A new medium

I’ve got a new project in the works—something I haven’t done much of at all: painting in three dimensions.

My friend Steve, a carver, asked if I would be interested in painting one of his wooden birds. Most of Steve’s birds are simple, graceful, smooth wood—and I think they look lovely in that form. But the short-eared owl he was offering experienced some issues that required a putty repair, so its face isn’t pristine wood. I couldn’t resist the opportunity!

Here’s the starting point.

My first thought was that I really didn’t want to lose that lovely red-cedar grain. The color and texture works so well as a background pattern for feather markings. So after a little experimentation, I decided to use alcohol-based markers directly on the unfinished wood surface. The wood is dense enough that the markers don’t bleed much, and the markers’ transparency allows the grain to show through nicely.

I started on the face, using thinned white acrylic with a little burnt umber to blend the putty color into the characteristic pale “mask” feathers of the short-eared owl. I added the triangular eye markings and the beak with black acrylic paint, and used my palest tan markers to establish the facial disk feather pattern.

Now I’m laying in the basic body and wing feather patterning with those same very pale markers.

After I get the patterns all on, I’ll add darker brown layers over the top.

Spring buds, day 1

Drizzly and cold here lately but the plants know spring’s coming. I brought branches of three shrubs inside, to watch their little packages of potential unfold. Today’s day 1.

As usual, willows are among the first to start to open. But the serviceberry is also surprisingly bold. Both have early leaves and flowers that are protected by furry coats, so the risk is probably a little less for them than for, say, a spruce. Cottonwood’s buds are packed with aromatic sap, which gives the enclosed leaves some protection, but I haven’t seen any sign that they’re taking the chance yet.

Mural project

A group of local artists just wrapped up a 35-foot-wide mural in the entryway of the new Gustavus Community Center. The mural is designed to recognize the hundreds of donors who funded and helped build the Center, so it includes the symbols for all of the donor levels: strawberry, shooting star, fireweed, spruce, Mt. Fairweather (Tsalxaan) and sandhill crane. The concept was drafted by local artist Jess Mulligan, and the rest of us worked with her to get it on the wall. I’ve never painted anything this big… it was quite a learning experience!

Just one slice of the mural….

Thinking about cranes

I’ve been working with a team of artists on a 35-foot-wide mural at the Gustavus Community Center. The artwork is an acknowledgement of the many donors who helped make the place possible, so we were asked to include the symbols for each donor level. These include several local plant and animal species—including sandhill cranes, called dóol in Lingít.

I didn’t grow up around cranes, so they feel extra thrilling to me: the heralds of spring and fall, arriving with their wild musical calls, settling down for a time in the wetlands nearby, and then spiraling upward skein after skein on their way north or south.

I enjoyed those mural cranes so much that I did a tiny version for a commission piece. I started by cutting a crane shape out of illustration board, then adding the details with watercolor pencils, pen, and acrylic:

… then I attached the cutout to a metal disk that was spray-painted with “hammered copper” Rustoleum. I’m very pleased with the finished piece!

Artober memories

This was the third year I’ve done daily drawings in the month of October. This year I used “Artober” prompt lists from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators. I posted most of mine on Instagram—here are some of my favorites.

“Toothed.” It got me thinking, what if all whales were toothed?
“Variation”
And of course Banjo Woman had to make an appearance. This prompt was “sweater.” And the day before had been “wiggly” and “mushroom” — hence her perch.

Pop-ups

I’ve been playing with pop-up technology lately, making cards and art out of an abundance of handmade paper scraps that I’ve accumulated. I’m not much of an engineer, but I’m enjoying the challenge of creating little artworks that reveal three-dimensional surprises when opened.

Here’s one from a few months ago; it’s the second in a (hopefully) annual series of holiday gifts for friends. First photo is the closed card, second is as it’s meant to be displayed.

And here’s a book-like one I made this week. Outside cover, then interior.

A big thank-you to my friend, book artist Artemis BonaDea of North Bound Books for introducing me to paste paper and pop-ups, and teaching me techniques!