Black Locust Tree and Bash Bish Falls in Gouache

I finally feel like my inspiration and motivation are reviving after being mostly absent for much of 2020. While I have sketched a great deal, especially from our front porch in Maine (Front Porch Sketches and More Front Porch Sketches), I haven’t often had the mental energy to do more than very quick sketches. I am realizing more and more how much stress and grief and illness can drain one’s creative energy. But now that my creative spark is returning, I am finding it is both energizing and calming at the same time to immerse myself in meditative sketching or painting. I am very thankful to be getting my brushes wet again and to be playing with paint and ink.

A couple weeks ago a friend who does amazing renditions of Van Gogh’s and some other artists’ paintings suggested I paint the same black locust tree I had done in ink (images in my last post) with vivid colors. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I decided to pull out my gouache and go a bit wild with color. I sat in my yard (under a cedar tree that showered me with prickly needles) and painted, trying to capture the light on the trunk of the tree. And that got me revved up to paint with gouache, so next I pulled out a sketch I’d done on location and a photo of Bash Bish Falls in Massachusetts (can’t go there now because of Covid, so a sketch and photo had to do) and imagined being there as I painted.

Quiet Day

Today has been my weekly Quiet Day, a day each week when Stephen goes to the office instead of working from home, so that I can have time home alone. I cherish the silence and solitude to read, pray, putter, sketch, muse, and just be. It’s actually not silent today– the birds are singing their spring songs of love, the stream is gurgling as it courses by the yard, and a light breeze has been whispering through the slightly greening shrubs all day. Those sounds have enriched my day from the very start, when I awoke at 5:30 to the sound of a Phoebe vociferously calling forth the dawn, with the faint burbling of the stream in the background. I listened briefly, then dozed a while, the birdsong a peaceful lullaby until I awoke again, ready to rise and rejoice in the gift of a new day.

I’ve spent most of today outside walking the dogs, reading,  sketching, and sometimes just enjoying the peace of an unscheduled day. To cap the day off, Stephen and I are going out on a date after he gets home from work. A perfect day that will leave me refreshed for another week of dog training and other work.

Bridge over our stream (Wolff’s carbon pencil)
Locust Tree (Pen & Ink)
Robin’s nest on a ladder

Sugarloaf Hike and Black Rat Snake

Yesterday Stephen and I hiked up Sugarloaf, a steeper hike than we remembered, but well worth it for the view. At the top I sketched the fascinating, signature stump that has been there for as long as we’ve been hiking there, Steve read, and we both enjoyed the sunshine, the Turkey Vultures swooping by, and the river views. (Click photos to view larger)

On our way back down, we saw a 3-4 foot long Black Rat Snake that had clearly just eaten a large and rather pointy meal. As we watched he (or maybe she) calmly slithered to a nearby tree, climbed the tree and disappeared down a hole in the tree.

You can see the bump where there was something pointy on whatever he ate
Mottled pattern of the Black Rat Snake
Heading up the tree
Almost at the hole in the trunk
You can see how high up the hole is

Tribute to a Tree

Last fall we said good-bye to our magnificent Horse Chestnut tree. For the past twenty-five years I have watched its sticky, reddish buds swell throughout April, then burst forth at the beginning of May in red-tinged white mounds standing up on the curved branches like candelabras. I know I have photographed the tree lifting its blossoms and large palmate leaves over the peak of the roof, but amazingly, I can’t find a single photo of the whole tree as I search my files. I do have a number of photos I took from the window by my desk of the squirrels and birds that found shelter in the tree.

I still catch myself looking out the window to see if a squirrel is poking his head out of the hole in the trunk or sunbathing on a branch.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

When we moved here, we found an album of old photos, and this one shows our house circa 1941, with the Horse Chestnut standing tall over the roof the behind the house.

We also found this old painting, done in the fall of 1942.Unfortunately I can’t decipher the artist’s name. You can see the Horse Chestnut tree just to the left of the house (this is looking at the back of the house). The person who bought the house in 1941 (Dorothy Dunbar Bromley) put new siding and a new roof on, which is why it looks like a different house in this photo.

Watercolor painted from my desk window

As a project in a watercolor forum, we had a “Conker painting contest,” when I was just starting to get serious about art after years of homeschooling my children. Many of the forum members were British, and there they call horse chestnuts “conkers.” My tree provided an abundance of conkers to use as subjects, as I tried new watercolor techniques.

When PJ was visiting us in the spring a couple of years ago, she spent most of every day outside, sitting motionless for hours, watching the tree. She was watching for squirrels, but whether they were visible or not, she sat or lay down, never moving her eyes from the tree.

How to Appreciate a Tree by PJ

The wood of the Horse Chestnut is dense and hard, so my son Jonathan saved much of it to use in woodworking. For Christmas he made a checkerboard for my nephews Oliver and Felix.

Jonathan and Steve stacked the logs out by our stream, and I plan to do a watercolor of the woodpile. I miss my tree, but perhaps we will yet have ways to enjoy and cherish it in art and memory.

Cooper Lake

Last week I went to visit a friend in Woodstock and spent some time before our visit at nearby Cooper lake. I was there a few years ago and did some sketching then and have been wanting to go back to enjoy the serene quiet and do some more sketching. This time it was very cold, so I only sketched briefly and didn’t do any watercoloring, since the idea of water made me shiver more.

I sketched the view over the lake, then walked and ran a bit to try (in vain) to warm up, then had to stop and sketch a smooth and aged dead tree rising with dignity from a swampy area. Then on my way back to the car I spotted a Bald Eagle perched in a distant tree, but it was far and I was cold, so I didn’t draw it.

My sketches from last week:

A watercolor I did last year from a photo: