Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Segments: Armadillo

Armadillo by Sydney Harper

Armadillo, 9 x 7 in., watercolor
by Sydney Harper

I decided to apply the technique I used for the trilobite paintings to a painting of an armadillo. Armadillos kind of remind me of trilobites in a way. I've decided to call this group of paintings "Segments". I'm having a blast with these. Most of the work comes before the paint is applied. Applying the paint also allows me to experiment with different palettes. I'm sure I'll try more of these, just to see where it leads me.

After tomorrow I'll be off work until January 5. I am so looking forward to this time off. I'm really tired so it's been a struggle to get through these past two days. I plan to spend the time relaxing, getting my life in order, and doing some painting and sketching. I never get as much done as I plan, but it will be a nice change of pace.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Virtual Sketch Date - 13 Dec 08

Watercolor on tan paper, 8 x 5 inches
Farm in Lehigh Valley, PA

I seem to have fallen into a trend of using the Virtual Sketch Date for experimentation. For the December Virtual Sketch Date I experimented with limited palettes. Actually I prefer to use a limited palette of three to five colors. It just works out better for me. I did this watercolor sketch using a two color palette with a warm red, a bit of complementary color and some white for the snow. I have plenty of watercolor paper but I was in a hurry, so I just grabbed some tan paper rather than make my own toned paper. It's not meant for watercolor so it buckled badly at the bottom where I used a lot of water. In spite of that, I really like the way this turned out. I also did one on the same paper with a cool palette using a blue and a bit of red as a complement. I kept the water under control on that one so the buckling isn't as bad. I like it too, but I like the warmth in this one better so I put this one up anyway. The other one is up at my Flickr account. This was a lovely reference to use. I enjoyed working with it.

I'm not sure what it is but I'm having a hard time finding free time lately. Something always seems to come up to keep me from spending time on the things I would like to do. I guess part of it is the holiday season and the rest just falls into the "stuff happens" category. We'll be taking two weeks off at Christmas so I should have more free time then. I am so looking forward to it.


See all of my Virtual Sketch Date posts.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Virtual Sketch Date - November 2008

pen and ink in sketchbook

I've been reading Stephen Quiller's book Color Choices
so I decided to use this month's Virtual Sketch Date to do a limited palette study. I'm enjoying this book, especially the way he does several studies of the same scene using the same palette and creates different effects. The book also includes a nice color wheel. He starts off with monochrome palettes and gradually adds in more colors.

This month's reference photo was provided by Jeanette Jobson. To keep myself from following the photo too closely and getting caught up detail, I made a quick sketch of the photo (above). Then I did the painting mostly from the sketch. While these aren't colors I would normally pick, I got a lot out the experience. Here's the final study. I'll have to live with it a few days to see what I think. I'll experiment with other color combinations though.

Virtual Sketch Date - November 2008

acrylic on illustration board, 8 x 10 inches


See all of my Virtual Sketch Date posts.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Last Three Peppers

Last Three Peppers, 6 x 5.5 inches, acrylic on gessoed watercolor paper
Copyright - Sydney Harper

When I grabbed that last eggplant a while back before our first frost, I also grabbed the last three cayenne peppers. At the time, they were still green with just a hint of red. I wasn't sure how they would ripen and dry out, but now you can hardly tell them from the others. The background looks a little brighter on my monitor than in real life. This is another acrylic painting that I did on gessoed watercolor paper samples. I liked working with this one much better than the previous sample. I don't know if my technique was better or the paper made the difference. The paper is 126 lb. Archette CP. I'm not even sure they still make Archette. It was a fun and quick little painting. Basically I tossed the peppers several times until I got an arrangement I liked and went from there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Twyla Tharp on Creativity and Success

