Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Do-over, + More

Back in 2002, I was comissioned to do a raven painting. The family who comissioned me wanted me to make it a winter scene, with the ravens fluffed up against the cold. I don't remember if they wanted the ravens to be eating Mountain Ash berries, or if that was my idea. This 16x20" painting is what I came up with.
I was not thrilled with the results, and they were too polite to say that they did'nt like it either. A few weeks ago, I ran into them again at a wedding reception. They mustered the courage to suggest I try to make the ravens fluffier.
The problem is that it's difficult to get good reference photos of fluffy ravens. Even on the coldest days, they dont puff up like smaller birds do. I spent a lot of time re-working this one. I did'nt even try to puff up the bottom raven.  Does it look any better? I honestly cant tell. This photo does not show the highlights in the bird's eyes, but they are there in the actual painting. When the varnish dries, I'll call the painting's owners, and I hope they are satisfied with the changes I made. I cannot say that I am.
Here are some more of my old, Arizona paintings. This is a Marsh Wren. I think it was 10x24". It was inspired by the first Marsh Wren I ever saw, perched on frost covered reeds at Pintail Lake. I like it.
The local chipmunk species in the White Mountains where I lived, were Cliff Chipmunks. They eat a lot of Pinyon nuts, and juniper berries. I kept one for a pet. It was probably the most delightful pet I ever owned. A very intelligent creature. It used to sneak out of the house every day, and return with it's cheeks bulging with little pebbles. It would then deposit a small pile of pebbles underneath every pillow in the house. I would throw them out, and they would be replaced every day. It often taunted the neighborhood cats.
The area where I lived was of volcanic origin. A common type of rock around there was called Malapai.  The biggest species of lizard was Collared Lizard. I loved them, and I really miss seeing them. This is a male and female. They run on their hind legs, like little dinosaurs.
I lived in a semi-rural setting. My neighbors were displeased with me because I conducted an experiment to see how many years it would take for native plants to re-establish themselves if I did absolutely nothing to maintain my yard.
After about a decade my yard looked like this, great habitat for sparrows, like this White-crowned Sparrow. I used to tell people that my yard looked so much better than theirs. They did not agree.
This painting was a Gouache, painted entirely from the weeds growing in my yard.
There was lots of Native American, (Mogollon culture) pottery shards lying around. This is a Pinyon Mouse utilizing some of it.
A robin family that I observed and photographed next to the Little Colorado River.
The Az. Dept. of Game & Fish used to bring me orphaned and injured critters to rehabilitate, like this very onry Goshawk. It sunk it's long talons into my flesh, but I got good reference photos in the bargain. I have used this same pose in two different paintings. The painting above was 20x16, or 24x18".
The second version, painted here in Alaska, looks better to me. It is much smaller, 8x10, or 9x12", I dont remember for sure. It's raining.

A small study of a Steller's Jay. I used to see these guys everyday in Az. I only see them once or twice a month around here.
Another goache painting. Bald Eagles occur in the White Mountains, but they are much harder to approach  there, than the local Bald Eagles hereabouts.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More Africa

There are so many good photos from South Africa that I have not yet posted, I feel almost obligated to share them. This Long-crested Eagle for example. I hope these endless posts dont become too tiresome.
I like the contours of the muddy river bank in this photo. The birds are Egyptian Geese.
A mature Leopard Tortoise loses much of it's rich color with age. In this case, the tortoise's faded colors match it's background almost perfectly.
At one of the rest camps, there was a water feature that drew in many birds, like this African Masked Weaver, (left) and Greater Blue-eared Starling.

Another species visiting the water feature, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver.
In a nearby tree I was able to photograph this attractive male, Diederik Cuckoo.
We had a difficult time identifying this cuckoo at first. Then we saw it being fed by a Common Bulbul, and we realized that it was a fledgeling Jacobin Cuckoo. They are nest parasites, mainly on Common Bulbuls.
Three African Pied Wagtails cavorting along a rocky river bottom. It's obvious that they spend a lot of time there.
This Striated, (Green) Heron fished nearby.
The female Red-backed Shrike looks like an entirely different species than the male.
A common bird that is very vocal, but hard to see and photograph, because it is such a skulker, Arrow-marked Babbler. They have a lot of personality in spite of their shy natures.
I kept pronouncing these guys the American way, Zee-bras. The local South Africans told me the correct pronunciation was, Zeh-bras. Potay-to, potah-to, get outta da road.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Going Tropical

Digging deeper into the vault of recently re-discovered slides, I found many photos of old paintings from my Arizona days that I had completely forgotten about. Taking in the large volume of artwork,  I can say that I make up in volume, what I lack in talent.
This is an 11x14" canvas I believe. The subject is a pair of Emerald Toucanets in Costa Rica.
Here is a fat Jaguar. It is probably an 18x24" canvas. Another one that had slipped from my memory until I saw the 35mm slide.
A better Jaguar painting. I remember more about this one. It is 15x30", and titled, Stepping Stones. If I were to do another version of this painting, I can think of some changes in perspective etc. that would greatly improve the composition. For instance, the waterfall would look so much more natural if it were curved, rather than a diagonal line as it is now, and toned down a little. The big tree in the foreground needs to be moved closer to the center. Someday I'll get around to it.
The field guide calls these birds, Blue-headed Parrots. In the pet trade, they are known as, Blue-headed Pionus. I have seen them in Costa Rica, and Peru. Wonderful birds. I forget the size and title of this painting. The blue in the photo is much flatter than it is in the actual painting, as I remember it.
A Hawaiian bird, Iiwi. Dont remember size or title.
I may have posted a photo of this 16x20"painting from Arizona days before. This is a better photo. This painting represented a new level of painting skill for me when I painted it. Much better than anything that came before. It sold fast.
This is a painting of a bird that I had long wanted to see in the wild, a Red-legged Honeycreeper, painted before I had actually seen one.
This was painted after I had seen the bird. We rode in a bus from the capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, to the tiny town of Fortuna. It rained the entire 5 hour trip. It was pouring hard when the bus dropped us off on the corner. We rushed over to the first hotel we could find, half a block away.
After we finished checking in and unpacking, I noticed that the rain had slacked off. I grabbed my binocs and decided to explore the neighborhood. Right across the street from the hotel, I saw a hummingbird visiting the flowers of a Hibiscus bush. It was a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Then I heard a sharp chip coming from inside the bush.
I peered into the dense bush and saw a male, Red-legged Honeycreeper. It took my breath away. A highlight of my birding carreer. They turned out to be very common in Fortuna.
I still have not done the bird justice in paint.
Another painting I did before actually seeing the bird in life, a Plate-billed Mountain Toucan. It was another milestone species when we saw them in Ecuador, what a thrilling bird, what an unsatisfactory painting of it.
I must have posted this painting before. We saw this Chestnut-crowned Antpitta, not far from the Mountain Toucans. I was relieved that it sold.
Another species that we saw in the same region of Ecuador, Ornate Flycatchers. I was certain that I would never be able to sell this 8x10" painting, so it got recycled. I would do many more tropical subjects, but I have no real venue for selling them.
One of the world's most spectacular birds, but a definite challenge to paint. The Resplendant Quetzal is a subject that deserves a better effort on my part. I do have an idea that I am developing in my head. We'll see if it ever comes to light.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Painting Waxwings & Some Found Art

