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Making Room for Inspiration"
Spring has finally arrived, although the current forecast suggests we are still some time away from warmer days. Our pond has nearly thawed, and our first two mergansers have arrived to check things out. It won’t be long before the frogs emerge with their evening chorus. In a world still impacted by the pandemic, being able to go outside to take in the smells of spring, and feel the sun on your face seems more special this year.
Stories Behind the Art
It’s no secret that nature serves as an inspiration for me. However, it is by no means accidental.
You may have seen this image in my shop. It is a graphite drawing of some hooded merganser ducklings about to leave their nest box.
We have wood ducks and common mergansers that make our pond home every year. But this wasn’t always the case. Over the years, we have built a natural and sustainable habitat for them, and they have been coming back year after year for over a decade.
Many animals drop in during the winter, like deer, wild turkeys, chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, squirrels, and fishers. However, spring is unique because nature finds the time and space to welcome the next generation to our world.
It takes time and effort to create a sustainable habitat. We expanded a natural pond, and I built all the duck houses myself from rough pine. I place wood shavings in the boxes, which I replace every spring before the water opens.
Mergansers and wood ducks are unique in that once the ducklings hatch, they jump out of the box within 24 hours. The hen will then bring the ducklings into the woods to not be seen again as they mature. In 2015, I wrote a blog post about the experience and included some videos of their first flight :-)
However, sometimes a duckling gets left behind. This was the case last year, but after a couple of days of caring for the duck, we were able to release it to another family of mergansers in our pond, and all was good.
Here‘s my rendering of the little duckling that stayed with us.
Birdhouses for chickadees, wrens, and bluebirds also require spring maintenance. Clean out old bird nests and possible wasp nests, as the wasps should be well and truly gone. A clean house allows the new tenants to make the house their own. Hummingbirds will not be far behind, so we have things ready for them, but not out until we are above freezing in the evenings. Also, please do not use dyes, just water and sugar in their food.
Inspiration can occur anywhere, whether on a walk, a drive, a trip, or possibly on your porch. Are you building opportunities around your yard or neighborhood for nature to prosper?
I hope you can make room in your mind and heart when that moment of inspiration is ready to take hold. I also hope it leads you to something creative.
Inside The Toolbox
Very soon after getting a wooden pencil of any sort, you will be faced with finding a good sharpener. Finding a good pencil sharpener can undoubtedly significantly impact the enjoyment of drawing. After years of searching, I have finally discovered the perfect sharpener, but it’s not my only sharpener as it depends on my pencil.
Colored pencil and graphite
I love a long point with my graphite and colored pencils and have found that with the Carl Angel-5 pencil sharpener. This sharpener has been around for years but only recently appeared on my desk. It works well with graphite and colored pencils, providing a very long and sharp point. The advantage of an extended tip is that it allows you to shade more easily by tilting the pencil to an extreme angle. The Carl Angel-5 is not recommended for charcoal or soft graphite. The feed system will continue pulling the pencil until it disappears.
The best I have found beyond using a razor blade is the Kum AS2 sharpener. It has two blades, one for the wood and the other for the graphite or charcoal. It also comes with extra blades. Very compact and can be found on Amazon.
Mechanical 2 mm clutch pencils
In mechanical 2 mm pencils, the default sharpener is the barrel sharpener. Carrying the barrel sharpener around with you is almost certainly an opportunity for a mess. However, in the image below, I discovered a small model, allowing for more mobility.
In all cases, always clean the tip before using it. The small material left behind can disrupt your work and impact your shading.
Recent Drawing Inspiration Episodes
Here are some of the most recent “Drawing Inspiration” podcast episodes. The podcast is available wherever you listen to music.
Did you know that you can now ask Amazon Alexa to “Play the Drawing Inspiration podcast”?
48: Urban Sketching, Finding Your People, and The Power of The Fude with Marek Badzynski
Marek Badzynski joins the podcast to discuss his journey from Poland to Canada and architect to urban sketcher. Marek talks about his early days in Europe and how urban sketching saved him from a police incident. He then discusses his approach to fountain pens with the fude nib and water-soluble graphite. He also addresses how to separate the collector of art supplies from the artist and keep your kit small. Marek has some great tips for anyone interested in urban sketching.
49: Exploring a Fantasy World of Charcoal and Graphite with Artist Eric Messinger
I share a story about the connections we make through social media. Eric Messinger then joins the podcast to discuss his incredible charcoal and graphite fantasy art. Eric has a unique style and approach, using abstract charcoal in prepping the paper for his characters to visit. He goes through his process, and then Eric and I have a great discussion about paper and pencils. Eric uses an interesting approach to starting a fantasy piece, and his homework will certainly involve all your senses.
What I'm Watching
My focus this month may seem like a strange choice for an artist who focuses primarily on nature drawings. However, having read the first couple of books of The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, I was excited to begin watching this series on Amazon. I love science fiction, and I often sketch ships and alien beings but rarely share them. I think The Expanse is an incredible series and is very similar to my other top series, Battlestar Galactica (2004). I love their depiction of space travel and technology and will forgive them as I do so many other space shows and movies for ships producing noise in the vacuum of space. The sixth and final season will arrive later this year, so now is the time to catch up.
James Gurney, the creator of Dinotopia, is one of my biggest inspirations in his artistic skill and his ability to empower others through his tutorials. His book “Color and Light” is a requirement for any artist in any medium. James covers all areas of color theory as well as the complexities of lighting. The book is broken into very short segments that allow you to jump into a new lesson, then head off to your drawing or painting and put it to use. If you would like to learn more from James Gurney, I had the pleasure of speaking with him on my podcast for Episode 18 - The Journey to Dinotopia and Beyond with Artist, Writer and Illustrator, James Gurney.
Upcoming Live Events
I have some more live draw sessions coming up as I continue to work on the snapping turtle below. I also have some color pieces I have started and a couple of guests. Follow me on Instagram to keep up to date.