Just a short post so I can sqeeze in some painting tonight. I found this video today and just had to pass it along. There's a lot of good advice packed into a little over three minutes. I have Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit and I love it. I keep going back and rereading sections. I like her ideas for inspiring creativity and her practical advice. In this video she discusses creativity, success and failure, and money. I particularly like the part where she talks about the goal of creativity to make money versus creativity because you want to create something. Well she says it better. Here's the video.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Last Eggplant

The Last Eggplant by Sydney Harper

The Last Eggplant
6 x 5 inches, acrylic on gessoed watercolor paper
Copyright - Sydney Harper

I like gardening but it really isn't a big priority for me. I had a small vegetable garden this summer but I started to forget about it as the weather got cooler. I went out the other day to clean it up a little bit and discovered it was doing quite well. Since we had our first serious frost last night, I went out and gathered up the last of the vegetables. This almost perfect little eggplant was one of them and I just couldn't resist painting it.

The painting is on a small piece of gessoed watercolor paper. Years ago I bought a sampler pack of watercolor paper and a pack of oriental paper from
Daniel Smith. At that time, you got a huge variety of papers but they were small pieces. Now you get a smaller variety but large sheets. I've been using some of the oriental papers but I had forgotten about the watercolor papers until I found them a while back. So I took a couple of the sheets that I knew I wouldn't use for watercolor and applied some gesso. This particular sheet is a little thinner than I'd like but it worked well. It's a quick little painting but I'm pleased with it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cicada Sketch

Cicada, colored pencil
by Sydney Harper

I was doing an end of summer porch cleaning the other day and came across a dead cicada, in almost perfect condition. I couldn't help myself. I had to bring him to sketch. What, you mean everyone doesn't save dead bugs they find on the porch? I finally got around to drawing it yesterday. It was a little bit of an awkward angle but it still worked out okay.

While I was drawing this, I remembered a web site I found a while back. It was one of those times when I found link on a blog and then found another link and, well, you get the picture. Often I see people wanting to know the best way to prepare images for the web and was to protect their images. Science-art.com has a tutorial on preparing images for the web and another on protecting images. The instructions are geared towards images placed on their own site but I think the instructions could be easily adapted to your own situation.

Other than that, I've been very busy the past couple of weeks. Things are just now easing up a bit so hopefully I work in more art time.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Trilobite II Watercolor

Trilobite II , 7 x 10 inches, watercolor

I had so much fun doing the trilobite watercolor the other day, that I just had to do another one. This is a different trilobite, stylized again. I decided to give this one a more watery color scheme. I've got an idea for a similar one, but with a different animal. The planning has been as fun as the painting.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Radio TV Hospital

Radio TV Hospital, copyright Sydney Harper

Radio TV Hospital
9 x 12 inches, acrylic on panel

I started this painting a while back when I wanted to try out some gessoed panels. The subject is a tiny oddly shaped building near Pope's Tavern in Florence, Alabama. It used to be a Radio TV Hospital. There was something about the odd shape and the broken sign that appealed to me. In reality there were a lot of houses around the area but I decided to simplify the painting so I could focus on the building. I might do a little more tweaking but basically it's finished.

I learned a lot while painting this. I'm still not used to this gessoed panel. Even after all these layers of paint, it feels slick compared to canvas. Maybe I'll try another brand after I finish these or even make my own. I spent a lot of time trying to get the perspective right since this isn't a normal box-shaped building and since I don't paint that many buildings. I'm glad I did. I used yellow to highlight the sunny side of the building instead of white. I'm not sure if it's obvious from the photo but this worked really well. (Thanks to James Gurney for all of your posts on color and light.) The painting started out as an experiment that I almost abandoned a couple of times, but I'm glad I stuck with it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Trilobite Watercolor

Trilobite by Sydney Harper

Trilobite - watercolor, 6 x 5 inches
copyright - Sydney Harper

I've always been fascinated by trilobites, the prehistoric extinct arthropods, ever since my zoology professor brought a trilobite fossil into class. So this weekend I got my own trilobite fossil out to sketch. I wanted something colorful, not your typical scientific publication drawing. So I muddled around with some colored pencils for a while until it came to me. I like using colored pencils to work out ideas, especially when color is an important part of the idea. Since trilobites were segmented, why not make a stylized version with the segments separated. So after much drawing, this is my watercolor version. I like how it turned out. It has a lot of potential.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Looking for my muse

