Saturday, November 21, 2009

SketchCrawl #25

My "minimalist" sketching kit

SketchCrawl, the international drawing marathon, took place today, and four of us participated. I decided to go "minimalist" and take the smallest set of supplies I thought I could get away with. Here it is: the smallest -- 3 1/2" x 5 1/2" -- of the Moleskine watercolor sketchbooks, a tiny toystore tin I filled with Winsor&Newton watercolors, a waterbrush, tissues, pen, pencil and eraser. What's so cool about this is I can tuck it all in the little pouch on the left and carry it wherever I go.

Our destination was the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Here's the overly-detailed study, but I was killing time waiting for fellow artists to show up.

The Henry Moore sculptures were still in place at the Garden. Set into rocks and vegetation, they looked like aboriginal totems.

The Japanese Garden is a tranquil place, and I could have sketched there all morning.

Just before lunch I dashed off this last sketch of the big fountain near the cafe where we all would soon be meeting for lunch.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Prairie Series continues...

"The Red Hill" - acrylic gouache on panel, 16 x 20

This is a hill of Big Bluestem, one of the tallest of the tallgrass prairie grasses. It can grow to 10 feet! In autumn it turns the most luscious wine-red. I came upon this hill after making the turn in the road shown in the painting below.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More from the Prairies

"After the Storm" - acrylic gouache on panel, 12 x 16

As part of my growing fascination with prairies, I traveled to Oregon, Illinois, last month to visit Nachusa Grasslands, an example of tallgrass prairie, a 2800 acre plant community of really big (some are 10 ft. tall!) grasses and wildflowers dating back to the Ice Age. In the mid-1890's most of America's prairies were turned into farms, bringing this unique ecosystem almost to extinction. Organizations like the Nature Conservancy are restoring many grassland remnants, and this is one of the best examples in the Midwest.

I thought it might be helpful to students who take my classes and to people who collect my work to see how I go about making a painting, so, for this painting, I photographed steps in my painting process. See them in the post below.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How I paint

I don't usually make a record of my painting process. I'm usually too engrossed in putting paint on the surface to take the time to stop and photograph each step. But since I teach landscape painting, I decided it would be helpful to my students to see how I go from a sketch to the finished painting. So, for what it's worth, here's my process....

Step #1: the pencil sketch on a gessoed Ampersand hardbord panel.

Step #2: the first big defining washes of color using Holbein's acrylic gouache -- over-bright because I know I will tone them down with subsequent layers. I find it's easier to tone down intense color rather than vice-versa. Besides, bright color is fun!

Step #3: the addition of the warm earth tones to play off against the cool blues and greens.

Step #4: More definition in the rain puddles and some initial layers of grass texturing.

Step #5: Ooops, big jump here. Well that's what happens when I get deeply engrossed in the act of painting -- I can't stop. But you can see I've added lots of layers of warm tones over the green under-painting, as I defined the grasses with long vertical brushstrokes. Voila, the finished painting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grasslands in gouache

"Bear Mountain Road" - acrylic gouache on panel, 12 x 16

Here's another grassland scene, from a trip we took to New Mexico several years ago. I love the way the low afternoon light turned the autumn grasses into spun gold. The medium I used here is acrylic gouache, which is sort of a mix between acrylic paint and gouache, a kind of opaque watercolor. Next to watercolor, this may be my favorite kind of paint. For more details about this paint, check out my description here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

SketchCrawl #24

Peach, banana, red pepper in ink and watercolor. © Marilynn Brandenburger

Yesterday was "SketchCrawl," the international drawing marathon in which artists -- and aspiring artists -- all over the world go out and sketch. It's a hoot to see who was drawing, what they drew and where. Here in Atlanta it rained all day, quashing our plans to go to the Botanical Garden, so I stayed home and raided the produce bin for subjects.

Monday, September 14, 2009

More grasslands

"Toward Laramie," Wyoming - watercolor on panel, 12 x 16

"Autumn in the Tallgrass," Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Iowa - watercolor on panel, 12 x 16

"Prairie Poem," Big Prairie, Montana - gouache on panel

Our Colorado vacation really got me pumped about grasslands. I find the rolling hills of sensuously waving grass to be extremely beautiful. Did you know that only about 1% of the original grasslands -- from the Tallgrass prairies of Illinois, Iowa and Kansas to the Shortgrass of the Great Plains states -- still remain as they were after the Ice Age? Efforts are being made to restore prairie grasses and the richly diverse ecosystem they offer, and I plan to visit as many restored grassland preserves as I can.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Memories of Colorado

My husband and I spent a week along Colorado's Front Range in July, checking it out for retirement. Here are two watercolors of Soapstone Prairie, a 28-square mile Natural Area just north of Fort Collins. Enormous sky, brilliant sun, wild wind, soaring raptors and gazillions of wildflowers -- my kind of place!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Chair Journal

I've started a new journal -- about chairs. Chairs we spend time in can become good friends, and many of them play a role in our lives. This chair nurtured my musings about drawing and painting when I was a resident artist at the Ragdale Foundation in Chicago a few years ago. I'll be telling its story, along with that of 15 other chairs I have known and loved, in this new "Chair Journal."

Handmade journals

I have used store-bought journals for my sketches for years, but they've always fallen short of what I really wanted, which was to be able to bind pages with a single theme together. Last year I started taking book-binding workshops so I could do this. Here is a selection of my handmade journals to-date. Where I learned to do this was at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, where I teach Illustrated Journaling.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Painting with gouache

Watercolor is the medium I use most often for my illustrated journals and for painting "en plein air" -- that is, painting outdoors -- but often I want to paint in a less delicate, more robust style. Lately, what does that for me is gouache, an opaque watercolor. Here's a little scene along Minnesota's Gunflint Trail, created in gouache on museum board.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More desert sketches

The desert journal is taking shape. Here are some more sketches, iconic desert images. I've started writing the text that will accompany the sketches and begun to think about how to bind this new journal.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Desert journal

I've been working on a new "Illustrated Journal" of Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, following our visit there in February. The winter landscape under pristine and limitless cobalt skies was truly breathtaking. Here are a few samples of that desert world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sketch Crawl #22

Another sketching marathon -- this time at Atlanta's historic Oakland Cemetery. But the day was short-lived: a bitter wind and chill temperatures sent most of us scurrying for home after lunch.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I've been working on a series of sketches of my studio.  Come on in and have a look around.

My drawing desk is my planning center.  I make a lot of sketches here and plan future paintings.

                  I have a separate table set aside for creating paintings in acrylic and casein.

Here's my watercolor table.  This is where I make many of the sketches that appear on this blog.  Note the big windows behind the table.  They look out on my back yard and provide steady north light throughout the year.  Right now I'm waiting for the azaleas out there to bloom -- just a few more weeks!
My watercolor sketching kit is pretty minimal.  That makes it easy to carry .....and use!

I've always got coffee going in the studio, but I keep tea and hot chocolate handy too.

My matting and framing center was handmade for me by a local craftsman.  What a godsend it is!  It holds loads of matboard and all my tools, and it's just the right height for cutting mats and assembling frames.

Monday, January 12, 2009


This is the third time we've participated in Sketch Crawl, the international drawing marathon.  Eight of us started the day at the International Pancake House; nine others joined us later.
Thanks to the wonderful staff of the Atlanta Water Gardens, we were able to work inside, where fountains of trickling water and soft background music made for an idyllic sketching experience.