Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Shawangunk Grasslands

This past Saturday I went with the Waterman Bird Club to the Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge to look for Short-eared Owls. We got there at 3:30 in the afternoon, and it was already cold and windy. It got colder and windier as time went on, and I was really chilled by the time we left just after sunset. Apparently the owls are sometimes out early, but on Saturday none showed up until well after sunset when it was already getting almost too dark to see. We could see there long, white wings against the distant trees, but that was about it. However, until shortly after sunset, there were numerous Northern Harriers hunting low over the grass or flying high in the sky.

Sunday was warm, sunny, and only slightly breezy, so Stephen and I went back in the afternoon. I wanted to show him what a beautiful spot it is, nestled beneath the Gunks and spread out over 565 acres of beautiful grassland. We wandered around some of the trails and watched Harriers hunting and some perched calmly on posts or branches. The owls came out a bit earlier, though still not early enough for me to do any sketching. It was light enough, though, for me to see their large, floppy-looking wingbeats and the black markings on the wings. We also saw them hunting, flying low over the grasses like the harriers, repeatedly rising and dipping.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Year of Sweetness and Laughter: Happy Gotcha Day, Acadia!

One year ago today this sweet little imp joined our family.

Just a few days after she arrived here, when we were still keeping her confined to the laundry room when not supervised, Acadia figured out how to open the door at the top of the stairs in that photo-- climbing up the door jam, pressing the thumb latch, and, with all of her tiny six pounds, pushing open the solid wood door that tends to swing shut, then sauntering out as if cats open doors every day. We knew we were in for an interesting ride!

Acadia is still a sweet little imp, but now she also is the regal queen of the household.

She supervises all that happens here, including my artwork. When I'm painting in my studio, she is usually either purring on my lap or sitting on my table right next to my palette, watching every move I make, occasionally batting at my brushes while I'm using them. I have had to learn not to leave my brushes out, because loves to bat them off the table and carry them away. Once I left a kneaded eraser out, and when it disappeared I was afraid she'd eaten it. I was very thankful to find it down the hall, behind a door.

One of Acadia's favorite occupations is watching birds. She sits on the windowsills in my studio or the kitchen watching "Kitty TV," occasionally trying to enter into the show she's watching by leaping at the birds on the other side of the glass. It's a good thing she's entirely an inside cat, because I'm sure she would be death on all the birds in the neighborhood if she were outside. She is amazingly fast with the hunting she does do-- catching any flies or moths that are foolish enough to venture into the house.
Quick morning sketch of Acadia watching the birds from the window sill
Another of Acadia's favorite activities is playing with her favorite toys-- crumpled up sheets of paper. If you visit us, you'll likely see crumpled balls of paper in the corners of various rooms and you might hear them being batted up and down the hall, across the kitchen, under the chairs. Acadia also picks them up and carries them in her mouth, usually to one of the water bowls, where she drops them in! She then watches them briefly and usually leaves them there for me to fish out when I find them, but this morning she pulled the soggy paper out, dropped it on the floor, then walked away. We don't know why she does that, but I'm wondering if she's figured out that submerging the paper is the only way to make it go limp as if she had killed it.

Another water bowl amusement is to sit as still as a statue in front of the water bowl in my studio, staring at the water, then all of a sudden leap forward and smack the water with her front paw, causing the water to leap like a miniature tidal wave all over the floor and bookcase. (I don't have any photos of that.)

When our toddler grandson, Paul, was here over Christmas, I think they were fascinated with each other.

