To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here.
I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.

My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!

Friday, November 17, 2017

It Started Two Days Ago...

“It’s time,” I said to my hand.  “Pick up the sketchbook.”

“uh-uh!” my hand crept behind my back.

“Pick it up.” I said sternly. My hand slowly, slowly, emerged and picked up the sketchbook gingerly.  Yes! I thought. This is working! 

“And the pen,” I continued. “Sketching won’t happen without the pen.”  I watched my fingers reach out and wrap around the pen. Squinting at them, I thought I could feel my new 
determination to draw getting a grip.

“Out to the veranda,” I directed my reluctant self. It was a struggle, but with the sketchbook and pen in hand, my resistance was losing its hold. I softened my tone a bit. “You can do this. You used to do it all the time. It’s gonna be fine!”  Really? Really can I start up again after more than two years?

We (my mind, my body, my hand, my determination – the whole package) walked out and sat down in my hammock chair on the veranda overlooking my rainforest yard.  There, a few feet directly in front of me were two cecropia  (see-CRO-pee-uh) trees, with their bamboo-like hollow sections and gorgeous umbrella-like 2-2½’ broad leaves.  One was skinny and scarred, the other was fat and saucy. Maybe I'd just do the trunks. Perfect subjects, stationary, hard to mess up – mostly straightish lines. Not too ambitious for this first try. 

I sat down, opened the sketchbook to the first empty page after my July 7, 2015 sketch of a Giant Red-winged Grasshopper and hesitantly sketched the first bit of outline. Okay, that's a start... 
I took a sip of coffee, made a few more tentative marks with the ballpoint pen. I watched a blue-crowned mot-mot flicking its tennis-racket tail in a tangle of leaves a few yards away. Stop procrastinating! I drew a bit more, and finally, at last, I settled down to my first sketch-journal drawing in more than two years. Ahhhhh....

Things were a little shaky at first. My lines were not clear and concise, my attention wandered when it needed to focus, I seemed to have forgotten movements that once were easy – all things that I hope will improve with practice. I was using a pen since using a pencil here is not an option. In the tropics the high humidity makes the sketch paper soft, and a graphite stroke that would be black and forceful in a dry climate leaves only a soft gray line on damp paper, so shading is next to impossible. The pencil stroke indents the paper as well.  Forget trying to erase, as that destroys the damp paper immediately.  

I started the drawing on Wednesday afternoon, day before yesterday, but I had other obligations Wednesday night and Thursday, so I only was able to return to it this morning, which is good, actually, because after a day without looking at the sketch I could see that the design was pretty skimpy and it needed something to anchor it and to make the page more interesting. So walking out into the yard, I found a young cecropia top to sketch into the upper right corner.  Ah!  Much better.

Next I added a title and some things I know about cecropias. The page is not as good as it would have been when I was sketching steadily a couple of years ago, but it’s good enough to tell me I haven’t lost the ability to draw (I was wondering). 
and it is

Below are some photos of what I was sketching. I always try to take photos in case I can't get back to the original to draw for some reason, such as:  it starts to rain; my subject runs away, rots, or otherwise changes or disappears; daylight ends; or I want to work on it or add color later.  Maybe I'll add color to this one later.

left to right:  2" cecropia,  4" cecropia, new cecropia leaves
I want to thank Carol for commenting that she hoped I would be able to start up again and continue on. 

Carol, this sketch/journal page is dedicated to you. Thank you!  Thanks for giving me a specific goal and a reason to get it done. I told myself I didn’t get to answer your comment until I had created something in order to show you that I was serious about starting up again.  It worked.

Maybe this will give you a nudge as well, since you said you’ve been finding it difficult to keep sketching without a cheering section. 
Shall we keep going?  I'll watch for yours if you'll watch for mine.  Anyone else want to join us?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Back In The Groove

After a long pause, I've made my way back to my blog with hopes that I'll find some of the people who used to visit way back in 2014. I've lost contact with so many good people -- I'd love you to join me again on my adventures.

This being 2017, a lot has gone past which may never get recorded, but a lot of cool things have happened, such as moving to Belize, building and moving into my earthbag house, painting murals of ancient Mayan art and a life-size jaguar on its walls, and dipping deeply into the lives of my Belizean neighbors here in western Belize, a few miles from the Guatemalan border and ten miles on a rocky, rocky road south of Benque Viejo del Carmen in an intentional neighborhood called Better In Belize.

my house in Oregon, now sold to other artists
In my old life, in southern Oregon, I was a wildlife illustrator, writing and illustrating nature books for kids (you can get a glimpse of them here), making art for interpretive signs on forest trails and for nature centers, teaching drawing and painting workshops, and other stuff. 

I also did a lot of sketch/journaling not only the amazing natural habitat around my house in a douglas fir/madrone/ponderosa pine forest, but for several years I also traveled to a different tropical place to experience the wonders of nature there, too.  Then I scanned in my sketches and notes to create downloadable how-to sketchbooks for people wanting to create their own.
Casa de la Tierra -- my house

Actually, you can find out about a lot of that stuff by reading the older posts. Enjoy! I myself can really get lost in them -- they're so old, it's almost like reading about someone else.
That's me, sitting on my veranda
So here I am, living in the rainforest in Belize in an earthbag house.  The weather here in the Maya Mountain foothills is very gentle as a rule, with daytime temperatures ranging from 65° to 85° and night-time temperatures never getting below about 55°. The weather is divided into rainy and dry seasons, which means it is a great place to experience a multitude of fascinating creatures all year round.  

Mayan ball player
It's taken me a couple of years to get everything sorted out, what with building then furnishing the house on a budget, painting those murals, and most recently, creating a little Belize-style hideaway for an even more intense experience in the jungle, with more subjects to sketch and journal about.

I have been trying to make myself a part of the Belizean community by learning Spanish well enough to talk to neighbors who don't have English, then by becoming a go-to resource by creating a Wi-fi hot spot for neighborhood folks who have cellphones but no signal, and for kids needing a place to study with access to the internet and also occasional printouts of items from the web. It's been a real change for me, this hermit who used to live in the woods and see another human maybe once a week.....and I'm loving it.
Jaguar painting on my house wall
As well, I deliver cokes and chips to the Belizean construction crew building houses here six days/week. I've made some good friends among them
But I am not surrounded by a...well, a support group of people who enjoy investigating nature through art and writing, desire to be artists, or even have any particular interest in what I am doing. 
  Giant Red-winged Grasshopper
As a result I've pretty much stopped working on my sketch/journaling, much to my dismay.  It's a brick wall I can't seem to get over or around, so I'm thinking that rejoining my blog again will help me find a community of people who love nature and art as I do, or at least will appreciate or be interested in what I'm working on and will let me know. This grasshopper was the last sketch I produced, around the time I stopped blogging in 2014.

Why should you come back to visit this blog?

Micasa, my Belizean-style hideaway in the woods
I'm planning: 
  • a step-by-step tutorial on how I painted the murals on my house walls
  • an overview of details of  building and furnishing an earthbag house
  • to share my sketch/journaling 
  • to show how my Belizean hideaway in the jungle was built
  • to share the joy as I bring solar lights to my neighbors' houses and 
  • to answer any questions you might have about the flying leap I took to transport myself from 20 wooded acres and a lovely little house in Oregon, USA to .9 acres and an off-the-grid earthbag house in an ecovillage in Belize. 
I hope to see you soon. Please come and leave a message?  Introduce yourself and let's have a conversation!


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Snowbirding in Belize

Howler Monkey descending
It's about time  to finish the saga I began earlier this year. I started to tell you about it here in May, and I was planning to update it within a week or two with ongoing events, but that was May and this is October.  Oh MY! 

Since it's probably been awhile since you read it.....I'd started to tell you about my decision to Snowbird in Belize, and the incredible chain reaction that set off in my life (okay, NOW go back and read it if you have a minute ;o}


The road past my door-to-be
Upon returning from my Christmas vacation and my visit to Better In Belize, the intentional community I wanted to build in and move to in Belize, I pondered how on earth I was going to pay for the property.  I didn't have enough savings in the bank to do it; I didn't want to mortgage my house and make payments on that for rest of my life; and I finally concluded that the only way to swing it would be to take the plunge and sell my little house in the big woods.
my little house in the big woods

Now, I love my Oregon woods and its creatures, and my little house suited me well. I mean, just check out this year-long sketch/journal I did there in 2012!

