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!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Costa Rica Sketch Journal ~ July 11, 2008

Here we are on July 11. Actually, half of this day's journal page was written on the 10th, so you'll have to go back in time a day to finish yesterday off (which is actually day before yesterday because I took a TimeOut yesterday to show you the Swamp Book Cover). (I added an improved cover! Go look!)

Since I didn't have anything more to say on the journal page I was writing on the10th, and I didn't have anything in mind to draw, I just doodled in a jungle liana page divider and started the next day's entry.

Okay. July 11th was a big hiking day for me, going for the Ridge Trail. I love this trail, which wanders through deep forest inhabited by lizards; mushrooms (that lacy thing at right is a mushroom!); howler, spider, capuchin and squirrel monkeys; peccaries (forest pigs); and other amazing creatures. One always wants to keep one's nose alert on this trail. Smell something really funky? Freeze! It could be peccaries. They won't hurt you if you don't get between them and their piglets, but they travel in packs and they're pretty imposing. I've never gotten a good photo of one yet, although I've seen them from a distance a couple of times.

I had delightful encounters with agouties, a red-capped manakin, and (2!) Great Currasows. Be sure to click on the little pictures here to see bigger ones. The two female currasows were extremely nonchalant, ignoring me, and I watched them for several minutes with smothered excitement. But in comparing the photo sequence in my camera and my journal entry (which I wrote scarcely more than an hour later) I discovered that I had remembered wrong!

How could it be that I thought I looked up from photographing dung beetles to see the currasows? My photos of the currasows come BEFORE the dung beetles on the camera. Dung beetles were followed by this lovely little manglio seedling taking root on a rotten log. The human mind is an amazing thing. I'll never know what really happened now because the fake memory has totally replaced the real one. I really did those things, but not in the order I remember them. (So much for "truth in eye-witnessing!")

This photo of the currasows, by the way, was the best one I was able to get in the dim light (and it's been heavily tweaked in Photoshop to lighten it up to visibility, starting out as an almost black blob). It's a perfect example of why a journal sketch might be a better means of capturing the moment!

The Ridge Trail emerges into the open on the lip of a high bluff over the Pacific, at Bella Vista Point (see the journal page). Off to the right and way down below is the long stretch of solitudinous beach, and off to the left (not sketched) the trail plunges down at an alarming angle to that beach.

Arriving on the beach breathless but still in one piece, I meandered back toward the trail up to the lodge, admiring hermit crabs along the way. I'd hoped to have time to sketch them and the shells they had chosen this trip, but that just didn't happen. Next time, maybe. I made it back by about 2:30, worn out by my six hour hike.

Daniel had spent the day hanging out in the hammock reading Tollé and nursing his tummy, which was not giving him a lot of pleasure. I sat down in one of the lounge chairs, cheering him up with tales of my adventures, and coloring some sketches in my journal until dark, when the heavens opened again with a marvelous lightning show and downpour. Reminds me of Camelot ~ at this time of year most of the rains fall in late afternoon or overnight when you're happy to see them come.

I've included a photo Dan took of me and Adri, sitting down to dinner. The tables are always beautifully appointed, with different napkin folds, flower arrangements, and gourmet meals every evening, served by candlelight, by friendly, efficient waiters.

Happy hour precedes dinner, from six to seven, and Maikal, José, and Gerardo (not the naturalist), make really excellent mixed drinks. My favorites were piña coladas and cocolocos. These always made me a little goofy, and since I am a bit shy in crowds, this helped me be more at ease (even thought the "crowds" were never larger than eight or nine people, many of whom I'd already met during the day!). What a hermit I am!

As we headed for La Caramba that night under our big black umbrella I had no idea Montezuma was plotting revenge on ME as well as Daniel!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Swamp Book Cover ~ TimeOut!

Yesterday I was on a roll, so I thought I'd better not stop to blog about Costa Rica.

And WOOHOO! I FINISHED the pen-and-ink and watercolor pencil painting for the cover of The Southern Swamp Explorer. Or rather, I finished it as far as I planned to. Because I was under a heavy deadline and daunted by the water on the cover, I decided to do the water in Photoshop. That water cost me at least a month of procrastination ~ by now I didn't even have a choice.

So I painted everything EXCEPT the water, as in the graphic on the right. Click on these cover renderings to see them close-up.

To create the water, I copied the upper half of the painting (all the background), flipped it vertical in a new layer, then adjusted like crazy to hook each reflection up to its image and make it look right. It took hours, and in the picture at left it's only partially finished.

Since swamp water is full of tannins and the color of tea, it needed to be darker, so I darkened that layer until it had the right look. Then since my swamp didn't look spooky enough, I used the Burn Tool to darken shadowy areas in the background forestand other helpful tweaks. You can probably find any number of things I altered. Here is my relatively finished painting at right.

This morning I worked on the title, and while I have gotten that applied, the whole cover is still open to some tweaking. Here's the "finished" book cover as it might appear on the book, at left. Since the picture "bleeds" off the edges of the page, the outer 1/8" all around will be trimmed off. Also, the colors faded and dimmed a bit when I had to change from RGB to CMYK ~ it always does this, and is the bane of designers. The web colors ALWAYS look nicer than print colors. But printers require CMYK to print, so there you are.

Now I need to prepare these graphics and the text of the book to send to the printer. Tommorow I'll be sorting through the files with the specs to make sure everything is in exactly the right format. I'm hoping to send everything off by Friday, either by uploading to the printer's FTP site or, if the files are too big, by burning a CD and sending it off to arrive there by Monday.

My blog, alas, has had to take a back seat to business for a bit....

Tomorrow I hope to blog July 11 in Costa Rica. See you then/there!

Here's a pretty picture of a banana tree and tree fern along the Ridge Trail to help keep us focused.

Ah, the magic of blogs, here it is tomorrow, and I'm still blogging on yesterday...... I'm glad I reserved the right to improve the cover ~ here's the improvement: I wet the alligators, I brightened the cypress knees, and created a better contrast on the otter's head. I SHOULD brighten those red buckeye flowers, but I may not get to it because I'm trying to stack it all together to send off to the printer.

This first printing I'm only going to do about 500 copies, so that by the time I sell them, if I have gotten any nice reviews from the Big Guys I can redo the back cover with those reviews on it. So I'm not concerned if it isn't totally over the top of what's expected. Really, really good will suffice .

Monday, July 28, 2008

Costa Rica Sketch Journal ~ July 10, 2008

We went birding with Gerardo today. Gerardo is superb with the scope and always knows where to find the birds. We had excellent viewing since he took us to an anticline (a place where various habitats meet and blend) of forest, beach, meadow, and stream. Do remember to click on the thumbnail photos here for a larger view!

There was a Tico on a horse, herding the cattle, which appear to be a Brahma crossed with some other breed. Many are white, but there are some gorgeous spotted ones. Having been raised on a farm, I am attracted to cattle, which I think amuses Dan'l

We saw more than 23 new bird species, one of which was a rare Pearl Kite, not even listed as being in this part of Costa Rica. I gave Gerardo my Costa Rica birdbook when I left because a previous guest had walked off with his copy, so I can't look it up and confirm it, but I think that's correct.

I got a photo of the kites through the spotting scope, and also a pair of nuzzling macaws. I'd like to get a lot better at photographing through the scope. The problem with trying to do it on a birding trip is that everyone else either wants to look or take a photo, too, so there's no possibility of hogging the scope while waiting around for a good pose.

The scarlet macaws are a bit blurry, but their character, at least, shows in the photo. I was keeping a birding list from the time we landed in San José till the time we left, and although I had seen a couple of the birds from the birding trip previously on our vacation, the main list we saw is in the right-hand column of the journal page.

After our return and breakfast, I meandered around El Remanso's beautiful grounds for awhile, snapping photos of some of the amazing heliconia flowers, then sketching the rare, solitary Ghost Bat that hangs in the rafters of the Yoga Pavillion, and finally just sitting on our terraza watching the birds flit in and out of the shrubbery with the binoculars and writing in my journal.

Later I got a massage because I was feeling a bit bedraggled. I thought that maybe I was having too much fun, but I was actually coming down with a case of Montezuma's Revenge, which was taking its toll on Daniel, too. So the wonderful massage was the second high point of my day.

Watching dusk descend is a regular evening delight with the insect and frog choruses striking up and pulsing in the warm air. Night temperatures hovered around 65° to 70°, just perfect for sleeping, so sitting out to watch the forest and the fireflies by moonlight (half a moon so far) was one of my favorite things. Tonight it rained, so there was that added attraction as well, watching lightning and counting the seconds to determine how far away the strikes were .


The Southern Swamp Explorer Update: My printer rep just called to ask how things were going on preparation of The Southern Swamp Explorer, and when I told him the cover painting was only half done he mentioned that their queue is now about four weeks, so if I get everything to them by, say, next Monday -- all the book files and the cover, ready to print, it would still be the first part of September before I get my books. Yikes. So I'm going to be jamming on that cover painting for the rest of the day. I'll try to put up a scan tomorrow on my progress.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Costa Rica Sketch Journal ~ July 9, 2008

The Day of the Sloth. This was a "slothful" day. It started off with a hike with Dan'l down the trail used by Gerardo to take rappelers to the waterfalls. Most people don't hike this trail because it's pretty steep coming back up ~ the rappelers only go down it. But I'd gotten a taste of it in February on my last visit, and I wanted to see where it went.

Watching carefully for snakes (just as one would watch for rattlesnakes in the desert), we moseyed down the switchbacks to the lovely stream at the bottom of the ravine, which is on the south side of the ridge our cabina is built on. At the bottom I sat down to sketch a vine winding its way up a tree while Dan explored along the stream.

Dim light filtered down greenly, and I was glad I had my little sitter pad because the ground was spongey wet. I had a pretty nice likeness of the vine by the time Dan splashed back up the stream. He had hoped to return with me back up the path and trot down to the beach for a nice soak in the tidepools, but I persuaded him to return without me because I had spied a wonderful buttressed tree I wanted to draw. Sitting on a log in the middle of the stream (on my sitter pad, for sure!) I spent the next forty-five minutes drawing the sinewy, sinuous, sensual roots.

Then, at a very leisurely pace, I wandered up the steep trail. I hardly registered how steep it was because I was going so slowly, photographing mushrooms, leaves, seeds, and putting my hand down right next to ..... a beautiful sloth skull! My jaw dropped. What's the likelihood of finding a sloth skull right beside the trail, at waist level, perfectly preserved with all its teeth, completely bare as though someone had scientifically prepared it for display?! It was gorgeous! (Confession: I have been a skull collector since I was a little girl ~ by high school I had more than 60 skulls in my bedroom-museum.)

Carefully packing a plastic bag around it (I keep plastic tote bags in the bottom of my carrybag so that if I set the carrybag down on a wet surface only the plastic bags will get wet, not my sketchbook edge), I tucked it into my bag to take back to the lodge and identify, and continued up the trail past a huge monkey ladder vine, and around the next switchback (in case you don't hike in steep places, a switchback is where a climbing trail "switches back" on itself to continue to another level). There, directly above where I'd found the skull, on the downhill side of the trail, was the rest of the sloth skeleton, nearly invisible as it consisted of tan bones scattered among tan leaves and sticks. The skull being smooth and cylindrical, had rolled down to the next level spot. Squatting down, I poked at them a bit to see what I could see and discovered a claw, nearly three inches long. I tucked that into my bag, too.

I sat quietly on a log awhile, further up the trail, to watch a mixed flock of birds chatter through all around me, totally ignoring me. They were foraging, and I watched a black-hooded antshrike (identified later) feed SOME kind of huge spidery thing to its companion. I looked around me at the log, at the leaf litter, at the sprawling vines and foliage, wondering what I was missing from my human viewpoint. Lots, apparently!

That afternoon, relaxing with Dan'l on our terrazo, I went up to check out the swimming pool for a possible dip and discovered .....well, read about it on the journal page here. It was very exciting! And here's a photo I took through the lens of the spotting scope Gerardo set up for us to look through. I sketched the journal page from a photo that he took, closer to the pair, with my camera.

Like I said, it was a slothful day.


Yesterday I said I'd try to include a scan of the painting I'm doing for the cover of The Southern Swamp Explorer. I've included it here.

By way of explanation: nothing is finished yet. While I have added color to many areas, I will probably go back and add/change/darken/lighten colors to get the effects I want.

In the alligator area, I've done quite a bit on the mama gator, and I'm now working on the vegetation mass which has sheltered the eggs. The vegetation is old, rotting, and will be darker, but at the moment I am coloring it. On the right I have applied the watercolor pencil, while on the left some of it has been watered already. It's not dark enough, but this underlayment of color will make the darkening look realistic.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Costa Rica Sketch Journal ~ July 8, 2008

And now it's July 8 (in my mind)
(reliving this vacation is so much fun!).

Yesterday I had admired the creatures José makes with a palm frond and a knife ~ several were sitting out on a table. This morning José approached with a big knife (don't panic!) and a single blade from a palm frond and invited me to watch him make one.

With great skill he slit the palm leaf its entire length then began to weave the long strips in and out until a cicada appeared in his hands. It was fascinating. Then he GAVE it to me! I was truly delighted, and knew I'd have to try to sketch it.

It was VERY difficult to draw it with the pen, because I had to make sure no lines from behind passed over where lines from the front should go. I had to fake a little bit of it to make it work, and mine is a bit shorter than José's. His took a lot less time, too, only about five minutes. I'd love to learn how to do that!

There was a real cicada hanging out on the stoneseed fruit that droops into the center of the path to La Caramba (our cabina). We had to duck the seed, which is the size of a mid-sized cantaloupe, every time we went up the path. But I was delighted it's there because a real cicada lives on the upper half of the sphere. I expect it's one of the nightly choir, and it perched there, hidden beneath the leaves, for the entire time we were there, despite the fact that I peeked in on it regularly.

Today I was a bit under the weather, sticking close to the hammock and access to the loo. But even sitting on the terraza there was plenty to see. As I painted the seashells and seeds I'd sketched in my journal on the previous day, I watched a nearby hibiscus closely ~ not because it was so lovely, which it was, but because a praying mantis was perched on it waiting for lunch. I'm guess I was painting when it left, so I don't know if it took a fresh meal with it or not.
Slightly miffed, I sketched the empty hibiscus. I did get a photo, though. Here the mantis is eyeing one of the furry black wasps that chews on the heliconia blossom.

Today I also checked my email ~ what a horrid jolt to have to return from paradise to check in on reality, but I needed to reassure people who had ordered books that I'd be sending them as soon as I returned to the office and warehouse next week. No one was in a big hurry, fortunately, so it all worked out.


Here, now, today, in the present (July 26), I'm working on the cover for The Southern Swamp Explorer, using the watercolor pencils on a very detailed ink drawing. I KNOW I keep saying I'm working on the painting, and I have been (very slowly), but it has been very daunting for some reason ~ maybe because it's so important that it look good since a book cover is what attracts purchasers. When I get a bit more done, I'll scan in a progress report of it.
And now I must go paint, because it's a lovely day, only in the 80s, and I also should also go down to do some weeding/pruning/alder seedling transplanting at Plant Oregon, Dan's nursery.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Costa Rica Sketch Journal ~ July 7, 2008

Days go by in a strange way here ~ as they're passing, they seem languid and slow. But suddenly it seems they have swiftly passed and it's time to go home. How can that be?

The morning of July 7 started out with flocks of parrots racketing by overhead and a brown-hooded parrot grooming on our favorite viewing branches, silvery arms emerging from a canopy tree easily seen from the railing of the restaurant as we ate breakfasts and lunches. By ten, Dan'l and I were down at the beach in the tidepools. Yesterday there had been people walking on the beach, but this morning there were none so we were skinny-dipping in the tidepool basins of warm water. What an elemental pleasure!

I'd gotten slightly sunburned the day before, so I soon jumped out to do some beachcombing ~ finding one of the biggest seedpods we'd yet seen, full of what looked like meadow muffins (horse doo-doo for you city slickers). Then I spent some time sitting on a log with my sketchbook and a spikey brown and turquoise rock-lobster shell I found. The sketch came out pretty well except for the big splotch of bug juice on it, which came splatting down out of the beach almond tree shading me. Ah well, at least it was in the right color range....

When we returned, I spent the rest of the day on our terraza, drinking in the peace and quiet, journaling and sketching the heliconia just off the terraza, drawing my beach treasures (I painted them several days later), and starting my bird list for this Costa Rica trip. I'm not an avid birder, but I do love to see new ones, or watch even ordinary birds doing interesting things, and I'm fairly good at identifying them. Daniel enjoys them, too, although he doesn't make a list. He's sharp-eyed and often spots them first to show me.

When it began to sprinkle/mist around 4:30, a mixed flock of birds appeared and a gorgeous little euphonia began eating the brilliant red seeds of a palm-like plant next to the terraza. While it hung around for only about five minutes, I examined it minutely, then when it left I plunked down on the concrete and sketched the plant. Using the bird book and my brand-new sharp memories of the euphonia, I drew it, gumming the seeds as we had observed, onto the plant.

I finished the watercolor pencil painting of the little euphonia by the dimmish overhead light, sitting on my bed. The cabinas are only sparsely lit, to avoid attracting insects out of the forest and disrupting their lives. To further discourage them, we closed all the louvred wooden blinds on the windows as suggested by the people at El Remanso. Painting by that dim light didn't seem to hurt the rendering too much.

More later.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Costa Rica Sketch Journal ~ July 5&6, 2008

I've been trying to get my journal scanned in, but yesterday I ran out of time and got ahead of myself with the photos. So step back a day into my sketch journal.

JULY 5. I had some time in San José to do a bit of sketching and watercolor pencil painting as Dan puzzled out the news from a San José newspaper (in Spanish, of course), which kept him busy for quite some time. At the bar I did a modified contour drawing (in which you don't lift the pen point while drawing) of my margarita. Sketching and journaling in the bar were easy because the light was soft but decent and CLASSICAL music played in the background! I complimented the hotelier on the choice of music. I would recommend this hotel without hesitation.

I worked on my page with the "black cow" and the fig leaf that night in bed, but then realized I would need to plan page designs better ~ these last two pages have almost identical format. I do love how mess-free the watercolor pencils and waterbrush make the process.

But all was not mess-free. When I pulled out my glue to stick the fig leaf on, I found that it had expanded during the plane flight and the ziplock bag containing it (and my toothbrush, sunscreen, etc.) was muy sticky inside. I was very glad to discover that the glue was water soluble, but I was in and out of bed for awhile, cleaning up the gluey mess.

The Nature Air ticket was so pretty I wanted to make the back of it visible, too (plus save room on journal pages) so I accordian pleated it and just glued in one end of it. The graphic here shows it unfolded ~ there were a lot of Photoshop steps required between scanning it in and making the ticket look 3-dimensional. Just having fun. [There -- that catches me up on the journal pages.]

JULY 6. After arriving at El Remanso from Puerto Jimenez, we got settled in our cabina and had breakfast with Adri and Danni, who run the lodge. Then we headed down to the beach ~ Dan'l's favorite place. He simmered in the wonderful tidepools for ages, but I got cooked before he did so I beachcombed and enjoyed the soft tropical air while collecting treasures from the sand.

That afternoon I painted the lavender vine flower while Dan read in the hammock. The more I use these watercolor pencils, the better I like them. I sincerely doubt you could tell these sketches were colored with watercolor pencils rather than straight watercolors.

Sitting on the terraza (Spanish for terrace) was wonderfully peaceful yet exciting at the same time. There always seemed to be something happening right before our eyes. Every afternoon at about 3:30, for instance, a coati bounded up out of the ravine and across our lawn, barely six feet from our bare toes. A heliconia flower daily lowered a petal, revealing flower parts feasted on by little black furry bees. Rains came some afternoons, and we reveled in the lightning and thunder as the storm rushed up the ravine, huge raindrops tapping on wide, rubbery heliconia leaves, the forest canopy, then finally on our clay roof tiles ~ to then cascade off the eaves in silvery waterfalls. It was mesmerizing. This photo shows the terraza view with a storm coming up from the beach.

That first evening on our terraza, I journaled the wonderful night sounds I was hearing with words and color. Those are what I miss most since my return ~ the dawn and dusk choruses.

More tomorrow.

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

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