Friday, August 29, 2008

Watercolor Practice—Trees

A friend of mine asked me, "what do you have after a week-long painting workshop? Did you come back with paintings?" I laughed. "No, no new paintings, just lots of fundamentals and practice."
Getting familiar with the paints, the combining of colors to create rich neutrals, how much water and how much pigment, how the water and pigment move together on the paper, which brushes give what effect—these are the fundamentals of painting.
And since I had not painted for over a year, it is these fundamentals that I revisited. They weren’t in my back pocket anymore. I had to reconnect with them. It was a happy reunion.
Painting is much the same as playing basketball or learning photography or writing practice. You follow your passion and you practice. Through practice you develop skill, familiarity, confidence. You load your brain with the fundamentals.
Then when you want to paint, these fundamentals are right there in your brain’s library. You focus on your subject and the rest flows. This is the essence of talent—a loaded library.
I practiced trees, lots of trees.
Practice wets the appetite. It made me eager to paint more trees.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Sunlit Tree

I always come back from a watercolor workshop ‘seeing’ differently. When you are playing with paint, reacquainting yourself with the pigments and water and how they interact, you are simultaneously looking more deeply into the subjects you paint. The shapes of twigs, the bark of a tree, the angle of limbs, the shadows and the light, how things look far away or close in, and you begin to see everything around you with renewed depth.
This is one of the many benefits of creative practice. It is not about the end result, though the result can be a reminder of who you were in that moment. But more importantly, it’s what is gained, what creating gives you, how it deepens your experience, your seeing and your awareness.

Once you see a tree so deeply, see the light dancing around its edges and the stories it whispers of life and death and change, you never again feel quite the same about trees. In New Mexico the pines spoke of silence, of space, of the whispering breath of mountain winds. In New England, maple, birch and sweet gum towered over Queen Anne’s lace and Joe Pye weed and unveiled edges newly dipped in gold and scarlet after a chilling rain.

Our trees--living, breathing gifts to enjoy, to protect, to revere.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back to Watercolor

Having devoted the earlier months of this year to finishing my novel, I have neglected painting and sorely miss it.
So, I’m treating myself to a week with Ann K Lindsay and catching up with art friends at a cozy B&B in New England. This is like ‘old home’ week for me, since it’s my eighth such trip. Add together home-cooked meals, a homey atmosphere and all-day painting and it feels like pure pampering to my soul.

Ann is an intuitive instructor. And what I love about intuitive art, the art of creating what is wholly your own in a process that leaves behind the opinions of others, is that you express what is uniquely you. You begin to recognize in your own creations, who you are and what matters to you. And that strengthens.

This involves a rocky crossing, one that moves you through fear and self-criticism to that place of intuitive freshness on the other side. But because you show up and keep moving, you eventually arrive. You have created. And as time goes by, you begin to notice that what you have learned in making art touches every aspect of your life.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Young Peregrine Now Wanders

With the opening of his hacking box door at dawn, Rocky, a young 7-week old, male peregrine falcon, was released yesterday.Within 30 minutes, he accomplished his first flight and was out of sight of viewers who waited a short distance away. The day prior to his release, he was fitted with leg bands which will aid in future identification and with a tail-mounted radio transmitter for tracking.
A fledged peregrine falcon remains with his parents for as long as two months, while he learns to hunt. High speed flyers, peregrines primarily feed on birds that they catch in flight or from a perch. But both the strategy and precision of this hunt must be learned.
The radio transmitter allows Dale and John Stokes to monitor Rocky’s progress for the next few weeks so they can assist if something goes wrong. Dale and John obtained Rocky from a falconer in Minnesota for a fee of $600 in order to release him in a process called hacking. The hacking box (see previous post) serves as an artificial nest and fledging home. Raptors are known to imprint on their fledging area and will generally return to that area when it is time to nest and raise their own young. Peregrines nest on high bluffs and it is hoped that after adolescent wandering for the next two years, Rocky will return to nest in the Lookout Mountain area.
It was falconers like Dale and John Stokes who alerted the world to the effects of DDT on our raptors and subsequently saved many species from extinction. Peregrine falcon populations plummeted from 1950 to 1970 due to DDT poisoning, but the hacking re-introductions that began in 1970 have restored species numbers. Peregrines were removed from the national endangered list in 1999 but remain on the state endangered list in Georgia and TN.

More than falconers, Dale and John Stokes have a combined 49 years of experience with birds and have devoted their lives to educating the public about raptors. They conduct live birds of prey shows at Rock City, near Chattanooga and visit regional schools, parks and festivals to provide programs.

Links to peregrine information: Dale and John's S.O.A.R. blog site with update's on Rocky's progress. Chattanooga Times article on release. Cornell's interesting facts on the peregrine falcon.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Enriching our World

John and Dale Stokes of S.O.A.R. are enriching our world. This is Rocky, a young male peregrine falcon, released this morning on the bluffs of Rock City, near Chattanooga, TN. The door to his hacking box, high on Lookout Mountain, was covered with a sheet and opened before dawn today. The sheet, carefully drawn open as daylight emerged, allows a gentle release so that the falcon can consider his freedom and his first attempts to fly. John and Dale then quietly await his fledging and monitor with telemetry.
Here Dale and John remove Rocky from his hacking box to secure leg bands and telemetry the day before release. More about Rocky and his stewards next post.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Travel Sketchbook--Taos Pueblo

It happened that I visited the Taos Pueblo on the day of their Corn Festival. Respect for tradition and the spiritual nature of the ceremony required that no cameras, sketching or recordings be allowed while visiting on this day. What you see here are sketches that were created after I returned to my hotel.

