A scratchboard drawing of Towan, orangutan from Woodland Park Zoo, resting under a burlap sack. By Elizabeth Smith of rowntreestudio.com


posted in: Mammals, WIP | 0

It’s taken far longer than I ever intended, but my scratchboard portrait of Towan is finished.

Towan was one of Woodland Park Zoo’s beloved orangutans. He passed away this year and his keepers, fans and fellow orangutans are still feeling his loss. He was a wonderful ambassador for his people of the forest.

Orangutans are critically endangered, largely due to habitat loss. Palm oil plantations are a major threat, taking over land that used to be vibrant forest. I hope that this portrait of dear Towan will inspire people to learn about orangutans and take action to protect them. Here is a resource to start with: Gunung Palung Orangutan Conservation Program.

While working on this piece I recorded a couple of short videos and shared them on YouTube. Here they are:



Towan: Work in Progress Video

posted in: Mammals, WIP | 0

In honor of International Orangutan Day, here is a short video of the Towan scratchboard in progress. I do most of my scratchboard work with an X-Acto 16 blade. I rotate the blade in my fingers and change the angle of the tip to create lines of varying widths.

You can read up on orangutans and the dangers they face at the Orangutan Conservancy website. These amazing animals are sadly endangered and need our protection.

A Great Blue Heron, the Moon and Towan

It’s been far too long since I posted anything here! It was a busy albatross cam season followed by recovery from albatross cam season. I’m starting to get my balance back.

Here are a few nifty non-albatross images from the last few months.

First I’d like to share the amazing great blue heron that posed for me at the park in May. I was just about to pack up and leave when this incredible bird showed up and spread his (her?) wings. What a thrill! He showed off a drop wing pose that I like to think of as “the satellite dish.”



On to a completely different subject: the moon. I recently amused myself by trying to take a series of photos of the moon. It offers different challenges than birds. I enjoyed the change of pace!




Last but certainly not least, I’m working on a scratchboard portrait of Towan, one of Woodland Park Zoo’s resident orangutans. He has wondrous eyes. This is a detail of the portrait in progress. The finished piece will be 8 x 10 inches and will show him looking out from under a burlap blanket.

Towan of Woodland Park Zoo
Towan of Woodland Park Zoo

I hope you enjoyed this little update. Thank you for taking a look!

pink hydrangea watercolor rowntreestudio.com

Rooster, Sunflower and Pink Hydrangea

posted in: Birds, Plants, WIP | 0

Thanks to a new scanner I’ve finally been able to scan some recent work. The hydrangea blossom above was the most recently finished. Also included are this rooster and sunflower.

strutting rooster by rowntreestudio.comThe Strutting Rooster is ink and scratching on clayboard. The piece measures 5″ x 7″.

sunflower watercolor by rowntreestudio.comThis sunflower painting is watercolor on Arches 140 lb. hot press watercolor paper. It measures approximately 8″ x 10″.

I’m working on getting reproductions of all three pieces available in my Etsy shop!

Watercolor on Vellum: a Workshop with Carol Woodin

posted in: WIP, Workshop | 1

Over the weekend I attended a two-day workshop by Carol Woodin. We worked in watercolor on vellum, an entirely new surface to me (although a very old surface in art history).

Carol started off the workshop with an introduction to vellum. She brought samples and a resource list so now we all have some idea what to look for and where to find vellum if we choose to work on it again.

Vellum is processed calfskin, although parchments made of other animal skins, including deer, goat and sheep are available. They all have different characteristics to consider when selecting one for a project. For this weekend workshop Carol had personally selected some classic calfskin. It was relatively pale in color and finished on one side.

Besides having natural differences from piece to piece, vellum has a very smooth surface compared to even hot press watercolor paper. On one hand, that means that you need far less water and paint on the brush to leave a mark, while on the other hand, it’s very easy to lift paint with too much water. That’s great if you want to lift paint (to create a light spot or to correct an error), but it requires very careful control if you don’t want to disturb the layers already in place.

We started off sketching lovely apples gathered from local trees by volunteers in the group, then got down to business. Carol gave us each a scrap of vellum to practice on and a simple exercise designed to help us start understanding how paint and vellum work together. She had us start by putting down a wet wash of color to see how that worked, then had us try lifting heavily applied pigment before moving on to building a solid layer with delicate strokes and very watered-down paint. The darker green squares on my sample were each built up with many, many layers.

