Saturday, October 31, 2009


Today I began my walk at Howarth Park later than usual. I'm always amazed at how an hour or so can completely change the look of the park. These ferns (I don't yet know what they're called) are sprouting in large groups everywhere. I began by trying to draw a group of them nestled among some mossy rocks and backlit by the sun, but found myself mesmerized by the detailed structure of the leaves, so I gave up on the group and allowed myself to utterly dwell on the details of one individual. Oh what fun that was!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sad and wonderful all at once

Yesterday my husband came home from his morning walk and said he had a surprise for me. Some guys will give you flowers, or chocolate, but mine brought me a recently deceased Junco hyemalis of the Oregon species, female, I believe, because her hood was dull brown rather than the natty jet black of the males.

Last spring I found a recently deceased Cedar Waxwing and brought it home to draw but got squeamish when it came time to do the deed. It seemed creepy to be staring at that poor, dead bird and I gave up. This summer and fall I've been drawing more wildlife out in the field, mostly through binoculars, and have come to appreciate the gift of an animal or bird that will hold still while you draw it up close. This time I was rock-steady and able to appreciate the chance to closely examine a beautiful creature.

I found her feet really fascinating and tried to do a more detailed sketch of one. Each toe has little pads on the underside. Our fingers have padding built in but these are little extensions to the otherwise twig-like toes. And I was amazed at the length of those claws. Interestingly, underneath the white and tan feathers on her breast are jet-black feathers. You can see then poking through in the center of her breast.

I hope to get a chance to do a color study tomorrow.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Woodpecker granary

After two days of unrelenting sunshine, today was foggy and cooler. The sky was a pleasant gray, easy on the eyes. I wandered about, not sure what I was in the mood to draw when I heard some Acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus). I found them stuffing acorns into what looked like a million holes in this phone pole. I love the way California buckeye (Aesculus californica)looks when the leaves have dropped and the nuts are still on the trees, looking like rough green Christmas tree ornaments. Well, I pretty much love California buckeye in all it's seasonal forms.

Halfway through the drawing I was attacked by a yellow jacket. This is an ongoing problem for me that started three years ago. They go for my head and, apparently, get tangled in my really short hair. Usually I'm moving and in the woods and it's only one individual coming after me. Usually, since the first attack, I'm wearing a hat. Today I wasn't and got stung many times before I prevailed and a dead yellow jacket fell from my head to the ground. Wow! That hurt. And left me with all of these questions about why yellow jackets would want to dive into my hair at high speed. What's that all about? All I could find out was that they're aggressive, duh, and will go after people who disturb their nest. But I'd been sitting on the same rock for half an hour. I also found out I was lucky because if you murder a yellow jacket they exude some kind of pheromone that alerts the rest of the gang that they've been killed, so they'll come after you with vengeance on their insect brains. I guess my attacker was far from home. Anyway, I'm thinking I won't be forgetting my hat again, anytime soon.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Urban" sketching

I've been following Urban Sketchers and being inspired by all the great sketches of civilization. I decided to try my hand at a more urban setting. Greg and Chloe and I went to Railroad Square in downtown Santa Rosa CA. Our first stop was for fuel at Flying Goat Coffee. Then we walked around while I looked for inspiration. I couldn't find anything I wanted to draw. There were some nice buildings but I wasn't inspired. Then Greg suggested we go over to Prince Memorial Greenway along Santa Rosa Creek. We entered at Olive Street and were amazed by how un-urban looking it's become in the few years since we'd been there before. There's a big hotel behind me and an old city neighborhood behind the trees. Greg and Chloe went exploring while I did a sketch. Well, it is in the middle of downtown so that makes it urban, right?

A bit obsessed

I didn't much like the painting I did Thursday of this earthstar. Today I had more time and better light so I tried again and am a bit happier with the result.

Although it's still humid here the earthstar had closed up quite a bit when I fetched it to draw. The outer covering of an earthstar expands when moisture is present and contracts when it's dry. In the past I've been able to spritz other earthstars I've found during dry times and getting them to open up as though it was raining. This one was mostly uncooperative. It opened up a tiny bit, briefly. It's the first Astraeus pteridis I've had to play with so that might be why. Or it might be because it's younger and hasn't reached full maturity yet.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It lives!!!!

This is the same earthstar (Astraeus pteridis) I drew Saturday. I called it Astraeus hygrometricus but I was wrong. It's 6cm wide and growing, so I think it's more likely to be A. pteridis.

I got clever and put it outside while it rained two days ago and then again today. Late this morning it finally broke open and it stopped raining so I was able to sit outside and draw it. It's not supposed to rain for a while, now. I might try spritzing it to get it to open full out. These fungi are just amazing, I think. It'll open like a star to expose the spore sac (which has already opened) to rain drops, which will fall on the sac and cause the spores to puff out. My favorite part is that it'll push up on the points of the star rays to maximize distribution of the spores. One of my favorite winter sights is an earthstar up on it's tippy toes, trying to send it's spores out into the world.

