… a little Junco

May 3, 2016

My observations are that birds which winter over are more agreeable in disposition than birds which come here to breed.  Case in point, Juncos, which winter over here and then head further North to breed.  They are such a delightfully polite and agreeable little bird, not taken to fighting over the feeders, but rather preferring to peacefully forage below them.

dark-eyed junco may 2016

‘Dark-eyed Junco’

 3″ x 5″, watercolour on Saunders Hot Press 140# Paper

On the other hand, birds which migrate here to breed, like the Common Grackle, dive-bomb me when I’m giving our dog Elmo his early morning walk, as though I am suddenly in my dotage going to start climbing trees to pull down their nests.

But blest be the birds which come here to winter over, like the so-lovely Common Redpoll and the Dark-eyed Junco.  Although extremely territorial when nesting, we get to see Juncos when sex is the furthest thing from their bird-brained minds and finding seeds on the snow is all they care about.

Some birdie facts:

  • Juncos are the “snowbirds” of the middle latitudes. Over most of the eastern United States, they appear as winter sets in and then retreat northward each spring. Some juncos in the Appalachian Mountains remain there all year round, breeding at the higher elevations. These residents have shorter wings than the migrants that join them each winter. Longer wings are better suited to flying long distances, a pattern commonly noted among other studies of migratory vs. resident species.

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/dark-eyed_junco/lifehistory

 

 

 

….cedar waxwing

April 23, 2016

As a kid, having to enter the annual Science Fairs in Jr. High–the ones where invited experts walked around with clipboards trying to find possible prize winners–I had exhibits which were often concerned with birds–songbirds, usually–their migration patterns and predators, and fun facts.

I never won a prize.  That usually went to kids who electrocuted themselves voluntarily in order to prove water and wires don’t mix–or the kids who cross fertilized seeds and created vegetative freaks.

The shortlist I had then in the 50s (living in upper New York State) was to see any kind of Bunting (they looked outrageously colourful), our State Bird the American Bluebird (which I never did see, and still haven’t), any kind of Tanager, and of course, any kind of Waxwing.

cedar waxwing miniature 5x7 april 2016

“Berry Picking”

Cedar Waxwing, 4″ x 6″, watercolour, Saunders Waterford Hot Press 140# Paper

 

Having lived now in seven different Canadian locations, from coast to coast, I’ve been able to photograph a Western Tanager in our front garden, a pair of Mountain Bluebirds (astonishingly blue), and a group of Cedar Waxwings which descended on our Red Maple branches and began dismantling a Robin’s nest, rather than having to bother scavenging their own material.

The Waxwings were much smaller than expected, and every bit as fascinating as I’d hoped.  Their ‘bandit’s mask’ gives them an allure other birds lack, and their interesting ‘song’ and penchant for travelling about in flocks makes them worth having to wait 60 years to see them.

….Chickadee Miniature

April 21, 2016

This Winter along with the usual Mountain Chickadees at our feeders, we were pleased to have Black-Capped Chickadees as well.  Coming from Eastern parts, they are the ones associated with childhood and so have a special place for me.

Right now we are experiencing amazingly warm temperatures–85F (30C)–and gardening is ramped up as a result.  Dividing time between perennials and painting is a pleasure. As an Autumn and Winter person, I continue painting with that pallet of tones and colourations, and so ask you to cut some slack if/when I post snow scenes in April.

chickadee miniature

‘Pause That Refreshes’

 5"x 7", Watercolour, Saunders Hot Press #140 paper

Cool Facts

  • The Black-Capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items to eat later. Each item is placed in a different spot and the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding places.
  • Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.
  • Chickadee calls are complex and language-like, communicating information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls. The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-deecall, the higher the threat level.
  • Winter flocks with chickadees serving as the nucleus contain mated chickadee pairs and nonbreeders, but generally not the offspring of the adult pairs within that flock. Other species that associate with chickadee flocks include nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, warblers and vireos.
  • Most birds that associate with chickadee flocks respond to chickadee alarm calls, even when their own species doesn’t have a similar alarm call.
  • There is a dominance hierarchy within flocks. Some birds are “winter floaters” that don’t belong to a single flock—these individuals may have a different rank within each flock they spend time in.
  • Even when temperatures are far below zero, chickadees virtually always sleep in their own individual cavities. In rotten wood, they can excavate nesting and roosting holes entirely on their own.
  • Because small songbirds migrating through an unfamiliar area often associate with chickadee flocks, watching and listening for chickadee flocks during spring and fall can often alert birders to the presence of interesting migrants.
  • The oldest known wild Black-capped Chickadee was at least 11 years, 6 months old when it was recaptured and re-released during banding operations in Minnesota.