Best of all, what Acadia does is warm my lap and my soul. Often when she hears the creak of me sitting in my rocking chair, she comes running and leaps onto my lap, where she'll curl up and purr until she falls asleep. And because I don't want to disturb a peacefully sleeping cat, I end up sitting still and spending more time sketching, reading, or praying than I would otherwise-- a real plus since I tend to be a bit like a Jack-in-the-box otherwise. I am thankful every day for what a gift this sweet little cat is.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Squirrel Sketches

Winter is finally here, with its crisp, clear sunshine; blustery wind; and twittering birds flocking to the feeders to fill their bellies and keep warm. And with the always entertaining squirrels chasing one another in trees and scouring the deck for seeds the birds drop. I've had a fairly full schedule recently, so when I'm home, I savor the quiet minutes I carve out to sit, usually with either Petra or Acadia warming my lap, watching the lively world of our deck, and sipping hot green tea (I have a new favorite-- Dragon's Well green tea-- yumm! It has a mild chestnut-like flavor, and I love chestnuts.)

As always, I sit with sketchbook in hand (actually balanced on Petra or Acadia, who are remarkably obliging), doing many partial sketches, as my subjects are rarely still for more than a moment. I sometimes spend a few seconds here and there over a couple of days on each sketch, coming back to them as the bird or squirrel is again briefly in that same pose. 

I'm getting to know the three squirrels who regularly visit our deck- a large male, a large female, and a smaller female, who I'm guessing is a late summer baby from last year. The male is here the most, and when the female isn't here, he spends all his time eating. When the female is here, he spends almost all his time following her around. The youngster is a bit more reddish than her elders, and I'm wondering if that is a factor of her age or if she's just more reddish by nature. She isn't here as often as the adults, and she moves away if they approach here. I'll be watching her over the coming months to see whether she becomes more gray. 

Here I am at about 15 or 16 with Roy, a squirrel with a broken leg that my veterinarian asked me to care for

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Quiet Day Musings

Today I am enjoying my weekly Quiet Day, a day when I savor the gifts of silence and solitude, with unhurried time to read, reflect, pray, ponder, walk, and write.

This morning I took a leisurely walk with Petra.

I relaxed in my rocking chair with hot green tea in a pretty mug (I always choose a pretty mug on my Quiet Day) and Acadia purring on my lap.

I sat on the floor beside Rowan, running my fingers through his soft, luxurious coat, feeling his warmth and the gentle tickle of his whiskers as he sniffed my face, thankful for all the time I have with my aging boy.

I laughed as Milo played gleefully, his tail and ears going in all directions with his irrepressible joy.

I watched and sketched squirrels and birds, always lively on our deck, not trying to do great sketches, but just capturing the moment.

Often, when I am feeling wound up with too long a to-do list or with concerns that weigh on my mind or with the busyness of this time of year, my animals help me slow down and return to the present, where I regain perspective and where worries take their place behind gratitude. I am thankful for a full life, for quiet moments that help me appreciate that fullness, and for the peace God gives as he reminds me of his presence through his creation.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

More Paintings from Acadia National Park

I still have more sketches from Maine to scan-- it takes a while to scan even a fairly small selection of sketches from three sketch books, and the past couple of weeks I've happily been spending time painting rather than sitting in front of a screen. But, it's dark now and I'm a bit tired from hiking in the Catskills today, so I figured I'd sit in front of my computer for a little while. Of course by now I have some local paintings I've done, so I have still more to scan and post. I'll get to those sometime after I've posted my Maine paintings and sketches. For now, here are a number of the watercolors I did in Maine, along with a couple I've finished up at home.

I struggled a bit with my painting while I was away. For me, sketching is usually very relaxing and calming, whereas attempting to do a finished watercolor painting can sometimes be a bit stressful. It depends; sometimes it flows and I feel completely caught up in painting and time passes without my awareness. Other times, though, the wind chills me and dries my paints too fast, my fingers get stiff and don't do anything I want them to do with my brush, the light changes so fast I can't keep up with it, and I get frustrated.

When I was first at Acadia, I had a couple of easy painting days, then a few days when it felt as though my brushes were bewitched and wouldn't do anything they were supposed to do. I felt discouraged and had to take a step back, to spend some time hiking, sketching and praying to recenter myself. When I had started getting frustrated, I had begun comparing myself negatively to other artists, so I had to remind myself to paint in a way that is true to who I am and not feel that I need to paint like other artists.

Schoodic Point at sunset
After a day of reflection, I returned to my painting with more focus and a more relaxed confidence that allowed me to immerse myself in what I was doing and paint from my heart and out of my connection with whatever aspect of creation I was observing at the moment. This was one of the biggest lessons I came away with from my time as artist-in-residence. The concentrated time immersed in art with no other distractions brought the issue unavoidably to my attention and pretty much forced me to deal with it, which then set me free to move forward. Again, I am so thankful to the Schoodic Institute and the park service for the opportunity to develop as an artist through my time there.

Arey Cove
Little Moose Island
Before sunset at Schoodic Point
Schoodic Point sunset glow
Schoodic Point Sunset
Eider Duck (male)
Storm Clouds coming in on Schoodic Peninsula
Little Moose Island
Schoodic Point low tide rocks
The next two paintings are ones I did from my car at Schoodic Point during a tremendous storm. The waves were HUGE and the spray was rising up higher than the parking lot, which is quite a bit above the water.
Schoodic Point storm
Schoodic Point storm

Friday, November 13, 2015

More Sketches from Acadia National Park

Back home now (I got home a week ago), I am still putting finishing touches on some paintings, as well as getting back into the routine of life at home. Actually, I should say that I am working on developing a new routine for life at home. During my time away I had lots of time to think and evaluate how I do things on a daily basis, and I realized that, much as I have valued quiet time and solitude, I haven't done a great job of consistently living with a peaceful rhythm to my days. Somehow the demands of life in an overly connected world, along with the alluring draw of the internet have resulted in a feeling of being scattered and constantly available and pulled in several directions at once. While at Acadia National Park, I had no cell signal (what a blessing!) and, as a result, I found that I was more focused in a relaxed way that caused me to be much more "present" with myself and my environment. So now I am working on incorporating some of the lessons I learned, so that I can live with a peaceful rhythm even as I am connected and involved with the world and people around me. I haven't gotten it all figured out yet, but I am hoping to make progress.

Here are some of my sketches from my time away. I have still more that I will post sketches in another few days. I've also posted some of my finished watercolors on my website (Melissa Fischer's Art ). If you click on the images, you'll be able to see them large enough to read my notes.)

Gannets diving
Maine coast rocks

Otter sketches

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Acadia National Park: More Wonders all the Time

I can't believe I've already been here a week and a half, more than half my time. I could stay here for months and not see and experience all I'd like to, but I am making the most of every day I have in this rich place. 

Today the wind is blowing hard and it is raining. The rain started when I was in the middle of a plein air painting, sitting out on the rocks of Schoodic Point, painting the tremendous surf. I'm not sure yet how I'll finish that painting, but it's likely to have some interesting effects from getting rained on.

Earlier this morning I saw the otter family again. They cavorted their way around the edge of their pond, then saw me and waited a while, swimming back and forth and sticking their heads up to look at me, making occasional squeaky sounds. Finally they came up the bank and loped across the roads-- so funny looking! 

Shortly after I saw the otters, I saw a huge number of gulls along the shore, some on the water, some on the stony shore, and some in the air (all in the air when an eagle flew by). While I was looking at them, I saw a bird in the water that stood out as something different. Heavy, thick bill, very clear black and white pattern with a small whitish area in the black of the side of the head. About the size of a small duck, but with straighter neck and bill held out fairly straight in front. When it dived I saw a sharp black tail. Razorbill! Another new bird for my life list!

Below are some of my sketches and paintings from the past week. If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version.

Great Black-backed Gull field sketch (he posed for a long time)
Herring Gull field sketch (also posed patiently)

Raven's Nest- beautiful but scary place to paint
Rocks and Surf (artistic license with colors)
Rocks on Little Moose Island
Sunset from Cadillac Mountain
Rock and autumn blueberry bushes

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