I moved recently, first my house, then my studio. I didn't go far, only a few miles south of Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware, close enough to keep my friends and my Philly loyalty. Some of the differences, however, are significant. I now live in a park. Well, not quite - in an urban neighborhood that is park-like (full of trees) and with an actual park - many more trees and a river - a few steps away. Nature is a welcome new neighbor and birds are now very present in my life. And what a welcome presence they are!
Our window feeder is a front row seat on the comings and goings, the swoops and darts, the pecking, the little spats, the nibbles and gulps, the busy busy life of birds. Late afternoon, especially, is an amazing rush of feathers and calls, all blurred activity and twittering song.
The birds have made a nest in my art too. The first series in my new studio is this flurry of bird life. As always with me, it starts with drawing, here a quick sketchy capture of shape and movement. The ink is water soluble, and I'm pairing it with water soluble colored pencil, a favorite medium that I've used in the past. I'm a great believer in art making as a conversation, letting the medium or tool have a say. With my birds, this approach allows them be a bit wild, untamed, even a little savage. My control only goes so far - I love the freshness of the ink and color as each creature springs to life under my wet brush. Knowing when and how to stop, how best to let the spirit run free, to keep it fresh, even a little messy, is the most important job.
Some of my Ink Birds will be found in a birding guide, but not all - some are pure spirit. But this one, this male cardinal, is a frequent guest at our window feeder. His mate, with her beautiful tawny color and orange beak comes too. They live in a cedar tree behind our house. Sometimes she's shy, so he will pick up food from the feeder and take it to her, feeding her himself. What a guy! As spring moves towards summer we're seeing more takers at our window - the latest is a big blue jay who lands with a thump each time, scaring the many house finches. Keep an eye on my website for more Ink Birds - the sky's the limit (ha ha)
Ink Birds is a series of small paintings. I'm offering them as Note Card sets - single designs and mixed - and am also offering a selection of the originals matted and framed (8 x 10 framed size) Ink Birds are not available as prints. Click here to see the Ink Birds page
Was that really us? So crowded together, without a thought in the world for masks and germs and social distancing? It seems like another era, and I guess it was. I did this drawing in 2017 when I was in London, singing with a choir for a week at St Paul's Cathedral. Between rehearsals and services, I had plenty of time to wander around with my sketchbook. Covent Garden was nearby so it was an easy draw (ha! - both sense of the word). I remember clearly being overwhelmed by the crowds, but accepting the crush of humanity as part of the experience of one of London's great gathering spots.
This complex scene took quite a while to complete. I'm not showing in progress stages this time, just some details of the finished work. My focus, once I had the structure of the central space and flanking structures, was the crowds, in much the same way one arrives at a new and interesting location: 'Where am I? Who else is here?" The cavernous heart of the scene is full of shops and vendor carts - I suggested this commerce with a few lights and a sense of depth, while stressing the stream of people hurrying in to shop and browse.
The upper level at the right is - or was - a common sight - lots of happy folks jammed together, meeting, celebrating, chatting over drinks - in this case, of course, some good British beer. The weather is fine, the workday is over, time to kick back and relax.
,The big crowd at the lower edge is the heart of this scene. I've always marveled at the random dispersal of colors in a crowd - other than school groups with matching tshirts, there seems to be a law of physics that ensures a pleasing range of warms, cools, lights, darks, including, especially in a world wise city like London, skin tones and dress choices as well as colors. Look closely - in my scene you'll find humanity in many forms: families, children of all ages, leisurely wanderers, senior citizens, people helping people, lovers, business people, even a nun! Everybody has a story. We may have had to keep ours a bit more to ourselves this past year, but we're all still part of the big picture.
Do you miss crowds? Have you been to Covent Garden?
Tell me your thoughts!
Click here to find London Covent Garden for purchase as a fine art print in 2 sizes
Scandinavian folk tales are full of magical creatures, elves and trolls and tricksters, many of them pretty scary little folk. But in Copenhagen there's a magical world that is nothing but endless, colorful delight. The Tivoli Gardens, dating to the mid 1800's, (and the original inspiration for Walt Disney's own magical kingdom) was for us, when we visited in 2019, a revelation. We expected an amusement park - what we found was a veritable city in a city, a place of beauty, nature, fun, excitement, pleasure, and peaceful repose.
I've chosen one scene from a sketchbook full of Tivoli sketches - the Chinese pagoda set above a pretty lake, chock-a-bloc with a wild roller coaster that skims the air overhead, surrounded by an amazing botanical garden of beautiful old trees. The range of offerings at Tivoli is extraordinary - everywhere there are fun things for kids and families, lovely paths for leisurely strolls, pretty places to sit, cafes and restaurants and snacks of all sorts. We did our best to see it all, including a concert with a major pop star (sorry - I forget who) in a central open amphitheater, but I'm sure we were only getting started. We went back again just before we left, so we could see the place at night with all the sparkling lights.
