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Pen and Ink… Just Inking Around

Watercolor & Ink Demo

“Inking” – as in drawing with ink.

Hi!  I’ve been studying up on working with ink in preparation for my upcoming demonstration for the Society Of Southern Oregon Artists.  And, its coming up this Monday!  Note to me…that’s SOON!

SOSA Inking Demo

But I’ve been preparing.  And, besides, how hard can it be to stand in front of a room full of people and talk while painting?

Exactly; for some of us it might be easy.  Not so for me.  So I’m arming myself with knowledge!

Dip Pens

I decided I ought to know more about my materials and dip pens in particular.  “Old school” time – and its really fun!

The reasons I’m working with dip pens and nibs follow:

  • I had several laying around my studio.  Yes, several stylus (styli?) and nibs just laying around in my studio waiting to be appreciated and used.
  • I like how dip pens and nibs are sensitive to the touch and expressiveness of the artist.
  • I had ink, Higgins “Magic Ink” in black.  I also have some acrylic inks but am not using them for this demo.
  • So, you can draw the conclusion —  I didn’t have to purchase new supplies!  I like using supplies I have around the studio and house.
Working With Ink: Mapping Nibs

My Collection of Mapping Nibs; Comic Nib for Comparison.  Please note, the nibs are not in any particular order.

Something Special About His Nibs

One of the most exciting things I found out about my supplies is that I have some “vintage” nibs.  Did you know that there are such things?   These nibs were my father’s – artist John Stermer.  I cleaned them up and they work great!  As a matter of fact, several looked almost brand new.

Working with Ink: Dip Pen Nibs

My Collection of Comic or Regular Nibs Plus one Calligraphy Nib.  Note, the nibs don’t necessarily align with the list of nib types.

Dip Pen Tips – For Using

I thought I’d share some tips for working with dip pens.

  • Keep your nibs clean; they work better.  The ink flows and it is ever so wonderful!
  • The nibs are designed to be held a slant, about 45 degrees.  They don’t work quite so well on the vertical.
  • Draw moving the pen toward you; the nibs glide.
  • You can wear out a nib going back and forth.  They work better when you draw in one direction – toward you.
  • You can dilute some inks as much as you like.  Even a little bit of water can enhance flow.
  • The nibs work better on smoother paper.  I have tried using dip pens on rough watercolor paper and the ink does not flow as well. Its all a matter of taste, though.  Whatever works for the artist.
  • When you’re done with your pen, remove the nib.  Store dry.

About the Ink

I use Higgins Black Magic Ink.  It is waterproof and fade proof.  That means, for example, after the ink dries, you ought to be able to paint over it with wet watercolor with out lifting.  However, I did manage to get a smear this morning.  I have no idea why; something must have been not quite right.  Generally speaking, though, it does work as advertised.

There are other inks that are not waterproof.  They can be great, but I haven’t been experimenting with them.  They are beyond the scope of my  upcoming demonstration.

Materials: Ink, watercolor, paper, dip pen and brushes

Supplies:  Ink, watercolor, paper, dip pen with nib attached, watercolor brush and ink brush.

My Process

Back to the demonstration.  My process for incorporating graphite, ink and watercolor is as follows:

  • Graphite:
    • Draw with graphite first.  This is the most important phase.  I have to resist the urge to move on to ink and watercolor too soon.
    • Its easier to make drawing corrections to graphite drawings.  And, if there is a problem with the drawing, so goes the painting.
  • Ink:
    • I re-draw my subject with ink, though I don’t need to re-draw every line.
    • I emphasize major lines or nodes (junction points).
    • I like to use ink to map out direction or movement in the drawing.
    • I cross hatch to ensure I understand the value (light/dark) pattern of the subject.  Sometimes this is a fast phase; sometimes I want the ink to be the focus so I am more deliberate.
  • Watercolor:
    • Poetry in color!  This is splishy-splashy fun time.  It can be the hardest phase too!
    • I concentrate and work on using the paint to enhance the image.
    • The trick is to use enough to capture a feeling; not so much watercolor as to kill the poetry.

Single Best Tip

The best tip I can offer:  if you have a dip pen in your studio, give it a try!  You might have loads of fun!