This was a new experience, the reliance on visual memory rather than reference photos. The detail stored is attached to what was most impressive or enjoyed. For me it was the drum beat, the native language, the women’s costumes, especially their boots and hair, the blankets the men wore over one shoulder and the overall reverence for ritual and tradition.

Only some of this can be rendered visually, but the images created hold the essence of the experience and bring to mind what matters. When I look at these sketches, I also recall what is not depicted, the two young German boys, ages four and six, who sat near me on a log bench in the courtyard as we awaited the ceremony. They had just moved to the states with their parents. A large thunder cloud darkened the sky and big, cold rain drops began to fall. The parents walked over to a shelter to avoid the rain, but the boys and I remained on the bench. I opened a small umbrella, anticipating a sudden down pour as the cloud moved overhead. But no sooner had I opened it, than the gusting wind flipped it inside out. As I struggled against the wind to correct this, I looked at the boys who were now staring at me, and muttered something silly like, “a lot of help this umbrella is.” The older boy laughed and turned to his brother to interpret. The younger child collapsed into contagious giggles and the three of us giggled together while the wind blew rain in our faces. Watching from a distance, their father laughed, too.

I was struck by the warmth of this moment, the comfortable sense of connection that lept over barriers of strangeness, language and culture and united us all in the intimacy of shared laughter. Laughter is such a powerful energy. It, too, lives on in these sketches.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

New Mexico Travel Sketchbook

My recent trip to New Mexico was pimarily focused on writing, but I also spent some time enjoying the area history and culture. Sketching is a fun way to slow things down and experience more deeply. The Inn on the Santa Fe trail is located in Las Vegas, NM, an area of high desert at the foothills of the Sangre de Criso Mountains. Below, an old wagon on display in the central courtyard at the Inn. The Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge was located near by, a plateau where the Sangre de Cristo mountains meet the Great Plains. Here I saw prairie falcons, red-tailed hawks, ravens, yellow-headed and red-winged blackbirds and western kingbirds along with many prairie grasses and wildflowers. Detail below of Hermits Peak in the distance.Below, a larger view of prairie marsh with bull thistles in the foreground. I must say that the prairie grasses here were unexpectedly beautiful, a sea of blue-green waving pale yellow seed heads in the breeze.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Western Kingbird

This lively character popped out on a limb and visited with me as I was walking along a trail at the Las Vegas NWR in New Mexico.
If you listen to Cornell’s recording of this bird, you will get a tiny glimpse into its personality. The mate was nearby and the two carried on a lively exchange as I photographed. I assume this is the male, given that he was bolder and more vocal, but both sexes look alike in this species. At home in prairies and open areas, I was first introduced to the western kingbird while standing under an eagle’s nest near Gillette, Wyoming in 2000. A pair of western kingbirds had built their nest among the sturdy, arm-size limbs that formed the platform for the seven-foot structure that was home to a family of golden eagles.
Given that golden eagles prey on birds occasionally, especially the inexperienced or injured, this peaceful co-habitation seemed unlikely, but the area biologist said it is a fairly common occurrence.
Linked to Bird Photography Weekly #23 at in an effort to raise awareness of bird conservation.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tugged Heart Strings

At the surface, its fun to see these little jewels visit the feeder and their territorial disputes are an expected part of their temperment and feeding behavior.
But I can say that a deeper look, pulls at the heart strings. It's enough to wonder if The King will survive his daily challenges, as well as a long migration to Central or South America. I hope so. There will be lots of hardy genes passed on to the next generation.
But the fledglings are another heart-string matter. Their survival depends on their ability to quickly learn the skills of maneuvering to catch insects and navigate nectar sources while escaping combat. This little soul tugged at my heart this morning. A beauty in the making, it's clear life has not been easy thus far.

Below, a pristine beauty awaits The King's arrival.And The King?
He still salutes me at the feeder with a blur.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Serious Mischief

Do birds have emotions, personality, creativity? My answer would be a resounding, absolutely.
As the smallest bird in the world, it makes sense that hummingbird personalities would be fired with spirit and tenacity. Watching migrant visitors line the tree limbs around the feeder in plain sight and the King executing his precision U-shaped dives despite being sorely out-numbered, I am in awe of his heart and perseverence. He leaves no doubt--he is The King.
But on chance occasions, when he is otherwise occupied, a visitor gets to linger at the feeder, and when this happens, some amusing antics emerge in this serious business of hummingbird feeding. Above, after a lingering drink during which he sipped from each blossom, this visitor perched facing the glass as if to conceal himself..."Shhhh! I'm invisible."
But not for long. The King on his perch, looking very kingly.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Scruffy King

No, this is not him. This is an interloper, one of many migrants passing through. The atmosphere around the feeder is changing, quietly, barely discernable, but the King is not so vigilant or aggressive. I see him at his perch and he does exert his dominance but not with the same kind of fury. Visitors get to feed longer. Juveniles and females can sneak in for a drink while the males are displaying and circling, sometimes three at once. I even saw one juvenile duck under the limb of a holly to avoid detection. It didn’t work.
In his book, The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Robert Sargent says hummingbirds have very keen eye-sight and hearing and the buzz of wings agitates the male into action. The Scruffy King on July 23.

July just eased into August and at some point the drive to procreate shifts to the drive to migrate. But I don’t know exactly when that occurs for our Tennessee resident males. So I check for him at his perches, recognizable by his scruffy appearance and that pillow-shaped ponch, and I watch to see what happens next. Hopefully, he will spend some time feeding and resting for his journey south. But then, if he spiffs up too much, will I recognize him?
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham