Saturday, July 22, 2017

Wood duck Reborn

Wood Duck Reflections from Nov. 2016
Some months ago, in November to be exact, I painted a small piece featuring a male wood duck. I had done it for two reasons. First, I needed a piece for my show and second, I needed a piece featuring a duck as part of my portfolio. I kind of whipped it out in a hurry, threw it on the pile and moved on to the next piece, but I was never really satisfied with it. It was okay, but not my best work and it seemed to lack punch. Now, months later, it surfaced again as I was beginning to start the process of framing these thirty pieces for the October show. Looking at it again made me cringe. So.....having a little time on my hands (not really!) between framing, painting and now processing an abundance of veggies from the garden I decided to rework it. I figured since it was on it's way to the "not likely to make it to the show" group if I ruined it by reworking where was the loss? I was actually being uncharacteristically brave in this regard. Usually I fret over ruining a piece entirely, but some of the good things that have come from having to paint constantly is that you start to gain a little confidence in your abilities and your medium.
I decided that what I disliked the most was that the water color was too close in value to the duck and had intended on just making it a lighter shade of blue. Then I thought, why copy my photo reference literally? An idea dawned, one thing lead to another and I found myself masking out the duck and slapping some warm shades of Naples yellow, dioxizine purple, magenta and cadmium orange across the board. Wow! Without adding anything else the painting completely gained some life. Still, it needed more.
Painting in process with frisket film overlay
 Now I got a little nervous. Things were going pretty well and I didn't want to have to repaint those gorgeous sunset colors, but I knew I wanted to add some dark reflections of vegetation to the top of the painting as well as some reeds or grasses around the duck. To see if this would work I took a piece of clear airbrush frisket film, laid it over the painting and proceeded to experiment with colors and shapes. I used this same procedure in the painting I did last year of the kestrel. When I was satisfied, I removed the film and proceeded to add the reflections and vegetation. Finally, I tweaked the highlights and darks on the wood duck itself.
Evening Reflections-Wood duck- 8 x10" acrylic

Here is the final piece now. I think it has much more life and it will definitely be going to the show in October!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Red-tail Hawk Nest

Red-tail hawk nest in sycamore tree

Each spring for the past few years I have had the unique blessing of nest-watching some species of bird. I never pick the species ahead of time, but wait for the bird to present itself to me. This year I had a sneaking suspicion it might be the red-tail hawk as several of them kept crossing my path early on. Then one day in February I discovered a pair building a nest in Swallows Park, one of the parks I frequently walk in. The trees at that time were still bare and the nest was high up in a sycamore tree and easy to see if you were looking.
Red-tail hawk journal page
 Over the course of the next several weeks I watched the pair bring nesting material, mate and interact with each other. Red-tail hawks mate for life, but I had no way of knowing if this was their first nest or just one of many. At any rate it seemed to take them a very long time to build it to their liking.

