Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Perfect Sketchbook

Red-tailed hawk drying his wings.  Watercolor and ink on Aquarius II paper.

Get two sketch artists together, and usually sooner rather than later, the subject of the perfect sketchbook comes up.  The answer is simple:

There is no perfect sketchbook!

But we keep trying to find it.  

For many years I did most of my field sketching in hard bound plain paper blank journals.  My drawings hardly showed through onto the backside of the page and the paper didn’t buckle very much when I got wet and juicy.  I’m now in Volume 41.  As the years have gone by I realize the paper used to be better in these journals, plus I’ve developed a taste for even better paper. I’ve been trying other sketchbooks quite a bit during the past couple of years.  I try to have both my journal and a good sketchbook in the car ... but which sketchbook?

There is a variety of sketchbooks with lovely paper  -- many with paper far too nice for scribbled notes. Most of these sketchbooks are rather expensive.  Stillman & Birn is putting out a deluxe series of sketchbooks; Aquabee almost marries price with good paper, but still seems spendy to write copious notes on; Strathmore has some nice sketchbooks.... and many others.  On all of these I get intimidated when the sheet of whiteness in front of me costs somewhere around a dollar a sheet and and tearing one out seems sacrilegious.  Suddenly I worry about messing up a page; I don’t want to start something I might not have time to finish; I don’t want to write herky, jerky notes on that good paper.  Trying to reinvent myself as neat and tidy was an exercise in how to ruin spontaneity. My field journaling is all about trying to capture the moment, both in words and with sketches.  “Bless this Mess” is a good motto for my journal.  For more on my thoughts on journaling, please go to my post:, “Thoughts on Keeping a Journal” Feb 2011.

and “Warts and all”  March 2012.

Plein-air sketches on index.
A few weeks ago I suddenly had an a new idea on how to handle my conundrum.  I still plan to keep a plain paper, hard bound journal for most of my writing and lots of sketches; but I also plan to keep a “Inspiral Info-Bind” binder filled with my choice of paper.  ( 
Years ago I bought a Komtrack Inspiral Info-Bind binder and promptly shelved it because refill paper is so expensive. My recent brainstorm is that I can cut up large sheets of paper and punch my own refills  .. and pick any type  of paper I want.  Every so often I can take out finished pages and insert new ones.  I had to buy a hold punch -- that cost me $50.  It’ll  be a bit of a bother to cut, punch, and insert the pages; but right now I’m excited to have a variety of paper under one cover:  I currently have five types of paper in my binder:  Strathmore’s Aquarius II for watercolor, Strathmore’s high surface bristol for fine pen and ink work, some cheap index for just sketching, some typing paper for notes, and even some ‘write-in-the-rain” paper.  
Wren Tit found along the Oregon coast.  Watercolor and ink on Aquarius II paper.
Another advantage of the Inspiral Info-Bind coil is that I can fold the book all the way around, i.e. I don’t have to work with it wide open.  I often sketch in our little car where space is limited.  

I have another Komtrak binder, one with a smooth back, but it doesn’t fold back.  I see they also offer a simpler binder which might work just as well.

I haven’t lived with my new system long enough to know whether it will stick as long as filling one hard bound journal after another has -- gee I’d have to live another 37 years for that.  I doubt I’ll be so lucky.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Contest!

I have a fun announcement to make:  a contest!  Some of you just might enjoy entering.   First a little introductory information is in order.  

Dale and I have a very gifted daughter, Lita Judge.  She both writes and illustrates children’s books.  I’m proud to say some of her inspiration has been nurtured while sharing our love of wildlife and the outdoors; and many of her books have a personal connection to us, mostly in the form of using our photographs for reference material.  She especially loves our grizzly photos. 

A few of her books have a very different connection.  I’ve done a considerable amount of knitting for her!  The knitting started with half a sock -- yes, just half a sock.  The clerk who sold me the wool was quite puzzled when she asked about the project and I answered, “I only need enough wool for half a sock.”  Lita needed an illustration of a half knitted sock for “One Thousand Tracings; Healing the wounds of World War II” -- Hyperion Books for Children.
Most recently I’ve been knitting red hats.  Lots of red hats. LOTS!

 The first red hats were for Lita’s book “Red Sled” (Atheneum Books / 2011), a delightful adventure book.  In it a bear borrows a red sled and ends up taking a variety of woodland friends on a wild ride.  Since the child in the book wears a red hat, Lita decided she wanted a red hat for her book jacket photo .... and she then asked for about 30 miniature hats to help with marketing.  Out came my knitting needles and I made a dent the Norwegian wool I had stored for years.  

My little hats were a big hit.  More important, the book was a bigger hit!  Lita was encouraged to come up with a sequel.  

