Opening reception: Sunday, March 8, 1-4PM
Third Thursday Art Walk: March 19, 5-8PM
Come see the Northern Saw-whet Owl and Wild Rooster pieces in person at this year’s small works show! The exhibit features 250 pieces of artwork from 70 artists and runs through the month of March 2015. I’m going to try to make it to both the reception and art walk. Please stop by and say hello!
Once again the Laysan albatross have gathered to breed on the north shores of Kauaʻi, and once again the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is running a live camera at a good nest site. Iʻm very excited to be volunteering again this year as a cam operator. Weʻve got two nests visible this year plus chicks at two other nests, on site but off view.
I’m torn between going on and on about these incredible birds and just handing you the cam link and telling you to check them out yourself. (Here it is! http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/41/Laysan_Albatross/) They start off as adorable fluffy chicks and over five months grow into elegant birds with seven-foot wing spreads, graceful in the air and a little goofy strolling on land. They are tranquil and affectionate but real show-offs when it’s courtship time.
Since we have multiple nests in view this year we thought it would be helpful for volunteers and the public to have a map of the area. We wanted to protect the anonymity of the site (which is private property) while still making key elements of the site clear. We also talked about making it a book-style map like you might find in the end papers of a fantasy or children’s story. It sounded like an interesting project and a bit different than my usual work so I took it on.
We started off by building a clear understanding of the site through very rough maps. I was lucky enough to visit the site last summer while on vacation but alas I’m very far away from it now. Volunteers on site help with photos and explanations to make the layout clear so I could start drawing.
I knew I wanted to use watercolor with ink lettering in the final piece but after experimenting with that I decided to do ink illustrations for the whole thing with watercolor added. Rather than draw out the whole thing perfectly I drew all the elements, sometimes taking a few tries to get something right, then scanned the drawings and assembled them with Photoshop. That’s especially helpful when someone looks at a rough draft and suggests that nest four should really move over to the right a few inches!
I did the drawing and lettering with Noodler’s Ink in Bulletproof Black and a crow quill (Hunt No. 102) pen nib on Strathmore Bristol plate paper. That nib is probably my all-time favorite. It’s a variable-width nib with just the right about of spring for my taste. (For a similar feel in a larger nib I recommend the Tachikawa G nib, available through John Neal Bookseller.)
After the drawings were all assembled I printed the image on cardstock and painted the print. It’s not the best paper for watercolor but it worked well enough. I then took that painted version and scanned it. I brought together scanned handwritten text, the map and additional texture and color in Photoshop for the final image.
I would love to read comments and suggestions about the map from cam viewers! Is it helpful? Are there confusing elements or things youʻd like to see included? Your answers will help all of us on the cam team as we plan for the remainder of this season and next.
Besides painting and drawing, I’m also very interested in textile crafts, including spinning and knitting. Recently I’ve begun experimenting with needle felting as well. It was obvious that I needed to experiment with felted albatross chicks since they have a lot in common with fluffy balls of wool. So far I’ve made some ‘tross chicks and some other critters as well. It’s great fun and the results are very sweet.
Some of these fluffy critters may appear in my Etsy shop.
While working on my sunflower painting today I tried making a short (phone camera) video of the dry brush painting technique. It’s not much of a video, but I hope it offers some insight into this type of work. It’s not easy to hold a camera and paint at the same time!
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.