Barbara A. Lewis - Artist/Naturalist

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Building Courage

Posted on February 18, 2015 at 12:30 AM

To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.

~ Georgia O'Keeffe

  I always try and find an interesting quote to start each of my blogs, but this one by Georgia O’Keeffe fits my goals and dreams for 2015 and the growth I am working to achieve as an artist this year. I greatly admire Georgia and artists like her who found their voice and were not afraid to create with their own style and passion without succumbing to the pressures of the market and what was expected of them. I have always had a passion to create and particularly to teach or tell a story with my art - with wildlife as my main focus, I want to teach not only about the subject, but where it lives and hopefully encourage preservation of that animal and its habitat. I am planning on doing much more of that this year!

  I had an insatiable curiosity about nature as a child and would spend hours playing in the field behind our home, picking flowers, playing with bugs, collecting rocks and sticks, bits of moss or leaves. I wanted to know all about nature - nothing has changed - Inside, I am still that little girl who loved to climb trees and scrape my knees climbing around underneath brush and briars to get a glimpse of a critter. The only difference now is that I have bad knees and rely on my digital camera to "peek" underneath the brush and zoom in on what is up in the trees. I still enjoy spending hours in the field observing and hiking around and the ever-growing collection of rocks, seashells and sticks in my studio is testimony that I am an avid collector of nature treasures! I have organized these so that they can become subjects for study and to include them in my art more.

  I paint and draw what I love and since I have the luxury of working a full time job as a graphic artist, I can devote my free time to my fine art without worrying about selling paintings to make a living. I am hoping to someday support myself fully with my art, but for now that is a long way off and I am in a position to explore techniques, study and observe nature and create a decent portfolio of works. To that end, I have changed the way I approach my weekends and set aside time for painting and drawing and set limits on how much time I spend putzing around on social media, etc. I have also limited how much time I can devote to local art groups and chose only two to participate in for 2015. I was running myself ragged working not only full time with overtime hours, but trying to be on boards and do newsletters, etc. and my free time was being taken up with these activities, which left little time to paint or draw. Budgeting time and organizing my studio into a working studio was two of the hardest and more challenging things I have done so far this year!

  So with Georgia's quote in mind, I am working hard to establish my place in art and it does indeed take courage - as artists, we put part of ourselves into each piece we create and when that goes out for public display, we are risking rejection or acceptance. I gave up showing my art for nearly 2 decades after college, feeling I was not good enough and not taking the time to create. I try every chance I get to encourage beginning artists to focus on learning proper techniques, study their subjects, learn their media, and follow their heart and passion, not just "paint for the market".

  I am just now getting brave enough to enter larger shows, and thankfully I have had good responses to my work. I was thrilled to be accepted into the 40th International Miniature show again this year for MASF, and to have my work accepted into the Possibilities in Pastel Exhibition currently on display at Stirling Studios and Gallery in Dunedin. But it took a lot of courage and encouragement to take those first steps and believe in myself and my talent. I can't wait to see where it takes me going forward, and I hope that I can encourage other artists along the way!

  CURRENTLY IN THE STUDIO: I am working on an oil miniature for a dear friend in Tokyo and then starting some entries for an upcoming miniature show in April. I am also continuing to work on two scratchboard pieces, and doing graphite studies. I attended a beautiful Native American Festival with Dave last weekend and took several reference photos of the dancers - I will be doing a portrait of one of them and will be posting step-by-step images on my blog, so stay tuned.

My pastel entry for the Possibilities in Pastel IV Exhibition - "Lipizzan Fire" hangs in good company with some of the finest works in this gorgeous show. Over 90 entries!! (Photo courtesy of Barbara Archer)

A group of friends surprised me at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art during the 40th International Miniature Art Show - Dave and I enjoyed seeing them as well as meeting other artists at the artists reception and seeing over 600 works from 10 countries and 33 states - great show, great friends!

Shown: My miniature graphite "Scottish Reflections" and "Peppercreek Swan" were on display in Showcase 25 during the show.

My cat who does double duty as my home office assistant and art critic - loves sleeping on top of my flat file where some of my collection is on display:



Time To Climb A Mountain

Posted on January 3, 2015 at 1:35 AM

"You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain."

