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.

Month of Love - Love is All Around


Plein air sketches, Mercer Botanical Gardens. Watercolor & pencil. 6" x 9".

The Month of Love challenge for this week was slightly different from the others: "Get outside your studio and your comfort zone. Go somewhere you’ve never been and look for “love”...The possibilities are endless if you go out with eyes (and sketchbook) open."

Sounds like a plein air assignment to me, so I went to the Mercer Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, which I've been meaning to visit for over a year. On the way I took a wrong turn and found myself on a toll road with no way off, and no cash to pay the toll. The lady at the tollbooth gave me a card announcing "THIS IS A NOTICE OF A TOLL VIOLATION EVENT." I was terrified I'd have to play several hundred dollars in fines for taking a wrong turn-- but since I was a first offender, in the end I only had to pay the cost of the toll.

Never doing that again. Ever.

The Botanical Gardens were beautiful. I can't believe I waited this long to visit. Even though the flower beds were still mostly brown and dead, the gardens were still beautiful. Daffodils were blooming, the grass was green, and there were lots of white flowers that resembled lilies-of-the-valley. I also made the acquaintance of one of the gardeners, who happens to be a one-eyed cat.

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.

Enthralled, Revised

paigecarpenter_faun_small I posted this "finished" drawing a while ago, intending to transfer it to illustration board and start painting. But during the craziness of the holidays, moving to Texas, and a bout with the flu, this drawing got pushed aside in favor of more urgent projects.

A few weeks ago I took out the drawing again. I was still unsatisfied with several things, like the position of the faun's legs and the bushes. I asked my sister-in-law Stacey to take a look at it. Stacey is a photographer, and she's really good with composition.

With some help from her, I ended up with this:


More bushes on the far left, framing the figures. Extending the faun's lower leg so that the curve of his torso continues downwards. Adding more folds to the dress, flowing off the frame, so that the figures were not so boxed in. Raising the treeline. Adding the ruined towers at the right.

A lot of revision, but I think the piece works much better now. And I've started painting:


See the original post here.

Stacey's photography: www.staceydaniellephotography.com/blog

World-Building, Week Four - Costumes


Costumes of Asgard, for Sean Murray's World-Building class.

Healer ceremonial garb. The Sisters of Mercy are an all-female order who use both medicine and magic. For ceremonies they paint a red slash across their eyes in honor of the founder of their order, who healed blindness with her tears.

Farmer festival clothing. The men of Asgard like to collect trophies: furs from hunts, gold won at the gambling tables, cloth embroidered by a sweetheart, etc. Strength is more respected than class. A strong farmer will be honored. A weak nobleman will find himself despised.

Noble lady's dress. The nobility import new fashion styles from the lower realms (invention and creativity is not a trait often found in Asgard.) Ladies often keep small pets. Lockets worn on the bodice hold scented herbs or locks of a lover's hair.


Some sketches for working men's clothing.


Where is week three's assignment, you say? Week three is not yet finished, due to a bout of the flu and the fact that my parents are packing to move halfway across the country.

World-Building, Week One - Maps

Maps were the focus during the first week of Sean Murray's World-Building Class. I've always loved maps. Behold the first map I ever created, probably around the age of seven:


This was a map of the imaginary neighborhood my friend and I invented. It's very well-preserved because I stuck it to a piece of cardboard and laminated with scotch tape.

Since we lived about half an hour away from each other, we couldn't get together in person as often as we would have liked. So we "played" for hours over the telephone, narrating the adventures of our characters, Sara and Little Calf.

Little Calf was a calf. Sara was a horse. And they had various adventures that involved wasting fevers and haircuts because I had read too many Victorian children's novels.

My map-making skills have improved since then:


This map is for a book project based on Norse mythology. At the moment, the book has no title, so I'm temporarily calling it "Norseness," or "The Norseness."


My local art store recently started stocking water-soluble graphite. I was intrigued and thought this might be a good media for value studies. The little tin was so darn cute I bought it. IMG_4498

It's much grainier than watercolor paint. Darkness seems determined by the wetness of the brush. Also it doesn't seem to like layering. The manufacturer claims that it's erasable when dry-- it isn't really. I tested several erasers.


Here's a quick little sketch to give you an idea. I do love the way the darkest, wettest values pool and run under the brush.

The Bride


Watercolor (opaque and transparent) on illustration board.  36"x22".

A portrait of my new sister-in-law in her wedding dress.  I experimented with opaque watercolors because I wanted to get a true deep black for the background.  This black is a mix of Payne's Grey and Yellow Ochre.  I also used opaque Titanium White for the veil.

IMC 2013 - Day Seven

Here's the belated IMC last-day post! So, on the last day, we cleaned up the studios and set up our finished (or still-in-progress) paintings on display. Unfortunately, I can't post any of those amazing illustrations yet, because some of them were still unfinished, and I need to get permission from the artists. I will post several of my favorites in a few weeks.

While wandering around admiring the art, everyone signed everyone else's sketchbooks. Here are just a few of the scribbles I collected:


Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo gave me a pair of dragons.


Rebecca Guay drew an elf. Irene Gallo, Julia Singh, Dirk Tiede, and Judy Riggenbach also gave me doodles and signatures.

Over the week, people had also been drawing on the whiteboard in the dorm's common room:


The IMC this year (and last year) has been one of the best weeks of my life. I learned and laughed so much, and had a few crises along the way, but so did everyone else. We're all mad here.

IMC 2013 - Day Six

I didn't get much painting done today. I started Loki's hair and face, but I want to do a few quick studies of his back and robes before I paint them. Anna Mohrbacher was kind enough to take a photo of me while I was working.


And here's a really dim photo of the piece in progress. (It's gloomy outside. I think it rained nearly every day this week.)


The students and faculty, photographed by David Palumbo:


Yes, that IS a mammoth! Amherst College has an amazing natural history museum with dinosaur skeletons, footprints, and crazy minerals.

The college also has an art museum with a Bouguereau. A BOUGUEREAU. Here. In Massachusetts. Just up the hill from the IMC studios. I'm still in shock.


Cupid pours thoughts of love into a young girl's ear, distract her from her work. I stared at this painting for a long time, hoping to absorb some of his genius by osmosis.