Suddenly Last Summer

Last summer I was balanced precariously on the edge of a raised garden bed, reaching for beans growing up a tall obelisk, most of them scarlet runner beans. Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to the brilliant red flowers produced by this pole bean, and the obelisk was covered with them. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a hummingbird, feeding on the nectar, only about 18 inches from my head! I heard it before I saw it, so I knew to keep still. Fortunately I have good peripheral vision, so I was able to get a pretty good look without turning my head. After enjoying several blooms it flew off.

I finally finished this sketch — started months ago — adding the bird (thanks to internet images) and the beans. So that magical encounter is now recorded in paint for posterity.

Bobolinks and Brandywine

Several weeks ago I realized that the straw sitting in my Brandywine tomato plant was actually the start of a nest. I’m fairly certain that the eggs that eventually appeared, and the bird sitting on them were boblink. This bird normally nests in meadows and fields (it is now quite rare due to disappearing nesting habitat). With the hayfield next door harvested, they needed a new spot. My thick “hedgerow” of tomato plants was ideal.

The bobolink chose the right plant, as this particular one was producing an unprecedented number of large tomatoes providing terrific camouflage. Brandywine was the first heirloom tomato I became familiar with when I started growing my own tomato plants from seeds many decades ago. Their fruit is usually quite large and the nest was eventually barely visible among the slowly ripening fruit.

Once the chicks had hatched and left the nest, it was safe for me to sit by the plant and try to capture this unusual scene (drawn fairly quickly on a hot, sunny day and finished later). I’m not sure if it’s a successful sketch, but it’s a better record than a quick photo.

About time…

I was surprised to see that it’s been 3 months since my last post. I’ve been sketching, following courses, drawing while waiting at the vaccine centre, car mechanic, etc., etc. Then, a couple of weeks ago (how time flys), for the first time in about a year, I got together with my fellow local sketchers to sketch en plein air at the Glengarry Pioneer Museum. It was a perfect day for it and so good to connect with the local art gang.

I sketched a view of the Trapper’s cabin. I was pretty rusty, but managed to produce this.

A couple of weeks ago it was time to harvest the garlic, which must be done at a certain point in the plant’s decline if you are to have success in storing the garlic for the months ahead. I planted Red Russian which has a soft pink hue. With the mud still clinging to the bulbs I couldn’t resist a sketch before hanging them up to cure in the barn, along with about 60 heads of Music garlic. In about 4 to 6 weeks I can trim and clean the bulbs to put in cold storage.

And a couple of months ago the hay fields next door got cut. And a week ago it was already time for a second cut. I did a quick sketch of the first cut. Those cylinder’s of hay are tricky to get right!

It’s a jungle out there.

I sketched this spot in the garden where, while sitting, it is an eyeful of foliage and flowers. And it changes a bit every day.

After drawing in pen, I used Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle watercolour pencils, just for a change of pace, then watercolour paint. The pencil colour is intense.

Actual Size (Arrival of Spring, continued)

There is a wide variety of daffodils blooming in my garden these days. Everything from huge blooms about 4 inches across to tiny ones smaller than a fingernail, from the classic yellow daffodil to scented white clusters of pillowy petals. This double-page sketch shows just a few, drawn at actual size in an A5 sketchbook.

ERRATUM: In my last post I was mistaken in the title of David Hockney’s latest book. The title is actually “Spring Cannot be Cancelled.”

Arrival of Spring, version 2.0

A year ago, when we entered our first lockdown, I read an article about David Hockney documenting the arrival of Spring in Normandy, where he was in lockdown. He proclaimed at the time “They can’t cancel Spring” (now the title of his latest book featuring his work from that period). I took inspiration from that and started sketching almost daily, documenting the slow arrival of Spring here in Eastern Ontario. (You can see those sketches starting here.)

Here we are a year later, and another lockdown. I started my Arrival of Spring 2.0 sketchbook, but got side-tracked with the Sketch Across Canada nature sketching. Meanwhile Spring arrived with a bang. Early warm days signalled slumbering bulbs that it was time to wake up. Daffodils came into bloom at least 3 weeks earlier than last year. I know this because I looked at last year’s sketchbook! And the tulips are now blooming too.

Several weeks ago, tulips pushing through leaves left from last fall. As I was sketching the setting sun filled the sky with gold — I had to include a hint of it.
Daffodils pushing through mulch, part of the shade garden.
This year, these botanical tulips finally produced flowers.
A short and showy variety that, on sunny days, opens up like a waterlily.

Daffodils & Snow

The lovely display of daffodils in my garden was dealt a nasty blow yesterday by a Spring snowfall. It was chilly and miserable outside and I had no desire to leave the comfort of the house. But, I was inspired by Shari Blaukopf who sketched her hyacinths under snow (see her post here), and by one particular daffodil that was determined to stay upright. I proclaimed to myself, I’ve got to sketch this!

Even as I sat there, the sun was trying to shine and the snow was melting and I felt reassured that these daffodils would recover. But overnight it was below freezing and today it is snowing again. Poor daffodils.

Pencil and watercolour in A5 Seawhite of Brighton watercolour sketchbook.
After an hour I was chilled and finished up the sketch indoors.
The snow-defying daffodil!

Bateman Booklet Filled!

Soon after getting my “Sketch Across Canada” booklet (see this post for more info) I watched the Sketchbook Revival session with John Muir Laws. He is well known and respected in the nature journaling world and his website is a wealth of information and instruction on sketching nature. In his Sketchbook Revival session he suggested a different approach to the sketchbook whereby it becomes a place to get your brain on paper. He spoke of using the triad of pictures, words, numbers to describe what we observe. Add to that a triad of queries: I notice … I wonder … It reminds me of …. Interlocking these triads creates what he calls Creative Thinking which he defines as “the brain making useful connections between seemingly unrelated things.” This approach gets our brain to stretch. He proclaimed that “dancing with your brain is crazy fun.”

Turns out, he’s right! I took this approach as I set out to fill the last 3 pages of my Bateman sketch booklet. When I had finished I spontaneously exclaimed “Well, that was really fun!”

Back indoors, I went on to research a few things, add more notes to the sketch and a few touches of colour pencil.

I will continue to use this approach because it really was very enjoyable! A much-needed positive experience in this very difficult time.

Bateman Birthday booklet… more

A short heat wave brought the early arrival of Spring flowers that I couldn’t resist sketching. I drew them in my Sketch Across Canada booklet (just a few pages left to fill. (See this post for more info)

Pasqueflower, a Spring favourite of mine. This one is an unusual colour that is hard to convey in coloured pencil, or in words.

Bateman birthday booklet, continued

A few more recent pencil sketches in my “Sketch Across Canada” booklet. With additional inspiration from John Muir Laws.

The first is a few tapped maple trees up the road from my place. While sitting there I was joined by some small birds (nut hatch) and tried to get at least their shape down on paper. They are not ones to sit still. The only green that day was clumps of an enthusiastic “weed” coming up.

The second is the Shoulder height stump of a huge Manitoba Maple (aka Box Elder) that came down last summer. I miss that tree. So do the Box Elder bugs that lived in it. I started noticing them inside and outside. A very elegant bug! I’ve been trying to take a mental snapshot when I see one. Then, the other day, one of them posed nicely for me. It’s so interesting to really look!