Tag Archives: Norfolk Botanical Garden

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.

figure drawing, a start

Crap, I got switched to the block editor.

 
ok, I'll try to use it.

Twice I was heading over to Fort Monroe to work on a drawing that I started a couple years ago when the strange atmosphere of the place freaked me out and I gave up on the drawing. It's an old fort and was under Union control in the Civil War. The battery I was drawing is freakin spooky. Yesterday and today I wanted to go there but it's on the north side of the Hampton Roads Tunnel and there was a big traffic jam both times. It wasn't rush hour. I didn't want to sit in the jam so I went to Norfolk Botanical Garden and walked a little since it's close to where I abandoned the highway traffic mess. I'll try for Fort Monroe after Labor Day some time in Sept. Hopefully the traffic jam will be gone by then. I don't know why there's so often a jam up there on 64W but it's enough to keep me on Southside.

I remembered Norfolk Botanical has a great sculpture of these two beautiful girls dancing so I started a sketch. My luck in the garden wasn't much better than the highway. As you can see, I didn't get very far with the sketch. I saw a mosquito on my arm. At first I was in the shade then 10 minutes later the sun was beating down on me. I almost went back to the car for my bug spray then I thought, oh well, I'll try to get over there earlier tomorrow and remember to use the bug spray. These are the problems of your plein air artist. It doesn't always go as you hoped with the weather and the bugs.

Well, if you're interested in this drawing technique here's the start. First I decided to draw the head 1.5" because that's about the smallest I can draw it, so I marked 1.5" sections down the paper. This way of measuring the figure using the head as a unit of measure keeps the figure in proportion as you're working on it. The ideal figure has 7 heads. The foot holding the weight is below the chin. The nipples are at the second head, except not this figure because I'm looking up at her so they're above the second head. The pubic mound is at the 3.5 mark on the figure as indicated on my sketch by the v. I put it approximately where it needs to be in line at the back of the head. To get that placing I held my pencil straight up and down and lined it up with the head. I hope you can visualize what I'm saying. To measure the proportions of the figure you have to hold your pencil out at an arms length. Rest your arm on the sketchbook. Rest the sketchbook against your body. If you take an easel out to draw, rest your arm on the easel. Close one eye and put your thumb on the pencil at the bottom of the chin. Then lower the pencil and check the proportions. Live models vary from the ideal. Don't feel self conscious about standing there holding a pencil out at arms length and closing one eye. It's the best way to start a figure drawing. I often was in open studio figure drawing groups and most artists don't use this technique to draw the figure. But if you want to be accurate it helps. Then start blobbing in the general shape with charcoal. Get all the figure roughed in before starting to refine it with line work. 

I didn't get the first steps finished today because of the mosquitoes. So far I'm not itchy. 

Baby, these are some beautiful girls dancing. And the poetry on the base is uplifting. This is what it says.

There are
so many gods
so many creeds
so many paths
that wind and wind
when
just the act of being kind
is all this sad world needs.

Arther Morris 1862 - 1920

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!

Magnolias / oil

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This came out dramatic looking because I painted my flowers on a dark background. I think it’s feminine and bold.

It was hard to get a decent photo since it’s shiny from my Maroger medium but I figured out if I stand to the side a little I can get a shot without glare.IMG_2502

It was time consuming and the only thing I could do to help make it easier was to thin my paint with a few drops of terpenoid and pick up a little scoop with my palette knife. I hold the palette knife in one hand and the brush in the other when I’m standing at my easel, then I’m not reaching to my palette all the time. It saves a lot of movement over the course of the painting which makes it more efficient even if it’s still slow.IMG_2501

This shot shows a web of branches to look through. They’re making negative shapes. I like to do a finished background where my eyes can go to rest on something interesting. It gives the painting depth and keeps the interest of the viewer longer because the eye goes to the background, then to the foreground again.

I’ve been working on this at home all day for a few days. I don’t know how many hours I have in it because I started sketching for this last year. The tree doesn’t look like this very long, if ever. It blooms suddenly as soon as it warms up for a few days. Then it gets cold again and the flowers turn brown and fall off. It might do better farther South.

Now I have to get back to everything I’ve been neglecting since I’ve been working on this.

Magnolia painting update

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This shot looks a little fuzzy. It’s hard to photograph because my Maroger medium makes it shiny, so I took this shot in the dark of my dining room without a flash. The shutter was open a long time. The other photos had a glare. This painting could be a challenge to get a good photo even for a pro photographer.

The background is finished but not the Southern magnolia in the middle ground. I worked on it at home a couple days since the weather wasn’t good to paint outside, but wasn’t happy with the green leaves. I knew I had to go back to the tree and do leaf studies. Today it’s nice out so I got some leaf practice in and mixed up a few leaf colors. I think I can improve on it before I put the bright pink flowers on top of this.IMG_2478

Today’s leaf studies, oil paint on watercolor paper.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is good then 3 days of rain. This might be enough leaf studies so that I can paint at home again, but I could go over to the garden tomorrow and do a few more leaves and mix up my pink flower colors to save for next week.

The cold took a toll on the flowers. They’re turning an orange brown and drooping. A few buds still look ok. The orange brown petals are pretty too. I’m undecided if I should paint some of the fading blooms or make all  my flowers fresh and pink.

My tree needs a lot more leaves before I paint the branch with the pink flowers. And I need to make my leaves better defined, more like this study.

I think my pink flowers will show up real bright on top of this dark background but I might have to go over them 3 times, the first time as a gray underpainting on top of this then 2 coats of pink and white.

magnolia study and plan

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It’s called a Todd Gresham Magnolia. This is my last study, time to start painting.IMG_2456

This is the whole plan taped to the wall. The magnolia pastels on the navy blue paper are life sized from last year. The pastel buds on the green paper are from yesterday and a few days ago. The big tree in charcoal on light blue paper is the background tree, a Southern magnolia. And the branch drawn in charcoal on tan paper is the branch of the Todd Gresham magnolia which is the main subject of the painting.

I can’t say for sure if it’s possible for art to be spontaneous or from the subconscious or accidental, all I know is that if I’m going to try to paint  something I like to have a plan worked out down to the details.

Now I feel like I’ve done the preliminary part. If I need more flowers I can turn these on their sides or upside down. But this might be enough sketches. It’s crazy how fast the flowers change. They move in every breeze and by the hour they open up more.  If I tried to start a flower one day and finish it the next with another coat of paint I’d never be able to find the same flower. This is why I couldn’t avoid doing the sketches. They’ll need two glazes on two different days.

I can work on this painting at home but I’ll probably take my canvas over to the garden and make corrections at some point. And I’ll have to mix my flower colors in Plein air because I didn’t have the right pastel colors. Even if you have a couple hundred pastels you still don’t have the exact color you want.

My computer was acting weird for a day or so. Flashing horizontal line were freaking me out, then it seemed to go away, but if I close my laptop they come back. If I let it open they’re not there. If I have to take this thing over to Best Buy and can’t look at WordPress, don’t worry. But maybe it’ll be ok now.

Magnolia buds opening / pastel studies

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The weather can change suddenly and dramatically around here this time of year. I have to adapt my Plein air painting plans to be prepared for anything. Last week we had some nice days, then rain, then torrential rain, then gale force wind on Fri. When it stopped raining I wanted to make some progress on my plan for the Magnolia painting but I couldn’t take my canvas out there, (it’s like trying to wrestle a sail in the wind) so I put my palette and paints and palette knife in my rolling Ikea cart and went to the garden to mix some colors for the underpainting for my background Southern Magnolia tree. The cart was no problem in the wind.

I was glad to get out and mix colors but didn’t start painting yet. I saw the buds are opening and thought, “Yikes! This could happen early this year!” What if the tree blooms and I haven’t finished the background?! The wind knocked down a lot of pink petals and unopened buds. You never know in Feb. We could get more freezing weather, or it could be like spring. The flowers could last weeks or only one week. Now I see more buds starting, so if the weather is good the tree could be in bloom for a whole month.

Either way, I decided to do some flower sketches to be on the safe side. I have a bunch of sketches from last year. Maybe tomorrow I can do a few more sketches of buds opening. Then if they’re gone before I get my background finished I can use my sketches to paint the flowers at home instead of in plein air.IMG_2453

This is how I arranged my palette. The colors at the top of the photo are for the southern Magnolia tree, trunk, branches and leaves. The colors on the left are for the other side of the tree, dark greenish black for leaves in the shade and lighter tan and light green for the spaces where you can see all the way through to the distant background. The light warm brown and dark brown lower in the photo are for the mulch under the tree, dark in the shadows and light where the sun shines. I put little pieces of plastic wrap over the paint to keep it workable in case it’s a few days till I get around to starting the painting.  Oil paint can stay good for weeks with plastic over it. Mixing my colors in advance is a necessary step in this process.

I like this large palette. It was meant for water soluble medium but I replaced the sponge that came in it with a piece of glass. I put duct tape on the back of the glass because it’s easier to see the colors and values I’m mixing on gray than it is to see colors on white background.  It has plenty of room for me to mix a lot of colors, then when I get them arranged around the sides I still have enough space in the center to thin the paint. This big palette fits nicely in my Ikea cart.

When I was in New Mexico at art camp the organizer talked about limiting the amount of supplies, colors of paint, etc. that he takes out to paint. I don’t take all my tubes of paint, but I can take much more out there because I’m not carrying it on my back like a regular plein air pochade box. The palette, brushes, easel, turpentine, paper towels, water bottle, etc, all fit in my Ikea cart.  I can go farther from my car with more gear and not get as tired. Plus, another thing I like about my get up is, my easel has spikes on the legs and the pochade boxes don’t have spikes which makes them more likely to blow down in the wind.  Pochade boxes have small palettes but most Plein air painters don’t mix up their colors in advance. They squirt out blobs of color and dip their brush in, mixing colors with their brushes instead of a palette knife. Mixing colors with a brush is a no no if you want to avoid muddy colors. Yeah, I don’t care if I’m not stylish with a pochade box. My Ikea cart and paint clothes make me look like a homeless woman.  hahaha I don’t think anyone else cares either.

 

Magnolia Branch w Buds / sketch

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One year I planned to do a painting of an early blooming Magnolia and cold weather killed the buds. The tree didn’t bloom at all. Last year in March I got a bunch of life size studies of the flowers. This year, if it works out, I’d like to either do a pastel or an oil painting. I’m not sure which. These flowers might not bloom for a few weeks but I don’t have a lot of  time to make decisions.

First decision- pastel or paint

If I do a pastel I should have my flowers planned ahead of time so I can do the background separately. If I do an oil painting I can start by  painting the background and paint the flowers on top in thicker paint and it will cover nicely. If I do a pastel I need to figure out exactly how big and where to put the flowers first because I won’t be able to cover or lift the background  pastel colors out enough for the flowers to be bright if drawn on top of the background.

If I do a pastel I can use a big sheet of the sanded paper and take less art supplies out with me after I decide on a few pastels. If I paint it I need to prime a canvas.

How many flowers will fit on a big piece of pastel paper? Should I crop this sketch or enlarge it and do them life size? Will I be able to use the sketches I got last year?

So many problems for your Plein air artist to figure out! I’ll have to prop this up where I can see it and try to decide this weekend. The stronger the plan, the stronger the finished piece.

Keeping my fingers crossed for mild weather because this could still get postponed until 2021 if it gets real cold again.