Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Backyard Visitors

It's always a thrill to see a warbler in our small urban backyard. I believe that we've only seen one species over the many years we've lived here, this one, a Common Yellowthroat. Who know what it is that makes our yard attractive to them but not other migrating warblers? I really don't know but I never complain about them being here.

When Jerene yelled up to me that there was one in the backyard I grabbed my camera not my  skethbook as I ran downstairs. Generally I really try to sketch birds now rather  than photograph them. But I had the feeling he would only be here  momentarily, as they often are, and that I'd better make the best of my opportunity. I can get more of the general jizz of a bird when I sketch it than when I take a photo. But with momentary birds I rarely see details like bills, eyes, etc. So I  took six photos, all bad. They were  enough to be the basis for this small watercolor.

Speaking of momentary migrants I was reading the other day of some birders who  saw 15 Hudsonian Godwits land and then disappear three minutes later. That's the way things work. You have to be alert! You just never know what might make a momentary appearance.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jewelweed Sentinel

I have another blog, the black sheep in my digital family, in which I try to keep track of what birds feed on Devil's Walkingstick, also known as Hercules' Club. I really can't count this Ruby-throated Hummingbird but he was perched atop a dead walkingstick stalk, about eight feet off the ground. Occasionally he dropped down to feed at the jewelweed right in front of me, getting so close that the hum of his wings was almost loud.
I've been reading about dragonflies and damselflies this summer and how they patrol and protect territories. I wonder if this hummingbird was doing the same, keeping a high lookout for any interlopers into his jewelweed patch.

I was interested to read today at The National Zoo that young hummingbirds find that this is coming into bloom just when they need it in late summer. I've actually seen it in bloom for awhile now but still he looked like the patch was his and his alone.

I did the watercolor and pastel at top based on the field sketch I did of it today (along with a very bad House Wren, a beautiful Blue-winged Warbler, and an unidentified warbler). I also shot a few photos and decided when I got home to do s quick small watercolor of the hummingbird perched on the Devil's Walkingstick to illustrate a new post It was a good idea but a disaster in practice, turning into a muddy, overworked mess.

Part of the reason for this is that I bought a very small watercolor pad with the intention of using it in the field. I almost never do, instead using it at home when I just want to whip out something small and quick. And it may work for that. But as soon as I add much water to it the paper buckles and the colors run. Instant mud. I normally just abandon it.

I don't normally try  to salvage it by adding another medium. When I started as an abstract artist I loved mixing media. Nothing should get in the way  of the final result. But now I'm much more of a purist. I want my  watercolors to be watercolors and not mixed media

 But today I finally gave in and tried to brighten this  up with pastel.The underlying drawing, based mainly on my field sketches above, was good. I hated to waste it on a muddy watercolor. So out came the pastels. Now it's almost entirely pastel. The watercolor is almost completely covered. But it does look much, much better.

The high point of today was a very close,  but very brief look at the stunning Blue-winged Warbler. I did a sketch from memory above that doesn't begin to do it justice. Later as I sat on a bench in front of Wind Dance Pond at Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education I sketched these Canada Geese, at first in front of me and then on the far side of the pond by the time I was done. One of the beauties of field sketching is that even the most common birds can be fun and rewarding to sketch. That is something that birding itself can lack. For many there's always the tension of needing to find something new, rare or beautiful I'm also that way. But because I sketch almost any  bird can be rewarding and interesting to  see.

And speaking of  dragonflies and damselflies doesn't 'Jewelweed Sentinel' sound like an as yet undiscovered species?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Updated Green Heron Watercolor

As I've looked at my last watercolor of the Green Heron and Twelve-spotted Skimmer a number of things have been bothering me. They are primarily concerned with formal matters; composition, distribution of lights and darks, etc. But then today I noticed that the eye was incorrectly placed. That seemed too much to allow to stay. So I incorporated that fix along with some more formal changes. Many of them involved the use of  white gouache, or opaque watercolor.

I really  refrain from its use. It takes away from the sense of brightness and light that to me is watercolor's most desirable characteristic. But this painting had already lost most sense of transparent brightness.So I didn't worry about using the gouache to get what I hoped would be a better overall painting.

In the end it's more reminiscent of some of the heavy handed oil paintings of some early  20th century painting, fumbling its way toward abstraction. It certainly is no longer a bright transparent watercolor. I hope  that one day I'll be more successful in that manner. For now it seemed more important to get an overall composition that worked.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Changing of the Bird Guard

I've been wondering what changes I might find along the Wissahickon when I finally found the time to visit. It's my closest birding patch. But I know that at this time of year I might find more interesting birds at other nearby places like Morris Arboretum. Once migrating warblers arrive on their way south Carpenter's Woods, another nearby site, might be better.

