Lab lab, blah

After seeing an enchanting spray of this plant, previously unknown to me, at a garden club meeting several years ago, I immediately determined I needed to grow it for myself and draw it. Research revealed that the name of the plant, which had sounded at the time like a direction in the back court from a tennis partner: “Lob! lob!” was in actuality Lablab, or Hyacinth Bean Plant. Fast forward several failed horticultural attempts later and finally this season I managed to get the dratted thing to bloom but it’s a pale imitation of what I remember as a gently downward arcing blossom spray with several deep pink blossoms measuring 2 inches across set against deep green heart shaped leaves. All of the blossoms I have are borne on upright stems as you see and they are quite small, barely an inch across, with the admittedly heart-shaped leaves being a bit of a sickly looking green. Hm. Well, I am still going to draw this in my journal after all that work, but if I ever attempt to grow this again I will need to rethink the requirements of this plant and check to see if there are some cultivars with showier flowers. I’ll update this post when the journal drawing is done.

November sketch 2022

The sketchbook exchange project proceeds apace. Each book as it comes along with more sketches in it seems to develop a personality of its own. It can be a bit of a challenge to find specimens that fit on the small pages of these little accordion books but this month I knew when I saw these seed pods littering the ground on my morning walk that I’d easily find one just the shape and size for this journal page and I also knew that they’d be perfect subjects for the ink drawing I wanted to do this month. Then I couldn’t help myself and added just a little colored pencil to highlight those fascinating wispy crispy structures curling about in the empty pods. I never had noticed those before.

Here’s an image showing the whole book to date:

I wonder what my book looks like now?

October Sketch

Here’s the sketch in progress.  I noticed the owner of the book had penciled in a rectangle behind her image so I thought I’d add a box behind mine.  This is a favorite technique of Lara Call Gastinger that I’d like to employ more often in my sketchbooks.  She does it with watercolor and it’s the work of a few minutes.  I did mine with colored pencil and it was the most time consuming part of this little sketch.

Here’s the finished sketch and below, the entire sequence to date.  The instructions for artists on this one indicated we could use one or 2 pages, our choice.  I opted for one page since I have had a LOT going on this month and want to get something done in my own sketchbook this week as well.

A big part of this project is encouraging people to work across the page boundaries to build continuity between images, so I thought I’d try it this month.   I’m moderately satisfied with that aspect of the work, but I hope that the next person to work in this book can integrate my image further with theirs. 

I have the November’s journal in my possession already and I can see that even with the same artists immediately preceding me, each book is taking on a character all its own that begins with the original illustration.  It’s fascinating to watch the images build upon one another as they march across the pages and to see how different the sketches are month to month from the same artists due to being inspired by that original image and subsequent entries.

 

 

C’est Fini

Well, the first sketch in someone else’s book is now finished and sent off to the next artist, about a month ahead of schedule.

And this has allowed me to go back to my own personal perpetual sketchbook and get back to work there. This is my first image that adds to something from the previous year since I started about this time last year. There are some lengthy gaps in the year, but I’ll make a real effort to put something in every gap this year. It will be interesting to see if the gaps tend to want to occur in the same places each year.

And here’s the real magic if this kind of work: when I opened the book and saw that mantis sketch from this time last year I remembered everything about the day the boys and I discovered the mantis on our pickle ball net and took photos:

I posed him (Her? Who but another mantis knows for sure?) on a lichen-covered branch I’d collected over at the coast. My journal, my rules. No true naturalist would unite 2 finds collected at such distances from one another in both space and time, but it made for a much nicer image. Style over substance? Sure, but the nature journal police are not welcome here:

Yellow Star-thistle is a noxious invasive weed, but I can’t resist wanting to draw those spiky thorns. This specimen was collected on my morning walk around the River Nine sewage treatment plant last Monday. As Mom used to say: there’s the effluent of the affluent. She did have a way with a phrase.

The other project finished this week was Isabel “Izzy” the doll and her blue jammies. This is a joint project with Penelope.

All in all, a productive week.

But wait, there’s more!

As promised I’m adding a Zinnia blossom to this month’s sketch.

I planted the California Giant Zinnias with the express purpose in mind to use them as subject matter for this project and my own personal journals as well. They’ve taken over the back corner of my yard with their cheerful exuberance after a very slow start. The first batch got mowed down immediately by either slugs and snails or earwigs. A second planting was more successful. Perhaps too successful.

And you can also see that I’ve been doing some embroidery at my drawing table. See the little green origami ort box and my tool block at the back. It’s dangerous when I start mixing metaphors and artistic pursuits. You never know what might happen next. I could put stitches in my artwork or paint on my needlework. Simply shocking!

Sketching away…

Adding to this beautiful initial sketch and title page from Ellen Blonder made me very nervous at first, but then one of my botanical illustration buddies mentioned that if my sketch was, well, sketchier, that would actually help the person who comes after me on the exchange list. I think it was Lee McCaffree who said this. Thanks Lee! That simple thought was a game changer for me.

