The yellow card in my post office box announced the arrival of a surprise package.

Tea Parties and Butterflies

The package was from a new friend, the woman who owns the house and garden where I painted during the Keyport Garden Walk earlier this month.  In the small box I found a smaller, round box.  A piece of cloth embroidered with images of flowers and tea sets protected a butterfly my friend made from a shell she found on the beach.  I couldn’t resist making a drawing of the thoughtful gifts.

A tea party is planned for early next month.  I’m bringing homemade scones!

Sketchbook drawing: Drawn first with ink, followed by watercolor.

Last Sunday was a miserable day for painting en plein air.  Sticking to my commitment of painting only with a palette knife for a week, I attempted to paint the seashell I’d carefully set up in my studio. After three hours, I scraped the panel clean.  Following that failed attempt, I spent another three hours drawing the seashell.  Those three pencil drawings were also discarded.

The problem was that I don’t like the shape of the shell, nor the interlocking of the shapes created by the lights and shadows.  No matter how well I painted or drew that shell, I would be unsatisfied with the results.  There is no movement between the parts that make the whole and there is no movement in the whole.  The best solution is to move on to another shell.

By now I should realize that I will never be happy with , nor excited by, paintings and drawings without movement.

Of course, I couldn’t accept having been defeated by a seashell.  I began another drawing, transforming the shell into shapes I can live with, shapes that narrow and curve, beckoning me to explore their edges and to imagine the spaces that are hidden from view.  Now I can move on to another shell.

The final attempt is shown below:

The seashell that almost got the better of me - pencil sketch


Jingle Shell squiggle drawing


I had more fun with the irregular, swooping outline of this little “jingle shell”. Jingle shells are sometimes know as “Mermaids Toenails”.  They are clam shells, small and beautifully translucent.  I tried to leave the background a bit lighter in value this time to create a stronger shadow and feeling of light upon the shell.  I still have to figure out how to create the illusion of the translucent nature of the shell.  Light actually shines through the shell into the shadow.  Maybe I’ll capture that in the next squiggle drawing.

This drawing was also drawn with my Parker 21 fountain pen and Noodler’s Polar Brown ink.  I love the brown ink.


Seashell pen and ink squiggle drawing


A seashell is rarely simple.  I enjoy the more complex, spiral forms of seashells than the bowl shaped shells.  I find that the state of mind, almost a trance state, that is required of me to complete these squiggle drawings is more difficult when I can’t travel into the shell to explore its twists and turns.  That said, I am committed to drawing at least a half dozen of these bowl shaped shells.

Drawn with my fine nib Parker 21 fountain pen and Noodler’s Polar Brown ink.


Broken Sea Shell in Pen and Ink Squiggles


Broken shells provide challenging, complex forms.  I love the curves that invite me to travel through space.

Drawn with the Parker 21 fountain pen and Polar Brown Noodler’s ink.


'Seashell and Shadow' pen and ink 5" x 7" by Chris Carter, artist

'Seashell and Shadow' pen and ink 5" x 7"


Another Parker, fine tip fountain pen has found its way to my collection.  This one arrived absolutely clean, in perfect working condition.  This blue with a silver cap pen, a Parker 21, doesn’t move quite as smoothly as my gray with silver cap Parker 45, but it is still a real pleasure to draw with.  It works exceptionally well for my squiggle, sketchbook drawings.  For these small studies, I prefer the warmth of Noodler’s Polar Brown or Walnut ink to black ink or blue/black ink.

I could have developed this sketch further, but decided to stop while I still had the effect of strong light being cast upon the shell.  I’m trying to maintain variation of value in the background as well as form on the object.  The squiggle lines are more relaxing and meditative than either stipple or cross hatch marks.

Lady in the Red Tin

The Collector: Lady in a Red Tin with Sea Shells – oil on wood 5″ x 5″

The red tin held my collection of seashells.  By fourth grade the tin was filled to the top with small shells, strips of broken shells I had used to draw with in the wet sand and a few pieces of glass tumbled smooth by the waves.  My first lesson in collecting came when I could no longer close the hinged lid of the tin.  I had to make choices, either expand to another container or eliminate older treasures to make room for new ones.

Having more than one tin presented me with the burden of deciding which shells would live in my favorite tin and which would live in a new tin.  I lost sleep thinking that the shells in the new tin would think I loved them less than the shells in the red tin.  I decided to stick to the red tin and exchange new for old when necessary.  The eliminated shells relocated to the garden or in the nearby woods.  I wonder how many shells were discovered by curious explorers who might ponder over how a shell ended up beneath a pine tree, beside a Jack-in-the-pulpit or atop a mound of moss.

In my twenties, larger shells began to replace the smaller shells.  My first series of paintings depicted selected shells from my collection.  I’ve only had one painting stolen from a public place and it was one from that first series of shell paintings.  It was stolen from an exquisite French restaurant in Boston where I occasionally helped out as a waitress.

Recently, when I decided to paint little color studies, I gathered together some of the things I’ve carted around with me since childhood.  I felt that painting such things that I am clearly attached to would make still life painting more bearable.  The red tin quickly moved to the top in the queue of objects waiting to be painted.

Among the shells lay a tiny, porcelain lady wearing a cloche hat and leaning on a cane.  She was covered in dirt, probably left over from her last shell collecting expedition.  I don’t remember where she came from or when she started living in the red tin.  She obviously has been the keeper of the tin for quite some time and I can’t resist allowing her to keep her position as long as I am alive.  The shells will continue to change, but the lady will remain.

I gave her a good washing before I painted her.  The bath was long overdue.