Pecking Order

Pecking Order
Pecking Order

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Some Old Friends

The title of this post has a double meaning.  These photos were taken by some old, and I do mean OLD friends, (they got old, I did not) and the subject matter are old friends from the past as well.
The bird above is a sub-adult Cooper's Hawk in a Palo Verde tree in Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona. The photo was taken by Maggie who has contributed many photos to this blog in the past. Before moving to Alaska I lived in Lakeside, AZ for 19 years. It was there that I met Maggie, who was the High School Art teacher on the Apache Reservation in Whiteriver. Now she lives in Tucson and is a volunteer naturalist in Sabino Canyon.
There are no Cooper's Hawks in Alaska, and they are one of many species that I miss seeing.
Are rattlesnakes old friends? You bet they are. I really miss them and I have gotten out of the habit of watching where I step since there are no snakes in Alaska. Maggie photographed this Western Diamondback in Sabino Canyon. she did not get too close to it. Diamondbacks play for keeps. they are far more pugnacious than any of the other species of rattlesnake that I have encountered, (and I have interacted with many species of rattlesnake).
The rattle and the diamondback's famous, 'coon tail'. Some other species of rattlesnake also have ringed tails that are similar.
Once I encountered a Western Diamondback at a place called Seven Mile Wash. I saw it at the same time that it saw me. We were about 15', (that's 5 meters) apart. The 3' long snake threw itself into a defensive coil and started striking at me from that distance. It struck at me with such vigor that it threw its whole body forward with each strike. In three lightning fast strikes it had covered half the distance between us. then it stopped and held its ground. I realized that I better be on my toes or it could be in striking distance in another heartbeat if I was not careful. Too bad I did not have a camera with me at the time, but I have plenty of other diamondback photos anyway. I grabbed a stick and picked it up to show my friends who were nearby. It soon calmed down and we admired it for awhile, then let it go in peace.
Yesterday Maggie sent me this photo of a large Gila Monster in Sabino Canyon. Gila Monsters are also venomous but not nearly as dangerous as a diamondback. This was also in Sabino Canyon. She said that she also saw a large Gopher Snake and a Coachwhip, (Red Racer), but they moved too fast for a photo. To me, this lizard is like seeing a diamond necklace or a gold  nugget on the ground. Something of great value and beauty.
Maggie nicknamed this one, 'Godzilla'.
This is an old friend that I do not miss. My friend Don from California sent this photo to me yesterday, along with some old stories from our childhood in Carpinteria involving Potato Bugs. I think that their proper name is Jerusalem Cricket. We called them Potato Bugs and they are big, fat, ugly, and they creep me out a little. Native Americans call them, 'Earth Children'. They bite, as both Don and I can attest, but they are not poisonous. 
I look forward to more of these kinds of photos from both Maggie and Don.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Feel of the Paint

The photo above is an extreme close up of my newest effort. The varnish is still drying on this one. If you cannot yet tell, the bird is a Sandhill Crane. I like these highly magnified photos because they show the raw texture of the acrylic paint that I use in my paintings.

Adding my signature is the last step in the painting process. Some paintings are so bad that I do not ever sign them. In fact I have signed many paintings in the past that I wish I had never signed. 
I was happy to sign this one. Whether I paint well or totally fail to achieve the results that I desired, I am compelled to keep at it.
Why do I keep painting no matter what? It is the love of the process of creating something using just clumsy brushes and a few basic colors. There is joy in mixing and applying colors and feeling the painting slowly come to life. It is intoxicating to me. It is in some way a very selfish act.
There is nothing intellectual about it for me. My head is full of incoherent mush. It is all organic emotion, satisfaction, creation. Something beyond just me.
This particular painting started out with me trying to create the look of snow covered mountains soaring up into the clouds. It is a look that I have revisited many times in earlier paintings.
The interesting challenge of it is to paint a flat background and create the look of atmosphere, contours and depth using only snow.
Sandhill Cranes are also interesting to paint because of the subtle tonal variety, and texture of their plumage.
There are two main cranes in this painting with flying cranes in the background.
So finally, this is the whole painting. It is 16x20". I am proud of it. For now anyway.
This photo was taken in a different light. What should I name it? Niel Young did an album called, 'Ragged Glory'. I like that name but I already used it as a title for another painting. The ruffled feathers at the tail end of the cranes reminds me of feather dusters. Feather Dusters is also the title of another painting. How about, 'Ruffled Glory'? No, that's stupid. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Some Recent Activities

