Six straight days of rain is finally over. It took its toll on humans and beasts alike. When I went out for a walk late yesterday afternoon, I saw this wet and bedraggled Cooper's Hawk hunched up on top of a power pole. Its tail feathers looked very wet and the puffed up breast feathers told me it was trying to warm up.
An Anna's Hummingbird was outside my workroom window everyday, roosting under the eaves of the apartment next door when it was pouring, then feeding on the succulent blossoms when it stopped. It's quite a fat little hummer, too, so I didn't worry about it too much. It seemed to know what to do pretty well!
I always wonder how birds deal with a lot of rain; the past two days gave me a little glimpse.
While other parts of the country are being slowly buried in the white stuff of winter, we here in Southern California enjoyed a warm and sunny weekend. It topped out around 85-degrees yesterday, so we headed to the beach for a couple hours of shore time.
It was a lovely day at White's Point in Palos Verdes. The ocean was like glass and Catalina Island was so clear you could make out the folds in the hills. A small pod of dolphins swam by, a kayaker pulled into the the cove, and some crabmen pulled up their traps.
"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of the outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of the ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied.
Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea.
The seas are the heart's blood of the earth. Plucked up and kneaded by the sun and moon, the tides are systole and diastole of earth's veins. The rhythm of waves beats in the sea like a pulse in living flesh. It is pure force, forever embodying itself in a succession of watery shapes which vanish on its passing.
Consider the marvel of what we see. Somewhere in ocean, perhaps a thousand miles and more from this beach, the pulse beat of earth liberates a vibration, an ocean wave."
--Henry Beston The Outermost House
[Video filmed at Montana De Oro Sate Park, CA October 2008]
I am returning to experiments in value, as well as the effects of light art various times of the day, in order to add more life to my work. The painting above (4.75" x 6.75" on Arches 140# cold pressed paper) was done entirely with Sepia. I worked from a photograph that I had altered in Photoshop from color to black and white in order to reveal the values and tones. It is not always easy or convenient to work directly from nature, so for now I am working from photos for practice.
Additionally, I have ordered a few books on watercolor technique to see if I can teach this old dog some new tricks. I would like to not only do bird portraits, which I enjoy very much, but also pictures that show birds in their natural environments, going about their business, doing what birds do. That will require that I learn to render foliage, trees, and water in a way that suggests realism without actually falling into the trap of extreme detail, which is not really my cup of tea style-wise.
I admire the work of such wildlife artists as Robert Bateman, but I will leave the technique of showing every detail to those like him that are more facile at it--and interested in doing so. I believe that style has merit and value, but I love the idea of suggesting things and still making them seem real.
Today I spent a large chunk of the day reading some books on Winslow Homer I got from the UCLA Arts Library. One in particular is very interesting and instructive: Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light by Martha Tedeschi, et al, published by The Art Institute of Chicago. In it, they describe Homer's working methods, the colors he used, and the various techniques he used to portray his subjects so beautifully. The art experts provide technical commentaries on a range of different aspects, including paper, pigments and lightfastness, and techniques Homer used such as scraping out color, spattering, and resist.
Homer has always been one of my very favorite artists. His rendering of light, and the effects of light, in the natural world is without equal. One writer put it most eloquently:
"The wonder we feel standing in front of one of Homer's watercolors has little to do with painterly pyrotechnics, but instead come from their capacity to conjure the natural with unprecedented truth and vividness."
Homer was a keen observer of nature and an avid student of color theory and optics (the effect of light at various times of the day and different seasons). He had the
"ability to to evoke a sense of truth in watercolors--the true breath of life...the glint of actual sunshine, the smell of mother-earth. It had everything to do with his dedicated examination of the relationship between color, light, and water, the three principal ingredients of watercolor. These elements were both is medium and very often his subject matter." (Tedeschi)
My birding partner, Paula Raissner, and I birded a section of the L.A. River this past Sunday. We only covered about a quarter mile stretch, but it was pretty 'birdy.' The real treat was finding some Nutmeg Mannikins, a species native to Southeast Asia and India. Like often happens, some birds meant for the caged trade got loose years ago and now their are flocks in the wild. They are pretty little birds, around sparrow-sized. Their backs and wings are a rich brown color (like nutmeg) and the chest is white with black scalloped lines (that reminds me of chain mail). The birds are sometimes called Spice Mannikins.
Also seen were abundant numbers of Black-necked Stilt, American Widgeon, and of all things, Yellow-rumped Warblers. A few pairs of Hooded Mergansers were seen, as well as Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, an immature Black-crowned Night Heron; also the ubiquitous Mallard, American Coot, and Brewer's Blackbird.
The Yellow-rumps were flycatching on the swarms of midges that hovered in the air, as were a few Black Phoebe. One Yellow Warbler was spotted foraging in the reeds in the river area. A pair of Common Raven and a Red-tailed Hawk were spied soaring overhead.
In nearby Bette Davis Park, which was our access point, there were 4 Acorn Woodpeckers guarding a large granary in a sycamore tree.
Hooded Merganser (male & female)
Nutmeg Mannikin (juvenile-lacks the chest embellishment)
Nutmeg Mannikin (adult)
Nutmeg Mannikin (adult)
Later in the day we went to Lake Balboa to look for some reported Common Loon, but the only loons were the crowds of people. We did see a Ross's Goose, however, a life bird for both of us.
During an email exchange with a friend of mine and we got into a conversation about a woman who was caught trying to smuggle rare falcons from of Russia. I mentioned to her that I rarely pay attention to the news these days as I find it terribly distressing, not to mention distracting. And those elements are not conducive to being creative. But as a birder I cannot escape the conservation and protections aspects of my chosen pastime. The grim realities, such as the smuggling story that caught my eye, are always there. I think that's one of the reasons I like to paint birds. It makes me feel closer to them and to celebrate more intimately their beauty and specialness.
After the move I finally managed find all my painting materials and to get my work area ready for some more painting. Over the holiday weekend I painted two small works, both of Royal Terns (one of my favorite birds). I am experimenting with different methods: one, a plain and fairly un-detailed approach, and two, a more colorful and expressive approach.
The results turned out pretty well, though I think I need to explore this much, much further. My goal is to paint at least one picture every day, even if it is just a small one. In addition, I will continue to do my sketching in the morning before work. Rising earlier has enabled me to have more quiet creative time at the beginning of the day when I am less tired. Discipline has never been a strong point of mine, but I am determined to improve my painting!