Starlings: Metallic Rainbows

February 24, 2017

Starling

Starling

Ink sketch of starling

Ink sketch of starling

“From a distance he looked black, but from up close he glistened in sheens of metallic green, purple, and blue.  The feathers on a starling’s breast, head, and neck are purple, and those on its back are green. . . . just below the purple of his neck the feathers were tipped with light yellow, as if individually dipped in cream. . . . he looked like a metallic rainbow.”
— Bernd Heinrich, One Wild Bird at a Time

“To be a starling is to perform airborne dances with myriad others, tracing elaborate syncopated flight patterns in the sky.  We call these gatherings ‘murmurations.'”
— Bernd Heinrich, One Wild Bird at a Time

Starling

Starling

Ink sketch of starling

Ink sketch of starling

“Starlings are painted like oil slicks, layered with shining purple, blue, magenta, and green.  Iridescence in feathers is created through structural changes in the feather surface that makes them appear vibrant at certain angles — microscopic bumps and ridges on the barbs and barbules refract and scatter light. . . . When starlings molt in the fall, many of their fresh iridescent feathers are tipped with white, giving the birds their celestial pattern. . . . the starling’s white tips wear off in winter, leaving the birds glistening black in the spring.”
— Lyanda Lynn Haupt, from Mozart’s Starling

Starling portrait, ink sketch

Starling portrait, ink sketch

Lynda Lynn Haupt’s new book, Mozart’s Starling, will be released April 4th.  It is true that Mozart lived with a pet starling, and this became the idea for Haupt’s book.  She adopted a 6-day-old starling orphan and lived with it as part of her household in order to better understand what it meant for Mozart to live with this particular bird.

Starlings are almost universally reviled by birders and ecologists, as they are non-native to the United States and are an invasive species.  And yet, the possibilities of kinship and love do happen at the individual level, as Haupt discovered when her starling became a beloved pet.  She said, “Starlings are shimmering, plain, despised, charming, collectively devastating, individually fascinating.”  Her story and discoveries show that “these individuals are not ends in themselves but a kind of window onto the totality of existence.”

Starling in watercolor and ink

Starling in watercolor and ink

 

Pussy willows

Pussy willows

“One ought never to forget that by actually perfecting one piece, one learns more than beginning or half finishing ten.  Let it rest, let it rest and keep going back to it and working at it over and over again until there is not a note too much or too little, not a bar you could improve upon.  Whether it is beautiful is and entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.”
— Johannes Brahms

I’ve been trying to paint pussy willows, and after several iterations, I still haven’t managed to capture them perfectly.  Not all of my attempts are pleasing.  With watercolors, I find that working it over generally muddies things, and it is better to slow down and make a new beginning.  I’m still not satisfied with my results, so I need to try again (and again).

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Sweethearts candies for Valentine's Day

Sweethearts candies for Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day card

Valentine’s Day card

I like the following paragraph about love, which reminds us that Love is a sacred responsibility, a sacred trust.  It seems appropriate to reflect on the duties of loving well on this Valentine’s Day 2017 because given today’s political climate, we feel called upon to fight fiercely to protect what we love and value.

“It isn’t enough to love a child and wish her well.  It isn’t enough to open my heart to a bird-graced morning.  Can I claim to love a morning, if I don’t protect what creates its beauty?  Can I claim to love a child, if I don’t use all the power of my beating heart to preserve a world that nourishes children’s joy?  Loving is not a kind of la-de-da.  Loving is a sacred trust.  To love is to affirm the absolute worth of what you love and to pledge your life to its thriving — to protect it fiercely and faithfully, for all time.”
— Kathleen Dean Moore, “The Call to Forgiveness at the End of the Day,”  from A Sense of Wonder:  The World’s Best Writers on the Sacred, the Profane, & the Ordinary, ed. Brian Doyle

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Profligate Kindness

February 12, 2017

Valentine's Day card

Valentine’s Day card

Be Kind
by Michael Blumenthal, from No Hurry

Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind— but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others; it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one, so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

 

The Primrose Path

February 11, 2017

Primroses are making a late-winter appearance in grocery stores around here.  They are a welcome splash of saturated color and hold the promise of Spring and gardening.

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Watercolor sketch of yellow primroses

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Ink sketch of primroses (primula)

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor's Garden

Watercolor vignettes from Tasha Tudor’s Garden

 

The Power of One

February 10, 2017

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“Here’s how we count the people who are ready to do right:  ‘One.’  ‘One.’  ‘One.'”
— William Stafford

Feet to stand upright

Feet to stand upright, with compassion

“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate.  Hope is the one thing left to us in a bad time.”
— E. B. White, Letter to M. Nadeau, March 30, 1973

The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

I mentioned in my January 4th blog post about The Book of Joy that I would paint copies of the book covers from some of my favorite reads in 2017.  Some of my paintings are adaptations rather than true copies.  Here are the covers from the best books from among those I read in January:

Tyler Norgren's new book about the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse

Tyler Nordgren’s new book about the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse

Sun, Moon, Earth:  The History of Solar Eclipses from Omens of Doom to Einstein and Exoplanets by Tyler Nordgren.  I wrote about this book in my January 5th blog post and how it heightened my anticipation for the total solar eclipse on August 21st of this year.