source:  https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black-capped_Chickadee/lifehistory

….House Finch miniature

April 16, 2016

It is so heartening to have requests from bloggers and site visitors who have arranged to have original bird miniature paintings sent to them.  The last posting of the Raven miniature, “Keeping Watch”, is currently winging its way to Hawaii, and the March 5th miniature entitled “Raven Moon” is sitting on Byron’s desk in Wisconsin.  Another of a wintering Chickadee is with its new owner, Cynthia the poet, https://littleoldladywho.net/ in Maine.

Some bird species are seemingly germain to just about anywhere, the House Finch being one.  When we moved from Eastern Canada to extreme Western Canada, there they were.  And on fellow blogging sites like H. J. Ruiz’ Avian 101 (https://avian101.wordpress.com/), there they are in the Peach State of Georgia.

house finch april 2016

‘House Finch’ — watercolour on Saunders Waterford 140# Hot Press Paper, 2.5″ x 4″

They are, along with wintering Goldfinches, the most frequent visitor to our feeders, and have such a delightfully melodious song.  Unlike the slightly larger Purple Finch which probably isn’t found in the West, they do not so much look like they’ve been dipped in raspberry concentrate, as they’ve stuck their heads in wild cherry cream soda.  Their disposition is mild, insofar as they aren’t pushy or argumentative when at the feeders.  If another species is bossy, they simply flit down to the snow and eat the remains below, along with the Juncos.

If you are ever interested in owning one of these posted bird miniatures, simply email me at: weisserlance@gmail.com and we’ll work out the arrangements.  Thank you to all who are so very supportive in comments and visits!

…..Keeping Watch

April 7, 2016

Our little Gallery in the small city of Kamloops, B. C.’s historic Courthouse (1911) has a Featured Artist offering every month and May will be my month to put on a display of recent miniatures.  So now it is a matter of working towards having a good showing.

Raven Watch

“Keeping Watch”

watercolour on Saunders Hot Press #140 lb paper, 4″ x 6″

I can’t quite explain why it is that depictions of Ravens sell so well, but they do.  So it is a pleasure to be able to comply and feed the need, so to speak.  They are indeed a very symbolic and ancient bird whose fame is heralded in many countries and cultural legends concerning them abound.

Out taking photographs of them this week, I came across a pair whose size was truly astonishing and whose throaty calls echoed off the nearby boulders and across the wide Thompson River.  Once that is accomplished, it is a matter of trying to place them in a scene which has definite mood and emotional impact.

….eggciting week ahead

March 20, 2016

Painting eggs is something of a little hobby which began almost 35 years ago when the process of the dyed Ukrainian eggs was intriguing from an artistic point of view–meaning, the way/how it was done, not the desire to become overwhelmed with making intricate geometric designs.  So employing the method of using beeswax to wax over those parts of an egg one wanted kept white, then dropping the egg into coloured dye, again waxing over the area which would retain that dye’s colour, and dropping it into yet a different coloured dye and repeating the process until the entire egg was covered in wax.

At this point, the wax was removed by carefully holding it over a candle flame and wiping the melted wax free with a tissue.  Once the wax was removed, the egg was blown of its contents and if being used as a Christmas tree ornament, a string was affixed to the top.

Here is an example…..

duck eggs, email size

Quite a number of years later, the notion of doing away with the dye/wax method in favour of actually painting on the egg’s surface was experimented with.  This was successful but a huge breakthrough occurred when moving from painting chicken eggs to painting duck eggs.  A duck egg’s surface is not chalky like chicken eggs, but rather satiny smooth and extremely receptive to watercolour.  This was discovered while staying in The Philippines, where duck eggs were easily come by.

Painting a duck egg would be done, then the egg would be spray-lacquered so as to protect and seal the watercolour-painted surface.  Once completely dry, the insides would be blown out….

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……and in honour of the 6th day of Christmas….

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….which brings us to today and trying to replicate a moonlit rocky mountain scene on a duck egg purchased locally ($3.50/half doz) through craigslist and meeting the man carrying his trusty picnic cooler outside the supermarket:

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A very Happy and Blessed Easter to all my blogging friends!

 

….Raven rave

March 9, 2016

Having found a frame the perfect colour and size for a larger version of the Raven painting done a few days ago, this is turning out to be a Raven rave of sorts, this time a little more wintry.

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7″ x 7″ on Arches Hot Press #140 paper

….draw a bird day

March 8, 2016

Teresa Robeson reminded me of ‘bird day’ (https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/4736591/posts/949345080#comments) with her striking rendition of an exotic Araripe Manakin from Brazil.

Here is a far more humble (don’t tell it that!) species, but at least I’m doing my birdy duty this Tuesday morning…..

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1.5″ x 2″ on Arches Hot Press 140# Paper

I saw my first one two weeks ago–around the third week of February–which is so early for this region, it is nuts.  When they get here, they go for Mountain Ash berries and other withering, over-wintered types of fruit, until their usual fare of insects and worms become accessible.  They are in breeding mode preoccupied with all their parental preparations.

Results of ‘composition exercise 1’: dividing a landscape into thirds, placing visual interest at each intersectional  point….

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Results of ‘composition exercise 2’:

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and 3:

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bringing us to 4:

It has taken a long spell of waffling over what to do about being less than pleased with the finished piece.  The snowy fields seemed to extend themselves too far down, without enough visual interest to hold a viewer’s attention.  And then I gave into the temptation/artistic trap I almost always seem to fall into, which is going one step too far by defining open field with regimented rows of corn which wind up being so monotonous, the fence posts going the opposite direction only add yet more visual predictability  and kill whatever freshness the piece had going for it.

….so the only satisfactory outcome was to crop the painting and salvage what could be salvaged.

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It is a very small painting, about 6″ x 12″, and has at least enough mood still going on to make it only just worth framing.

As an exercise, however, it was more than useful, and confirmed satisfactorily that placing interest at intersectional points within a composition divided into thirds works (sans rows of corn, that is), does hold one’s attention, and lends a feeling of balance.

 

…. Robin miniature 2

February 12, 2016

It has been an unsettlingly warm Winter here in interior British Columbia, with Spring bulbs actually starting to poke up through the ground.  Unsettling, because being only mid-Winter, we might well suddenly get one of those Arctic inflows and see temps plunge to -20C, which would effectively ruin what shouldn’t have already begun sprouting, including fruit trees.

It wouldn’t be surprising at all to actually see Robins returning in February, when their normal return isn’t until mid-March.  Being such avid worm-hunters, I have wondered at their early returns here, particularly as to what they find to eat.  The answer is the Mountain Ash berry and other lingering berries.  The danger, apparently, is eating ones which have fermented, thereby becoming naturally alcoholic and responsible for killing birds who eat too many.

This miniature is of the British/European Robin, which doesn’t reside in Canada.  But English Robin miniatures are snapped up in our Gallery simply because they have established such a rich literary following, and also appeal to Canadian emigres.

The difficulty painting a bird the painter has never seen–and therefore isn’t familiar with–means it may not be true to how the bird actually looks.  However, this particular bird has so frequently been depicted in book illustrations and greeting cards, that its persona lives beyond its ‘real life’ comings and goings.  So here in Canada, getting the English Robin ‘right’ isn’t as stringent a matter as getting the Canadian Robin right–a bird everyone is familiar with, and therefore has to be flawlessly rendered.

They seem so very sweet.

 

…. Tranquille Creek Gorge

January 21, 2016

The watercolour video demonstrations of David Dunlop are challenging and yet simple.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgtg-Adql1Y&index=6&list=PLtEJwQmsB7SvVg8C4J2c4LDijerH7SSKF (I tried to embed the video itself in this post, but WordPress thought otherwise).  But here is the blurb describing it….”Emmy Award winning David Dunlop takes you to his Connecticut studio to demonstrate a two minute watercolor, used as preparation for an oil sketch or to explore ideas“.