But I miss knowing what's going on at the Wissahickon. When I got there at 8 a.m. this morning one voice was noticeably lacking, the Acadian Flycatcher. It's the most ubiquitous bird during summer, with the possible exception  of the Gray Catbird. Normally I see and hear seven or eight. Today I heard just one.

They seem to have been replaced by Eastern Wood Pewees and Red-eyed Vireos. Both of these birds are here, and somewhat plentiful, during the summer. But they never outnumber the Acadians as they did today. It looks to me like flycatchers may be on the move, especially when I think about the recently seen, and very  unusual here, Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Warblers on the other hand have arrived. I saw at least two Black-and-whites today, the first of the late summer, along with one immature American Redstart, and what I  think was a Worm-eating, though it might have been one more Red-eyed Vireo.

So once again I start a season of trying to sketch warblers. I did do one sketch of a female black and white from memory today, about 60 minutes after seeing it. Horrible! Later I tried a watercolor based on an old photo I'd taken. Horrible!! So finally I illustrated this with a very old charcoal drawing based on the same photo.  At  least it looks like the bird. I know I can draw likenesses from photos. But I  don't want to. I'd like to get where I can do a credible likeness from life. I  recently mentioned the great challengeof getting the complex feather pattern of an immature Green Heron, or that of sun dappled foliage. But another great challenge, and one I'd really like to conquer, is being able to draw warblers live!!

One other thing of note today was the number of birds feeding on Devil's Walkingstick, something considered an invasive by many but not by me. Thrushes, among others love it. Yesterday  we saw a Wood Thrush feeding on it. Today  I saw a number of Veeries, and probably 30 American Robins. Thrushes really  do love it. And at least one of them, the Wood Thrush, is drastically declining in number. One of the states in which it is still doing well is Pennsylvania. Do we really want to get  rid of one of the foods it feeds on?

Even a Black-and-white warbler showed his interest in it today, though he was looking for bugs on its prickly trunk and not eating berries. Hopefully  I'll do a little better annotating my blog on Devils Walkingstick this fall. I would like to continue documenting all the birds that feed on it.

So it seems we've begun a changing of the bird guard. Though summer isn't yet over many  birds have already started migrating south. It's a time to enjoy these beautiful birds one last time before they're gone for a much too lengthy  season.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Green Heron with Twelve-spotted Skimmer

My last few trips to Morris Arboretum have turned up Green Herons among other migrating birds. I've done numerous field sketches and one of them showed the heron with a dragonfly in his mouth. Twelve-spotted Skimmers have been the most plentiful dragonflies recently so I assumed that's what he'd gotten. They're also so boldly patterned that there's the slim possibility that they could be identified at the small size they'd need to take in a painting of the heron itself. So here's one of my few recent attempts at watercolor.

The complex color and wing patterns of Green Herons make them difficult to paint. I have no interest in putting each little mark of the complex pattern. But doing a impressionistic version of them has never worked well for me either. This is one more attempt at a shorthand verson. Though I have numerous photos this is based, except for foliage, entirely on the sketch itself. I used the photos for some vague idea of foliage and then improvised from there. This also seems to be an eternal process -- getting some sense of foliage, and feathers, without detailing every single one. I have to admire anyone who can do so

I should also mention, in case you haven't noticed, that I'm a real theorizer when it comes to art. I try to think through what I'm doing. But that only  goes so far. At times you just need to start painting, hope for the best, and learn from what happens. That's what I did here though only time will tell if I've learned anything. Part way through this painting I was about to abandon this as an abysmal failure, a stiff bird with a non-existent background. But it paid to keep working and try to get a background that was believable and also worked with the heron. This reminds me of watching a baseball game last night where the commentators said that the pitcher,  who'd been having a rough time recently,  should have gained some confidence from last night's successful outing. The same is true with painting. If you have a more or less successful outing you  gain in confidence. But this can never happen if you don't actually go out and take a chance on a painting, knowing when you  do that it might end up an abysmal failure. I confess that though I always know this is a possibility I was shocked at how bad this looked at one point along the way!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Take Nothing for Granted

A good birder and close viewer might have noticed the slight vest on the Eastern Kingbird in my earlier post with fieldsketches from today. The bird I drew didn't have this vest. But the kingbirds that perch in this location also perch at the top of a 70-80' tree 50 yards away. They do it every year. So when I was about to leave and saw a kingbird like bird in that tree I assumed it was either the same or another Eastern Kingbird. BUT it had a vest. It also had, or seemed to have, some rust on the underside of its tail. I assumed the vest must be due to it being an immature Eastern Kingbird.
I don't see that many juveniles so I just quietly made the assumption. AND I added it to the sketch I'd done of the Eastern Kingbird earlier. I wanted to note it even though it was a different bird. I just didn't think it was a different species! After I'd been home awhile I got out some guides to check on the rusty tail. Well I didn't find it. But I did find the Olive-sided Flycatcher. I've seen these a number of times, often calling to help me out, but still distinctive with their vests. I don't know why I didn't think of it when I saw this bird. Most likely because I just don't expect to see them in Philadelphia and I do expect to see Eastern Kingbirds in Philadelphia and even on this exact tree.
In any case I'm posting some of the distant photos I took today to see if I can get a confirmation from the PA Rare Birds List that this is an Olive-sided Flycatcher. And to ask if anyone's ever seen a rusty undertail. (A few hours later and yes it is an Olive-sided Flycatcher thanks to a couple of responses from the list. I've also retitled this post in case my sense of humor in the previous title just passed people by, as it often does....................)

To Sit and To Sketch - A Miracle!

I wonder if anyone has ever noticed the shakiness and uncertainty of the lines in my field sketching? Part of this is just due to tentativeness about which line to put down. But most of it is due to the fact that I never have a firm support underneath my sketch pad. At most I sit down once out of every 50 field sketches. More likely it's once out of 100.
Most of the time, even if I'm using a scope, I'm holding the sketchbook in my left hand and drawing with my right as I stand. That means that there's never a firm surface underneath the sketchbook. Today I had the rare pleasure of sitting cross-legged on a bench, my scope lowered to my new height. I was able to rest my sketchbook on my crossed legs as I sketched. It seemed like some sort of miracle of luxury!
I actually stood for the Green Heron but he stayed still for at least five minutes and I was able to get continued good looks at him. The other birds, Belted Kingfisher, Cedar Waxwing and Eastern Kingbird came and went, the latter two often off on a quick flycatching foray. But they almost always came back to the same or a nearby spot. So at times each of them looked pretty empty. But as they came back I was able to go back to the sketch and add more detail.
Talk about small pleasures!! The eyes peaking out at the bottom right are a White-tailed Deer who kept his distance. He moved a couple of times, the last taking him completely out of view. Too bad as I would have liked to at least completed the head.
These birds are typical birds of Morris Arboretum at this time of year. I'd like to see something more unusual, in the rail, shorebird or warbler family perhaps. But when I'm able to sit down and comfortably draw I can't complain. It was an exceedingly rare opportunity.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mid-August Field Sketches

It seems like there's always something getting in the way of my field sketching. A cool morning today convinced me to get out to Morris Arboretum to see if anything unusual was around. Sure enough the first bird I saw was a Great Egret. A few field sketches of the bird are above. The head is the only sketch viewed through a scope. Most of the time I was so close to the bird that I couldn't use the spotting scope to view him, unless I just wanted to look at a certain section.

In the field sketches above I did a number of other sketches of him, these done with my naked eye. Egrets and herons are often both a pleasure and a challenge to sketch. They are very elegant. But this one was constantly feeding. Just as I started to put down the bill and head he'd move and I'd not be able to get the sinuous curves of the neck, or I'd get that and miss the torso. That can be frustrating. But if you keep at it it becomes easier. Though these are all very small sketches I'm happy with them.
Other birds seen and sketched include Cedar Waxwings, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Belted Kingfisher just before being attacked by a second one and an immature Red-tailed Hawk. I continue to get a great thrill from field sketches, both my own and those of others.
What differentiates me from many bird artists I think is that I rarely want to take this hard won knowledge of birds and make a more finished painting based on it. I value the knowledge but more to do something spontaneous, not to do something more finished. I've never had much appreciation for high-finish art. And I don't think that will ever change. To me it seems to kill off, or at least lessen, all the sense of life that field sketches often so wondrously capture.
By the way my new web site is moving along. Hot and humid weather this week convinced me to stay in and continue work on it. I'm slowly adding a collection of thumbnail photos of a lot of work. Eventually much of my work will all be visible here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Housekeeping and Such

