Friday, November 12, 2010

Cloud Phantoms - Tundra Swans

It is amazing what the sound of hundreds of migrating Tundra swans can do to my soul...or the sound of just one. Early Wednesday morning I caught the sound of one small flock migrating high overhead, their white forms floating against a steely gray sky. My heart jumped, pulse quickened, excitement rose! They were back! What had started out as a cold, rainy, dark day suddenly seemed full of wonder and promise!

Ever since I first heard the sound and witnessed the sight of them flying overhead several years ago, I have been  enchanted by "cloud phantoms" with melodious barking voices. They seem magical and other worldly to me. They always seem to migrate through on days that are dark and overcast or during the night when their calls sound eerie in the darkness and their forms float by spirit-like overhead. 

I found them later in the day resting at Mann Lake, a small reservoir, near my home. There were several crazed bird watchers like me in attendance with spotting scopes, binoculars and cameras with powerful telephoto lenses, all of us excitedly chatting about the nearly 1000 swans that had graced us with their presence during the night. I took at least 100 photos to record the event and for reference in future paintings. Eventually, I had to tear myself away and head home.

I had hoped to see the swans one more time, but when I visited the reservoir this morning all, but four, were gone. What a great blessing it was to see them though! I am mulling around some ideas for paintings now, but I'm not sure I will ever be able to capture how I feel when I see them flying. That may be something held in my heart, a gift from God just for me. I will try, of course, but until you stand shivering under a steely gray sky, listening for their cries, straining your eyes to see them float down from the heavens, you will never truly understand their magic.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cooper's Hawk for Breakfast

I love watching birds! I have been a bird watcher from the time I was a little girl sitting contentedly on my grandparents porch peering into a bush and watching in utter fascination a pair of song sparrows feeding their young. I spent hours out their studying them closely, making drawings and notes of everything they did. ( Oh, how I wish I still had that first notebook!) I have never outgrown that fascination and as an adult I make an effort to attract as many birds to my yard as I can by growing plants they love to eat and use for cover, putting out feeders and providing water. I have been pretty successful in attracting hummingbirds, doves, gold finches, lesser gold finches, and many others that migrate through. I always have birds in my yard of some kind looking for a free and easy meal. My politically incorrect husband lovingly calls them my "welfare" birds.

Yesterday, as I was getting ready to leave for work, I took one last glance out the patio door at all my feathered friends madly feasting away. I picked up my keys and looked again only this time I saw only one bird...a very LARGE with very sharp talons, a hooked beak and a fearsome gaze! A Cooper's hawk had just swooped into my yard hoping to get breakfast, too. Only he was not interested in seeds. He was hoping for a nice fat sparrow! 

I ran for my camera and as I watched this awesome bird of prey eying all the places the smaller birds had hidden, I realized he had a place in my yard, too. Some people get quite upset when a hawk swoops in and makes a meal out of one of their song birds, but I love to see the predator birds. By providing a food source for the smaller birds I am also providing a food source for the birds that prey on them, giving me an opportunity to study those birds up close and from the comfort of my own home.

In a short while the Cooper's flew off, but not until he had hopped down from his perch and peered closely into the tomato plant where the little birds often hide. I thought his behavior was interesting especially since I had just read an article in Bird Watcher's Digest the evening before describing similar behavior. I found it even more interesting that I had read the article, and had just that morning given thought to whether I would see any Coopers in my yard this fall and, amazingly, there he was! It was a great article and if you're interested in birds I'd recommend getting a copy for yourself.

 Birds of prey are not bad birds, it's just how they were created and if you take the time to study one you'll find they are well equipped to be what they are. Exceptional eyesight and swift maneuverability make them superb hunters. Strong feet, sharp talons and hooked beaks are the utensils they use to eat with, specialized to what they eat, just like hummingbirds have long bills and tongues because they sip nectar. Try to remember that if the thought of birds of prey bothers you any. They are a part of nature just like the pretty birds. In some ways I like them better because of the awesome power they seem to exude.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

McKenzie and Finley - Yellow Lab Portrait

Late this summer I had the privilege of meeting a very nice couple from Kansas who were visiting a past client and friend. They had seen a portrait I had done some years back of their dog, Hannah, and were impressed enough to want to take some time out from their holiday to meet me. The couple was wonderful and the lady got quite excited looking at my portfolio and envisioning their pets in a portrait. I gave them all the information about photos I would need, prices, etc. and they said they would get back to me when they returned home. A few months later I got an email from the husband who wanted to secretly get a portrait done of their two yellow labs, Mackenzie and Finley, for his wife's birthday. ( I love all this secret stuff!) After exchanging several emails to decide on the poses we came up with this portrait.

This painting was done in acrylic, but I also added a little bit of gouache for the finest details as I find it flows better off the brush and is very opaque. Any place that I wanted to add a brighter highlight or to accent individual hairs like the whiskers I painted with gouache. The nice thing about using water media is that they are interchangeable and can easily be used together. It was also great fun to paint the shadows in their coats as I could use colors like soft blues and lavenders. 

I have a few weeks to wait now until my clients wife opens her birthday present, but I have been told a phone call telling me how well she liked it won't be necessary.  I should be able to hear her screaming excitedly all the way from Kansas!!