~ Tom Hiddleston

  Wow! It's another new year! Time to reflect on the old year, make plans for the new one - notice I did not say make resolutions. I stopped making those a few years back when I never seemed to get them all accomplished! Now I make "plans" for the new year and as you know, plans can change! All kidding aside, I started purging things in 2014 - saying goodbye to things I did not need in both my home and life - negative things and people that were inhibiting my goals, organizing and making sense of the things that were cluttering up my life. After being sick with a dreadful flu most of December 2014, followed by weeks of bronchitis and facing a new health concern, I realized that I had been dealing with way too much stress and it was robbing me of my joy and health. Change is never easy, but both Dave and I started tackling the things that were dragging us down and have a solid plan in place to make 2015 a great year financially, physically and spiritually better. Like Tim said in the above quote - we never know what is around the corner, but we will put one foot in front of the other and keep climbing that mountain!

  One of the first things we tackled was getting a grip on a timeline to complete our home repair/improvement projects. We have several remodeling projects started in our house and were both getting tired of tripping and sidestepping over clutter/tools, etc. So we are taking on one room at a time and COMPLETING the project before moving on to the next one. We actually managed to get our entryway and front living room decorated for the holidays. After spending holidays away from home for the last several years, it was nice to sit by our fireplace and enjoy the decorations and just being home for a change.

  I managed to get rid of a lot of old papers and files that were sitting around in totes and reorganize our filing system where it makes sense. It was amazing how much paper clutter that had accumulated in boxes and totes. Whew! Now everything that comes into our home is immediately addressed and taken care of. No more paper clutter!! Next we will be tackling finishing up our master bathroom. We are tired of huddling over the single sink in the other bathroom - time to get back to our larger, double sink master bathroom! Most of what it needs is elbow grease and effort - the largest expense will be putting in a new shower/tub combination. We kept trying to work with the old one, but it is too dated and worn out. I joked with my husband that we could pretend we are house flippers on our own home - keeping cost down, but modernizing and getting it ready for the market!

  My personal "mountain" to climb this year is to focus on getting healthy. The recent health concern is a wake up call that I need to get fit and remove alot of the stressors from my life. Already I can see a big difference and plan to continue my progress this year.

  Other changes that I have made is to not to take on too many things outside my regular full time graphic design job and free up more time for my studio art work. I have very specific goals for growth in my art this year and look forward to taking the steps to achieve them. Now that my studio is more organized, this will make it a lot easier. I now know where everything is and can work more comfortably. Among those studio goals will be to keep up with my blog and website better. I will be posting up news and photos of my latest works and shows and hope to inspire other artists this year.

  Some awesome things are happening first part of the year. I had two pieces accepted into the 40th Miniature Art Society of Florida show taking place at the Leepa Rattner in Tarpon Springs Florida. The show will be on exhibit from January 15 - February 15. I am looking forward to meeting other miniature artists at the artists reception. I have been inspired and encouraged by so many of them! I am continuing to take lessons from Annie Dwyer  who will be demonstrating miniature painting techniques during the show - Annie also has pieces in the show and her work is fantastic! My good friend Jean Kerrigan also got her first entry accepted into the show this year - so happy for her!! I remember last year when my first ever miniature was accepted into the show and how thrilled I was - the show is not easy to get juried into - there are over 800 entries on average from around the world and some amazing works! I consider it a privilege to be in the show and feel humbled when I look at the incredible works from other artists!

  I am also getting more involved in the Pastel Society of Tampa Bay - an awesome group of pastelists who I have learned so much from! Their regional show "Possibilities in Pastel" takes place in February and I am looking forward to entering that show as well. They also do a lot of plein air work which I have not had much experience with - I mostly work in my studio. So for Christmas, my wonderful husband gave me an entire plein air pastel setup - folding chair that doubles as a backpack on wheels, new field easel and pastel box, a set of high-quality pastels, and two wonderful reference books on pastels by Maggie Price and Richard McKinley. I am so blessed to have a husband who encourages me in my art endeavors and supports my artistic dreams!

  I am off to a great start for 2015!  I will report my progress as I go - and I think that this time next year I will be able to look back and see that I have indeed climbed a mountain and the view is fantastic!!

Master Artist Mike Sibley - thank you!!

Posted on July 15, 2014 at 1:00 PM

"I firmly believe that you cannot successfully draw what you do not understand, so all
opportunities to sketch from life, or even from photographs, are always worthwhile."

~ Mike Sibley



  I just completed Mike Sibley's "Drawing from Line to Life" workshop held at our local art society and I was absolutely thrilled to learn from such an incredible master graphite artist! Mike and his lovely wife Jenny came over from the UK to present an amazing three day course with hands on, one-on-one instructions and demonstrations and wonderful drawing exercises, culminating in a complete composition using multiple references on the third day. Not only that, but I was introduced to some new materials only found in the UK that worked beautifully. So much so that I will be bidding my favorite kneaded eraser good-bye in favor of Blu Tack. The workshop was so much fun that I was sad when it ended, but came away with quite a bit of newfound knowledge about graphite and cannot wait to draw - those previously blank sketch books are in peril now of being filled!

  Being a largely self taught artist as a child, I was always sketching horses and other animals in the margins of my school notebooks with my trusty old yellow wood encased Dixon pencils. It was not until my mama bought me a drawing kit from Joh Gnagy in fourth grade that I even realized that there were different grades of pencils and even then, I would avoid harder lead pencils because they did not go dark enough for shading. I favored charcoal over graphite for this reason and only used pencils to sketch. I turned to pastel pencils in high school and college and colored pencils for sketching. I used clutch lead holders in college to mockup design sketches, but it wasn't until I started studying graphite works by artists like Mike Sibley, Alan Woolett, Ryan Jacques, and others that I wanted to know more about graphite techniques.

  One of my friends at our local art society, Terri Mills, had taken one of Mike Sibley's drawing workshops last year in Hickory, N.C. and when she brought back some of her materials and showed me his book and prints I was totally fascinated by his work. She arranged with Mike for our local art society to host his workshop and I immediately signed up and ordered his book, "Drawing from Line to Life". Mike and his wife flew over from the UK to three different workshops - one in Toronto, Canada, Eu Claire, WI and then to Clearwater for our workshop. What an incredible experience!! I learned so much in three days - and Mike immediately put us to work with hands on, individual instruction, and each day was fun and exciting!! In addition, I met some wonderful friends who also attended from as far away as Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and several from our area.

  Mike's course exercises are fun to do and each day we worked on various methods and techniques for shading, negative space drawing, perspective and composition utilizing multiple references. He provided us with everything we needed for the course - Staedler drawing pencils in various grades, sharpener, Mellotex drawing paper and my Blu Tack for erasing. The mellotex paper is super white and an incredibly strong paper - it can be subjected to a lot of pressure and erasing without tearing. It is only available in the UK, but well worth the cost. It can be ordered directly from Mike - I have his link added under links. He also introduced us to Blu Tack - which is actually a poster putty, but much more versatile than kneaded eraser. It picks up graphite but does not lay it back down, so no smearing. It is also very useful for doing highlighting techniques which Mike demonstrated. I have news for my trusty old kneaded erasers - they will be sculpted into tiny gray elephants and blu tack will be their replacement as my primary eraser from now on!!

One of the joys was seeing Mike's gorgeous art which he also had on display. I could only get one print and it was a very hard choice. But I chose a print of his Gordon Setter to adorn my studio wall - they were all beautiful and seeing them in person is the way to go - I told Mike that photographs do not do them justice. These dogs are so full of life that you expect them to give you a puppy kiss and a bark! On a side note, our good friend Jack, the owner of Roe's Deli in our building who had provided us two days of delicious lunches, brought his darling little dogs by for a quick visit - it was obvious seeing Mike with them how much he adores dogs and he promptly got a puppy kiss from one of them. Mike and Jenny joked with him that if he did not see them end of the day that they would be on a flight to England!

Overall, it was an absolutely delightful experience and I want to thank Mike and Jenny from my heart for their well organized, fun-filled workshop! It was wonderful to spend time with them and I look forward to seeing them again in the future. Besides, I promised Jenny I would come see her darling miniature donkeys so we will be saving up for a trip to the UK soon! Cheers!!

Jenny, Mike and I:

My third day composition in progress:

Mike receiving puppy kisses:

Mike's beautiful Gordon Setter:

Ready, Set, DRAW!

