I’ll Have the Danish

My favorite new word is hygge, pronounced, “hooga”, but with a better Danish accent.

In Denmark, it means coziness and warmth and cheerful goodness. It means candlelight and hot mulled wine, knitted scarves and good companions, pickled herring and maybe a friendly Viking. I’m thinking about hygge right now since A) it’s a record cold July day in Oklahoma and it’s a nice warm thought, and B) we are preparing for four months in Copenhagen, long enough to find the best birding spots, learn a few words in Danish, and maybe soak up a little culture. It’s also Ant Man’s sabbatical and a working trip for me. I’ll be sketching birds, both in urban and rural landscapes, maybe from the seat of a bicycle. Which sounds a little insane and terribly cute, if not entirely hygge.

Our living quarters, like something straight out of a fairy tale. Just ask Hans Christian Anderson. He lived here from 1871 to 1874. We'll be here from August to December.

Our Copenhagen living quarters (follow the arrow) look like something out of a fairy tale. Just ask Hans Christian Anderson. He lived there from 1871 to 1874. Photo by Google Street View, blurry legless people and all.

We had to drive to Houston to get our paperwork in order at the Danish consulate. The mute swan is, by sheerest coincidence, the national bird of Denmark. These two were afloat in the tiled pond in the Houston Embassy Suites lobby. Sketched in a borrowed Moleskine notebook, equations and all.

We drove all the way to the Danish Consulate in Houston to get our paperwork in order. These mute swans, national birds of Denmark, were afloat by pure coincidence in the lobby pool of the Houston Embassy Suites where we stayed. Sketched in the pages of a borrowed Moleskine notebook, equations and all. Guess who I borrowed it from.

Lately I’ve been working with writer Susan Dragoo, illustrating a story for Oklahoma Today Magazine. In the past weeks we’ve torn through the Oklahoma backroads like Thelma and Louise in Susan’s monster truck, laughing, eating too much fried food, and hitting the brakes for interesting wildflowers. And that, come to think of it, is some real Oklahoma hygge.

Happy Thursday.

Painting from an abandoned bridge over the Cimarron river near Ripley, Oklahoma.

Painting from an abandoned bridge over the Cimarron in central Oklahoma.

At Wilson's Rock, an outcropping along the Arkansas river in eastern Oklahoma.

A hot day at Wilson’s Rock, an Arkansas river outcropping.

 

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Artists, Drawing, field sketching, Flowers, Food, Illustration, natural history, Nature, Oklahoma, painting, Pastel, plein air, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tales from the Isle of Galveston

Roseate spoonbills preening and moving nesting material around; High Island's Smith Woods rookery, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through a dinky Nikon field scope to great amusement from the Guys with the Giant Camera Lenses. 8 1/2" x 11, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

Roseate spoonbills preening and moving nesting material around; High Island’s Smith Woods rookery, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Watercolor over pencil, drawn through a teeny Nikon field scope to the great amusement of the Guys with the Big Lenses. 8 1/2″ x 11, Stillman & Birn Alpha sketchbook.

There’s a species of birder that birds through the long lens of a high-caliber camera. These birders are usually male, although more women join the band every year. I call them the Big Lens Guys. They appear to be an army unit clothed in camo and khaki and multi-pocketed vests. As a rule, they are strong and silent, patient and intense. When a warbler alights, bazooka lenses swing to aim, focus, and fire off motorized clips of imagery. It sounds (and looks) like a battlefront. It’s awesome.

Birding the Starbucks way. Antman, far right, knows how to watch warblers over a cup of Pike Place. Lafitte's Cover Nature Preserve, Galveston, TX.

The Big Lens Guys on warbler watch. Artificial water features are staged to attract birds, and roped off to hold back the paparazzi. Ant Man, far right, expertly birdwatches and drinks coffee in one smooth motion. Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve, Galveston Island, TX.

A pair of artificial water features were in operation at Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve, a jungly copse of hardwood and vine on Galveston Island. A weary songbird making landfall after crossing the broad Gulf of Mexico would spot this patch of greenery and come in for a drink, lured by splashing water. In migration, anything feathered can drop down and birders will be right there to catch them. Blue winged warblers, Baltimore orioles, painted and indigo buntings, rose-breasted grosbeaks, waves of Tennessees. One day I stopped by and a McGillivray’s warbler did, too.

Common nighthawk on a post near the beach condo tower, Galveston Island. Pencil, 8" x 10"

Common nighthawk on a post near condo towers, Galveston Island. Pencil, 8″ x 10″

Here’s where the story gets a little dark. Of the two water features, one was under intense scrutiny, while the other feature, tucked away in deeper vegetation, was oddly devoid of birders. When things got quiet at Feature #1, I walked over to #2, a short distance away.

Tricolored heron studies, watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series 8 1/2" x 11". Fishing for teeny minnows in a Bolivar Peninsula inlet on an incoming tide.

Tricolored heron studies, watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series 8 1/2″ x 11″. Fishing for teeny minnows in a Bolivar inlet on an incoming tide.

