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.

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!

New media

This spring, when several school art residencies got cancelled, I put together some sketching videos to accompany local teachers’ distance-education lessons. I enjoyed learning about the process, and decided to make a video for an older audience. I wanted to try to put the viewer in “sketch position,” seeing the drawing develop with the subject in view, in motion, with ambient noises and no narration to clutter the process.

Here’s the sketch page I did for the first video:

final-keishish-sketch

And here’s a link to the film on Vimeo. It’s only about 3.5 minutes long; the whole sketch page took me about 20 minutes in real time but I sped up the drawing process.

Looking forward

It’s springish here in coastal Alaska, which means a shifting soundscape. Varied thrushes are singing steadily now, and juncos and wrens have stepping up their song output. Our nesting raven neighbors chat with each other and holler mysterious epithets at us.

Some of the sounds I’m most looking forward to haven’t quite arrived. For example, we won’t likely hear the calls of sandhill cranes for another couple of weeks. But I did finish a painting I started last fall, in anticipation of that thrill.

crane small

On the fringe of the world

hocker-george-island-anchorage

The last night of our Sea Wolf adventure was spent on the fringe of the world, a tiny island outboard of Elfin Cove that stands sentinel at the edge of the open Pacific. Its forest is all charm: small spruce and hemlock, an understory of windswept, deer-nipped grass, patches of deer-shredded blueberry bushes, and deer-bitten skunk cabbages. A gravel trail meanders from a beach of granite pebbles to a headland capped by a WWII cannon, still pointing oceanward but drooping down as if tired of watching. I could have spent days there, and am already trying to figure out ways to get back. This painting was started at sunset, the light fading fast, and finished the next morning.

Student Sketches

sketch show sitkaI just got back from a two-week art residency in Sitka, working with Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary students. It was lovely! For the first week, I worked exclusively with the 4th graders, teaching basic observation and drawing skills; my goal was to get the students excited about keeping a “science sketchbook” and confident in drawing from observation. They drew feathers, skulls, shells, seed pods, and more, and took notes about their observations, their ideas, and their questions.

During the second week the school hosted its annual Project Fair, a chance for students to share their studies in a science fair-like setting. As part of the fair, we set up a table showcasing the drawings from the 4th grade classes. It was really satisfying to see all of that careful observation and learning arrayed together. This photo shows a section of the sketch show; my big example sketches are up on the wall, and the student books are below on the table. Each student chose his or her favorite sketch to show.

Thanks to Keet Gooshi Heen teachers and staff–especially science teacher Rebecca Himschoot, and thanks to the Sitka Fine Arts Camp–especially Program Director Kenley Jackson.

The Headache Tree

hocker-headache-tree

I went to a friend’s house yesterday to do some sketching; had a lingering headache from earlier in the morning so I was a little restless. An old cottonwood–a massive black dendrite in the yard–caught my eye, so I pulled out a brush pen and tried to work out the hierarchy of branching directions.

What is it that makes a cottonwood? A certain powerful upward angle of primary branches (trending to bowed lower on the trunk); graceful swoops of secondary branches. And the short, stout bud-branchlets, bristling out almost perpendicular to the more sinuous smallest branches.

By the time I reached the bottom of the tree my brush pen was almost dry, but it felt OK for the drawing to stutter out.

Looking at the drawing today I’m struck by how it feels like a visualization of my headache–the tendrils of pain branching around my neck and head. I like the thought–it’s comforting somehow.