Sonoran Desert Museum: Plein Air Sketching

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M. Milstead Photo: M. Quinn

Here we are in the raptor display at The Desert Museum. They put on an “air show” twice a day. While I sketch, Mikaela and Gay take pictures. Combining sketches with photos helps out with studio work.

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Photo: M.Quinn

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Photo: M. Quinn

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Photo: M. Quinn


Sketching with a pen is challenging. Think of it as means to capturing pure gesture. I work blind, looking mostly at the subject, so I don’t waste time moving my head up and down or erasing.

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Photo: G. Scheibl


Photo: G. Scheibl

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Photo: G. Scheibl

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Photo: G. Scheibl

This Red Tail Hawk spends  a lot of time perched on a saguaro. Plein air sketching is direct-from-the-source visual research. Often, it is from-the-source gathering of information where the most sustainable and natural ideas emerge, and not the other way around.  If you ever experience “painter’s block” just go out and sketch something, it doesn’t matter what it is, really.


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Photo: M. Quinn

Sketching from life enables you to observe most intently, getting to know your subject in ways a quick pic. won’t. Later, as you develop an art work of the subject, you will have more sensory material to work with because you sketched it directly, spending minutes instead of seconds observing. Take the time to sketch from life…it is never wasted.



We have so much fun with this 11 month old mountain lion (Mikaels is a “cat whisperer”), I forget to sketch…next time! An intimidating beast to say the least…

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Photo: M. Quinn

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After mountain lions come mountain goats (big-horned sheep)…or is it the other way around? Anyway, these guys don’t move much. Their blocky forms make good models.


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Meanwhile, Gay is painting, and making friends, as usual.

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I end up in the Hummingbird Aviary. They are whizzing around like little bullets. They are very territorial and tend to land in the same spots. Animals often repeat thier movements and placements so, if you don’t get them the frst time, you’ll have many more chances; patience.

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I began sketching the rosewood bush waiting for a hummer to perch. Over the next hour many come and go so this is like a time-lapse sketch. The rosewood and berry cluster are more developed because I work on them while waiting for the birds.  Now, if I ever want to place a bird, or a rosewood bush, in a painting, I have something to choose from.


Sketching is a state mind.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out this fantastic exhibit in the Ironwood Gallery, just next to the Hummingbirds. It is the perfect example of the benefits and necessities of sketching for the sake of naturalism in both two and three dimensional media.

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Tumamoc Sentinel


How many times can you paint the same thing and have it turn out completely different? million ‘n one? I’m going for the record with this Saguaro.

Perhaps this one is so appealing because, while ambitious and far-reaching,  one discrete arm dips down to just eye level…anyone can be privy to the secrets of the rarefied tippy-top.

Toning the paper first creates automatic color integration, speeding things up considerably. Plein air is fast work-which is why it often looks Impressionistic, as in first impression.


I am feeling “pink” today and red-violet happens to be the complement of yellow-green, a most abundant hue here on the Hill.

My palette: a simple harmony of red-violet and yellow-green, yellow and yellow orange for accents. I can also include the complements of yellow and yellow-orange; violet and blue-violet, most likely for the sky and far-distant mountains.



“Will it always be so pink“?


“No, not so pink”.


A cool-pink -yellow-green-warm-winter-afternoon on Tumamoc.  Delightful indeed.


Free! Try It Festival: Hummingbird House, Oro Valley, AZ. This Saturday, 12-4 PM

Hey Everybody!

Thinking about taking an art class in Oro Valley?

Come to this Drawing Studio site at the Hummingbird House Ranchito.

We are offering petite “try it” classes throughout the day from TDS Hummingbird House instructors: Sherry Bryant, Lynn Fleischman, Pat Dolan and Meredith Milstead.


Wolf, Encaustic, Pat Dolan

We are featuring drawing and painting in watercolor, oils, acrylics and dry media. Short classes will be taught from 12-4 o’clock.


Succulent, pen and ink wash, Lynn Fleischman

Take one or more. Register for a Spring class.

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Gourd and Pot, oil on panel, Meredith Milstead

Materials provided.

Light refreshments served.

No reservations required, just show up.

Bring your buddies, family, neighbors-get involved and get creative.

Directions to Hummingbird House:

  • Off of Ina Road, turn north on La Cholla
  • Turn west on Overton
  • Take first right at the bottom of the hill on La Cresta
  • Take first right at the top of the hill onto N Camino del Plata
  • Hummingbird House is #9455 on your left a short way down the dirt track
  • Drive on through the gate, veering left as you round the wall and Presto-your there!

Come, find out about Hummingbird!

Tucson Pastel Society Paint Out: Ironwood Picnic Area

This morning we meet at the Ironwood Picnic area off of Kinney road in Tucson Mountain Park.

At the end of the road stands an ancient Ironwood tree.

Here we go…


I see a lot of blue in this one: blue-green Ironwood, blue shadows, blue-violet mountains. I choose a simple harmony of the complements blue-violet and yellow-orange plus two analogous cool colors attached to blue violet; blue and blue-green.  I could tone the paper with a warm yellow-orange but I decide to emphasize the Winter season and coolness of the tree instead.  The sky is a warm blue, almost turquoise.



Many thanks to the Tucson Pastel Society for their monthly paint outs. It really helps for motivation to get up, get out, and paint!


The Jewel Box: This Afternoon, 1-5 PM at TDS

Big Day for Jewelry at The Drawing Studio, 33 South 6th Ave, Tucson.

Choose from a wide selection of fine art jewelry; bracelets, necklaces, earrings, from a variety of artists. All under $200.


Tibetan antique natural crystal pendant and cut quartz flowers with brass and silver findings. $80, Milstead

Don’t miss it!

I’ll be here from 1-5 today. Come say hi and catch up. Find out about new class offerings. New class locations. New TDS events and more!  Have some hot cider…leave with a new jewel.

Happy Holidays