….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

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….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!

 

…. mackerel sky

January 29, 2016

There is an Old English saying about weather which goes:  “Mackerel scales and mare’s tails make tall ships carry low sails”.  ‘Mackerel scales’ refers to Altocumulus clouds which (to some) resemble the markings on the sides of mackerel.  ‘Mare’s tails’ refers to Cirrus uncinus clouds which–according to the saying–must, like mackerel scales, indicate strong winds, though the two types wouldn’t likely appear together in the same sky.

 

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The subject is taken from a view of the British Columbia coast, beaten down by the effects of storm after storm.  Having lived on Vancouver Island at one point, the weather forecast for the most northerly tip seemed to nearly always call for wind and rain which made me thankful we lived on the most southerly end.  We received quite enough rain as it was.  However, seldom was it ever a pelting, all-out soaking torrent–which made local people say to tourists complaining about the constant drizzle, “Yes, but it’s a dry rain.”

This was painted on treated illustration board.

 

…. 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.

One Jay we do not have in the West is the Blue Jay.  The ‘why’ of this is puzzling simply because the weather and climate here rather mirror that of Eastern Provinces and States (minus the humidity, thank heaven).

As annoying as this bird can be, the sheer pleasure it appears to take in creating continuous drama — the screeching cry it passes off as ‘song’ turns the lovely silence of a Sunday morning into a birdie alarm clock — makes the Blue Jay an attention receiver (like that kid you always remember from Grade 4).

And….the Blue Jay–like most Jays–is beautiful.

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Their blue, black and white colouration is as dramatic as the Blue Jay personality.  They have the ability to turn any bird feeder situation into a Three Stooges food fight.  And for all these reasons, make a great subject for painting.

A favourite natural food in Winter is the Mountain Ash berry.

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These trees are in abundance here in Southern British Columbia, and grow very large, and are responsible for allowing the N. American Robin to return very early–often at the end of February–sustaining them until the ground becomes warm enough for pursuing worms.

Choosing both Blue Jays and Mountain Ash in Winter makes for great contrast in colour, and a lively composition for painting.

Now we’ll just have to see how it all turns out….

….depicting snowy pines

October 22, 2015

Snow-laden firs and pines aren’t the easiest of subjects for depicting in watercolour–(at least not for this painter).  The challenge comes in first understanding the effect snow has on branches, for, obviously, there is snow and then there is snow–each snowfall having its own unique effect.  That crystalline, hardened seizing of tender branches by icy snow pulls them heavily towards the ground, while sub-zero powdered flurries creates a mere dusting of needles–each presenting technical challenges.

Of course, the problem is one of always having to paint around the white of the paper allowing it to ‘be’ the snow in watercolour.  Given that opaque white can’t be used, a light dusting on pine needles becomes really quite a bit more difficult than painting the after-effects of a full-blown blizzard.  Leaving minute dots of paper surrounding green needles is a recipe for madness in my book.  Give me a snow-stormed pine any day of the week in its place.

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Figuring out just where branches are on a given variety of pine, fir, balsam, cedar or spruce is key to understanding where snow will sit when on them.  So it seems crucial that any study be limited to particular species, (in the above case, cedar) — otherwise, a painter of representational art will be in danger of ending up with a kind of ‘marshmellowed’, generic evergreen most often seen on Hallmark Christmas cards.

Truly, each variety of coniferous tree accepts snow in its own unique way.  A blue spruce, for example, with its stiff, jutting branches, is much more able to bear the weight of snow than the red cedar in the above study, whose branches are prone to drooping and bending.

This study was done on leftover piece of plain white matt board, using a chopped-up small fan brush to go after the greens, then a more pointed, conventional brush to soften the hard edges and provide shadowed depth to the snow.  The branches aren’t quite correct.  Once snow is included, it changes perception to such a degree, I have trouble understanding where it goes and branches fall.

The beauty of our being blessed with so many evergreens to choose from comes in knowing that each one offers the student of watercolour great and intriguing challenges, especially when brimming with that wonderful adornment–snow.

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