Ink study

Study, Watercolor & Ink

Assorted Links:

On cleaning and care of the nibs.

  • Care and Feeding of the Calligraphy Dip Pen.  Even though the author talks mainly about calligraphy (italic) pen nibs, the same principles apply to point dip pen nibs.  I found a suggestion to clean ink pen nibs with ammonia based glass cleaners in this article.  This is for pen nibs that have caked on ink.  Ammonia window (glass) cleaners work wonders!  Brought my nibs back to clean as new!
  • Guide to Nibs and Nib Holders .  Provides a good over-view of the types of nibs and holders.




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Prepping for Watercolor and Ink Demo

Art Demonstration on the Horizon!

Greetings!  I’m so excited!   I’m preparing myself to do a demonstration (demo) of my watercolor and ink techniques.  I have been invited by the Southern Oregon Society of Artists, a large local organization.  I was thrilled to receive the invitation.  But, I also had a sobering moment;  I needed to “up my game” so to speak.

Put another way, I want to do a good demo.

Demonstration: working with watercolor and ink


What I Have Been Doing

I have been spending the last six months working on painting from life using ink and watercolor.  I have been running the demo through my head to visualize how I’d like this to happen.

Now it’s “crunch time”.  I need to get it all down on paper.  🙂

Organic Grind Espresso Kiosk; Watercolor & Ink Demonstration

Where I Am Now

I have selected my subject – the Organic Grind Espresso Kiosk in Talent, OR, (see the image above).   I like this subject; it seems simple – a building on a lot.

But, as I keep working on it, I find interesting shapes, lines and tones.  There is a lot to “simple”!

Yes, I have been working on it.  I have gone to the location and done watercolor and ink sketches.  I may go again.

Back in the studio, I’ve been doing drawings and value studies.  These drawings and studies help me discover things about my subject.  Its a way of “painting what I know” by studying it!  Fun!

Here’s an earlier version of “Organic Grind”, drawn and painted from a different angle.

Organic Grind, Watercolor & Ink

What I Will Be Doing

Here’s an list of tasks for the next phase of this demonstration operation.

These tasks, while numbered, will be worked on concurrently.  That is to say these are tasks that do not need to be done sequentially.

Task One:  Explore the issue of why I paint this way in the first place.

Task Two:  Describe in detail the “what is it that I do”.  And, to get used to talking about it.  While drawing.  And staying focused!

Task Three:  Design the physical layout of my workspace.

Task Four:  Practice and adjust!

Might as well start with task one right here!

Demonstration, Watercolor & Ink

Why I Paint with Watercolor and Ink

My husband and I like to travel and camp.  We go to interesting places such as Blue Mountain (also known as “Cliff Ridge) in Utah near Dinosaur National Monument, for example (see above).  It seems natural for me to want to paint on location.

How to Draw and Paint Nature

The question of how seemed particularly pertinent because my normal modus operandi tends to be stylized in manner.  I tend to look more at the paper than at a physical subject and use my imagination.

This is not the best plan if one wants to draw and paint what one sees.  When drawing from nature, one needs to look at the subject in front of them!  For me, this is oddly challenging!  I have a tendency to look at the paper.  I’m improving, but I still have to remind myself to look-at-the-subject!

Peggy's People Collection - RCC December Invitational

It Starts With Drawing Skills

In any case, it all starts with drawing, doesn’t it?  For me the answer is “yes”.

So, I started drawing when we went on trips.  Not satisfied; I wanted to do more.  Inspired by the Urban Sketcher movement and all the wonderful watercolor journals I see on the web, I started experimenting with watercolor studies.

Naturally, as I started I felt kind of clumsy.  Thats what happens when you do something new.  I took out a “Faber Castell” artist ink pen I had hanging around and restated the forms of my subject.  It seemed to help.

Thus my exploration into ink and watercolor was born of necessity.

So, back to work and Task Two, describing in detail how I work.  More soon!

Thank you for stopping by!  I’ll leave you with a final watercolor and ink study done from a recent trip to Hyatt Reservoir in Southern Oregon.





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Day Four: The Neighbor’s Flag

Four on the Fourth

Happy July Fourth!  For day four of #WorldWatercolorMonth, I thought it would be fun to do something in keeping with our American Independence Day celebration.  I chose my neighbor’s flag hanging of the carport.

Day Four: The Neighbor's Flag copyright M. Stermer-Cox

Color Symbolism

I am a painter and color is an important part of my tool box.  Naturally, I was thinking about the symbolic meaning of the colors of our flag while I was working on this painting.  So, I did an internet search about the meaning of the colors and went to a site called “USFlag. org”.   To my surprise, our flag’s colors did not have meaning assigned to them when the flag was adopted in 1777.  But, the colors on the country’s Great Seal did:  white being for purity and innocence; red for hardiness and valor; and blue for vigilance, perseverance and justice.

I think its often a good idea to check multiple sites when looking up something on the internet.  Just to check the facts, I looked at a few other websites.   The other websites echo the same information that the flag’s colors did not have special meaning when the flag was adopted.  How about that?

I like learning something new.

Four Watercolor Associations

Since this is day four of #WorldWatercolorMont, I thought it would be fun to make a list of four items having to do with watercolor.  The four watercolor associations I belong to popped into my head!  Here’s the list in no particular order:

There are many wonderful, worthy watercolor societies around the country and internationally.  These four happen to be based in the Northwest and West Coast, near where I live.

Wheel Rim Grill

Because it is summer here and the Fourth of July, I thought I’d share another painting.  I did this one on June 30th this year while my husband and I were on a camping trip.  The subject is a charcoal grill made out of wheel rims.  In the RV park where we were staying, each of the tent sites had one of these charcoal grills.  I had never seen anything like it and found them enchanting.

Wheel Rim Grill; ©M. Stermer-Cox

Thank you and please enjoy your Fourth!




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Day 3 – Three Broken Seashells

Its About Three

In celebration of day 3, the Third of July, and #WorldWatercolorMonth, I’d like to share three broken seashells.  You might have guessed; yes the selection of a group of three was purposeful.  The arrangement was deliberate too.  I wanted the shell with three holes or windows to be facing a different direction than the two with two holes.  I like setting up “one of these things is not like the other ones” situations such as the one depicted here.

Plus, I used a triad – red, yellow and blue.  I like using primary colors.  Mixing them together create all sorts of other colors, but they are related.  It helps to unify the color scheme.

Three Broken Sea Shells; #WorldWatercolorMonth

Regarding the technical specifications, I did this study in my Aquabee sketchbook and used watercolor and ink, just like yesterday’s study.  The study is 2.5″x4″.

Frown Attack = “Not Pleases”

Yes, I had an attack of the frowns and stares.  I wasn’t pleased with this study.  It was too this, too that.  I started coming up with my list of “not pleases”.  For a fleeting moment, I even considered not publishing this study.

OOPS!  Thats The Point!

But wait!  This is a STUDY!  The point IS that the work might be “too this and too that” because I’m trying things!  WHOA! Isn’t it wonderful to experiment and to learn?

If nothing else, I learned what I don’t like.  And, I’m thinking I’ll keep my list of “not pleases…” to myself.  Thank you!

“Pleases” Please!

Rather, I’ll share a list of three “pleases”.  (Yes, because its July third).  Much better.

So, here’s what I like:

  1. Its a study of three of my favorite broken sea shells.
  2. I wanted to work with red, blue and yellow and that is what I did.
  3. I get to try it again!

Just thinking, isn’t this what #WorldWatercolorMonth is about?  Learning.  Playing.  Painting.  And, all in watercolor!

Why Watercolor

Once again, since its July Third and it is watercolor month, I’d like to share 3 reasons I took up watercolor painting:

  • There was a beginning watercolor class available.
  • I had the supplies.
  • The location was convenient.

Thus, a love and passion was born of such mundane beginnings!

I’d like to wish you a Happy July Third and #WorldWatercolorMonth!



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Tumalo Chairs, World Watercolor Month

July – World Watercolor Month.

“Tumalo Chairs” – doesn’t that sound poetic?  In honor of July being “World Watercolor Month”, I thought I’d post a watercolor and ink study I did while we were out camping.  I was particularly pleased with this watercolor sketch.  It is done in a Aquabee Super Deluxe sketchbook.

Tumalo Chairs; Watercolor

I imagine that most of these postings for “World Watercolor Month” will be short.  After all, this is for fun and to share.  Personally, I like the idea of celebrating an art form during a month.  Therefore, my intention is to create and to post a watercolor study most days.

Tumalo and Camping

To explain, “Tumalo” refers to the name of a state park and camp ground where husband Robert and I stayed for a few days.  Tumalo State Park is just north of Bend, OR.  It is next to the Deschutes River; perfect place for a summer day.

We just returned from our trip and are unpacking.  More camping watercolors to come!

Oh, yes, those are our camping chairs, ready for sitting.  They have stools for your leg comfort, too.  I just happened to be sitting on one of the stools.  Coincidentally, the stools are great to sit on while drawing and painting.  🙂




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A Bit of Frog Pond History – My First Commission

Forgotten (Almost) Commission

Recently, I was looking through my library of file CDs and came across my first commission: the frog pond series.  I had almost forgotten about it…almost.

2002 Digital Media

I thought it would be fun to share the frog pond cartoons and give a bit of backstory. Apparently, I like doing cartoons.  Not surprising, I grew up reading Pogo, Peanuts and lots of comics.

Frog Pond History

I agreed to my first commission back in 2002.  It all started when my husband and I walked in to a new wine shop in our soon-to-be home town.  It was a cool, artsy wine shop called “Green Frog Wine Shop”.  The name caught my attention.

I recall talking to the proprietress while tasting some of her wines. She talked about wine, I talked about drawing.  I agreed to create a frog drinking wine as a logo for her shop.

Digital cartoon created by Margaret Stermer-Cox 2002

On subsequent visits to the wine shop, the proprietress told us of her business plans.  She planned to do a bed & breakfast in the building that housed the wine shop.  She also wanted to do a day care center and a taxi service.  In our little town, these businesses were lacking.

Digital cartoon created by Margaret Stermer-Cox 2002

Soon, I was drawing tadpoles, taxi drivers and a frog greeting customers with a candalabra.

Frog Pond Commission

Then, there was the catering business and maybe it would all be part of “Frog Pond Plaza”.  She certainly had the energy to do these things.

Frog Pond Commission

When it came time to deliver my cartoons, I found out that the “Green Frog Wine Shop” was going out of business.  Apparently, the proprietress’ parents had health problems and she was moving back to their home to take care of them.

I don’t remember the terms of the commission.  It was a verbal contract.  I know I was supposed to be paid.   She didn’t have the money to pay me.  Instead, I was paid in wine bottles.

I appreciated that she honored our contract as best she could.

That was the first and last time I worked with only a verbal contract.

Digital cartoon created by Margaret Stermer-Cox 2002

Digital cartoon
created by Margaret Stermer-Cox

I did an additional frog for my husband, who was and is a webmaster.  I must have been having a ton of fun!

Oh, we drank the wine and it was fine.

Party Frog - Commission


The way I did the frogs was by doing graphite pencil drawings first.  Then, I would scan them into the computer.  I used Corel’s Painter program to re-draw the cartoon.  Then I added colors and fills.


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Why Draw? Why Paint?

The “Why Paint” Question

Why do I ask the “why paint” question?  I came across two blog posts* that asked similar questions regarding “why”.  The question sparked my brain cells.  I’ve been “riffing” on this idea for the past two days!

Why Paint? Strawberry Frogs?

So why draw and paint?  Why go through all the self doubt that seems to be part of the process?

Come to think of it, I didn’t always have doubt.  Its one of the situations where the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.  Sigh.

Why – Other Artists?

Hmmm, is it just because I like being around artists?   I do like to be around artists and discuss techniques, ideas, problems.  I think its more a situation of “we’re all in this together” than a “WHY” reason to paint.

Why – Beauty or Fun?

Is it just because I like drawings and paintings?

Its got to be about more than “I like to paint beauty”…or “because its fun”. Maybe.

I haven’t quite gotten to painting beauty.  I can hardly define beauty.  And, sometimes drawing or painting isn’t so fun.  Its more frustrating.  It being the act of painting, combined with all the self doubt and struggle to get “it” right – it being the finished work in this case.

Why? Strawberry plants from my garden

Why – Prestige?

