sapsuckers - my muse for a winter mandala

The Muse

One of my favorite things about winter is the Yellow bellied sapsucker - a woodpecker that breeds in the far north and spends its winters in the deep south. What led me to discover them in the first place was my curiosity about the neat rows of holes perfectly drilled into tree and vine species. I've learned that they drill holes in living trees to create sap pools for attracting insects which they scarf up. Now that I know who they are and what they do they are an unmistakable presence in the winter woods. Their bright red cap and mustache if it's a male is easy to spot. Then there's the white and black striping on their face and back. They are bold and boisterous...and so fun to watch!

 

eye candy...the texture of old hole scars!

eye candy...the texture of old hole scars!

Sketch

Thinking about sapsuckers and sap holes sparked some ideas to experiment with in the studio. I have a vision to create mandalas inspired by the biodiversity of specific places. In recent years I have played around with this idea using watercolor and earthcolor, most recently while on a residency at Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. So...I started with a sketch.

First Layer - Chickweed and Henbit

My goal for this mandala was to use only earth colors from the wild. I gathered the only green I could find near my studio - chickweed and henbit - and went to town. What I like about the mandala is the simplicity of the circle. It makes getting started fun and easy. I had NO CLUE where I was gonna go from here but it got me going.

 

second step - custom stencil

I love using stencils in design. It makes composition so much fun. After putting a layer of charred grass on the chickweed, the stencils went down and I committed to the design with some earth a friend brought me from "God's Window" in South Africa. It was my first time to try it out and I was more than pleased with the strong reddish brown.

Finally!

After several layers of colors and textures, including red clay hill dirt (winston couny, MS, lavander clay (Laurel, MS), black walnut ink (Leflore County, MS), burned meadow grass (Grenada, MS) and brown earth (South Africa).

sapsucker holes in a supplejack vine

sapsucker holes in a supplejack vine

drawing with chickweed  

drawing with chickweed

 

creating a basic watercolor palette

creating a basic watercolor palette

My palette is designed to go with me in my kayak, in the forest, on the beach or in my studio. It's pretty basic but there are colors I could do without...I keep them because they are beautiful. My palette is on my mind because I am setting up a palette for a friend who is new to watercolor.  I want colors to feel fun as she is learning the language so I'm paring her's down to 13 colors. Essentially I decided to go with a warm and cool of the primary colors with a few extras...

Cad. Yellow light, cad. yellow, raw sienna, Transparent red iron oxide, cad. orange, cad red light, Quin. red, alizeron crimson, quin. violet, ultra marine blue, pthalo blue, pthalo green, permanent green light

I think I could have made it even more basic without the greens but it's nice to have them around. 

The paint is made by M. Graham & Co. paint which I order form Cheap Joe's Art Stuff. I love that they use honey to suspend the paint so they never dry into a hard lump.

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Holiday Open House & ArtTalk with

Holiday Open House, Book Signing & ArtTalk with Bruce Levingston

Thursday, November 19th 2015

at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MS

wowzers!! The Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi blew me away with it's small but impressive American collection, pristine early 20th century architecture and generous community support. 

A very worthy destination for a weekend adventure!!

Such an honor to be part of this program!

Live oaks!! tunnels of green in every direction. What a lovely neighborhood!

Live oaks!! tunnels of green in every direction. What a lovely neighborhood!

signing books illustrated with my paintings at the Museum open house.

signing books illustrated with my paintings at the Museum open house.

American Gallery which has paintings by John Singer Sargeant, George Bellows, Robert Henri, Charles Hawthorne, John Henry Twachtman, Childe Hassam to name a few!!

American Gallery which has paintings by John Singer Sargeant, George Bellows, Robert Henri, Charles Hawthorne, John Henry Twachtman, Childe Hassam to name a few!!

amazing Native American basket collection...including the smallest basket in the world... way too small to be in pic!

amazing Native American basket collection...including the smallest basket in the world... way too small to be in pic!

