Sunday, April 19, 2020

This is a Great Time for Coloring Books!

      Have you finished all the puzzles in the house? If you have a garden, it's time to get out and do the spring yard and garden work, but there are still long evenings and rainy days inside while Covid19 prevention distancing is in place. If you don't have a garden, and can't face re-doing all those puzzles again, maybe this is a good time to try something new. Coloring books re-appeared in the past few years, adults realizing they could have more fun with them than they had as children.

          Coloring books are, to me, art for those who think they are not artists. Coloring books give you the opportunity to play with one part of a picture-the colors, without having to think about design or drawing skills. There is no wrong way to color. Just look at children's work; each child's art is different. Look at art in a gallery or museum; the variety of art is endless, different people like one style or another and it is hard to say one type of art is 'better' than another. Each is good enough in its own way. 

      Once in a while someone has said to me, "I don't know how to color". That may  be true, and that is a good place to start. Many artists struggle to find the spontaneous, unconscious play with color that they had as a child. If you are in that state, with a coloring book in hand, you can consider yourself lucky! Picasso said, "It took me.....a lifetime to paint like a child." He was speaking of the sense of exploration and play a child has making 'art'.

Sandhill Cranes drawing from Nature's Colors

     Coloring books are for children, so when adults use them we are doing something child-like.
Coloring books free us from needing technical skills that take time and effort to develop, and give us the opportunity to play with color within a form we recognize.

Sandhill Cranes experiment with watercolor pencils and markers-unfinished

          In the above image, I've partially complete coloring the picture with watercolor pencils and fine point markers. Pick a color, any color! and start putting color on the page, anywhere. If you've put color on the grass, make at least half the grass that color. Then, pick another color and color the rest of the grass. Any color will do. Continue doing this until all the page is colored. That's one way to get the color on the page. Make no judgement until the page is completely colored. Then, the only question is: do I like this? If yes, or not sure, that's great! If you don't like it, start the next page by choosing all warm or all cool colors and use only those colors. Warm colors are red, yellow, orange, browns. Cool colors are blues and greens. Decide when the page is colored if you like the way it looks. The fun of it is, it is all learning and, as children know, it doesn't matter what happens with one picture, you are on to the next, just to see what happens.

   Here is something different to try in a coloring book; a pen and ink drawing.
     Do you doodle or scribble? That's really what this is. Follow the lines for each shape. Use one ink pen, any color ink.

The next page, ready to work on

Nature's Colors page done in pen and ink
     So remember, any colors are ok; markers, pencils, ink. Any combination of colors is ok too.
These coloring books are printed on heavy stock meant to be used for any medium that isn't too wet.

    Need a coloring book? Check out my etsy site for coloring books with hand drawn illustrations.
No computer generated image here! Scenes of plants, animals and scenery from the hills of the midwest, and some interesting information about each drawing. If you like horses, you'll love
A Day With the Horses, my coloring book illustrating some of the horses I have known, pictured in the places they live. This book has information about how horses live in a natural state, and what they do with their days and nights. And, coloring books are specially priced for social isolating times!

    Thanks for stopping by this blog. Please share with your friends.


Saturday, April 4, 2020

Hand Made Books On A Rainy Day

Hand made book 5.5 x 8" 
     Today this little book came into the world, filled with heavy white drawing paper pages, ready for poems or drawings or other inspirations. The spine is antique embossed leather, and the covers are illustrations from The Tempest (recognize Prospero and Caliban?) and The Legend of King Arthur.
The pictures came from a calendar that is probably over 40 years old. They were left in a drawer all that time, but when I found them they seemed magical enough to make something of them. Maybe they will inspire some magic to be created in the pages inside.

Inside cover
Embossed leather spine
Inside of book - 32 leaves or 64 pages

This book was made a couple weeks ago. One of my favorite places to shop for bargains is Oriental markets. Often there will be packages of rice paper or other papers and they are inexpensive. I'm not sure what these papers are traditionally used for, but they are excellent for wrapping small gifts and making books.
Hand made book - 5x6"

Inside, I used heavy weight white bristol-type paper. 

This book's covers are birch bark and paper trim and an antique leather spine. I had some fun
with very bright red paper from Asian Midway Foods in Madison that I made into dots.

Birch bark book 4x6"

Birch bark book
     The birch bark was collected by Michelle and Ken Workowski at The Nature of Things. Ken and Michelle helped me learn how to separate the bark layers and get along with what is a very useful, durable but particular material. 

 In this birch bark book, the red dots imagined themselves into the book after the book was finished, so they were made and added after I thought the book was done. It seemed the book had something to say about what it wanted to be. 

