Saturday, December 17, 2011

Snowy Owl Obsession

Photo courtesy of Keith Carlson

I currently have an obsession. It's a Snowy owl obsession. It started innocently enough when, about a month ago, reports starting filtering in from around the Northwest that a few birds had been seen.  At first I didn't give it much thought other than that I thought it would be nice to see one someday, but I figured my chances were pretty slim. The obsession was starting to quietly take hold, though I didn't know it yet.

My interest was piqued when I started receiving information that the owls were being seen all across the northern states this winter. It seems we are in the midst of a Snowy owl invasion or "irruption" in birder terms. This happens sometimes when food sources change for a species and it moves out of it's normal range (in this case Canada and the Arctic) looking for something to eat. Sometimes it's a territory thing and there are too many birds in one area so they move. Whatever the reason, this year all across the country the northern states are sighting this rare, Arctic visitor in large numbers. Perhaps, I wondered, one might come as far as my area?

A few days later I checked my emails and a snowy owl HAD been sighted in my area within a short driving distance from my home! Suddenly my heart skipped a beat! I ran from my computer to find my husband and excitedly told him one had been seen near here. He was so calm and just said, "I suppose you'll have to go look for it."   Well......yeah!!
The only problem was that I couldn't just run off looking like I normally do. I had other obligations. 

  The days ticked by before I had an opportunity to go looking and when I did I couldn't locate the bird. As other sightings came in I took every opportunity I could to follow up on the reports.....getting up before dawn to try to find one before going to work, driving miles around the countryside on my days off, but the birds were never there when I was. The illusive Snowy owl was only seen in my dreams swooping through like a phantom.

Snowy owl watercolor sketch

 I became possessed by visions of large, white birds and I was beginning to think I would never see one before they moved back to their Arctic home.

Then one day last week my bird watching friend, Keith, took pity on me and called to tell me that another bird had been located and was regularly coming to the area around Mann Lake. If I met him there he'd help me find it. The morning we went out was cold and gray and light snow was falling. I tried not to get my hopes up just in case it didn't show, but shortly after I arrived at the designated spot another birder friend, Larry, showed up and told me my owl was about a half mile up the road. I raced over there like a crazy woman hoping the bird would not leave before I arrived. As I stepped out of the car I saw it. After almost two weeks of searching, the bird of my dreams was calmly perched on a small shed looking for it's breakfast. It was magnificent!
Catherine's Snowy Owl
We spent almost two hours admiring this bird from a fairly close distance. It was as beautiful as I hoped it would be and I couldn't have been more excited. I felt so privileged to be in it's presence, standing there with my friends on a snowy day. It couldn't have been more perfect!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Morning Sketches

Sometimes life gets pretty crazy and starts to get in the way of our best intentions. It seems to be that way for me lately. Usually when that happens time for art starts to suffer, especially if I have no commissions or deadlines to keep me on task. I get lazy or tired or just feel uncreative. If I let it go for too long I get a little grumpy and need to give myself a jump start or try doing something different to get the creative juices flowing again. Enter Morning Sketches!
My usual morning routine includes some quiet time sitting with my cup of coffee and a journal where I let my thoughts run amok on the pages. I usually keep the lights quite low, just bright enough to write by and ease into my morning gently. To me it's a good way to start the day. Then as the morning light gets brighter I get myself up for my walks with my dog, Maggie. But lately, I've been waking up earlier than usual and when I'm done writing it's still fairly dark and I'm not excited about walking around outside when there's little light to see anything by. So last week during my writing time a new idea revealed itself. Why not use this extra time to squeeze in some sketching? I grabbed a sketchbook, pencil and a few photos and curled up on the couch again. In a short while I had made a few quick sketches and began to feel like a kid again. (As a child I would often wake up before anyone else and lay on my bed and draw until the rest of my family would get up.) I enjoyed this little exercise so much I'm considering making it a regular part of my morning routine. It's a good way to keep me in practice and happy until I can get back to my art on a more regular basis.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Mystery of the Golden-Plover