Posted on July 10, 2014 at 11:15 AM

"I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen"

Frederick Franck (1909 - 2006) Dutch American sculptor

I love adding a quote to each of my blogs - its a jumpstart to my thoughts on what subject I will be writing about - in this case, drawing. I think Frederick Franck sums it up so well - you can take photos of a subject, but time spent is fleeting - quick snapshot or two and off you go, but in taking the time to slow down and really look at it and sketch it, you are learning more about it. I discovered recently while teaching an introductory course on nature journaling/sketchbooks just how many blank pages are in sketchbooks that are lying about my studio, and feeling ashamed that I had neglected them for so long. While I was encouraging my students to sketch each day, I also made a vow to pick up a pencil and get busy and not wait for that perfect time allotment to do some drawing. To that end, I have enrolled in Mike Sibley's Drawing workshop to be held this coming weekend over three days at our local art society - Mike is from England and a world reknowned artist specializing in graphite. I have my pencils and enthusiasm all set to go!

Drawing is basic to all art - I know painters who can paint beautifully, but there is something lacking in their works - poor perspective, scaling of objects, working from multiple references without considering light sources - the list goes on. And while being adept with a paintbrush, some of them had never had any training in basic drawing. Hence, my efforts to introduce my students to two of my favorite subjects - nature and drawing. It is in sketching and drawing that we really learn about our subject - while I enjoy taking lots of reference photos - it is the time spent with the subject, preferably in their world, that teaches me the most about them. And when you know your subject very well, you can do your best work with it.

Such is the case with Franklin, the great horned owl. After suffering a serious wing injury, he was placed at McGough Nature Park and deemed unreleasable and is a permanent resident along with other birds of prey. On one of my first visits to the park, wildlife specialist Kyle brought Franklin out on a glove and I asked if I could take some photos of Franklin - he is a handsome owl and is one of the birds used for education about raptors. One look through my lens at his gorgeous eyes and I was anxious to learn more about him and the other raptors there. That is what led me to book their classroom so that Franklin could be the star of my nature study/sketch class. I then donated all my fees that day to the care of the resident raptors at the park. It takes a lot of care and food to house raptors, so I was glad to help out and will do more in the coming months. 

A lot of my students have not had the opportunity to draw an owl from life and after starting with sketching taxidermy specimens and walking around the park sketching flora and fauna and turtles, wildlife specialist Peggy brought Franklin into our classroom for some study sketches. A lot more challenging than drawing from photographs as he turned and kept looking about the room - I think most of my students were so totally fascinated with watching him and listening to Peggy's talk about raptors that they forgot to sketch - but the main purpose was to encourage my students to look at him and really "see" him - all the subtle colors of his feathers, his gorgeous eyes, his expressions, and Franklin actually thanked us with a soft "Hoot, hoot!" when he took his leave from the perch at the end of the session. 

It is that "learning to see" that is the joy of drawing. Since sketching more each day, I am seeing a lot more depth and colors and bringing more emotion to my drawings. I had recently taken photographs of the performing lippizans from Hermann's Royal Lippizans at a recent event, but one stallion in particular took my breath away - he is a younger stallion and still showing grey in his mane, but is the kind of horse that as a little girl, I dreamed of and would always draw my horses with huge flowing manes and tails. This stallion came into the arena and made my heart leap with joy with his energy and fire. He tossed that gorgeous mane and while performing his "airs above the ground" did not realize that he took my heart with him. While viewing my numerous reference photos I could not decide which one to do, or in what media. I finally settled on portraying him in pastels on Mi-Tientes archival board. But had I not witnessed the event live and met this stallion or seen his mane, would my drawing of him been as rewarding? Maybe technically as I feel I know pastels fairly well, but the spirit and fire was what I set out to capture of this magnificent animal and it is in spending time with my subjects that teaches me not what they are, but "who" they are.

In summary, my main point is this: drawing is one of the most rewarding and intimate contacts when first beginning to study a subject. It is in observing and drawing that we really take the time to look at them, listen to them, spend time in their environment, watch their movements and "capture" them in our emotions and hearts. I will not ever paint or draw something just for the heck of it. But I choose subjects that I have a connection with, and a passion for. NOTE: It is from meeting Franklin that I am now involved with the Friends of the Largo Nature Parks and donating my time and art abilities to help them promote and care for these injured birds. I will be adding a link to their website under links. Lastly, I would encourage parents also to get their kids out in nature as much as possible - you can view butterflies all day on computers, but being out with them among the trees is the best way to learn about them. We are fortunate here to have so many natural areas and gorgeous parks like McGough Nature Park to explore and enjoy. It is never too early or too late to start sketching, observing and learning more about our environment.