Remembering that while people had 2 months to create their initial pages, we are more likely to have just 2 weeks to get future sketches done and in the mail if we are to keep this project on time has helped me get back to basics and do what I love to do: walk out in my yard and sketch something that’s there that no one would notice if I didn’t sit down and draw it.

So here’s a branch from my Crape Myrtle that’s setting seed. Next I think I will add a zinnia blossom. I grew California Giants this year and they are giants! Here are a few posing with my vintage Kamaka Ukulele.

Of course the true giants are my 12 foot tall sunflowers! But they won’t fit in a 4″x 6″ sketchbook.

Creative Collaboration

The NCalSBA Sketchbook Exchange is officially underway and I’m working on the title page for my sketchbook, which will start traveling soon and then return to me containing entries from 10 other botanical artists next June.  Meanwhile, I will be adding one botanical sketch each month to a new sketchbook belonging to someone else that arrives in my mailbox before sending it on to the next artist.  

I made some discoveries about working in a little accordion journal that I post here:

  •   The accordion book is hard to work on without adding some kind of support underneath whichever side is highest on the page spread you’re working on.  Originally, I ordered several different sketchbook options before settling on the Etchr model and you can see in the photo above that one of the other journals turned out to be just the right size for providing that support and it’s peeking out from under the left side of the Etchr sketchbook on my work table.  I also tried using a stack of 4×6 index cards and that worked well too because I could make very fine adjustments so that both sides were equal in height and therefore my working surface was flat.  This is very important if you’re working over the folds on 2-page spreads.    
  •   I also noticed that the book was unwieldy and tended to unfold itself as I shifted it around until I thought to use the built-in elastic band to hold the rest of the accordion together while I was working.  You can see that band on the right side of the image.  Luckily, I was not planning to work in that area near the band today.  I will make a couple more bands from some 1/8″ elastic as that narrower elastic will not interfere as much while I work and bands that are not attached to the end boards will be easier to shift as I move around while working in an open page spread.   
  •   I wanted to make that circle on my title page and it was bigger than the largest circle my handy circle-making template had to offer so I needed to use my compass.  I did NOT want to make even a very small needle hole in the middle of my paper where I was planning to put my echinacea blossom.  I have a roll of some white “artist’s” tape that features post-it note-like adhesive.   I love that stuff, I think I bought it at Utrecht years ago.  After testing carefully, I stacked 3 small pieces of the tape in the area where I needed to place the needle of my compass.  It worked perfectly.  The hole is in the tape stack, but the needle did not penetrate to the actual paper and the compass did not slip or skip.  You can also see a piece of that tape off to the top right on top of my mock-up page spread.
  • The creamy hot press paper in this Etchr book is excellent for my Micron Pigma 005 Sepia pen plus colored pencil style of sketching.  Graphite pencil marks erase beautifully.  
  •   Finally, I noticed…this is FUN!  

Testing this and that…

Recently I bought one of these awesome Rinse Well thingies.  AKA, “The Watercolor Toilet.” Hah!  Because when the water in the well gets dirty, you push that little button and it disappears into the well and fresh water automatically refills the basin.  It’s a silly little tool for lazy artists who don’t like to get up and change their dirty rinse water.  It’s not perfect.  The well is a bit small if you’re doing a big splashy painting, but it’s perfect for dainty dry brush work that doesn’t require a huge pigment load.  Also all the dirty water doesn’t disappear so the fresh water in the well is slightly tinged with whatever color was there.  But it’s still a cool thing that will work for certain things I do in the studio.  I like it.  Because I like cool tools.

The other item I’m testing is the switch back to the creation of jpegs on my iPhone.  Apple sneakily changed the default file type from jpeg to a proprietary file type they claim is better called HEIC (pronounced “HEEK”) in their last major upgrade.  Well that’s a heiccup if you ask me because those HEIC files would upload anywhere and couldn’t be converted without paying for and downloading a conversion app.  Grrr.  What the HEEK Apple?  So it turns out it’s easy to make your phone switch back in your  settings under “camera” then “format” choose “Most compatible.”  That’s it.  And don’t we all want to win the award for Most Compatible?  All except Apple.

Inky Dinky Do

Sometimes when you drag out old art supplies you find you’ve moved on and nothing works, but once in a while you find a little magic happens, as it did recently when I pulled out some old Walnut Ink and some croquil nibs to draw this little Crassula ‘pagoda village’ plant purchased in Moss Landing. The paper is Stonehenge Fawn.

Here it is in progress
And all inked, signed and ready for a frame. There’s just something special about working with dip pens and ink.

Artist’s Bridge DIY Hack


You can buy a manufactured artist’s bridge from Blick, or you can stop by your nearest hardware or home improvement store and get a paint stirring stick. Attach some erasers with rubber bands. Please use new rubber bands and unused erasers. Alternately, get 2 sticks and cut one down to make 2″ long risers to glue in place on the underside of your stick. Stick felts or other surface protectors on the bottom.