Rick Waiting by Sydney Harper

I've been traveling to conventions and vacationing and just being busy. Now I've just got to get my muse back on track. Sometimes my art focus feels disjointed, often brought on by people asking what I paint. (Answer: Whatever I'm in the mood to paint.) There are things I don't often paint or draw, people for example. I've been trying to work on that more lately. Otherwise, it's mostly what stirs me. Robert Genn's recent letter on Working Your Muses and Jeannette's post about What Warms Your Soul got me to thinking about focus again. So I made a list of all of the things that have interested me and stirred me. There's art and museums of course but there's also nature, water, geology, science in general, cityscapes, moonlit nights, and plants. I keep adding to the list but it's all starting to come together into something (what I don't know). It's getting my muse anxious to start. In the meantime, since I've been working on sketching people, this is a sketch from a photo of Rick while he's waiting to do a magic show. It's not a perfect likeness but it's not bad. We were at the mall and it was one of those moments when the light was perfect. So I snapped a photo before he caught on so I could sketch it later.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Struggling and Experimenting

Work in progress. Acrylic on masonite panel.

A while back I bought a couple of small gessoed panels. Normally I use canvas, but panels seem to be convenient and easy to store. So the other day I decided to try them out. I also wanted to experiment with colors and glazes and such. It was a real struggle at first. I was totally unprepared for the slickness of the panel. Add in my other experimentation and I almost tossed it. Now I'm glad I stuck with it. Once you get the first couple of coats of paint down, it gets much easier. This is an old, oddly-shaped building in town. I've always wondered about its history. I've still got a lot of work to do on it but it's coming along.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Virtual Sketch Date: Sunquats

I decided this morning to try this month's Virtual Sketch Date. The reference photo for this month was provided by Leslie Hawes. This was probably a stretch of my colored pencil abilities but I had fun and I learned a lot. It's about 5.5 by 3.5 inches in colored pencil in one of my sketchbooks.

Otherwise, I've been struggling with a painting lately. It's a new surface (gessoed masonite) and somewhat of a different subject matter for me. It's still at the ugly stage but I think I'm getting it whipped into shape.


See all of my Virtual Sketch Date posts.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tiny Quick Sketches

I started a new sketchbook recently so I thought I would post a few of the sketches that haven't been posted yet before I put it away. Usually I'll mark off a few pages into tiny squares for quick sketches. I may fill up a page in one sitting with little studies for a painting or it may take a month to fill up the page. This one took a couple of weeks. All of them are things I saw sitting around me. Each square is about two inches. Starting from the top left and moving clockwise, my laptop and mouse, a folded envelope, a chair, a pencil case, Rick in the chair, sock knitting.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sketch: Passion Flower Vine

Passion Flower Vine - Ink and colored pencil

I discovered it's hard to be creative when there's work being done on the house with lots of pounding. I'm getting back in my groove though. This is a sketch of a Maypop or passion flower vine near our office. They grow wild in a little rocky, dusty patch of soil. It's too early for blooms but not too early to feed caterpillars. It's a main food source for the caterpillars of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. Towards the end of summer you'll see lots of butterflies in the area.

