It’s Raining, It’s Pouring…

It’s been raining off and on for a week.   Not only is it impossible to draw in the rain – paper turns to mush – but the landscape becomes downright dreary.  What’s an outdoor artist to do?  People who draw are generally creative, so here are some of my artistic solutions for a dark and stormy day:

  1.   Create a still life out of available items and practice watercolor.


  1. Finish up the unfinished drawings. This view of the waterfall inside Boiler Bay had some deep shadows which I thought should be darker.   Maybe I got carried away.


  1. Take a nap, or draw someone taking a nap.


  1. Drive around and look for primo spots for when the sun again makes an appearance. If you’re lucky, you might even find a spot to draw from your car. That’s how this drawing came about.  When I was there, there was a slight clearing and I was able to block this in.  In the distance storm clouds were heading straight for the beach.   Before the drawing was complete, the deluge hit and the scene dissolved into pouring water.   See #2 above.



  1. Put on your rain clothes and take a walk on the beach. There will be no one there and it’s a perfect time to soak up the atmosphere of the sea.
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Something Fishy

Opening the door of my van, it hit me.  Fish and salt – I must be in a fishing town.  And indeed I was.  I had parked along the dock at Newport’s Bayfront area for a great view of Oregon’s largest commercial fishing fleet.  This is where the town of Newport started and vintage buildings now house shops and restaurants, in addition to a fish packing plant, marine exhibits, and more.


From my vantage point on the dock, I could see the iconic Conde McCullough bridge behind the boats.  I’ve come to admire the continuity of design of these bridges along the coast.   At some point I’ll make one of them the focal point of a drawing.


Today, however, it’s all about boats.  Wanting to be outside as near as I could to my subject, I had to stand because the dock railings blocked a seated view.  It’s hard to get good boat perspective standing up, but I think I did OK.  As the wind increased, the air chilled.  By the time I was finished I needed to move back into the van to get warm.  I was pleased to discover a good view from the passenger seat.  I did another drawing in the comfort of the vehicle.   It would be easy to spend the whole day here, but more places are calling.  There is so much to see and draw here!

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Holiday Romance

I’m in love.  And wouldn’t you know it the object of my affection is short, stubby and twisted. Yes,  Pinus Contortas – otherwise known as Shore Pines – has sent me over the edge.  I’m sure you’ve seen them, the small, graceful pines that grow near the ocean.  Not only do they contort and twist, they lean, curve, kink, bend and grow every imaginable direction except straight.  Most often there are several trunks curving upward, or even over, in graceful arcs and angles.   Nature’s art is truly sublime.


While I was initially drawn to their lines, as I’ve been getting to know them better these many days by the sea, I’m also intrigued by their colors. In the sun they tend to warm browns, ochres and crimsons.  On gray days their bark takes on cooler browns and blues.  And when they’re drenched by  a heavy rain, they become almost black while the lichen that so frequently appears on them lightens to a soft green.



And if the lines and colors aren’t enough to make me swoon, the texture is rough and gritty.  It all adds up to a tree full of personality and impact.   I’ve done several drawings already, taken masses of photographs and can’t wait to tackle some large portraits once I return home.  Pinus Cortortas and I have a very bright future together.


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The Dorymen of Pacific City

I took the Three Capes loop from Tillamook to find wonderful small towns, pleasant beaches and lovely viewpoints.  Pacific City is a special place.  It’s tucked just south of Cape Kiwanda, a sandstone cliff, rising gracefully above the sea.  I headed out across the busiest beach I’d seen so far to explore the rocks at the base of the cliff.  I was hoping to find a sheltered place to draw, but with the wind whipping up a frenzy,  I eventually settled in the lee of a log where I had a good view of the cape.


Pacific City is best known for the flat-bottomed fishing boats that were designed to launch directly from the beach into the surf.  I happened to be there for the Blessing of the Fleet ceremony.  The beach quickly filled with these colorful boats. They came both on land, on trailers, and by sea, skidding onto the beach through the rough waves of the day.  It was incredible to watch.


I stayed for the ceremony which was casual and personal.    Some boy scouts raised the United States flag on a mast erected on one of the boats while a local woman sang the Star Spangled Banner.  The head of the Dory Boat Association opened with a few remarks. followed by three different clergymen who offered prayers for the boats and the fishermen who worked in them.   It was an illuminating glimpse into their world.  I wanted to capture the energy of the scene.  With at least 40 boats , plus trucks, people and assorted other thing on the beach, it was difficult to find a good vantage point.  I managed to get a quick study of a portion of the scene.   All in all a great day at Pacific City!