Mid 20th century - Dale Chihuly, Marie Hull, Wolf Kahn, Fairfield Porter, Richard Kelso to name a few

Mid 20th century - Dale Chihuly, Marie Hull, Wolf Kahn, Fairfield Porter, Richard Kelso to name a few

Beautiful day with Mom Mj Whitfield exploring Laurel

Beautiful day with Mom Mj Whitfield exploring Laurel

September 21 Last Day of Summer

3 long weeks of work in the studio, classroom and on the road means it's time to head to the woods for some renewal. My busy schedule has left me little time to spend with my dog, Mojo. I decided to go somewhere we would both enjoy - Malmaison Wildlife Management Area. I decided to keep it simple and just bring the basics: camera, small sketchbook, small watercolor pan, bottle of cold water, binoculars and an apple.

cypress swale near the Yalobusha River in MWMA

cypress swale near the Yalobusha River in MWMA

What a perfect way to spend the last day of summer. Sketching and breathing in the color and light was a perfect revival.

sprawling cypress. hidden forest watering hole.

sprawling cypress. hidden forest watering hole.

beautiful cypress full of character.

beautiful cypress full of character.

What a wild and amazing "frame" 

decaying tree...my favorite place to find laters of life.

decaying tree...my favorite place to find laters of life.

high water in the recent past

high water in the recent past

Hummingbird Festival

Going to a 3 day outdoor festival is both fun and labor intensive. Exciting and draining. It's a chance to connect with new people, exchange ideas and share my work from the year. For me, this is what it takes:

 # 1  A good team to keep things focused and moving. 

Kory and Leigh finishing up framing  

Kory and Leigh finishing up framing

 

Jennifer packaging notecards with Mojo and Autumn

Jennifer packaging notecards with Mojo and Autumn

#2  Partnerships with local businesses to give myself more time to be creative.

Frames made by Crossroads Distributers in Jackson and stained by my trusty studio assistant, Kory.

Frames made by Crossroads Distributers in Jackson and stained by my trusty studio assistant, Kory.

#3 A truck and friends to help load and unload. Thanks Bill, Mom and Dad!!

setting up Friday morning

setting up Friday morning

#4  A well organized event and beautiful space under a canopy of trees. Good job Strawberry Plains staff!

set up an hour later

set up an hour later

#5 An inviting space to attract interesting people. Good conversation leads to new friends, connections and ideas... Oh, and often a sale as well.

Day 2 - Booth a buzz with activity.

Day 2 - Booth a buzz with activity.

Ultimately, what it takes to have a good festival experience is to cultivate an easy going attitude and anticipate the unexpected. My experience has shown me that anything is possible and nothing goes as expected - so it's best to just enjoy the ride moment by moment.

August 31, Yellow

I’ve been working on the fourth illustration in my 12 part series - Seasons of the Cypress. It represents March, featuring an Eastern Screech Owl, Wooly Pipe Vine and Pipe Vine Butterfly.

Getting started was the hardest part. I like to have entire days so that time is never on my mind, allowing the piece to set the pace. With so many projects going on I finally just made a tunnel of time - the thought of Moses parting the Red Sea came to mind. So my first big challenge after that was finding sources for all the earth colors I needed. Yellow is what was missing. This is a good time of year to find yellow flowers but I wasn’t sure if any of them would have the coloring power I needed. I really haven’t sampled enough in the late summer. Off I go to the meadow!

meadow samples - patridge pea, golden rod, meadow beauty, jewel weed  

meadow samples - patridge pea, golden rod, meadow beauty, jewel weed

 

My truck is an excellent studio in the field.

My truck is an excellent studio in the field.

I tried all the flowers I could see with disappointing results. I finally thought to try the humble bitterweed growing out of the gravel road. It's a plant I truly take for granted and look past most of the time.

The second I pushed it into the paper I knew it was the one. I picked a large bouquet, really "seeing" it for the first time.  I admired the chevron edges of the petals with their bold color against the delicate, feathery leaves.

blocking in the composition on attempt #1

blocking in the composition on attempt #1

Challenge #2 has been the composition itself. After spending a day with a set of stencils and committing to a design, I know that it is not working. To heavy and without flow. I decided I needed a more white in the design and a different shape and posture for the butterfly. I spent a lovely morning researching, sketching and getting a glimpse of the beautiful order in nature.

"Pipevine swallowtail flying" stencil drying in the afternoon sun

"Pipevine swallowtail flying" stencil drying in the afternoon sun

sketch for stencil #2

sketch for stencil #2

stencil and earth color trials

stencil and earth color trials

stenciled sketch using burned grass and Red Hill dirt

stenciled sketch using burned grass and Red Hill dirt

Illustration #2 went together in a way that felt right - in other words, the design itself told me what to do, so to speak. I put down the reigns and just tried to keep up.

first statements of Illustration #2 with poke leaves, burned grass and Red Hill dirt

first statements of Illustration #2 with poke leaves, burned grass and Red Hill dirt


#2 almost finished

#2 almost finished

Challenge #3 is on going. I feel it is not quite finished and think I know what to do but haven't had the time to create the space I need to play ideas. Today is the day!

Wooly Pipe vine growing along the Yalobusha River

Wooly Pipe vine growing along the Yalobusha River

August 26, Red

I've been taking evening walks, enjoying the sounds of late summer: cicadas, chimney swifts and even a rain crow. I've been following my feet which have led me to the northern most part of the swamp. There is a road and power lines which I don't like but because they are kept clear with mowing and spraying it it keeps the trees at bay and has created a wet meadow. Driving past, you wouldn't look twice but on foot it is magical. The color red kept getting my attention: the red berries of green dragon, the red petals of cardinal flower, the red stems of aralia spinosa and poke salad, red trumpets of trumpet creeper and the red hot pink of the sphinx moth wings as it hovered in the grasses.

cardinal flower

cardinal flower

cardinal flower in the lizard's tail

cardinal flower in the lizard's tail

On the way to this wet meadow I pass another meadow along the north side of the Yalobusha. It's recovering from being cut over about 10 years ago.  It is also a magical place this time of year - a carpet of blooms.

blooming yucca

blooming yucca

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August 17, Berries Abundant

While walking today on the Yalobusha River I was transfixed with the richness and ripeness of everything. There were berries and fruits of all kinds hanging from branches, vines and bushes. I collected some elderberries and pokeberries, sat on a small sandbar and made some sketches. Though it's getting close to September I was so glad to hear a yellow billed cuckoo still in the forest.

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On the walk home I passed so much color and texture that made me want to go play in the studio. I soaked up all I could...and took a few pictures as well.

yalobusha river

yalobusha river


passion flower

passion flower


goldenrod

goldenrod

sandbar under the elderberry bush

sandbar under the elderberry bush

August 12, Ghosts in the Swamp

In my studio this afternoon trying to catch up on some business. The back door was open and a breeze that sounded exactly like a perfect afternoon kept rustling loud enough to hear. An image of spider lily blooms hovering in the gray shadows of evening flashed through my mind. Next thing I know, I was grabbing my watercolors and heading to the swamp. In 5 minutes I was pulling up to the North Trail heading to the shallow pool where the spider lillies grow. The light was so clear and the same breeze that distracted me in my studio was moving through the canopy. The humidity and thousands of mosquitos were there as well but it didn't matter to me - I was already under the spell. I had just enough time to coat myself in bug spray, listen to the hum of katydids and do 4 watercolor sketches before dark. 

barred owl, red eyed vireo and katydids,  a monarch caterpillar on eastern blue star,  a little green heron, a tiny brown moth on the white petals of the lily, mushrooms everywhere The spider lillies are actually Hymenocallis caroliniana. The name means "beautiful membrane" referring to the corolla which connects the stalks of the stamens to form a cup.  

barred owl, red eyed vireo and katydids,  a monarch caterpillar on eastern blue star,  a little green heron, a tiny brown moth on the white petals of the lily, mushrooms everywhere

The spider lillies are actually Hymenocallis caroliniana. The name means "beautiful membrane" referring to the corolla which connects the stalks of the stamens to form a cup.

 

6:30 pm lily sketch
By the time I packed up the forest was a misty gray with these spidery ghosts glowing in the dim light.

By the time I packed up the forest was a misty gray with these spidery ghosts glowing in the dim light.