Mr. Dunlop is an artist/teacher from Connecticut, whose manner when teaching is inspiring and animated.  He is a great follower of descriptive, energetic Masters like J.M.W. Turner and Winslow Homer, and seeks to employ their methods, while demonstrating their techniques.

The video cited above challenges painters to do two to three minute painting sketches, which convey the movement and mood and spirit of the subject, without stopping to think and rework.  In an effort to ‘do’ and not think, the subject chosen here is a favourite–a place about 20 minutes from our house–called Tranquille Creek Gorge.

 

 

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Mr. Dunlop’s videos are quite dynamic and aimed more at oil painters a bit more than watercolourists, but full of very encouraging lessons because of the force of his optimistic personality and sense of fun.  They are well worth watching, for those who enjoy painting as a means of expression.

 

….composition exercise 2

January 17, 2016

Continuing on with an attempt to test out the compositional dictum known as ‘the rule of thirds’, which was conceived and named by John Thomas Smith in 1797 :

“. . .  Analogous to this “Rule of thirds”, (if I may be allowed so to call it) I have presumed to think that, in connecting or in breaking the various lines of a picture, it would likewise be a good rule to do it, in general, by a similar scheme of proportion; for example, in a design of landscape, to determine the sky at about two-thirds ; or else at about one-third, so that the material objects might occupy the other two : Again, two thirds of one element, (as of water) to one third of another element (as of land); and then both together to make but one third of the picture, of which the two other thirds should go for the sky and aerial perspectives. . . “

To illustrate its basics…..

ruke of thirds

Once again, this is the drawing I did initially, to put this into practice….

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And this is the first go at painting the scene….

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And now today, here is the progress so far, attempting to locate some visual interest at each of the four intersections within the piece, the barn being the first and the pine being the second and the creekbed being the third…..

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The darkest darks and greatest contrast will remain with the barn, for that is the intended focus for the picture, when completed.

The ‘rule of thirds’, as stated above, holds that generally two-thirds of a landscape be devoted to the sky, with one-third given to the land below (the sky being such a vast and dominant feature).  In this case two-thirds is dedicated to the land and a very high horizon means that the one third is devoted to the sky area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

….snow

November 25, 2015

We received about 12cm overnight and now everything’s white, with temperatures starting to drop to around -10C (16F) under strong winds.

The birds are in the branches of the large Red Maple just beyond our big front window–at the four hanging feeders and suet cakes.  We get mostly goldfinches and house finches, chickadees, juncos, nuthatches, flickers, clark’s nutcrackers, pine siskins, ring-necked doves, occasional pileated and downy woodpeckers, grosbeaks, stellar’s jays, magpies, ravens, white-crowned sparrows, and when it gets really cold the sweetly-blushing redpolls come down from the Arctic (but not likely until January or so).

Occasionally we see a Northern Pygmy Owl which swoops in on the dining lot, lighting on a branch like a handful of fluff with alarming eyes and causes the rest to take off like an explosion. They are one of a few daylight-hunting owls, and for two or three days following, the feeders remain untouched, the memory of that fist-sized, feathered-danger keeping everyone away.

In honour of the occasion — the advent of real Winter — a wintry watercolour, not unlike what the countryside looks like presently.  The subject no doubt wishes the wind were less than it is….

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….but imagine the pleasures of fireplace and toddies once he gets back.

It’s an old painting–6 years–and approximately 8″ x 10″ on my favoured Arches Aquarelle Hot Press 140# paper.  It took approximately 30 years to finally discover the right paper, having gone through all the choices of surface, weight, paper-maker (brand), and so on.  Were it to be done again, the figure would be altered some, as there’s something anatomically odd about it.

….the silt bluffs

November 22, 2015

An area east of Kamloops, B. C., follows the South Thompson River which flows between dramatic limestone cliffs originally formed (it is estimated) 270 million years ago.

Among those cliffs is a gully–a waterworn ravine known as ‘the silt bluffs’, featuring very distinctive rock formations which have the look and feel of something out of a Western movie.