But for some years now I had found myself sinking into a sedentary old age, swaddled in long underwear through the long, cold winters grudgingly warmed by a wood stove. 

fetching firewood—blechh
It gets really tiresome to fetch wood and keep the home fires burning, and only yearly trips to the tropics made it bearable.  Why not make the leap? I'd been considering it strongly for YEARS!

So January found me putting my house on the market and showing it for a whole three days before it was snapped up by a sculptor/videographer couple, just the perfect buyers.  

February was an incredible stew of packing, planning, organizing and executing.  I would live in Belize for the coldest six months of the year, but I plan to live here in Oregon for the other six months, so I needed a residence. 

35 years of "stuff" in storage
My first idea was to buy into a tiny community just up the road from my house, but that fell through due to zoning problems.  Still, the idea of a self-contained movable home was born. 

Plant Oregon, where I weed in summers
 March came, and Daniel, at Plant Oregon, the nursery where I weed most afternoons in the summers, offered me the use of his cabin, which he wasn't using, until I could get things straightened out.  I accepted gratefully, because I had to be out of my house by the middle of March, barely six weeks after making my decision to sell and a month after the sale was finalized! 

Sorting, storing, hauling, selling....
Imagine excavating, sorting, pitching, storing, giving away and/or moving 35 years worth of belongings in six weeks! I vacated into Dan's Cabin at the nursery, settling as comfortably as possible into temporary quarters, and weeding to keep my brain from exploding.

In the meantime, I deposited the payment for my house and land, and I was negotiating buying my lot in Belize, discussing house plans with my Belizean builder, and looking at Tiny Homes  to live in here in Oregon. It finally dawned on me that although Tiny Homes are darling, and speak to my Hobbity soul, they are REALLY SMALL and they are very expensive if you don't build them yourself. Since I'd be building a house in Belize, I didn't want to also be building a house in Oregon—I wanted something quick, simple, less expensive, easy maintenance....ah......a 5th Wheeler. They're quite a bit "glitzier" than really suits me, but they have lots of room, are low maintenance, and I knew the price of a used one would beat that of a Tiny Home by a huge margin—maybe only half as much!

My house plan- 1075 sq/ft
So I started looking for one of those that I liked, and at the same time I began the house plans for my house in Belize.  In 1980 I designed and built my little house in the woods, so I knew how to design a house and draw house plans, and I know what works for me and what doesn't, so this was very doable (and a lot of fun). And my builder was interested in building an earth bag house!  Serendipity!

Delivering my home to its spot
April.  Finally I found a good 5th Wheeler at a price I could afford (less than $20,000) and a friend offered me a place to settle, complete with water, electricity and sewer. 

packing a shipment of books
It was 30 miles from "home" but actually, to tell the truth, I was "homeless" now, so I jumped at the chance.
In the meantime I started thinking about selling the printed part (books) of my business, Nature Works Press, because there would no way for me to fill orders from Belize. Besides, it is time to "retire."

I decided to keep the sketch/journal e-book part of the business, and in fact even grow it.  But I needed to find a home for the book end of it.  So I put out feelers on a self-publishing forum. 

the view from my veranda-to-be
Life was chaotic, with belongings scattered all over the place: in two storage units in a nearby town, a stack of stuff in an empty building at the nursery, and the rest in Dan's Cabin, and I needed to return to Belize to begin the building process with my builder.  

So in May I returned to Better in Belize for a week of reconnaissance, conferences with Jorge, and to just sit (and sometimes sketch) on my building site for hours at different times of day to make sure I had planned everything correctly.
Black Orchid and frog in my yard
It was a wonderful interlude, with my dreams taking shape and focus to the accompaniment of crickets, cicadas, frogs (and a visit with a nearby tarantula clasping her egg sac).  

Mama tarantula with 2" egg sac
I had to sit outside the tarantula's entrance for more than an hour before she worked up the courage to come out this far, and the twitch of a finger sent her scrambling back inside.  I don't think I'll be afraid to live with tarantulas in the dooryard. They're real wusses.

Jorge, my Belizean builder

I was pleased to find that I liked Jorge and that we could work together as we prospected around San Ignacio, Belmopan and Spanish Lookout for building supplies and appliances, and outlined my earth bag house with spray paint on the building site.  Jorge is looking pleased in this photo because he had just rescued the orchid (by his left arm) from a fallen tree and replanted it in the hollow stump he's leaning on.