Golden-Plover sketch

A few weeks ago, on August 20, 2011, I joined a group of birdwatchers at Mann Lake in Lewiston, Idaho. We were there to see any birds we could, but in particular we were looking for shorebirds that might be migrating through the area. We had had an unusually wet spring and the reservoir was still fairly full so not much shoreline was exposed. On the little mudflat that was there we found killdeer, lesser yellowlegs, a California gull and a variety of waterfowl. We had decided to move to another location when our guide for the day spotted an unusual looking bird landing on the beach below us. It was an impressive looking bird sporting striking black, white and gold plumage. I was curious as to what our new arrival might be and joined with the others cautiously making our way down for a closer look. The bird patiently waited for us all to assemble with spotting scopes, cameras and binoculars and posed for a few photographs before flying off. Our guide said it was a Golden-Plover though wasn't sure if it was of the Pacific or American species. We would have to consult our photos and field guides to determine that.

 At home later that day I sat down with my photos and field guides and determined (to my mind) that this was a male Pacific Golden-Plover. I then decided to report my sighting on eBird an online global birdwatchers database sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The website said that this was a rare bird for our area, which was exciting, but I didn't give it much more thought. Little did I know that somewhere in birdwatcher cyberspace I had set off alarms, bells and whistles because the next thing I know I'm receiving excited emails from folks who monitor this sort of thing. Did I get photos? Can I give a detailed description? Can I verify my sighting some way? Was I sure I saw what I think I saw? Suddenly, I was feeling very exposed and not so sure that reporting my sighting had been such a good idea.

Apparently, Pacific Golden-Plovers are a rare visitor to our area. There has been only one other reported sighting and that quite some time ago. To confuse matters more Pacific and American golden-plovers have very similar plumage making identification difficult. Emails and photos were sent, experts were consulted. Then another bird was sighted. Was this the same bird or a different one? Male or female? And really, neither golden-plover species was very common here. What had appeared to be a straightforward i.d. suddenly had become a great mystery and puzzle to be solved.

It has been almost a month now since I reported that crazy bird. The debate is still going on. Last I heard the consensus was it's a female American golden-plover, but I think we will never know for sure. While high powered spotting scopes, expensive cameras and binoculars are wonderful aides in helping us identify illusive birds they are no substitute for a bird in hand, but that is no longer legal like it was in Audubon's day. The best we can rely on is still not good enough so we are left wondering. In my mind the mystery is solved. I tend to go with first impressions and my impression was that I saw a male, Pacific golden-plover. Do I wish it were that because then I could say I've seen a rare bird? No, I don't think so because the American golden-plover is also uncommon here.
I just believe what I believe.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Maneuvers" - Nighthawks in Acrylic

A year ago at this time I had an opportunity to experience a spectacular natural event. It was a warm summer evening and the sun was starting to settle on the western horizon. Clouds were starting to build and thunderstorms were predicted. The low angle of the sun was tinging those clouds with subtle shades of orange and pink. A swarm of flying insects was starting to rise and the scene was set.

At first there was just one or two, but soon others were joining in. What drew my attention was their call high over head - a nasal, kind of screechy "PEENT"! The nighthawks had arrived! Circling over the neighborhood was a large flock of migrating nighthawks. The insect banquet had brought them in and brought them close. I ran for my camera and for the next hour I tried to capture photos of their aerial ballet. Birds were wheeling, turning and careening through the sky from all directions. It was dizzying to watch and down right difficult to photograph. Nighthawks are fast and able to change directions dramatically. What I didn't know was just how maneuverable they were. It wasn't until I started to look at the images I had recorded that I realized they were capable of flying sideways and even rolling upside down in an effort to capture their tiny prey. Like a well choreographed dance they raced through the sky somehow managing to avoid trees, power lines and each other in their feeding frenzy.

I watched until the light faded and it got too dark to photograph them any more. My neck was stiff and my head swimming from trying to turn in circles fast enough to keep up with the wildly flying birds, but I had captured some interesting poses. My heart was pounding with excitement for what I had seen and I was immediately inspired to create a painting to record the feeling of that evening, the building thunderstorm, and the cartwheeling birds. I made a sketch that night and the title came quickly to my mind......