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Massive geological formations such as these require some form of treatment by a painter in order to adequately convey their uniqueness and grandeur.  This watercolour attempts to do that by purposely choosing to paint directly into the sun.

This part of our landscape gets quite literally baked by heat at midday, so when painting outdoors it is important to get it done quickly.

 

 

….a little nuts

November 20, 2015

Quite some months ago I asked Jackie of ‘Lost In Thought Photos’ (https://lostinthotphotos.wordpress.com/) for permission to do a miniature based on her wonderful photograph of a little tree squirrel.

Jackie very kindly agreed and emailed me back a very fine image of what –based on its colouration– appears to be a Fox Squirrel, which, even the most hardened rodent defamer would have to be a little nuts not to admit is cute.

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Here’s how they are described in Wikipedia:  “. . . Fox squirrels are strictly diurnal, non-territorial, and spend more of their time on the ground than most other tree squirrels. They are still, however, agile climbers. They construct two types of homes called ‘dreys’, depending on the season. Summer dreys are often little more than platforms of sticks high in the branches of trees, while winter dens are usually hollowed out of tree trunks by a succession of occupants over as many as 30 years. Cohabitation of these dens is not uncommon, particularly among breeding pairs. . . ”

Besides their cuteness, it is charming that they are non-territorial, and have been known to share their homes.  That is certainly not true for a great many squirrels, who seem to busy themselves hurling insults and chasing rivals all day long.

Hunting for frames is fun, losing myself in one or some of our ten or so 2nd hand stores, and recently resulted in this very nice (likely faux) leather 5″ x 7″ one for $.75.  It allows this little painting to sell for $35.

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Our little Gallery keeps 20% commission. So many thanks to Jackie at https://lostinthotphotos.wordpress.com/ !

 

…..downtown

October 31, 2015

Growing up in the 50s, we lived in a treed suburb of Rochester, New York (home of Eastman Kodak, Bausch and Lomb), but my father was a Pastor of a poor, post-WWII German refugee, inner city Church next to the Greyhound bus depot.  My fascination with the grittier side of Rochester’s downtown must have come from how much more interesting it was compared with the staid predictability of houses and lawns and more houses and more lawns where we lived.

Sneaking away during the sermon, I’d scout out the alleyways of crumbling late 19th century brick tenements with their fascinating tangle of iron fire escapes doubling as fasteners for clotheslines, festooned with gingham tablecloths and sheets and jeans.  Labyrinths of back-doored kitchens, cooks smoking, observing me in my too-small Sunday navy suit, an out-of-place kid trying to look nonchalant and part of the scene.

Luckily for me, Kamloops has that kind of feel.  It is a railroad hub, cow ranchers beyond that–a labourer’s city–begun in 1812 as an outpost of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and has enough Western wear and roughness that some citizens feel our downtown still lacks class.  By ‘class’ they mean there aren’t enough designer boutiques and specialty shops.

This is the start of a painting of downtown from behind one of the old hotels. . . .

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Downtown Kamloops, B. C. Canada

The intention here is to make this a Christmasy, snowy subject, and its progress will be followed as the days go by.

inspiration galore!

July 6, 2015

THERE ARE TODAY few watercolourists with the mastery, control, spontaneity and lyrical grace of Joseph Zbukvic, an Australian painter who emigrated from Zagreb in 1970, and took up watercolour in his adopted country.

He is among a handful of true masters of classical watercolour technique, due to an ability to transform veritably any subject into visual poetic language.

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Adroit and seemingly effortless whether out on location or in the studio, Joseph Zbukvic’s handling and style builds on a foundation of an accurate, yet freely-rendered underdrawing, the suggestion of detail, a flawless sense of both composition and values, sparing yet daring choices, brought off with efficiency and dashed-off finishing touches of highlighting contrast.

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H20  COLOR, 9/3/01, 5:26 PM,  8C, 8000x6290 (0+1730), 100%, low contrast 8,  1/20 s, R74.5, G49.4, B62.1

flags and awnings 28 x 16.5

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This calibre of painting keeps any student of the medium of watercolour inspired and wanting to stretch and keep striving.  It is a wonderful thing to see how high the watercolour bar can be set!

http://www.josephzbukvic.com/

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