Where I saw something small and misshapen twisting in the gloom. Raising binoculars, I peered into the shadows.

In the water feature, a snake makes a kill. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series, 8 1/2" x 11"

In the pool, a water moccasin takes a warbler. Watercolor over pencil, Stillman & Birn Alpha Series, 8 1/2″ x 11″

A water moccasin of enormous size was gulping down a warbler. From the head and upper body of the bird, I could tell it was a female black and white. I was about to sketch the drama, but first I hurried back to relay the news (common courtesy, I guess). The Big Lens Guys uprooted and made a beeline for the second feature. With their long lenses and tripod legs they erected a barrier that shut me out as they fired off their cannons. As I struggled to see, a nice birder got indignant on my behalf (bless you, whoever you are) and pushed me to the front of the crowd, where I sat on the ground cross-legged and drew. The snake worked its jaws around the struggling warbler as photographic pandemonium exploded behind me. One Big Lens Guy even balanced his lens on my head. For a brief moment the water moccasin wore the suggestion of a mustache, gray primaries being the last to go down the throat. Then they, too, disappeared, and the snake slid backward into the mire.

White ibis and dunlin, Galveston East End marsh. Watercolor over pencil.

White ibis and dunlin, Galveston East End marsh. Watercolor over pencil.

On our last night in Galveston, Ant Man and I ate dinner by the beach and took a long sunset walk on the darkening sand. Exhausted birds shot past us across the curling waves of the Gulf, flying low and tired. Warblers and buntings and grosbeaks, they skimmed the beach, rose up at the seawall, and disappeared into the night.

Back home again, I rigged up my own artificial dripper out of black tubing wrapped around the branches of our holly tree and attached to the faucet outside. Water dribbles into the bird bath below. Birds come from blocks around to splash in the little concrete basin. And there’s nary a snake in sight.

Happy Tuesday.

 

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Drawing, Environment, field sketching, natural history, Nature, nature journaling, Sketching, travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sketching Spoonbills on the Nest

At High Island, Texas, famous for warbler migration binges- no one ever mentions the spoonbill rookery. Or do they? Watercolor over pencil on Stillman& Birn Alpha Series 8.5x 11 sketchbook.

At High Island, Texas, famous for warbler migration binges- no one ever mentions the spoonbill rookery. Or do they? Watercolor over pencil on Stillman& Birn Alpha Series 8.5x 11 sketchbook.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, birding, birds, Drawing, Environment, field sketching, natural history, Nature, painting, plein air, Sketching, travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exhibit: Drawing From the Tropics, April 17 to May 29, 2014

The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory is a lush tropical rainforest resting sideways over a cool pond in the heart of Oklahoma City. It’s the perfect place to display- and see- paintings of parrots, tamarin monkeys and orchids. The exhibit is free and open to the public during regular Crystal Bridge hours (Mon-Sat 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.).

My tropical paintings and drawings are now on display- available for purchase- in the gallery space of the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, as part of the Myriad Botanical Gardens Fine Art Series. I can’t say enough about this exotic jungle under glass, except that it’s my favorite spot of tropical nature in entire temperate zone of the western hemisphere; a good place to drop in on when I need a little soul balm and a rainforest refresher. And I always need a rainforest refresher.

One of the perks of showing in a tropical conservatory is the tropical plant collection. Incredible place to sketch or just catch your natural balance.

One of the perks of showing in a tropical conservatory is having a tropical plant collection close at hand. A great place to sketch- or just catch one’s natural balance.

As luck would have it, my exhibit coincides with the annual Oklahoma Festival of the Arts, a weeklong outdoor art show featuring artists from all over the country, 31 food vendors, 4 music stages, 300 musicians, lights, camera, action. All taking place right outside on the beautiful grounds of the Myriad Botanical Gardens.

Awesome installation helpers Konrad Eek and Becky Way. Konrad is also one of my framers and artwork photographers. Becky is a fabulous pastel artist.

Awesome installation experts Konrad Eek and Becky Way. Konrad is a very fine framer and artwork photographer, and Becky is a fabulous pastel artist. She’s not as shy as she looks.

All 24 pieces in this show were either made in the field or from field sketches. A fun techie feature: QR Codes alongside each painting link to sketches, photos, videos and audio clips for fun extra content. When you come to the show, bring your smart phone. Here’s a sample:

RufousMotmotQRCode

An image gallery of the whole show is here. The show runs from April 17 to May 29. Come get your rainforest refresher.

Happy Thursday.

 

 

Posted in architecture, Art, Artists, Drawing, Environment, Exhibits, field sketching, garden, museums, natural history, Nature, Oklahoma, Pastel, plein air, rainforest, Shopping!, tropics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday Post with Tasteful Nudity

Lazy Sunday afternoon, kicking back and looking out the window at the rain. At least, that was the pose and the illusion. Graphite and white compressed chalk on Ingres toned paper, 15" x 13 3/4".