   How does a little book happen? There are many ways to put together some pages and wrap them up in a cover for protection and identification. A well made book of natural materials feels good to hold and look at. It is an art to make a beautiful, useable and lasting book of any kind.

   My interest in making books originated simply from my love of the feel of good papers and good leather. Most of my book experiments are sketch books rather than books to write in. A perfectly made book is not as important to me right now as exploring how books are put together and playing with textures and colors. Each book teaches me something and the next one is better in some way.

   I use whatever materials are at hand. The collection of left over mat board, wrapping paper, hand made papers, interesting old pictures, sewing odds and ends, leather scraps and more are all "too good to throw away" but for as long as they have languished in closets, they have not been used. Now is the time! They are spread out all over the studio floor, sorted and re-sorted into color and texture combinations. A special picture may start a vortex of colored papers toward the image's palette and then I start with the cover.


Tools for making books

      There are tools made specifically for book-making, such as a tool for making sharp folds and creases, and a frame for holding the paper pages while attaching them together. I don't have those tools. Most used tools are a sharp knife, ruler, scissors, glue, pencil and a cutting mat.

     Now that we are not shopping much, I've run out of some things that I'm not finding substitutes for around the house. The right size and type of cord, string, or thread is in short supply so some books may not be finished until I can go shop for those items.

     I usually start with a material or picture that will be the cover. That inspires what papers will work for pages. Then how to put it together: accordion books are simple and useful, making a more traditionally bound book is much more work but in the end is a 'real' book, and there are many variations on how to make each part of a book. Adding beautiful end papers or decorative details are all decisions to make before putting the pieces together. 

Glueing cover paper to cover boards

     The next book has a cover of thick hand made paper, a leather spine and watercolor paintings attached to both the front and back covers. The inside covers are birch bark.

Leather and hand made paper covered book with watercolor applique

Inside back cover lined with birchbark.
The pages are attached to the cover with dark green cloth ribbons that match the green paper on the covers. The pages are sewn together at the spine, then attached by gluing the ribbons to the cover and pages.

Watercolor on inside front page

     Another book using old calendar pictures on the covers. This one has a simple paper liner on the inside of the covers and the pages are heavy bristol drawing paper. The spine is the same antique embossed leather used on the book above.

St. Nicholas-back cover, the Easter Hare-front cover
inside cover and decorative edge of page

Back cover has green liner paper and decorative page edge

And now, some tiny books. These are accordion books. They have a cover on each end, and one continuous sheet of pleated paper. The paper is trimmings from paper window shades. The covers are birch bark, the inside covers are decorative papers.

Tiny Books are 1x3" and 1x4"
each is approximately 30" long

     I love beautiful papers and I love books, so it is fun to switch from drawing or painting to something completely different. It is also rewarding to see the pile of scrap papers too beautiful to throw away finally become something.

Thanks for visiting! Please share and/or comment if inclined. I appreciate a conversation.


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Some Pen and Ink Work

  Living a long way from town means for me the recommended restrictions of 'socially isolating' are not that much different than daily life. Yes, I change and eliminate social interactions, but I have a life time of spending long days in the woods or at home, where it is quiet and no one else is around. Two days in a city is enough to overload me to this day. Yet not having the choice creates a different state of mind. I think ahead to how it will feel when it is again possible to zip around and be too busy, and how good it will feel to have finished some paintings and drawings and small projects that are languishing for lack of attention.

   The first drawing is a detail of a larger work of six rare cats that live in different parts of the world. It was a commission for a conservation organization in Canada that worked to save habitat for these cats. They are all small in size and almost unknown, even by the local peoples.

Rare Cats of the World-detail  Pen and Ink on Paper

  On Tabletop Mountain is a scene in Montana. My friend Kay rode with me for two weeks while I traveled through Montana some years ago; here she and Bux are descending from the plateau onto the canyon trail.

On Tabletop Mountain  Pen and Ink on Paper
    Unlike painting, which for me takes a great deal of thought and work, pen and ink or pencil drawings are relaxing, meditative and fun. So I've been spending the 'extra' time using up the pens and ink that exist only to be used. What was I waiting for?

Occasionally I do artwork for the Kickapoo Valley Reserve and now have some drawings in progress for an upcoming publication. Those drawings have grown into a small series of bird and plant ink drawings. Not sure how many will appear, but so far there are nine of them.

Asarum canadense -ginger

   Asarum is one of my favorite plants. Hidden and unusual flowers, lovely leaves, lives in moist and shady places.

