This morning I woke to find four newly fledged mockingbirds on my lawn. They were gawky, still scruffy with baby down, and clumsy as they fluttered from lawn to lawn chair. Regularly they stretched out their little wings as if exercising them for their next big flight.

Sketch of mockingbirds

Sketch of baby mockingbirds; Pigma Micron pen in Strathmore mixed media journal. Click on the image to see a larger vision.

This is the first time I’ve been able to sketch in a while, as house hunting and moving has taken over my life. Hopefully that will soon be over, because for everyday I spent not sketching, painting, or drawing, I feel my skills atrophy.

I’m going to miss my mockingbirds when we move. I don’t think that they live where I’m going. But I think I’ll keep the name of this blog, because I’ll always know that somewhere, mockingbirds are yodeling the night away.

Poster for 10th Annual Atherton Arts Foundation Art Show

Poster for 10th Annual Atherton Arts Foundation Art Show

 

Amazingly, in the midst of the craziness of (maybe) buying a house, packing 11 years of stuff to leave our long-time apartment, working a full-time day job, and enjoying a wonderfully long visit with my beautiful step-daughter and exclaiming over the new step grand-daughter, I’ve been invited to exhibit at the 10 Annual Atherton Art Exhibit put on by the Atherton Arts Foundation. Wow!

The list of artists!

The list of artists!

Look at the list of artists! I’ve admired many of them for years; all of them are top notch. And my name is there too! I’m very excited; that’s why there are so very many exclamation points.  !

It’s a short show—only that evening long—but I think it will be fun. I hope you’ll come; I’m working hard to have  a few new pieces for you to enjoy.

When:

Friday September 5, 4pm to 7:30 pm

Where:

Jennings Pavilion in the Holbrook-Palmer Park

Atherton

 

Sketch of baby

Graphite, red and white chalk, Strathmore 400 Series Toned Sketch Journal, Warm Tan paper

Sunday our power went out for the whole day, so that meant no computers, no internet, none of the electronic time-wasters we’re all so used to. Even my phone lost its charge, so I was cut off from the 4g network I usually live on.

How did we pass the time?! Well, we went with some friends to a local park and had a little picnic. While we were there, I tried to sketch their new-born daughter. Babies are hard to draw, especially newborns. They lack the bone structure that an artist can use as landmarks when drawing. Their faces are all out-of-whack, proportion-wise. And even asleep, babies don’t really want to hold a long pose.

There are a lot of babies in my life right now (being of grandmotherly age—meh—I find that my younger friends are filling up their lives—and mine—with babies). So I hope to study this baby-sketching more closely.

sketch of baby

Graphite, Strathomre 400 Series Toned Sketch Journal, Warm Tan

This is an idea of a baby, not drawn from life but from what I remember and what I suppose a baby should look like. Small face, big head. I never thought I’d want to spend a lot of time with the youngest set!

Recommendation: I’m really liking the Strathmore 400 Series Toned Sketch Journal. The paper has a nice feel, the brown color doesn’t reflect sunlight and blind me when sketching outdoors, and I love the luxurious feeling of the faux-leather binding.

HouseBuyingWoes

I haven’t been blogging, painting, or much of anything else the last few weeks because we’re trying to buy a house. I can’t even write many words about this process. All I can do is draw, heart in (exceedingly) dry mouth, what it feels like. (You can click on the drawing to make it bigger.)

painting of church

A watercolor done many years ago of a half-built church

I’ve been absent from the blogosphere lately because we are in the process of moving (or thinking about moving, or taking about moving. We are not fast people. We move slowly).

Part of the process of moving is, of course, going through years of accumulated detritus, sifting out what to keep and what to save. It’s a little like an archeological dig, exposing layers of life that have been buried in boxes for nearly 2 decades.

The painting that heads this blog was done when, many years and lives ago, and sweating in tropical heat, I was just discovering that I needed to be a painter. I had always drawn, painted, created, but I was also attempting a writing career in those days. I was carving my time into chunks so that I could do both— write and paint—plus upkeep our lives in a foreign land.