Lazy Sunday afternoon of kicking back and looking out the window at rain. At least, that was the pose and the pretext. Graphite and white compressed chalk on Ingres toned paper, 15″ x 13 3/4″.

It felt good to sit before a model again and just draw. “Emerging Artist” means one who crawls out from under the show-painting/drawing rock. I’m back in the open and my big solo show opens April 17th. More about that soon, but for today, here are two naked ladies on paper.

Happy Sunday.

All's needed here is the Style Section of the NY Times and a mug of hot coffee. Charcoal on Inges toned paper, 13 3/4" x 19"

All that’s needed here is the Style Section of the Sunday NY Times and a Grande Mocha Latte. And probably a warm quilt. Charcoal on Inges toned paper, 13 3/4″ x 19″

 

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Art Studio, Artists, Charcoal, Drawing, figure drawing, models, Sketching | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Cheap Trick

Vanda orchid and Jamba fruit dove, joined together in a festive eye-candy scuffle. Acrylic on cradled board, 28" x 24".

Vanda orchid and Jamba fruit dove embroiled in a festive color scuffle. Acrylic over graphite on cradled wood panel, 18″ x 24″.

Does anyone remember the seductive purple Vanda orchid that won my heart at OKC’s famous Myriad Botanical Garden a few months back? I paired her with a jambu fruit dove (Ptilinopus jambu) from the Oklahoma City Zoo’s aviary.

Jambu fruit dove, sketched in OKC Zoo's aviary. Graphite, 8 1/2" x 11".

Jambu fruit dove, sketched at the OKC Zoo. Graphite, 8 1/2″ x 11″.

Another irresistible lure came in the form of a tube of interference violet acrylic. Call it too much of a long cold winter, call it low blood sugar, call it a screaming need for eye-candy. Yes, I did it, and I’m not sorry.

Looks normal from the front. Step to the right, shine a strong light on the orchid, and get a hit of glittering violet. My next painting may be on black velvet.

Looks unassuming and straightforward from the front? Take a step to the right.

My next painting will be on black velvet.

Happy Sunday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Art materials, bird art, birds, Diversions, Drawing, Environment, Flowers, natural history, Nature, Oklahoma, painting, Pop culture references, rainforest, self-indulgence, tropics, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Low-Tech Painting Tools I Can’t Live Without

I've got a clamp-on gooseneck daylight lamp that illuminates one small patch at a time. Not good. You want a daylight lamp on a moveable stand. This one's got a 150 watt bulb in a reflector with a wooden handle at the back end so you don't burn your fingers when you turn it. It's actually got a clever ball joint at the top of the stand which puts it a few steps above the usual clamp lamp.

Free-standing adjustable lamp with daylight bulb- essential.

A gooseneck lamp clamps onto the shelf of my easel, but a wrestling match ensues every time I need to redirect its frustrating little beam of light on another tiny patch of picture. Best use: casting bright, color corrected light over the palette. I needed a moveable lamp on a stand and was pleased to find this one, a strong daylight bulb in a metal reflector with a cool wooden handle at the back end. There’s even a clever ball joint to make rotating easier. I know I’m cheap, but I can’t believe I waited this long to buy a good lamp: I can finally see what I’m painting. You can’t have enough good light.

Best cheap painting fixer ever: a grayscale value finder. I can never tell by eyeballing a picture where the values really are; all I know is the whole thing's too damn dark. This little card will verify that, yes, it's too damn dark.

Best cheap painting fixer ever: a grayscale value finder.

I can never tell by eyeballing a picture where the values really are; all I know is the whole thing’s too damn dark. This little card will verify that, yes, it’s too damn dark. Since I constantly misplace these things and get painty thumbprints all over them, I keep a bunch handy.

A hand mirror will shock you. I don't mean when you catch sight of yourself frowning or wrinkling prematurely. Reverse the painting and see the mistakes, instantly. No, this isn't fun. But it's useful.A hand mirror shocks if used properly and I don’t mean if you catch sight of yourself graying prematurely.  Reverse the painting and see your mistakes instantly. Such fun!

Watching paint dry. This one's just been oiled out, meaning it's finished and dry, and a 50/50 mix of Galkyd and Gamsol has been lightly brushed on and left to dry. This serves to even out the different levels of dullness and gloss. Good video tutorial by Gamblin is here.

A newly done painting that’s been brushed with a 50/50 mix of Galkyd and Gamsol and left to dry. The procedure is called “oiling out”(a new phrase for me) employed to even out the surface’s different levels of dullness and gloss. Kind of like varnish, but you can go back and paint on top of it. Good video tutorial by Gamblin is here.

I made the matched set of low-tech canvas-varnishing props in the photo above by eating six pints of gelato, not all at once and not by myself, God help me.

By the way, does anyone know where I can buy a reduction lens- the opposite of a magnifying glass? They’re outstanding if you work in a little room and can’t back up very far. I wish I still had one, but it seems they’ve gone out of production, or fashion. It’s just another useful tool, nothing fancy; my kind of implement.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Art, Art materials, Art Studio, oil painting, painting, Shopping! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments