Penguin Days

parrotszooIt’s discount season at the zoo, and I’m taking advantage of the lower prices. Fortunately in Texas we have a few spring days tossed into the middle of winter to enjoy. This was the first time I tried gouache while out sketching – I like it a little better than watercolor because you can get some semi-opaque colors, especially lighter ones (and since I’m rubbish at preserving my whites, I need that).

The gibbons were particularly active this trip. Their forearms are disturbingly long. I mean it – google gibbons and tell me the length of their arms doesn’t creep you out just a bit.

Another fun fact I learned is that the black gibbons are the males and the golden ones are the females – I can’t think of another mammal that has that significant a color difference between sexes. That’s usually the birds’ modus operandi.

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Christmas Cards

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I’ve been working a lot more on illustration lately and less outdoors – that gives me a lot fewer exciting stories of bugs and toxic plants to blog about, so I apologize for being scarce.

Christmas somehow managed to come again and I somehow managed to get behind schedule again on my Christmassy doings – these cards need to go out pretty soon and as you can see they’re somewhat in the less-than-finished state. 

In case the cards weren’t indication enough, I’ve still got Yellowstone on the brain. Although, I’ve got to say,what I’ve learned about winter in the park sort of takes the warm and fuzzy out of painting animals in the snow. Once you see a video of coyotes and wolves fighting over a frozen buffalo carcass in an ice river, there’s no going back – that’ll be my next Christmas card set. The carcass series.

Beautiful Bears

watercolor_bearsI had a chance to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone while on our trip through the park and get some concentrated sketching time in. It was a lot more challenging than I’d anticipated – both the bears and the wolves were constantly on the move, interacting with each other and their enclosures, changing poses every minute. It really pushed me to focus on the basic shapes and outlines and forgo the details.

It was hard, but it really upped my game. Having only ever drawn these animals from google searches prior, I noticed afterward that my ability to sketch them from imagination was  noticeably improved. I have heard that being able to sketch an accurate silhouette is key to realistic work, and I think this particular trip really drilled those tell-tale shapes of bears and wolves into my subconscious.

 

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Tiny Sketchbook Chronicles: Mammoth Springs

ys_mammoth3Mammoth Springs, in addition to having one of the best mountain overlooks, boasted a lovely population of resident lady elk. Apparently they come down in the autumn to enjoy the lawns and await their elk fellas, who mosey over in the breeding season. We only saw one male while we were there, so no dramatic rut-battles – alas. But the lady elk made excellent models – unafraid and very relaxed. Just don’t wander too close or the park rangers will shout at you through a megaphone.

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Yellowstone Plein Air: Mammoth Springs Overlook

ys_mammoth_pleinairThere wasn’t much time for painting on this trip, but I got a few moments in.

This one I painted while hiding behind a public restroom near Mammoth Springs. I thought the tourists would never find me there. They did, but were very polite. It does make one sympathize with the animals of Yellowstone, always trailed by the paparazzi.

On our way to Mammoth Springs we joined a group of beaver watchers on a bridge. The beaver himself kept swimming up and down the river, under the bridge and then back again. You’ve never seen so many grown adults go scurrying across a busy road, pointing and leaning over the railing. They were almost as entertaining as the beaver.

 

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Tiny Sketchbook Chronicles: Old Faithful Inn

ys_geysersAfter a day in Jackson – bidding a final goodbye to our televisions, phone service and internet access – we headed into Yellowstone Park. We were lucky enough to get a night at the Yellowstone Inn, right in the geyser basin.

It hadn’t occurred to me before this trip that Yellowstone Park was a park because of its geothermic activity. When I thought Yellowstone, I thought of bears and bison. But apparently the geysers are pretty popular.

We did see a pair of river otters cavorting in the stream as we were walking the path in the basin – they didn’t stick around long enough to sketch, but it was our first big animal sighting.

We also saw a lot of bubbling, spewing, and steaming – and I heard the term “bacterial mat” used in a sentence for the first time.

I also left with a new phobia – falling into a boiling geothermic steam pot. You would be surprised how frequently that flits across your brain when you are traversing a rickety, oft times slippery, wooden pathway through a series of beautifully hued all-natural death traps.

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Tiny Sketchbook Chronicles: Jackson, WY

ys_elkcenterSorry to have been absent so long, folks – I came back from vacation with a ton of sketches and absolutely no motivation to sit down and do the monotonous work of scanning and prepping them to post. So here, three – or four, maybe? – weeks later I’ve finally found the time.

I picked up this adorable baby sketchbook for cheap just before I left for Yellowstone – small enough to fit in my pocket. I figured I’d use it a bit on the plane, save myself room in my carry on. But, oh, did it come in handy. I ended up carrying it as my primary sketchbook – the teeny tiny size meant there was no pressure to fill a page, which made on-the-spot life sketching quicker and (bonus) less conspicuous to curious passers by.

Our first stop was in Jackson Hole, WY, where we did a lot of eating, people watching and – like true Texans – celebrating the cool weather and remarking on the fact that mountains are big.

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Columns

pleinair_thintrunks_august16I’ll be honest, these trees are not much to look at most of the day – they’re just skinny little twigs huddled in a big copse of mature pecans and cottonwoods. But when the light hits them just right… ~art~

 

I apologize for the lack of posts – I’m gearing up for a trip to Yellowstone, so hopefully in a week or so I’ll be back with lots of art to share! (barring having been eaten by a grizzly, trampled by a bison, or incinerated by the Yellowstone super volcano)

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Candy Bark

pleinair_august16_backyardtreeI love light colored bark – so much color in there, especially in the late afternoon. It’s been too hot to get outdoors much, but I suffered through a half hour of sweating to catch this lovely tree in the backyard of a house I was house-sitting.

I’ve been trying to work more on my color temperatures lately, though I’ll be honest – not 100% sure I know what “color temperatures” is supposed to mean. Not that that’s ever stopped me from trying! I think, though, it has to do with defining lights and shadows without upping contrast. That’s something that’s stymied me in the past – I look at a subject and can’t seem to get it down on paper correctly without either washing out the lights or blacking out the darks – either way you lose a beautiful array of color.

Probably I should just look it up.