Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

The pens and ink and paper arrived yesterday. I immediately dove in, creating splats of ink across the page. I am rather proud of not tipping over the bottle!

What an incredibly humbling little tool. A smooth and steady hand, a sense of the ink capacity of the tiny nib, a limited range of directional movement--challenging as can be. Reminds me of the violin.

More later as I figure out what I may do with pen and ink. I've been rather content with graphite and it's lovely nuances. For now, I leave you with my first pen and ink creation.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Faux Foxtail

Without much free time last night but still wanting to draw, I pulled out my not so trusty RapidoSketch. It's been leaking and the flow is a bit weak, but it did behave well enough that I could get in this little sketch. It's a mental image of a foxtail with a totally made up leaf. It was quick and fun to simply play without a model.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pencil Notes

Pressing hard with a pencil leaves indentations in paper that won't release. Erasing becomes a chore and the remaining furrows shadow out like ghosts on the page. However, without pressing down, my intuition finds it impossible to obtain hard edges and dark tones. Last night’s exercises proved that wrong. I spent a couple of hours experimenting with various pencil grades, pressures, and erasures. I worked by naked eye, 3.5X, and 10X. Here are some thoughts based on my experiments:
  • Sharp pencils give hard edges and dark tones. Circular pencil movement approaches the paper’s tooth from many angles, essentially filling in the paper.
  • Do the softer pencils provide darker tones? Perhaps somewhat, but a sharp 2B in circular motion brings out tones close to a 6B--although the softer pencil is indeed a good deal faster, perhaps useful for filling large areas with a dark homogeneous tone. Using a 6B reminds me of spreading soft butter.
  • A sharp 4H is so hard that it can easily indent the paper.

I suspect that each paper behaves differently and I have new paper coming in soon to test that out. I'm seeing how taking the time to experiment can be so, so valuable.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Holly Branch 4 and Final

That's it! I'm done! :-) Phew, at least fifteen hours here. I had an absolute blast with this! :-) I keep seeing places where I could revisit this drawing but I'd rather move on and try something new.

The challenge of a larger, more complicated piece has been so rewarding. Now I want to bite off another similar specimen but I'm not sure what. I'll check out my bags of weeds and see if anything jumps at me.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Holly Branch 3

It's been a mild and rainy day, leaving only few remaining patches of snow. I thought I'd take advantage of the clear ground for an acorn harvest. Alas, my little squirrel friends have chewed up every seed in sight! And speaking of squirrels, my torn ear little scrapper was not to be seen today and there were at least four simultaneous visitors. I do hope it's doing okay.

A spent a couple of hours last night and a couple more this morning. I'll be back at it this evening. It's nearly time to start the cleanup--pulling out my smears, sharpening edges, and pointing up the tips. I learned a bit about working in stages. I want to think more about the overall drawing before starting, that is spending time on planning layout and overall lighting direction. Also need to think about covering up sections of the drawing or perhaps using one of those bridge-like affairs for keeping my hand above the drawing. Oh, and lastly, I want to experiment with the darks by applying crosshatch layers and then smoothing with a 2H. It sounds promising as I've already had good results smoothing and spreading 2B with a 2H. This technique is supposed to reduce if not eliminate that glossy look that seems to come from pushing too hard.

Even though I might sound critical, there is an awfully big grin on my face with this piece already. I am having a huge amount of fun but I really do want to improve. There's a real sense of excitement in working out a bigger piece rather than just one leaf. Next post should be presenting a close to complete piece, if I can remember when to stop. ;-)

And looking ahead, perhaps a beech branch, or maybe white pine...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holly Branch 2

I got it a bit more work on the holly branch. It's been slow going today as I simply lounge around.

I'd been scheduling out posts to publish at 5 AM but have decided to just let them come out whenever ready. (Feedburner's still emailing at 9 am, for now.) It's my new looser style. :-) Now if I can only get Blogger to let me turn my "posted at" turned back on. There's a little bug in there somewhere...(got it later in the evening!)

