Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sketching Practice

When I go to visit my favorite art instructor in New York, Ann K. Lindsay, I am reminded of how actively my "critical mind" comments on my painting efforts. It makes me sigh sometimes, wondering if this will ever lessen. Ann says its always with us. And then I am reminded to "be kind," to step back and allow those critical thoughts and especially fears to subside. No effort is wasted. Our minds are learning, integrating, even when we think we're doing nothing.

For many of us, being kind to others is second nature. But thinking kindly about our own efforts, our practice before we get it right, doesn't come so easily. On a practical level, this critical thinking helps us fit in and strengthens our ability to cooperate in our families and community.But we also have our own perspective, an inner voice that allows for individual differences, our own uniqueness. And eventually we come to respect both the uniqueness in ourselves and in others. It is one of the joys of art classes. After a work session, we post our efforts on the wall and talk about what was hard and what we enjoyed, what we did and did not like about the effort. And when I look at everyone's work, it is wonderful, fresh and alive with discovery and uniqueness. When I am too busy with other things to practice drawing and painting, I come back to it with timidity. And that means my critical mind (which also seeks to protect me) is in high gear and shouting, "don't risk showing that to anyone." And so it was when I posted my first kinglet sketch.

I also stepped away from it leaving the sketch visible on my table until my opinions softened. I have since had time to create a few more sketches. And I learned that drawing a robin is much easier for me than a kinglet. The reason? I think its because angular shapes give my eye something to grab and work from. Angles break up the shapes. I sketched this robin in only a few minutes and was pleased with the first effort even though the legs are a bit short. The ease of this sketch could be from having seen many robins, even though this is my first attempt to draw one. But it also could be that sketching the kinglet warmed me up and quieted my doubt. Probably all of the above!
Critical thinking and seeing work together as we draw, paint, live life. Sprinkle in a little kindness as you practice and watch what happens.

Coming up: My Thanksgiving visitor and the painting

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Robin's Cap

Looking through the lens makes everything stand still, brings nature up close so you can see more. I love a beautiful photo, something clear, sharp, colorful, expressive.
But what I enjoy even more are the photos that tell me more about the bird than I knew before. That allow me to see beyond what my eye can observe in the fast moving moment of a bird encounter and tell me more about its personality and behavior. Have you ever noticed a robin's cap? I had to look and then look again at this robin image below. I thought, "that must be the tree, that can't be the shape of his head." But it is his head. It is his expressive crown and he has it all puffed up.
This robin doned smooth head feathers in my first shot, looking like we expect robins to look. And then something disturbed him and his feathers began to rise on his crown and his throat until he looked like someone had set a cap upon his head.
What a different expression he's wearing in the above photo compared to the first one.
Do you wonder sometimes what southern resident robins think about all the northern migrants dropping in to dine at their table?

Just a Robin

Have you ever gone out to photograph a bird, raised your lens only to lower it again and say, "oh, its just a robin?"
Last week, I was engaged in searching for that elusive northern flicker that frequents the yard, when this robin popped up on a branch right in front of me. He gave me these two great images before he flew off again. I only caught a glimpse of the flicker.
When I saw these photos on my computer screen, I thought, "I'll never say "just a robin" again. What cute poses from a friendly backyard personality. And in TN, the American robin hangs around to keep us company all year round.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kinglet--First Sketch

I have collected a small stack of backyard bird photos that have been tugging at me for the past few weeks, especially after capturing some new ones this weekend. Though I didn't have much time left when I got home from the office last night, I made this first attempt at capturing the ruby-crowned kinglet in my sketchbook.

My eye is not yet acquainted with its shapes. This is one of the things about art that is so intimate and engaging. You see differently as you attempt to capture a subject. You begin to notice spacial relationships, size, shape, color nuances. I have not tried sketching these smaller birds, so first comes the practice. The eye and the beak are so important in capturing the beauty of the kinglet. So here's my first attempt. I'll practice sketching it a few more times and then give it a whirl on watercolor paper.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

What a surprise. This is a new bird for me, discovered in an enchanting moment under the hemlock that stands outside my door. As he flittered around the edges and before I knew what I was watching, I snapped six photos.
Photo no. 1 was this surprise image. The flying image below is photo no. 6. Everything in between is a series of blurs. A very quickly moving little gem. I am thrilled to have stumbled upon him! According to Peterson, Tennessee is in this bird's wintering range.

Submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #13 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We are One

“We are One”, Bo Taylor explained, after an interactive dance that engaged the entire audience in a human spiral that turned in the center of the gym.
And this was the overriding theme of a presentation that both entertained and educated an enchanted audience in Birchwood, TN, on November 15th. Since its inception, 17 years ago, Cherokee history has been an integral part of the Cherokee Heritage and Sandhill Crane Festival.