Here are the portraits I created of "Franklin the Great Horned Owl" (work in progress pic) and "Lippizan Fire" currently hanging in the PPAS Drawing show in Pinellas Park, FL. I am pleased to announce that "Lippizan Fire" placed second and also received the People's Choice awards in the show.

Think Positive

Posted on June 14, 2014 at 2:25 AM

All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart,
which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.

~ Maya Angelou

We lost a great poet and author recently when Maya Angelou passed away. Her words and thoughts have always inspired me, so I thought I would quote her regarding artists - no one summed it up better than Maya. We do all draw from the same resource, and in my ever-widening circle of creatively gifted friends I am amazed that we are indeed more alike than unalike. In creating art, music, poetry - whatever creative endeavor you pursue, you will put your whole heart and being into it. We were born to create! But even the greatest artists had periods of non-productive time - questioning their talent and skill level. I recently went through a major slump and it just made me stronger and more resolved to pursue my artistic goals.

I began with a total organization of my little studio - because of its size (former guest bedroom) I really had no choice if I were to comfortably work in it. The catylist? I had joined a local art society a few years back and thought I would get work done there on the weekends, but after lugging all my art supplies back and forth every Saturday and spending all day there, I realized that was not a solution, but a postponement. I made a lot of good friends and enjoyed the socialization, but I mostly ended up just sketching or chatting and sipping coffee and not working on larger projects.

So after some deep soul-searching and goal setting, I decided that my time spent there would have to diminish in order to produce more work on a steady basis and reach my goals for growth and improvement. After all, I work a full time job with overtime during the week and my weekends are my time to do fine art and get out into nature with my husband and explore our local habitats and most important of all - get some much needed exercise! So I have been working very hard at clearing the clutter, organizing books, supplies, furniture, etc. to devote more time to Wildhawk Studio and it is starting to come together. It actually looks and feels like a studio now - and in addition, my full time job as a graphic designer allows me to work at home too so I spend ALOT of time in my office/studio space! Even more reason for it to be as comfortable as possible!

One of my goals for 2014 was to take another masterclass workshop - I had thoroughly enjoyed attending John and Suzie Seerey-Lester's masterclass in 2012 and it was life changing for me. I started to look at my goals and art in a new light, and began to realize my potential as a wildlife artist. So this year I enrolled in an upcoming workshop that is being hosted at our local art society - this time with UK artist Mike Sibley and his "Drawing from Line to Life" 3 day workshop. Mike is a master graphite artist and known all over the world for his tightly detailed realistic drawings. We were very fortunate to have him here in Clearwater and the workshop is nearly full. My pencils and drawing table are ready to roll and I am so excited!

I am also teaching my next "Nature Sketching" installment in August. I taught an introductory class in March at a beautiful local park, McGough Nature Park, utilizing their lovely taxidermy and nature specimens and then sent my students out into the park to draw from life. When we regrouped in the classroom, a gorgeous Great Horned Owl named Franklin was brought in, and while Ranger Peggy gave a talk about raptors, my students were sketching the owl. The best part? I donated the entire fees from my class to the birds of prey program at the park and each of my students received a sketchbook from me that a portion of the proceeds of the sale of those sketchbooks also went to conservation! This next installment will be taught at our local art society and we will be looking deeper into nature study - with examining and drawing specimens - each student will receive a nature goody bag of items to take home and we will follow it up with a field trip to another nature park in the area - Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park which has a great variety of subjects to draw from life ranging from manatees to red wolves.

This year will be busy, but more productive and I am looking forward to working in my little studio environment as well as the great outdoors - the best classroom of all!

New Year, Renewed Faith

Posted on January 18, 2014 at 12:40 AM

Psalms 30:5: Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Unfortunately, my life froze after my nephew Adam's death in May 2011. Going through the up and downs of the grieving process has taken its toll on me and my husband and our family, but I remember the last words that my precious nephew said to me were: “Aunt Barb, I always said you were the most talented person in our family and I love you”. I had hugged him goodby during a Christmas vacation trip to Virginia in 2010, and was devastated a few months later when he was killed in a truck accident the end of May 2011. I continued to pour myself into my work as a graphic artist and dabble at my fine art, but my heart was not in it and so I put my website blogs on hold while we worked through the painful grieving process. I have always turned to my faith and being in nature to heal and with lots of support from friends and family, I starting taking an interest in my art and music again.

So tonight I decided it was time to begin writing again on my blog. So much has happened in the last year and a half that it would take more than this blog to catch up, so I will just put a few thoughts here and make a vow to continue to write about my work and love of nature that inspires my paintings. I will also be making some changes to my website, focusing more on my drawings and paintings, a little less on my photography. After all, my photographs are mainly for my own use as references and not professional quality. I just get a kick out of observing my subjects in the field and trying to record them with my photographs for later use in the studio.

I am still teaching Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced scratchboard at my local art society - the Pinellas Park Art Society in Pinellas Park, FL. And I will be teaching a Nature Journaling Workshop later in the year as part of our drawing workshop series. I also serve as trustee of that organization and I am editor and graphic designer for their newsletter, the Paintrag. I also continue to show my work there as well in the monthly shows.

Each year since I started Wildhawk Studio, I have tried to set goals for creating better art, learning new techniques, etc. In 2011, I was thrilled to be able to attend John and Suzie Seerey-Lester’s Masterclass in Venice, FL. They are my heroes!! I learned so much from
them - they are incredible artists and wonderful friends!

This year I will be taking part in British Master Graphite Artist Mike Sibley’s drawing workshop hosted by our own local art society - I am so excited about meeting Mike and learning his techniques. He is one of the best graphite artists I have seen and it will be a fun and exciting three day workshop. One of my good friends, Terri Mills, took his workshop last year in Hickory, NC and after she shared some of her experiences, I had to take part in one too!

Also this year I finally started taking lessons in miniature oil painting. Fortunately for me, we have an excellent artist and teacher at our local art society, Annie Dwyer, and I eagerly signed up for her weekly classes. I have only painted 3 miniatures so far as they are quite time consuming, but I love working in oils again. I use the WN Griffin Alkyds and after encouragement from my teacher, I went out on a limb and entered my first and second miniature paintings in the 39th International Miniature Show held annually in Dunedin, FL and hosted by the Miniature Art Society of Florida. WOW! my first ever miniature painting, “Wood Duck Reflections” was accepted into the show!! This show attracts artists from all over the world, and over 1200 pieces are juried and only 800 of these tiny treasures are accepted to be in the show. I am honored to among such awesome talent in this prestigious show!

The show opens this weekend and runs from January 19 - Feb. 9 at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, Dunedin, FL. Hope to see you there!!

Masterclass with John and Suzie Seerey-Lester

Posted on August 7, 2012 at 12:20 AM

Accomplished artists are those who have proved themselves to be the best at what they do. 'Master' is the title often given to such a person, and rightly so: They've established themselves as worthy of the title through many years of study, and devotion of their lives to their craft. ~ Daniel J. Keys

I have a list of who's who among wildlife artists - people I have greatly admired and studied throughout the years and hoped someday to meet in person. Much to my delight, I was able to do just that at the Plainsmen Gallery in Clearwater, Fl at their 13th annual Wildlife and Western Visions Art Show held April 27th and 28th. Not only did I enjoy seeing their original works, but met quite a few of these great artists - among them, Matthew Hillier, Julia Rogers, Charles Rowe, Travor Swanson and John and Suzie Seerey-Lester.

I have been a long-time admirer of John Seerey-Lester in particular, and enjoyed meeting him and his beautiful wife Suzie - also an incredible artist. I picked up a copy of John's latest book, "Legends of the Hunt" and Suzie's must have book for artists "My Painting is Done, Now What Do I Do?". John and Suzie graciously autographed my purchases, and we had a nice chat before the quick draw began. I asked if John was going to have any workshops coming up and they told me about a masterclass for the summer at their Studio B in Venice, Fl. So of course I rushed straight home and asked my husband if we could go and he was all for it as he knows not only how much I admire John and Suzie's art, but that it would be a great opportunity for me to learn from a master.

