Snowshoes and Chickens

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Finished one I started a while back, inspired by a trip to Donner Lake near Tahoe. The area has a gruesome history, but it sure is beautiful. And scary, too–my daughter did not want to go on the trails behind the cabin we stayed at. Just a little too close to complete remoteness for her, I think.

I just finished reading an essay in Wendell Berry’s collection Home Economics about this very subject: it’s natural to feel wary and apprehensive about pristine nature, even while being in rapturous awe of it at the same time.

He believes we feel most comfortable living with nature, not in it, and I have to agree. He mentions the ecological phenomenon of  “edge effect.” I live on those special margins that seem to bring out and nourish the health of the wildlife in the area–my garden and little orchard and “developed” land abut a big track of oak forest that covers the side of the canyon we live atop. I’ve seen more birds, animals, insects, etc. than I ever have immersed deep in the woods (fox, moles, squirrels, red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, crows, wild pigs, deer, swallowtails, western jays, finches, doves, owls, praying mantises, skinks, fence lizards, garter snakes, to name some).

That being said, Berry also talks about how we “need” wilderness, as much as a physical reality as an idea in our collective mind. I, for one, definitely feel that necessity to know that there are still wild, scary places out there, with creatures that could, in fact, kill us.

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Also finished another drawing, inspired by my girls feeding the chickens. They love to dig for worms in the compost pile and feed them to the chicks!

And I’ve been featured on the Doodlewash watercolor blog and community…thank you so much!

Creating Compositions: Organizing Principles of Design

I sometimes get questions about how I come up with my compositions for my watercolor paintings, many times I think because people see progress pictures and they assume (rightly) that I don’t have everything all drawn out before I start putting the brush to the paper. But, it should be said, that I do have a general picture (usually) in my head before I begin, and I try to apply a variety of design principles to each painting as I add layer upon layer. I learned a lot about this subject from a book that was required reading for my art history curriculum in college: The Art of Seeing.

In this post, I’m going to explore some of the elements of design that I frequently manipulate in my work. I’ll create another post about composition later for further exploration.

Repetition. I repeat a single design element: line, shape, form, value, color–any will work! In my deer painting above, the same heart shape of the ginger leaf is painted over and over again, in a variety of different positions and values, and this holds the overall composition together, unifying fore-, middle-, and background.

In the evergreen forest scenes, I repeat triangular shapes in different colors and values, with the relatively horizontal layering of those shapes contributing the feel of tranquility; if there was a diagonal positioning of shapes, the composition would suggest movement and dynamism. Lots of times, the repetition in my paintings builds up to the point of pattern, and shapes are more orderly than not, and these patterns of elements can create a rhythm, like in music, satisfying our desire for harmony and structure.

Contrast. In hues and colors, values, implied lines (like to figures pulling away from one another and creating mirror arcs with their bodies–opposing gestures)…any abrupt change. This contributes to variety. In the snail painting, I go from green to red hues, and this switch between complimentary colors enhances our appreciation of each. The same happens in the sleeping princess painting: the purplish pinks alternates with golds and yellows, and the complimentary quality of opposites creates unity.

In most of my paintings, I try to make sure that there is a high contrast in values somewhere in the composition. In the Seven Sisters/cave horse painting, the minimalist/gestural figures are painted all black, with many of the stars painted all white. These extreme contrasts are found only a few places in the composition, to provide variety and draw the eye. (The three black figures are also arranged in triangular formation, a very visually pleasing and stable shape–more on that later!)

Balance. Distributing visual weights so that they offset one another. I mostly apply formal or symmetrical balance in my paintings, as in the sailboat scene where the vertical composition is divided into three horizontal parts (on odd, and therefore dynamic number) and there is a central point of focus. In the unicorn painting, the unicorn is the central focus and also holds the lightest value; all other elements in the painting contrast and compliment this central figure.

A painting can also be asymmetrical and exhibit an informal balance (for instance, a large light-colored shape can be offset by a small, dark-colored shape, with the focal point somewhat off center).

Steppe Horse Revisited

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Drawing and drawing colored in with Photoshop of Steppe Horse. The horse was inspired by the Land of the Midnight Sun painting by Eyvind Earle, and this has always been one of my favorite drawings I’ve done. Not just because of the subject matter (though I do really love horses and the steppes), but because I feel like my style really came into its own with this one. I always knew I would revisit it in watercolor, and I’m excited to be working on that piece now.

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I like stylizing horses this way because I think it compliments the expression of their movements and personalities. It’s easy to focus on line when depicting horses because, for me, that’s really what makes a horse a horse. I like making them a little stockier (like Mongol and Icelandic horses) too because I find that shape more aesthetically pleasing.

I’ve been collecting images of the Mongolian Steppes with mountains and hills in the background, but I need to do a little more research to find some steppe plants I’d like to depict in the painting…I feel really good about this one 🙂

New Works and New Domain Name!

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Finished a new painting for my sister-in-law’s engagement party invitation! Also works for Doodlewash’s May Challenge and sailboat prompt! Ocean/bay/sailboat themed! I completely winged this one, and I like how it turned out–I especially like the minimalist pelican and fish in there. And I love painting boats; I think it’s because of the lines–sleek and following the wind, beautifully shaped. The same reason I love drawing and painting horses. Here’s one I’m working on in acrylic, for a change:

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This is just the underpainting, plus a few layers here and there, but I really like the way it’s going. The plan is to do two more horse-themed acrylics and hang them up in the house somewhere. Also working on a little pencil drawing inspired by our chickens! Need to blacken some of the chickens, add some more detail to the ground and color in Photoshop.

And I finally got a personal domain name!! Instead of my name, which is hard to spell for some people on hearing it, I decided to go with wildcountryart.com–using some of the descriptor words in my blog subheading 🙂

Inspired to Draw…

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…after I majorly cleaned and reorganized my studio. I’ve been writing recently, and that’s been taking up most of my time, along with preparation for going back to school this coming summer.

This drawing is part of the series of the couple that came before it. I hope to complete between 40 and 48 for this personal project. It’s difficult keeping with it, with everything else that goes on in life–I’m sure everyone has a similar experience/story. But I’ve also processed this POV to its logical end, and came to the conclusion–well, what the hell else am I going to do?

So, how much time passes between drawings is irrelevant–there will always be another drawing. Or painting. Or novel. There will always be a work in progress.

Seeking Warmth

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Drawing number 2 “Seeking Warmth” is finished. This is a drawing of winter, when the cold in the air outside has a bite and keeps everything still and quiet. When the sound of falling snow makes you think of wood fires and yellow light and mulled wine and reading books for hours. The animals are in the burrows and dens, huddling into their coats and snuggling up to each other.

I grew up in an underground house and loved coming in out from the dark cold into the bright warmth inside of our little hobbit hole. The dog would curl right up under the wood stove, loving the blast of heat; in fact, she still does that. You could smell biscuits or bread baking in the oven; the tea kettle would be whistling; the radio would be playing softly in the background. The blue of the outside through the window contrasted so well with the cozy yellow of the kitchen and living room.

Drawing and a Trip to the Farm

I’ve become an early riser this week in order to get more drawing time in during the day. By the time early evening comes around and the sun starts to go down, I’m beat and I don’t want to do anything other than drink tea and read a book. So, all this week I’ll be setting my alarm clock for 6, maybe even earlier if this is a successful venture.

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This past Friday, the girls and I went to Ardenwood Farm. I LOVE going to farms: so much inspirational material! The girls love the chickens and the goats, but my littlest is not very fond of pigs in the flesh–she loves the movie Babe, but stand her anywhere near a pigpen and she’s not a happy camper. I love them, though. They have the life (at least until they get to be optimum size).

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I love going to this farm in particular because of the eucalyptus trees and old farmhouse with its cottage gardens and gazebo. I like the mix of plants: there are a lot of traditional cottage flowers, like irises and columbine and roses, but there are also a lot of tropical and subtropical specimens. I’m planning a drawing of a cottage garden for sometime in the near future–they are just so magical. You can almost see the fairies fluttering around the leaves and petals!

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I need to find my little Canon Elph camera for our next excursion. I like that better than using my phone, and combined with a little Photoshop Elements, I really like how the pictures turn out.

Hopefully will finish the “Stillness” drawing this afternoon!

THROUGH the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sun-lit pasture field, with cattle and horses feeding;
And haze, and vista, and the far horizon, fading away.

–Walt Whitman

Finished Growth

Finished my first drawing “Growth” and now on to the second one “Stillness.”

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“Stillness” is going to be a calm winter scene: a little forest cottage, snuggled into the snow, sleeping critters, and geometric trees. I’m looking forward to the cold of fall and the quiet of winter, even though winters are a bit different here in California. It’s nice to take a breather after a crazy season of gardening and just curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and my drawing pad.