I happened to read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. In it she describes making a pen drawing of the view she had through her window. Then one day she shut the blinds.

“Then, by lamplight, I taped my drawing to the closed blind. There, on the drawing, was the window’s view….If I wanted a sense of the world, I could look at the stylized outline drawing. If I had possessed the skill, I would have painted, directly on the slats of the lower blind, in meticulous color, a tromp l’oil mural view of all that the blinds hid. Instead, I wrote it.”

This passage was a watershed moment. I realized that by focusing on writing, I was penciling the wrong paper; I needed to paint, and to paint realistically, because I needed to see the world. I needed that connection of observing the world closely, granularly, carefully. I needed to create the picture in the window, not write it.  Painting was where my stories could live.

Need is such a weak word to describe the yearning, the almost sick-with-desire crush I felt for painting, that I feel even now. I still write (yeah, this blog), and I enjoy the (rare) feel of stones falling clop-clop-clop when I craft a particularly elegant sentence. But my true love, that moves with me from place to place, after nearly 20 years?

Brush and paint.

Watercolor painting

One of my first landscape paintings done from a sketch I’d made onsite.

 

Here’s a little tutorial.

There is a little school near our house where they often have events, complete with performances for the kids. One day they had dancers in full feathered Aztec regalia rattling their cowrie-shelled legs and swirling burning incense over the playground.

So dramatic! And I caught a beautiful image of a woman dancer that I really wanted to paint.

You might remember this was one of my initial color studies:

Study for painting 3" x 5" watercolor painting This study is for a drawing I'm working on. Six hours into the drawing and I feel like it's just starting to emerge from a mush of pencil scratchings. But I dreamed the colors, and couldn't wait to get them onto paper.

Study for painting
3″ x 5″ watercolor painting
This study is for a drawing I’m working on. Six hours into the drawing and I feel like it’s just starting to emerge from a mush of pencil scratchings. But I dreamed the colors, and couldn’t wait to get them onto paper.

This was the finished detailed drawing. How many hours in this drawing? I’m not sure I could tell you. Time folds when I’m concentrating.

pencil drawing

Pencil drawing for watercolor painting

I paint on Arches 300# paper, a stiff, cardboard like stock, so I don’t have to stretch it. I use push pins to hold it to a board. Sometimes it curls while painting, but I can flatten it after I’m done.

pencil drawing

Close up of pencil drawing

As I draw, I’m not only trying to find the likeness, but I’m also thinking about the painting. Watercolor (the way I paint) takes planning, and the underdrawing is my page of notes. Where will I use lost edges? Hard edges? And those difficult in-between edges that can often describe form so beautifully? How will I apply the paint? What brush strokes will I use?

When I finally believe I’m happy with the drawing (I always reach that point too soon. I’ve got to learn to keep working even after I think I’m finished.), I start adding light washes.

beginning painting

Light washes over pencil drawing

The first light washes establish the color temperature of my painting as well as the values. I like a lot of pigment on my paper, so I know that I’m going to cover  much of these beginning strokes with more paint. But these light washes are the  foundation onto which I build ever-deepening color. After this, it’s all about layering.

Painting of Aztec dancer

Little Pink Skull (unfinished)
Watercolor on Arches 300# paper
© Margaret Sloan 2014

I’m sorry that I got caught up in painting and didn’t make more process photos. This is unfinished; I am still working out the feathers in the head dress, and feel like I need to go a little deeper in value on parts of her face. Plus all the fiddly bits of the costume need to be fiddled with.

As careful as I was to get my drawing right, I still ended up glossing over complicated passages like the feathers in her headdress. Small drawing mistakes and fuzzy thinking magnify when you add paint, and I’ve had to scrub out those darn feathers a couple times to get the values and shapes to fall where I want them. I’m still messing with them.

When I’m finished, I’ll have a little dance of my own!

 

 

 

Drawing of Doughmore Beach

Doughmore Beach
Color pencil on Canson Mi-Tientes
© 1999 Margaret Sloan

I recently stumbled over an old pencil drawing of Doughmore (pronounced sort of like: Dowt-more) Beach in Doonbeg, County Clare, Ireland. I once spent a summer there, learning tunes and being a fool. I sang to this beach often, and loved it beyond reason. I’ve never been able to return.

You can click on the image and make it bigger.

I’ve been known to paint a single image many times, trying to “get it right.” (The painting “Trim the Velvet” I painted at least 12 times before I was happy with the results.)

I’ve been working an image of a friend’s wife for a year. It’s eluded me, partly because the original photograph was taken with the sun overhead. A no-no; yes, I’m aware of that. But her eyelashes cast a shadow on her cheek, delicate and curved. Her hair was wisping in a light breeze. Her name is Margaret (yes, my name too!), which, according to coffee cup research, means “pearl of the sea.” The photo, although taken on the front steps of a local church, somehow made me think of the ocean, so I decided to place her on a beach.

This first painting was a color sketch, to play around with the palette and composition. The sketch looks fresh, with nice, clear colors (my favorite part is the blue and green in the shadowed side of her face) and easy brush strokes, but it was just a very quick drawing.

watercolor painting

Sketch for “Margaret”
Watercolor on paper

 

This is the second version, a small painting: only 8.5″ x 11″. Whatever it was that had caught my attention eluded me in this painting, although in retrospect, I like the placement of the horizon the best in this version.

watercolor painting

Margaret 1
8.5″ x 11″ Watercolor on Arches #300
© Margaret Sloan 2014

 

This is the current painting, larger, with more finish. From the beginning the drawing was off, asI didn’t take a lot of time with it. (I grabbed it off the drawing board to take to Open Studios so I could paint while I hung out in my booth.) That little bit of wonkiness in the drawing magnified to large proportions when I started adding paint, and I had to repaint the eyes—a couple times—before they looked like eyes that belonged together on the same face. (Lots of gentle scrubbing with an ancient Series Seven sable removed the eyes.) Note to self: Nail the drawing before applying paint.

Watercolor Painting

Margaret M.
11″ x 14″ Watercolor on Arches 300#
© Margaret Sloan 2014

I think I’ll let this last one sit in the flat file for a while, then take it out and see what can be done. Or I might repaint it again someday!

 

I’m interested to know what you think. Let me know in the comments field.

Mandarin Duck

Mandarin duck study
11″ x 8″ watercolor on Arches 300#
© 2014 Margaret Sloan

I spent some time at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo watching and drawing the two male Mandarin ducks as they circled each other, flashing their neck feathers and generally trying to be big duck on campus. They are very fancy, decorative birds when they’re in their spring flush.

In painting this, I tried to make every passage have more than one color, as well as making every passage its own little abstract painting. Some areas were more successful than others.

Mandarin duck

Close-up of Mandarin duck study
11″ x 8″ watercolor on Arches 300#
© 2014 Margaret Sloan

The problem with drawing them is that they have very oddly shaped heads. I can’t quite wrap my brain around the shape. To all my birdish friends out there, does anyone have a pet Mandarin that I could study up close? Is that oddly shaped head just feathers, or is the cranium actually wedge-shaped?

Cedar Waxwing on Privet 5" x7" watercolor on Arches #300 © 2014 Margaret Sloan

Cedar Waxwing on Privet
5″ x 7″ watercolor on Arches #300
© 2014 Margaret Sloan

Last year a flock of Cedar Waxwings stripped the privet tree of its blueberries. (I wrote about it here.) This year? Not so many birds, but enough that I could watch them and admire their beauty.

 

Lead bird on this blog

Painting and drawing and playing tunes are the things that make life real, They are what makes my life matter. These, and berry pie.

Link to Margaret Sloan Etsy shop

Small songs

Sketchbook Challenge

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All work on this blog is copyrighted by Margaret Sloan. I don't steal from you. Please don't steal from me. If you'd like to use something you see here, please contact me. We can work it out.

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