just an inspiration.

Chinese Paperbush / charcoal and chalk


A few days ago I was out on my balcony looking down at the arboretum and I thought I saw a bush with white flowers. I said, “Holy cow! something’s blooming down there in the beginning of Feb.!” Then I couldn’t spot it the next day because it was raining. This morning I saw it again, so I took my sketchbook down there and found the bush. I saw the plaque saying it’s a Chinese Paperbush and remembered seeing one once before at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. When I went back to Lewis Ginter the next time looking for the bush I couldn’t find it. Now I’m so happy that they have one right downstairs! I don’t even have to drive anywhere if I paint it.

It’s so pretty, when the sun shines on it the bark is gold in the light, and the flowers are bright white with dark green evergreens behind it. I have a lot of plans for paintings and one almost finished, so should I start another?

omg! There is so much inspiration when you move to the beach! I can’t keep up with it!

the mouth of the Chesapeake / charcoal and chalk


It was so beautiful over there today, sunny, around 45 and not too windy. I thought it was very refreshing. And I had this overlook all to myself.

The Army helicopters were a distraction, as they’re loud, and I kept stopping to watch them fly over. I was reminded that this is a strategic spot, with military bases on the side of the Bay. Well, I think we’re pretty safe from invasion through this place, so, I’m not complaining about the helicopters.

Cypress Swamp with Ice / charcoal and chalk


It looks like Fairyland over there today with the ice melting on the swamp! The paths are clear, but the boardwalks still have melting snow on them. I saw a Great blue Heron walking on the ice and also heard a funny alto sounding chirp. ( if you know what I mean) I looked around and didn’t see any other birds, so maybe it was the heron making that sound.

I like this sketch more than the other one I did of the swamp. I might use this one for a painting. The bush on the right coming out of the knee has a lot of fine reddish branches that are all bright in the sun. And there’s a lot of Spanish moss dripping around the trees. I decided to do a close up landscape this time because when you’re in the swamp. you’re looking down at the water and cypress knees instead of looking up at the sky. Who needs sky. hahahahahah