Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Last night, I decided to visit a place that a couple of my writer/editor friends recommended.  Since I seem to be overly verbose, I thought I'd explore a bit about what to do with that.  So I went to the "Open Mic Night" at THE WRITERS PLACE, in Kansas City, Mo.  I got there a couple of hours before the event began, so I could draw the historic building where the writers meet.  As often happens, people wander over to see what I'm drawing.  I had a nice chat with one of the neighbors who told me she had been trying to make herself get back to drawing since she was now "post kids".  That's always fun to encourage others to rediscover "the artist" inside...sketchbooks are a non-threatening place to "play".

Once the writers arrived, they went around the circle, reading poetry (either their own, or some of their favorite writers) .  I did not come prepared to do that, so I just drew the people as they read or listened while others read.  An interesting evening...but I don't think writing poetry is "my thing".  Drawing poets...now that's more like it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

SKETCHBOOK: "Polar Bears at the ZOO"

This is "Day Three" of my weekend of sketching!  It's been like a "stay-cation"...wonderful weather all three days.  This morning I had the misfortune of seeing myself walk by a mirror after getting out of bed.  I thought, "You look like a big ol' polar bear."  DING!  There was the silver lining...that was a perfect catalyst for going to sketch at the zoo today!

I had not really taken a lot of time to enjoy the fairly new polar bear exhibit on my last couple of visits.  The sketch above was my first of the day.  The bear was pacing back and forth, so I had to catch bits of him each time he walked in the direction you see in my drawing.

Below, that bear was pacing in a different area..up to the window, then back to the far corner.  I had just started drawing the bear on a return trip, when it decided to go take a swim.  Dang.  So I figured I'd just keep drawing all the rock structures.
I went inside the building where they have bleachers to watch the bear swimming laps around the pool. Wouldn't you know it...just as I'm about to sketch him as he swam by...he decides to go inside the enclosure where the caves are in the back.  Double Dang.  So I just drew the water view. Eventually he came out for a brief appearance in the far distance.  I put him in the scene...on the left of the center window.  That's the thing about trying to draw animals at the zoo.  They move.
I had not really ventured into the KIDS area in a long time...they have changed a ton of stuff since I was there last.  In a couple of weeks, I hope to take Courtney and my grandson, Jackson, back to the zoo.  This was sort of like a scouting trip.  I could not believe this GIANT TREE for kids to climb up into!!  It was so cool...I would love to see photos of the process of building that thing (I think it was made of concrete).  Below is a photo of it from a different view from where I was sketching.
Guess the weekend is about done now.  It was great to have some quality time with the ol' sketchbook!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

SKETCHBOOK: "Nelson and the Lake"

This weekend has been full of sketching.  Today, I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with several artists from the "Urban Sketchers Midwest" group. This was the largest turnout I've been to so far...about 20 or more folks showed up.  It was great to pass around sketchbooks in the cafe area afterwards, and see what everyone drew.

Since the security guards will only allow pencils to be used inside the museum (no ink pens or liquids), it forced me to break out the 3B.  But I rather enjoyed using the pencil and intend do it more. The sketch above is of an Egyptian bronze of "Horus of Buto".  The terra cotta portrait below is of "Jean-Francois Ducis", sculpted by Augustine Pajou in 1779.
I arrived early to do the sketch below of the sculpture of multiple commuters. It is outside the museum, so I could use ink and washes. The time ran out to go meet up with everyone before I could put details on all of the figures...but I think I like it with just the contour lines for the non-rendered ones.

These other sketches are from an outing to Shawnee Mission Lake yesterday (I took a vacation day to start the weekend early).  I rented a canoe, paddled to a quiet cove, tied up to a branch, and just enjoyed the breeze. I was a bit frustrated because my new sketch pen was clogging on me, and the ink blurred the colors of the watercolor washes. But it was fun, and I'll try this again sometime. I've posted these on Facebook, so apologies if you've seen them already.
I couldn't sleep last night, so I decided to try a self-portrait based on the "selfie" photo I took at the lake.  I haven't done a sketch of myself in a long time, but for some reason, this felt like I was drawing some other character besides me.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

SKETCHBOOK: "More Dino Bones at Prairiefire"

Today, I returned to MUSEUM AT PRAIRIEFIRE and sketched for about 6 hours.  It got up to 95 degrees today, so I enjoyed the cool air inside.  Within the last two months since my first visit to Prairiefire Shopping Center in May, the museum added some new bones to their displays.  And the original entrance fee of $5 is now FREE!
My sketch at the top of this post is one of the new residents...a MOSASAUR.  I had been sketching for a few hours before I drew this one.  I am usually SO tight with the realism, that I wanted to break loose and do some quicker sketches.  I actually like the looser ones the best from today's efforts.  And I even let myself throw on some "splats" for fun.

The next sketch is actually my first of the day.  This is the other new display...the largest known "boney fish" called a XIPHACTINUS.  This one is 13 feet long. This was a challenge to draw, since it is so flat and dark brown...not a lot of detail was easy to see in the low lighting.
A nice "thank you" goes to Debby (Debbie? Debi?), a staff member who was kind enough to snap my photo while I was drawing.  You can see my sketch below, just before I painted it.  This is one of those examples of when I wish that I had left the drawing alone, and not added color.  A tough call sometimes, as I tend to over-work things.
Here's another sketch from across the Great Hall.

