Cold Mountains

I always crave mountains in the fall.  I get an itch under my skin that grows worse as the year wears on, until I end up like Bilbo, wishing to "go and and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls...and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick." This October, for the first time in nearly four years, I got to see my mountains.  My brother, sister-in-law and I rented a cabin in Seven Devils, NC, population 192-- the perfect town to visit at Halloween.  Our cabin was just below the part of the woods marked off for the "Haunted Hayride," and the hayride drove past our campfire regularly every night.  I couldn't convince either my brother or sister-in-law to go on the hayride with me, and I certainly wasn't going to go alone.  So I did my best werewolf howls whenever the hayride drove past.  (Helping out the other haunters, you know.  Brother & sister-in-law did not appreciate this.)

On our first day in the mountains we hiked portion of the Tanawha Trail that ran through open fields and hills. There were enormous cow pats in the grass, the largest I've ever seen. Eventually, we met the cows: huge black beasts who kept their distance from us.

On the top of a hill, with a view of field, forest, mountain, and cattle, I sat down and painted this dead tree. The sign for the Tanawha trail was nailed to the trunk.  That sign was the only thing that assured me that we weren't trespassing on someone's farm.


The next day, we drove to the trailhead for Linnville Falls. If I've ever been to those falls before, it was when I was too young to remember. They were new to me.  Hiking to the highest overlook was work.  (I was in good shape this summer, running three times a week, until I got my fourth sinus infection of the year.  By the time my sinuses had recovered, it was August, and too hot to walk anywhere, let alone run.)  But the hikes were worth it.  The falls were truly stunning, like a wilderness from Middle Earth.

Since it was the weekend, there were a lot of people on the trails, and I had an audience while I painted.  Several children sat next to me, asked questions ("Are you painting that waterfall?") and tried to snatch my paintbrushes.


On our last day, we drove a long ways south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, to Craggy Gardens. October is not the best time of year to hike this trail, since the rhododendrons are not in bloom, and hang over the trail all shaggy and brown.  Even in the open places there were gnats everywhere.  But I remember coming here as a child, and I wanted to see it again.

I painted this view very quickly, in about fifteen minutes, because the sun was hot and the gnats kept drowning themselves in my water.


I'd like to start a project that will probably last a long time-- painting through the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Eventually perhaps I'll put all the paintings and sketches together in a book.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Sketches

Since one of my new year's resolutions is to visit more museums, I began yesterday by visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown Houston. Admission is free every Thursday. The MFAH has a wonderful collection of European art, including this painting by The Master Himself, Bouguereau.

eldersister_bouguereau The Elder Sister

She has a soft smirk on her face that I didn't notice until I was very close to the painting. I know that proud, sisterly smirk. I used to wear it when I held my baby brother.

Museum sketching is difficult. Standing for a long time in one spot resulted in people shuffling around me, and it's awkward to support a large sketchbook in one arm while trying to draw with the other. I really want a Nomad Artist Satchel whenever they become available.

Anyway, I did a few quick sketches. I'm fairly certain I saw and sketched another cast of that statue of Diana at the Met.


The first visit to a museum is always overwhelming, even when I tell myself I don't have to see it ALL. Next time I'll slow down a bit and try to do more detailed drawings.


Photograph of "The Elder Sister" from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

IMC 2013 - Day One

I'm back at the IMC! I loved it so much last year that I had to come again. (It's totally worth the money.) The first day was spent in critique groups. My sketches of Thor and Loki were critiqued by Julie Bell and Donato Giancola.


And the photo is blurry because they were moving so fast for my camera couldn't keep up.


EVERYONE, including my brother, his wife, other students, Donato, and Julie agreed that the sketch on the bottom right is the best. Thor and Loki are eye-to-eye, staring at each other. The moment before the hammer comes down and the dagger strikes. Old friendship vs. bitter hatred.


Julie's quick marker drawing of the basic shapes in the design. Ball of lightning in the upper left from Mjölnir. White column-shapes of the bodies. Dark mist around them.


I went back to Donato for more help with the pose. He did these sketches as suggestions. His paintings are so deeply emotional and epic, and I want to channel as much of that as I can.


More revised thumbnails. Tomorrow I'll shoot my reference photos. I've already cornered a model for Thor...

Lens & Pencil

           I spent the weekend visiting my brother's fiancée, Stacey. She's a photographer, and she took this photo of me while I drew a little sketch of her. She's actually much prettier than this, but I have never been fast with my pencil, and we were about to go to lunch.

After lunch, we went to Cocoa Village and did a photo shoot.

I always assumed that there was no real art to looking through a lens, and sometimes the photographer got lucky and took a really amazing photo. I was wrong. It is an art.

If you need a photographer and you're in the Central Florida area, take a look at Stacey Danielle Photography. She's an artist with her camera.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Sketches

Top Row: 1) Pavlova by Alfred David Lenz. Anna Pavlova performed the ballet "Dragonfly" in 1915 in New York. Bronze, 1916.

2)  Diana by Edward Francis McCartan.  Diana's hound lunges forward, she restrains him effortlessly.  She is crowned with a tiny quarter moon.  Bronze, 1923.

3) Young Faun with Heron by Frederick William MacMonnies.   A faun captures a heron, mischief and cruelty.  Bronze, 1889.

4) Maiden Cup by Heironymos Imhof.  A ceremonial marriage cup.  The bride would drink from the beaker suspended between the maiden's arms, and the groom would then turn the cup over and drink from the maiden's hollow skirt.  Germany, c.1610.

5) Filatrice by Henry Kirke Brown.  "Filatrice" is the Italian word for spinner.  She holds a spindle in her right hand and a distaff in the other.  Bronze, 1850.

6) Fourteen Year-Old Ballerina by Edgar Degas.  Cast in bronze, her skirt is cotton and a satin ribbon is in her hair.  1922.

IMC Day 7

In which famous and not-yet-famous artists play soccer:

The guy leading the charge for the soccer ball is Donato Giancola.

And I am painted as Jane by Julia Singh (that's me in the photo reference at the top left):

And I continue to paint snow and flowers.  Right now I'm much happier with the snow than the flowers.  The ugly blur in the bottom center is where I'm erasing  a tulip:

IMC Day 6

I painted. I painted a lot. I grabbed any faculty member who walked by in an attempt to stuff my brain full of any wisdom they could give me. Winter vs Spring, in progress:

Doug Gregory from Blizzard Entertainment gave a lecture on cutting the essentials of an image down to basic shapes and silhouettes. So I did a few thumbnail sketches of Harry Potter sitting in his cupboard under the stairs and asked Doug to look at them:

Doug told me to first make a list of the essential elements of the image, which are:

  • Harry
  • Broken toy soldier
  • Dangling lightbulb
  • Slanted ceiling (underside of staircase)

And then he drew some basic silhouettes:

Poor Harry!

IMC Day 5

Today James Gurney gave two lectures on Composition & Worldbuilding, and Color & Light.  (He signed my copy of Dinotopia!) Then he and Dan Dos Santos gave a painting demonstration with a live model:

Same subject, very different styles and colors.

And Donato Giancola worked on his painting of Gandalf and Frodo at Bag End:

I started painting Spring vs Winter. The value studies turned out to be very helpful, but since I'm not used to translating black and white to color, I've been using the black/white filter on my camera to check my references and my painting, making sure that things are dark or bright enough.

Skulls! I've never painted them before.

IMC Day 3

So after much wrestling with sketches of dead deer, I decided to ditch Katniss and go back to an old idea of my own:  a fairy-like girl summoning spring at the end of winter.

And suddenly this creature of life and green things comes up against a tomb.  Death vs.  life, winter vs. spring.  Only her spring is not powerful enough to touch this winter.

Under the advice of Donato and Rebecca, I made lots of thumbnails.  Lots and lots of thumbnails.

Bottom right thumbnail was drawn by Rebecca as an example. (Famous illustrators are drawing in my sketchbook!!!)

I wanted a sort of creepy cross for the grave. I asked Brom for help, since is he famous for creepy.  So he drew a creepy grave for me:

On the left, sketch by Brom. (Sorry for the poor lighting. I am working on a borrowed computer that doesn't have an image editing program.) Hopefully tomorrow I'll finish the drawing.

IMC Day 2

In which famous illustrators show people how to vastly improve their sketches:

These are the four faculty I was with most of the day.  Left to right: Dan Dos Santos, Iain McCaig (he did art for Harry Potter and Star Wars!), Rebecca Guay, and Greg Manchess.

Then the famous illustrators decided to act out what they were talking about:

All in all, a good day. (Although I hate the Hunger Games more than I did yesterday, so I may scrap Katniss altogether.)

IMC Day 1

I arrived at the Orlando Airport this morning.  I've been to this airport before, but apparently since the last time I was there, they adopted a new mascot: Freaky Racoon.

