Wilson's Snipe

Wilson's Snipe
In Quiet Solitude

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Snow in the Sagelands

A few weeks ago I posted this sketch of a Mule Deer in the Sagebrush. Since then I have been working on the painting whenever I could find some time. There were technical issues with it that I discussed in the earlier post. Mostly because I wanted to do a less conventional composition, but that seems to be beyond my limited imagination.
I had more enthusiasm for this one than I have had for most of my paintings in recent years. That does not mean that I did a better job than usual. These things seem to be beyond my conscious control.
I had a distinctive idea in my mind of how I wanted this painting to look. Right away I started facing challenges in trying to control the paint so that it would look the way I invisioned it as being. That problem is the norm with most of my attempts to paint. I know where I want to go with the paint, I just don't know how to get there.
This is the entire painting, 16x20". To me it does not look so very bad; it just does not look crisp and pristine the way I wanted it to look. The story of my life, I never get things the way I imagine, but I am grateful for the good things that I do achieve artistically. Once upon a time I would have been overjoyed to do a painting that looked like this.
My attitude may seem to be very sour and in this instance, that is intentional. I cannot improve if I am not ruthlessly critical of my own artwork. At least this one does not make me cringe..... yet.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Wally and Micki in Thailand

I will start this post with a little history. Back in 1997, when I moved from Arizona to Alaska, Wally Macpherson and his Thai wife Micki were among the first people who befriended me. They invited me over for dinner often. I must admit that I had never tasted Thai food before that, (delicious), and I knew nothing about Thailand.
Wally first hired Micki, whose real name is Grongsri, to take care of his ailing mother. Eventually they ended up getting married. She is a wonderful cook, like most Thai people as far as I can tell.
While we ate her great cooking at their house, they would tell me all about Thailand. That planted a seed in my head. Before then I never seriously planned on travelling anywhere outside the Americas.
Eventually when Wally retired they moved to Micki's hometown of Nakhon Phanom, in Northeast Thailand. It is on the banks of the Mekong River, across from Laos. 
They immediately began encouraging me to come over to visit them. Which I did, twice, for a month or longer each time.
The photo above is my favorite part of Thailand, Khao Sok. Not quite as hot as most of Thailand.
The photo above is Wally at Ayutthaya, north of Bangkok. This is a third generation copy of a 35mm slide.
While standing next to a lake with Wally and his stepson Pbum, and Gary, Wally pointed to this and said, "what is that?" At first glance I thought it was a huge turtle. Then I realized that it was something poking its head out of a mostly buried drainage pipe. My next thought was, crocadile, but immediately I recognized that it was a large, (2m) Water Monitor. We saw many on that day.
Another third generation photo of Wally near his home in Nakhon Phanom.

Wally and Micki all dressed up for church. 
In recent years they have both been beset by serious health challenges. Micki has battled Malignant Lymphoma for years, while Wally tried to hide his Prostate Cancer.
Wally and Micki came back to Alaska several times to see friends and family. The photo above is Wally in Hatcher Pass on their last visit.
Anyway it was inevitable that they would lose their battles eventually. Last week, Micki finally succumbed to her cancer and Wally followed three days later. Their suffering is mercifully over.
It was a privilege for me to know them.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Some Recent Efforts

A year or so ago I photographed this cute, Black-capped Chickadee on the coastal trail. I knew that it was only a matter of time before I incorporated it into a painting.
Last Wednesday I completed this 8x10" acrylic. Nothing fancy, but it will do. The tree is an Alder Tree. They do not achieve bright colors in the Fall, just brown.
On Thursday I came up with an idea for a Mule Deer painting, 16x20", that might have some real potential. It will be set in snow covered, sagebrush habitat. There were some technical details that I had to work out before I was satisfied with the basic composition.
I spent a couple of days gathering reference photos, then sketching, then erasing the sketch until I could get it to an acceptable state. The whole challenge was finding a balance between the desired horizon line, (closer to the top of the design), and the relative size of the deer with the bushes. I wanted to push the horizon line even higher but then I could not fit the antlers in without making the deer too small in proportion to the sagebrush. This design is the best compromise that I could manage.
It has been well over a decade since I have painted a 'Mulie". At least that long since I have seen one.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Something Old, Something Less Old

I showed this painting of Black-headed Parrots a few weeks ago. This painting, 14x11", was completed shortly after a trip that Gary and I took to Ecuador some years ago. It has been sitting unsold in Gary's art gallery, 'The Sea Lion' until he recently returned it to me.
I felt that I could improve it without too much trouble. The main  changes I made were to lighten up the upper right corner of the background, and to add a few more leaves along the left side of the painting. I hardly touched the birds themselves.
The actual painting is more richly colored than these photos indicate.
In other news I recently changed jobs and now I work at the Bureau of Land Management in their Civil Rights Dept. It is still just lowly data entry etc that I do for them, but I have my own office.
Another good thing is that I recently sold this 18x24" painting called, Feather Dusters to the impressive Pratt Museum in Homer. Somewhere along the way the painting's title got changed to, Graduation. They liked the painting because it shows the transitional stages of a Bald Eagle from juvenile to adult.
I also won the People's Choice award at the Hummingbird Festival in Ketchikan earlier this summer. I sold a lot of paintings this summer but I have painted very little new work. I need to get busy.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Brooks Camp and back

