Sketching With Twigs and Feathers

I joined an online group of 125 sketchers from around the world. One of the challenges was to look for unique angles so I walked around our house and found this view of our deck and greenhouse.

Deck Sketch

One person in the group made an exquisite sketch using a chop stick and another using a twig. Here is a sketch of King Mountain Lodge near where we live. I used a genuine alder twig dipped in ink. It gives a nice variety of thin and thick lines. Holding an open pot of ink is a little scary and I was sure I would sneeze and have ink everywhere. This was a quick little sketch of about twenty minutes.

King Mountain Lodge

While walking the golf course with my husband, I picked up a Canada goose feather to use as a dip pen too. Because it was Canadian, I thought it would be more cooperative, but it created a scary mixture of blobs and scratches more suitable for an ink blot test than a realistic sketch.

We’ve had record heat in Alaska which makes glaciers melt, causing the rivers to rise. I sat between the Matanuska River and the highway and sketched this tributary flowing from the Chugach Mountains into the river.

Chugach Mts

There are groups who get together to sketch around the world and it looks like so much fun. I’ve been organizing a group called Drawn to Palmer and we are planning to meet every month. It will be exciting to spend time with other sketchers and see different perspectives of other artists. During our last meetup, I sketched the Palmer Visitors Center in Palmer, Alaska. They have such a beautiful garden with Pioneer Peak in the background. I’m envious that they can grow foxgloves with just a bit warmer climate.

Palmer Visitors Center

Sketching Alaskan Shrimp

Over Mother’s Day weekend, my husband and I traveled to Prince William Sound to fish for shrimp and halibut. Once more the halibut won, but we had lots of fun and found some succulent shrimp. The land and sea were fairly colorless. Our boat and gear look so colorful.

May 15 13_2427We saw goats eating on rock cliffs and scores of migrating waterfowl.

pws goat

There was a lot of snow on shore, but we walked along the tide line and I sat on a rock to sketch.

Suzie PWS web

A hummingbird flew inside the cabin the first morning. He loved my red scarf.

Hummingbird pws

He flew by several times that day. My scarf must have been so disappointing to him.

We used three shrimp pots and picked them twice a day and brought home 140 shrimp. The striped one is actually called a Coonstripe Shrimp. Didn’t know that until we got home.

PWS Shrimp sketch

“River Memories” Collage

The collage for Fairbanks Pioneer Home is finished! There was a little hold-up when I checked on the new container of varnish and read, “do not ship for one to two weeks after applying varnish”. Those instructions weren’t on the other containers I had so unfortunately it was delivered a bit later than I’d intended.  I’m excited to see photos of it installed. Here are photos of the finished piece and some details.

River Memories Web

“River Memories” by Suzie Althens 11 feet long by 32 inches high

I included a special memory of mine you can see in the detail below. The lady on the left holding the little girl with dark hair could be my grandmother and me years ago.

River Memories detail 4

River memories detail 1 web

River Memories detail 3 web

River Memories detail 2 web

To Paint a Perfect Pear

Yesterday I took part in Palmer, Alaska’s third annual Who Let the Girls Out event. I taught two watercolor classes. Twenty enthusiastic ladies showed up and we had so much fun. The first class was painting geraniums and the second was painting pears. Here are some photos.

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We had a wonderful time and all the pears turned out so beautifully. Even though we got squeezed out of our reserved class space and into a littler space, these ladies went with it and made the class a great success. Well done!

Creating a Collage Part 3

Paper and paint have been flying around the studio, and it is fun to see the image evolve. I started with laying down the trees since they will act as bookends for the piece. I’ll add paint to the paper to suggest shade and light later.


Then, I began making people out of different colored paper.



I made one dog by starting with colored tissue paper and adding texture with mulberry fiber. collage-11

This is what he looked like when I was finished with him. I wanted him to be a shaggy, friendly dog.

collage-12The fire that the group was sitting around started out as a raging inferno, but with a few rips and tears, it calmed into a friendly campfire.



This is what I see as I walk into my studio.


collage-8I will leave it for two weeks, then look at it with “fresh eyes”. I’m going to get on a plane and go to Italy for those two weeks! I’m hoping to post while I’m there, but if not, you will see some of my sketches and I’ll tell of my adventures when I return.

Creating A Collage, Part 2

The first part of creating the collage started with blocking in the sky, the river and sandbanks. Bands of horizontal color will span the entire painting. I use a rubber “shaper” to mix paint and to apply soft gel to the paper, but I mostly used a natural sponge for painting.  In this photo I’m using cyan blue and manganese blue, blended with glazing medium for the water. My palette is a plastic plate. Mar 18 2013_1482

The brightest color will be the yellow of the trees, but they needed to show more shape so I lightly sprayed the bottoms of the yellow paper I’d already painted and dabbed on darker quinacridone yellow to create the undersides of the trees. I added a few darker shades with a combination of quinacridone burnt orange and cyan blue. Because the fibers were wet, it created soft edges.

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I needed to get a feel for how the colored paper would look on the colored canvas.  Using some low tack masking tape made for drafting, I stuck the papers temporarily onto the canvases.Mar 18 2013_1483

I got a bit ahead of myself and started gluing down the dark spruce trees. I quickly took them off and put the clouds on, then put the spruce trees over them. Whew!

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I glued the pieces of paper by turning them upside down on the plastic bag, then spreading them with the soft gel.Mar 18 2013_1484

Here is a closeup of all the textures:

collage closeup 2Below is a closeup of the sketch I’m working with and one of the jackets of the children playing on the beach. Like playing with paper dolls! As of today I have several people cut out and I’m moving them about on the beach.

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Creating a Collage, Part One

Last week I started a collage with three canvases 32″ x 44″ each. After applying two base coats of gesso, I brushed on a thin coat of base color using Golden Fluid Acrylic. It is a thin paint with lots of pigment so it doesn’t take very much to cover. I use it like watercolor, allowing the white of the canvas to show through.



As the paint dried, I selected papers to use based on texture. Some of these papers are handmade in Japan, others I made with tissue paper and paint. Here is a post about how I do that.


Ready…set…go! The little cups are holding diluted colors to make the spruce trees using Jenkins green, quinacridone burnt orange, primary cyan and anthraquinone blue.


First I spray the pieces of paper which are lying on a trash bag. I allow the paint to blend by itself. If the paint isn’t blending, I spray it with more water. The paint on the paper in the lower right will be sprayed and it will flow and all the fibers will be covered.


After pouring the paint, I dabbed at some with paper towels to make distant spruce trees.


This Japanese paper is made by water dripping on it to make the holes. I tore it into pieces, then used yellow and quinacridone gold to add variety and make it look like tree shapes.


The perfect color of autumn birch leaves!


I tear most of the paper used in the collage because I don’t want hard edges. The leaves need to have an edge on the river bank though, so I use this ruler with a deckled edge to give the paper a soft, uncut edge.


This paper is perfect for birch trunks. I used a rotary cutter to make this tree trunk. This is tissue paper with paint.

I’ll begin sticking the paper temporarily on the surface next. That gives me a feel for color of the water and sand and I’ll make adjustments before gluing the paper down permanently.

Thanks to Daniel Smith for excellent service and products.