Small Works

March 15, 2019

In my city of Kamloops, British Columbia, our Kamloops Arts Council hosts a number of different painterly events throughout the year. One of them was called ‘The Small Works Show’, an annual fundraiser whereby the artist gets half the proceeds and the Arts Council gets the other half.

Unlike most art shows, this one allows patrons to walk out the door with their purchase rather than wait till the event is over. No little red dots on title cards here!

Participating artists are allowed up to fifteen pieces, and if/when one piece is purchased, another is immediately put in its place. So I contributed twelve paintings, and was pleased to have sold seven of them.

‘The Scavenger’, 4 x 10, watercolour on art board by Lance Weisser

This little piece (rather crudely photographed before being matted and framed) was given a new home, and as time goes along, I’ll post others which were also purchased.

I am very grateful for the commitment and dedication of those heading up our local Kamloops Arts Council.

Life Partners

March 7, 2019

Ravens take around two to four years to mature and before finding their mate, hang around in teenage gangs according to some research, but once they do mate, they are monogamous and establish a territory for themselves.

I most often observe Ravens in our Interior British Columbia setting in pairs, unlike their crow cousins which gather in huge numbers.

Together Forever‘ , 10″ x 10″, watercolour on art board
by Lance Weisser

“The raven is symbolic of mind, thought and wisdom according to Norse legend, as their god Odin was accompanied by two ravens: Hugin who represented the power of thought and active search for information. The other raven, Mugin represented the mind, and its ability to intuit meaning rather than hunting for it. ” [https://www.whats-your-sign.com/raven-symbolism.html]

Sometimes our guests awaken in the morning and come in the kitchen looking confused, ‘what is that strange sound coming from the back of the house? It sounds like a bunch of chickens being strangled.”

There are a number of birds named after their call–for example, the Whip-poor-will, Bobwhite, Killdeer and Chickadee. Now add to those the Chukar Partridge, which populates our back mountain ridge and does this: “Chu-Chu- Chuk-Chuk-Chuk-Chuk-ChukCHUKCHUKCHUK!!!!”

This is always the male progenitor of a brood (known as a covey) of some dozen or so chicks who often is announcing their collective descent down the ridge to wreak havoc in our vegetable garden. All one needs to do then is saunter down the back steps to suddenly frighten them to death as they go up in a giant, dreadful whir of feathers and squawking, after which the male will scold at me from atop the biggest rock, his ego bruised.

Native to Eurasia and Asia, including, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, along the inner ranges of the Western Himalayas to Nepal, Chukars were also introduced to Europe and N. America. [wikipedia]

‘Hiding In Plain Sight’, 10.5 x 7, watercolour on art board by
Lance Weisser


They are to me one of the strangest creatures I’ve ever come across.
They are either brazen as hell, or scared out of their freekin’ minds. Their markings are as odd as their call, their mannerisms are as odd as their habits (in our garden their choicest morsels are the tops of our onions–I mean, who eats the tops of onions?)

When you google them as a subject, you usually find sites generated by hunters in the ‘Lower 48’ who are on the prowl for ‘the illusive Chukar Partridge’ all decked out in camouflage. I’ve yet to hear of any hunters in our area on the prowl for them, but believe me, we’ve got Chukars and they ain’t illusive.

Here’s one in action, for your listening pleasure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q09GNpev6sk

Winter Corn

February 26, 2019

Yes, it is probably apparent by now that I have an ongoing fascination with Ravens. I’m not alone. There’s a woman in the historic house section of our city of Kamloops not-so-affectionately known by her neighbours as ‘the crow lady’, whom I depicted in an earlier post entitled ‘Where The Heart Is’:

‘Where The Heart Is’, watercolour by Lance Weisser

She is known as ‘the crow lady’ because starting in late autumn and all through the ensuing winter, ‘crow lady’ fills a number of her vintage bird baths with cat kibble as corvid bird food. Her historic home then becomes wreathed in a continuous flight of ascending and descending crows, ravens, and starlings, and their distinctive din of calls and caws as they attack her bird baths.

I do believe there’s even a by-law ‘crow lady’ continuously violates, but it doesn’t seem to dint her enthusiasm for ensuring her lovely noisey visitors are kept fed and satisfied.

In tribute to my friend Joan (aka ‘crow lady’), I offer up today’s honouring of local ravens, these few trying their best to find themselves a few kernels of corn.

Winter Corn, 5.5 x 10, watercolour on art board by Lance Weisser

No doubt when they’re through scratching away here, they’ll give up and head over to Joan’s.

A Winter’s Eve

February 23, 2019

It snowed yesterday, the kind which floats down like sifted icing sugar, giving the impression that it can’t possibly amount to much, except it simply stayed that way for the entire afternoon and into the evening. And as I was cooking dinner, I glanced out and saw a van spinning its wheels, barely able to crest the top of the hill just below our house. That icing sugar now lay a significant number of inches deep, making the mule deer tracks under the bird feeders in our red maple appear as quilted dimples, leading off across the whited bedspread of the yard.

 

A Winter's Eve 6 x 4 February 2019

A Winter’s Eve, 4 x 6, watercolour on art board, by Lance Weisser

 

The mule deer–a party of three–come down from our backyard mountain ridge and go to town on the neighbourhood’s cedar hedges around four in the morning. Now, I’m not one to get all soft-hearted and nostalgic over having deer around, simply because they dine on just about anything except what mother nature provides in ample supply up beyond our neighbourhood: emerging tulips in the front–all manner of vegetables in the back–and everyone’s cedar.  The other morning around five one of them confronted our little dog Elmo in the predawn pitch dark as we did our morning walk.  Neither of them moved for a great while until the young buck got bored and sauntered off with its two pals to see what other landscape deconstruction they could manage before daybreak.

‘School’s Out’

April 9, 2018

Not far from our Kamloops, B. C., home is the village of Pritchard which used to have an original one room school occupying a corner of a farmer’s pasture–a school he himself reputedly attended as a boy–that no amount of seeking to have it lovingly restored bore any fruit with historical groups or municipalities.

Fearing its derelict floors and frame would be responsible for causing trespassing children accidental injury, he reluctantly tore it all down some five years or so ago.  But fortunately I managed to capture its classic image with my camera while it was still part of this farmer’s horse paddock, and I’ve painted a series of watercolours using it as a focal point.

Since it no longer exists, I choose to place this old school in settings that depart rather dramatically from where it actually had been (on a rather non-descript flat field right beside Duck Range Rd).

School's Out a.jpg

‘School’s Out’, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 14″ x 16″

Arches Hot Press 140 lb. Paper, Sold

The ‘how’ of ACEOs

April 6, 2018

To gain more know-how about the way ACEOs are collected and acquired, just go to eBay and view the huge number of them being sold/auctioned:  https://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=aceo+original+painting&_sacat=0&_from=R40

You’ll see the quality contrasts, the styles, the subject matter variety, the variety of mediums, too–as well as price, with some going for $40/ea to $1/ea.

Below are examples of how I personally approach doing ACEOs:

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‘A Westsyde Winter’, ACEO by Lance Weisser, Arches Hot Press 140 lb Paper, sold.

Once one of mine is matted and framed, it is generally priced at $25 to $30US.  Unframed, $20US.  But I’m not beyond letting interested people barter for them because what is most pleasing to me is having a person get an original watercolour that is within his/her means.  As painters, we really just want people to enjoy what we do, and know our work is being appreciated and displayed.

If interested, please just email me at weisserlance@gmail.com. 

I can work from an emailed attached photo, or your personal subject matter ideas.  It can be mailed to you wherever you may be — postal costs will be built into the final price 🙂

 

ACEO #2

April 4, 2018

Here’s another 2.5″ x 3″ art card–the same size as a baseball card.  My experience with them is that watercolours simply have to have protection from the elements, so the only way I’ve ever sold ACEOs is matted and framed behind glass.

I find 3″ x 3.5″ metal frames and cut mats to fit, and sell them that way.  The notion that they are to be traded and sold in the same way baseball cards are is to fail to take into account how a miniature original watercolour needs to be treated in order to be acceptable for the buyer.  IOW, they may be the same size, but they aren’t baseball cards, lol.

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‘Lone Pine’, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 2.5″ x 3″, Arches Hot Press 140 lb Paper, Sold.

 

Three Amigos

March 19, 2018

Chickadees have a gift many would love to have, which is the ability to hide seeds and other items in a large variety of places and remember each of them without a problem.  Some of us come across that well-placed but unfound Christmas present for Aunt Dorothy only when moving house or doing a major Spring cleaning.

They are also studied for their distinctive chick-a-dee dee call, with researchers noting that when it is a single ‘dee’ it indicates calm, but when there are multiple ‘dees’, it means the bird is stressed or senses danger.  It seems whenever I am refilling the feeder, our resident Western Chickadee fires off a dozen or more, while insisting on grabbing yet one more seed even as I’m lowering it to the ground.  Then it waits indignantly for the whole procedure to be completed while bombarding me with ‘dees’ as though from a miniature ray gun.

the three amigos, October 2016, 5 x 7

‘Three Amigos’, watercolour by Lance Weisser, 5″ x 7″, Saunders Waterford 90 lb Hot Press Paper, sold.

Raven Trio

March 10, 2018

Portraying moonlight is something of an intriguing interpretation for painters.  Some, like the famous American painter Frederic Remington, chose a greenish hue for its earthly glow….

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Others, like the American painter Maxfield Parrish, often used yellow as the predominant colour of moon glow….

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I’ve noticed other painters depicting the colour of moonlight in hues of blue.  And in this little painting of Ravens, my choice is sepia and white….

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Three Ravens‘, 8″ x 10″, Arches Hot Press 140 lb Paper, Sold

By including my own, I’m certainly not attempting to put myself in the league of a Parrish or Remington–but merely drawing attention to how our eye finds mystery in the way the moon reflects and illuminates the landscape.  When I go outside on a full moonlit night, I feel it is a blueish reflection on snow, and more earth-toned on our backyard mountain and rocks.  And even though I never quite manage to see moonglow  as green, I simply adore Remington’s moonlit scenes and illustrations.  He convinces me it really is green!

What is it for you?

 

Pinantan Country

March 5, 2018

Pinantan Lake is about twenty minutes from Kamloops, British Columbia, where we live.  It is a small community spread around the little lake’s perimeter and prides itself on being independent, artistic, and avant garde.

Although this painting is not of an actual barn or photographed scene, it attempts to capture the spirit of what the area looks like under a snowy mantle when viewed from the road leading towards the lake.  I’ve done it from my collective memory, rather than choosing to make use of photographs or while on location.

 

christmas 2017 a

‘Pinantan Country’, watercolour on Saunders Waterford Hot Press Paper 90 lb., 9″ x 12″ Sold

 

 

It is snowing again, and is likely to continue through today and tonight and into tomorrow.  As my friend Shiela says, snow today is water tomorrow, meaning we live in a characteristically arid part of British Columbia (our backyard mountain ridge has many cacti plants) and so every source of water is cherished.  The snowmelt from the mountains is crucial to ensuring our lifeline, the Thompson River, is of normal size.

Around here, many people kind of roll their eyes and sigh when learning we’re getting another ‘dumping’, but I’ve always delighted in snow and can now sadly envision a day when there won’t be any.  Our living situation is such that I can handle clearing the driveway without much effort, otherwise I might be joining one of the eye-rolling crowd.

Here is the painting ‘Raven Winter’ that is now framed and ready to be presented to my friend Patricia Kellogg as a possible choice in our painting exchange deal:

 

stage 3 final painting of Raven Morn

‘Raven Winter’, watercolour on treated art board, 9″ x 12″

 

Stage Two: ‘Raven Winter’

February 14, 2018

The painting for my friend Patricia Kellogg is taking shape.  The treated surface of the mat board I’m using to paint on was/is achieved by applying a product by Daniel Smith called ‘watercolor ground’.  It comes in a jar and is painted onto any surface one desires, instantly turning it–once allowed to thoroughly dry–into one which can be painted on using transparent watercolour.  So, glass, metal, wood, masonite, anything of the kind can basically become a surface with the characteristics of watercolour paper.

stage two of raven morn

 

Stage One: ‘Raven Winter’

February 13, 2018

My watercolourist friend Patricia Kellogg [https://www.facebook.com/Patricia-A-Kellogg-357357001050096/] and I are doing a painting exchange.  I acquired one of hers of an artichoke plant in late autumn–that expressive form plants take when frost renders them lifeless, yet beautiful even so.  And because she has a couple of mine with ravens in them, she wanted one more and so here’s the first stage of it.

stage 1 of Raven morn

The surface for this painting is treated mat board and the medium is transparent watercolour.  It is a 9″ x 12″ piece.  Once it is finished I will enjoy taking it over to The Red Beard Cafe where we have our monthly coffee and seeing if she likes it.  I’ll also bring a couple of others with me to provide a choice.

‘The Way Home’

January 24, 2018

In the spirit of watercolour experimentation, it was interesting to take ordinary white mat board and coat it with a thin layer of clear acrylic medium.  The board then had to dry for a good 24 hours.  The experience when painting is one of finding it acts as a kind of resist while providing a rather intriguing texturing quality.