After practicing on vellum scraps we all moved on to our apples and worked on them for the rest of the workshop. Carol gave additional demonstrations on building color along the way. Those with more drybrush watercolor experience seemed to transition to the vellum technique more easily than those accustomed to very wet washes, but by the end of the workshop everyone had at least a great start on a painting.

Why choose vellum? Many enjoy the surface variation present in vellum. Each piece is entirely unique and can include a variety of spotting and veining. It has warm color ranging from a pale off-white to a rich honey. Goat parchment has a fascinating pebbled texture, and deer parchment can have scars from the animal’s life in the wild. I enjoyed working with vellum because I love being able to lift color easily. For someone who has a tendency to paint over highlights that lifting ability is great! I also love vellum’s translucent quality. It bring something to the painting that’s difficult for me to describe. There’s a sort of luminous quality about it.

Vellum has two big downsides: it’s an animal product (a deal-breaker for many) and it’s expensive, at least in comparison to watercolor paper. My understanding is that it’s a by-product of the food industry. Although calves aren’t being raised and slaughtered solely for vellum, there’s an ethical issue there to consider. While a standard  22″ x 30″ sheet of 140 lb. Arches hot press watercolor paper runs about six dollars, a square foot of vellum can easily cost you something in the range of $25 to $45 a square foot.

Miscellaneous vellum notes:

  • Because the material is translucent it’s a good idea to work with it on some kind of white backing.
  • Watercolor paints made with honey as a binder don’t work as well on vellum as gum arabic bound paints. M. Graham and Sennelier are two brands that can be problematic.
  • Before beginning to paint on vellum you need to remove surface oils. These oils aren’t just from your hands but can come from within the vellum itself. Rub the vellum surface thoroughly with a dry cleaning pad or white eraser. If you find that your paint is beading up, let it dry, rub the area with an eraser and continue painting. The beading should stop after you’ve rubbed the area well.
  • Kolinsky sable brushes are glorious on vellum. The soft bristles with a good, sharp point glide beautifully over the surface without scrubbing up under layers. For the techniques taught at this workshop I used mainly my 0 and 1 sable rounds, picking up my 2 occasionally. Because of the dry nature of the technique a full-bellied brush wasn’t an advantage.

A couple of places to purchase vellum:

Drawing the apple. E. R. Smith, Rowntreestudio.com
The sketch.
Watercolor exercise on vellum. E. R. Smith, rowntreestudio.com.
The practice sheet.


The first layer of paint. E. R. Smith, rowntreestudio.com
The first layer of paint.
The progress so far: apple in watercolor on vellum. E. R. Smith, rowntreestudio.com
The progress so far.
Dry cleaning pad. E. R. Smith, rowntreestudio.com.
For cleaning oils off vellum.



  • scratchboard rooster by rowntreestudio.com

Scratchboard Rooster

posted in: Birds, WIP | 0

I’m having fun with inks and clayboard! Yesterday’s project was this rooster with a serious expression and an amazing hairdo.

This piece and others will be available for sale soon, possibly first becoming available at the upcoming Woodinville Craft Fair.

Scratchboard Demo: Northern Saw-whet Owl

posted in: Birds, WIP | 0

After all the work I’ve been doing on the albatross and wheat artwork I felt a need to do something loose and relatively carefree. I turned to clayboard and a few colorful inks.

Above is a video of some of the work I’ve done on this little saw-whet project. I’m working on a 4″ x 4″ piece of Ampersand brand Claybord and working with Ampersand Scratchbord Inks. They dry quickly and really stick to the board’s clay surface. I’m working back and forth between inking and scratching, adding ink, scratching back, adding more ink, and so on. It’s a fun way to work, and it isn’t limited to inks for color. People use this same approach with colored pencils and watercolors (and probably whatever else they can come up with).

scratchboard, ink, saw-whet owl, rowntreestudio.com

The tool I’m using for scratching is a number 16 X-acto knife blade. The edge of the blade can be used for shallow, wide scratches while the tip works for fine lines. By rotating your grip on the knife you adjust the scratch shape. The brush I’m using here is a small, inexpensive synthetic round brush. I’ve got water in a container too for washing the brush and for diluting the ink. My palette is just a plastic lid. The inks dry quickly so I don’t put more on the palette than I need for more than a couple minutes of work.

The other tool I’m using here is my camera. I haven’t done much with the video capabilities before so I’m experimenting with both that and Photoshop CS6 video editing tools. What do you think? Are you interested in seeing more work in progress?