I took a picture because I thought he was hilarious. Lots of things are hilarious when I've only had a few hours sleep.

Then, in the elevator, I encountered Freaky Racoon again, this time in plush form:

At this point my mom said I was acting like a tourist from Wisconson.

The lovely swamps of Central Florida-- my view from the plane. I had forgotten the airplane smell: recycled air, a hint of tar, and cleaner.  I love that smell.  It's the smell of travelling.

A few hours later I arrived in Conneticut and got a shuttle to Amherst College, Massachusetts.  I had forgotten that in Massachusetts, all the streets are named things like Liberty Ave or Congress Blvd.  (And I just realized that I have been spelling Conneticut wrong my entire life, because spell check informs me that it should be "Connecticut." )

I wanted to take pictures of my dinner adventure in this quaint New England town, but although I remembered my camera, I left the memory stick in my dorm room.  Speaking of which, this is my dorm room:

My room is in the basement on the side of a hill, and there are these cool  little steps in front of the door.  The dorm was built in 1912 and has a fireplace in the common room and old fancy-glass windows.   Very Hogwarts-ian.  I keep expecting to see Malfoy.

Oh yes.  This week is about illustration.   Of the possible subjects we were assigned to illustrate, I chose The Hunger Games.  I am not a fan of The Hunger Games.  (I will never forgive that author for what she did to Peeta.)  But I do love to paint the Appalachian area that Katniss knows as District 12.

Katniss hunting. The deer's last sight of the setting sun.  Sort of a metaphor for the innocence of the Tributes being led to the slaughter by the Capitol.

Quick colour sketch.  I ♥ painting mountains.  I want to paint Katniss wearing dirty, muddy clothes that have been patched and torn and grass-stained, clothes that would blend into the bushes.  Only her face would be lit up by the sun.  The deer is the focal point.  Katniss is half-hidden.

Tomorrow the faculty will critique our sketches and we'll get to find a place in the studios.   Breakfast starts at 7am.  I am not by nature an early riser, so we'll see how well this goes...

Tomorrow the faculty will critique our sketches.

Stories in Stone 2

The fallen rhododendron leaves lie thick underfoot, and the Spanish moss dulls birdsong and conversation.  Some find the silence of the old Florida cemetery peaceful.  Some find the silence unsettling.

Here lies James Bruton, who joined the Home Guard at the age of 14.  He had a freckles and a grin too wide for his face.   Though the Home Guard was never meant to see action, James Bruton set off for war before he'd had his first shave.  He left whistling "Dixie."   Despite his mother's worst fears, he came home again, with something like whiskers and still whistling-- through a gap in his smile, where the butt of a Yankee rifle had knocked out his two front teeth.

He lived into his eighties.  "War is better than anything," he would say.  "Better than catfish."

This is the final resting place of Dr A H Mathers.  He lived at peace with every man and child, and never so much as threw a stone at a stray dog.   But Dr Mathers had one odd habit: folks kept catching him carrying a shovel in odd places at odd times.  Once the Reverend caught Dr Mathers leaving the church at midnight on the Fourth of July, shovel in hand.  Another time the doctor crashed through his son's birthday party, waving his shovel in the air.  No one ever found out why he carried that shovel.

His last words were:  "I buried it under the porch."

Whatever "it" was, no one understands this, as Dr Mathers' house had no porch. Most people think the good doctor's mind was wandering.  But over the years, nearly every porch in town has been dug up, just in case--

"Those whom God loves die young."

Annie Barr was just 19 when the stonemason fell madly in love with her.  She was already dead at the time, so it was a very one-sided love affair.  Her parents hired the mason to carve a small headstone, which was all they could afford.  Instead, the stonemason delivered this massive angel with Annie's face.  Annie's parents were too shocked to thank him, and the stonemason left town soon afterwards.  Later, the stonemason became famous-- but he would only carve angels, and all the angels had Annie's face.

John W Price's relatives eventually gave up repairing his tombstone.  No matter how many times the stone was fitted back in its slot, the next day it was always out again: laid neatly on its back across his grave.  The problem has continued through the decades.   No one is sure whether this is the work of a very persistent (and now elderly) vandal, or if Mr Price has some objection to his headstone.

This is a sequel to "Stories in Stone."  Disclaimer: Any resemblance to anyone living or dead, friend or relation isn’t entirely coincidental, but nearly so-- meaning that while these are the graves of real people, the stories about them are fictitious.