 “Red Hat,” the sequel to “Red Sled,” will be released this March.  What mischief do the bear and friends get into this time?

Out came my knitting needles again.  This time she not only wanted another batch of miniature hats, but also a variety of unique hats to kick off a ‘Red Hat Contest.’  I’ve had lots of fun creating red hats for the initial contest site.  I put a hat on an onion blossom; cut holes in my straw gardening hat and put it on a pony; and I stared knitting weird and wonderful: one for her parrot, one for her kitty, for a goat, and for Sophie, a Scottie I know.  
Poor Sophie.  She wasn’t at all excited about wearing a red hat.  She suddenly went mournful and froze.  “Oh dear!  What on earth is this thing on my head?”  But Sophie is a quick learner and found out that subjecting herself to wearing ‘that thing’ also came with very special treats.  Pretty soon Sophie forgave me the indignity and decided to look quite cute in her hat. 

Now it is your turn to be creative and enter the Red Hat Contest.  It can be a photograph or a drawing.  You don’t need to knit a hat ... just use a hat that has been hiding in your closet or borrow one from a friend or draw it.  In any case be sure to go to Lita’s web site and enjoy her art.  More information about the contest is there too.  

Lita’s books can be found in many local bookstores and on <> .  .  Here is her website:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A State of Inelegence: Dec 23, 2012

A while back I jotted down a favorite quote from a letter written by Jane Austen, the famous English novelist:   “What dreadful hot weather we have!  It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance...”.  I only need to change one word for it to fit my sharp-shinned hawk perfectly:  “What dreadful wet weather we have!  It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance ....”  

Oh so wet!  The indignity of it.  It’s been raining for days.  The mosses and lichens are green sponges; the ground is soggy and puddly; the sky drips.   It rains and rains.  I try to remember back to last summer when we were at three months without rain and counting.  Why can’t Mother Nature put all her rain drops and drips in a barrel, shake them up, and distribute them more evenly?  

I think the sharp-shinned hawk agrees with me.  He looks just plain miserable as rain drips off his tail and off his beak.  Every so often he just shakes a little and sends droplets scattering.  I even saw him open his beak and swallow a droplet!  

But what is a sharp-shinned hawk to do?  He still has to make a living.  This one has been making regular visits to our bird feeder.  As far as I’m concerned I wish he’d only eat house sparrows, but I’m afraid goldfinches, pine siskins and juncoes are also on his platter.  .... But he’d better not dare take one of my chickadees!  

Watching this sharpie has been fun. Sometimes I draw him through the front window, and sometimes I ease my bathroom window open and don’t have any glass between us.   It’s a rare opportunity to be so close to a relaxed, wild, sharp-shinned hawk.  I never realized before all the head bobbing they do when they are perched and hunting.  He reminds me of a little owl,  looking up down, to the left, to the right.  Lots of quick little head bobs.  It can be a very effective hunting technique.  

I haven’t been watching when this sharpie has caught anything, but a few years ago I noticed one eating a pine siskin in my front yard.  I started drawing.  It took him twenty minutes to pluck and eat; then he paused and looked around ... looking into the shrubbery.  He merely popped down from his perch and came up with siskin number two.  When he’d polished off his second d'oeuvre, he grabbed a third!  This time he flew off with his prey to eat somewhere else.  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ferruginous Hawk

I’m using my blog for a slightly different purpose tonight -- to make sure interested birders can get a look at the photos we took today which verify the presence of a ferruginous hawk only about a mile from my home.  I wish I could say I spotted him.  I didn’t.  Matt Hunter, an excellent birder, noticed this particular buteo didn’t look quite right to be a red-tailed hawk.  Red-tails are common here and very variable in plumage.  Most winters one or two rough-legged hawks are seen by someone in the county; and we have a decent number of red-shouldered hawks.  I can only remember one other ferruginous hawk in the county in all the thirty plus years we have lived here.  Ferruginous hawks nest in eastern Oregon and Washington, southern Idaho, most of Montana and Wyoming, and western North and South Dakota -- and usually go farther south for the winter.

Matt spotted the bird a few days ago and took the best picture he could using a cell phone and binoculars!  Then he sent a call out hoping someone could get better pictures.  Yesterday we got good enough photos to verify it is a ferruginous hawk.  Today the sun cooperated and we got even better photos.  

We spent a lot of time waiting for the hawk to come hunting near us and for awhile he landed in a tree near us.  While Dale photographed I got to sketch. 
Note the feathering on his legs, typical of Ferruginous and Rough-legged hawks.
At some  angles very little red shows on the tail.
In different light the tail has a reddish cast.  We are quite sure there is only one bird.
..... and we were treated to an extra surprise while we waited.  A black-colored red fox came out and hunted in the same pasture the ferruginous hawk often hunted in.