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October 2009

Earnest Fun: Drawing, Journaling & Camaraderie at the Fall Retreat

Some autumn weeks have now passed since our group of 29 convened in the foothills of the Cascades to spend a weekend together to focus on recording the natural surroundings of Camp Huston; we were well cared-for and very well fed by the conscientious Huston staff. A very special thanks goes to Flo Wilkins for her diligent, caring work in organizing the retreat. The afterglow of the three days is still with me. Why? The participants launched into the drawing lessons I gave them on Friday evening, and continued drawing, painting and writing with impressive focus throughout the three days. On Saturday, they resumed the lessons, working on the tea-dyed portfolio sheets and case I had prepared for them. We were graced by crisp, clear early autumn weather, a huge boon to the indoor-outdoor curriculum I had designed. Even by Sunday morning, in the chill of the mountain air, an energetic spirit still prevailed as we went outside for a final, difficult drawing lesson en plein air. In short: they worked hard, ate well, laughed and shared much with one another (and with me), tried new techniques, and thoroughly impressed me with their beautiful, sensitive work. Thank you to each one of you.

Here are some of my photos (click on each for a larger view), taken in between meals (I left there spoiled) and drawing lessons, with added captions.


 A typical studio workspace during the weekend held participants' collections of small natural objects collected from the woods, snacks, notebooks, instructions on how to draw trees, and their works-in-progress. Here is Dewey Henderson painting a maple leaf which she later cut out and applied to her journal case.

Gayle_sketches Sandy_table On the left, Gayle Waddle-Wilkes has drawn items on her table as small studies.

On the right are Sandy's studies of poppy seed pods and a cedar branchlet. 

Below, from left to right: Kay Lewis' journal case, Roxana Augusztiny's outdoor sketch, and Randi Kander's four completed journal pages.


Kay_portfolio Roxana_landscape Randi-pages 

Many students succeeded in sketching both small, natural objects and more complex outdoor scenery for the first time. Watercolor was added to pen drawings, bringing them to life, especially on the tea-dyed paper. 

Riversketching Morning_sketchers

On the left, retreat participants write journal entries after making small-scale sketches by the Wallace River. On the right, chilly sketchers take their places for a step-by-step tutorial on drawing buildings.

Below, you see the buildings that were the subject of my drawing lesson. On the right is Randi Kander's sketch of the buildings. Capturing perspective, scale, and dimensionality were the goals of the session.

Tank_shed Randi_buildings 

Some students continued to work on their tea-dyed portfolios after they returned home. Below are some of the images from Claire Russell's completed pieces. To become comfortable and confident in your drawing skills, you must practice, and practice some more. Keep at it! You'll see steady improvements the more you do it. Some participants will be getting together at home to sketch together. Indeed, camaraderie & mutual commitment make practice more fun.



Historic Writing Fluid: Fermented Pokeberry Juice

My inky jaunt into our American past began last month with the admiration of a boldly colored, berry-laden mystery plant in the garden of my son and daughter-in-law. As Amy and I were admiring this tall, magenta-tinged interloper, Eli went online to find out what it might be. Soon he had the information: it was a pokeweed, a significant plant in United States history. The Declaration of Independence was written with the fermented juice of the berries of this plant. Further, Civil War soldiers wrote letters home using this available ink. The plant is more common in the south and east than here in the northwest. The more information Eli relayed to us, the more intrigued we became. I asked myself: what calligrapher worth her ink wouldn't give this a try? Immediately, I harvested some berries and once back at home, I proceeded with the experiment, inspired by the historic significance of the plant also known as inkberry. Here's the way it went:


A ripening cluster of pokeweed berries. In the background, the valley in SW Washington where Eli and Amy have their small farm. 


First, I crushed the berries using a mortar and pestle. Next, I allowed the berries to sit in a glass bowl for two days in a warm spot so that they would begin to ferment.


Then, I poured the fermenting berries into a cheesecloth-lined coffee cone and pressed the juice through. To the juice I added a little bit of water. I heated the resulting "ink" in the microwave in order to discourage bacteria from growing. 




Pokeberryink My two clusters of berries yielded about three tablespoons of ink. Below you see my handwritten sample using the historic ink recipe. The fluid wrote perfectly with the old-fashioned pointed steel nib shown in the photo. Currently, the sample is on my windowsill, exposed to light so that I can witness the probable fading of this very organic ink. Oh, one more thing: don't drink the ink. It's poisonous!