April 24, 2021

I went on a virtual excursion to Isleboro, Maine on the morning of Sunday, April 11. Our artist host gets to live near that part of Maine year-round. Based on what she told us of her life there it sounded like there really weren’t too many who over winter in the coastal parts of Maine—the weather can be very severe that time of year. But it seems that she lives there year-round and enjoys all the seasons. She shared photos of rocky coasts, fishing boats and a couple lighthouses. Her Maine home looks to be a charming Victorian covered with split shingles made of cedar. The house’s exterior has taken on a lovely silver patina—guessing the cold damp weather contributed to that “weathered” color. Her choice of photos was very interesting as she had pictures of some of the same spots at high tide and low tide. She showed us places in the fog and in the sunshine. She also had several pictures with the sun going down over the water, reminding us to be sure to notice the muted and interesting hues at that time of the day at that time of year. She was a really good guide for those of us who have never been to that part of the country. But I am guessing that I would be Maine’s fair weather friend, only visiting in summer and/or early autumn. (Guess I’m a little spoiled to live in SoCal, with our “banana belt” winters.)

She chose 3 pictures for us to sketch and I have shared the first two sketches I did that morning. I didn’t include my third one as it just didn’t capture the “light” of the sun going down on the bay. (It actually kind of looked like a card you might send to  someone around the holidays. Somehow I made the conifers around the water look like Christmas trees.) I was pretty happy with these two. The rocky coast scene was done with a paired down set of Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth Bristol board. The bay with boats was also done with the same colors, but I used a sheet of semi-transparent acetate for that one. But the real story for this week, besides virtually visiting a new place earlier in the month, is the materials I used for these sketches—my beautiful and beloved Prismacolor colored pencils. Last Sunday morning, 4/18, I gave a Prismacolor colored pencil demo to my LA urban sketching buddies. I wanted to share with them my renewed obsession of how to create what I call my tiny urban jewels with just some Prismacolor colored pencils.

Not sure you would be interested, but here’s the invitation I posted to entice them to join me for the virtual demo. 

Top SoCal “urban sketch,” March 21, 2021 (Prismacolor colored pencil on acetate)
Bottom SoCal “urban sketch,” March 22, 2021 (Prismacolor colored pencils on smooth surface Bristol board)

“In the early 90s I was a scientific illustrator at the CAL Academy of Sciences. I worked for a couple botanists and an entomologist there. All of my art was done with pen and ink on Bristol board for the botany folks, and pen and ink on acetate for my drawings of wasp genitalia for entomology. Along the way I took some classes at the Academy on how to use Prismacolor colored pencils. And I was off like a shot—using those lusciously waxy pencils for a variety of subjects on Bristol board and on acetate. I also learned to use them in conjunction with watercolors on Strathmore cold press illustration board and with gouache on Canson toned paper. 

I have recently started using them in earnest for my urban sketches. (And here are a couple examples of my latest obsession.) I have bags and bags of those colored pencils, but for the “on the scene” sketches I have been doing lately I have paired that number down to 12 – 15 pencils. That seems to work for me. All you need to remember is that because they are made with a lot of wax, do not leave them in the sun or they can kind of melt a little.”

The demo went well, but I was nervous and glad when it was all over.

More on Maine

Visiting Isleboro Maine reminded me of Robert McCloskey. If you are not familiar with him, he wrote and illustrated a number of children’s picture books in the 40s, 50s and 60s. His stories are sweetly stuck in a long ago time, but the art of Maine in his “Time of Wonder” seems timeless to me. “Time of Wonder” won the Caldecott Medal in 1958. It was fun to look back at that book after my virtual journey to Isleboro. (Mr. McCloskey even mentions Islesboro in the story.) I told my son that I thought that part of Maine lovely and picturesque, especially when looking at McCloskey’s wonderfully color-saturated art depicting it’s coastal people and places. Of course my son had to remind me of the many Stephen King books that are set in Maine. Oh dear, not sure I want my imaginings of “Maine” to include it as a place of horror right now, or ever, for that matter.

And a final word about the end of April 2021

I have been listening to a Bill Evans Trio (with Stan Getz) live recording of “Emily” quite a bit lately. When I was pregnant with my son I wasn’t sure if I was having a boy or girl. I had chosen the name Henry for a boy and Emily for a girl. Many afternoons my dad would cue up “Emily” on his “Scott Hamilton Plays Ballads CD.” (The song is often associated with the Bill Evans Trio, but the music was written by Johnny Mandell and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.) My dad knew that if I was in the house I would come to find him so we could listen to “Emily” together. It pleased him so much that we could communicate so specifically with his music. Now I find myself playing Bill Evans’s version of “Emily” all the time, hoping that he will come looking for me. And maybe he does. I can still see his smile in my mind as we quietly listen to the music together. Happy Birthday dad, 4/25. I miss you so much, but at least I’ll always have you with your music.

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