Over the last four or five years I've given a couple of web hosts my dollars and loyalty. One hosted my primary web site. The other was the host of my primary online store. I don't want to single either out for criticism. But over time my disappointment in each has grown. The main web site host has double-biiled me each of the last 4-5 years, each time assuring me it won't happen again. But it does and so I've been looking for a replacement. Having to use WordPress at another site I administer has convinced me to explore Wordpress as an alternative. A screenshot from my first experimentation is above. There is really nothing there yet. But eventually the new WordPress site should have something interesting. I am using it as a Content Management System rather than as a blog, even though it is primarily used for blogging just like blogger.
The online store host has always catered to bulk item sellers who didn't seem to have the need so show viewers a good, detailed look at their products. I realized when I started that it wasn't intended for art sales but I thought maybe I could get it to work for me. I really didn't like any of the group art marketplaces that I saw and so I didn't want to sign up with any of them. There were some good aspects to my online store host but I just hated the fact that it only allowed very small photos.
My experimentation with Etsy over the last two years has convinced me that it shouldn't be difficult to offer template pages that show a detailed photo of the artwork for sale. There is also the bonus of the little bit of code that can be inserted on any page to show a selection from Etsy. Below is an example from my main etsy store -'berkeleySU - Art and Prints from Nature.'
I'm very fond of both the large size and the ability to show work from Etsy on other web sites. In fact I was so fond of it that I decided I needed to start another Etsy site for abstract work. The abstract work is old and not much related to what I cover on this blog. But I'm still very fond of my strictly abstract work and it has always been fairly popular on the site of the now defunct store. Below is an example of some of the work from it on esty.

So not much art or nature news here. Just some biz talk. And I'm afraid I need to spend some more time framing works for another show so I may delay that even further. But the weather is getting a bit cooler and the outdoors calls. One of these days.............

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Late Summer Bird Sketches

It always seems that the heat and humidity of July limit the time I spend outside and consequently the time I spend field sketching. But a few cooler days over the last week or so have prompted me to get out a bit more often. Above at top left is a young Great Crested Flycatcher seen at Morris Arboretum about a week ago.
Below it is a Pectoral Sandpiper, seen last Sunday at Tinicum, along with many, many Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers. It was shocking to see so many, some of them right at our feet below the boardwalk that crosses the main impoundment. As I sketched this I deliberately left the large white area on breast. And yet when I looked at the photos I took and guide books it doesn't really show up. My guess is that it was just lighter, which is likely, and I overcompensated. I did want to accentuate the dark breast markings as well as the flight feathers toward the back. When I see such a flock of birds I'm always disappointed that I don't have a full day to just sit and sketch them. Unfortunately Tinicum is about 30 minutes away where as Morris, a very small wetland, is only five to ten minutes away. So I often end up at Morris where there's never such a plethora of shorebirds.
And Morris rarely disappoints. After all it is an arboretum. So there are always interesting trees and shrubs. The wetlands area is primarily native vegetation. Usually it's quite easy to get close looks at Great Blue and Green Herons, Belted Kingishers, Wood Ducks and numerous other local birds. We haven't seen many Eastern Phoebes since late spring. On the right page above is the first one we've seen this summer, at Morris yesterday. Green Herons have been quite visible the last week or so and the one above is also from Morris.

There was also a very vocal young Red-tailed Hawk and I was able to do a couple of sketches of him. Unfortunately he changed his position as I was about half-way through the larger drawing. That explains the darker areas on head. I tried to guess what it looked like and then tried to rectify my mistakes with more ballpoint pen marks. It's a basic maxim of field sketching that you should only put down what you see. But sometimes it's hard to follow that maxim; there's always a desire to make the sketch look more finished. Other birds keeping their poses for only a short time were a Cedar Waxwing, seen at top left and a female Belted Kingfisher below. One of the odder sights was the kingfisher attacking the hawk numerous times.

There is nothing particularly good about these sketches, though that of course depends upon your perspective. Compared to what I started with three years ago they're magnificent. Compared to some of the truly amazing artists of the Wildlife Art thread at birdforum they're still the work of a beginner. Irregardless I do enjoy them now and have for the last couple of years. I know that at least partially they've captured what I've seen. They always seem nutritious as I think most honest field sketches do.
I'm not so sure about the finished version of the reduction linocut of Twelve-spotted Skimmer and Solidary Sandpiper. I won't go into all the technical problems but I think it's evident that it's just not a very clean print. There's a bit of muddiness in execution. I'm surprised that this doesn't happen more often with the complex method of reduction linocut. In some ways this is my most unsuccessful, at least in my own eyes. Still I do love the composition and think the print is not a complete failure. But I also know I had plans for something much more successful. So this one doesn't seem quite as nutritious as those field sketches. Not all progress in any field is constantly smooth though. This may be the necessary next step in reduction linos for me. Perhaps the hext one will be much easier and much more successful. As always this is much informed by my field sketching, even if it looks like I've been very sloppy or don't really know the creatures portrayed.