Podophyllum peltatum - May apple
       This little May Apple is about to unfold and lift off, or so it seems. Have you eaten ripe May Apple fruit? They are as delicious as they are rare. It has been quite a while since I've found one, as the large number of turkeys can always get there before I do.

Old Oak From Upstairs Window
   At the top of the stairs the window frames this big old oak that is now slowly falling apart, limb by limb. It is still home to countless birds, squirrels, insects. It scatters thousands of acorns for any who are hungry and  holds a world in its limbs. From moss and lichen and insects to owls, hawks, climbing coons, possums, and what is left of the bats, tucked under rough bark, it is home.

  Another good day to get on the other side of the walls and see what is budding, sprouting and singing. I hope you too find yourself outside.

   More drawings soon; please visit again. Sharing this site is much appreciated!

Monday, March 23, 2020

More Pen and Ink Drawings

   Here are a few more of the current series of pen and ink drawings. The first one is of a Cerulean Warbler, a treetop dweller in deep forests that most of us never see, but he can be heard high overhead in the spring as we walk under the canopy.

Cerulean Warbler
   I remember discovering Showy Orchis in the woods near Avoca when I lived in that area. Realizing that orchids live not only in the tropics but the midwest too was a big surprise. I used to hunt the woods for Lady Slippers and all the other orchid family plants that lived there, just to see them bloom.

Orchis spectabilis - Showy Orchis
Arisaema triphyllum- Jack in the Pulpit
         A creek runs at the base of Coon Rock hill, between Arena and Spring Green. The area is marshy and forested, or used to be years ago. Mosquitos were enormous there, rattlesnakes could be found in the rocky ledges near the cave at the prow of the ridge and one day I caught a five foot long bull snake there. I was riding on the narrow farm road and she was on her way across the road. I jumped off Fira, and holding the reins in one hand grabbed Snake's tail parts in my left hand, and held on. I really didn't have a plan past that moment, but Snake did. She wrapped the front of her body around a convenient fence post and stared back at me. Fira pulled back on my right, Snake pulled back on my left. We all stared at each other for some time as I assessed the merits of the two choices offered, and finally I had to choose; walk home after Fira runs off or let Snake go. Large bull snakes such as her were common then but now are rare or maybe gone completely.
   Small family farms filled the sandy flat valley, but the steep slopes and marshy base of Coon Rock seemed a wild land at the time. My mother and I headed for the cave one hot day and ended up wading in deep water through the marshy woods at the north side of the hill. As we got on higher ground we noticed the Jack in the Pulpits; they were everywhere and they were huge. They were so large we measured them; some were three feet tall. The flowers were big goblets, some with water in them. I wonder if any place in the midwest now can grow a Jack in the pulpit that large.
   The past few years our smaller Jack in the pulpit residents have a hard time keeping their flowers. Just as the morels pop up,  Jack in the pulpits start to bloom and that's when turkeys roam the woods for a spring feast. By the time we get up and get out in the woods, the turkeys have nipped every morel off at the base and also eaten all the Jack in the pulpit flowers. That must be a tasty combination for turkeys.

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for sharing this blog!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

A Tree Sketchbook

Old Maple Tree 
   Trees have been my life-long companions, everywhere that I have lived. I found some inexpensive sketchbooks that had paper with a good feel to it and I filled one of them with sketches of trees from different places around the country that I particularly like. All sketches are done in pen and ink.

   Some trees were met only in passing, such as the these trees on a beach near St. Augustine Florida.

   A few years ago I was on the north rim of the Grand Canyon while there were active forest fires burning in the area. Forest that had burned a few years ago had green new growth under the tall spikes of burned tree trunks. The bare and polished gray trees made a dramatic pattern against blue sky.

Here is an oak tree in Marin County, California, living on a grassy hilltop.

A row of eucalyptus trees in Marin County, California. Rows of live oaks, eucalyptus, cypress trees or allees of espaliered trees seem to invite a walk to whatever is beyond the path they shelter.

There are many beautiful trees in Victoria, British Columbia, including beech and sequoia, some quite large. This beech lives near the downtown area.

   In Wisconsin we are surrounded by many species of beautiful trees. Here are walnut trees growing on County P east of Valley.

   An elm tree garlanded with red ivy stood on the ridge on County V for many years.

   Splendid, big old locust trees filled the air with fragrance from their white flowers every spring at a friend's farm south of Hillsboro.

   The thorns on these trees were one of my favorite toys as a child. I would make chains of thorns stuck one to another. During recess at school we sat in the grass under the trees making crowns and necklaces of the locust thorns and twigs.