But arriving back home in Oregon,  it was time to reconvene my old life and wait for things to settle down since my house wouldn't be finished in Belize until autumn. Jorge promised to send me pictures taken  with his iPad or cellphone throughout the project. 
Lava Butte illustration

All spring and summer, while this was going on, I was also working on several illustration projects that would appear in nature centers and national forests in Oregon. I did a couple of blog entries about the making of this Lava Butte illustration, then after that I created the Benham Falls and the Benham Bridge illustrations here. 

These were all done at Daniel's Cabin, while the rest of my life swirled about in in total disarray.
Benham Falls illustration
Benham Bridge illustration


It's kind of amazing to me that anything at all could have come out of the astonishingly convoluted quagmire of my overloaded brain, but there they are.  And there was also a huge illustration (40" high) of a Ponderosa Pine which nearly ate my laptop awhile ago when I tried to convert it into a JPG so I could post it here, so it's not shown.  

JUNE  To relax my brain a bit, I drove to Idaho to visit my brother David, who helped me sort out details with regard to the change from Microsoft XP to Windows (Why did they change? XP was a GREAT operating system!), showed me how to use Skype (which will be my only telephone in my off-grid community), helped me upgrade some programs, including Quickbooks and Photoshop, with which I run my business, helped me sort out my laptop and tablet, and showed me how to download ebooks to read on a Kindle program, and just generally soothed away a lot of the angst that had been building up.  

Home in its new spot in a madrone forest
Thank goodness for a generous (and patient) brother!

In early June, Jorge informed me that my house plans had been approved. I was also moving into my new 5th Wheeler.  Dan bought and carted away a recliner and the dinette set which had crowded the interior, so I could start converting the dinette area into an office.

Next, I needed to start planning which of my belongings I wanted to take to my new home in Belize. And I needed a truck. Too much happening! My head was spinning.   

Now, this isn't the end of the story, as I've only gotten us midway through June, and here it is October, so I'll start work on the remaining bit of summer in the next blog entry.  I'm sorry I kept y'all in the dark for so long.  I just didn't have the time or energy to spend on it with all the other stuff going on.  Right now, I'm tapping my fingers while .....but more about that in the next blog entry.  

In the meantime, to assuage your disappointment about the truncated story, I offer you  this delightful little being I discovered while weeding a couple of weeks ago. The tiny jackrabbit toddler (it would fit in your cupped hands) never blinked an eye as I snapped its portrait.  I left it in peace (after about thirty seconds) to make its way in the world after The Giant left.  —Leap through life with happiness, Little Guy!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Short Foray Into Brazil

In Petropolis with Johann and Alessandra
My journey to Brazil in December of 2013 was sort of accidental.  I'd been having coffee with my friends Johann and Alessandra when they passed through my little hometown of Talent, Oregon, when they mentioned that they were planning to go home to Brazil, in the mountains just north of Rio de Janeiro, for Christmas.  

Wearing funny hats, Christmas Eve
I think I said something wistful like "well, if you decide you want company for Christmas, I'd love to come...," and forgot all about it until Alessandra's email arrived inviting me to do that very thing!    
A magical tree fern, 15' tall
So there I was, a few days before Christmas, welcomed into a lovely Brazilian family celebration, in a truly exotic and fascinating country I'd always wanted to visit!

Does this look ominous to you?
a gorgeous butterfly laying eggs
Of course, I had taken my sketchbook, so all of my time not spent in family doings was dedicated to wandering up and down the lane flanked on either side by dense jungle-ish vegetation, filled with marvels like tree ferns, peculiar plants resembling venus flytraps (but with no moving parts), gorgeous butterflies—one I photographed was laying eggs, ferns that resembled octopi (or octopuses, if you prefer), and any number of other wonders. My mouth hung open in amazement a good deal of the time. 
Since it was still the rainy season in Brazil, I also spent some time on the veranda with my sketchbook (and in a hammock, I admit), trying to do justice to the marvels all around me with drawings and paintings in my sketchbook.   
The ultimate "picture window!"
As in other tropical countries I've visited, the house was open to the outdoors, and much of the family's time is spent in an open room next to the kitchen, sort of a combination veranda and lanai opening onto a little walled garden. It's one of the most "scenic" window views I've ever encountered.

Even when it was raining, this "wallpaper" was enchanting.  I just loved sitting there watching the birds who came to eat bits of fruit scraps the family put out for them. 
I love to sketch in a hammock
Sometimes I even disciplined myself to draw. Frequently on my forays up the lane, I was dodging raindrops or scrunched under densely-leafed trees waiting for the weather to clear and trying to protect the sketchbook page as I drew.  That's not really conducive to finishing a sketch in any detail!
Fortunately, I've discovered that drawing in a hammock can be very comfortable provided I can find a pillow or two to prop myself up in a relatively erect position. I got some nice sketches from that hammock.
Rainy afternoon sketching session.
 Unfortunately, my sketchbook for that marvelous interlude is buried in storage, so I can't share my drawings/paintings of this fantastic trip—but more about THAT later!  
(Actually, I really should have posted this entry before I posted the previous Belize one, since it happened before. But that didn't happen, so you're stuck with this out-of-sequence tale.)

Meet Mr. Toad!
A giant toad came to visit numerous times while I was there, often after dark. I took photos of it, hoping to sketch from the view finder, which I find an invaluable tool. In fact, I've made it a habit to always photograph things as I'm sketching so that I can add details or color later when I am in more comfortable sketching/painting circumstances. 
A "vegetarian" octopus...fern, that is!

So, while I haven't yet actually sketched the toad, I can, one of these days when I have some spare time, sit down with my sketchbook and camera (or maybe I'll actually print out my photo) and add that marvelous 6" toad to my sketchbook.

An ornate cathedral in Petropolis
Alessandra, Johann and I spent most of one day in the nearby historic town of Petropolis, the former Summer Palace of the second Brazilian emperor, with its fascinating buildings and places to marvel over. I'm not a connoisseur of historical buildings, but I found Petropolis charming and quite interesting. 
Marmoset feeding on sap.
Of course, with my natural history leanings, I thought the little marmosets roaming the grounds of the Imperial Palace were fully as interesting as the more human-oriented structures for which the town is famous. 

Cashew fruits au naturel
I think the family was amused at some of the things I found fascinating, since to them, they're everyday items. For instance, I was intrigued by the cashew fruits sold in the supermarket in little styrofoam packages covered with a clear film, exactly the way tomatoes are marketed in Oregon. 
View from Johann's balcony
With cashews, you have a choice—eat the sweet fruit you see here and trash the nut, or forego eating the fruit, leave it on the tree, and let the nut ripen. The fruit is pretty tasty, actually.  There's a great article about the cashew fruit/nut here.

I also thought the mountains were astonishing. Many of them rise like perfect volcanoes (although they're not), and the sides of many are solid, nearly vertical, basalt (I think), with bromeliads growing out of them like hairy moles. 
Bromeliads dot these near vertical slopes.
I was never able to examine them close up (we only drove past these monoliths in the car) but I'd love to spend some time exploring these steep mountainsides!
This is a MUSHROOM?
During my stay, Alessandra and I encountered this brilliant red mushroom which we mistook for a piece of plastic rubbish at first.  I's so outlandish! 

The day after Christmas, it was time for me to leave, as NOW I was headed for Belize to scope out the possibilities of buying some land in the lovely Better In Belize Eco-community I had been exploring online.  But before I leave this post, I want to show you some of the more interesting/beautiful things I encountered in those Brazilian mountains just before Christmas.

A lovely cream-colored, sculptured 8" wasp nest

I needed a good plant ID book, but never found one. What is this?
AHA! My brother David sez it's  Hamelia patens
Common names: Firebush, Mexican firebush, firecracker shrub, scarlet bush

This 3" caterpillar must morph into a LARGE butterfly or moth.

An inch long, this is the biggest leaf hopper I've ever seen!

There were lots of cecropia trees all around the house and mountains.

Even the lichens on the trees were beautiful.
My flight, leaving from Rio, would dog-leg me through Newark, New Jersey before depositing me in Belize City some thirty hours later, so it was a marathon event—but very much worth my time since it catapulted me into the next frame of my odyssey.  (okay, now go back and re-read the post before this one ;o}.

Here's a grab-bag of other entries...

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