Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Artistic Goals

This posting strays from my usual subject matter, yet might be of interest to those who are making resolutions at this time of year. It is intended as only a temporary detour from my normal nature writings.

For those of you who have been watching my progress at you have probably noticed I’m nearing my goal, i.e. 100 quick paintings in a 12 month period. I started January 30 of this year, so I’m on target. Sometimes it has been a challenge to keep up, but I have learned a lot in the process. It has been well worth the effort. I realize that often a quick sketch is more alive than something I’ve slaved over. Light and mood do wonders for a piece of art. I’ve learned a lot about new materials and realize I need to learn a lot more. Part of me will be sad when I finish my 100th painting, and part of me will take a deep breath and be glad. I’ll feel I have time to do a few serious works of art along with my writing and sketching.

Meanwhile, Laure Ferlita, who manages the Challenge ,wrote a nice posting on her blog ( -- Dec. 28 post) challenging artists to put some thought into what they want to accomplish in the coming year. …. And to post it on our blog. She nudged me to go beyond my comfort zone. Ouch!
I chewed on the idea for awhile. At first I drew a blank as to what new goal I wanted to set. Then, while I was sketching last night, it came to me. I had just finished the Clark’s grebe with chicks. I don’t fault how well it is drawn, but I did feel disappointed in myself that I had picked such a static pose. A drawing becomes a work of art when it has life. ‘Life’ doesn’t necessarily mean action. There can be life in something that is sound asleep. There can be life in just a few squiggly lines. ‘Life’ happens when there is a little extra sparkle in there which makes the subject alive. I feel sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don’t. But I should always be aiming for it! Sometimes I need to let loose a little, and not get hung up in detail and accuracy. The aim is to capture both life and accuracy … and to do that I need to practice drawing, …..practice….. practice, but not just practice. Stretch my limits. Try for mood, action, light; whatever will give the drawing life. Feel O.K. about the failures. Be one of those artists who believes it takes 10,000 mistakes to really learn …. And start sticking my neck out far enough to make more of those mistakes. My early journals are full of what I call ‘encyclopedia drawings.’ The drawings in my later journals are much more interesting. Drawing is my fundamental building block. There is a lot more for me to learn. … so my goal is to draw regularly (I do already), but to do more of it and to put more thought into what I want to accomplish.

That means more field sketching .... more drawing from our wonderful collection of photographs .... and I can even draw from published photographs 'just for practice.'

And so I drew the dancing grebes today……. Both grebe drawings are from our photos taken during our day with them in Klamath Falls early last summer.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Gusty, Blustery Oregon Coast

I’m on a headland on the Oregon Coast. Choppy sea, racing sky. Blustery gray day. The wind whips the top off each white cap and throws it downwind. Huge breakers roll in from the Pacific and fracture into tall white plumes as they crash into the outer reef. Gulls tip and turn in the wind …. up ….up and up, and then with a big zoom, down. It is as if the gulls are snowflakes in one of those glass shake-em-up balls and someone just shook the ball. I savor their freedom. I stand here, tied to earth.

I succeeded in painting the first sketch even though the wind was strong enough to whip a flag to shreds. One hand held my book down, I tucked my paint box in the lee of the wind on a rock wall, and just jumped in, trying to capture the moment.

We were happy to eat lunch in the comfort of our car – shrimp cocktails, veggies, crackers and fruit. By two PM the wind died a little and we got out again, this time at the Shell Island overlook.

String after string of common murres are heading south. Just beyond the outer reef, they fly low over the chop, flying into the wind. A few loons are out there too. The water between us and the reef is still choppy, but offers some protection. Tiny ancient murrelets bounce on the waves and dive deep. I think the longest diver of all is the lone long-tailed duck. I haven’t seen one of those for years. I still prefer their old name, ‘old squaw.’

One red-necked grebe, a busy bundle of eared grebes, a few western grebes and horned grebes …. at least five harlequin ducks, two kinds of cormorants, and a flock of black oystercatchers … and all the wonderful gulls tipping and turning: lots of birds. As the tide goes out a great blue heron flies to the exposed rocks beneath us to start foraging. Seals and sealions haul out on the beach as soon as a stretch of sand is available. This one road out the high tide by climbing high on a rock.

A peregrine flies in to check things out from the top of Shell Island. It’s a busy, blustery place. One that makes my heart sing. We stayed until darkness was erasing all detail amongst the little islands, the reef and exposed rock.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

My little red fox is looking across the eastern end of the Lamar Valley in one of my favorite places, Yellowstone National Park. He is waiting for Santa to come ... and thinking Merry Christmas to you all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lunar Musings: Dec 21, 2010

Our Moon at 9 PM

Tonight is the night of the winter solstice and a total lunar eclipse. It’s been 372 years since the events coincided. I’m hopeful but not optimistic that we’ll get to see it. Right now there is a patch of sky showing, but lots of rain predicted for tonight. Meanwhile I have over three hours to wait before it begins and shall content myself by remembering my first memorable eclipse of the moon.

In the early 70s we moved to Prineville Oregon. As best I remember about a year later we decided to camp on the western edge of Klamath Lake. The eastern edge of the lake is rather blah – sagebrush on shore and no marsh. We didn’t know what to expect on the western edge except we knew the Winema National Forest (now known as the Fremont-Winema National Forest) reached down to the water. We arrived late in the day. A little wayside called Crystal Springs looked good enough to camp at. It wasn’t quite on the lake, but through a grove of trees we could hear coots and grebes and an occasional sandhill crane calling. Crystal Springs is near Agency Lake, a smaller lake just north of Klamath Lake.

Well after sunset our family of four headed down a woodsy path towards the sounds. It would be dark soon, but the full moon was rising and we knew there would be plenty of light. After only about a quarter of a mile we came to an overlook. Hundreds of acres of marsh stretched off into the darkness. Moonlight sparkled on patches of water glimmering between masses of tall tule bulrushes and spatterings of lilypads. A wild assortment of sounds drifted up to us from the marsh …. the coot, grebes, and cranes along with various ducks, Canada geese and a great horned owl. Most unusual for us was the lovely night call of a poor will.

It was magical! The whole marsh was unsettled and talking. But fate was playing with us. The sky seemed clear, yet a dark cloud was slowly overtaking the moon – a very dark cloud. We began to worry about finding our path though the woods on our way back, so we headed back to camp before we totally lost our way. Only later we sheepishly realized we had been watching an eclipse of the moon.

The next day we found a camping spot right on the edge of the marsh. That night the nearly full moon rose a little later and sent its long rays of soft light into our camp. As darkness fell the marsh was ever so much quieter. It was as if the night before every bird on the marsh had celebrated the eclipse.

And now for today's moon:

10:00 PM

The moon has continued to mostly show all evening and now, a half an hour before start time, there is no sign of it. Heavy clouds have smothered it. I don’t even have a clue as to where it actually is. I’m skunked!

10:33 PM: Now is the time the eclipse is supposed to start on the West Coast.

10:40 PM: We can see it! Thin clouds pass over it, but the moon shines bright and the dark shadow is starting. Whoopee! Very still down here, damp, about 45 degrees. Above us the clouds race.

I’ve been sketching and painting and enjoying. I drug out the camera equipment and was delighted when Dale took over. The moon has been playing with the clouds ever since the eclipse started. At one point light drizzle was falling on us, yet we could see the moon. The clouds really thickened just as the last bit on sunlight was leaving the moon. Gone. It was a race to see if the light would leave the moon first or if the clouds would just cover the whole works. Instead of an orange red ball, we saw blackness.

12:08 AM Dec 21

Wouldn’t you know, I put the tripod and big lens away, and then the clouds thinned again. The ‘shadowed’ moon glows reds, burnt orange and warm browns up there, above us. Etheral. This solstice moon is a very moody moon. A night to remember.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Bear with me. December is turning out to be a busy month. I wonder why. So this will be short .... and the Yellowstone posts will have to wait a while longer.

Oregon is in its rainy season. It seems some form of water is everywhere; rivers are full, fields have soggy ponds, ivy drips, our grass is forever wet. Even the air is full of water here in the western valleys. Fog night after night. It seems it rains forever, but actually it mostly threatens to rain.

All too often that silly little icon on the weather channel show clouds with a peak of sun. Ha! We’re lucky if the sun wins for even a few minutes. In the daytime the fog rises and hovers over town on the ‘sunny’ days. Often we to drive to a higher elevation to greet the sun and look down on the cloud choked valleys. The Umpqua Indians called this ‘the valley of sickness.’

Today we drive south to Grants Pass. The sun finds cracks in the clouds. Off in the distance I see magic happening, mist rises out of the wet mountains. Some of yesterday’s rain is drifting back up, rather than scurrying to the sea via the swollen rivers. Will-o-the-wisps of mist ease out of the dark slopes. I have to concentrate to see the upward motion. Watch a little hole in the mist, or a curl on the edge. Slowly, ever so slowly, the mist rises until it dissipates. It just plain disappears. If I just glance off into the distance, I see pockets of mist. Five minutes later the impression is the same, but in actuality the scene has changed. The sun has moved to a different slope, a different will-o-the-wisp rises.

Now we are looking across the flat valley that holds the town of Grants Pass, looking west towards several ridges and west towards the hidden sun. Rays of run reach down onto a slope angled towards the sun. Out of the ridge erupts an ethereal cloud, the biggest yet. The backlit mist is brilliant white, so white it blocks parts of the ridge behind.

But not for long. Clouds shift and smother the ridge in grayness again. The mist dissipates and the far off trees come back into focus. New pockets of mist start to rise in new places.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Foraging for Dinner

Acron Woodpecker

An acorn woodpecker pounds and probes deep into the rotten wood of an old oak. We see him nab a grub and move on to repeat the process. Usually life is a little easier for him at this time of year. He is working on a dead limb that is part of one of the two granary trees this colony uses. Most years the half dozen woodpeckers that live in this little canyon will have harvested thousands of acorns and put each in its own hole. They save energy by using the same granary tree year after year. Last March a high percentage of the holes in this tree were still full. There had been plenty of acorns for the whole winter and more.

But this year the acorn crop was exceptionally poor. During the summer I searched the surrounding trees with my binoculars and could see just a few acorns. For awhile the granary tree held a few acorns from the new crop, but it is already empty. Fortunately the woodpeckers eat other things too … grubs, insects, other seeds, but acorns are their primary winter food. Already most of the woodpeckers are gone from this canyon. I can only hope they are foraging elsewhere. I even had one at my feeder the other day. He was helping himself to my sunflower seeds.

An acorn woodpecker in happier days. This is one of my illustrations from “Birds of Oregon: A General Reference.”