From a pile of old drawings

Striped owl adult and juvenile, combined from sketches. Oil on paper, 15" x 22".
Striped owls, oil on paper, 15″ x 22″.

Snow is slowly printing out a Christmas-card wonderland in the front yard, while a hopeful cardinal sings from the rat’s nest of our dead trumpet vine. Even this early in the season, even with snow falling around it, the thing with feathers is over-amped on sex-hormones and natural antifreeze.

From the Amazon rainforest, a life drawing of a liana. There's some kind of big moth clinging upside down to the trunk of the tree behind it. There's kind of a funny story that goes with this drawing. Video here. 6B pencil in 8 1/2" x 11" sketchbook.
From the Amazon rainforest, a life drawing of a liana. There’s some kind of big moth stuck upside down to the trunk of the tree behind it, and I did this while under attack by a crazy bird. 6B pencil in 8 1/2″ x 11″ sketchbook.

I sometimes turn to old sketches when running low on ideas and paw randomly through my flat files and sketchbooks for inspiration. Random is helpful. Without prior intention I might grab an old study of a tiger heron and merge it with a newer one of Panama vegetation, or take a sketch of a striped owl and juvenile (used as the basis of a field guide plate for Trinidad and Tobago) and graft it onto a liana from the Amazon. Which turned into a new piece with a funny backstory (and video) of its own. Randomness occasionally sets off an incandescent burst of creativity (which gives off a warmer glow than the energy-saver type, to extend and beat to death the lightbulb-blinking-on-over-the-head metaphor). Try it yourself. Spread out your sketches like Scrabble pieces on a board and move them around. See what comes to mind.

Sketches from the archives, Striped owls (adult and juvenile). Pencil on paper.
The original sketch of striped owls (adult and juvenile). Pencil on paper.
First shot, keeping to the original pose, combined in Photoshop with the liana, values added in multiplied layers.
First try, keeping to the original pose, combined in Photoshop with the liana. Values added in multiplied layers.
Another artist suggested adding this extra layer of meaning by turning the adult's head to look to her offspring. I loved the idea. Thanks, Barry Van Dusen!
An artist friend I showed this drawing to suggested an extra layer of meaning could be created by turning the adult’s head toward her offspring. I loved the idea. Thanks, Barry Van Dusen!

Sketch-scavenging is a swell snow day activity. The air outside is white, like a blank canvas. Inside it’s warm, with a cat on my lap and an accumulation of random drawings piling up front of me. There’s a 50% chance of incandescence (either it happens or it doesn’t). If all goes well, I can hope for a 100% chance of paint. And maybe hot cocoa.

Couldn't have planned it better. Painting wet into wet, I walked away for awhile to do something else while it dried and returned to this nice hank of hanging moss created by slow dribbles in the oil paint.
Painting wet into wet, I walked away for awhile to do something else while it dried. I returned to this nice hank of hanging moss made by slow dribbles in the gooey oil paint.

13 thoughts on “From a pile of old drawings

    1. zeladoniac says:

      Alan- basically, I think about the color scheme after the values are in place. Memory helps, but if the drawing’s really old, I have to rely on imagination. The outcome could be good or bad, depending (like, on how imaginative I am). Thanks for the question!

  1. Marc Calvo Armengol says:

    This is an astonishing style of sketches!,it remembers me, my style of paint with the only difference that i go directly to realize the final work with an oil paintings normally.Fantastic, i love this style and manner of work!.

  2. zeladoniac says:

    My favorite symphony, of course. Nice to imagine Ludwig strolling the Black Forest with a sketchbook, jotting down bird songs.Thanks for the lovely mental picture!

  3. Diana Friess says:

    I’m sorry to post a comment like this, but I can’t seem to find your contact information. I’m Diana, a Marketing Specialist for Blick Art Materials. I was writing in hopes to request a change on your website. Currently you have a link to Blick Art Materials and that has anchor text of “Dick Blick Art Materials.” In an effort to create uniformity across our links and would you mind changing the anchor text to “Blick Art Supplies”?
    Please let me know if you have any questions at all and I truly appreciate your help in this matter.
    Thank you so much!! 🙂

  4. 100swallows says:

    Debby: I have looked a half-dozen times at these owls and can’t get over your strangely effective use of light and shadow. The big dark limb rounding overhead gives the sensation of looking up so well. Also, though I’m no birder, the attitude of the owls looks so right. I like both versions and am glad you didn’t erase the first one. Funny, that “hank” ( “hank of moss”). I’d forgotten the word. Makes me realize that my English is going.

    1. zeladoniac says:

      Thanks, 100swallows, I’m glad to hear from you. The second version might get painted sometime, just to see if it works, but I’m afraid the “hank of moss” might not happen again. That’s the problem with relying too much on happy accidents. Thanks for writing!

  5. Lisa says:

    Intriguingly beautiful work…thank you for sharing them.
    My husband and I have begun a new Spiritual Healing business called Owl Wisdom Medicine focusing on energy healings, Shamanic practices and intuitive readings…we both have Owl as totem animal and see them quite often in the wild…a gift for sure. We are blessed with the assistance of the owl energy and it’s characteristics in our work. Check us out on FB. So happy to have come across your page. You have amazing talent. Namaste! Lisa

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