I started the finished scene with a tree and the roller coaster, two unforgettable parts of the experience of being there. That roller coaster swooshed right above our heads! And I can't emphasize enough the beauty of the natural part of Tivoli - so many gorgeous trees. The cap of the pagoda is, of course, a major feature of the landscape and of my composition - it focuses the eye, allowing a viewer's gaze to travel in a circle around the rest of the scene. I like the perky shape too, with the lower lines almost like a smile. After these two stages, I added smaller details, including a cast of visitors of various types and ages. Then, at the end, a bit of magic icing - colorful stars to match the stars in the eyes of kids and grownups at the Tivoli Gardens.
Please let me know what you think!
French food markets are a category of pleasure that transcends easy description. Indoor or outdoor, a French market is French culture on full display: a communal love of eating and sharing, pride in growing and producing great food, family gatherings and business traditions, artistry of display and attention to every meticulous detail. In this new scene I'm spotlighting the fabulous Les Halles de Lyon, a true wonderland of taste, sight, and smell that is at once a venerable French market and the food court of your dreams.
My on-site sketch was done on an October trip starting in Strasbourg, traveling through Alsace into Burgundy with Lyon as a vital linchpin of the trip. We knew Lyon was considered one of the meccas of French cuisine, but Les Halles still managed to take us by surprise. It is new rather than old, in a shiny new building (2004) and billed as a 'haut-lieu des papilles' (a pilgrimage site for the taste buds.) Les Halles de Lyon is named for Paul Bocuse, favorite son of Lyon, and also pays homage to the famous woman chefs who did so much to put Lyon on the food map (Les Meres de Lyon).
Once inside, your battle begins, and what a battle. There is NOTHING in that jewelry store of culinary excellence that will not tempt you or make you ravenous. Every aisle sparkles with good taste(s).
My progress through the scene started as always with blocks of color defining the space, but I couldn't wait to get to the sausages! This merchant, Maison Gast, is one of a number of Alsatian vendors at Les Halles, specializing in choucroute (a hearty pile of pork and sauerkraut) and all that goes with it. Their display is so colorful and beautiful it's hard not to walk away with your arms spilling with sausage.
The tables in the foreground of my sketch refer to another specialty of the Lyon market - seafood. Wine too, of course - this is Burgundy. Lunch is a perfect time to visit, for one's own pleasure, but also to see the conviviality of groups laughing and chatting, digging into heaping platters of oysters, shrimp, lobster, and crab, or sharing perfectly arranged boards of cheese and charcuterie.
Have you been to Lyon? I'd love to hear what you think!
In late October, in the midst of negotiations of house sales and purchases, Rick and I escaped to the coast of Maine for a week. It was a wonderful respite, very safe and isolated in this time of Covid concerns. Our cottage looked out on a peaceful inlet, and when we weren't busy eating lobsters, we explored small towns and byways in the area. Here's a view of one of them, Boothbay Harbor, tucked up against the hills and overlooking the working waterfront.
My sketch, done with chilly fingers, is quick and efficient. I may have skipped over a building or two, but the cozy picturesque cluster of church, homes, and practical structures for Maine's lobster industry is all there. Lobster pot markers bob out in the water, as they do in all Maine coastal towns.
I started painting the scene with bands of blue and green to establish values, and then began filling in the warm tones of the foreground structures. The church, the focal point of the view, carries the highest dark and light values.
The final scene, before I cropped it and added my signature, shows a serene but hard-working town in a beautiful, typical Maine coastal world.
Have you been to Maine? What are your thoughts and memories? Leave a comment and let me know!
England will, no doubt, always be there despite Brexit and other world upheavals. My newest scene celebrates the splendid show that is London: iconic Big Ben, bright red double-decker buses, historic Tower of London, and the London Eye, all lined up above the stately Thames. I did my sketch on an August day in 2017, standing on one bridge looking down the river across several others, keeping an eye on the weather that as often as not requires an umbrella.
I wanted this to be a relatively simple scene, in part to counter the weighty gravitas of some of these landmarks. It's part of my style in any case; a slight wink and nudge, especially at grand architecture that takes itself a mite too seriously. I wanted the British flag in the picture, but as I don't always think of the details when I'm doing the sketch, it was lucky to find I had two of them ready and waiting!
To begin I blocked out the basic neutral colors - blue/gray sky, gray bridge, green foliage, plus a brighter blue barge as a peripheral accent. Next, a deep teal for the river and stronger colors for the main characters. When I painted the tour boats, which on the Thames are predominantly white, it became clear that two were too many, that they were too much of a feature and took away from the point of the scene. So - the beauty of art as opposed to photography - I just took one out. That is, in fact, one of the best aspects of my approach to drawing and painting these scenes: they are accurate to the reality and spirit of a place, but I feel free to take liberties to enhance and emphasize my take on it. I get so many nice comments on the freedom of my style - that flexibility is part of it.
