Trees in the Mist

Trees in the Mist

In praise of mediocre paper

One factor that influences how a watercolor painting turns out is the paper. Papers made especially for watercolor are able to absorb water without wrinkling (much), and they stay wet for several minutes, allowing the pigments to move around after the artist puts them on. More water on the paper means more movement and spreading of pigments.

But--you can also use watercolor on any paper at all. However, the results can be frustrating. Can you tell the paper of this little painting wrinkled a lot near the top?

I used plenty of water on the paper while doing the sky, hoping the cloud colors would intermix, but this paper was not made for watercolor. It wrinkled quickly. So when I painted the rest of the scene, I did not put water on the paper except for what the brush carried. Later I flattened the painting with pressure, which only made the wrinkles permanent. Oh well!

BUT! There can be advantages to using this kind of paper. In fact, I had intentionally bought this little book because it was made for drawing, not painting. I knew the paper would not be ideal for watercolor. It was best for pen or pencil (no water involved there!). Look how nicely it behaved with pen (even with my sloppy writing).
Why did I choose this mediocre paper? Because I wanted to force myself not to spend a long time creating any one painting, and instead make quicker "sketches."
This sketchbook became the journal I kept while exploring the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada... and there is so much to see! I didn't want to spend a lot of that trip looking at paper and paints instead of looking at the natural wonders that abound!

Mediocre paper also has the disadvantage of colors seeping through to the other side of the page, like this:
The blue and other random blotches of color are from a painting on the other side of this page. Needless to say, there are ways of preventing this problem! Can you think of some?

Next post, I'll share some of the discoveries on that trip. Come back and visit!

Washed Ashore!

Santa Cruz, California, West Cliff Drive shoreline. Watercolor 6x9 inches.
Along the Monterey Bay shoreline, there is endless entertainment for the person who takes a little time to inspect what the ocean's waves leave behind. You'll find shells, of course, like the lovely blue-black shells of the super-abundant California Mussel:

Three views of a California Mussel shell.
Or a less common Moon Snail shell:
Or, at low tide, a Leafy Hornmouth shell (sounding more like an insect than a snail!):
Leafy Hornmouth shell.
What you likely will not find are abalone shells that some folks may wish for (abalones, of which there are several species in our region, were harvested down to meagre numbers in decades past, and their populations have never rebounded).
But there are plenty of others to enjoy...

and so much more, like pieces of crab shells (exoskeletons):
Rock Crab carapace (a single piece of shell that covers the animals' back and sides)
Or pieces of fish, like this vertebra (backbone piece):
Three views of a fish vertebra.
Lovely pieces of seaweed:
Odd rubbery things that are animals (or colonies of them) called tunicates:
Thee kinds of tunicates washed ashore and an unidentified squishy red sphere.
Even clusters of teeny snail eggs!

Go and explore the stuff that's washed ashore, and enjoy a world of shape and design, color and texture, mysteries and answers--in short, the usual wonder of nature!

Santa Cruz exhibit

Have you longed to see a painting of a larger-than-life kitten among veggies? Of course you have!

Then come down to the Santa Cruz Art League's current exhibit, "The Best of the Central Coast," presented by the Santa Cruz Watercolor Society. My painting ("Still Life with Cat") is one among a wide variety of watercolor paintings (including some others whose subjects are cats, but in very different watercolor styles).

The exhibit runs from March 28 to April 19, and it's free.
An artists reception with beverages and goodies is Sunday, April 6, 2 to 4 p.m.

Location of the Santa Cruz Art League, driving directions, and its open hours, are here:

Close to Home

Lately I have been paying more attention to common, small, or maligned bits of nature that I don't usually bother with. I started doing this accidentally, to pass the time while waiting for somebody (when I didn't have a note pad or electronic device handy!). I soon discovered there is entertainment, drama, charm, and mystery in the apparently mundane.
Knotweed growing in the sidewalk, with the tiniest flowers I have ever seen!