Below is a photo of the MOSASAUR on display.  The reflected white walls made this tricky to sketch...details were hard to see even while standing right next to the glass.  But it's cool to be able to get so close these bones in person. (Though, I wouldn't say that if I were swimming with a live one!)
The next drawing is of some relatives of the starfish and sea urchins...these were fossilized CRINOIDS.
These amazing creatures look like something out of the movie "ALIEN".  All of the tentacles made a wonderfully "woven" free-form tapestry.
Next up...I revisited the T-REX display.  This was the second in my series of "quick sketches"...I didn't worry so much about the actual details...just the essence of the shapes.  I used a SHARPIE "poster paint" White Marker for the lighter lines...then added more washes on top.  I want to continue to try to loosen up like this when I go sketching again.
Here's a view of the ribs of the Rex.  You can see a photo of me below where I am tucked away in between the columns by the window.  It got a little chilly sitting over the AC vents...call it "suffering for my art".  :)

And just like last visit, I couldn't resist having some fun in front of the "Dino-tron", like any big kid should.  Here I'm about to be eaten by a T-Rex...then was wing-slapped in the face by a fire-breathing Dragon...had my foot stepped on by a Velociraptor...and finally...completely soaked by a splashing Mosasaur!!  A very nice day, indeed!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

GARDEN ART - "Birdbath #1"

After working on my last project ("The Hummin' Bird Cafe"), I was still in the mood to continue with the Gardening Theme.  This time...I made a BIRD BATH!  As many of my creations go, I am not quite sure that an idea will work in the "real world". But the fun is in the experimenting!

I went back to a tried and true process though...making "Hypertufa".  I've made pots and planters from this material years ago, so I knew what to expect there.  But the use of wooden branches for the supports to my bird bath falls into the "risky" category.  But nothing ventured nothing gained!

You may have never heard of the term "hypertufa" before.  It is a mixture of Portland Cement (the fine powder...no rocks in it...most hardware stores carry it), Vermiculite (a soil enhancer from the garden center) and Spagnum (or Peat Moss...also from most garden centers).  When this concrete mixture dries, it has the look of old, weathered rock.  And it is 2/3rds lighter than a solid concrete piece.
I started with the "bowl" of the bath first (see above).  I mixed 1/3 of each material into a cat litter box (a new one!) I added enough water so that the mixture is like the consistency of thick wet oatmeal.  If done correctly, you should be able to make a golf-ball sized blob that holds it's shape.

I had taken a couple of classes, and the recommended approach was to build up the shapes with the "golf balls" instead of just big sloppy handfuls of material.  I sprayed it with PAM cooking spray first, to act as a release agent. I was applying the hypertufa mix to an upside-down plastic serving tray. Bit by bit, I covered the tray, so it looked like a giant cow pie.  I let it dry for 24-48 hours...and viola!  A bird bath bowl!

Next I roughed up the surface with a wire brush.  To make the bowl more water-proof, I rubbed in a light layer of Portland Cement, misting it with water, until it blended and made a smooth surface.  I didn't like the results, so I made up a very wet mix of cement to put on top.  But I got it too wet.  So...making lemonade from lemons...I just got a brush and made a swirl pattern in the bowl.  I was working on a "lazy susan", and could turn it like a potter's wheel.
Once the bowl was good and dry, I started on the base.  I had been saving some limbs to use with my birdhouse project.  I picked the thickest branch as my main support.  I drilled a hole in the base, and bolted on a wooden disk.
I then had to cut the angles on the branches to hold the bowl.  Then I cut smaller branches to give more support, and attached them to the larger branch with wood screws and wood glue.  The branches have a long wood screw attaching them to the wooden disk, too.

Now for the very bottom of the base...the "stump".  I had to do a bit of research about sculpting in concrete.  Most of the articles recommended using steel rebar for the inside of a concrete structure.  I have never worked with it, and don't have the heavy duty tools for cutting and welding it.  I am using steel wire mesh to make an under-structure that I would add to later. I added a bit of CEMENT with SAND mixture to the wiring, and let it dry for a day.  Notice the pieces of PVC pipe...that is for the drain holes to my "planter".
Next, I cut the wire into "pie-like" wedges, but didn't cut all the way to the middle.  Like adding icing to a layer cake, I smoothed on more cement, then set the wooden disk onto the "icing".  I then began to fold over the wire mesh and stapled it to the wood.  I would trim off excess wire, and soon made a "fence" of mesh.
Then I made a thicker batch of cement and sand.  I applied the first ring of cement to the "fence", then used a trowel to smooth on the cement.  Eventually...I had put "icing" over the whole "cake".
 After the base had dried for a day...I made up more "hypertufa".  I then sculpted "roots" and covered the whole base, building the walls higher, and forming a "stump".  I had replaced the PVC pipe pieces with longer dowels to protect the drain holes.  Then I let THAT all dry for a couple of days.
Once all the pieces where complete, I gave everything a couple of coats of "Water Sealant" to help it last longer in the rains and to make the bath more water-tight.  The hypertufa is very porous, so the water would just seep out in a few of days.  I may have made an error with the bowl.  When I had made the "swirl" in the surface, I probably did not let it dry completely enough, before I painted on the sealant!!  There looks like moisture trapped in the surface, and it discolors the cement.  Perhaps, over time, that will dry out to a more even gray color.  Oh well...live and learn.
And here is the finished bird bath!  I went to the garden center this morning to add the final touch of flowers in the base.  Hopefully the birds will figure out that this new amenity is available.