Pen and Watercolour

Our epic NASA style living room setup had to be dismantled when we were showing our apartment and I haven’t had access to the big Cintiq computer for a few weeks. It’s been too hot to even think about leaning over that warm screeen anyway, and with all the chaos of buying a farm and selling the apartment I haven’t been doing any artwork lately. I’ve been itching to draw something now that the craziness has calmed down and we have a few days left of summer vacation, so I started experimenting with combining pen and watercolour. It’s been nice to take some time and practice with the watercolours, and to have something constructive to do in the apartment that doesn’t involve sitting at a hot computer all day. We’re going a bit crazy now that the apartment has sold and there are just a few more weeks left until we take over the farm. We just want to get started on our chicken coop already!

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The calendar is packed somewhere in another dimension so we made a really crappy one just for the countdown. August 26th is the big day!

I think I’m starting to get the hang of watercolour pencils, but I still feel pretty limited to the colours I have available, despite having 32 pencils to pick from. In the world of realistic painting, 32 colours is nowhere near enough if you can’t blend! Blending watercolour pencils just doesn’t work well at all. It can be unpredictable because some colours are significantly stronger than others, and they just don’t mix very well so it will take some experience with these particular pencils to know which ones do what. It’s almost as if they each have unique personalities. It’s also pretty hard to do trial and error right on the page since the paper can only handle so much water at a time. The perfectionist in me gets antsy about not getting the colours exactly right, but it’s a good opportunity to teach that part of me to chill out and just accept that art is allowed to be sloppy.

Tufted Deer

This deer was meant to be more of a blue-grey/beige colour, not so much pink and tan, but it works well enough. Also yes it has fangs, more on that in a future post 😉

I’m really having a lot of fun doing these combination pen/watercolour drawings. It might be just a lack of skill, but using the watercolours doesn’t seem to offer the contrast I want. The only deep colour I can reliably get is black; the rest of them just get too watered down (go figure). Ink lines give the work a more crisp, finished feel, and the pictures remind me of illustrations from science textbooks or kid’s story books.

Here’s an example of a straight watercolour drawing I did a few weeks ago after we had to dismantle our balcony garden for showings. It sucked to have to rip up perfectly good pea plants, but they were climbing on the railing and there weren’t any other options to save them so I thought I’d artistically commemorate one of the nice big pods before letting it dry out for seeds.Sugar snap pea July 2016.png

The drawing started off ok, but I gave up on it after a while because I got impatient with the colour. I couldn’t quite reach the deep, vibrant green of the healthy plant; instead it looks yellow and weak. The scanner did exaggerate the yellow a bit, but you get the idea. The bright areas just sort of fade into the paper, and it didn’t seem to matter how much I tried to darken the shadowy parts, they just washed away. I tried to darken it with black and a bit of blue but things were just getting muddy at that point so I quit. I don’t love the composition anyway. Now that it’s been sitting for a few weeks I probably could come back to it with a fresh mind and go over it again to get richer colours but I think the paper has had enough (you can see how much it’s buckling!), and my reference specimen is a dried out husk now so I’d just be winging it. I’m saving the peas to plant in the spring as this was a good strong plant until I had to pull it out 🙂

I think this drawing would have been a lot more successful and fun to do if I had used ink first. There is something very satisfying about filling in a line drawing with colour, which is probably why those adult colouring books have become so popular. The pen lines also help me keep the watercolours under control a bit too once I apply the water, which makes that part a lot more relaxing.

I’m starting to get a technique that works well for these. First I do a light pencil sketch to lay down the foundation of what I want to draw. Then I erase the pencil very gently, trying to avoid damaging the paper. I leave just a hint of pencil behind as a guideline for the pen.

Next step is the ink drawing. This needs to be fairly precise so it helps to go slowly and carefully in order to get it right the first time. This step takes the most concentration.

Grasshopper lines

Finished ink drawing waiting to be coloured in

By the time I’m finished with the ink, I’m excited to dive in with the colours. All those empty spaces are irresistible, and just beg to be filled in. I try to do most of the dry colouring at once and minimize the number of times I’ll need to apply water. It doesn’t take much before the paper starts to buckle, even with fairly decent watercolour paper.

I’ve found that I usually need to go over the drawing a few times, especially to get more vibrant colours and deep shading. I forgot to take a picture of the dry coloured bug, but here is the finished product:

Bug with fuzzy antennae

I also drew an anteater, just cause they are cute and strange.


There will definitely be more of these coming up. I love trying new things, so any ideas or suggestions for subjects are always welcome! 🙂


Exploring our new home

We went to visit the farm today and explore the surrounding area a little bit. We still have to wait a few weeks before we can move, but the current owner was kind enough to let us store some stuff there while we work on selling the apartment in Oslo.

It turns out Notodden, the town closest to the farm, is amazing! It’s a small town with a lot of personality. Here is a view of main street, which actually reminds me quite a lot of Orillia, Ontario, where I went to university.


We got some lunch then wanted to explore the town a little, so we asked this random viking for directions and he showed us his boat at the docks.

Every few minutes, a scrappy low riding car with thundering bass would roll by. Apparently Notodden is known for something called “råner”, which google translates to “greaser”. Basically, my understanding is that it’s a subculture where people just cruise around town with lowered cars and powerful sound systems that can literally shake pieces off the cars. I love big bass and when we first met Tux’s car had a sound system that could blow my hair around so we just grinned at each other every time one of these cars went by.

