Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Work in Progress - American Kestrel Painting

Kestrel sketch and reference
I woke up the other morning with kestrels on the brain. In fact, they kept me awake half the night. I don't know for sure what has caused this obsession. It may be related to the sketch I did the other day or possibly the fact that I've been spending time photographing and studying my friends falcons. Or maybe there is some other hidden reason that I'm not aware of, but whatever the reason is, I can't seem to stop thinking about them. They seem to be showing up everywhere I go, too. I usually see one every morning on my walk and the other morning I woke up to find one in my bird bath!
American Kestrel bathing
This is beginning to get a little scary!

I decided that perhaps this was a hint to get started on another painting so I got out all my photo reference and sketched out a pair of them on tracing paper. When I was happy with the composition I transferred it to an Ampersand Aquabord and started painting with washes of acrylic ink for a soft, transparent background. As you can see I've just blocked in the markings on the birds.
 So far so good! I am painting the whole thing in acrylic so I can make changes if I need to. Hopefully, with a little luck I can get it completed in a few days.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cold Kestrel (a sketch)

Kestrel sketch in watercolor-Stillman and Birn sketchbook
It's suddenly gotten quite cold here, a chilly 5 degrees this morning when I got up. This is not our normal winter temperature which tends to hover right around 32 degrees so staying indoors seemed like a good idea, especially after I went for my daily walk. Brrrrr!

Given the cold weather and the fact that I'm still fighting the seasonal crud going around I decided curling up with a blanket and a hot cup of tomato tonic was a wise choice. I also decided to try out some new Stillman and Birn sketchbooks while I was huddled under my blanket. I thought it might be just the thing to lift my spirits from losing Maggie and keep me from focusing on how quiet the house is without her here. I gathered some photos I had taken of an American kestrel on another cold winter day, my travel set of watercolors and a waterbrush and found my favorite spot on the couch and I was set for a few hours just like when I was a kid.
Kestrel studies-watercolor in Stillman and Birn sketchbook
 The time seemed to slip by as I concentrated on sketching our smallest falcon. These birds are commonly seen perched on power lines or fence posts quietly watching for their prey. They are also often seen hovering in mid-air closely inspecting the ground for a sign of movement. When their prey is spotted they swoop in for the kill and carry their prize off in their talons. They may be small, only 9" to 12" long, but are fierce and feisty. The females are larger than the males and are mostly reddish-brown with black facial markings. The males have reddish-brown backs and blue-gray wings and heads also with black facial markings. The watercolor at the beginning of the post shows a male kestrel hunched up against the cold.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Remembering Maggie

Me and Maggie - Sept. 2013

It is with unbearable sorrow and a heavy heart that I write this post. I lost my Chesapeake, Maggie a week ago and I can hardly stand the pain of that loss. I knew it was coming as she was diagnosed with first kidney disease, then Cushings disease in December 2012 and finally liver cancer in August 2013. Still, one is never really ready when the time comes to say good-bye.
Maggie-Puppy to Adult-water media 14" x 18"

 Maggie came to us one day in October 2001. She was one of a litter of 13 puppies and the breeders’ favorite. She was a dark brown girl with a white blaze on her chest and an eagerness to get the pigeon he’d tossed out to see how the pups would react. She had no fear. Her disposition was mostly sweet, but she terrorized my other Chessie, Jake, to no end. He tolerated her well, so well in fact, that he never let on that she was actually shredding his ears chewing on him until one day when I felt the scabs and realized the damage she was inflicting. Only once did he let her know enough was enough and he just sat on her.

We took her out duck hunting with us right away even though she was just a pup. She usually slept in the truck while we hunted with Jake, then when the hunt was over we’d bring her down to the water and the ducks we’d shot and let her play. She took to the water immediately and would swim around looking like a small otter while Brian would gather the decoys. Sometimes we’d toss a duck out and she’d swim right up and grab it. The only problem was she figured it was then “her” duck and didn’t want to bring it to us or let go of it, but having it made her wiggle with delight.

Maggie with duck
Maggie grew quickly into a long, slender teenager. She was a bit of a goof ball with the sweetest eyes. She excitedly greeted you when you came home, by wiggling excessively all over and peeing and all the while making this funny rooing, purring noise. While funny now it was not amusing at the time. Thank goodness, she eventually outgrew that phase! 

As time went by and Jake left us she became our number one hunting dog and my daily companion. She was an excellent duck dog, but if she got bored because the ducks weren’t flying she felt she needed to be either in your lap or sharing your lunch. We hunted upland game with her as well, but she never excelled at it. She was used to watching the sky for the birds and couldn’t quite make the switch to putting her nose to the ground. Instead she’d run through cover like a bat out of hell and periodically jump to look around. Unfortunately, we were never able to give her the same upland hunting opportunities we gave Jake so we settled on just enjoying the day with her whether we got birds or not.
Maggie and her favorite stick.
 The best memories I have of her were just spending every day together doing ordinary things. She was my constant companion. Every morning she would accompany me on my walks along the river and no matter the weather or time of year she would always go for a swim. Somewhere through the years she picked up the habit of carrying a stick with her when we walked. I’d throw it and she’d retrieve it, but when I tried to leave it behind she’d find it and carry it back to the truck. Eventually, I carried a couple of sticks with us wherever we went and people we saw every day would shake their heads and laugh when they saw us coming knowing  Maggie always carried her stick. She would carry it to the house when we got home expecting a treat for doing so and every morning she would eagerly look for it to carry back to the truck. 
Maggie in the garden waiting for veggies!
One of Maggie’s favorite things to do was help me in the garden. She wasn’t so much help in the planting stage and usually ended up stepping on the tiny plants, but once the plants were growing and producing she would help me with the harvest. Actually, it was more like she helped herself TO the harvest. Maggie was very fond of food of all kinds. She loved many kinds of fresh vegetables and was not shy about picking her own. Among her favorites were sugar snap peas, green beans, lettuce, yellow pear tomatoes and broccoli (though she never picked that herself). I couldn’t touch a bowl in the kitchen during the summer without her running to the back door, nearly knocking me over to get out and then leaping over three steps in her excitement to go help me pick. She knew there would always be something for her out there.

Besides walks, water and eating Maggie also loved to play in the snow. We never get a lot where I live, but if there was snow anywhere Maggie would be snowplowing through it rubbing her face and head in it while having her butt in the air. She’d come up looking like some kind of snow beast with it stuck all over her face and head. This winter was hard for her because when the snow fell she was not strong enough to snowplow without falling over. It was heart breaking to watch her try so I went out and took handfuls and rubbed them all over her face and head. She seemed to enjoy that and maybe she knew it would be the last she’d see.
Maggie loved the snow.
 Other memories I have of her include her hugs, our morning routine of ear scratches and loves, her drooly face whenever she drank her water and seeing her curled up in her favorite chair. Her hugs usually happened every morning when I loaded her in the truck. She would wiggle her way from the back seat to the front and wrap herself around me pinning me to my seat while thrashing and head-butting me until I was able to push her 65 lb. body back. Sometimes if I lay on the floor she’d pin me there laying her head across my neck or putting her head down and pressing in.

In the mornings she would come be with me while I’d sit having my coffee. She usually had just taken a big drink of water and wanted to put her drooly face in my lap to have her ears scratched while staring lovingly into my eyes. (Chessies are known for making great eye contact) I always had a towel nearby to throw on my lap to catch the drools. When we were done with that she’d curl up at my feet and wait for me to finish my coffee and start my day.

When not involved in any other activities Maggie could be found curled up in an old Lazy-boy chair that she shared with Brian. It always amazed me how a dog of her size could fit herself into that chair so perfectly. If you tried to make her get out she’d give you a look that said “make me” and wait to see if you were serious. She believed it was “her” chair. When she finally got too old and couldn’t jump up in the chair any more I bought her a bed with bolsters hoping it would feel somewhat like her chair. She used it, but every once in a while she’d walk over to the Lazy-boy and lay her head in it. If I could have lifted her I’d have put her in it one more time.
It's MY Chair-Maggie-pencil
 We fought hard together this past year, but it was not enough. I did tons of research on all her ailments, changed her diet, cooked for her, gave her herbal supplements and modern medicines, spent sleepless nights, but in the end I had to let her go. Holding her in my arms as she slipped away was among the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I wouldn’t let her go alone. I owed her that much for all the love she’d given me over the twelve and a half years of her life.

 I miss her more than I can say, but I’m glad for all the years we had together. Because God made me an artist my house is filled with paintings, drawings and photos of my pretty girl so I can look at her every day and remember. The drawing I did of her in her favorite chair looks down on me as I write this and her ashes and Jake’s are with me every day in my studio so I and they are never alone or apart.   

If you have a pet that you love hold them close on this day and treasure your time together. It is way too short. If you have a pet you’ve lost I grieve for you and with you. And if there is a way that I can use my artistic gift to ease your pain or recreate a memory for you please don’t hesitate to contact me. It may help us both heal.