Holly Branch 1

Here's my first round with a Holly branch. Now that it's sketched in, I can take my time tweaking shapes and building up tones, poco a poco.

Friday, December 25, 2009


I remembered sage advice while working on this Holly leaf:
  • Keep the pencil very sharp. I fell back to single edge blades; the utility knife blades are too coarse, made for heavier work.
  • Know when to stop. This was a tough one. I had to get up and run it through the scanner to put the stamp of finality on it. Approximately 3 hours.
  • Work comfortably. I started it in my chair and wrapped it up in bed.

I occasionally dimmed the lights to increase the contrast on shadow and highlight, blocked out the major areas, and then kicked the lights back up for detailed work. I felt a bit daring, almost giddy, using such a wide range of tonal values. It was really exciting feeling this leaf develop.

~~~ Merry Christmas! ~~~

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tinkering With An Acorn

I spent a couple of hours studying the relative sizes and angles of the scales of an acorn cup. My Optivisor made it easy to switch between a close up view and my paper. I was rather tuckered out so this was simply a lot of poking about. Sometimes it's fun and relaxing just to explore without looking too hard for a result.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sycamore Blues

Last night's work on the Sycamore was a bit frustrating; I simply felt confused. The leaf has some wonderful folds and textures that only become apparent with oblique lighting. I sometimes draw in my favorite chair or, more frequently, sitting up in bed late at night. My problem is trying to light my paper well while applying unique lighting to my subject. Of course, the easy answer is a proper workplace, especially for those episodes demanding special lighting.

Most often, come morning when I review the evening's work, I begin to examine with a critical eye. What looked so exciting the night before has now dulled. Surprisingly, this morning's review gave me a bit of hope. I was ready to toss the mess but now I'll hang on, maybe to continue right along or maybe to table it for later. In the meantime, with five days away from work in front of me, I'll be working on eking out a dedicated playground. :-)

Haha! I just noticed that some shading at the top of the leaf looks curiously like a question mark. How apropos... :-)

Dynamic Light and Shade by Burne Hogarth is a new book in my library. I'm taking it slowly, letting it settle in. Chapter 1 is about black and white silhouette. Depth or the third dimension, light intensity, and perspective are illustrated with many examples and short descriptive paragraphs. I think about these examples as I struggle with all kinds of detail, how a simple but well stated patch of black on a white background can gracefully and succinctly convey the image.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Sycamore, aka Buttonwood, produces huge and beautiful leaves. I've had one lying about for months just because I like it so much...never thinking that I'd be trying to draw it. All I have at this time is the initial layout with a very light 2H touch.

I've been working mostly with Stonehenge Vellum 8x10 and I had to jump up to 11x14 for this one. I have some Strathmore 400 Drawing and Canson Classic Cream Drawing coming in, all 11x14. Oh, and along with that, is coming a Speedball ink pen kit with various nibs and some Higgins ink. I have a RapidoSketch and a Rotring but I'm really interested in pens that can, with practice, produce variable width lines. Ah, the toys... :-)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Red Oak Branch - Finished Drawing

It seems that most of the work was really in the layout; I stopped after only an hour. By the way, this is a dead branch, one of many collected under my yard's oak. Spending so much time with my little subject leaves me wondering its demise. Was it temperature, or invaders, or disease to which it succumbed?

Up to this point, my subjects have all been dried out and gone by. I still have a few fallen leaves I'd like to tackle, but I am on the lookout for something green and alive.

Tomorrow's daylight begins increasing in length! Happy Winter's Solstice!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Snow Special

It's still snowing! There's well over a foot with drifts considerably higher.

Red Oak Branch - Sketch

This is part one of a red oak drawing. I'm still wrapping up some branch layout. Buds need attention. Then shading and depth can come in. If all goes well, I will be able to publish the finished drawing next post. So far I have about an hour and a half into this.

I'm better learning to rough out the overall piece, having some confidence that I will be able to revisit each section in turn for adjustment and detail. There is a process, a workflow, that I seem to be discovering--one that comes from practice.