Finally, on March 23rd, it was move in day! Both birds were at the nest when I arrived and as I started to take photos the female launched off the nest and came low over my head, a rather intimidating sight through the camera lens as she came at me!
Female red-tailed hawk
Then following her, the male launched and flew over the top of me circling three times before flying off. As I soon discovered, red-tails are very territorial and protective of their nest. Were these two letting me know my presence was not welcome?
Male red-tailed hawk
 As I walk in this park frequently it was easy to keep track of the birds progress. Though I couldn't see into the nest I had a clear view of it from below. By doing a little research and observing closely I was able to determine when the eggs were laid and when I might expect them to hatch. The eggs would be incubated for 28 - 35 days primarily by the female with the male taking over to give her a chance to stretch her wings. Most days there was little to see, but the female always knew I was there.
Red-tail on nest
On the morning of May 1st, I observed the female standing on the edge of the nest looking in. She appeared to be feeding something then gingerly stepped back into the nest and settled down. I was fairly certain the eggs had hatched and checked again that afternoon. This time she came off the nest and joined the male circling overhead. The two birds flew together with legs dangling as when they are courting, then the smaller bird (the male) folded his wings and plummeted from the sky. Like a heat seeking missile he rocketed over my head, banked sharply and landed effortlessly on the edge of the nest where he sat looking in until the female returned. It was at this time that I got a really good look at the two birds together and discovered some clues as to who was really who. Except for slight differences in plumage color, male and female red-tails are marked the same. Males are one third smaller, but unless the birds are side by side this is difficult to discern. I had always assumed the bird I was seeing on the nest was the female, but at times it could have been the male. Now I could see that the female was darker and her breast was more heavily marked. But the best identifier was her beak. It was deformed quite noticeably with the bottom mandible too long and twisted to one side.
"Broke-beak" on her nest
 I nick-named her "Broke-beak" and as the days went by she and I got to know each other quite well. I also learned a lot about red-tail attitude when it came to their nest. If I got too close or looked too long she would come off her nest and scream at me.
Sometimes both parents would be present and would circle above me hurling insults. I would try to hide under the now leafed-out trees, but I could see their shadows as they hunted for me. It was a bit intimidating! Even if I camouflaged both myself and my camera, they seemed to always see me and our dance would begin. They would circle and scream and I would hide under the trees.
I finally saw the first fuzzy head on May 9th and while they grew rapidly it would take them on average 42 - 48 days to be big enough to leave the nest. At this young age they are called eyasses (pronounced EYE- ess-ez) and even though they are fuzzy they already have that fierce look that all raptors have. I watched to see how many chicks there would be as they can have between 2 - 5, but the nest was deep and they stayed hidden until the later stages of development. Also, the sycamore tree had leafed out and it wasn't always easy to see without upsetting "Broke-beak". Eventually, as the chicks got bigger and more active they would sit on the sides of the nest and I determined that there were two.
Young red-tail testing its wings

 By the end of June the time came for the chicks to fledge. On the 21st I saw one standing on the edge of the nest, wings spread to a stiff breeze. I thought I would see it go, but it waited one more day. On the morning of the 22nd I arrived to find one chick had flown to a lower tree while the other called from the nest. Both parents were present to watch over the process, protect and encourage their chicks. But on this happy day, my presence was not appreciated and both parents told me about it.
 The second chick waited one more day and fledged on the morning of June 23rd. By that afternoon all the birds had disappeared from the nest area. It was so quiet! I walked all around beneath the nest and no adult screamed at me. Beneath the nest I found the remains of a few of their recent meals; a dead mouse, a partial bird, bones, feathers and their castings ( regurgitated pellets containing undigested parts). These were the only clues left indicating that the birds had been there at all. I suddenly felt a huge emptiness. For the better part of four months these birds had been a daily part of my life and now they were off to live their lives away from my curious eyes. But I was happy, too, in that I had been given the privilege of watching their life unfold before me and to this point their nesting had been a success.
Fledgling red-tailed hawk

I thought I had witnessed the end of the story and I wished I had actually seen the chicks fly. The story, my journal and photos documenting their journey seemed incomplete without that last piece. As much as I wanted it to be different I had to settle for what I had to that point and be grateful and satisfied. But the story didn't end there. A little more time in these birds lives was granted to me because several days later I heard the chicks back near the nest area calling for food. I was able to locate them easy enough. All I had to do was listen for them calling or if they were silent I listened for the robins squawking their alarm call letting everyone know there was a predator in the area. I learned that the young juveniles would stay near the vicinity of the nest for about 2-3 weeks while they gained strength in their wings and waited for the parents to bring them food. Then in a few more weeks after that they will be hunting on their own.
Juvenile red-tail hawk
One of the last times I saw the chicks was on July 4th. I was walking in a different part of the park when I heard them calling. As I neared their location they took to the skies and thankfully I had listened to the little voice that said "take your camera today". They flew above me circling and calling giving me several opportunities for photos and I took many. In my mind they seemed to be showing me just how well they could fly, but were also telling me farewell. Then one caught a thermal and rose high in the sky as red-tail hawks are prone to do. 
Juvenile red-tailed hawk
 I smiled broadly and thought how appropriate that they should become the birds they were meant to be on Independence Day.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Hummingbird Series - Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummer (male) and Larkspur - 5" x 5" acrylic
It seems like this last pair has taken forever to complete! I struggled with this one because of my lack of good photo reference and familiarity with this tiny hummer. I had photos of a male in flight and a perched female, but I wanted to do one more set of a pair feeding at a flower. How hard can it be to come up with a composition? Well, apparently it can be harder than you think.

