An Art and Nature Tonic

An artist’s retreat in the beauty of nature is better than a tonic for refreshing the soul and creating new inspiration.

The first artists retreat, The Art of Nature Immersion Weekend, was a wonderful and refreshing time spent in beautiful surroundings with fellow artists and some family and friends too. Reelfoot Lake State Park and Reelfoot Federal Wildlife Reserve were packed with inspiration at every turn. The most important factor was the time spent in gearing down and taking it all in. It was better than any man-made tonic!

Humans in says. “The combination of art and nature allows people to explore the natural world, create more profound meaning for themselves, and connect people through understanding and viewing their artwork.” I couldn’t agree more. There is just something about being out in nature that inspires in so many ways and brings us humans closer together.

Somehow creating art out in nature rather than in the studio changes everything. It seems to make everything more vivid, more real. More inspiring. Our whole approach to art can change when spending time in nature. Nature becomes the art in all its myriad of possibilities. says, “The exploration of nature in art can take endless forms, because nature provides us with such a vast wealth of inspiring phenomena.”

Seeing what we did on our Art in Nature Retreat speaks for itself. The following are photos from our time at Reelfoot Lake State Park in West Tennessee and Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge. Our pontoon boat captain and guide, Colton, a recent graduate of Murray State University, shared a wealth of knowledge. He pointed out trees, birdsong, all manner of aquatic life and even a water snake (yuck!) sunning himself on a fallen log.

Enjoy the photos as they tell the story better than I can.

Hummingbird Hope

A Flash of color, a bright jewel in the summer sun, hummingbirds whisking by on the way to taste a bit of nectar remind us of hope and joy as summer has arrived.

A flash of color, a bright jewel in the summer sun, hummingbirds whisking by on the way to taste a bit of nectar.  These tiny little sparkles with swiftly flapping wings move so fast, all the eye can catch are bits of emerald, ruby, or sapphire as they stop for a second, then fly off again.  But that little second or two is enough to capture our fascination.

Emily Hannemann for Birds and Blooms magazine says hummingbirds are a sign of hope and good luck.  Maybe that is why we love these special little birds. Tammy Popple of On The Feeder says these tiny beauties are symbols of lightness and joy. Hope and good luck, lightness and joy, both descriptions make for great reasons Hummingbirds are so loved.

Hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds to paint.  I love it when I see the first one of the season show up at the feeder.  They are my sign that winter is over. The lightness, joy and hope of summer are on the way.

Paper Tales

Choosing the best paper for watercolor painting comes down to what the goal for the final outcome is. A little knowledge makes the process a snap!

Mixed media

Paper choices can be as difficult as which pencil to use when going for the watercolor over pencil technique. Cold press, Hot press, smooth finish, rough finish… the list goes on and on. The most popular watercolor finish paper is cold press. Hot press and Rough are fairly popular as well but may be a little harder to find. Artists will differ widely in their opinion on hot press vs cold press vs rough. Their are any number of reasons for each paper.

Cold pressed and hot pressed papers are named for the process that produces them. ArtNews says, “Named for a fabrication process that involves smashing pulp in heated cylinders, hot press papers present smooth surfaces with virtually no tooth.” Rough is paper known for its heavy “tooth” or very bumpy surface. ArtNews goes on to say that, “choosing a product for your needs is highly subjective.” It is subjective but also dependent on what you are painting. The surface can be as important to the painting as the paint.

Watercolor Affair gives a good description of cold vs hot as, “Cold pressed paper has a slightly bumpy, textured surface. But hot pressed paper has a smooth surface finish,” and “rough paper has a highly textured surface and a very pronounced tooth.” Cheap Joes Art Supply says, “The rough finish has an effect close to that of handmade paper and encourages a loose style.” Knowing the different attributes of each paper will help you decide which paper is better suited for what you want for the outcome of the final project.

When looking for which brand to buy, Kimposed has a great rundown of each brand. All of the covered papers are wonderful choices and here is where I’d say subjective reasons are the main ones to consider. Price may be a big consideration when all factors are weighed. Cheap Joes is a great option for comparing prices.

No matter what paper you choose, here are some possible issues you can consider. The red rose is on “rough” paper. It’s fairly easy to see where the paint bleeds out around the edges making it difficult to create sharp finished edges. The softer edges give the painting more of a romantic look. The dark purple iris is on hot pressed, smooth paper. Because the layers don’t absorb into the paper, the layers of paint can be more visible. One great option for the smooth surface is mixed media as colored pencils, ink and other media work well with the paint. The pansies and the variegated purple iris are on cold pressed paper which makes it easy to do to about any finish you you want. Versatile is a great word for the cold pressed finish.

Whatever paper you choose, having a little knowledge about the papers makes the choosing easier. Below is a you tube demonstration by Jenna Rainey. She is very knowledgeable and her videos are easy to follow.

Happy Painting!

Pencils and paint

When looking for a way to cut through hours of practice consider using the watercolor over pencil technique for Botanical style painting.

The technique of watercolor over pencil or graphite is a great way to get fine detail in botanical style painting. The finer points of a flower or leaf can be tricky requiring a good bit of practice to perfect accurate brush strokes. Basic drawing skills are somewhat necessary but patience is not. Patience is a valuable trait in an artist. Not everybody has it. When looking for a way to cut through hours of practice consider using the watercolor over pencil technique. Many hours of frustration can be avoided. Plus you’ll fool lots of people with your eye for detail!

A wonderful book, Botanical Illustration with the Eden Project outlines this technique in an easy to follow instruction with several examples. According to the examples, a detailed drawing of a plant is made including all shading. A beautiful finished drawing will provide the best base for watercolor to be laid over. One of the biggest considerations is the use of the proper pencil.

Knowing which pencil is which is one of the best tips for the watercolor over pencil technique. As Kevin Hayler of the Wildlife Art Store says, “Choosing the wrong pencil for an underdrawing will ruin your watercolor painting.” He has a great article on different pencils that is well worth a read here. Knowing your pencils can make the difference in a successful painting or one that looks like mud!

It was very discouraging, when first looking at this technique without knowing how vital the pencil issue was. My first effort, this delicate peach colored rose, resulted in particles of graphite coming up in the paint. The beautiful color was lost. Back to the drawing board. It looked like a total failure but instead of giving up, a pencil study was in order. And it was revealing. One of the biggest things I discovered was the use of H pencils instead of the standard drawing pencils in the B’s.

The H pencils are more commonly found in mechanical and architectural drawing. In art and office stores, that’s where the widest range can be found. Drawing supply areas in stores will usually just go up as far as 2H or 4H. The higher the number, the lighter the pencil. My experiments led me to stick with 6H up to 9H for most of the drawing. 2-4H pencils were better for the darker details. This technique has become the only one I use for botanical painting. Experiments are ongoing so that could change!

Until then, enjoy this video on watercolor over pencil. Happy Painting!

The Painting Tube

Here’s the book:" target="_blank">""Eden Project

Learn more about The Eden Project

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