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Three or Four Graces

Some time ago I saw a photo of a rugged sea stack rising out of the mist.  It was haunting and inviting and I determined to find out where it was.  I discovered it is part of a group of rock formations known as The Three Graces not far from Garibaldi, Oregon.   This was something I wanted to draw!  From the photo I imagined that this was secluded place down a narrow road to a protected bay.  Not so.  This amazing scene is right off the Pacific Coast Highway.   So close you could snap a close up picture as you drive by!   There’s a small parking area between the highway and the boulders that line the beach.  I sat on a large rock as cars whizzed by about 20 feet away.    Once I get into a drawing I’m oblivious to the noises around me.   After an hour or so, a bus load of school children and their chaperones tramped past me on their way to have lunch on the beach.  After lunch, they filled the rocks with color as they went exploring.



I’m a little perplexed about the “three” graces because by my count there were four sea stacks.  Is it the three largest ones, or the three that are closest together?  I googled, but could find no answer to this question.    I drew three on watercolor paper, and then did the fourth in my sketch book.   I’m really getting into rocks, which is a good thing since there are lots more on my journey.


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Cannon Beach

I’m starting my journey at Cannon Beach, the quintessential Oregon coast experience.  I can’t decide which I enjoy more, strolling Hemlock Street dipping in and out of fascinating shops and galleries or exploring the tide pools and beach around Haystack Rock.  It’s one of my favorite places to slow down, unwind a bit, and of course, draw.  The rugged, wave carved rocks on the beach are wonderful.  When the tide goes out, all kinds of starfish, sea anemones, crabs, barnacles and more become visible and handy interpreters are near by to share facts and answer questions.


I love to watch the people exploring and enjoying the beach.  There are groups of families and friends talking, moving slowly and soaking in the natural beauty.  Everyone should have a week at Cannon Beach to recharge their soul.


With Ecola State park to the north and Hug Beach and Oswald West State park to the south there are plenty of places to explore and admire within a short distance of Cannon Beach.  Reading up for this trip I learned that 2017 is the 50th anniversary of Oregon Beach Bill. Oregon is the only state where the entire coastline is public land.  Brilliant, Oregon!

Ok, so if I had to choose one thing not to miss about Cannon Beach, it would of course be the fabulous art. Who doesn’t love a town with 16 art galleries?  My kind of place.


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Packing for a Trip

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed my favorite drawing materials.  I’m packing for a trip, here’s a list of what I’m bringing along:

8 pigma micron pens, size 005

1 platinum carbon ink pen

2 Stillman & Birn Epsilon series sketchbooks – 7×10

1 Arches cold press Sketchbook 7 x 10 – hoping to do a little watercolor painting

30 pieces of Arches Hot press watercolor paper, cut to various sizes

Windsor Newton Watercolors on a travel size folding palette

4  sable watercolor brushes – a 1” flat and an 8, 6, & 4 round

Blotting paper cut into 2” squares – very important for fixing mistakes

A few pencils, and

2 brand new kneaded erasers – remarkable only because I’ve been using some old scrungy ones for too long.


When I travel I tend to work small and draw fast.  The smooth Stillman& Birn Epsilon paper is excellent for fine ink work, yet strong enough to take a little watercolor.  I’ve tried many different types of sketchbooks, but this is the only one I’ve found that handles ink and watercolor to my satisfaction.

When I want to take my time with a more detailed, finessed work, then Arches hot press watercolor paper is my surface of choice.  I’ve become very comfortable with it, which boosts my confidence when adding color.

The pigma micron pens have been my go-to choice for years.   The platinum carbon is new.  I love how it glides over the paper.  I use the best quality Windsor Newton watercolors for light and color fastness.  And if you don’t know about blotter paper, it’s a marvelous tool for blotting up excess water and color when painting.

All supplies fit easily  in the well-used bag my daughter brought me from a Paris flea market.  I load up my gear, grab my pooch and off I go!



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The What and the Where


I’ve been writing about ideas from “Powerful Watercolor Landscapes,” a terrific book for artists of all media, written by Catherine Gill.  My last post looked at the “why” of a drawing.  Now let’s consider the “what” and the “where”  together, since you really can’t have one without the other.   The “what” is something that expresses the idea(s) you want to convey.  It’s logical that the “what” becomes the focal point of your picture.  The next consideration is “where” to put the focal point.  Slightly off center is usually best.

We were looking at this scene:


I decided I would draw it to express the joy and comfort I feel when I’m there.  I could highlight the flowers or make more of the front door.  I could even move the tree over a bit and make the kayak rental shack my focal point.   Those colorful flags fluttering in the breeze are happy, they make a good “what.”

This scene naturally lends itself to a good composition.  The flags are in the upper left quadrant of the page, a perfect location.  The color highlights and draws your eye to the focal point.   The bit of green for the grass and the red sign balance  the bright flags and lead the eye to “where” the “what” is.


What if the scene in front of you is nice  but doesn’t offer a great composition?  This is more often the case.  Items need to be added, deleted or moved around to make the picture more interesting.  A little artistic vision is helpful to see the possibilities.  Take this garden scene:


One could draw this as it is and make some strong patterns in the leaves in the foreground to lead the eye back to the garden shed.   But I have a different idea.  To the left of the picture are some large, deep red poppies:


These are so lovely  they should be part of the drawing.  They become the “what” and the “where” is the foreground.


Much more interesting!  It’s often difficult to let go of the exact scene before your eyes to try new arrangements. By using “why,” “what,” and “where”  you will discover ways to evaluate your subjects more easily and design your drawings to become more powerful.

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The Why

Continuing with ideas from Catherine Gill’s fabulous book, Powerful Watercolor Landscapes,  (see previous post)  on page 18 Cathe explains:

“When you begin a painting [or drawing] and can’t think where to start, remember ‘why,’ ‘what,’ ‘where.’  

  • Your ‘why’ is an emotion, an association, a mood, your personal connection.”   
  • Your ‘what’ is your center of interest, what the painting is about
  • Unlike your ‘why’ which can infuse the entire painting, your ‘what’ is the visual story.  You can point to a ‘what.’ X marks the spot.  That spot is your ‘where’.”

Understanding how this “why,” “what,” and “where” applies to your work is valuable.  Let’s start with “why.”   Drawing is personal.   The wonderful thing is that you are totally unique and only you can draw your thoughts.  We are each drawn to different subjects for different reasons. Some draw or paint to make a social statement, others want to express their love or commitment to a theme, and still others seek subjects that are whimsical and  fun. Maybe you see something you like and you simply want to draw it, without analyzing it.  That’s OK too.  It doesn’t have to be of earth-shattering importance.

Some years ago when I was doing a lot of plein air oil painting, I made myself begin by writing down why I was painting whatever subject was before me.  It was an interesting exercise.  Until then I hadn’t realized how attracted I am to subjects that are beautiful and harmonious.  It’s no surprise then that my work often expresses beauty and harmony.


But I draw for other reasons, too.  I drew this old tractor because I was fascinated not only by the shapes of the wheels and the mechanical parts, but by its connection to family and farm.  There’s a lot of history in a faithful tractor.


When you understand your “why,” and consciously consider specific ideas, your drawing will be stronger.  Your drawing will have purpose and expression.  And when combined with “what” and “where” it will have even more impact.

Let me give you an example.


This is the general store and main office for a charming resort in the San Juan Islands.  It’s a happy place where people come to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.  The “why” for this drawing relates to my comfort level when I’m there.  It reminds me of  warm memories and good friends.

In the next two blogs I’ll get into the “what” and the “where” of this subject and we’ll see if the drawing that results will express this.


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Book Review: Powerful Watercolor Landscapes

From time to time I enjoy sharing some of my favorite drawing books. There are  many great ones out there, chock full of winning techniques and inspiring advice.  One of my favorites is not actually a drawing book, it’s Powerful Watercolor Landscapes by Catherine Gill.



Why a watercolor book?  Because Cathe’s explanations of powerful and successful painting techniques are spot on for drawing too.  She covers essential topics  that will lift any type of art work up to the next level.  I find her descriptions of composition guidelines especially easy to understand.  And being a watercolor fan,  I drool over her luscious watercolor examples.

Whether drawing or painting,  Cathe’s  wonderful advice applies.  Here’s just one tidbit from the opening pages:

“The first step in the path to more powerful painting is to re-write your mental job         description.  Burn this into your brain:

My job as a landscape painter is to thoughtfully capture the response I feel to the landscape, not to accurately paint  the things I see in that landscape.

Many people can paint perfect looking trees.  Only you can paint how being among those trees make you feel . . .  As you get better and better at capturing your special relationship with each landscape you paint, you will see the power of your paintings grow and grow.”

Beyond successful rendering, I couldn’t agree more that drawing with expression is the ultimate goal in art.   I’ll explore more of Cathe’s ideas in upcoming blog posts.   Stay tuned!


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