It's obviously taken me some time to create the final painting. I was in the midst of some commissions at the time and couldn't get right to it. Then the sketch got put aside and shuffled around and eventually life got busy and I forgot about it until a few weeks ago when it was just one of those summer evenings and I heard that familiar sound. It was time for "Maneuvers" to come to life again!

"Maneuvers" is painted in acrylic and measures 14" x 18". It will be for sale and inquiries can come to me at

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Morning Walk

Bullock's Oriole - male

This morning I went for a walk in one of my favorite habitat areas, Chief Timothy HMU. It is a long narrow strip of land that runs west of Clarkston, WA. between Highway 12 and the Snake River. It's not a large area, just under one acre, but has three access areas and each offers slightly different habitat. This morning I decided to walk the eastern end of the area. I haven't been to this area of the habitat for awhile usually avoiding it all together this time of year because it is often occupied by lots of ticks. However, I was bored with my other walking areas so I decided to be brave and give it a try. I'm so glad I did!! It was like walking in a whole new place! There were so many interesting birds flitting about like this beautiful Bullock's Oriole who was kind enough to pose so nicely for a photograph. I also saw eastern kingbirds, lesser goldfinch, caspian terns, American kestral, cedar waxwings and an illusive yellow breasted chat flew right across in front of me and peered at me from the middle of a willow thicket.

What most impressed me this morning was the diversity of plant life. I was amazed at all the many shapes, sizes and colors that I had not noticed there in past years.
I'm going to venture a guess as to the reasons for this. A few years ago a fire burned through the area. As devastating as fires can be some plants need this in order to release seeds or for seeds to germinate. Then we've had a much cooler, wetter spring than normal and I believe the combination of the two has contributed to the amount of growth I observed today.

I thought the teasel was especially striking and almost other worldly looking. The flower head was just forming and was a lovely green color, almost delicate looking in spite of the formidable spikes that surround it. Right now all of it is still pliable. In a few more weeks this flower will turn a beautiful shade of lavender before eventually drying out completely in the fall and becoming very prickly to the touch.

All in all it was a wonderful walk and I came home inspired and amazed yet again at God's creativity! I hope wherever you are today you can get out and be amazed, too, at the unbelievable world we live in!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Hope in Dirt

I like this time of year. As the days start to get longer and the weather starts to warm I can't help myself and I must get out and play in the dirt. There's something about the smell of freshly turned warm earth, the feel of it sifting through my fingers, the hope of new beginnings that it brings. It's soothing to me. It rejuvenates my spirit. Digging around removing weeds, preparing the ground for new growth is like therapy. It reminds me that my life often needs the same things the earth does to be productive. I need to remove what's unnecessary and create fertile soil for new ideas to grow.

Sometimes when I'm digging around my mind works on things that are bothering me or problems I can't seem to find a solution to. Often times my mind just wanders and my focus shifts from the many distractions in my life to smaller things like the interesting shape of a flower just before it blooms, or the many segments of a fat earthworm and how it moves through the soil and knows how to get away from me without any eyes. Sometimes my heart hears the voice of my Creator telling me how special I am and how I might fit into his amazingly designed world.

Digging in the dirt, planting my garden is an act of faith. I put a seed in the ground. The sun warms it, the rain moistens it, the nutrients in the earth nourish it and I believe it will sprout and grow into something beautiful and wondrous without much help from me. Sometimes it's hard to have that faith when it's been some time and you still haven't seen a sprout, but eventually the miracle happens and one day....there it is!!

Digging in the dirt teaches me about life and faith. It reminds me how connected everything is. It reminds me of miracles and how things that we hope for happen in their own time. It reminds me to slow down and enjoy the beauty around me. And even after a long hard day of digging, weeding and planting I am always filled with a sense of peace and that all is right with the world.

