Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Waiting for summer

Protea "Pink Ice"
11" x 14" Prismacolor colored pencil on Strathmore Bristol

Our California summer is slow in arriving this year, but while I was finishing this drawing, I could pretend that I was enjoying a warm, dry African climate. This is the "other" protea that I mentioned in my last post. I continue to be fascinated by the botanical world: drawing the outer part of this flower was almost identical to drawing an artichoke or a pinecone.

Speaking of Africa, I have to tell you about my new favorite children's book, Me...Jane by Patrick McDonnell. (See it over there on my sidebar?) If you're a fan of children's books, you'll know the feeling of paging through a picture book that is so wonderful that it chokes you up a bit. This book is a look at the childhood of Jane Goodall, and speaks eloquently to children about making their dreams come true. Jane Goodall has long been a hero of mine—many moons ago, I started out as a biology major in college, with visions of romping through the wild, notebook in hand, à la Jane. After a few tedious late nights in the lab, mating fruit flies, I switched to Art & Design, my other passion. (Interestingly, my son is now a field biologist, romping through the woods, notebook in hand, à la Jane.) Patrick McDonnell, best-known for his comic strip, "MUTTS", has created a masterpiece. Looking a bit like a field journal, this book treats you to his charming, sensitive illustrations enhanced by gorgeous vintage engravings behind the text, as well as some of Jane's own childhood sketches...and then there's that goosebump-inducing photo on the last page. Do yourself a favor, and get a copy of this one. Or better yet, sit down and read it with a child that you love...and get goosebumps together.

Note: I'm trying to tweak the type that I'm using for these posts. I was using a smaller type for the past couple of weeks, but it suddenly looked too small to me today. I'd appreciate any feedback as to which is more legible to you, or, being the indecisive type, I may be toggling back and forth between the two forever...UPDATE: Thanks for the feedback; I'm switching back to this larger type...for now!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Illustration Friday: Safari

 PROTEA Leucadendron, "Safari Sunset"

If you follow my blog, you know that when I see the topic on Illustration Friday each week, my first thoughts are often botanical ones.  When the word "safari" popped up for this week, I was stumped.  (Well, I did immediately think about Penelope Neal and her amazing images of African wildlife. If you're not familiar with all of her work, you owe yourself a visit to her website.)  Then, I considered animal crackers (lions, rhinos) but after a couple of  failed attempts, I ate the darn things and decided to leave cracker drawings to the wonderful Paula Pertile, and explore plants a bit more. After exhaustive research (thirty seconds on Google), I found this African plant in the protea family called...wait for it: "Safari Sunset"!

While I was out getting my caffeine fix today, I stopped in at my neighborhood flower shop. (I've been wanting to draw some protea for a while, but I usually see those big ones that have sort of fuzzy pink outer petals.)  Believe it or not, this shop had the "Safari Sunset" protea, as well as the fuzzy "Pink Ice" variety.  Such a bargain—for four dollars I brought home both, and since the shop owner said that they last quite a while, I may be drawing the other one soon...after I finish my box of animal crackers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Illustration Friday: Beginner

I've done a lot of drawing, but when it comes to drawing my chickens,
I'm a beginner

Since we got them a year ago, I've spent many hours observing "the girls", but the few sketches I've done look scattered and hodgepodge-y.  I'm not fond of drawing from photos, and chickens are constantly moving.  Sure, it's easy enough to quickly get the basic shape down on paper (basically a big fluffy triangle) but it'll inevitably end up headless or footless.  So, today, I decided to just go for it. I tossed an ear of fresh corn out onto the grass, and even though the three of them were constantly jockeying for position, I settled on just drawing May.

May deserves the honor of being Chicken Model #1.  Last week, around "May Day" appropriately enough, she decided to commemorate her first birthday by taking a celebratory toddle into our pool.  Fortunately. the other two hens squawked up a storm and I ran out to find her soggy and freezing, but afloat.  (Unlike their waterfowl cousins, chickens aren't particularly buoyant.)  She was incredibly stressed (as was I) but she's a hardy gal and, by evening, looked no worse for the wear...and quite clean.

So, hopefully, this is the first sketch in a long line of chicken drawings.  It'll be a good while before I master them, but we all have to be willing to be beginners now and then. 

If you have nothing more pressing to do, and want to read more about my chickens, I have a separate little page on them here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mothers' Day

What perfect timing—the little chickadees that settled into the nesting box under my porch eaves are now proud parents!  (Well, I don't know how proud they are, but I'm proud...)