There are three species of waxwings, Bombycillidae, in the world, all occuring in the Northern Hemisphere. They are closely related to the silky flycatchers, which contain four species, all restricted to the New World. The waxwings are, Cedar Waxwing, which occure over most of Canada, throughout North America, as far south as Costa Rica.
Bohemian Waxwing, which occurs in northern North America, and Northern Eurasia.
The final species is the Japanese Waxwing, which has a red, rather than yellow, tail tip. I would love to see some of them someday.
The only waxwings that I can remember painting are Bohemian Waxwings.  I had never seen until I came to Alaska. The waxwing painting above is 11x14", and was painted 14, or 15 years ago. It sold right away. I forget the title.
This painting, 20x16", came several years later. I never liked it, never displayed it, and I believe that I eventually painted over it. I have started a number of other waxwing paintings that I never bothered to finish. That is why I seldom post step by step tutorials of a painting's progress until after it is finished.
Another 16x20" waxwing painting that I was'nt too thrilled with. I did bring it to a gallery, but they refused to hang it. I can't remember whether I gave this one away, or painted over it. It is not  so very terrible, but not quite up to par. Notice that the bottom bird in this painting is the same bottom bird in the previous painting. I think I have painted a few other small waxwing paintings, but I never photographed them.
So this is the painting that has kept me busy for the past few weeks. It is probably my best, and certainly my biggest waxwing painting, 24x18". So far untitled.
It was inspired by a poor quality photo of some Bohemian Waxwings perched in a Birch Tree that had snapped some of it's branches off in high winds.
While I was gathering photos of old waxwing paintings for this post, I found a stash of old slides of paintings from pre-digital days. I scanned the slides, and now I have some material for future posts. The Kangaroo Rat is from my Arizona years.
I dont remember the title of this painting of Common Mergansers. It is 16x20".
Another old Arizona painting of a Humpback Whale. I dont remember the title, but it's also 16x20". I often painted Alaska subjects, even before I ever thought about moving to AK.

Another popular painting from the Arizona days. This is a poor quality photo, but I really liked this 8x10" Red Fox.
I dont remember the size, or the title of this painting of Evening Grosbeaks. I remember going into my neighbor's yard in Lakeside, AZ. to photograph the frosty cottonwood leaves and branches. The thermometer read, 0 degrees farenheit on that morning. Very cold for Arizona.
There is some minor excitment amoung birders in the nearby town of Palmer these days, because a male, Evening Grosbeak is being seen at someone's feeder. They normally dont occur anywhere around here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

More Good Things

" We set out before first light and enjoyed watching the world slowly brighten up in the warm colors of dawn. There was a distant group of Elephants that gradually materialized out of the shadows down in the river valley...."
" One of the big African animals that I most wanted to see was a rhinocerous. We finally got two of them when we spotted a female White Rhino with a growing calf. There were quite a distance from the road, but it was a great thrill to see them."
" We got another species of woodpecker in a fig tree. It was a female, Cardinal Woodpecker."
" The most common bird species in the fig trees were naturally, Common Bulbuls. One individual posed very well for me."
" Then came another striking, black and white bird. It had a red eye and a tuft of fluffy, white feathers on it's lower back. That tuft of feathers is the diagnostic field mark of the Southern Puffback. One of the many shrike relatives."
" I noticed a small accipiter fly into a tree very close to us. It was distracted by a large locust that it had just captured, so I was able to get very close to it. I shot many photos before I even started trying to figure out what it was.
Tom thinks it was an African Little Sparrowhawk. I thought it might be a Shikra. The field mark that distinguishes the two species is whether or not it has a banded, or plain upper tail. The photos I took do not show it's upper tail, but I'll take Tom's word that it is an African Little Sparrowhawk. That would make it a lifer for me."
Another look at a great little raptor.
" While we tried to eat breakfast at the outdoor dining area, we kept getting distracted by the fearless birds trying to share our food. The most bold species, were Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, and RED-WINGED STARLINGS. Some of them landed on the tables, and grabbed food off the plates as soon as we glanced away."

" Other predominate birds at Satara were some large, BURCHELL'S STARLINGS, and more Greater Blue-eared Starlings."
" Later, we saw a male, RED-BACKED SHRIKE, Grey Go-away Bird, Crowned Lapwings, Helmeted Guineafowl, and several things we could'nt see well enough to identify."
" Right near the road we stopped to admire an attractive, Crested Francolin. I got several photos before it wandered into thick vegetation."
" There were some small birds in  the dirt near the earthen dam. They turned out to be Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks. The males were very striking."