I'm starting to enjoy using colored pencil for sketching. I just have a little 12 pencil set that I carry around with me. It's just enough for a bit of color without having to worry about brushes or water.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Drawing Day: Lilies

Drawing Day: Lilies
Copyright - Sydney Harper

Since Saturday was Drawing Day, I decided to spend most of the day with my art. Usually I have things I need to do around the house, but yesterday I put them off. It seems like I seldom have an entire day to devote to art lately. It felt great. I started a painting. I did a quick sketch of Rick while he was napping, or at least part of him. I also did this little watercolor sketch of some lilies from the yard. I think the buckling of the paper in places made the color wash out a bit in places. Otherwise it's close.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sketch: Blue Salvia

Blue salvia
Copyright - Sydney Harper

There was a lull of blooming things in the yard for a few weeks, but now the second wave has started. Plus I was out of town at a conference so I'm just now getting back in my groove. I was sitting outside sketching this right after a brief rain shower so there was an occasional raindrop falling on my head and on the book. Then I plucked off one of the flowers to do a closeup sketch. Dozens of almost microscopic insects fell out of the flower onto my sketchbook, so I was brushing them off and inadvertantly smashing a few. Somehow the page ended up not too worse for wear. The hazards of sketching outside. In real life the flower portion of the stalk is much longer, probably about twice as long as what I have here. I just ran out of room on the page. It was a nice afternoon for sketching outside, even if it was somewhat drippy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Lily of the Valley
copyright - Sydney Harper

I like hidden discoveries. Last year was terrible for plants of all kinds. First we had the late season freaky frost. Then we had a terrible drought all summer. Even the trees struggled. This spring has been completely different. We've had plenty of rain so far. (We could still use more.) Apparently all of the plants were working their magic in soil. They look very healthy. I was afraid my lilies of the valley didn't survive last summer. They did survive though. I found my flourishing bunch under a bush.

On another note, the
Illustrators' Partnership has sample letters discussing the Orphan Works Act that you can send to your members of Congress. There are letters for almost every category - visual artists, photographers, illustrators, friends of artists, businesses, the image-making public, and international artists. Some are editable and some are not. You'll find more information and copies of the bills at the Illustrators' Partnership web site.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dexter Ferret

Dexter Ferret
copyright by Sydney Harper
One of my goals for this year is to practice drawing animals and people. Since we have a cat and three ferrets, that's an obvious place to start. I've had a harder time with the ferrets though. I'm not sure why. This drawing of our ferret Dexter finally looks proportioned right. I'm pleased with it. The others are okay, but everything clicked with this one. Isn't it great when that happens? Now today's goal will be to do a bit of painting.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Japanese Iris

Japanese Iris
Copyright - Sydney Harper

This is a Japanese Iris from the garden. I several bunches of them and they've been blooming their hearts out this year. They're doing so well that I think I'll have to divide them this year. I decided I would try to paint or draw each type of flower in my garden this year. Usually I mean to do that but time gets away from me and I miss them. It shouldn't be that difficult since I don't have that many types of flowers. Besides, I could use the practice. Now if I can do a little more weeding so they'll have a chance to grow, I'll be set.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tropicana Rose

Tropicana Rose
Copyright by Sydney Harper

Saturday was a beautiful day so I spent most of the day in the yard weeding and trimming. Last year we had a mild winter followed by a late spring hard freeze that zapped most of our trees and flowers. Even the trees took a while to recover from it. Then on top of that, we had a drought all summer. This year the flowers seem to be making up for lost time. My one rose bush is covered in beautiful blooms, the most I've ever seen on it. It helps that we've had a very rainy spring. That's the other reason I absolutely had to get in the yard and clean it up a bit before it turned into a jungle. I just had to sketch one of the roses in my Moleskine watercolor book, which I enjoy using by the way.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Katie Cat From Behind

Katie Cat From Behind
copyright Sydney Harper

I'm back from being immersed in taxes, some short trips, and a boatload of work for the past couple of weeks. I've been focusing on doing quick pencil sketches lately. Katie is a good subject since she sleeps a lot, like most cats. I've also been sketching from the Sunrise Earth show on HD Theater. It's not like sketching in plein air but there's subject matter that isn't readily accessible for me. I'm also stuck in planning mode for my next painting. Sometimes I do too much planning, trying to achieve the perfect subject. So I'm determined that I'm going to just start something this weekend. In the meantime, here's something interesting I found.

