Cedar waxwings in the garden

Graphite sketch of cedar waxwing in the garden

Last summer the privet tree in the backyard bloomed shamelessly. All winter it’s been covered in dark blue berries, and I’ve been threatening to cut the tree down before the berries fall and create a privet thicket in my garden.

Once again, inertia and lack of time served me well, for the berries must have reached the peak of ripeness on Thursday and Friday.  On those two days (and those two days only), an enormous flock of cedar waxwing flew through the garden and breakfasted on the berries until nearly all the fruit was stripped from the tree. But today, on Sunday? Only the mockingbird sings while two bluejays eye each other salaciously.

I made this sketch at the kitchen window on Thursday, binoculars in hand, while I was waiting for my morning tea water to boil.

Music Sunday


Portrait of a fiddler (but not my fiddler), done in a Canson sketch book with a Pigma Micron pen.

Music is an essential part of my life. You all know what that means. I almost never play much music anymore.

People are funny that way; the things that mean the most to us often take a back seat to everything else. And despite the fact that the fiddler and I love to play music, (in fact, playing traditional Irish music is the oldest, strongest part of our relationship) we are both scheduled to the hilt with non-musical tasks, and so we don’t often have a day devoted to tunes.  To break this trend, we decided to make last Sunday a music day.

The first event we attended was the 9th Annual Santa Cruz Harp Festival at Our Lady Star of The Sea Church, presented by Shelley Phillips of the Community Music School of Santa Cruz. I hope you’ll see more about this wonderful school in future posts.

Harp players

I’ve never seen so many harps in one place! Pixie harps, celtic harps, concert harps, wire strung harps. The music was lovely, the church was beautiful, with lots of milky winter ocean light pouring through etched-glass windows. Perfect for drawing, but the sanctuary was crowded, and I was, of course, struck with extreme shyness.  Someone might look at me! Oh! The Horror! But I dredged up some grit, got out my journal and sketched while the musicians played. If anyone watched me, I didn’t know about it. I listened to the music and drew. It was like a little bit of heaven.


If you click on this sketch, you’ll be able to see a blurry bit on the fiddler’s chin (also not my fiddler) where my pennywhistle dripped moisture as I played a tune over the half finished drawing. Although the pen was a Pigma Micron, and supposedly waterproof, I guess it’s not immune to pennywhistle drool. 

Afterwards we stopped at The Poet & The Patriot Pub for the last bit of the Irish session. It was brilliant fun, and once again I forced myself to open the journal and draw (mostly while the other musicians played tunes I didn’t know). No one even payed attention; they were intent on their jigs and reels. And that was the most lovely thing of all.

Celtic harp

I’m still turning the wheel

Pencil sketch
Copyright 212 Margaret Sloan

The night before my birthday this image came out as I sat doodling in bed. (It’s my favorite time to just draw without worrying about results. I sleep better—if I sleep at all—after a visual brain-dump of how I’m feeling at the end of the day.)

You may already know that after a certain age birthdays still hold joy, but also anxiety and trepidation. I’m getting older, that’s all there is to it, and with age comes a kind of panic that I haven’t done all that I have meant to do. There’s a hopelessness that I never will accomplish what I set out to do. And a heart-wrenching sadness that in our youth-obsessed culture, my age can and will be used against me.

But dammit, I’m still on the wheel, working harder at turning it than when I was young. And in many, if not most respects, I’m doing a better job at the half-century mark than I ever did when I was young.

The House of Two Urns

House of Two Urns

In Chicago we stayed at a B&B called the House of Two Urns. I sketched this view of the sitting room during the inevitable fit of insomnia.

The B&B was filled with art, but not kitschy Victorian art. The owners, Kapra Fleming and Miguel Lopez Lemus, are artists, and have hung their own art throughout the B&B, plus original paintings, drawings, and photos of and by their friends and fellow artists.

This is contemporary art, and while some of it is lyrical and lovely, some of it does not evoke warm and fuzzy feelings. Some of it is quite challenging, emotionally and intellectually. But that is why I chose this B&B, and we were not disappointed.

Drawing the portrait: Week 5

All that playing with charcoal paid off when I drew this portrait. It came together nicely.

We draw the same model in the same pose for about 4 20-minutes blocks of time. During the last block of time, Felicia talked about looking at your drawing and taking away what was non-essential. So I stepped back and really looked at my drawing, and used the kneaded eraser to give more form to areas and shape the strong light and highlights.

I feel like I am making some progress!

Charcoal drawing…for fun!

I’ve been struggling to control my charcoal pencils. I keep making scratchy liney-lines, when what I want is a soft, rich, even tone. So I got out a piece of smooth newsprint and just doodled, trying to gain some control.

I’m not used to this technique. The pencil is whittled (I use a box cutter), stripping away the outer layer of wood, and leaving a slender charcoal twig about an inch and a half long. Then one side of that fragile stick of charcoal is flattened on a sanding block. This gives it a wide surface to make soft tone or expressive line.

But you have to have the right touch, and be in tune with your pencil. I keep losing the flattened edge on my charcoal. Then I have to scruff around in the margins of the paper until I can find that sweet spot again.

I need to do many of these kinds of sheets. Just play with the pencil and exercise my arm and eye.

Poor little rich girl, in my mind

Graphite sketch after Reubens on Strathmore Smooth Bristol Visual Journal

The model was clearly upset. She couldn’t sit still, let alone maintain a pose. It was wiggle, sift, sigh, and sink for the entire time.

Graphite sketch after Reubens on Strathmore Strathmore Smooth Bristol Visual Journal

It wasn’t my place to ask her to leave, and besides, I think we were all trying to be kind—she seemed to be roosting in a nest of problems—so I had to just deal with it.

It’s hard to keep my imagination down (I can imagine 20 ridiculous  things before breakfast!), so I ran with it, and pretended I was commissioned to draw a portrait of a rich, troubled, doomed girl (Paris Hilton came to mind). My imaginary patron was her doting Fortune 500 daddy. And I tried to find the things that a daddy would love in his wonky daughter, and express them in the portrait.

By the end of the evening, I was ready to return the hypothetical advance to the hypothetical daddy, and my heart was aching for this poor, clueless model.

James Gurney has a good post on activating your imagination while creating academic models. I loved his suggestion: add wings!

Flippy dresses

Today is going to be another torturous hot day. So hot that even I, who rarely wear anything other than jeans (although they are nice jeans) am wearing one of those flippy cool sun dresses so commonly seen during these dog days of summer.

I originally drew the little cartoon above after a wedding shower. I was so impressed by all the pastel dresses, strappy high heels, and perfectly arranged coifs that as soon as I returned home, I had to get as much as I could remember into my journal. What a lovely painting it could make.

But today it seems like a perfect illustration of a summer day, sipping iced drinks, gossiping with your friends, and looking beautiful.