Category Archives: Norfolk Botanical Garden

pelican / charcoal and chalk

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It’s a throwback to the age of the dinosaurs isn’t it?

My model is a bronze sculpture.

Yesterday I got a start on my sketch but after working on it for a half hour or so I saw that I drew it too far to the left on my paper. I didn’t want his beak to crowd the edge so I decided to transfer my sketch to the other side of the paper and try again.

I worked on it for another hour or so and was starting to get hungry and lose my concentration. I took a break and went back to work on it a little more. Then a lady spoke to me and I jumped. She was very apologetic for startling me but I told her no prob. I was in the zone but I can go back. That happens sometimes when you draw in plain air. If it would annoy you too much to have your concentration broken, then plain air isn’t for you. I kind of enjoy talking to people who are interested, so no big deal if they scare me. I’m not on any schedule for finishing the sketch.

Drawing this pelican made me see the beak has an extra section down the center. And from far away the head looks like a squid to me. Can you see that shape in the head? I’ve seen live ones before but I can’t remember where. If I find a good spot with a nice background for this bird I might do a painting and enter it in the Audubon contest. (some day)

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one hellofa crabapple tree / work in progress

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One day a couple weeks ago I was walking in the garden carrying my 12 x 16 sketchbook when I came across this beautiful tree in the last stage of blooming. A few pink flowers were still hanging on and I wished I could paint real fast so I could capture it like that with some flowers and new leaves coming out. It’s a big crabapple tree and famous because it’s in a book of VA’s 100 most beautiful trees.

I knew I couldn’t sketch it on my 12 x 16 paper because it’s easier for me to draw large if I’m drawing a large subject. That’s one reason why I know my drawing needs improvement. Why can’t I draw small? I can usually draw a figure with a 1.5″ head. A one inch head is too small for me most of the time, but I try to sketch small  figures sometimes.

I decided to use a piece of paper out of my 18 x 24 sketchbook and give it a try. 12 x 16 is the largest size sketchbook I can hold in one hand to draw and don’t need my easel. When I tried to sketch the tree on the big paper it seemed like it kept getting bigger and bigger as I was sketching. ( a sign that my drawing is out of control ) I wasn’t going to show this sketch because the tree looks crowded on this big piece of paper but I wanted to paint it and I thought if I had a larger canvas I might be able to do it. I bought a 30 x 40 canvas.IMG_2025

I did a detailed underpainting of the tree and it looked ok on the 30 x 40 canvas. It’s not squished to fit.  It was a little easier to sketch the second time. There’s another five feet of tree off to the right which I couldn’t get, though. The branches come back down to the ground and form a thick bush next to the tree. Now I’m over half way finished but it might still take another week at this rate. The background trees, sky and grass are finished but the tree and leaves are still mostly in the underpainting stage. The new leaves have a red orange tint and are shiny. It’s too soon for me to tell if my painting will work out. It could be an epic failure, or it might be ok when it’s finished. I missed the time to paint the tree with flowers but I think it’s beautiful without flowers. If the painting is ok I’ll post it when I’m finished. If it’s not ok, I’ll try again next year.

My New Dog Bites / pastel / after Roaring Dog / with photos

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It’s a Chinese lantern in the Lanterns Asia exhibit at Norfolk Botanical Garden. This was fun to sketch at the garden between rain showers and fun to finish in bright colors on a rainy day at home. It’s good practice for your plein air artist to draw subjects other than landscapes sometimes. And it rains a lot around here.

That black sanded Mi-Teintes  paper is great because it holds so many layers of pastel. And the black adds drama to your subject. If you want to convey a mood, black paper could instantly make your subject scary or sad or elegant. I like to blend my 1st layer in with a blending stump and then put 2 more thick layers of pastel on top of that. IMG_2004

This is Roaring Dog lit up at night.

Here’s what the plaque says, “The Roaring Dog is a Chinese legend of the Erlang god which specialized in assisting the Erlang hunting and beheading a mythical demon. It fought against Sin Wukong in the journey to the Westlands assisted the Erlang god many times in fighting against other gods in the legend of Deification.”

When I was sketching it the tram went past and I heard the tour guide tell the passengers that the Chinese like dogs to look like lions. I thought how much fun it would be to make paper mache armor for a little dog and take it to the dog park and scare the big dogs! hahahahaimages (7)

This is the size dog I have in mind for custom made armor. He’s showing off his new leonine hair cut and learning to drive. wait, no, scratch the driving part.

Chinese Beastie / pastel / and photos of the real thing

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It’s called a Kylin. It’s part of a large display in Lanterns Asia at Norfolk Botanical Garden. Doesn’t the black paper make it look dramatic?

I went to the botanical garden to draw this during the day and wondered what it looked like lit up at night. When I went back at night I didn’t take my pastels because I thought it would look totally different than my pastel drawing, so instead I took my camera. It was a difference like night and day. IMG_2001

This is called “Kylin in Delight”. This is what the plaque says, “Kylin is a traditional beast with a calm temperament in ancient Chinese tales. The legend of the Han people said that the beast has a life span of 2000 years. Ancient people believed where there is Kylin there is favorable omen. Sometimes talented people are compared to Kylin.”IMG_2002

Here’s a photo of the head of the Kylin at night. IMG_2003

This photo of the rump of the Kylin shows how it’s body was made of little glass bottles filled with colored water. Pretty neat idea for a lantern, huh?

Hell Hound / charcoal

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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?

7 reasons why I like sculptures for figure drawing practice

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  1. They don’t move. There’s no need to worry about running out of your 20 minute time allowance before the model needs a break. The artist can take a break any time they want to and the model will be in the exact same pose. You can even go back any time any day and the model will be the same.
  2. I can finish a drawing. Don’t get me wrong on this, open studio figure drawing practice is necessary, the more the better, but I never could finish a drawing. I had lots of sketchbooks full of sketches that I threw away when I moved. When I looked back at my figure drawings from years ago I could see an improvement that came from the open studio. I work slowly though, and I do enjoy finishing a drawing, which I could never do in the 3 hour or so time of the open studio.
  3. Lighting isn’t a problem. Check it out and decide what time of day you like the light and go then. There is no getting stuck on the dark side of the model. You can’t beat natural light.
  4. The pose is good. Like to see a graceful model in an interesting pose? Statues are more likely for that than some nude sitting or standing around.
  5. They’re ideal figures. Easy on the eyes, in perfect classical proportion.
  6. It’s not crowded. Sometimes at open studio figure drawing, my view is blocked by another artist . When I go out to draw a statue, I get to pick the best side to draw from. No other artists are there drawing.
  7. Last but not least, THEY’RE FREE! Who needs to pay a model to do figure drawing?
  8. This sculpture is “Breaking Ground”  by Kathleen Farrell. It’s the WPA monument at Norfolk Botanical Garden. During the depression the government had this project where they hired 220 African Americans to dig gardens by hand. 200 were women and 20 were men. It looks like back breaking work, doesn’t it? And that’s not all, they had to watch out for snakes, and the weather made it even more difficult. This model probably saw something moving on the ground, because she’s not looking at her shovel, she’s looking to the side. Yikes!

Whitehurst Lake in Nov. / oil

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See the photos below, stripping off the layers of glazes all the way back to my underpainting.

As I was working on this, I read a science fiction story my daughter wrote. She had a real good idea, STOPPING TIME. That’s the illusion I’d like to put into my viewers’ heads.

I often think about modern Impressionists when I’m taking my sweet time finishing a painting. The Impressionists feel like they have to rush. Their goal is to capture a moment. To me, that sounds impossible. Like a Kodak moment, like the shutter on a camera. Click, and you have the image in an instant.

It’s true, they complain because the light changes so fast. They don’t take the time to work the paint by mixing colors with a palette knife. They squirt the paint out of the tube and stick the brush right in it, mixing the colors with the brush on the canvas. That is why they have to worry about muddy colors.

Impressionists, what’s the rush? You can go to your scene a little early for the best light and mix some colors to the shade you need. You can put a glaze on the painting thinking it’s close to right. Then when you go back the next day at the same time, the light will be the same as the day before, and you can easily make corrections since the paint has partially dried overnight. You can put another glaze right over top of the previous one without smudging the colors together creating mud. You can go warmer or cooler, lighter or darker so easily. Then the eye of the viewer blends the colors and you get depth in your shadows. And the lightest and brightest colors are on top in thicker paint.

Sometimes people tell me that what I’m doing looks like magic. They see me in the same place day after day with my painting slowly evolving. I always tell them, it’s not magic. It’s an illusion. I started thinking, maybe I can make the viewer think I can stop time.

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This is my painting with one layer of glazes covering the whole canvas.

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This is my underpainting in gray on a violet tinted canvas.

A  few years ago I bought a tube of violet so I could paint some purple flowers. The violet in a tube is brighter than a violet I can mix with any red and blue. But I rarely paint purple flowers so that tube didn’t get used. I decided to tint my canvas violet instead of gray, as I did before, just to use my violet paint before it dried up.

When I tint a canvas, I thin the paint with odorless Turpenoid so it’s like a wash. It makes the pigment not bind with the Gesso. The purple pigment is kind of powdery on the canvas and rubs off even when it’s dry.  When I do my underpainting, I’m using neutral grays but the violet lifts and changes the gray. Then, I get the feeling the paint is sitting a tiny fraction of an inch off the canvas. After I put some glazes on top of my underpainting, I think they are sitting on top too, like the violet makes everything lift, visually. So, the violet is kind of fun to work on.

The underpainting is a necessary first step in this way of painting. I estimated I had 8 hours in it at this point, because first I sketched it with charcoal on paper. Then I sketched it with charcoal on the violet canvas before I started to do the underpainting.

I have to take the time to do these steps. I doubt I’ll ever learn to paint fast. I have the time to go back to the beautiful place any day and stay as long as I like. So this way of painting that was pushed on me when I was young at York Academy of Art, actually suits me fine, now, but when I was in art school, I rebelled against the Academy. hahaha

Mirror Lake with Water Lilies / oil

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When I think I’m finished, I see something that needs touching up. Good thing I didn’t clean my brushes. hahahahahha

The Water Lilies are fading fast. They’re showing brown on the edges. I kind of like the brown, but I should try to paint them when they’re blooming next year. I’m not sure what month that is.

I hope this shows up ok on the computer, because I think I can see some depth showing as I look at it here in real life.. I built up a lot of layers of glazes. It took me 2 weeks of working on it almost every day for 2 or 3 hours at a time. It rained twice and I didn’t go out to work on it those days. Yesterday was kind of chilly, but I wore layers, so it wasn’t too bad.

I’m priming a canvas for another scene at Norfolk Botanical Gardens.  I think I have time to do one more painting before the leaves are down, since we haven’t had a frost yet. It’s another beautiful scene over water.

Mirror Lake with Water Lilies charcoal

IMG_1925This is my 2nd try. It was so nice to get out and sketch this morning after months of not sketching because I moved. My art supplies are some of the last things I’m unpacking.

I went over to Norfolk Botanical Garden thinking I wanted to draw the beautiful bronze figure, but I had a look at the lake first and it was so bright and beautiful in the sun. I said to myself, that statue will be the same all year, let me sketch this before  frost  wipes out the water lilies.

Now I have to unpack a box of canvases because tomorrow I’m going back to start a painting.