The Way Home, 6 x 9.5, August, 2017.jpg

It is a bit tricky because there’s no wet-in-wet opportunity, or much reworking/touching up or the acrylic medium will moisten and lift from the surface and become gummy.  So getting one crack at it is pretty much all one gets, making every brushstroke really count.

 

 

 

 

… 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!

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.

 

It has become ‘belated everything’ for me lately…so why not this as well.

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2.5″ x 3.75″ watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140#

We’ve come to know this as the English Robin (at least here in Canada), though I see it referred to elsewhere as the European Robin (which of course no Brit would ever go for).

Here are some (possibly) little-known tidbits about it: “. . . The distinctive orange breast of both sexes contributed to the European robin’s original name of redbreast (orange as the name of a colour was unknown in English until the sixteenth century, by which time the fruit of that name had been introduced). In the fifteenth century, when it became popular to give human names to familiar species, the bird came to be known as robin redbreast, which was eventually shortened to robin. As a given name, Robin was originally a diminutive of Robert . . . ”  [ Lack, D. (1950). Robin Redbreast. Oxford: Oxford, Clarendon Press. p. 44]

Personally, I have never seen this bird except depicted and written about in stories like “The Secret Garden”.  But whenever I paint a miniature of them, it is purchased very quickly, and usually by a homesick, transplanted member of a country ‘across the pond’.  It would be a treat to see them in their natural setting.

….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 Harry Potter series borrowed ancient Celtic views towards the European Mountain Ash also called the Rowan Tree. The Celts and other people of early British Isles thought the tree had magical properties. Its powers were to protect you from witchcraft, one of two reasons why it is also called Witchwood. The other reason is a pucker at the end of the fruit reminds some of a pentagram which is associated with witchery.”

“As one might think, animals also know the mountain ashes as food. It is a favored browse of moose and white-tailed deer. Bears, fishers and martens like it as well as snowshoe hares, squirrels, small woodland rodents, the ruffed grouse, ptarmigans, sharp-tailed grouse, blue grouse, American robins, thrushes, waxwings, and jays. . . ”  http://www.eattheweeds.com/mountain-ash-rowan/

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“American Blue Jays and Mountain Ash”, watercolour on Arches Hot Press 140# Paper, original available for purchase $85US (unframed, excluding postal charges), 5.5″ x 11.5″

From Canadian Author Sarah B. Hood [http://www.sarahbhood.com/]

“. . . A couple of years ago I made the wonderful discovery that the common ornamental tree I know as Mountain Ash is the fabled rowan tree, revered in the mythology of northern lands for its protective and divinatory properties. I was told about it by the mother of a friend who also informed me that rowan jelly is the traditional accompaniment to twelfth-cake in the Christmas season.

I have since looked at many different recipes for rowan berry jelly, and note that most of them advise one not to make jelly until the berries have been frozen (either on the tree or in the freezer), since this makes them sweeter. Apparently raw mountain ash berries can be toxic (I remember my father complaining that they were so acidic that they could eat holes in cars), but heat and freezing both change the chemical structure of the acids they contain.

Here’s a recipe that I’ve used. It came to a lovely set and a great colour, like rosé wine. The taste is something like a cross between grapefruit peels and cranberries: bitter, but tasty.”

Rowan Berry Jelly Recipe
Makes about 3 cups

  • About 4 cups of berries which have been frozen (unfrozen berries are very bitter)
  • About 1 cup of water
  • ¼ cup of lemon juice
  • About 1½ cups of natural pectin from apples (You can substitute commercial pectin, but you’ll have to change the quantity of sugar according to their instruction for a similar recipe such as grape jelly.)
  • About 3 cups of sugar
Day One
  1. Rinse berries and remove stray leaves, stems and shriveled berries
  2. Barely cover them with water and heat them to the boiling point, then cover and simmer until they have completely dissolved. You can use a potato masher to reduce them to a pea soup-like mush, as pictured below.
  3. Strain through a jelly bag. Hang the bag overnight to catch all the liquid, but do not squeeze the bag.

Day Two
  1. Use a turkey baster or pour carefully to extract the rowan berry juice without any sediment that may have collected. It should come to about 1½ cups (top up with extra apple juice if necessary).
  2. In a wide, deep non-reactive pot, combine rowan berry juice, apple pectin, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a rolling boil. It may be rather scummy, so skim if you like.
  3. When it reaches the setting point, ladle into jars and process for ten minutes.
  4. Label and date the jars, and refrigerate any jars that don’t seal.

….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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