I hope wherever you are you can get out and enjoy a renewing of your spirit by connecting with something living and wondrous that the Creator has made especially for you. If you find it digging in the dirt so much the better, but you may just find it in the unique design of a flower that by some miracle we don't understand and with no help from you, came up all on it's own to reveal it's beauty to the world and offer us hope.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pudelpointer Montage in Acrylic

While pondering my next painting today I realized that I had neglected to post my last commissioned piece of another Pudelpointer. So here it is!

This painting represents what I call my "past to present" style of portrait which features the same animal from puppy to adult dog. In this case, three stages of Tukr's life are included as well as background from a favorite hunting spot and some of the chukar that he hunts. This was a fairly large and involved painting, 16" x 20" and is painted in acrylic.

My client owns Cedarwood Kennels in Boise, Id. and is the breeder of this wonderful dog and many great pudelpointers like him. If you are interested in this unique, versatile hunting breed I suggest you contact them and they will be happy to answer all your questions. Their website is

I have been thinking of trying this style of painting called a "montage" on some of my wildlife and bird subjects. I would like the painting to tell a story or educate the viewer about that animal and by depicting different poses or perhaps including their nests or eggs it would give a more complete picture than just a single pose. I'm still toying with this idea, but when I'm ready to paint it you'll be the first to see it here.

If you have a beloved pet or a favorite animal or bird that you would like a portrait of I would be honored to create one for you or for someone special in your life. They make exceptional gifts! Just shoot me off an email and we can discuss getting started! You can contact me at To see other portraits I've done you can view my two and I hope to hear from you soon!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bird Sketches

The past few days have been rainy and dreary and my attitude seems to be matching the weather. Not feeling particularly inspired about what to paint next since finishing my commissions, I decided the best thing to do was just put a pencil on paper and sketch something. While I normally find the process of drawing and painting very engrossing, this time I also felt it to be very therapeutic and centering. As I sketched away my mood lifted and the things that seemed to be troubling me disappeared at least for a time. Sitting and doing this also allowed my mind to wander back to my childhood. Whenever I was worried or upset or just annoyed with my sisters I would seek out a quiet place in the fields around my house and hide in the tall grass or bushes and draw pictures of the wildlife I saw. It always made me feel better and I realized that I still do the same things now. Whenever I feel like I just can't cope with reality I run off to nature and try to find peace. Since the weather was so nasty I ran off to my studio and sketched, but the end result was almost as good!

I started off sketching from some photos that I had taken of birds, but then I decided to check in on a live web cam that I have been watching that's on an eagles nest in Iowa. It was a great opportunity to sketch something alive and moving and something that I ordinarily would not have much chance of seeing unless I found a nest and climbed a tree. Two of the three eggs in the nest have hatched so there are baby eaglets to sketch as well. Most of the time one of the adult eagles is sitting on the nest and there's not much activity, but even still the bird moves it's head around continually so you have to be quick to finish a pose. Then when it's feeding time everyone in the nest is moving, but sketching like that is excellent practice. It teaches great hand-eye coordination and you really have to pay attention to what you're seeing to get it right.

If anyone is interested in viewing the link to the site is

I have done some checking and have found there are other live web cams out there to view so perhaps I will spend a little more time getting an intimate look at nature from the comfort of my studio. This, of course, will never be as good as getting out into nature itself and I try to do that daily and encourage others to do the same. While computers are great for a lot of things they are not a substitute for fresh air and sunshine and physically connecting with our environment. We need more of that. Go do some therapy!!!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Springtime Golfinch

Spring is definitely in the air in the valley where I live! Today was mostly sunny and about 70 degrees, but tomorrow we will go back to April showers. That's the way it is with spring. That's also why we sometimes need bright yellow birds to remind us of sunny days ahead when life starts to rain on our parade.

American goldfinch frequent my yard all year round, but during the fall and winter they are in disguise. During that time of year they molt into a drab olive and brown color. Then when spring starts to roll around again they change back into the familiar bright yellow of the males and a lovely, subtle gray green for the females. Right now the ones in my yard are somewhere in between and are kind of scruffy looking, but soon they will look just like the ones in this painting.

