Category Archives: Norfolk Botanical Garden

new azalea sketches and painting plan

As I’m sketching the flowers, I pick up information that a photo won’t give you. It’s not always easy to see the petals as separate shapes. I’m sure a camera would blend them together. I might be the only one interested in drawing petals separately but it could help me decide which direction to drag my brush on the painting, where the edges are if I want to keep edges. I’ll probably simplify the painting but I need detailed drawings.

Another thing a photo won’t make you aware of is that the buds and flowers come in groups of three. The stems are in threes too. The stems don’t go straight vertical but have some curve. Some of the petals have smooth edges and some have zig zag edges.

Now I realize that other plein air artists don’t care about separate petals. They’d go to the garden and start right in with slapping down some paint and finish the painting in a day or maybe less. I need the sketching time to figure out a plan.

The more flowers I sketch the easier it gets. I might need more flower sketches but maybe these are enough.

The two big azalea bushes I was standing between are in a kind of U shape where I can step off the path and stand between the bushes to sketch. These are on the shady side. I looked at the sunny side of the bushes and the sun was too bright on my white paper. It was blinding! I use the white paper last because it’s not great for sketching in plein air. Also when looking at the side in the direct sun all the flowers were lit equally bright. When I sketched the shady side it was easier on the eyes. I didn’t feel like going back to the car for my sunglasses.

As I was standing there for around an hour and a half to fill each of these papers with flowers, some spotty light fell on a few flowers at a time and it was much nicer to see than the bright glare of direct light. I decided to do my painting with spotty light. I’ll have to fake it on the sunlight if I paint this at home, but that means I can put as much sunlight in as I want to, because if I go back to the garden to paint the flowers will be different and I don’t know exactly what time the sun fell on any flower to catch it at it’s best.

So, yeah, and hour and a half on each sketch paper. That means I have around six hours in it so far and haven’t started painting yet. That’s one reason I can’t get in with a plein air group. Also, I don’t want to pay to join a group, I mean $35 to get your name on an email list? But they don’t like this approach to painting. They don’t want to go back day after day and do a bunch of sketches. But it’s a whole different process and if I ever sell a painting I’ll ask a lot more for it than their fast one day paintings would go for. They want their art openings to be “cohesive” which means the artists must conform. If all the paintings for sale are asking $300 and someone enters a painting and they want $1000 for it, the juror would reject it because they don’t want an artist to think their painting is worth so much more that any of the others.

I traced my flowers from the sketch papers and cut them out to arrange them on the paper I tinted for this painting. This step will help me decide if I need to draw more flowers or if this is enough. I want to have some flowers in the background too. If I can come up with a good arrangement then I’ll try to decide how much sunlight to put into the painting and where. I decided I want the spotty light to make the composition more than the flower shapes. If I can make a good composition with the flowers and light, I hope the viewer’s eye will move around the whole painting.

azalea sketches and wildlife report

This will be a busy week at the botanical garden because of the holiday and the weather is improving. Norfolk was on the edge of a freeze warning so I wondered if it would affect the azaleas which are starting to bloom but they look fine today.

I’m undecided how to paint them but I’ll get more sketches and paint at home. I have a good spot to sketch off the main path. I just don’t want to hang around if it gets crowded so I’m going when they open in the morning.

These are close to life size on my 11 x 14 paper which is the size I can stand and hold in one hand to sketch without using my easel.

I took my numbered color swatches that correspond with my Inkense pencils to make color notes. That’s my little color notes on the sketch. I might use my Inktense pencils for this or maybe oils with my brushes on a yardstick, which is fun.

The variegated ones are my favorites. oops, I smeared my charcoal. That’s ok, I need a lot more sketches but I can start planning my painting by starting to arrange them on a larger paper.

In wildlife news:

Crows, A crow was harassing me at the botanical garden when I painted the redbud last week, caw caw cawing over my head for a long time. Finally I thought he wants to steal something shiny from me and I covered my paintbrushes and everything else with any shine and he went away.

Canada geese. I pulled into a shopping center to get lunch and saw a goose sleeping in the parking lot. I wondered if he was sick, hoped he didn’t get hit by a car. Then I got my Kentucky fried chicken and parked to eat it. I saw the other goose sitting on a nest under a tree on one of the cement islands with mulch in the parking lot. 4 crows were constantly harassing the goose on the nest. The goose didn’t seem concerned about the cars but that would be bad with the crows harassing the geese all day. And they will have to walk a long way when the eggs hatch because there’s no pond anywhere near there. The babies will have to cross busy streets if the crows don’t manage to steal the eggs first. what a bad spot for a nest! I noticed some human had left a plastic bowl near the nest, probably with food or water.

Ospreys. I was happy to see the nesting pair back on top of the light pole out back. It’s over a little league field. The teams are back to playing their regular schedule. Sometimes it gets loud out there but it’s mostly quiet.

redbud / oils

The colors don’t show up in the photo exactly as they are but you get the idea.

The flowers are thick paint and I used my modified fan brush again to add texture. You can see the difference between my background glazes which are thin and the flowers which are thick. That’s the traditional way of painting. If you use both thin and thick paint it helps give the illusion of depth and the viewer’s eye has something to compare. The viewer might not realize it but the painting might keep their attention longer with that contrast of paint thickness and texture.

You can see the thick paint of the dead leaves on the ground, the thin paint of my background glazes and the thick paint of the flowers compared to the solid lines of the branches.

redbud underpainting

mmmm, no.

We had some not good for plein air weather and I wanted to start the background for my painting at home but was undecided how to start. Every day I made up a new plan. Then I changed my mind again before I started. I wanted to wing it on the background because the real life background for this tree is too complicated and not a good composition from this side of the tree.

In my case it’s better to put a painting on hold until I have some kind of plan. Some artists would slap in a solid background or something fast and easy because the painting is all about the redbud anyway. They don’t like to overthink a painting. What’s the alternative to overthinking? Mindlessness? It seems like overthinking might give my painting a better chance of success. My mind runs constantly. I can’t stop it so I’m not fighting it. If I wanted to stop overthinking I might need to take some drugs for that.

I don’t like what I have here but I think I can save it. I didn’t paint the tree yet. I painted the background colors up next to my charcoal lines on gray blue pastel paper.

It’s going to rain today but I went over to the botanical garden to have a look at the tree and didn’t take my art supplies. I know I need to lighten up the background bushes and I’m dying to kill that orange mulch color. I was glad to see I still have time before it’s in full bloom. A lot of pretty trees are blooming around here. I don’t like to rush a painting, overthinking and all, but nature waits for no one. I want to paint the background first. That will help the tree seem to come forward in the painting. Looks like tomorrow will be good to paint in plein air. I should be able to finish this when it blooms right on time.

trees about to bloom soon

not a redbud

I’m not sure but it might be a dogwood.

a redbud for sure

Both trees are showing signs of life with tiny buds except the buds aren’t the same on both trees.

I only sketched the main branches for these trees but there are a lot of tiny branches with buds. First I need to paint the background and I’m not crazy about the background that’s there in real life. It’s part of the children’s garden with more trees, a pond, paths, mulch, some grass and then some big magnolias which are green, and brown trees that have no leaves yet. That’s too complicated for this painting.

We have had some nice weather and it might not be bad tomorrow either but cooler. Then clouds and rain are coming in this week. I can get started on these two tree paintings at home. I don’t know if it will take 1 or 2 or 3 weeks for them to bloom. Things change fast at this time of year. I’ll have to keep checking up on them.

figure drawing

The first of two models.

My models are made of bronze and I’d like to paint them in bronze colors. I’m not sure exactly how yet, Which media to use, probably not oil paint. I still have to sketch the second dancing girl and she’s in a more difficult pose to draw. She’s leaning back. I’ll do it next week.

The back of the sculpture looks good too, so I might draw both sides. I’ll have to transfer the sketches to a larger paper. They’re holding hands while dancing.

It doesn’t make any difference how long it takes me to come up with a plan for my dancing girls. They’re not going anywhere. I might even wait till winter to do it so there will be less people at the garden and I won’t be in the way on the path.

Redbud tree / pastel and charcoal

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Redbuds are native here and I love to see them in the woods when I’m driving. Suddenly you see a slash of purple by the road and the other trees aren’t leafed out yet. Then they go back into hiding and are indistinguishable from the underbrush until they bloom again.

This one is in the botanical garden and I saw a couple more over there. As soon as the weather clears up I’ll go back and get another sketch. Last year I got an ok  sketch, if I can find it. I need one more and I can start planning a painting.

I’ll need another big canvas so they’re not crowded. This paper is 11 x 14 and too small. I haven’t decided on what to use as the background or if I want to put other spring flowers in the painting. This painting might not happen until next year, I don’t know. I’m kind of distracted this week and it’s cloudy and rainy too, so, maybe in a couple weeks after I get settled in my next apartment, and some other things are settled… By then they’ll be done blooming though.

That’s one problem of this artist, life’s distractions can stop me from drawing and painting.  (temporarily) The simpler my life is, the easier it is to concentrate on art. When things get complicated it isn’t as easy to do. I can still get out and sketch for a few hours on nice days but working on a finished painting won’t happen for a few weeks.

Azaleas and Daffodils / pastel sketches

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What I’m really looking for is Redbud trees. I thought it’s too early, then I saw a couple on my way home starting to bloom. They’re hard to spot if they’re not blooming because they’re small twisty trees. I’ll keep looking for the Redbuds but if I can’t find them I’ll draw other flowers.

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This paper isn’t great for pastel. It has no tooth, meaning it’s too smooth. I can’t build up layers of pastel as well as on better pastel paper. It’s ok for sketches though, because I can save these and use them as reference sketches in a painting next spring if I get a good idea worked out by then for daffodils or azaleas. I also need to find the best view of the flowers, see what would work for a background, etc.

Meanwhile, this is drawing practice. It doesn’t matter what the subject is for practice. The more you keep at it the better your eye gets for things like color and contrast, directions of lines or shapes, sizes of subjects for a finished painting and another million things an artist decides while working on a project. You make a lot of decisions without much thought, but other things take more and more sketching to come to a good plan. The more flower studies I do in advance the better.  Or I could just put these in the file and never use them. I don’t know for sure. It could be the first step of a painting or it could be nothing more than another sketch.

Bead Curtain Tree / Crab on Soft Pretzel

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I don’t know the correct name of the tree. I looked for the plaque but didn’t see it. The chalk is the bead like tiny flowers. They’re light green but starting to turn brown.

I was feeling so lucky today to be able to go out to draw in Plein air. It’s the best therapy for me and free. Even if I’m doing a sketch that I’ll never use for a painting. Over the past 15 years or so, drawing and painting in plein air has had a cumulative effect of healing my spirit. Think of the money I saved by not going to a shrink. Then what? I’d have got a prescription for happy pills and probably got hooked on them.

I’ve also been watching the lock up shows. I watched “60 Days In” on Hulu and often thought that could have been me under different circumstances. I imagine if a person is only slightly crazy and they commit a crime and get caught then go to jail, by the time they got out they’d be crazy for real.  I think that kind of stress could kill me. The next day when I go out the heavy traffic doesn’t even phase me and when I get in the zone of drawing I’m just fine.

If you want to draw in plein air you have to like people because they will talk to you. Today I saw an old couple looking at me so I said hi. The man said he thought I was a lego statue because I didn’t move. He saw me from the other side of the canal and walked over watching me the whole time and I never moved. I told him I’m sketching and he repeated that I never moved, so I laughed.IMG_2518

On the way home I stopped at Wegmans and bought this yummy thing. It’s a soft pretzel stuffed with crab meat. Now, I come from the land of soft pretzels (Lancaster Co. PA.) and fresh Chesapeake Bay Blue Crabs, which I love to eat, but I never heard of a soft pretzel stuffed with crab meat before. Genius. It was $12. In the oven now!