We also spotted a rather strange sculpture in the middle of town, but that’s something I’ve come to expect in Norway. Not too sure what the story is behind this one, or any of them really.

So we left town on our way to the farm and discovered a stave church, which it turns out was build in the 1200s and is the biggest one in Norway. There is also an open air museum with medieval buildings around there, so there will be no shortage of local things to see and do when we get visitors from Canada 🙂


Finally, we left civilization and headed into the wilderness towards our new paradise. On the gravel road up to the farm a fox crossed in front of us, and we spotted what looks to me like a beaver dam in the river.  We will have to watch for moose and deer when driving here, and our chicken coop will need good protection against hungry foxes.


Here are some pictures from around the property. The buildings are in good shape, just the barn needs some attention (possibly a total rebuild).

We love the house, the location, and the property as a whole, but what I’m most excited for is the natural abundance that is already there, and the potential for so much more. I spotted at least five different kinds of berries, including black currents, blueberries, raspberries, I think gooseberries, and Norway’s very special little wild strawberries that are so sweet you’d swear they were actual candy. There is also a young cherry tree that just started producing fruit last year.

There were also these cute but rather sketchy looking orange mushrooms in the lawn. I have absolutely no idea what they are.


The place was humming with insect life too. Many different butterflies, bees, and other pollinators were hard at work in the wildflowers.

Of course, we will have to get used to bug bites when we live here. Twice I found myself standing (in flip flops) on a nest of biting ants, and though the sun was out this time, the last two times were cloudy with some rain, and we came home with many black fly bites. We haven’t seen any mosquitoes yet though, so fingers crossed those won’t be a big issue here 🙂

Oh and I’m sure the day will come where I will have a tick on me and I’m really, really dreading that, but it’s a small price to pay for living in such an amazing place.

There is one sad thing about the property, which is this:


I guess the owner felt that having the forest so close felt “dark and gloomy” and he mowed down almost every tree in the vicinity of the house, right up to the edge of the property. Just to “brighten it up a bit”. Not sure why he painted his house almost black if he wanted to brighten things up, but I guess everyone has their reasons for doing things. One of the reasons I loved this property from the start was that it had (on the satellite map) a beautiful forest surrounding the house on all sides. I was looking forward to getting to know these woods and calling them our own, having a place we knew would be allowed to thrive and remain wild for as long as we were there. However what’s done is done, and we will make the most of it. I am looking forward to watching the site come back to life, and I am interested in starting a “food forest”, so maybe this area will work well for a project like that.

I am so, so looking forward to starting our new life here. I can’t wait to really dig in and get to know the natural ecosystem, and I can’t wait to start building our farm ecosystem. Since it all starts with good soil, the first thing I plan to do is build a compost pile, and I want to start a worm bin for vermicompost too. We are planning to build a chicken coop this fall so that we can raise some laying hens in the new year. So many things to do and so much to plan for, but right now all we can do is sit in our nearly empty apartment and wait.



We bought a farm!

We bought a farm!

Finally the long, difficult hunt is over. After a roller coaster of almosts and maybes, we have landed on a nearly perfect place and have already started prepping for the big move. No more urban noise keeping us up and stressing us out, no more construction dust coating everything we own (including our lungs), no more crowded subways and sweaty city buses. Oslo has been good to us overall and we are happy to have had the experience of living here, but now, finally, it’s time to experience “real” Norway.

It’s finally time to crack open my books on root cellars and home canning recipes, start a compost pile and learn about keeping chickens, and best of all, we can finally have a dog. I’ll also have room to set up a more comfortable art space now, and we’ll be in an environment that I find far more inspiring so this will be a very positive thing for me as an artist too.

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More, and better pictures of the farm will come once we have moved 🙂

We will be moving sometime in August, and I’ll post about our experience along the way. I’ll be keeping a farm section here on my art blog for the time being until we have a farm website and dedicated blog set up for that.

There is so much excitement and so much to do now that I have forgotten to eat breakfast for the last three days in a row, and I’m one of those people who never skips breakfast. We will have to sell the apartment as soon as we can, which means removing almost all of our belongings and neurotically cleaning every little speck of dust to make it look like we live in a design magazine. We have tools to buy, equipment to think about, and of course, a garden and animals to plan for. We have to remove all of our house and balcony plants for the pictures and showings, which will be quite a challenge on its own in addition to the rest. We are those people who fill up every sunny window with plants, and in our desperation to garden, we have gone so far as to start growing potatoes, peas, and lettuce in addition to herbs, and even started a tiny apple tree on the balcony.

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Happy balcony potatoes

Right now, in between scrubbing, packing, and planning, I’m drying plantain leaves to make a salve for bug bites because it turns out the farm has a healthy population of blackflies. I’ve been living in an urban environment for so long now, I almost forgot how annoying bug bites can be.

I’ll make a separate post about the plantain salve when it’s finished.

All this cleaning, packing, and planning is hard work, and I picked up a nasty cold just in time for it, but knowing that soon we will actually start making our dream a reality is the most motivating thing in the world. Also, this work is nothing compared to what we will face once we start the farm so we are enjoying the last few weeks of our “vacation life” while we still have it.

Stay tuned for more posts about the farm and hopefully there will be some more art coming up too if I get the time 🙂