Zoo Sketching

Yesterday I paid my first visit to the Houston Zoo. I'm always inspired by James Gurney's and Aaron Blaise's animal sketches, and I wanted to do a few of my own. zoo_paint

The longer I watched Smaug, the less repulsive he looked. I noticed the subtle shifts in color on his scales. I will never be a reptile enthusiast, I can appreciate that they have their own unique ferocity and beauty.

(I still hate snakes, though. When my dad pointed out a bronze cobra statue in front of the reptile house, all I saw was a huge serpent shape. I leapt backwards and shrieked. Then I realized it was only a statue, not a giant cobra escaped from its enclosure.)

I knew I'd have to work quickly, because animals move around. I wasn't prepared for two other problems, however:

1) People. I sat at a distance so I wouldn't block anyone's view. But this meant my view was constantly being blocked by kids throwing themselves against the glass or fence, yelling, "HEY MONKEY," or "HEY SMAUG." Or couples taking selfies. Or entire families. Next time I'm taking a spot beside the enclosure and staying there.

2) The sheer discomfort of juggling pencils, brushes, and paint while sweat and sunscreen is trickling down my arms. As I've discovered with museum sketching, supporting a sketchbook, drawing AND holding pencils is uncomfortable and frustrating. Add a watercolor palette and water, and I knew I'd have to work sitting, not standing. Another reason my view was frequently blocked by a parade of people.

Gurney uses watercolor pencils and water brush pens to save on some of the hassle. Before I attempt this again, I ought to buy some. And whenever the Nomad Satchel finally becomes available for order, I'd like to get one. I missed their Kickstarter, but supposedly more will be for sale during the second half of 2015.

In other news, this week I finally got a smart phone and joined Instagram. Come follow me there! I'll be posting in-progress shots.

instagram @paigencarpenter on Instagram.

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.

Plein-Air - Racquetball Court

Raquetball Court_PaigeCarpenter

Watercolor sketch of a racquetball court. Hardly anyone uses this court, and it has incredible lichen and stains on the walls.

I'm trying to focus on values.   My art teacher in college used to say, "Make the darks darker and the brights brighter."   But I think I left the shadows in the court too light and made the tree too dark.  Better luck next time.

Tunnel in the Trees

More plein-air painting: a watercolor sketch of a tunnel under some camellia bushes at the end of my street-- the perfect place for children to make a house, or a secret fort. Yesterday it started raining, so I painted under an umbrella until my hands froze. TreeTunnel_PaigeCarpenter

Yes, bushes are that green in January in Florida. And I love that fire hydrant.

Plein-Air Painting

I haven't done any plein-air painting since my sophomore year in college.  I enrolled in a Painting 101 class that promised to teach oils, acrylics, and watercolors.  Unfortunately, I went to class hoping to learn the techniques of the Old Masters, and the professor had other ideas.   I wanted to paint like Vigée Le Brun, my teacher wanted me to paint like Edvard Munch. Our class did one plein-air painting session during the middle of summer, in a particularly ugly area of the campus.  (My teacher's theory was the uglier, the better.)  I was hot, irritated, and ants crawled all over my canvas.

This month, I've started working through James Gurney's Color and Light,and I'm giving plein-air painting another try.


First effort.  Sunshine.  This golden tree looked brilliant against the blue sky.  It's unusual for any trees to change colors in autumn/winter in Florida, so this tree really stood out.