Choosing a calendar

Marking the Seasons

My husband and I were shopping the post-holiday sales when we discovered a “seasonal” store. The picked-over assortment of toys, puzzles and calendars has probably vanished with the melting snow, but that day there were still hundreds of options in dozens of styles.

Calendars may be going the way of the photo album and the land line, transmuting into a set of data points on smart phones. I’m not complaining. My digital calendar not only reminds me of each appointment, it gives me a route and an (almost) accurate travel time.

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But there’s something magical about flipping the page on a new week or month and enjoying the next image. Every year I make an art calendar for friends and family. And though I suspect she’d rather look at twelve months of grandchildren, my mother hangs hers in January and asks in November if I’m “doing another calendar.” “Yes,” I say. “Just as soon as I figure out what to put in it!”

I choose images that evoke the seasons. The snow and bare branches of winter give way to the soft pinks and greens of spring. Summer brights fade into the neutral shades of fall. I hope the images are lovely to look at, since each one will be hanging for a month in someone’s office or kitchen.

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Baboons aside, here are some of my favorites from this year’s calendar.

The dried Empress Tree leaf (Paulownia tomentosa) was completely absorbing to draw. Its deep curls reminded me of draped fabric. The fast-growing Paulownia is native to China. The leaves are large – this one was about a foot long.

Paulownia tomentosa

Elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica) is a favorite wildflower of a good friend. We’ve seen it often along hiking trails. I cobbled together a contour drawing and value study from my old hiking photos and took advantage of the richness of colored pencil on mylar. I didn’t have a reliable color reference, so I pushed the pinks. Why not!

Pedicularis groenlandica

Colored pencil on mylar

This sample illustration from Noodles and the Magic Sock was fun to paint with water color and colored pencil on illustration board. In this image, Noodles (Felis nawtii) is using the sock as a lasso and a circus hoop to control magic animals.

Noodles and the Magic Sock

My last post included a sneak peek of this acrylic painting of Martha, our Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum). Martha had a bumper crop of apple-flavored berries. After stripping most of the tree, the squirrels tried to shinny out to the very tips of the branches. The birds are still laughing.

Washington Hawthorn berries

The new year promises some exciting challenges. I’m taking a figure drawing class with plenty of self study in human and animal anatomy, and am continuing to explore acrylics and painting. But now it’s time to get back to my Star of Bethlehem portrait (Ornithogalum sp.), also colored pencil on mylar and perhaps Miss December 2016.

Ornithogalum sp.

Chicken on the beach

Summer Crush

I fell in love this summer – with chickens.

Chickens

It started with chickens appearing all over my sketchbooks. Sometimes they lived in a chicken coop or met in the park to play chess. They looked like pirates, sea captains and school bus drivers. One, intensely interested in exoplanets, clucked his way onto a rocket ship.

Sketchbook illustration

I had a vision of large paintings of plucky chickens exploring the universe. The vision blossomed into a fantasy – a whole gallery of paintings, and maybe a children’s picture book! This was getting serious.

Studio mess

Half-completed projects tumble out of a box in my studio like the souvenirs of failed love affairs. Contour drawings, value studies, reference photos, receipts for supplies I’ve never used. What if the chickens ended up here, too – sandwiched between faded photographs of bantams and red jungle fowl? But love blossomed – and demanded a trip to the art supply store.

I bought Golden Open acrylics and experimented on canvas, watercolor paper treated with clear gesso, and Strathmore 500 illustration board.

Sketch

Here’s a watercolor sketch treated with gesso.

Acrylic sketch

Over-painted with acrylic. It’s definitely time for painting lessons.

Illustration board was better – easy to use and forgiving. But when a friend introduced me to watercolor canvas panels, I fell in love again.

Painting

This surface seems perfect for transparent layers of acrylic washes, which will produce beautiful botanical–

–wait–what happened to the chickens?

My summer crush is turning into a smoldering affair with acrylic paint.

And if it all goes wrong? If acrylic paint breaks my heart?

Pencils

The cat is keeping my colored pencils warm.

Serendipity

Recently I needed reference photos of mice. I’ve snapped bighorn sheep, pocket gophers, praying mantis, flies, fish and salamanders. Rabbits by the bucket. Squirrels by the tub. Not one mouse.

Be careful what you wish for.

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My husband and I were having dinner on our porch when I heard him say “what the heck is that?!?” He’d spotted a mouse gathering spilled thistle at the base of the bird feeder. We spent the next few nights photographing and counting mice. We may have to think about a relocation plan. Or at least a little tightening up around the foundations before fall.

But how nice to have the universe respond in a moment of need. In fact, it’s been a season of serendipity. When I attended the annual conference of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators in July, I lucked into the perfect experiences.

I learned about advocating for tiny members of our ecosystem in a talk by Marla Coppolino. Her presentation gave me ideas for raising awareness of Colorado native bees and pollinators. I took home an incredible piece of artwork sculpted by Karen Johnson. I want to wear it everywhere!

Linda Feltner taught a workshop using the principles of notan – creating a balance of lights and darks, warms and cools in a composition. I’ve taken a bird workshop from Linda, and love her teaching style and her depth of knowledge about painting the natural world. Her GNSI workshop was an eye-opening exploration of composition for natural science subjects. I gained an understanding of how to situate the birds and insects I want to illustrate in their environment. I can’t wait to get started.

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Leon Loughridge (Dry Creek Art Press) also demonstrated notan principles in his field sketching workshop. Leon showed us how to see the lights, darks, warms and cools in the landscape and to shape them for good balance. Something else I’m anxious to practice.

Recently, I needed some raven photographs. There are ravens just up the hill, but they are cagier than mice. I may need more than serendipity.

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Noodles with sock

No Mas Fideos (No More Noodles)

Today is “two-for-one” day in the studio. I’m doing two posts – one to celebrate finishing a dummy book for Noodles and the Magic Sock, and one that I intended to post back in July. July became the “month of Noodles,” and many tasks went unfinished.

Before I started the the SCBWI Carolinas Picture Book Dummy Challenge, I had a decent idea of what goes into developing a picture book. I had taken a wonderful workshop at the Denver Botanic Gardens from visiting artist and children’s book author/illustrator Dorothea Rohner. Through Dorothea’s patient teaching I learned how to direct the action in the story and how to pace the illustrations across the book. I also learned how creating the images can shape and tighten the manuscript.

The Dummy Challenge, brilliantly led by children’s book author and illustrator Bonnie Adamson, spanned 25 weeks, which seemed like an age at the outset. Bonnie’s resources and posts kept us going, as well as the perfectly timed webinars. Somewhere in the middle of things, I had that “aha” moment that comes from struggling with a project. I realized that I needed to kick it up a notch in terms of the drawings and as a result, almost didn’t finish. But there’s the final art on my desk – and a dummy filled with pictures of Noodles in various stages of adventure. I managed to work in three of my favorite Rocky Mountain animals – a raven, a bighorn sheep and a mountain lion. No more Noodles for a while – but it was fun!

June in the Studio

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Welcome to the inaugural post of chubbellart.com. This month I hope to finish the latest in my series of bird portraits. These blue jays are done in mixed media, but primarily water color. I’m building up layers of grainy colored pencil and water color in the background. I’ve used water color pencils as well. I’m working on Arches 140# hot press, and it seems to be holding up to all the scrubbing and lifting I’ve been torturing it with.

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My long journey to learn the craft of children’s book writing and illustrating continues. I’m participating in the SCBWI Carolinas Picture Book Dummy Challenge. It is truly challenging. After working on character development, setting, and composition, we’re finalizing dummy sketches and creating finished artwork. My story is about a cat named Noodles who must tame the magic sock in order to get his heart’s desire. I’ve got Noodles taped to the back of my studio door. I’m using the cats as models when they can be bothered to pose. I’ve got a week to finish the dummy sketches, a month to get the final art ready, and my primary goal is to not embarrass myself when I submit everything at the end. Assuming, of course, that I’ve checked in at all stages of the challenge and finish on time. We’ll see how it goes!