Tucked in the cracks of the pavement were some tough, flattened, battered plants. When I looked more closely, I could see they had teeny white flowers all over! People walked on them all day, yet they managed to blossom.
Birds often are doing something interesting or endearing. I quickly sketched in watercolor this blackbird sunning itself just a few feet away from where I was sipping coffee at an outdoor cafe.
Brewer's Blackbird sunning in Sausalito
The pigeons along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz have a few key spots where they gather in small groups, sunning and relaxing on the clifftops above the lapping ocean--just as people do!
Rock Pigeons by the ocean.

Imagine my excitement when I saw one "ordinary" creature interacting with another: a pigeon voraciously tearing at knotweed to devour the seeds!

A Rock Pigeon enjoying Knotweed seeds
There are pre-made, little artworks everywhere in nature. Along a path covered with drab-colored, dried leaves, this delightful arrangement appeared:

A small "still life" alongside a hiking trail in Wilder Ranch State Park, California
I'm not sure why I found it so charming to see a downy feather among dried leaves, but I did, and sat down on the path to paint.
Along a dirt roadway in a very busy park in Santa Cruz, where gopher holes are plentiful and apparently vacant, one day I glimpsed a movement. Out from a hole popped the nose, and then head, of a pocket gopher.
Pocket Gopher emerging from hole at Lighthouse Field State Park in Santa Cruz

Motionless for a moment, the gopher then dashed out and bit off an entire cut-leaf plantain--one of the few plants able to survive on that hard, dry ground. The gopher retreated backwards into its hole, dragging the plant in its mouth. The whole dash-and-retreat only took about 7 seconds.
People generally malign gophers because they dine on the roots of many plants, including those in the garden, and cut-leaf plantain is an abundant non-native thing that isn't particularly captivating. But I was honored to have witnessed this little nature moment.
What "ordinary" things can you notice that aren't really ordinary after all?

Cats and more Cats

My world lately has been filled with cats. Actually, all my life has been enriched by cats--which I'll bet is true for many of you reading this!
Alas, all of my companion animals (a.k.a., "pets") have passed away. I miss feline company, though I enjoy the greater flexibility now to travel. For infusions of cat energy, I have been fostering kittens at home for a few weeks or months each year as a volunteer for the local animal shelter. 
I am often tempted to paint them, but I find it nearly impossible to finish a painting because they are always on the move, even during a nap!
Cats in photo books, however, make refreshingly still models.
Wild felines sometimes cross my path as I hike the parklands of Wilder Ranch, north of town, or at Año Nuevo State Park, further up the coast. 
And some appear in the journeys of my waking imagination.
Are you a "cat person"?

Happy Earth Day - every day!

Sunrise, watercolor 12 x 14 inches
The idea of an "Earth Day" began when I was in high school. Back then, environmental awareness on a large scale was just a seedling of a movement. Today, so many people are aware of environmental issues that an Earth "day" seems silly to many... because what we need is ongoing, daily awareness and action for protecting Earth's resources and wild places and creatures.
Critters along a walk at Wilder Ranch State Park, California, 6 x 9 watercolor sketchbook.
Earth Day is also a chance to give thanks for the glorious world around us!!
Invitation to the Mountains, watercolor 12 x 15 inches
Is there a special place you love in nature? When can you get there to enjoy and say "thanks"!?!
Andrew Molera State Park, California, watercolor 6 x 9 inches
I find that even the smallest moment of awareness for what's around me is soul-nourishing. It doesn't have to be a splendid vista. It might be something small that is a precious moment. . . 
Squirrelfriend, watercolor 4 x 6 inches
 . . . or something that is carrying on, in spite of how much people are having their impact.
City Pigeon Breaking Rules, watercolor 6 x 9 inches.
What more can I do to be a good Earth Steward? There are so many ways . . . as I do them I give thanks to the magnificence of Earth.
Vermilion Sunset, San Simeon, California, watercolor 12 x 15 inches