How about prestige?  Is it an ego thing?  Well, I do like entering my paintings into shows.  I get a charge out of being accepted.  It does my ego good.  Yet, I get enough “decline your painting” notices that I’m pretty sure I don’t paint for shows.

Plus, I benefit from what I just named the “show paradox”.  When I paint for shows, I don’t get in.  When I paint then submit my best, I stand a better chance of being accepted.

Why – Money?

Could it be that I like the money?  Umm, no.  I’m not making huge sums of money through drawing or painting so I don’t think its the money.  On a side note, that isn’t a whine.  My marketing efforts have been modest and I know it.  Should money be the reason I paint, I believe I would have to apply myself to mastering the marketing.

I think I would still draw and paint even if I did not show my work or did not make a sale.

Why – To Avoid Pain?

Yes, avoiding pain can be a motivation.  I learned this from Anthony Robbins tapes I listened to in the 1990s.

And, to a certain extent I think it is a part of my “why”.  It would be too painful if I never tried.  I would always wonder what I had missed.  In my little head dialog, I urge myself on.  The pain of not trying is something I actively avoid.

Why Paint

Why Not?…What I Like

There has to be a why that sustains me through the struggle of learning to draw and paint.

Here are a few things I know I like:

  • I like trying things and seeing if I can make it work.  I love the experience.
  • I like the feel of a loaded, wet watercolor brush on paper.  Its great watching the paint too!
  • I love it when I start to understand or experience something.  Particularly those things that more experienced artists say I should see.  When I finally get it, its exciting.
  • I like the results of drawing and painting.  I like the magic of when the drawing or painting start to come together.

But, what about the big WHY?

Maybe, I just like drawing and painting.  Some of my earliest memories are of drawing and painting.  My school notebooks are full of drawings, sometimes more drawings than class notes.

I think that at the end of the day, its that the simple act of drawing or painting is an act of optimism.  Its about communicating what I see, feel or imagine to another person.

Connecting, is that what I’m talking about?  Is my “WHY” a statement that there are somethings that are OK?

Maybe its a connection of optimism, beauty, joy.  How about wonder?

Do you suppose the “WHY” is as unique as each one of us?  Or, is this visual communication universal?

I think the act of drawing and painting is what I like to do.  It makes me feel good.

Its still hard.

And frustrating.

And fascinating!

That’s why.

What’s your “why”?

Why Paint - World Watercolor Month

World Watercolor Month – July 2016

Back to earth here, I’ve been working on my ink and watercolor studies.  I think this kind of work fits right in with the upcoming “World Watercolor Month” – mainly because its watercolor.  Any kind of watercolor work would suffice by definition, don’t you think?  I think its pretty wonderful that there is a worldwide watercolor month.  I do like community!  Speaking of which, I heard about “World Watercolor Month” on Citizen Sketcher’s blog.


I’m listing the two blog posts that sparked the question “why”.

Frank Eber: “Aspirations of An Artist”

Angela Bruskotter: “The Why of An Artist”



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Young Pine at LaPine State Park

Painting at LaPine

My husband and I were camping at LaPine State Park near LaPine, OR this past weekend.  LaPine is in the central part of the state.

Young Pine at LaPine, OR

I’d like to share with you a study I did of a young ponderosa pine tree at LaPine State Park and a some of the extra special things we did!

Sometimes when I think of landscape painting and creating art of the great outdoors, I think of big panoramas.  Trees, mountains, creeks, clouds all fall in the mental image of a landscape painting.

But, there is no reason why one can not focus their attention on a tree, a small plant, or a squirrel.

Well, the squirrels are awfully fast.  So, I took on a young ponderosa pine tree.

There is plenty to do when it comes to drawing trees.  Especially on location.  Light changes for one thing.  Plus, all those needles, twigs and squirrels running about!

Lessons Learned:

  • It takes a lot of practice to draw and paint the great outdoors
  • When time is limited, accuracy might need to be sacrificed for getting the main information down.
  • Remember to stand back and take a look…which is something I often forget to do.
  • Squirrels, and their relatives the chipmunks, never stand and pose when you want them to.

Side Notes

Tent at LaPineI did several drawings as well.  Whenever I had a few minutes, I took out pen and paper.  I’m including two drawings as an example.  I did one of our tent in the campground at LaPine.