Explaining Science Through Drawing

Since I have a degree in science, I get a lot of science-related email in addition to art-related and knitting-related email. This
article from the National Science Foundation came as a pleasant surprise. It turns out that the act of explaining scientific concepts through drawings helps the illustrator understand the underlying concepts. The next step of this project is to get design students together with science students so they can learn from each other.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

EDM 3 - My Bag

EDM 3 - My Bag by Sydney Harper

EDM 3 - My Bag
copyright Sydney Harper

The other night I was sitting on the couch with my portable art supplies while Rick watched baseball. My bag that carries my art supplies and a portable knitting project was flopped out beside me. Sometimes I'll sketch stuff that's on TV. This time, I decided to sketch my mostly empty bag, just like it was sitting on the couch. It's done in ink and watercolor pencil. I'm getting used to the watercolor pencils but I'm still not completely satisfied with my technique. It's getting better though.

Adobe released
Photoshop Express for web last week and I still haven't had a chance to play with it. From what I've read, it has free storage and image tools. It's not a replacement for a purchased copy of Photoshop but apparently it has enough tools to do basic image editing. I usually do all of my image editing before I upload the images, but then I have several different versions of image editing software. It might be worth a try if you don't have image editing software or you aren't happy with your current software.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Weedy Post


Ink and colored pencil

I was feeling a bit uninspired so I sketched one of the weeds coming up in the yard not that the weather is warming up. I really need to do work in the yard. It's an annoying little weed but if you look closely, the tiny flowers are lovely. I think it's called Henbit. I've lost my painting mojo lately in favor of sketching. I feel it coming back though. I'm getting the urge to grab some brushes. Here's a couple of random things I picked up in my Internet travels the past few days.

One of my goals this year was to learn more about this fancy camera I got for Christmas so I can take better photos and reference photos. I've noticed that a number of people, including me, have questions about your legal rights as a photographer. Photojojo recently had an article on this, nicely distilled into 10 simple legal commandments for photography. The article also has links to more extensive information and information for those of you outside the US.

Influential Artists
Dani Draws has a list of 75 artists that influenced today's illustrators and web sites where you can find their work. Make sure you read through the comments for more artists.

If you find my painting mojo, send it back home.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Spring Daffodil

Spring Daffodil by Sydney Harper

Spring Daffodil

We've had spring-like weather here this week, and we had snow just the past weekend. The first set of daffodils are blooming. Some of the trees are getting flower buds on them and I've seen some bird activity lately. So I just had to draw one of the daffodils. It's done in ink and colored pencil. I've been on a colored pencil kick lately. I'm not sure why since I've haven't done much with them until now. Maybe I'm just feeling lazy. I don't have to worry about water. I just grab a few pencil and go.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sketching While Waiting

My Foot
copyright - Sydney Harper

My husband had to get some work done on his car this week. If possible, we try to make a day, or at least an evening of it, and do some things around town. We still have to deal with the time spent in the waiting room at the auto shop though, so we go prepared. He brings his computer. I bring my sketchbook and my knitting. We had a longer than usual wait this time so I knit a little, sketched a little, knit a little again, and sketched again. I practiced sketching some of the people in the waiting room. Then when I ran out of subjects, I drew my foot, which just happens to qualify for EDM 1 - Draw a shoe. I usually carry a copy of the Everyday Matters (EDM) Challenge List in my sketchbook in case I run out of ideas. Having time to just sit and sketch makes car repairs a much more pleasant experience. Things have been so busy lately that I seldom have such a large block of time to just sit and sketch.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Blue Katie Cat

Blue Katie Cat by Sydney Harper

I've been intrigued by Kate Johnson's sketches on colored paper so I thought I would give it try with a pencil sketch I had done of Katie. I like the way it turned out, especially since I haven't had much experience with colored pencils. I may have to try this again sometime. Plus since she's a blue-grey cat, it works well for her.

Also I've added section on the sidebar called "SydneyH's shared items" with interesting blogs I've come across. This list will change over time. If you find something interesting, make sure you save the link.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Expanding horizons

One of my goals this year is to do more sketches of people and animals. I find that I'm often avoiding them because they never seem good enough. Of course, it's hard to get better if you don't practice. So that's what I've been doing. This is a couple of quick sketches of one of our ferrets. These were done from photographs. The ferrets are seldom still enough for life drawings.

On a somewhat related note, one of my favorite blogs lately is Gurney Journey, James Gurney's blog. Currently he's doing a series on animal characters and he has been doing a Sunday series on color and palettes. I've learned quite a bit from following his blog.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Exercising Your Doodles

doodle1 Before Christmas I bought Bert Dodson's book Keys to Drawing with Imagination. The first few exercises focus on doodles, or rather doing more with doodles. These are some of my examples from the first exercise. I like this book. Even the little doodles feel inspirational. While the book feels like it would be more useful for illustrators, I'm getting a lot of out it. I doodle as much as the next person, but some of these doodles are new to me. As I read through the exercises, I can see how many of these could evolve into paintings. I'm enjoying working through this book.

doodle2You won't find much in the way of actual drawing technique. The book does have a lot of good tips scattered in it. There are instructions for building your own light box. There are also many tips for combining and transforming your doodles and sketches into new drawings. The last part of the book focuses on artists and some of the themes they've chosen for their work. I think I'm going to get a lot out of this book.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Praying Mantis and Favorite Web Sites

It's pretty dreary this time of year and I wanted to draw something living. So I went through my photos and found this picture of praying mantis on a patio torch in my backyard. We have a fairly ordinary suburban yard, but I often see a praying mantis out there in the summer. They are so fascinating to watch. I'm not sure why they like our yard, but I'm glad they do. I started drawing this in pencil and then decided it needed some color so I added some colored pencil.

I'm a little late for this, but here are some of my favorite web sites I visited in 2007. By far, the sites I visit most often are those where I'm learning something about art.

Making a Mark - I didn't discover this one until late in the year, but I never miss it now. I have learned a lot about art and other art-related websites from reading Katherine Tyrrell's blog.

Sixty Minute Artist - I've found some good information here, like how to stretch a canvas. I'm not sure that I'm ready to start stretching my own canvas, but the information is here if I need it.

Gurney Journey - This is a blog that I found and lost and found again. I enjoy reading James Gurney's articles about the process of painting and painters.

Empty Easel - Art and Painting tips, articles on artists, and tips for selling art online.

Inspire Me Thursday - Weekly inspirations and challenges. I don't participate as often as I would like but I've enjoyed it when I have.

This year I'm going to try to get around to more blogs. I don't have time to visit many but I like the interaction.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Random sketches from 2007

I don't really make resolutions for the new year, other than trying to do better. I do like to evaluate my progress over the past year though. Sometime around midyear, the rest of my life got very busy. Art and this blog kind of fell by the wayside. Things are still a little crazy. Until things settle down a bit, I thought I would show some of the messier pages from my sketchbook. When you only see the nicer pages from a sketchbook, it's easy to assume that all of the pages are like that. There is the occasional nice, neat sketch but most pages are filled with quick sketches, notes, studies, doodles, silly sketches, lists, and thoughts. These two pages are typical. Every so often I'll make a page of small squares. These are for very quick, less than a minute, sketches, doodles, and value studies. Often, I'm also drawing a subject over and over for practice, like the cat. At the bottom on the right are some quick faces I was trying to draw from the TV. Faces are not my strong point. These extremely quick sketches help me relax a bit since there's no way they can look polished. Here's another page of small sketches.

Here's a couple more pages of quick sketches of flying birds for practice.

My Moleskine watercolor sketchbook is much tidier. I just can't bring myself to make a mess in it. but it's my everyday, inexpensive, messy sketchbook that brings me the most inspiration.