The best thing ever; Spring is springing, (a little at a time). There is open water in a few spots, like Spenard Crossing.
But not so fast. Most of the lakes are still frozen over. It is solid enough that airplanes can still land on them. 
The word has spread among bush pilots about all the fun that Scott Christy and crew have been having on the outer coast of the Kenai.
Scott's wife Jean gets towed on a makeshift sled. The temperature was in the mid-forties farenheit, warm by our standards for this time of year. Soon it will be unsafe to use skis, or wheels on the planes when they land on the lakes.
The ice formations keep changing shape over the course of the Winter.
Jean shows off her ice axes.
Now back to Spenard Crossing. I managed to go by there on Wednesday. At one end there was a sliver of open water. We saw Mallards, Common Mergansers, and a few Buffleheads. There were some gulls just off the coast, but the Canada Geese have not made it up here yet. Any day now.
This is the best photo I could get of a male Common Merganser.
I tried to get some decent photos of the Common Mergansers who were demonstrating courtship behavior. As is typical with mergansers, the males kept their distance while the females boldly came closer.
This is a better photo of the Nyala painting. I still do not know which painting I will enter into the Artists for Conservation show.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Singing In the Spring

A few years ago I photographed the singing, (calling) male, Golden-crowned Sparrow in the photo above. It was high up in Turnagain Pass on the Kenai Peninsula. The month was June but Spring comes very late to the high country.
Golden-crowned Sparrows are large sparrows that breed in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. They have a simple but elegant three note call, not unlike the territorial call of a Black-capped Chickadee.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week I did not feel like sitting down to paint after work. I had the day off on Wednesday so I got started on this 9x12" painting. I worked about an hour on Thursday and again on Friday. Today I worked another three or four hours and it was finished. That is fast for me these days although it was my typical fast pace in past years.
I am still toying with a possible name for it. 'Singing in the Spring', 'Calling for the Spring', 'Joyful Spring'. Something along those lines. Any ideas out there?
Now I am going to sit down to a nice dinner of home made Kalua Pork that my Samoan neighbor just brought me. YUM!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Undertaker and the Nyala

When I lived in Eagle River a few years ago I went for a short walk through my neighborhood with my camera. Half a block from my house I shot this reference photo with the idea of using it in some future painting.
This is the first painting that I did using the photo. A Snowshoe Hare, 8x10". Clearly I paid no attention to the the size ratio between the hare and the rest of its surroundings. I figured that the viewer would have no way of knowing how much I changed the composition from the original photo.
'Meet the Undertaker', 16x20". Wolverines are the scourge of many animals in the northern wilderness. They even drive wolves and bears from their kills.
I finished this painting last Monday. It took six days, working a few hours each day.
A close up of the fat Wolverine in its thick Winter coat.
This is the painting that I just finished today. Nyala - alayN, 11x14". The actual painting is darker that this photo indicates, blame Blogger for changing the photo when I uploaded it. In the painting, the female in the back is in deeper shadow and much less visible than in the photo. Why did Blogger change this photo but not the Wolverine photos? This painting also took only six days to paint.
Anyway, Nyala were the most impressive of the antelope species that I saw in Africa. Very beautiful animals.
Next month is the deadline for entering the big, Artists for Conservation show in Vancouver B.C. I intend to enter one of these paintings into the show. Which painting do you think I should enter? I will post better photos of both paintings when I get them professionally photographed.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Into the Wild

Scott Christy and Mark Clark took a wilderness journey along the outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula. First they flew over to Big Johnstone Lake, (above). They had to wait weeks for the weather to be stable enough to fly.
The next challenge was to find a safe place to land the airplane on the frozen lake.
They survived the landing, put on their skis and set off into the frozen landscape.
It's all pretty to look at, but so cold. They kept warm through the physical exertion of cross country skiing.
They came across these Wolverine tracks. Right now I am painting a 16x20" Wolverine between uploading these photos.
You can't help but wonder about the forces of nature that resulted in an abstract sculpture like this. What a playground.
My guess is that the fierce winds of the Kenai's outer coast had a lot to do with these ice formations. It is stormy most of the time. That is why no one lives there.
So beautiful it kind of feels sacred.
A great day out in the wild. Mark and Scott had to hurry back to the plane ahead of an approaching fog bank. It would not be a good place to be stranded for who knows how long?
In the meantime my friend Gary has been down in Washington State. He went to the Skagit Valley were he saw hundreds of thousands of Snow Geese and other waterfowl. They will be headed up to Alaska in about another month.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Featherweights and Heavyweights