I created this little acrylic painting for a very special sister of mine. These are some of her favorite birds and they remind me a lot of her. They are kind of clownish at times hanging from sock feeders and flowers while foraging for seeds. She's kind of clownish, too, though I've never seen her hanging upside down anywhere lately. But she does have a quirky sense of humor and can make me laugh hysterically about the silliest things when we have one of our off the wall conversations. She can definitely brighten up a day just like these beautiful birds!

This painting already has a home, but I have created an ACEO that is available through my Etsy You can purchase this and many others there that would make a nice springtime gift for yourself or a friend.

Happy Spring!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Red Fox

I seem to be stuck on foxes these days! By coincidence, karma, good luck or just a unique blessing from God, I have had an opportunity to see and photograph my very own "foxy" friend.

The last two mornings while on my walk in a habitat area near my home I have been treated with a glimpse of this red fox. Yesterday, I saw it ever so briefly as it crossed the road and disappeared into some rocks. This morning it seemed to be playing a game of hide and seek with me. I was actually surprised to see it there again, but this time it stopped long enough to get a good look at it through my binos AND snap two photos before it trotted off. A few moments later I saw it again sitting on a rocky outcropping back lit by the morning sun looking like it was just waiting for me to see it posed that way. Beautiful! As soon as I spotted it, off it trotted again beckoning me to follow. Of course, I did, but it had slipped into some rocks again and I lost it.

Siting this fox was a first for me. I have seen them in captivity, studied them through taxidermy mounts, and most recently through the photos of my friend and client, Nancy Sattler. I have never had the opportunity to see one in the wild. This was exciting and even more so because I have just finished these two red fox paintings. And because this one appeared to be as curious about me as I was about him/her.

I hope I get a chance to see this one again. The images that it presented me with this morning certainly give me ideas for yet another fox painting. It made my morning to see it there in the early sunrise. Perhaps it will make your day as well. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Winter Red - Fox in Acrylic

Finally! It seems like it's been forever since I've posted though I guess it's only been a few weeks. I have been waiting because my camera has been in for repairs and I couldn't photograph any of my artwork or anything else for that matter! I felt like I lost an appendage while I was without it. That camera goes almost everywhere with me so I can record not only the art I create, but the reference material to create it. And while I could have gone into debt to buy the camera of my dreams to replace it, I chose instead to fix this one first then save for the next one. Probably a much wiser choice in the long run.

I learned a few things while I was waiting for my trusty camera to return. One was patience....which I didn't learn very well (it's an ongoing process!). The other very valuable thing I learned was the art of observing and sketching from nature. Now, you would think that, as an artist, I already knew these things and had them down. Well, I thought so, too, but then my camera croaked and I suddenly discovered I had actually gotten a little lazy and was relying on technology way too much. Being without this item forced me to go back to basics, take my sketch book out with me and try to record what I saw by drawing it on location. WOW! What a concept!

This turned out to be a very valuable, if not challenging lesson. And it also was very freeing. I felt like a kid again, wandering around the fields where I grew up, sitting and really looking at an object, studying it and with my little sketch book recording what I saw.

It's definitely a challenge when you're trying to sketch an illusive screech owl hiding in a nest box while looking through binoculars (without your glasses because you can't see through the binos with them) then trying to put the glasses back on so you can see through your bifocals to draw, while kneeling down to balance your sketch book and fighting off a wet dog who thinks it's time to play because you're on her level! Not stuff I had to deal with while recording the owl with my camera, BUT a lot more fun and makes a good story! Amazingly, I was able to do two VERY quick sketches and recorded the moment with more feeling than the camera ever could capture because the pencil strokes were more "expressive" than a digital image. They were MY pencil strokes made with excitement!

So what does all this have to do with this latest painting? Nothing really, it just shows that no matter how good you think you are or how far you've come there's always room for improvement and that it's good to be reminded of the things that are important. Simple, basic things that make us slow down and look at the world a little closer and help us to connect on a more personal level. Humbling.

