Colorful commission

Last year I was commissioned to create a piece of art as a gift. The recipient is a passionate gardener, forager, and cook, so the request was for something inspired by vintage vegetable and fruit crates and salmon can labels.

Because the recipient has diverse skills and products, I packed the image with a variety of wild and domestic “produce.” And of course there had to be a sense of the setting! So all that abundance frames a view of Mt. Crillon across the meadows of Wunachích t’aakhéen (the Salmon River).

The base layer is Derwent Inktense colored pencils. These go on water soluble, then dry to permanent, so they create a solid foundation of color that won’t be muddied by water media on top. Above that I used water-soluble pastels (Neoclor), then some colored Micron pens to make outlines crisp and bright.

The biggest challenge was the lettering! I’ve always used the computer to add text. But because this was going to be framed art, I had to add it by hand. I used Procreate to do a rough layout of the arcs of the letters, then transferred the shapes onto tracing paper, worked out the shapes and sizes of the letters, and transferred the final outlines to the artwork.

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.

Finch season

We’ve had hundreds of pine siskins (Lingít: s’áas’) at the sunflower seed feeder over the past few days. They are very assertive, guarding the seeds from chickadees (kaatoowú), juncos, and even the usually dominant nuthatch.

I haven’t done any sketches of this recent influx of siskins, but it did bring to mind this “Hocker and Codger” page from a few years ago. Apparently the siskin genus has been changed to Spinus.

Tlingit bird names are from https://tlingitlanguage.com/dictionary/ . I’m grateful for the resource!

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!

Neighbor Frank

It’s almost the end of bird feeder season here; bears will be out soon and we don’t want to operate a bear feeder. One of the birds we’ll miss watching so closely is the song sparrow we nicknamed Frank. He’s here every day, and spends a lot of time eating and defending his millet seed, so he makes a great sketch model. This is my first attempt to post a live recording of a sketch from the Procreate app.

Song sparrow sketch by K. Hocker

Frank probably won’t go far. We’ll likely be hearing his powerful song from over by the river within the next couple of weeks as he enters nesting mode.

The Lingít name for songbird is ts’ats’ée. When pronounced well, it sounds to me a lot like this species’ song.

Sunrise season

Our house faces pretty much due East. At this latitude, that means the sun rises too far south in the winter to shine in our windows. I miss it! But these days the sunrise point is slightly further north— and its arc is a little higher—every day. The growing light is a wonderful thing.

Meanwhile, we’re enjoying peripheral sunrises. I especially love the time just before the sun comes up, when the cool snow highlights contrast with the warm cloud glow. This is a digital sketch from yesterday.