So with paints and supplies carefully tucked into a new guerilla paint box (a gift from a friend!), we headed to Venice in July for a four-day masterclass with John and Suzie. I was a little nervous I must admit, but as soon as we opened the door to Studio B and my husband Dave saw a table with wildlife specimens and fresh coffee brewing he joked, "Honey you are going to fit right in!" He knows how I get into nature in my own studio and often have specimens in jars and bits of bone, sea shells, tree branches, etc. lying about.

John, Suzie and Penny gave us a very warm welcome and we settled in for four fabulous, fun and exciting days of learning - John worked in acrylics and oils and showed us various techiques in painting, discussing colors, mixing and his palette. He showed us how he observes wildlife in the field and shared his wildlife field sketchbooks with us - but best of all - he shared his stories of time spent in the bush - with wildlife in various places throughout the world. Direct observation of animals in their native habitat is so important to a wildlife artist - and John has spent many years doing just that - and his passion for wildlife and conservation shows in everything he paints. Each day, he began a new painting - taking us step by step through his process: we learned about weathering techniques, background techniques, brushes and paint techniques, etc. In addition, each of us received a critique of our work - we gained valuable insight about composition, perspective and where to improve.

Alongwith seeing John creating amazing paintings each day, Suzie introduced us to the business aspects of art - we got to meet an expert in giclee printing, an agent that handles licensing, how to frame our art, how to ship and package for shows, organizing and keeping inventory, etc. Suzie's book is definately a must have for artists - I am looking forward to her next one!

On the fourth day, we all got to paint - utilizing what John had taught us. I recently switched from traditional oils to water-soluble oils, so I had quite a challenge with my piece. But it was fun seeing what everyone came up with. John and Suzie offered one-on-one instruction and guidance and I felt especially grateful for their expert advice. By the end of the class, I had taken numerous pages of notes, received encouragement, expert advice and knowledge on what direction to go with my art, and met some of the nicest and most talented artists in the world.

Thank you John and Suzie for sharing so much with us - but especially for your encouragement -  you are the best!!

John at the easel:

Grizzly bear with snow - acrylics:

My painting:

Simply Fun!

Posted on February 26, 2012 at 3:40 AM

Like a great poet, Nature knows how to produce the greatest effects with the most limited means.

Heinrich Heine

As a multi-media artist, I enjoy working with a variety of materials - from pastels to paint and everything in between. I love to explore new materials as well and enjoy getting a sneak peak when my art supply catalogues arrive in the mail or online. When the Ampersand company featured their pastelbords, I could not wait to try them out - so I promptly ordered a variety pack of different colors. I enjoyed working on the pastelbords so much that I also ordered a board called Claybord Black - it was developed especially for scratchboard and featured an archival hardboard coated with a thin layer of kaolin white clay and then topped with a black ink layer. 

I had not produced a scratchboard etching since high school - and back then we had to make our own with India ink and our scratch knives would often scrape all the way through the paper backing and ruin the work. So I was excited about scraping this new product, but apprehensive at the same time. What I discovered was not only a surface that could take pressure from the scratch knife, but produced gorgeous effects and was a lot easier to carve, and I was hooked!

While the materials are simple; scratchboard, knives and other specialty tools to scrape the surface; it is still a demanding medium and requires skill, knowledge of the subject and lots of time and patience. A small work can be completed in just a few hours, but some of the larger ones require hundreds of hours. The boards can be left black and white or hand-colored using a variety of materials. The end results are astonishing with their details.

Wanting to share my love of scratchboard, I began teaching scratchboard at my local art society and inspiring other artists to try out the medium - with amazing results! Our next show at the Pinellas Park Art Society is a Teacher/Student exhibition and I am looking forward to seeing my workshop students showing their work - their pieces are absolutely amazing and I am so proud of them! I am looking forward to teaching my next workshop on Saturday, March 10th and periodically throughout this coming year. If you live in the Pinellas County, FL area, please contact me for more info on upcoming workshops. Happy Scratching!

I am thrilled to report that one of my workshop students, Suzanne Gentry, took first place at the show with her excellent portrait of "Sienna" - way to go Suzanne!

Finding Beauty

Posted on February 15, 2012 at 6:40 AM

If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere. 

~ Vincent Van Gogh

I not only work as a wildlife artist in my home studio, but have a full time graphic design job as well. Unfortunately, my graphic design job requires that I sit 8 to 10 hours a day in front of a computer, with two 15 minute breaks and a half hour lunch. By the time I get home, prepare supper and see my husband off to work, the sun is getting too low to go for a walk. So starting this week I have been taking my breaks outside and taking my lunch time and going for a walk around our building. This has led to some interesting nature encounters (and health benefits!), so the other day I took my camera with me to work and began looking for nature and was pleasantly surprised.

Our building is situated in a fairly large industrial park with a railroad track running alongside of it - there are several "lakes" - actually large retaining ponds that are teeming with fish and visited frequently by wild shorebirds, black skimmers, anhingas, herons, alligators, snakes, ospreys and to my delight - bald eagles. Two of these eagles have a nest near our facility and this week I was blessed to get some flight shots of the male. So far I have seen one eaglet on the nest - but it is too far away to get a better view to see if there are more. I will have to bring in binoculars alongwith my camera. The male eagle frequents the lakes to get fish for his mate and sometimes perches on nearby poles at the edge of our parking lot.

The railroad track has a lot of scrub brush which makes a great habitat for smaller birds and animals such as raccoons and squirrels. One of my friends on the night shift said they even spotted a great horned owl on their late evening walk. Just the other day I took some nice images of a yellow rumped warbler and a rufous sided towhee in the brush alongside our chained link fence. I am constantly amazed how nature will adapt to man-made structures and go about their business of raising their young, and despite the noise, pollution and other distractions continue to thrive.

I have delighted in showing my co-workers my photographs and hearing some of them say: "You took THAT photo here in our parking lot - no way!" Nature is right under our noses if we would but put away our cell-phones and other distractions, take a walk - listen and observe. You would be amazed at what you discover too!


Fall: My Favorite Time Of Year

Posted on November 20, 2011 at 5:30 AM

Growing up the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, I was privileged to see four seasons - each with its own beauty and uniqueness. But my favorite season has always been fall - I enjoy the cool nights, the migratory birds - the changing colors of the landscape. And eventhough we live in Florida, we still have fall - although it is very subtle in comparison with the rest of the U.S. Our summers are brutally hot and long and we are threatened by hurricanes and tropical storms, so fall is a welcome relief. Our trees instinctively know when to start dropping leaves, and my golden raintree in my front yard is nearly bare. The dragonflies are becoming fewer each time I scout my favorite lake in search of them, and the migratory birds are winging their way over Florida to warmer climates. The gray squirrels are instinctively fattening up for winter and I have delighted in taking many photos of them as they scamper and frantically bury their treats.

I love raptors - and fall is the perfect time to photograph them against our clear blue sky. We are very fortunate to have a year round look at eagles, redtail hawks, kestrels, ospreys, owls, cooper's hawks, but in the fall we are treated with sightings of peregrine falcons, broad-shouldered hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, and many others winging their way south. On a recent early morning walk near the lake in our neighborhood, I watched a young peregrine falcon take numerous swift dives towards some moorhens. Incredible speed as he dove - their average level cruising speed is anywhere from 35 to 55 mph and their dives have been reported as over 200 mph! I was having trouble tracking him with my eyes, but luckily my camera caught him in a level flight shot as he was passing by. Unfortunately he came up empty-taloned and had to settle for a fish breakfast. The crafty little moorhens ducked beneath lily pads as he swooped down on them. Raptors are not always successful at hunting and often go hungry. As this peregrine falcon was migrating, he will need to feed well for the journey south. My heart soared with his and I wish him well on his journey!

Two of the best subjects for fall color changing are our sweet gum trees and sumac. At the first hint of colder weather the sumacs will turn a bright orange red and the sweet gums will start changing to yellow and shed their leaves. I love to pick up the spent sweet gum seed pods and sketch them - they are fascinating trees. And having lived in both Virginia and Jackson Hole, Wyoming - I miss the fall colors. My best friend in Wyoming sends me aspen leaves and sagebrush every fall, and friends in Virginia send me maple leaves, oak leaves and fresh homemade apple butter. Nothing though will ever compare to driving up in the Blue Ridge in the fall and seeing the multi colors of the mountains or seeing aspen and cottonwoods out west shining golden against the rockies. Ah Fall! No matter where you live, it is a beautiful time of year!!