Saturday, February 6, 2016

Small Things

So many good things really do come in small packages, don't they?  I tore a 9 x 12 sheet of watercolor paper into 4 and am working small.  It's great fun, and feels much more relaxed.  It doesn't feel like such a great loss if only 1/4 of a sheet of expensive paper is wasted. If it turns out nicely, great! if not, no big whoop. The rooster sketch was inspired by a much beloved kitchen towel that is getting old and faded from use.  I  made this sketch to try to preserve some of the images before they become unrecognizable, and I like it so much, I'm now thinking of doing a larger version to hang in my kitchen.

I've included here a photo of the area that I am turning into a butterfly garden.  It's a little clearing down by the creek situated at the point where two streams converge.  I first envisioned a wild area just for wildflowers, but order and design seem to be creeping in.  Maybe you can see from the photo that I have broken ground for a roughly teardrop shaped bed.  What was supposed to be a bed of randomly scattered annual wildflowers is slowly becoming a perennial border.  Already I have put in some irises, oregano, verbena, ox-eye daisies, peonies, and will soon be putting in those calla lilies from the photo above.   The small tree in the center of the photo has a bed of ferns and hostas and daffodils at its base and a viburnum ('spring bouquet') is just to the right of it.  Going on around the corner to the right and out of view in the photo there are native hydrangeas and a bed of foxgloves that I started from seed last September.  Where will I put the wildflowers?  Maybe I can squeeze them in amongst the perennials!!

A new page in my nature journal is devoted to the lovely and diminutive partridge berry.  For years I thought this tiny evergreen creeper was called 'ground holly' because of its dark green, glossy evergreen leaves and bright red berries.  I still think that's a better name for it.  After a bit of research, I discovered that it's actually sold by growers as a terrarium plant, and I can see that it would be perfectly suited for that. It grows in shade along the creek banks here, and you have to look for the bright red berries to find it.  It forms a nice mat in areas that are swept clean of leaves and debris by the flood waters that frequently overrun the banks.  So, now I'm thinking of maybe making a little terrarium for the dining room table. Another small project to consider.

Small projects. small treasures. they all add up to a great happiness and contentment that doesn't seem very small at all. :)))


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Practice Makes Progress....hopefully

Still practicing....some failures, some successes.  The last photo of the dragonfly was made by my 13-year-old son as a visual aid for his research paper, and was his first serious drawing.  He's a natural!

I attempted the deceptively simple subject of the tightly closed hydrangea bud thinking that it would be an easy subject to sketch.  I was wrong.  This is my 4th? 5th? attempt, and I'm still not happy, but have decided to let it go and move on.  That is when I sketched, very quickly, the cocoon we found on a walk and brought home.  I needed to take my mind off of that hydrangea bud, so I just kind of haphazardly started sketching it.  It took just a few minutes and I was done and happy with it.  I find this rather mystifying.  The cattails were drawn with a combination of colored pencil and watercolor pencils. The watercolor pencils work much better in this particular journal which is only 90 lb paper and buckles and warps terribly with even a small amount of water.

This is what I do in the evenings now.  Sit by the fire with the cat and Pandora radio and sketch.  Sometimes I don't feel that I am really learning anything from all my mistakes.  But, I know that if I just keep practicing, it will come.....eventually.  I am inspired by the great Winston Churchill who said,  "Continuous effort - not strength or intelligence - is the key to unlocking our potential."

How do we make progress? by putting one foot in front of the other, over and over and over again until we get there.  Yes.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Nature Journal Page #3 - The Bird Grasshopper

watercolor sketch, Starr White, January 2016.

Schistocerca Americana, the American bird grasshopper.  It's official.  I am in love with bugs.  Me of all people.  It all started in the autumn of 2014 when we began learning about insects in our homeschool science course.  I thought it would be fun to capture a few specimens to study up close and personal rather than just in a textbook, and it has turned into something of an obsession.

Schistocerca Americana captured December 2015, central Alabama

I captured this beautiful specimen one soggy, wet December morning when I went out to cut evergreen branches for the house.  Enchanted by its lovely rosewood color, I decided it might be a fun subject to sketch.  Imagine my delight when I discovered those fantastic leopard spot wings!! I had absolutely no idea that a grasshopper could turn out to be such a beautiful, graceful creature. More evidence that supports the old adage - never judge a book by its cover. Like birds and fish, insects are amazing in their stunning variety - sizes, shapes, patterns, colors; and it is a lot of fun to try to capture all those wonderful details.

I just keep thinking about the hidden beauty of this amazing creature. Because I'm me and I think about things like this.  This great lumbering insect that most people would hardly notice, and if they did, they would probably think it was a bit on the ugly side.  And then it opens up those fantastic wings and wow.  It is magically transformed into a perfectly proportioned, graceful beauty with delicate, intricately patterned gossamer wings.  There's a life lesson in there, friends.  Look for the hidden beauty around you each and every day, and you are sure to be blessed in unexpected ways.

Monday, January 4, 2016


2016 has dawned on our little woodland cottage with quiet, cold, frosty mornings.  Finally, a little bit of winter after the warmest and wettest December in recent memory.  The crisp air feels fresh and clean just like the new year, and I am filled with hopeful expectations for the future.  I love, love, love the month of January.  It suits me to a 'T'.  I love the silvery outlines of the bare winter trees against the sky.  I love how the morning frost coats everything in diamond glitter sparkles and makes the most humble objects seem magical.  I love mornings like this one when the day dawns clear and cold and the scores of birds that visit my feeders chitter and chatter happily to their neighbors as if to say, "Morning! isn't it a fine day?"And most of all, I love the feeling of having a fresh start - a new beginning.
I have made many goals for 2016! I have to set specific, attainable goals rather than generalized ones or I don't usually make much progress.  So, I have decided to set a goal of practicing my drawing and sketching at least 3 times per week (a couple of examples from this week shared above).  I broke ground on a new butterfly/cutting garden back in October, and I plan to finish stage one before spring arrives mostly by preparing the ground for planting sun loving annuals and a few perennials that the fluttery beauties find attractive.  I also want to enlarge the vegetable patch and herb garden and experiment with new ways of cooking and eating what comes out of them.  I'm not aiming to become a vegetarian, but instead, adding lots more whole grains and vegetables to our diet while reducing the amount of meat gradually.  All of these goals will be accomplished incrementally - slowly, gradually, with baby steps.  That's the only thing that really works for me.  Being specific and setting comfortable, attainable goals helps me make significant changes over time.  There are many more, and happily a lot of them are just a continuation from the resolutions made this time last year.  I have made great progress this year in de-cluttering our tiny little house, and it has been so liberating!!! so that will continue with increased zeal for creating s-p-a-c-e to breathe and to think.  My motto for last year was "every object must earn its space".  If it isn't functional and used regularly or if it isn't cherished, it does not earn its space and is therefore passed on to someone else who can use it or love it more.  Now, there is still the matter of the 10 pounds I had hoped to lose.......  at least I didn't pick up any new ones! I lost a few here and there, but gained them back eventually, so hopefully I can change some of those old die hard habits that prevent me from making lasting progress in that arena.  And so many more!  How about you? are you like me? excited to think about making positive changes in the new and coming year, or are you more like my husband who thinks New Year's resolutions are silly and a waste of time?  (in fairness, I must add that he's the type of person who doesn't wait around for the new year to make positive changes - he's always striving to improve!)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Nature Sketching On A Golden Afternoon

I spent a warm, golden afternoon sketching tree fungus and watching a whole family of American anoles frolicking along the length of a fallen beech tree. One particularly bold one who was missing part of its tail I christened "Stumpy".  Very imaginative, I know.  It was such a perfect day,  I captured the moment with a selfie - something I rarely do.  But, I kind of like this one.  It really captures the feeling of the moment - warm, peaceful, and happy.  I discovered so much more than is evident in my sketch.  There is a whole micro ecosystem living on and around that fallen tree.  There is such a story to tell there, and I think I will spend a bit more time trying to capture it.

I am trying hard not to be too critical of my drawing, but I really wish I could learn how to draw the fungus at the right angles - foreshortening in essence.  See how the brackets I've drawn look as if they are perpendicular to the ground? Well, they don't grow that way.  They grow parallel to the ground, but I haven't worked out how to achieve that yet.  I watched a fantastic YouTube video by John Muir Laws on drawing wildflowers in which he addresses the issue of foreshortening, but it just hasn't clicked with me yet.  I will keep trying.

But, the good news is, I have discovered that nature journaling is about a whole lot more than drawing.  It's an active form of meditation, sitting quietly and focusing intently on capturing some small element of the wonders unfolding before my eyes.  I felt so calm, happy, and refreshed and also as if I had been allowed to peek into a secret world.  Even if my drawing doesn't receive any benefit from the practice, my spirit definitely does, and so I am inspired to continue.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A New Creative Journey - Nature Journaling

My very first nature journal page 11/27/15

Nature journals are one of my favorite things, and making one for myself is something I've always wanted to do.  I've collected a few - Edith Holden and Marjolein Bastin are my favorites, and I've admired the work of many others I've seen on the internet, but I never had the courage to try it for myself.  I just didn't think my drawing skills were good enough.  Recently, however,  I purchased the book Create Your Own Artist's Journal by Erin O'Toole because it looked like another beautiful book full of watercolor sketches and nature pages and found myself greatly inspired and encouraged to have a go at it. It's a wonderful book full of practical information and helpful tips.  There's even a short section on how to create your own handmade journal.  It's a perfect book for a beginner like me, because it makes art and nature journaling seem more accessible.  So, I purchased an inexpensive journal and assembled a kit from things I already had on hand and set out on a warm sunny day to sketch something - something easy to start with.  I chose a favorite winter tree - the witch hazel, which blooms here in Alabama throughout the fall and winter.  I wanted to sketch the pair of wood ducks I saw bobbing around in the creek or the little anole who climbed up on my back pack to warm himself in the sun, or the amazing grasshopper who was so perfectly camouflaged that I almost overlooked him, but the witch hazel was willing to stand still, so that's where I began.  I have set some goals for myself and am hoping that with regular practice my drawing and painting skills will improve with time.  Sitting around looking at other people's work and wishing I could draw won't make it happen.  I think it has finally dawned on me that I am the only person who can teach me how to draw.  We learn by doing. Yes? yes.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Latest Buzz...tee hee

I have a wonderful friend who keeps bees.  She is one of my oldest and truest friends of more than 20 years.  One of the most generous and loving people I have ever met, I never leave her house without an armload of goodies from her garden or kitchen or both!  It is only a small token of love and friendship, but I think she will like it. Fingers crossed.

I was so happy with the design, I have decided to make another one and will probably list it for sale in my Etsy shop when it's finished. It will likely be slightly different as I am still working out my process as I go along, and I enjoy making each piece unique.

I painted the little bee skep and sunflower with acrylic paint mixed with a textile medium, but I ended up getting a bit carried away with the embroidery - again.  My goal is to paint pictures and embellish them with embroidery, but I seem to always end up covering them up with stitches. sigh. What can I say? I was listening to the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes audiobook and didn't want to stop.  I love me some stitching and a good murder mystery :)