In 1838, Blythe Ferry, located just outside the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on the banks of the Tennessee River was a major holding area for nine encampments of Cherokee and Creek Indians. It was here that over 9000 individuals, some sick and elderly, all grieving, waited for months until they could cross and begin their forced journey to Oklahoma in the historic Trail of Tears. To honor those who suffered this tragedy, the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park has been established at Blythe Ferry, adjacent to the Hiwassee State Wildlife Refuge.
Dressed in his hand-made outfit incorporating the uplifting colors of a rainbow, Bo Taylor, a Cherokee Indian from Cherokee, NC, announced, "Anybody can dance. And you can't dance without laughing". To demonstrate this, he led the audience through several interactive dances. And with story-telling and demonstration, he brought together the messages of respect for others’ differences and treating yourself and your heritage with honor.
Above, he recruits Jennifer Perdew, Operations Manager of Ocoee Adventure Company, to help demonstrate absurd and thoughtless reactions people sometimes have to differences. And below, well...let's dance.
Laughter creates community and warms hearts.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Speaking of Personality

While I’m on the subject of vultures, I thought I would introduce you to another favorite vulture friend of mine. She is a turkey vulture who makes her home at Ijams Nature Center, in Knoxville, TN, where she educates and delights children and adults of all ages and has her own special outdoor enclosure. I found her so engaging that I made the above composite of her after spending some time photographing her with wildlife biologist, Pam Petko-Seus. It's the personality and the stories that capture my heart and make me want to create art. I smile everytime I look at this painting. Who would buy such a portrait? I haven't a clue. For me its about the joy of creating--giving back what this beautiful bird gave to my heart.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Personality Plus

Most of us have seen vultures riding thermals midmorning, soaring in kettles in the afternoon, drying their wings in the sun, or roosting just before dusk.
Many can even tell a turkey vulture from a black vulture in flight. But few have seen a vulture running on the ground in their half-skip, half-hop fashion all puffed up like a tom turkey. That is just what S.O.A.R.’s black vulture, Cayce, treated the audience to in their birds of prey show at the Sandhill Crane Festival in Birchwood, TN on Saturday. Personality plus is a good way to sum up this bird. Imprinted on humans at a very young age after falling out of the nest, she stole the show on Saturday with her amusing antics, as she hissed, hopped, bobbed her head in a dance-like fashion and followed Dale around the floor.

Below you can see the intrique on a few children's faces and her wingspan next to the size of her handler, Dale, as Cayce is about to demonstrate her flight skills. And she does, handsomely, skimming the heads of viewers with her long dangling toes.
Vultures are our scavengers, the birds that help clean up our world. They are intelligent and curious, and as you can see, have personality. I even have a naturalist friend, author Stephen Lyn Bales of Nature Calling, who muses about being a vulture in another life so he can sleep late, ride thermals and play in the wind.

But there are others who think vultures are unattractive, even ugly. What do you think?

Submitted to Bird Photography Weekly #12 at to promote the conservation of our world's birds.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sandhill Crane Festival, Birchwood, TN—Fun for all of us Kids!

Keeping a tradition of 17 years, Birchwood Elementary School, Meigs County, Tennessee, welcomed the community and wildlife enthusiasts to the annual Cherokee Heritage and Sandhill Crane Viewing festival this past Saturday (Nov 15).
This year’s event added greater focus on interactive activities for kids. Along with art projects and face painting, activities included dissecting regurgitated owl pellets! Not so messy as it sounds, the pellets were dry and contain hidden animal bones and skulls that the kids could find like hidden treasure. The activity went over so well, organizers are planning to expand on this theme next year by adding a virtual interactive program.

Because the exhibits were located in the gym with the presentations, I actually got to enjoy the programs, too. Among the presenters, John and Dale Stokes from S.O.A.R. performed their outstanding birds of prey show.Dale shows the crowd an American Kestrel.
In his second flying demonstration, the kestrel steals his prey and puts the viewers on edge by landing in the rafters. Then he peers down at everyone from his high perch! Coaxed down with another treat and signal, he rejoins his handlers and mantels the next food he captures from John's hand. Below, John shows the crowd a barred owl. All of S.O.A.R.'s educational birds are either injured or were imprinted on humans at an early age and are unable to survive in the wild. (Don't miss the expressions on the lower right of the photo!)
Below a broad-winged hawk...

who flies to Dale and snatches his prey. It's fun to get a close look at the relative size of these birds compared to each other and to humans.
Below, Dale introduces a red-tailed hawk with the "Krider's" pale morph coloration found more often in the west.

His flight demonstrations caused the crowd to gasp as he flew low over heads and lifted up at the last minute to land on Dale's glove with precision.

Pay a visit to S.O.A.R.'s blog for information about upcoming shows or to schedule a program.
Next: A black vulture steals the show.
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Me and Denali--2012

Me and Denali--2012
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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