Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Friday, July 27, 2012

Something Different

Okay bird experts, what is it? It is something that I have never painted before.
Another one.
This is the entire painting, 8x10". These are the rarest of the alcids, a group of chunky seabirds that includes the puffins. These guys occur only in the outer Aleutian Islands, and I believe the Kuril Islands as well. They are Whiskered Auklets.
The pair in this painting are getting a running start across the surface of the water before take off. Flight is difficult when you have such comparatively tiny wings.

Right now is prime southward migration time for shorebirds. I rode my bicycle along the coastal trail to check them out. This is a view of downtown Anchorage at high tide.

There were many hundreds of the usual suspects, mostly Short-billed Dowitchers, like these at Westchester.
A lesser number of Hudsonian Godwits as usual, and very few smaller peeps.
Most of the Bonaparte's Gulls were still in their breeding plummage.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The New One

This is an old photo of a Pygmy Nuthatch that I shot in Lakeside, Arizona back in the 1980's. It is the basis for my new painting.

The most obvious alteration that I made was to change the species. It is now a Red-breasted Nuthatch. In my opinion it's not as cute as a Pygmy Nuthatch, but more strikingly marked and colorful.
The whole painting is only 8x10".
A closer photo of the nuthatch. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with these 4.5" long birds, they hitch up and down tree trunks, probing the bark for insects. They also eat seeds, and store them under tree bark, and other crevasses to help them get through the harsh winter.
They move at a frenetic pace, and are confiding around people. Their simple call has a very nasal quality to it. They excavate nest cavities just like woodpeckers.
This is a close photo of the last painting that I forgot to include in the last post. This painting has good atmosphere, and fine detail that does'nt show well in photos. So far I have decided to keep it as is.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Building a Bear

Last Friday I was kicking around for ideas to inspire a new painting. In a photo album I came across this photo. I was standing on my balcony in Eagle River several years ago, taking random photos of the Fall colors.
One problem that I encountered was trying to control the strong contrasr between sunlit foliage set against a shadowy background. The leaves were coming out too bright and washed out if I exposed for the overall scene. I had to greatly underexpose the background in order to make the leaves look right.
I like the way this photo looks, and I was wondering what kind of critter would look best in a scene like this. Some kind of bird, maybe an owl? How about a Mammal like a squirrel or a Pine Marten? These are good ideas, but I thought about doing something big like a Moose, Bear, lynx, or a wolf. Maybe it would look good if it was in brooding shadow behind the bright leaves.

A bear seemed like a good subject to put in the scene. This is the pose that I chose to work with.

The first step was to grab a 12x16" gessoboard, sketch out the bear, and lay down a foundation of paint.
Next thing was to put some texture into the dark background. I chose to use Alder branches. I did'nt even bother with details like foliage.
At this stage I did add some detail to the Alder branches. I put some light highlights on the branches, and I put in some dark mottling.
Now it was time to lay down some paint on to the bear itself. What a mess. The painting looks hopelessly bad at this stage.
Some much needed refinements on the bear. It still looks, not too good.
So, the bear is now good enough, (barely) to leave, and start on the foreground.
At this stage I did some more refinements to the bear, that did'nt help, and started adding highlights to the foreground vegetation.

The finished product, A Big Ol Bear, 12 x16". The painting is too dark, and looks nothing like what I invisioned. I was afraid to make the bear even darker in order to recreate the lighting of the original photo. I made the Birch tree as bright as I could make the paint be, although this photo does'nt adequately show it.
Maybe I'll rework the tree to make it more dominant in the painting. The leaves should span the whole painting. Would that help, or ruin the whole thing? Time will help me decide whether to make changes or not.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Looking Towards the Sea

Looking Towards the Sea, 16x12". The hardest thing about doing yet another puffin painting is coming up with a title that I have'nt used before. The last painting took two or three weeks to paint, This one took about a day and a half. I like the way it turned out with the nice atmosphere. These are Tufted Puffins.
A close up of the painting.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Sandhill Strut

This is a detail of the painting on canvas that has kept me busy for the last few weeks. It looks very rough and crude when it is magnified this much. The actual Sandhill's head is only about an inch long.
Photos of Sandhill Cranes along the coastal trail are what I used to inspire this painting. Compare this bird's head with the top photo. You can see that I interpreted the reference photos very loosely.
I started out with the intention of using this bird as the most prominent bird in the painting. Somehow it ended up being the least significant of the cranes in the painting. Maybe I'll do justice with it next time around.
You can see it here, reversed and behind another crane.
Two more cranes that were incorporated into the painting.
The elongated feathers on their rumps were interesting to paint.
Another pose that interested me.
The photo that inspired the previous crane. It actually inspired the whole mood of the paining. This bird is a juvenile. I changed it to an adult.
The entire bird. It turned out well enough, though less detailed than the photo that inspired it.
So, here is the whole thing put together. The Sandhill Strut, 12x24". All the while as I have been working on this, I have considered making many alterations like adding more vegetation. Or maybe I should put a pale wash over the whole thing to create atmosphere. How about a warm glaze to increase color saturation.
I am hesitant to add washes or glazes because they can suck all the vibrancy out of a painting. For now I'll leave it as is, to see if it works for me over time. What do you think?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Smackdown for Misfits

This morning, (Saturday) I walked up to this group of people and said, "Now here is a motley looking bunch of....".  Before I could finish the sentence Aaron Bowman finished it for me, "losers" he joked. No one was offended, Anchorage Audubon is used to, (merits?) such labels.
We were all gathered in the parking lot next to Westchester Lagoon for the annual Audubon Smackdown. It is a semi-childish contest where teams search the area to see who can tally the most species of birds. I joined up with three women on the team called, Three Wild Chicks, or something to that effect. All of the  8 teams had suitably silly names.
Our first bird of the day was also the closest to us. This newly independent Mew Gull.
Today was an unusually high tide, 30+ feet. It pushed many shorebirds from the coast, over to Westchester. These are just a few of hundreds of Short-billed Dowitchers. There were also, Hudsonian Godwits, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and a few Surfbirds. There were Herring Gulls snatching shorebirds from the air.
There were loads of ducklings, like these baby Shovelers following their mother.
Here, a mama American Widgeon protects her brood from a hazardous world.
Earlier this Summer I kept seeing a Sandhill Crane on Fish Creek. I speculated that it had a mate somewhere nearby, sitting on eggs. Today my hunch was confirmed. There were two adult Sandhills with a precious youngster in tow.
Young Sandhill Cranes are known as colts. Let's hope that it will soon be too big for an eagle to grab. I am torn between the desire to go back, and try to get closer photos, or leave the birds plenty of space.
There were dozens of these swallows beside the Coastal Trail. At first I was confused about their identity. The collar on some of the birds made me wonder if they could be juvenile Bank Swallows. The sheer numbers of them made that unlikely.
When I got home and checked my field guides, I realized that they are juvenile, Tree Swallows.
These youngsters are so cute when they puff up their feathers.
I managed to catch this, White-crowned Sparrow just after it had scratched it's neck.
At the end of the day, all the teams met to compare sightings, and eat a scrumptuous lunch. The top three teams got some nifty, and quirky prizes. Aaron Bowman's team took top honors. Naturally, he is Audubon's Field Trip Leader, and a phenomenal birder.  Our team did not shine today. We came in 6th. Oh well, we sure had some geeky fun.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Walking into Paradise

On Saturday, Audubon Alaska and the Matsu Bird Club put together an event to get more people involved with ebird. The idea was to host a field trip to Mud, and Jim Lakes, then to move over to the Palmer Public Library and show everyone how to upload our trip report to ebird.
I already did a post about ebird, (use this blog's search engine to read about it), and since I regularly use ebird, I was mostly interested in the birding.
Mud Lake certainly does not sound too paradaisical, but I had never visited it or adjacent Jim Lake. The area has recently been designated an Important Bird Area. I've heard about the two lakes for years, but did'nt know how to get to them. Thankfully most other people dont know how to get there either.

Mud and Jim lakes are outside of Palmer, and reached by passing through some very lush forest habitat. The forest was loaded with calling birds and biting mosquitos. A new thing that I learned was that the area is the northernmost known range of the Song Sparrow. The local Song Sparrows are very dusky in comparison to typical Song Sparrows.

Along with two Song Sparrows, we were accompanied for a short time by a few White-crowned Sparrows.
At first I thought that this bird was another Song Sparrow, but after I shot a quick photo I realized that it was a juvenile, Common Redpoll. There were also many, Varied, Hermit, and Swainson's Thrushes, Robins, lots of warblers, some woodpeckers, a hare, and even a wolf which I did'nt see. Plenty of other things as well.
The forest was also full of many beautiful flowers like these Chiming Bells being visited by a small butterfly. It was barely half an inch long.
A wild columbine, it's a common sight, but always a welcome one.
This is a type of Wintergreen called, Pink Pyrola. The white fuzz is Black Cottonwood fluff, (seeds).
If there ever was a place that was misnamed, it is Mud Lake. The place is glorious. The day was also gorgious even though the weather lady predicted heavy overcast with scattered showers.
This is nearby Jim Lake. I think that the two lakes are connected.
The trip was being led by Aaron Bowman, the uppermost person in the photo. There would have been more people, but many people were no doubt intimidated by the task of having to learn about ebird.
I saw my first Belted Kingfisher of the year. Also my first Ringnecked Ducks, Yellow Warblers, and Northern Waterthrush. There were Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Lesser Scaup, Common and Barrow's Goldeneyes with young, Herring and Bonaparte's Gulls, etc.
The stars of the lakes were some Trumpeter Swans.
After the great morning of birding, we went to Vagabond Blues in Palmer for lunch, and then to the library to learn how to do ebird.