We left off the last post with this mama bear and cub walking along the far bank of the river mouth. They steadily came closer and I was thrilled.
I love the way that the cub mimics its mother stride for stride in this photo. They kept coming closer.
Then they entered the water and the park ranger with us started warning us to get ready to move. I completely ignored him.
The mama bear kept dipping her head underwater, searching for salmon. The cub dutifully followed.
At this point the ranger started ordering us to retreat. I was so intent on getting photos that his words were merely annoying, like a mosquito buzzing in my ear.
At this point the ranger was nearly apoplectic. I told him to relax but moved back anyway. He led us all the way back into the trees where we could no longer see the bears. I thought that it was an even more dangerous situation because we could not see where the bears were, but I did not waste my breath arguing with him. The bears were not concerned with us at all.
All too soon it was time for us to leave. On the way back we passed by another active volcano, Mt. Augustine. It forms its own island.
I had bears and salmon on my mind as we flew along the coast of Cook Inlet. We were too high up to see bears but I imagined that this stream was full of salmon, with many big bears catching them.
Another large green meadow that must be prime habitat for Brown Bears. There were no roads to be seen anywhere.
Eventually we crossed Cook Inlet and passed by the mouth of the Kenai River. You can easily see all the cars in this photo, but look closely, there were thousands of people standing in the water. These are dip netters. The Kenai River is famous for combat fishing. That is where hundreds of fishermen stand shoulder to shoulder catching salmon.
Dip netters have a net, about six feet, (two meters) in diameter attached to the end of a pole. They wear hip waders and walk out into the calm surf to snag passing salmon. Each person generally takes home 30 or 40 fish for the freezer. That speaks to the immense number of migrating salmon. This has been going on for decades and the fish still keep on coming. Only the Chinook, (King) Salmon numbers are declining. There are strict controls on fishermen regarding King Salmon.
I think that I will go on another bear viewing trip next Summer. Maybe back to Brooks Camp, maybe to another location. I can hardly wait.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Brooks Camp

Our saga continued with our arrival at Brooks Camp on the shore of Naknek Lake. We were led from the shore into a small log cabin for orientation.  The rules were; no food inside our packs, nor inside the guest cabins. All meals were to be eaten inside a picnic area behind an electric fence. Stay at least 50 yards, (meters) from all bears, 100 yards from bears with cubs.
.There were at least a dozen park rangers placed in strategic locations around the camp. The young woman in the photo above was gesturing for us to hurry and catch up with this bear before it got away.
Actually she was warning us to get back and give the bear more space. Notice the bear spray on her hip. I left mine at home because I never remember to take it anywhere.
The first bear soon left and we continued on down the path which paralleled the lakeshore before it turned inland. There was another distant bear fishing in the lake.
The path led for about three quarters of a mile before we came to Brooks Falls. They are not too impressive from this vantage but they are world famous. I believe that almost everyone in the developed world has seen photos of the bears catching salmon from these falls.
There are two viewing platforms overlooking the falls. Unfortunately there were well over 100 people there when I arrived. The upper platform, which is closest to the falls, has a 40 person limit. I waited for an hour and a half for a turn before I gave up on the idea of photographing bears from the upper platform. All of my photos are from the lower platform, 100 yards away from the falls.
It was a hot day by Alaska standards and most of the bears were absent. There were only two dominant males at the falls during my stay, and one of them stayed out of view from my angle.
I was too far away to get spectacular shots of salmon leaping into the jaws of hungry bears. This fat bear just stood below the falls and would casually reach down and grab a salmon at its feet.
The bear would hold the fish in one paw and gulp it down in a few bites. I must admit that I was disappointed by the lack of drama and my inability to get close enough for my satisfaction. I shot these photos over the shoulders of shorter people. It was like a busy day at the zoo.
Soon enough I left the falls and walked back to the lakeshore. That is where the less dominant bears were found. This sow with her cub came swimming to the shore from somewhere in the lake.
There were about a dozen other people next to me and one ranger, but at least I had unobstructed, if distant, views of these bears. Much better than the madhouse at the falls.
I shot many photos of this pair.
The bears were slowly moving closer and I was happy for the photographic opportunity.
More photos to come from Brooks Camp in the next post.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Journey to the Katmai

 Early in the morning last Wednesday I arrived at the float plane airport of Lake Hood in Anchorage. That is where I climbed into the co-pilot seat of a De Havilland, Beaver that was built in the early 1950's. The pilot was a seasoned bush pilot called, 'Hennie". The seats behind us were taken by a pair of young lawyers from Miami, two women who were friends, one from Seattle, the other from Anchorage, and the back seat was occupied by an Israeli man who barely spoke English. We were all excited to get into the air.
We were off and over the city. Then we headed West, over the mudflats, ( light green strip in the photo above) and across Turnagain Arm.
Shortly we were across Turnagain Arm and flying over the boggy flatlands of the Kenai Wildlife Refuge.
We pointed the floatplane in the general direction of Mt. Iliamna as we headed across Cook Inlet.
On the way we passed Mt. Redoubt, an active volcano that frequently coats Anchorage in a layer of ash.
A little over an hour later and we were getting close to Ilamna, which is also an active volcano.
The light brown color in the center of this photo is evidence of a recent lava flow.
Soon we were passing by Ilamna and headed into an immensity of wilderness.
There was no evidence that humans had ever traversed this grand landscape. The pristine mountains went on forever.
We stayed close to Cook Inlet, and its deep blue waters.
You cannot help but wonder about what lies hidden within the folds of these rugged  mountains? I could not tell where the boundaries of Katmai National Park began, or who owned the surrounding lands?
The pilot was not lost as we turned inland, away from Cook Inlet, and reassured us that soon enough, we would be arriving  at our destination. Did we dare to set down anywhere in this inhospitable land?
After about three and a half hours the rugged mountains receded and we could see our touch down point, Naknek Lake.
You will have to wait until the next post to see what we were doing at Naknek Lake. We were not there to fish even though the fishing there is considered to be world class.