Friday, December 16, 2016

Winter Wisdom

Winter sunrise over the duck pond
December is a special month for me. It is the month we officially mark the beginning of winter. We celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Savior. We spend time celebrating with friends and family. It is also my birth month.
First snow Hell's Gate State Park

December is when we usually see our first snow across the country. In the valley I live in we generally don't see very much of it and it usually doesn't last very long. Many people don't enjoy winter because it's dark longer, it's cold and the snow makes getting around difficult. I'm one of those rare folks that enjoy it. The first snowfall fills me with delight. I love the way it softens everything; the noise, the colors, the harshness. I like to go out and walk in it, breath in the cold freshness and allow the quiet that it brings to envelop me and invite me to slow down.
Swallows Park

 The thought struck me the other day that we don't listen very well to what winter is trying to tell us. All of nature understands that it's time to scale back it's activity, to rest, recover. Most of the landscape goes in to hibernation and birds and animals also tend to conserve their energy. But we humans go right on with our busy schedules and never find that rest and peace that winter brings.
View on Hwy. 12, Idaho
Consequently, we often feel worn out, stressed out and grumpy. I know, I'm guilty of it, too. So this winter, this Christmas season when all the activity around you is making you crazy, take a hint from nature. Stop, slow down, step outside and breath deeply of the cold air. Let the beauty of the season bring you joy. Let the Spirit of the season renew you and bring you peace.
Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Wood Duck Reflections

Wood duck acrylic painting
I'm happy to say I've ticked another item off my "to do" list today. I just completed this 8" x 10" acrylic study of a male wood duck. I am entering another duck stamp contest for the state of Washington and felt I needed to get a few more waterfowl paintings under my belt before I did that. 
Wood Duck Reflections - Acrylic 8 x 10"

 I chose to paint a wood duck for several reasons. First, they are incredibly beautiful birds with every color of the rainbow in their feathers. Under the right light they glow with iridescence. I thought it would be a great challenge to try and capture that iridescence with paint. Second, while duck hunting recently my husband harvested a male wood duck, so along with my reference photos I had a bird in hand to study up close. It's always so much easier to understand the colors, textures and details of the feathers when you can see them in 3-D as opposed to a flat photo. 
Photo of a female wood duck

The third reason came to me as I sat down to write this. A memory from my past floated to the surface that I haven't thought about in years. My father raised exotic birds in our backyard when I was a child and had purchased a pair of wood ducks for my sister and I to raise. Mine was the male. Sometimes we took these birds to game bird shows where they would be judged for prizes much like the animals are judged at fairs. Our pair of wood ducks got first prize one year. I even got a trophy! 

"Wood Duck Reflections" is currently available through my Daily Paintworks website. 
 With the holidays just around the corner it might make a nice present for a waterfowl hunter or bird watcher. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Painting Away

Wood duck painting in progress
Life continues to be a little crazy around here lately and I find myself working on multiple projects at once. Not only have I been signing the duck stamp prints, but I have also been working on one of two large commissions for Christmas and trying to get a few smaller pieces done for another duck stamp contest and something for my Christmas card. The month of November is going by way too quickly and I'm feeling just a tad overwhelmed that I won't be able to complete everything on my list before the deadlines and still try to squeeze in a life in between. 

I have also sent three of my paintings to the Valley Art Center in Clarkston, WA. for their annual Snake River Showcase show. It will run through the month of November. My piece "Dawn Patrol" took a blue ribbon in the watermedia catagory.
Dawn Patrol-prairie falcon
 While at the opening reception I was approached about teaching a workshop some time next year. I'm touched that they would consider my abilities worthy of being taught to others, but, holy cow, I'm not sure I'm ready for that! I'm really not a large group person and don't enjoy being front and center so I will have to think long and hard about this. I have some time before I have to give them an answer. In the meantime, I have more pressing things to do like paint, paint, PAINT!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Prints Arriving

Delaware duck stamp prints
Here we are in November already! I can't believe how fast the months are going. I had every intention of posting that I had found some inspiration last month, but about the time I found it things got a little crazy around here. I ended my post that God always provides and He did. Just a few days later I received two painting commissions for Christmas presents. Unfortunately, I can't post anything about them as they are going to one of my blog and Facebook fans and I don't want to spoil the surprise, so you'll have to wait until January to see those.
The other news is that the Delaware duck stamp prints have begun to arrive. I have 700 so far that need to be signed, numbered and returned a.s.a.p. 
Me and a few of 700 prints!

Four boxes of them showed up the other day and it really started to sink in what this duck stamp win means. I feel a bit like I've stepped into someone else' life. I have become a part of duck stamp history and while I'm excited about that I'm humbled as well. This couldn't really be me, could it? Well, apparently it is because no one else will be signing all those prints! 
Most of these prints will be returned to Delaware and will be available for sale some time between April and July 2017. The stamp itself will not be available until July 2017. I will be keeping 150 Artists Proofs and some of those will be for sale some time soon. I will post the information here with links to Delaware's site as those details become available. Until then it's back to painting and signing!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Looking for Inspiration

It's 5:00 a.m. and I am up before sunrise. In the predawn darkness I gather my thoughts and make a plan for my morning. I need to walk the dog, but I also need to find my muse, my guiding spirit, my inspiration. I have gone almost a month without painting anything significant and every idea I've come up with I lack decent reference for. I'm feeling frustrated and restless. Maybe today will be different. Maybe today I will have a breakthrough.

In the early morning stillness I load the dog and cameras and head off to Mann Lake. The dog can have a good run and maybe I will find a good bird to inspire me. A possible sharp-tailed sandpiper has been seen there (a rare bird for our area) so maybe I will be lucky enough to find it before the dog puts it to flight.
 Traveling along a back road I watch the sky change with each passing minute. Orange painted virga clouds descend from the heavens lit by the rising sun. The colors can be so amazing this time of the morning and I want to stop and linger, but I also want to be at the lake just after sunrise, so I keep moving.

A few miles more and a blazing orange sun crests the horizon, momentarily blinding me, then dips back behind a hill and a few clouds and my eyesight returns. As I turn down the road to the lake the emerging sun casts long shadows on the landscape and I pull over to take in the breathtaking view. Surely the sunrise alone could inspire a painting, if only I was a landscape painter and had God's palette......
The view from the lake is every bit as beautiful as the landscape on the drive over. I have arrived in time to see a painted sky and the first flights of ducks and geese coming in to the lake. I turn Balin loose and head down to the water to look for the illusive sandpiper. It's quiet here, no noise from the traffic and I can hear the calls of the various birds on the water and feeding on the shore. It's so quiet in fact that I can hear what sounds like a jet airplane high overhead. I look up to see a bird looking very much like a fighter jet streaking downward like an arrow to the water. What I hear is the sound of the air cutting through it's wings in it's rapid descent. At the last minute it pulls up and I am shocked to see it is a western grebe. I have never seen this bird fly like that and I shake my head in amazement.
Pectoral sandpiper
It is a wonderful morning to be out, but the sandpiper and my muse elude me. I walk along pondering what I should paint next. The last few paintings seemed to have come to me unbidden and I started to expect that they might all come that easy. And yet, maybe, there was something here for me this morning that I have not yet realized. 
Breaking me out of my reverie, Balin races by and sprays me with mud and water in his happy pursuit of all things with wings. Maybe I'm making this harder than it needs to be. Maybe I need to be more like my dog, being caught up in the moment, enjoying all of God's creation this morning and let that be enough for today. If I stop stressing over it perhaps I will hear that "still, small voice" as He whispers to my heart. He will provide. He always does.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dawn Patrol - Prairie Falcon

Dawn Patrol-prairie falcon 11 x 14 acrylic
 Just as the sun kisses the earth with it's first fiery rays of the morning, a prairie falcon takes flight. She is hungry and hoping for an easy meal before the heat of the summer sun causes her prey to take cover for the day. 

It's finally finished! I put the last few finishing touches on it just this morning, then put the brush down and stepped away. It's easy to over-work a painting and you can always see just one more little spot to tweak. This has been a wonderfully challenging painting to attempt, but I'm glad I did because, as always, I learned so much. Since I started this project as a work in progress here on my blog I thought I'd show the last few steps.

When I left off I was just transferring the bird to the board.
And this is where I finished it. This is also as far as I had envisioned it to go. I don't always get a complete idea when the inspiration hits. All I knew was it was suppose to have this spectacular sunrise with a prairie falcon. It's not bad this way, but it could be stronger. My art critic husband said it was beautiful, but needed some definition in the foreground. He was right again!
 I went back to my reference photos I shot that day and also referred to my knowledge of the habitat of those canyons. They are mostly grasses of various kinds, rabbit brush, and a sprinkling of wild sunflowers. Again using chalk I sketched some sunflowers and rabbit brush on the painting. Because of the gloss sealer I could sketch without worry of ruining my painting as the chalk would just wipe off. When I was satisfied with the placement I started to paint in the plants.
Here it is almost finished. Using the chalk I made some hash marks to indicate small stems of grass. When I apply the acrylic paint the chalk just disappears.
The finished piece has a lot going on in it now. Your eye travels around looking at the various elements. I hope you can get an idea of the breadth and depth of the canyons where this prairie falcon lives.The photo does not do justice to the warmth of the piece as it appears to glow, which is exactly what I was hoping to achieve. Of course, I'm not taking full credit for how it's turned out as it was, I believe, Divinely inspired, so the one who inspired it surely gave me  the ability to paint it. 
Thanks for joining me on this little painting journey. Now, I wonder, what my next inspiration will be?
This and many of my other paintings is available through my Daily Paintworks site. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Progress on the prairie falcon