Amphitheater Volunteers, Bend OR, North of LaPine

The second drawing I did while we were waiting in line to go to a concert in nearby Bend, OR.  We went to see the band “Alabama Shakes” at the Les Schwab Amphitheater.  Side note: WOW!

All in all, a fun way to observe nature and people through drawing.  And, have a GREAT weekend!

Visit to Sandra’s Artist Studio In LaPine

My husband and I had a wonderful weekend in LaPine, OR.  We did take the opportunity to meet a fellow Oregon artist, Sandra Neary, and her husband Mike.  It was such a treat to view her work in person.  It is amazing what a difference it makes.

I enjoyed listening to Sandra talk about her work.  She talked about what themes excite her and it enabled me to appreciate her paintings that much more.

Naturally, painter me enjoyed looking at her studio space too!

Thank you Sandra!


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“Kindred Spirits” – 106 Talent Ave Revisited; Drawing Talent Series

Introducing “Kindred Spirits, Art, Ales & Wine” – latest installment of my “Drawing Talent” series.

Drawing Kindred Spirits

Selecting Painting Locations

The weather has been good and I find myself saying: “Why don’t I go outside and draw Talent?”  And, I do, or rather did on Wednesday morning.

The first thing I think about when selecting a place to draw or paint is lighting.  For example, the building that houses “Kindred Spirits” is facing the east.  I like it as a subject in the morning due to the light and dark pattern caused by shadows and reflections.

With a general idea of where I want to paint, off I go!

About Talent

I like Talent in the morning.  Most of the town is quiet.  We do have businesses and light industry.  The part of town where is “Kindred Spirits” is situated is part of the “historic Talent”, and traffic is modest.

I say that, but as I was working, the fire marshal drove up and blocked my view for a minute or two.  Any longer, and I would have happily drawn his truck!  Someone dropped by to water plants.  And, people and cars passed by and their way to…wherever.   It is an active place.

Recent History – Before “Kindred Spirits”

A couple of years ago, September 2014 to be specific, I did a watercolor study of this same building, but of a slightly different view.  At that time “Porto Gelato” occupied the southernmost business space of the building.  (I did like their gelatos; yum!)  Where “Kindred Spirits” is now was divided into two business rental spaces.  “Cathy Dorris Studios” occupied one of the spaces.

Drawing Talent: Porto Gelato

Now, the space that was “Porto Gelato” is rented to artist Jessalynn Jones.  Cathy Dorris Studios expanded and changed their name to “Kindred Spirits”.  Cathy has added a wine and beer bar.  She features local wines.  Naturally, there are nice things to eat too.  Cathy has weekly classes and rotating art exhibits.

My husband and I stop by to check out the beer selection and enjoy conversation with friends from time to time.

Speaking of art exhibits, I showed one of my paintings, “Torsten on Bass” here last February.

Drawing Talent

All this is to say our seemingly sleepy little town of Talent OR does change and yet stay the same.  We have a vibrant community.  Its a good place to live!

Palette Change

Its also a fun place to do drawings and watercolor studies.

OH, did you notice?  I changed my palette a bit for this latest version.  Instead of using bright hansa yellow I used raw umber, an earth tone yellow.   I think it changes the tone quite a bit!


I hope you enjoy seeing two views of the same building.




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Cormorant Roosting On A Snag at Hyatt Lake, OR

Yesterday my husband and I took a drive up into the mountains to nearby Hyatt Lake, OR.  It was a beautiful day and perfect for a drive.  After a good winter for snow and rain, the lakes are almost full.

Cormorants Roosting On Snag, Hyatt Lake ORNaturally, I took my field painting box.  There is an old snag that’s been taken over by the cormorants.  They’ve even established some nests.  I thought I’d sit down and do a watercolor study.

Its funny, when I get into focus mode, trying my best to work with the paint, I forget things like all the little gnats flying around.  Or the killdeer that keeps calling trying to distract me.  Or the ants on the log I was sitting on.  The ants left me alone, so, I left them to do their business.

The next cove down we saw a bald eagle.  We were looking for the osprey; the bald eagle will do!

To crown the day, we stopped to have some ice cream at another lake – Howard Prairie.  Nice indulgence!

All in all, a lovely day at Hyatt Lake in southern Oregon!


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