I first started with the flying pose, but then couldn't seem to find an appropriate flower to have the bird feeding on. All my photos showed the birds at my feeder, not at flowers, because when they came through eight years ago I didn't have any flowers blooming for them to feed on. Then I thought I would just do the pair perched on something, but didn't have reference for that either, so....back to idea number one.
Calliope Hummer and Larkspur (female) 5" x 5" acrylic
The next problem was finding the appropriate flower to have them feeding on. Since these little hummers are more common to mountain meadows at 4000 to 11,000 feet in elevation I didn't feel it would be correct to have them feeding on say, zinnias, so I packed up the dog and the cameras and headed for the mountains in Idaho to gather more reference and, maybe if I was lucky, find one of these hummers there, too. 
Camas flowers near Moose Creek Reservoir, Bovill, Idaho
In the past I have seen Calliope hummingbirds at Moose Creek Reservoir. That is where I decided to go and the photo shows the type of habitat that one might find a Calliope in. It was beautiful there and I found lots of wildflowers to photograph like the blue camas flowers in these photos.
Camas flower
 I set out a hummingbird feeder while having my lunch hoping to lure one in, but had no luck with that. Instead, I had to be content with photographing wildflowers and butterflies and being pollinated by thousands of pine trees releasing clouds of pollen in the breeze.

Back home I went over my photos again and finally, FINALLY, was able to come up with a composition I liked that accurately depicted our smallest hummingbird. (Did I mention that accurately depicting the size of your hummingbird next to the flower it's feeding on is another challenge when you don't have a photo that shows the size difference of the two?).

So, this hummingbird series is officially finished and with this final pair my quota of thirty paintings for my upcoming show has been reached, with over half of those paintings completely new work in the last six months. This puts me ahead of my deadline and releases me to be able to paint at a more leisurely pace and to tackle my next challenge, another state duck stamp contest due in August. As a reward and a celebration for reaching my goal I think a few days relaxing in those mountains I just visited would be just what I need to recharge the batteries and refill the well of inspiration!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Hummingbird Series - Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned and Blue Salvia-5" x 5" acrylic and casein
Next up, couple number three is a pair of black-chinned hummingbirds. This species is more subtly colored than the first two being metallic green on the back with grayish-white on the belly.The male has a black gorget with a thin strip of iridescent purple that can be seen in good light. 
Black-chinned and Blue Salvia II-5" x 5" acrylic and casein
The female is colored similarly, but without the gorget. Her throat often has subtle spotting. 

Black-chinned are found in a variety of habitats, from desert to mountains. They are very adaptable and frequently found in urban habitats that have lots of flowering trees and flowers and are the species I see most often in my garden throughout the summer. I have chosen to picture them with the blue salvia that grows in my garden because I love the color and it picks up the bluish-purple shades in the males throat. 

