The Art of Observation
March Mantra: Embrace My Inner Badass
After working on Coastal last fall, which was inspired by site-based watercolor sketches from sunny, breezy, and cool summer days on the Oregon Coast, I realized how much the real-time experience of sketching and painting in the changing weather, winds, light and topography of a location impacts how I feel about it and how I paint it back at the studio. The Coastal works have a watery and windy look to them, with oil stick over some turpy base layer on paper. I love oil painting, and I enjoy mixing it up a bit with oil stick, pastels, or inks depending on the specific series. I'm ready to work in the forest again though, and needed time for reflecting and exploring, to see what might emerge next. To create that space, without pressure for results and “finished work", was important, so I decided to create a different approach to my “studio practice”, and fashioned my own “mini retreat” in home territory.
So in the first week of February, I decided to start with what was close at hand – the nearest large wooded area to me is Golden Gardens. It’s also one of my favorite parks in Seattle. I go there often, particularly in the summer. Armed with my new plein air kit thanks to a great vintage canvas shoulder bag score from Lander Street Vintage, I was ready to get outside to kickstart whatever artistic endeavor was coming next.
I devised an experiment: Each morning for 1 work week, I went down to the wetland pond at Golden Gardens, took photos and sketched in 2 wetland spots, did a short 3-5 minute meditation, took a walk. I was uncertain I’d see much variation in a dark, cloudy January week, but at least I’d be outside, in the fresh air, with the sound of the waves, the smell of damp earth. I’d take forest therapy’s guidance to engage all five senses to heart, while enjoying time in a natural and beautiful place.
Listening was the dominant sense of this morning! I heard the tapping of the woodpecker and went looking for it. Very much in luck, he was just ten feet off the trail on a dead stump, making a racket as he searched for breakfast. It was a pileated woodpecker with a large red crown. I just stood and watched for a few minutes. I found a little log by the wetland area to sit, and breathe deeply, observe the reflected branches in the still water.
A surprise blue sky day, the white clouds reflected in the pond. Sunshine on my face for the first time in several days. That’s always something to celebrated in a NW winter.
As soon as I arrived, I could hear the barking of what sounded like a sea lion party at the north end of the beach. Once on the sand, I spotted them lounging in a living flotilla about 30 feet off shore, having their morning conversation. It was also a gray day, but there was just a sliver of blue sky over the Olympic Mountains, and the golden orange light rising over the hill behind me turned the snow into sherbert.
The gray trend continued, with a sprinkle. As the rain drops fell onto the pond, the rings flow outward and disperse or merge depending on how hard it rains. Very mesmerizing. Can definitely get lost in the rhythm of ripples.
I'd planned to not just sketch but also paint on the Friday. The wind was so strong though that I was pretty sure my easel would topple. And it was really cold, so even with fingerless gloves I wasn't keen to try to paint. So I did a few quick sketches, and made a plan to come back the next week.
The little pond at the north end of the park is a great spot for bird watching, complete with a little log off on a side trail, just right for meditation or talking to the ducks. After spending a week pondering the reflections, I noticed how the crisp reflections became more muted and impressionistic on rainy and windy days. There is also quite a bit of variation even on gray days - from a dark gray dome with a sliver of blue hills beyond to soft and wispy gray clouds with peeks of a sherbert sunrise.
The variation in the reflections are more pronounced at the more open portion of the pond. From the rippled mirrored view made by a light breeze to the crisp mirrored surface on a calm blue-sky day, the daily weather changes caused subtle variations. I noticed this during sketching; one day drawing reflected branches, the next a big scribble for a rippled tree "shape". This became even more apparent upon review of the photographs.
I found my time in the studio after each morning's outing was more productive, and overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much changed from day to day in just one week. I look forward to coming back at least monthly to watch the seasons change, and do more sketching and painting.