   Here is an old oak near my home.

      And finally, the forest of trees near Warner Creek on a winter day.

    That's my little tree sketchbook. I hope you've enjoyed meeting some of my tree friends! I'd love to  hear of special trees you know.

   Sharing this blog is appreciated. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Life as a Prickly Pear Cactus

    If you were a cactus, and wanted to live in many places, you'd be an Opuntia. Home is almost everywhere in the Western Hemisphere, but prickly pear have been introduced by humans into every area of the world. They quickly became invasive pests in many places, taking over millions of acres of land in Australia alone. Now they are truly world citizens, comfortably living and reproducing easily everywhere they can get a root-hold.

   As a child wandering the sandy Wisconsin River valley, I found prickly pear once in a while. They seemed mysterious and almost magical; the idea of cactus living in Wisconsin seemed impossible to me at the time. They even bloomed. But it was hard to imagine them living under the cold snow in our long winters. Many years later I learned they have grown in those sandy areas for a very long time and had prior experience high in the Andes and at the far end of Argentina; they are very cold hardy and were right at home.

  Visiting the Sonoran desert this winter, it was quickly apparent that opuntia are even more at home here, and there are a great many species. They suddenly became more interesting. You probably think of 'prickly pear' as the cactus with flat green pads that seem pegged together, one stacked on the other. That's what all the pictures show, and they are iconic images for desert scenes, along with the saguaros. But that commonly seen cactus is only one of almost countless prickly pear family members.

   In Sonoran desert towns, cactus are garden plants. Walking about in city neighborhoods is a great way to see many different cactus. Some are very old, their large nopales (pads) towering overhead. Many are cultivated for different uses. They interbreed easily so identifying them can be difficult.
(This reminds me of trying to identify lichens. If you follow my lichen blog, you'll know about trying to identify lichens...not for the faint of heart!)

Opuntia aciculata-cowboy whiskers prickly pear
    The more I look for prickly pear cactus, the more I find. Sometimes it seems that they have taken over the whole land, as far as one can see. I started sketching them to better remember who they are;  a challenge somewhat like trying to remember all the relatives at a family reunion who haven't been seen in decades.
   Remembering one or two characteristics of each does help sort them out.

Prickly Pears
   Almost all prickly pear are edible. All are used by every living being around them, from ants and iguanas to humans and deer, birds, and rodents. Even elephants in Africa eat them. There is a spider named for her close relationship to a prickly pear cactus ( Theridion).

   Prickly pear flowers come in many colors, and like most cactus, are spectacular and well worth the long wait for a good season of blooms.

Prickly pears-some fruit and blossoms

   In North and South America, where people have lived with prickly pear for thousands of years, the fruit is harvested but the pads or nopales are also used for food. Added to almost every type of recipe, they are a staple in many traditional diets.
Some prickly pear plants have large, tuberous roots that can be dug up, dried or roasted and eaten.

    Finally, the prickly pear is cultivated as a host for the cochineal insect that is grown for the carminic acid they produce. This acid makes the red dye used in food coloring. Large farms of closely packed prickly pear nopales are seeded with the insects, which feed on the cactus.

   Prickly pear have been in the Americas for thousands of years, growing different types of spines and shapes of pads, slowly learning how to live as far north as British Columbia and as far south as souther Argentina and Chile.

  Cactus physiology has modified what being a plant means. Their skins do the photosynthesis because they do not have leaves. Or maybe they stopped having leaves because they figured out how to use their skin and save all the work of making and caring for leaves in the hot dry climate. Leaves were modified into spines, and they have many functions since freed from the work of photosynthesis.

   Cactus spines are not thorns, and are all sharper than you can imagine. Some are brittle or even a bit soft, but they are very, very, very sharp. My habit of leaning against things when standing has been quickly modified by a few walks in the cactus forests. I'm not sure 'forest' is the correct term for cactus-land, but to me the Sonoran desert, with tall, columnar cactus towering over shrubs and smaller cactus is a forest without a canopy. What do you think it looks like?

   Opuntia are one of the plants that have developed a long, mutually beneficial relationship with humans as well as making themselves comfortable in almost every environment on their own. Even in the midwest, keep a look out for these inconspicuous but complex cactus. They might be your neighbors, no matter where you live.

Thanks for visiting! Please 'like' and 'share' if you know someone that might be interested.

This is a Great Time for Coloring Books!

      Have you finished all the puzzles in the house? If you have a garden, it's time to get out and do the spring yard and garden work...