I can't see the babies yet, but I can definitely hear them, and occasionally, the box starts rocking back and forth from all of the activity inside.  I know that not everyone's a bird nerd like I am, but I found some amazing photographs at www.sialis.org showing what things probably look like in the nesting box.  Check them out here.  There's a steady flow of traffic in and out as the male brings food, and when he isn't making deliveries, he's guarding the nest nearby; he sounds the alarm every time we use the front door. (Here's my original post about this sketch of the chickadees moving into the box. )

Wishing a lovely day to all of the moms out there; I hope that you are being fed and pampered as well as my little houseguests!

More "mother bird" news:  My son (that I mentioned in the original post) has posted his first photos of the spotted owls he's studying this summer. Amazing!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Sketchbook Project 2012

It's here!!

I developed a serious case of sketchbook envy when I started blogging last December and saw the wonderful Sketchbook Project posts on many artists' sites.  So, imagine my glee when I happened to visit the Art House Co-op website the very day that they opened the sign-ups for this year's edition!

The Sketchbook Project is a traveling exhibition of sketchbooks created by artists.  Each participant receives a blank 5" x 7" sketchbook that will be exhibited on the 2012 international tour and cataloged permanently in the Brooklyn Art Library.  (The little barcode on the back will trigger a text or an email to the artist when someone views their sketchbook on the tour!)   The 2011 tour will stop in San Francisco in June - I'm really looking forward to visiting.

When you sign-up to participate, you are asked to choose a theme from about 40 topics.  They're really flexible with this (there's even one called "Untitled") but I felt that I needed to choose something to get myself focused.  I ended up choosing the theme "10 Minutes", since a sketch is supposed to be a quick drawing anyway, and so that I didn't create an unrealistic assignment for myself.  I figure that if I limit each sketch to 10 minutes, I won't procrastinate or stress about it.  Maybe.  We have until January 2012 to fill 32 pages, which seems pretty manageable, even for a procrastinator like me.  I'm also thinking of making it "10 Minutes in My Garden" to sharpen the focus, and to encourage myself to do more plein air drawing.  The cover is a wonderful blank material, just waiting to be jazzed up, but I figure that I may do that at the end.  (And no, that is not procrastinating, I don't want the work on the cover to get all messy during the year.  Okay, it may be rationalization, but it's not procrastination.)

I'm hoping to post some of the pages as I get underway.  They haven't yet provided a blog badge for this year's edition, but Shane at Art House Co-op promises that it'll be out soon.  I can't wait to slap in on my sidebar!  I'm really eager to see what other artists do with their sketchbooks, so if you haven't sign-up for one, get over to their website and take the plunge!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Illustration Friday: Lesson

Sometimes I oversimplify things, but I think that the world just might be a better place if we made sure that all children had a box of crayons.

Don't most kids these days own crayons?  Sadly, the answer is: No.  I substitute teach, and when we're doing the occasional semi-artsy project, I sometimes chat with the kids about what kind of amusements they have at home.  Nintendo and Wii?  Check.  Crayons and paints and pads of plain paper?  Not so much.  I usually end up giving my little speech about the fact that art supplies are really cheap compared to video games.  (You can still buy that glorious box of 64 Crayola crayons for under $5.)

Lest you think me a Luddite, I confess that I have nothing against computer games and video games.  (I remember my laundry backing up as I worked my way through Myst some years back, and my iPad is all smudgy from playing Cut the Rope.)  But kids need art supplies of their very own at home.  They need their own box of crayons, so that they can arrange the colors any way that they want to, peel the paper off, or even break one or two without anyone caring.  Today's teachers, God bless 'em, have to cover such a specific curriculum that there just isn't much time left for a lot of artistic freedom and creativity.  (I remember being asked, by my child's teacher, to outline in Black Sharpie all of the kids' illustrations in their Young Authors books.  I not-so-politely declined.)

"The arts give our young people the power to bring their own voice to the conversation about who they are and how they think."  So says illustrator and artist Betsy Streeter, who has a wonderful website called Drooly Dog. Its mission is "to help young people and their grownups develop their unique voice through art." Check it out.

Maybe giving kids a box of crayons and a big, fat pad of paper won't solve all of our problems.  But on a day when we're finding out that we have one less villain in the world, I keep wondering whether, when he was a child, anyone gave him a box of crayons of his very own.

This week's drawing was inspired by one of my favorite children's books, The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola. In this autobiographical story, Tomie tells of  the impact that a box of crayons and an open-minded art teacher had on his life.(You might remember that I told you last December about my own love affair with Crayola crayons.) This is such a wonderful book!