A while back I posted photos of leaf designs on my dirt road. At that time, I wanted to include a link to a Flickr site of my friend and co-worker, George. But at that time, the technical gremblims were on the attack. Now with a new graphics workstation up and running, George has the site filled in nicely. Here it is! He captures some pretty cool images of sand and stone on the seashore of Nantasket Beach in Hull, Massachusetts. Enjoy! :-)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

American Chestnut

There is something to be said for sharp pencils, 2H and HB. I had an awful lot of fun with this chestnut leaf, for about four hours. Next day I wanted to get back at it for some tweaking but decided to let it stand as is and move onto something new. I learned a lot with this one.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mystery Leaf of the Pompom Tree

The tree of this leaf grows in my yard. I call it the pompom tree because I don't know the species and it has four inch ball-shaped inflorescence with a wonderful scent. Some years the squirrels eat up the flower buds. When the leaves drop, the edges curl back, hiding the serrated edges.

This drawing was my first using finely sharpened pencils. I found it much easier to define a good range of values using only a 2H, HB, and 2H set. Pretty cool considering I've worked with 4B and even 6B grades, which being softer could quite possibly be easier to smudge.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bristly Foxtail

A little bit of Bristly Foxtail became quite the challenge. I looked and looked at it, wondering how I'd ever detail the beast. I guess there is looking and then there is seeing. I began to notice how the bristles changed angle depending on their axes. That helped. But what I think gave me trouble was a just not sharp enough pencil. Straight out of the electric sharpener the graphite tips still had a flat spot so I tried playing off of that edge. Not so good.

Upon the dearest advice, I just pulled out a single-edged razor and tried my hand at sharpening. I think this is the ticket! :-) how will I keep from spilling shavings and graphite dust all over the place?

Oh, and next time on the foxtail, it's more on the seed head and less on the stalk. And, a bit of leaf action too. :-)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I think that Beech leaves make interesting subjects. Prominent veining, convoluted curves, long pointed buds, and little designs on the branches. I had a lot of fun with this one.

I tried to work wider and smoother tonalities and got a bit of that here, although the veins are somewhat harsh. What I think I missed was the overall sense of shadowing. I have read that it is important to not get mired in detail until things are roughed in. I think that first dropping in overall shapes and shadows will help.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

White Oak - A New Angle

The is the same White Oak leaf from yesterday's post. I set it up on a third hand over my paper, kept my head steady with one eye closed, and traced as best I could.

I'm reading that a viewing window with guides may be just the ticket as I move away from tracing. Going along with that is setting up a dedicated work location and some lighting arrangements.

I want to apply more time to shading technique. Smoother shading with subtle gradations while using the full tonal range. Tone chart practices will no doubt be useful.

Monday, December 14, 2009

White Oak, White Ice

I am both having fun and getting frustrated. I guess it's time to try harder. This White Oak leaf has some interesting twists. I like that; there's more of a sense of depth. Also, now that I find it easier to reach into darker tones, I must remember to use the full tonal range. See, this is fun for me, fun that is driven by the need to do better.

I want to practice foreshortening, perhaps even with the same old leaves I've already used here. Disregarding what is supposed to be there and seeing what is really there. I struggled with that even while tracing leaf margins...fascinating how the mind works...

I just picked up a DVD player that I drop on my elliptical trainer. So now I can review David N. Kitler's Draw with Confidence video while getting in my aerobics. I'm also working from a few books that I'll talk about in later posts.

It felt good to get in a little camera time on Sunday afternoon. The lake has frozen over with a glasslike sheen that supports the Herring Gulls effortlessly. I gingerly slid out a few steps off the shoreline and the ice immediately warned me back with a few playful cracks. I'll bring out more of these photos throughout the week.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Red Oak

I got in a bit more of a tonal range with this Red Oak leaf. The first shot looks very close to the drawing held up next to my monitor screen. The second has Photoshop's Levels Auto applied. I didn't do very much with detail while focusing on tone. Walking while chewing gum...

I did a wee bit of collecting today--it was simply too cold for more than that. Sunday's temps look to be more comfortable, in the high 40's.

The Stonehenge paper came in today and I'm about to try it our now... I didn't realize how heavy it is, quite similar to the Bristol Board.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Swamp Oak

Here's a Swamp Oak leaf on Strathmore 500 Bristol Plate.

With this first shot I tried to portray as closely as possible my real viewing experience. It may be a bit on the light side but not exceedingly so. In the second shot I let Photoshop adjust the tones. I'm surprised how much detail I'd put in. Soo...I suppose this could be a matter of making use of the available tonal range. I've been reading that I should be practicing tonal scales and I have done a few over the past few months but haven't taken them very seriously. Perhaps I should... Also I might try some softer grades--I think I used only an HB and a 2H.

See, I think I'm afraid to go too dark but I don't know why. I think I'll try some smaller studies and work on a bolder tonal range.

By the way, I gained the outline of this leaf by laying it on the paper, closing one eye, and tracing without moving my head or the leaf. I've tried drawing leaves by eye with poor results and this method really got me there easily. I will continue to practice by eye but sometimes I feel like I just want to get to some shading and detail.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Looking Ahead

Birthdays, New Years', anniversaries--temporal markers that make for reflection and planning. I guess it's only natural to think about next steps at this time.

This year I pushed out about a thousand blog shots but there are considerably more laying about behind the scenes. I want to parse these through, breaking them out by species. Along with that will come a dedicated web site to host galleries of these photos. It will be a nice little winter project.

Of course the blog will continue, although the content, and even the timing, may change a bit.

Okay, now I get to the idea that's been haunting me for some time. I hesitate to bring it out as I don't know if I'm ready. Ah well, here it is...

Before this blog, I was really interested in botanical drawing and painting. I took a few stabs at it but kept losing focus. And when it didn't go my way, I simply drifted off. Well, I want to give it another shot and I want to do it right here. I am quite hesitant about exposing my meager and amateur skills in front of the awesome professional artists who I'm honored to have here. But why not? As I get older, I'm getting a bit daring.

I'll be blogging on my attempts to manage the pencil. Leaves and twigs and cones will be my subjects. Below is something I did a few weeks ago on the back of a printed page. You can see the bleed through. Thing is, it actually looked like a pear! Imagine that? I was stunned. So now I'm reading and practicing, trying to draw lines and work shading and test out different supports.

I welcome all suggestions on anything to do with my new and exciting adventure.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Glancing Back

Today wraps up the first year at Nuncketest. And what a year it has been! Here are the highlights as best I can remember:
  • Camera equipment that went from phone, to old and borrowed, to new and cool, to newer and very cool.
  • Adobe software that kept piling up. Thanks be for or I'd be totally lost there.
  • A nature library that grew like weeds and is now all over the place.
  • A decent graphics workstation that took over my music workstation.

That takes care of the basics, the tools, the toys that makes my blogging possible. That stuff is fun and interesting and will no doubt keep expanding. I like technology, when it's not spouting error messages, that is. :-)

Something changed in me this past year. I gained a perspective on learning about and loving nature, my local environment. The world outside my door has suited me just fine. I've wanted to do something like this for years but I could not anticipate that it would play out so nicely.

My biggest surprise has been you, dearest reader. Emails, comments, phone calls, in person chats. The thoughts you share with me, your compliments and coaching, all this makes me so, so happy. Resonating connections that please me to no end. My hat is off to each and every one of you.

Thank you all for being here! :-)

Tomorrow, a look ahead...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The Nuthatch is such a sweet little bird. Throughout the winter, this species will be seen frequenting the feeders with the Titmice and Chickadees.

Here's a little wave.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


I enjoy this time of year when the birds frequent the yard and the feeders.

Monday, December 7, 2009

First Snow

First Snow fell Saturday night. Sunday stayed cold enough that even with bright sun the snow remained in the trees.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Gray Squirrel

A bit of rain fell on this Gray Squirrel this Saturday afternoon. Predictions are for a couple of inches of snow overnight. This little one (a scrapper, I suppose, by the looks of that ear) was getting ready to fill up on sunflower seeds from the bird feeders. I sometimes place out piles of seeds, making it easier on the squirrels, and the waiting birds.

From Wild Animals of North America:

On the approach of winter they lay up stores of seeds and nuts in holes in trees and in little hiding places on the ground. Many nuts are hidden away singly. In the public parks of Washington, where many gray squirrels exist, I have repeatedly seen them dig a little pit two or three inches deep, then push a nut well down it cover it with earth, which they press firmly in place with the front feet, and then pull loose grass over the spot. One squirrel will have many such hidden nuts, and with nothing to mark the location it appears impossible that they could be recovered. That the squirrels knew what they were doing I have had repeated evidence in winter, even with several inches of snow on the ground, when they have been seen sniffing along the top of the snow, suddenly stop, dig down and unearth a nut with a precision that demonstrates the marvelous delicacy of their sense of smell. Although mainly diurnal, they are sometimes abroad on moonlight nights, especially when gathering stores of food for winter.

Nelson, Edward W. Wild Animals of North America. National Geographic Magazine, Washington, 1918. 560. Web. Google Book Search. 5 Dec 2009.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Lichens again

It was this stand of Swamp Maple that got me thinking about lichens. Below Wiki will fill in the details on just what a lichen really is. But to me, it is just so cool that two species get together and make life better for each, all the time not imposing on any other organisms. Sure, they grow on stuff, but for the most part they neither give nor take upon their supports.

From Wikipedia:

Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a symbiotic association of a fungus (the mycobiont) with a photosynthetic partner (the photobiont or phycobiont), usually either a green alga (commonly Trebouxia) or cyanobacterium (commonly Nostoc). The morphology, physiology and biochemistry of lichens are very different from those of the isolated fungus and alga in culture. Lichens occur in some of the most extreme environments on Earth—arctic tundra, hot deserts, rocky coasts and toxic slag heaps. However, they are also abundant as epiphytes on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls and gravestones and on exposed soil surfaces (e.g. Collema) in otherwise mesic habitats. Lichens are widespread and may be long-lived; however, many species are also vulnerable to environmental disturbance, and may be useful to scientists in assessing the effects of air pollution, ozone depletion, and metal contamination. Lichens have also been used in making dyes and perfumes, as well as in traditional medicines.

"Lichen." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 3 Dec 2009, 22:39 UTC. 5 Dec 2009 <>.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Lichens

I'm a bit hooked on lichens. On a walk last weekend, I thought I'd try to see how many species of trees might have lichens growing on them.

~ ~ ~ Black Cherry ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ Red Oak ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ Crabapple ~ ~ ~

~ ~ ~ Black Locust ~ ~ ~

So this morning on the ride to work I took the game a bit further when I asked if there was a tree without any lichens. I could not find one! Every single tree has some kind of lichen somewhere on the trunk or branches. How is it that I've never paid much mind to these little ones, organisms that seem exist everywhere yet remain somehow in the background? What else am I missing?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nature's Artistry

I can take no credit for assembling this little jewel. In fact, I had to hang out over the water to grab the shot. Bittersweet Nightshade fruit on dried vine, White Pine needles, and what I suspect to be a feather of Canada Goose.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Japanese Barberry

Here is Japanese Barberry putting on a lovely show so late in the season. What never fails to fascinate me is the buds readied for next spring. As William Harlow notes is his Twig Key to the Deciduous Woody Plants of Eastern North America, "...the winter buds of most deciduous trees and shrubs are already sufficiently formed for purposes of identification by July or early August." Perhaps because of leaf cover and flowering, I have failed to place much attention with developing buds. But there they are, all promised for next year.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bristly Foxtail

After recently receiving a copy of Grasses, An Identification Guide, written and illustrated by Lauren Brown, I thought I'd try my hand at a grass ID. Rather than following the key guide, I simply scanned the pages for the distinctive seed head. It took no time to identify today's species as a member of the Bristly Foxtail, Setaria, genus.

It's probably a bit late in the season to positively identify the species but my guess is that this grass is the Green Foxtail, S. viridis.