W.I.P. Prairie falcon paper cut-out
In my last post I had nearly finished the landscape portion of my painting and was planning on using an airbrush to add a slight haze in the background to mute the colors and create more depth. It was a good idea, but I nearly ruined all my hard work in the attempt. Actually, the airbrushing worked out pretty well and did what I had anticipated it would. It was when I brushed on a sealer coat over the top of it that things went south on me. Either I had not let it dry long enough or the acrylic ink I used was thinned too much or maybe something else, but when I started to brush on the gloss medium to seal it the layer of haze lifted and started to smear all over my painting. In a panic I grabbed a tissue and tried to quickly wipe it off, but the tissue started leaving lint all over and it was drying rapidly. Next I grabbed a large brush and started flooding the whole thing with water and finally was able to remove the whole mess. Thank goodness, I had sealed the landscape with gloss medium prior to airbrushing because it protected my previous painting and left the surface just slick enough to give me time to remove it before it dried completely. (***Note to time I airbrush in an atmospheric haze, airbrush the sealer over the top instead of brushing it on.) Geesh!
Transferring the drawing
After I regained my composure from my near catastrophe I worked on my sketch for the falcon. Using a paper cut-out for placement and size I transferred my drawing to the painting by rubbing chalk on the back and tracing over it. Next I used some thinned down paint to outline the tracing on the painting so it wouldn't rub off.
First washes on the falcon
The falcon is painted using thin washes to begin with just to get the bird down. Over the next few days I will add increasingly opaque layers, adjusting for value and warmth as I go. My hope is that it will look like the sun is glowing through the feathers when it's done. We'll see how well I do.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Inspiration and Seredipity

 A few weeks ago I took a drive to find a common nighthawk that was seen roosting on a fence rail. It was a long shot that the bird would still be there, but being a crazy birder and never having seen a nighthawk that wasn't careening wildly overhead catching bugs, I thought it would be exciting to see one sleeping. So, armed with my camera, off I went to locate the beast. Of course, the bird was no longer there, but the trip was not a total loss. As I drove past wheat fields, scrub grass and steep canyons another bird caught my eye. 
Prairie falcon
A prairie falcon was perched on a pole looking for breakfast. I slowed the car down to a crawl, readied the camera and as I rolled to a stop the bird took flight. Amazingly, I was able to snap several photos that were somewhat in focus as it flew past me and disappeared. Ah, serendipity! Suddenly, I forgot all about the nighthawk and got an inspiration for a painting with the prairie falcon. I hurried home to do a sketch while the idea was still fresh in my mind.
My initial idea was to have the falcon cruising over the canyons looking for a meal in early morning light. Checking my photo references I found one of a canyon I sort of liked, but the lighting was all wrong and I didn't like the way it laid out in my thumbnail sketches. I was going to need different references. Now I was on a mission. I needed the perfect canyon with the perfect light. At 4:30 a.m. the next morning I was heading out to try to catch the light at daybreak that would match my vision.

It was a very warm morning and as I wound my way up the canyon the sun broke over the horizon and I was confronted with the most spectacular sunrise!
I pulled over, snapped a few photos and continued to the top to look for my "perfect" light and canyon. As I was driving I was praying for God to help me find the reference I needed to complete the inspiration He had given me for the prairie falcon. In spite of my early departure the light changed rapidly and I searched in vain for the perfect scene. I took some photos, but they didn't meet my expectations. Finally, I gave up and headed for home a bit disappointed that I was unable to find what I needed. 

Ah, but God had smiled on me while I was out there. Though I didn't realize it at the time he had given me the perfect sunrise and the perfect canyon. 
Sunrise over the L-C valley
 Back at home I loaded the photos on my laptop and there was the beautiful sunrise I had seen. I knew instantly that this was the reference I needed to use. I had envisioned a soft, low light for the painting, but clearly this sunrise was the answer to my prayer with it's fiery colors

Over the next few days I considered how I was going to use this sunrise with my prairie falcon. I decided to flip the photo horizontally to match the lighting in my falcon reference. I did a few more thumbnail sketches to firm up the composition, laid down some initial washes in acrylic and used paper cut-outs of varying sizes to get a feel for the correct size and placement of the bird.