Hope you enjoy this little guy. I had great fun creating all the texture in his fur and capturing that intense look in his eyes. The painting is 8" x 10" done in acrylic and will be for sale. Inquiries can come to me at

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Red fox in Acrylic

I'm a little behind on my posting and already thinking I'm not going to accomplish my goal of two new paintings a month, but there seems to have been a lot going on lately, though just what it's been that's taken so much time I'm not quite sure. Ever have that happen? You just get so caught up in the small stuff.....

I have been working on this fox painting on and off for the last few weeks and finally got him finished. This painting was a commissioned piece for a past client. She provided me with lots of photos of this fox that she has named Charlie.

Charlie is a wild fox that has become accustomed to humans. She met him one spring when she discovered the den on her cabin property. He was the bravest and most curious of the kits so she was able to get quite close and has been documenting his growth since that time. Charlie will come when you whistle for him and she leaves eggs out for him to find. Recently he has shown up with another fox that they believe is a female so perhaps they will raise a family there this spring.

This painting features Charlie in a classic fox pose. Their coats in winter are lush and thick and that gorgeous tail makes an excellent foot warmer. I loved painting the detail of that red fur flecked with little bits of fallen snow.

This is just the first of many paintings I plan to do of this fox. My client has provided me with several photos of him from kit to adult and has given me permission to use them in future paintings. I have two ideas in mind already and will just need to keep that darned small stuff from getting in the way of my progress!!!!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Downy Woodpecker in Watercolor

My second painting for the month of January is a little downy woodpecker painted in watercolor and gouache. This one would be a male which you can tell by the small spot of red on the back of his head. In doing my research I discovered that the reason they are called "downy" woodpeckers comes from the fact that they have a small tuft of feathers at the base of their bill. Hairy woodpeckers look very similar except they are larger with a longer bill. They also have a tuft of feathers at the base of their bill, but they get to be "hairy" instead of just "downy". Kind of makes you wonder how they come up with some of these names, doesn't it?

Anyway, I saw several of these little woodpeckers flitting around from tree to tree and they were calling. I actually heard them first and since it was an unfamiliar sound I listened closely to locate the bird making the noise. I was surprised that it was coming from the downy as I have never heard them make any noise before except the familiar "tap-tap-tap" as they work along a tree looking for insects. I was also surprised by the fact that I saw three of them working on tree trunks near each other. I've normally only seen one at a time and these seemed to be following each other around. I recall reading that downy woodpeckers may mate for life and locate their mates by tapping on the trees as early as January so perhaps that's what I was witnessing and maybe it's an indicator that spring isn't too far off!

I created this painting for a special lady in my life.... my mother in law. She has been a great supporter of my art and also shares my love of nature, gardening and birds. My husband shared with me that she always liked seeing the little woodpeckers come to their feeders when they were kids and because her birthday is coming up this was a no-brainer.

Though the original is gone, if you love downy woodpeckers an art card/ACEO is available through my Etsy store at Take a look and see what else is new!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Barn Owl in Acrylic

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took an early morning walk to a nearby habitat area. I wanted to show him something I had discovered there which I believed to be owl pellets (those are the undigested parts like fur and bones that the owls regurgitate.) I was hoping to discover the bird that had left these behind . While I was pondering the type of owl it might be, there was a commotion above us and something shot out of the tops of the evergreens and careened into a nearby tree. Landing off balance with wings askew and a bewildered look about him was this barn owl.

Now a barn owl was not one of the choices that came to mind when I was thinking owls. I expected a screech owl, great horned owl or perhaps a saw whet owl, but not this one. I was quite surprised to see him. And I'm pretty sure we disturbed his slumber so I'm betting he was just as surprised to see us, too.

Eventually, he composed himself and looked around to figure out what had happened, but he either decided we weren't a threat or was too dazed to fly off because he sat there while I snapped numerous photos.

When I returned home and viewed the photos, I was struck by the subtle beauty of this bird. Dressed in shades of brown, black and white he was nearly camouflaged in the tree where he landed. I was drawn to those soft shades and thought it would make a striking picture of him in the bare tree against a winter background.

This painting is the first for 2011. It was done in acrylic in a more contemporary format measuring 10" x 10" and will be listed for sale in a few weeks. Inquiries may come to me at