One more species to go now, the Calliope hummer. I am still working out the composition for this one as this species is the one I see less often in my garden and have fewer reference photos for it. They are more common at higher elevations than where I live so it may require a quick trip to the mountains to see if I can find any. Sounds like a good excuse to get out of the valley!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hummingbird Series-Rufous Hummingbird

Fire in His Heart - 5" x 5" acrylic - Rufous Hummingbird male
The next hummingbird in the series is the feisty and fiery rufous hummingbird. I love these little buggers! The males are bright, rusty orange and the gorget under their throat flashes shades of yellow, orange and green fire. You can't miss them when one of these flies into your yard!
Fire in Her Heart - 5" x 5" acrylic - Rufous Hummingbird female
 The female shows subtle shades of orange with an iridescent green back. She sometimes will have a small patch of fire on her throat or maybe a series of small spots. Both of these hummers have a hot temper to go with their color and can usually be found guarding a feeder aggressively. Occasionally, I have been between a rufous and a perceived sugar water thief and have had them fly close enough to feel their wings brush my hair as they "chip, chip" furiously at the intruder and give chase. It's exciting and intimidating all at the same time! 

Well, the first four are finished with four more to go. The next pair of black-chinned hummingbirds is on the drawing table and work is in progress. With any luck I will have them done by next week. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hummer Series-Anna's Hummingbirds

"Looking for love"- 5" x 5" acrylic- Anna's Hummingbird male

As many of you know, hummingbirds are some of my favorite birds. I love their iridescent colors and feisty personalities. Since they are at the peak of spring migration right now and visiting the feeders in my yard, I thought it would be a great time to do some paintings of them.
"Looking for love, too!" - 5"x 5" acrylic - Anna's hummingbird female
I have decided to do a series of eight small format paintings featuring the male and female of the four most common species here in the Northwest. I felt I needed some smaller, more affordable pieces for my show and these will all be
5" x 5" in size. I also felt it was important to include the female of each species. Though nowhere near the brilliant colors of the males, the females are no less beautiful. Many still have iridescent colors though they are more subtle. It's an adaption as with most birds to protect them while nesting by helping them blend in to their surroundings.
The first in this series is the Anna's hummingbird. While they are more common along the coasts of California to Washington, they are beginning to move further inland and so we are starting to see them more often on the eastern sides of Washington and Oregon and into Idaho as well. These are usually the hummingbirds I see at my feeders in November and December and what a delight they are to see in those winter months!
The next in the series will be a pair of rufous hummingbirds, followed by black-chinned hummers and finishing up with Calliope. So keep a close watch on this site as you won't want to miss them!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Osprey Montage

Osprey Montage-watercolor, gouache, pencil
In spite of the fact that I haven't been very good at posting lately, painting for the October show still continues, though at a somewhat slower pace. I have had to give my back a break over the past month as sitting for hours at my drawing table has caused some old spinal problems to resurface. I haven't quite figured out how to paint while lying on the floor with your feet on the couch. That was the only way I was able to make my back stop screaming at me! Made me think of how Michelangelo ever painted the Sistine Chapel while lying on his back! Anyway, I have managed to complete another five paintings in that time and this is one of them.
Osprey nesting
 As I've been contemplating various ideas for my thirty paintings I decided I wanted to try some mixed media compositions. I also wanted to do a few pieces that just featured a bird in more detail and with different poses to better capture the character of that species. About this time the osprey started to return to the valley to nest, giving me some good opportunities to study them in a little more depth.
Osprey diving
There were so many possibilities of pose combinations to include in this montage that I had a hard time settling on a composition, but eventually I had to make a decision and chose to do a head study to show that incredible raptor eye, a perched bird to show how they wait and watch for fish and a bird hovering in mid-air just before that cannon-ball dive when they spot their prey in the waters below.

I completed the piece in watercolor and gouache along with a pencil study with a watercolor wash. I did the pencil study in part because I could sit on my couch with my feet up to work on it while giving my back a break and not have to worry about getting paint all over my good furniture. I also did it just because I wanted to do a little pencil work for a change and like the look with a little watercolor on it.

I like the way it turned out, but as I said, there were so many possibilities with this subject that there may be another piece in the future. You'll just have to wait and see!