If you'd like to know more about earthstars check out Tom Volk's article and movie of an earthstar opening up.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Can't seem to stay away

Yesterday it rained like crazy. Apparently, it was the most rain in October in 47 years. It was a wild and wonderful storm. Today, Howarth Park was utterly changed. The moss had all come alive and was greener than green. The red dust that covers everything at the end of summer was gone. I was curious to see how the Laetiporus gilbertsonii fared during the storm. It was pretty soggy on top and covered with moisture droplets below. It's grown 2.7 cm in two days. I did the coloring after I got home, using my new travel watercolor set that's only a bit bigger than my cell phone. I also tried using brushes that come with their own water reservoir but was disappointed because they just kept spitting out water, making it hard to get very strong color. Photoshop helped me add some color when I scanned the image. Do you use those brushes? How do you keep them from diluting your color? They're a great idea, if only I could get them to work. Help me, please!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Back to the fungus

Today I just had to go back and spend some more time with the Laetiporus gilbertsonii that I found yesterday. I went in the early morning and found that it had already grown 1.3cm wider than it was yesterday. I don't think I caught the color well at all. Tomorrow it's supposed to be raining hard but maybe on Wednesday or Thursday I can try again and capture it better.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I love surprises!

I went to Howarth Park in the late afternoon, an unusual time for me. Chloe (the serious looking dog below), my walking buddy went with me, as always. It was a cold, gray day which meant that the trails were empty, allowing me to make believe that it was my own private park. My favorite time to be in the park is winter, partly because there are fewer people around. I like to check up on places I've been before, which is easy in such a smallpark. I went to the tree I drew last Sunday and found a lovely Laetiporus gilbertsonii squishing itself out of a hole in the tree, a black oak (Quercus kelloggii). These usually fruit in late summer or early fall but this year the few that did dried right up in the unseasonable warm weather, so this was a welcome surprise for me. Not so much for Chloe who isn't as big a fan of mushroom season as I am.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

In the neighborhood

Where I live, the first mushrooms appear in civilization, specifically in the parts of town where people still water their lawns every night. As someone who's serious about the environment, I'm not a big fan of this practice. As someone who likes to find mushrooms I admit to some conflict. That said, I found a lovely little troop of Agaricus xanthodermus. Although A. xanthodermus and A. californicus can be found in the same places, I'm pretty sure of my ID because the base of the stipe bruised bright yellow when cut, as did the cap margins. It had a phenolic smell. I wondered what that was during my first year learning to identify mushrooms, then found out that it's the smell of the paste we used when I was a child. David Arora describes it as a terrible smell but it brings back fond memories for me, not the least because I liked the way it tasted as much as I liked the smell.

That brown blob on the right is one of my favorite fungi, an Earthstar (Astraeus hygrometricus), but it's young and hasn't unfurled to it's full glory yet. Or any glory. I found it at the edge of an alley underneath an old Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia). I'm hoping to convince it to open up here in my studio so I can draw it as it does so.

Friday, October 9, 2009

I meant to draw a landscape...

...but, while wandering among the woods, I found a lovely Inonotus hispidus that was at eye level and decided to draw it and use color for a change. Later, I went to where the Acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) hang out and did a few sketches of them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Fruiting fungus party!

This fungus (Inonotus hispidus) is pretty common this time of year at Howarth Park. However, this is the first time I've seen more than one fruiting body per year, per tree. There were several remnants of previous fruitings on this black oak (quercus kelloggii). I frequently walk by this place but never noticed them until today. I walked a bit later than usual and the sky was gray, causing warm colors like this to brighten and stand out. I like the spores covering the bark under and around the fungi.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Drawing moving animals is a lot different from drawing trees and plants. I've been working on it for about a month. I started with California ground squirrels (Spermophilus beecheyi) because they're plentiful and easy to find at Howarth Park. There are some colonies in areas with a lot of human traffic so they're not as shy and will often stand and stare right back at me while I draw, holding perfectly still. Sometimes, they seem to almost get used to me sitting there with binoculars and drawing stuff. Then I get up to leave and my model begins shrieking at me for being such a nuisance.

I've just added Acorn woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) to my repertoire. I found a group of them filling hundreds of pre-drilled holes with acorns, in a dead tree. They work for a while, then take off. Then they come back and work some more.

Drawing through binoculars takes some getting used to and I'm relearning gesture drawing, something I haven't done since I was in college and going to figure drawing classes. Hmmm.

Ah, inking again!

Now that I'm more comfortable going out and sketching I thought I'd experiment with turning one of my sketches into a more developed image. Today it's brush and ink. Here's the sketch I'm working from.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Not so simple

As I learn to draw landscapes, I've stuck to really simple images. I tried to draw this scene a week or so ago and gave up in despair at my inability to get it to work. Yesterday I had some time so I went and worked on it again. Today I went back to finish up the background. I liked it on Sunday and was sure I'd ruined it this morning. But, when I peeked at it a little while ago I thought I hadn't done as badly as I thought. In fact, I'm kind of pleased with it. Yeah, I am.

Friday, October 2, 2009

California Bay Laurel

Although there are many Bay Laurel (Umbellaria californica) trees in Howarth Park, I see very few fruits still on the trees. At this time of year, the ground is strewn with empty husks that the gray squirrels have tossed, carelessly, after having their way with the fruit itself.

More windfall

Another branch that came down in the wind on October 29.