Art is a lot of things, but for working artists it has to be a business, with the organization and attention to non-artistic details that that implies. Being creative about the business as well as the art is the challenge and, if done right, kind of fun. I've been updating my online shops so thought to share one aspect of my process and ideas - posting images. Because of the pandemic there is little chance for face-to-face sales so online business is very important. I'll include my shop links at the end.
My main business is prints and cards from my original artwork, all starting with freehand drawing, so images are of prime importance. I sell my archival fine art prints with pride and need to assure my customers that they will be a long-lasting pleasure - getting that quality across is essential. I post straightforward images, alone and with simple frames (below), but it helps to show how they can look in a home environment. I don't have to create the environments - great templates with clean, contemporary options are available for purchase.
My signature is a loose, fresh, somewhat whimsical style that pairs line drawing with colorful freehand digital color. By including environments I can show how well my designs work to liven up and complement a home. When people purchase my prints for themselves and as gifts it allows them to imagine how they'll look framed and in place. I've posted a gallery of 'environment' images below - I'd love your comments and suggestions. Which work best, what do you like, what's not working?
Shop my secure sites (and watch for updates)
Long, meandering strolls in grand museums, eyes and mind open, soaking it all in, are an impossible dream at the moment. The memories however, are wonderful. This new scene is of a favorite, the Dora Pamphili in Rome. It's a quirky place, crammed with treasures and no doubt ill-gotten goods, collected by a family of powerful popes in the late Renaissance. The masterpiece of the place is the astounding portrait of Innocent X by Velasquez. Throughout you find classical paintings and sculpture crowded onto the walls and piled on shelves. You have to pay attention or you miss some of the jewels - an exquisite little Caravaggio, an unusual Raphael, etc, etc.
I couldn't resist this lineup of old Romans when I saw them huddled together as if whispering judgment on passing museumgoers. Stern as they are, they humanize the grand imposing space around them. The first color I added is a rich raspberry color, meant to refer to the red walls that are a vogue for classical galleries.
The next steps: opening up the door to the next room, and 'painting' the paintings. It's fun to make new versions of old paintings, giving them a bit of whimsy while staying fairly true to color and subject. Then details of shading on the busts and the sarcophagus, subtle but important, and the veining in the marble columns.
If you've been to the Dora Pamphili, let me know what you think! If you haven't, plan to go - someday!
This scene is one of many from my 2018 Rome sketchbook. Find more finished scenes of Italy and other beautiful places on my 'International Series' page as well as at www.etsy.com/shop/LinesandPlaces, and Shopify shop.macgregor-art.com/collections/international-series-of-fine-art-prints. Ciao - be well and happy.
All my work is pretty upbeat and lighthearted, but my 'Goofy' cats are meant to be nothing but fun, for me and for anybody who loves cats or just likes a bit of a smile. They have a lot in common with real cats - they emerge from my pen with ideas of their own about personality and attitude, and I just try to follow along and bring out their 'cat-essence.'
I recently set up a Society6 site to offer these cats on a variety of products that I don't have to make (whew!) I give them names when I post them there. My blue cat is called, logically, 'Blue', and the other one here is 'Honey'
She took a bit more doing, with the details of the accents on her coat. I named the cat at the top 'Charlie' - I love his attitude and he looks great on a clock!
Visit the site - leave me a comment and tell me what you think! society6.com/macgregorart
Restrictions are starting to ease a bit around the world; it will still be awhile, but travel doesn't seem as much of a fantasy as it did. My thoughts turned this week to Spain, a country that has been very hard hit by the virus. My new scene is of the great Alhambra in the Andalusian city of Granada, a fascinating place I've been to twice and hope to see again. The majestic presence of the Alhambra on the mountain above the city conjures up imaginings of romance, history, mystery, and intrigue, most of which are more or less true. It was the last stronghold of Islam in Spain (thus Europe) falling in 1492 to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Gardens, fountains, towers, exquisite tiled rooms, intricate domed ceilings: The Alhambra is a wonder to behold (and enormous - it takes a full day to just begin to understand it)
For my sketch I stood in the narrow valley below the Alhambra, in the ancient neighborhood known as the Albaicin, (both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites) The steep streets of the Albaicin are worth the climb for the views across the valley to the Alhambra, especially at night when it is lit and glowing. View restaurants abound in the Albaicin, but the small cafes in the sketch offer simple menus of drinks and tapas.
I started the color with the red of the buildings (Alhambra means 'Red Castle) and the green of the great sheet of foliage that drops from the crest to the valley below. I then started defining the scene with smaller features - rock wall, buildings, cafe features.
The final 'in progress' scene has the basics of sidewalk and cafe details which help to set the perspective and the depth of the space. The finished scene at the top of the post shows the finishing touches of shadowing and highlights, and people in the scene.
I took a group to Granada as part of a Spain/Andalusia tour in 2017. We had such a wonderful time I may try to organize another similar trip, but one way or another Granada and the Alhambra are high on my list of places to visit again.
Artist/Designer/Illustrator - Drawing is my way to see and think about life in all its dimensions, color, meanings, and pleasures