Monday, March 30, 2009

Excuses and a view of new work

I'm sure by now that most readers of this blog have assumed I have vanished from the face of the earth, perhaps carried off by an eagle or succumbed to paint fumes (hard to do when you paint in watercolors!!).  But, no, I'm back.  In December I came down with a "cold" that lasted about a month and was extremely obnoxious!  At the same time I have been working on several larger paintings due this spring at various competitions and shows.  So that's my lame excuse for leaving this blog lifeless for four months.  I'll try hard to mend my ways.

Ok, what's happening in my studio?  I've been working on this Mountain Bluebirds in the snow painting entitled "Late Spring Surprise".  It's patterned after a scene in my yard last spring when, in the midst of a late snow storm, a flock of Mountain Bluebirds dropped into my yard to wait out the storm.  They looked pretty unhappy.  Typically, we see a bluebird pair here and there along a fence line in the vicinity of a nest box.  But Mountain Bluebirds do migrate in large flocks.  One spring about 10 years ago we saw hundreds, maybe thousands, of them in sagebrush flats on the north edge of Yellowstone National Park.  They were accompanied by lesser numbers of American Robins and they were all huddling under the sage to find shelter from another late spring snow storm.  It was like hundreds of little pieces of the blue sky had fallen on the ground!  What happened in my yard was a smaller version of that.

The painting, hopefully destined to be an entry in the "Artists for Conservation" Annual Show at the Hiram Blauvelt Museum in New Jersey, is shown below.

This 9" x 17" watercolor is on Crescent Premium 5114 Watercolor board.  The snow flakes (more visible on the original) were made by spattering Titanium White opaque watercolor on the finished, dry surface.

I'll find out later in April whether this submission was accepted.  If it isn't, it will go to a gallery or into the show in Missoula May 2-3.

Next post I'll show you a Great Blue Heron painting.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Painting Distractions

I sometimes think that a bird artist, maybe all nature artists, should have their studios in windowless closets or basements!  I'll tell you why.  My studio sits on a hillside and has windows on the west, north, and east sides.  Big windows.  And they look into the tree tops, at the bird feeders, and at the fish pond.  So what does that mean?  Well, there are birds out there almost all of the time and I find it almost impossible to ignore them.  So when I should be working on that latest watercolor painting I find myself checking out a flock of Pygmy Nuthatches moving through the Ponderosa Pines toward the suet feeder.  Or, look out to the west toward the mountains--a soaring Redtail Hawk.  Sometimes, just to be mean, these distracting birds actually land right on the deck railing just a few feet from my drawing table.  How disturbing!  Here's a few examples of recent distractions, all photographed through studio windows.

This is the view to the west toward the Bitterroot Mountains.  

The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is in the valley beyond the trees and this side of the mountains.  I can see ducks on the ponds with my spotting scope.

This Northern Flicker (red-shafted) apparently wanted me to paint another Flicker picture with him as the star.
He seems to be trying to convince me by exhibiting unusual poses.  

"Here's my profile.  Is this pose better?"  Go away and leave me alone and maybe I'll think about starting another flicker painting.

"Hey, what about me?  You made it into "Birds in Art" competition  in 2005 with a painting of us Magpies.  Isn't it time for another?"

O.K. I really had to look at this one.  Townsend's Solitaires don't show up in the yard regularly.

See?  Distractions, distractions.  My days seem to be filled with "mugging" birds trying to get famous (they don't know that my paintings won't make them famous.)   Guess I'll have to paint at night.  I haven't heard any owls here at the house yet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Blog or paint?

Sorry to be away for so long.  I'm finding that I have created a dilemma--should I be painting or should I go and update this blog.  I guess I'll have to work on that issue.  Well, anyway I'm here now.

I have finished the Dusky Grouse painting from the pencil sketch I showed you earlier. This is all transparent watercolor on Arches 300 lb. rough paper--image size 10" x 14".  As I mentioned, this specific scene was observed at the top of Signal Mountain Road in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, this past September.  We first saw the two grouse on the ground foraging.  Later, we rediscovered them, each up in their own Subalpine Fir tree.  The twisted branches and patterned trunks made an interesting background with only slight artistic modification.                                  Reference Photo:  Dusky Grouse. Grand Teton
National Park

So here is the finished painting. 
        "Safe Perch"  Image size:14" x 10" 

This painting represents an unusual set of circumstances for a bird artist.  Painting compositions typically come about in one of two ways.  (1) You decide you want to do a painting of a particular bird because you have a good photo or because you just made sketches of this bird, or you just feel like painting it!  You then either search other reference material for an ecologically appropriate and aesthetically pleasing setting or you go out looking for a good setting in nature.  Or (2) you come across a really interesting setting that you want to paint and you decide what bird would be appropriate for it.  It is less frequent that you come across a bird perched/swimming/flying in just a perfect setting and you have your design right there in front of you!  This Dusky Grouse presented one of these nearly perfect combination (although there was some design adjustment required).

Now I have turned my attention to another photo I have of a Great Blue Heron perched in a tree that is also an almost ready-made design with a few "tweeks."  Didn't I just say this situation was rare??
Two in a row is unusual, though.  Here's the final drawing I'm working from:

                        Final sketch for "On the Alert"  Great Blue Heron

Possibly the sketch is going to be hard for you to see, but, here it is anyway.

By the way, I encourage anyone reading these posts to make comments or ask questions.  I'm open to anything about painting, birds, or natural history.  So let's hear from some of you!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Current painting activity

I'm ashamed to admit it but, this summer my art production record was dismal. For unexplainable reasons, it was either "I don't feel like painting today" or I would start something and quickly decide it was junk! This is not a good situation when you are trying to supply new work to three galleries! In an attempt to break the slump, I took a one week watercolor painting course from Ohio watercolorist David Rankin (a fellow Artists for Conservation member). Lo and behold, it seems to have worked.

One of my problems was the tendency to keep deciding that I'd do better painting with acrylics. No glass, easier to correct errors, less preplanning, etc. But, as I have proven to my self over and over, I just plain prefer transparent watercolor. In fact, I am irrevocably hooked on the magic of watercolor. Anyway, enough about my artist's blocks (any of you who are artists know all about them I'm sure!!)

So where am I now? Well, I have finished one small landscape (shown here)

                                                                                Aspen on Talus Slope ( 10" x 7")

Having been a bird painter most of painting life, I am struggling with landscapes, as you can probably see. Time will tell whether I ever succeed with landscapes.

My current effort is on a painting of a Dusky Grouse (previously called Blue Grouse) sitting in a fir tree. This setting is from an photo I took this fall in Grand Teton National Park. Here's what the layout drawing looks like:

This is the final drawing on tracing paper that I transferred to a piece of Arches 300 lb watercolor paper. I am in the process of painting it now and will show you the results in the next post.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wading into the Blogosphere

It seems that everybody who is anybody (and many who aren't anybody in particular) is into blogging. I determined early on that I should have a blog about my art and nature activities, but I have procrastinated until now. So here goes.

What can you expect from this effort? I won't be showing you a catalog of all my past paintings. That is already available on my website This website is hosted by the Artists for Conservation Foundation, of which I am a signature member. I expect that I will drift from describing my latest painting projects to reporting on nature observations and experiences encountered while gathering reference material for my paintings. I'll try to mix these subjects enough to keep you (and me) from getting bored.

I'll try to post at least once a week, sometimes more often. Stay tuned.

I'm just now starting several new watercolor paintings. I'll post some pictures of my progress in the next post.

Bye for now.