The varnish is still wet on this, my latest painting. Featherweights, 10x8". The birds are Common Redpolls enduring a typical Winter's day.
This is a better photo of the last painting, Tundra Blonde, 14x11". Obviously it is the 'heavyweight' of the post title.
The rest of this post will cover a basic overview of my introduction to photography. Just a way to flesh out this post.
Recently one of my childhood friends reconnected with me. That is him with the snakes in the old photo above. By the way, he kept one of those snakes as a pet and it lived for 25 years. His name is Don, for years he thought I was dead. The other boy is Bobby and we have lost contact with him. We all lived in Carpinteria, California.
Both Donny and Bobby had Kodak instamatic cameras which they used to document our favorite activity, catching snakes. Those are Gopher snakes in the photo.
This is my current inventory of cameras, excluding the Sony Cybershot that I used to take this picture.
Anyway, back to my childhood; I wanted my own camera to take photos of the reptiles that I was obsessed with in my youth. I knew absolutely nothing about cameras and although I wanted one; it was not bad enough to lay out actual cash for one. My parents never felt that it was something that was important enough to buy for me. I could save my money and get my own if I was serious about photography.
My first camera was a 35mm, Canon TL or TX, whatever it was. I got it from a pawn shop when I was about 18. It did not even have a light meter but I did not know that there was such a thing as a light meter. When I bought my first roll of film I pulled the film out of the roll and asked my father how I was supposed to load it into the camera. He showed me how it was done and tried to explain about film speed, aperture and shutter speed. I understood none of it.
If one half of the photos of a developed roll of film came out as something recognizable I was happy. When I was twenty, someone with enough patience was able to sit me down and explain basic camera function in a way that I could grasp it.
I lost the first Canon in Mexico and my next camera was a used Pentax K1000. It had a match needle metering system. Very simple to use. I used that camera until it fell apart. Then I got a Practika which soon died. Then a Yashica which I hated, then a Konica FS-1, that broke about a day after the warranty expired.
The next camera is the one in the photo above; A Canon AE-1 Program. It still works. At the time I got it in the 1980's, I thought it was the ultimate camera. You could set the control dial on program and forget about the exposure.  
Camera technology advanced and I just had to have a Canon T-70 that had a built in motor drive. It did not last long so I went back to the AE-1 program until autofocus cameras came into vogue.
I upgraded to the camera above, a Minolta XTsi. Autofocus, motor drive, auto film load, rewind, ASA etc. I was perfectly happy with it. I fully intended for this to be my final camera unless it broke, which it never did.
By the time I got this camera, digital cameras were taking over the market.
I did not care about digital cameras but film became harder and harder to find. Photography magazines only talked about digital cameras. Even Luddites like me eventually get dragged into the modern world.
I bought my first digital camera, (above) at the same time that I ought my first PC. It is a Lumix FZ-30. After about a week of learning to use it, I realized that I would never go back to film photography again. It was vastly superior to film cameras. My first one gb memory card cost 90 dollars. (How times have changed.) It broke in Ecuador. My own perspiration shorted it out.
I brought the FZ30 into a photo repair shop and learned that it would cost as much as a new camera to fix it. So I ordered a new one. By then the next generation had come out, FZ-50, (above), ten megapixels instead of 8. This is a truly great camera as far as I am concerned. I dropped it into the water in Peru but it still works.
I do not know why I felt the need to get this Fujifilm HS10 which I wrote about in the last post. It must have just been the more powerful zoom that tempted me. It is better than the Lumix.
My current favorite camera, the HS50. It may be a bit self indulgent to go over a subject like my old cameras, but I see one purpose of this blog to be a sort of (public) personal journal. I will never be likely to write any other kind of autobiography. It was fun to reminisce about old cameras.