Coast Range:A Collection from the Pacific Edge by Nick Neely

Coast Range: A Collection from the Pacific Edge by Nick Neely

Coast Range: A Collection from the Pacific Edge by Nick Neely.  I liked this book of essays and Neely’s musings about collecting and collections.  He says, “. . . I had the collection bug: the impulse to hold, and possibly hoard, the world.”  His objects are familiar to my landscape — salmon, madrone trees, beaches, rivers draining into the Pacific Ocean.

Mink River by Brian Doyle

Mink River by Brian Doyle

Mink River by Brian Doyle.  I liked this novel so much that I am reading more of his works.

Tasha Tudor's Garden by Tovah Martin and Richard Brown

Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and Richard Brown

Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin and Richard Brown.  The photos of Tasha Tudor in her garden are luscious.  I love the little watercolor vignettes, too.  This book takes us through the four seasons of the year.

One Vacant Chair by Joe Toomer

One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer

One Vacant Chair by Joe Coomer.  I love this book because one of the protagonists is 62-year-old Aunt Edna who for the past twenty years was the live-in caregiver for her ill mother and an elementary lunch lady AND an artist.  She painted only one subject over and over — chairs.  “She was still painting chairs and only chairs . . .”  She painted for herself:  “Painting isn’t for bill paying.  Painting is for painting.”

The story takes place after the death of Edna’s mother.  The clan gathers and her niece Sarah — who is experiencing a life crisis of her own — decides to stay on with Edna while she closes up her mother’s estate.  Sarah is a successful commercial artist of Christmas ornaments, but she regrets not following her dream to become a fine artist.  Edna’s advice to Sarah is, “It’s the only important thing, the work itself.  I want you to stop worrying about what your pictures look like for now.  You should just enjoy holding the brush or pencil in your hand, the time spent. . . . you have to like the moment of working or your work will become valueless.”

I love how art-related musings and philosophy intermingle with the story.  And how the subject of a painting, like a chair, can evoke metaphors about life. The characters are quirky and flawed, family dynamics are stressed, and yet this is a warm-hearted novel.

 

 

Handmade Christmas Cards

December 19, 2016

Painted Christmas card, and ornament tree

Painted Christmas card, an ornament tree

I am getting fewer Christmas cards with each passing year, probably a reflection of my giving fewer cards as well.  Still, one of life’s joys is finding personal letters in the mailbox.  So in my limited way, I’ve tried to spread some joy by painting and sending off a handful of Christmas cards to my family and a few friends.  The rest of you will have to find comfort and joy via these images over the internet.  My digital good wishes are no less heartfelt!

Evergreen forest

Evergreen forest

Merry and Bright

Merry and Bright

Decorated Christmas tree

Decorated Christmas tree

Ornament tree

Ornament tree

Snowman ingredients

Snowman ingredients

Holly tree

Holly tree

 

 

Trees are Poems

July 22, 2016

“Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky.” — Walt Whitman, 1892

The Lawrence Tree by Georgia O'Keeffe, 1929

The Lawrence Tree by Georgia O’Keeffe, 1929

Trees are such miracles of nature.  Their diversity simply astounds.  I am looking forward to making more paintings of trees in the coming years.  I am inspired by this painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my all-time favorites.  You can make a quick acquaintance with this O’Keeffe painting at this link: http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/okeeffes-the-lawrence-tree.html

There are many lovely books about trees, and here are two incredible ones:

Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time by Beth Moon.  I love her photographs of old and noteworthy trees.

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Quiver Tree from Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time by Beth Moon

Quiver Tree from Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time by Beth Moon

Double page spread from Anciet Trees: Portraits of Time

Double page spread from Ancient Trees: Portraits of Time

Strange Trees by Bernadette Pourquie and Cecile Gambini.  This is an English edition of an award-winning picture book from France.  The art and text tell the stories of 16 truly unusual trees from around the world.  My favorite is the “Dynamite tree” from Trinidad, whose seed capsules explode with a sudden bang.

Strange Trees picture book

Strange Trees picture book

Baobab tree from Strange Trees

Baobab tree from Strange Trees

I was familiar with only three of the featured trees:  the giant sequoia, the ginkgo, and the baobab.  I had seen a baobab grove in Botswana, and was interested to hear it called the “upside-down tree” because it looks like it has its roots on its head!  Like many trees adapted to dry environments, the bulbous baobab can store water in its trunk. The author calls it a “potbellied giant.”

Baobab grove, Botswana, 2007

Baobab grove, Botswana, 2007

Watercolor sketch of baobab trees

Watercolor sketch of baobab trees

A promising start:

Watercolor sketch of irises from Kitty's garden

Watercolor sketch of irises from Kitty’s garden

And then I added background . . . and now I don’t like it as much.  Sometimes less is more.

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So I started over and tried again.

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Still not all the way there (to where I want to be).