Since painting landscapes is not my strongest talent I proceeded slowly, building up color in glazes and washes until I felt I had the correct values. 
Painting this way also allowed some of the previous layers to show through which added a sense of depth and luminosity.
This was where I stopped this afternoon. At this point I'm liking the direction it's heading. I like the warmth that it's taking on, but I can see the colors are a little intense. I think my next step will be to use an airbrush to soften the background and give it that hazy depth of a summer morning on what promises to be a very hot day. After that it's on to the foreground, then finally the falcon and with any luck it will come close to the inspiration that was given to me.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Observing a Cooper's hawk nest

Sub-adult Cooper's hawk
Late in April a bird watching friend, Jerry, found a young pair of Cooper's hawks that had started to build a nest at a nearby park. Knowing that I like to observe and study nesting birds he let me know the location. He thought this one would be particularly important to watch as both the male and female were first year, sub-adult birds. In other words, they were last years hatch, hadn't attained adult plumage and may not be sexually mature. None the less, the pair were setting up housekeeping and had been seen mating. Time would tell if they would be successful.
Male Cooper's hawk bringing nesting material

My first visit to the nest was May 6th. The nest was high up in a sugar maple and easy to find because the pair had chosen to build on branches that had some mylar balloons hanging from them. It was also clearly visible from the ground without a lot of leaves or branches obscuring the view. On that day I was fortunate enough to catch the male bringing sticks to the nest. I watched as he flew to nearby dead trees and broke off twigs with his beak, then transferring them to his feet he would return to the nest.
The female, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, doesn't do much of the nest building, but I did observe her on the nest and rearranging twigs to her liking. It also said that the male calls before approaching her so that she knows it's him and she doesn't mistake him for prey. Males are about a third the size of females, closer to the size of the birds that she might eat.
Once the nest was built the waiting began. There was not much to see for about a month as she incubated the eggs. Toward the end of June I started noticing her standing on the edge of the nest and reaching into it. I suspected at that time that the egg/eggs may have hatched, but just when, I couldn't be sure.
 Then, on July 4th, I saw the first fuzzy white head peeking over the edge of the nest, but just one. Cooper's hawks lay from two to six eggs and I had no way of knowing how many there might be nor exactly how old they were. Once hatched they take about another month to fledge. 

By the 17th of July I had seen two chicks and they were already starting to feather out. Vertical striped feathers appeared on their breasts as well as wing and tail feathers, while the rest of them remained covered with down.They were very mobile and one even made a leap to a nearby branch. I guessed that it wouldn't be long before they left the nest.
Cooper's hawk chicks
One of the days I visited the male had brought a freshly killed bird though he didn't bring it to the nest. Instead, he cached it for the female to find and take to the chicks. His plumage was changing just as the chicks had been changing. He was molting into the steely blue of adulthood and his feathers looked like patchwork, some brown and some gray.
Male with prey and molting into adult plumage
An adult Cooper's hawk
 (Adult Cooper's hawks have steely gray backs and tails, rust barring on the breast, a black cap and piercing red-orange eyes.)

On July 22nd I checked the nest and it was empty. Just like when the little hummer left I felt a sense of disappointment because I again had missed that special moment. I started looking around the trees nearby to see if I could locate the fledglings and could hear soft calling coming from the nest tree. Soon I located the smaller bird. It regarded me with curiosity as I moved around the tree looking for it's nest mate. Then I saw it fly, a nice flap and glide to some other branches, appearing to follow me around the tree. It made me smile to see it learning to use those magical wings, knowing that very soon those wings would be able to maneuver it through branches and fences and other obstacles without the slightest effort. It was fully feathered in juvenile plumage except for a few white tufts of down sticking out here and there.
Fledgling Cooper's hawk
 In spite of it's juvenile plumage and downy tufts there was a fierceness in it's eyes that all Cooper's exhibit. Here was a modern day, feathered Velociraptor that would soon be striking fear in the hearts of songbirds and squirrels as it learned to hunt for itself. The thought made me smile as I've seen these birds blast through my yard after my feeder birds and it's always heart stopping.
As I finished up my sketches and notes on this nesting adventure I thought of my friend, Jerry. He lost his battle with cancer two days before I first started to watch the nest. He was an amazing outdoorsman and knowledgeable bird watcher, who led our birding trips for the Canyon Birders. He would have enjoyed watching the progress of these two young Cooper's hawks and would be glad to know that they were successful. I feel honored that he chose to tell me the location of the nest and charged me with observing and recording the process. He said I would learn a lot and he was right. I have dedicated my journal pages on these Cooper's hawks to Jerry. I will miss his insight and passion for all things wild.