A March Celebration

Today’s post is an update of my art, writing, and life. It’s an echo of my Art-Writing-Life blog, of a time when my art and writing took equal priority. But when I semi-retired from making art, I had more time to write, so my posts reflected the change.

Today’s update reflects another change.

Since my stomach surgery in 2020, I haven’t been able to sit for long. This has decreased the time I can spend writing or creating art. Pre-surgery, I allotted myself six to eight hours to complete a project. I’d sit for three hours before needing to take a break to refuel on food and drink and to exercise. Now I can sit for a half-hour at most before I must break. That’s a lot of breaks. And I think any artist or writer will understand me when I say, “That’s too many interruptions.” Making art and writing takes intense concentration. Interruptions often kill my concentration and take my mind away from the creative process. So, when I return to my work in a state of “out of the zone,” I find ten to fifteen minutes of meditation helps to bring me back to that zone.

Also, this new way of working has altered my creative style. I no longer concentrate on finishing a drawing or painting in one sitting. I simply let ideas form and see what develops while I follow along. I’m sure there’s a label for this way of creating art, but I’ve never been a stickler for labeling things. It’s simply a new and fun way of drawing and painting for me.

Below is a photo of a recent “drawing” of an abandoned country-style building. I was in a “Let’s draw an old, haunted house type building” mood when I started, so I thought of nighttime, stormy sky, European architecture, and isolation while I quickly and loosely sketched with charcoal and graphite. I added black watercolor paint to it during another quick sitting, then some splashes of white paint during another. Finally, I added washes of gray to add depth.

Spooky House sketch

It’s far from finished, but it’s reminiscent of other artwork I’ve done during longer sittings, specifically the barn painting below. The unfinished piece gives me ideas for future endeavors in art AND writing.

Barn Watercolor on paper

Being unable to sit for long has affected my reading schedule, influencing me to choose short stories over novels. I even dug out my old books of cartoons, including Peanuts, (pre-political) Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, and Matt Groening’s Life In Hell series. I spent December and January reading again my four volumes of Mad, delighting in the magazine’s best of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. February found me with my collection of cartoons history that had me laughing at plenty of comic strip humor over the ages—some of those old jokes are timeless and relevant today.

This post also marks a well-deserved break from writing Book 3 in the Green Crystal series. The book needs several more tweaks to get the kinks out, but I need to step away from it for a week or two to clear my head. Also, this old house needs some spring cleaning, so I’m preparing for that endeavor when the warmer weather of April and May settles on this neck of the woods. That means less writing and art, and shorter and fewer blogs during those months, but that’s life.

And speaking of life, I’m aiming at getting more physically active when Mother Nature decides to stop dumping snow outside my abode. Two outdoor exercises I’m looking forward to are biking and swimming. And just the idea of sunny days ahead has me smiling a lot.

Life is more than keeping the body fit, so I’m looking forward to browsing bookstores for the kind of literature that will exercise the brain when summer is over and Mother Nature reduces my outdoor activities to ridding snow from my walkways, driveway, and car. When I’m stuck indoors keeping warm and fed, I enjoy reading intelligent literature, which stimulates my creative muscle, which further aids me with developing sound ideas for my art and writing.

So, there you have it: Parts of my 2022 agenda and my pre-celebration of the summer to come.

Thanks for joining me. Peace and love, everybody, especially in these chaotic times.

Rock Sketches In Acrylic [painting]

It was time to be a visual artist again, so I spent a couple days getting my artist’s eye back in shape by working on some sketches. I decided to look at rocks and study their shapes and colors. I’ve chosen 3 better ones to share.

They’re all acrylic paintings on paper and cardboard—something I started doing years ago when I painted field studies of wildlife. Paper and cardboard are cheap and easy to find around the house, and they’re lighter to lug around outdoors than canvas and canvas boards.

