Planning another trip this summer and since it’s going to involve airports and security scanners, I’m taking up my watercolors again. They’ve never been my favorite medium, but they sure are the most portable – and some people manage to make them so pretty. I’m determined to learn their secrets. I’ve heard tell of watercolorists scrubbing and lifting paint to get better effects – so I’ve been trying that, with mixed results. I like the flexibility it gives – it works better with my style of observational work (which is: paint first, regret not having put more thought into the composition later) – but its a little hard to control.
Now I’m considering trying some watercolor on a gessoed surface, next, to see if it helps with the lifting technique. Fingers crossed!
I’ve been working on a dummy book involving tigers, lately and it’s been hard to arrive at a style of illustration for this on that I’m happy with. It’s a story with a slightly more dramatic turn and so my usual stylized look didn’t quite fit the bill. Still, I didn’t want to lean fully realistic, so I’ve been doing a little experimenting.
Zoo sketches, lots of reference studies, lots of false starts. This has led me to the conclusion: tigers are very complicated.
On the one hand they’re lean and mean predators, but on the other they’ve all got that baggy tummy pooch, and those fuzzy wuzzy mutton chops. It’s a subtle balance of rough and fluff.
I also gave a lot more thought to color in this one than I usually do – I wanted the changes in color to match the changes in tone and mood. I may have overdone it in the orange department, but hey, a tiger’s gotta tiger.
I happened upon a nice little park recently that had all the qualifications of what I like to refer to as the ~triple threat~ of sketching locations: shady benches, friendly waterfowl, nearby bathrooms.
I’d come by the park for other reasons, but once I saw that there were Canadian geese in residence, I had to pull out my sketchbook: best to enjoy the foreigners while they’re in town. These particular birds were a pleasure to sketch – they didn’t go scooting away when I walked up, like our local ducks, but sort of stood around eyeing me, then went about their business. A few, I could tell, were offended that I didn’t bring any bread for them. I wasn’t aware this was the customary modelling fee – I’ll remember that for next time.
I also saw a pair of geese that had apparently adopted a duck into their family – he followed in line with the other little grey goslings just like he was one of the bunch. Ah, the heartwarming dramas of the duck pond.
It’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.
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.
I 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.
Mammoth 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.
There 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.
After 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.