Rocks study, large rocks, 8×10

I love earth colors. But they can be a bit dull, gray and dark, so I punched the colors up a bit. One facet of art is the exaggeration an artist puts into their artwork. I had fun with color and tried to be as painterly as possible too.

When I’m a bit rusty with my craft, I tend to draw with my brushes instead of painting with them. Squinting blurs the image and keeps me from seeing edges. Then I load my brushes and lay down paint and color, mixing values on the paper. That way the objects look like they haven’t been cut and pasted on.

Rocks study, creek rocks, 8×10

I exaggerated the colors in the above illustration with reds, blues and a spot of green, which was a lot of fun to do. No masterpiece here. But, oh well. I needed a break from writing and this was the perfect escape.

Rocks study, more creek rocks, 8×10

I have always enjoyed going to the local creeks and wading with bare feet over the large flat rocks and turning them over to see what aquatic life lay underneath. Good times.

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New Heroine Sketch [character development]

Vree

Yesterday I wrote about creating characters, putting them on the story stage, and watching them act. In that post, I included a sketch of my current main character, Vree Erickson. I draw with all sorts of pencils, including charcoal and chalk pencils. I like using watercolor paper to draw on because it allows me to scratch into it using knives and razor blades. This technique is great for rendering hair.

You can read about Vree in my Night of the Hellhounds e-novel (available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble).

NotH

Sketching Critters

I enjoy watching small animals skittering and dashing about with their daily activities. I have my favorites, like chipmunks and squirrels, that I try to capture with pencil and paper. But lately I have been studying birds more than usual. Although I’m not a bird painter, per se, I have done a few paintings with birds in them based on life sketches from my wildlife sketchbooks. And I did a finch painting based entirely from reference sketches.

Sketches in the Sun
Sketches in the Sun, Oil Painting, circa 2002

With so many species of animals, each with its own particular charm and beauty, the wildlife artist never lacks a subject. No matter where you live, there are always animals to sketch—in cities, gardens, parks, forests and farmland. Sketching them in their natural habitat gives you an opportunity to study their fascinating behavior. Whether sitting in a park, at a roadside, at the edge of a river or lake, sketching critters is a wonderful way to spend a day. And your sketches give a rich source of reference for your paintings.

When you have found a subject and settled down, spend a few minutes looking hard at the animal, in the same way as you would carefully consider a still life before starting to paint it. Ask yourself questions such as, “How long is the neck and how much of it disappears when the animal stands up?” This will help you understand the form better. Then, when the animal adopts an interesting pose, begin sketching. You’ll find this is when your patience is tested. The subject moves all the time, so you have to wait until it returns to either the original pose or something close. It might even scurry off or fly away and leave you with an unfinished sketch.

If the animal changes pose quickly and a lot, don’t continue with the sketch—it won’t be precise, and therefore useless for reference. To use your time well, have several sketches of different poses going at once, and dart around the page as the subject shifts position. This is challenging, but you should end up with a page of interesting studies. Don’t worry if the animal you’re sketching doesn’t return to the same pose—just a few lines can be full of information. And get down those shadows too. Their shapes help describe form and make your sketches more convincing.

Spend some time looking at the pattern of fur and feather masses, too—this is essential reference when you come to paint. Try to catch the “personality” of the animal by noticing any characteristic features that make it unique as a species.

Critters
You might find it useful to use cubes, oblongs and cylinders to describe the general body shapes. You can also use these to show the relative shapes and sizes of different species. If you are sketching many ducks on a lake, for example, do a whole page of these simple shapes. This is invaluable information when it comes to painting various ducks together. Try to show the size of an individual duck—or any animal, for that matter—by sketching its surroundings.

It goes without saying, of course, that you should take a note of the date, place, and time of day in your sketches—these will help you recall the scene later when working in your studio. Also, note the colors of the animal if you’ve not sketched it in color.

My favorite sketching tool is a box of watercolor pencils, but you should use whatever feels comfortable to you.

So make a day of drawing critters … and happy sketching.