Sunday, October 12, 2008

If I were a flower...

I took a little quiz (click on the flower below to find it), and it said I am a daisy. Daisies have always been one of my favorite flowers and, along with day lilies, were the flowers for my wedding. I love their simple beauty and the way they blow freely in the breeze.

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

A good friend recently asked me to paint a card for her mother's 90th birthday. Her mother's name is Bea, but she goes by Bee, as I sometimes do, so I was thrilled to paint a couple of daisy and bee cards for her. These are a combination of watercolor and ink.

An online friend posted a tutorial on using negative painting to get a strong background before even starting to paint the flowers. I really liked this simple group of Cosmos (from another friend's photo), so painted it using this technique.

I love Arches National Park in Utah! The stark, red landscape, the bluish sagebrush, the dwarf pines--- it all speaks to my heart in some wordless and thirst-quenching way. I wouldn't want to live there, but I think I could spend weeks hiking, exploring, painting, and just quietly enjoying the scenery.

Back here in New York, the voices of the Katydids on August nights are one of my faavorite sounds. I painted the Katydid from a photo of mine a few days ago, but I wrote this poem while listening to the Katydids one warm August night.

Sounds of the Night

"What is that awful noise?"
asked a friend one night.

I heard no awful noise,
only the voices of friends,
the sounds of the summer night

They were for me a joyful sound
but to her a frightening cacophony

Known, loved, they speak to me
of joy in the moment
the wonder of life
exuberance in song

Sadly, some miss the sweetness-
all they hear is noise,
fear in the dark,
and shut windows tight to keep it out

The sounds of the night
speak to me of another voice
that tells of life and joy,
but is feared or shut out by many.

But now it's October and the Katydids are gone until next summer. In their place we have glorious fall colors and scents and sounds to fill our senses. Steve and I walked in our woods this evening and sat on the bridge over the wide part of the stream. The trees are red, orange, yellow and green, and the sunset was a fiery red where we could see it through the silhouetted trees.

I painted this en plein air, sitting in the warm afternoon sun with my dogs frisking about me with their delightful cool weather exuberance.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

New Lebanon, NY

Last week I spent two peaceful days visiting a friend at her country home in New Lebanon. We sat on the deck eating Cheddar cheese and apple slices, while I painted this scene of the distant mountains.

When I went to bed I heard the loudest pack of coyotes I've ever heard. I have no idea how many there were, but they must have been in the trees right across the driveway from my window. I love hearing coyotes, and I drifted off to sleep enjoying them and the other sounds of the night.

We started the next day soaking in a bubbling hot tub by the deck and watching the morning sun bring the hills and trees to life. The air was crystal clear and nippy, especially when we got out of the water. A great way to wake up and loosen up!

We spent the day hiking, reading, and eating, then I headed home as the evening light slanted beautifully across the yard, casting an orange glow over grass and trees, as well as over the mountains. A restful two day interlude from the challenging time the past month has been.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


In addition to birds, I also love to paint wild mammals and am very grateful for friends who share their photos and give me permission to use them as references. Being given a photo to use as a reference is like being offered candy-- I can hardly wait to dive in and start painting it.

I crawled on my belly through the tall grass in my yard to get the photo I used as a reference for this White-tailed Deer fawn. I ended up with scratches and grass stains but a triumphant feeling, as I got to about 12 feet from the fawn-- close enough to see every little flicker of his eye and nostril.

I did this giraffe using a photo by Debbie Schiff, who recently took an exciting trip through the bush in South Africa. The bird on the giraffe's neck is a Red-billed Oxpecker, which pecks ticks off the large mammals in Africa, but also apparently does a significant amount of damage to the animals by pecking at their flesh to get fresh blood.

Yesterday I was feeling down and decided to paint an elephant, since I find them easy and relaxing to paint. Somehow the painting ended up reflecting my mood by emerging as a dejected, sad-looking elephant. The reference for this painting is a photo by Stephie Haddon.

Today I was feeling more cheerful, and I painted this Nyala calf from another photo by Debbie Schiff. I was trying to paint more loosely, except for a couple of areas I wanted to emphasize with detailed work.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Some Recent Bird Paintings

Birds are one of my favorite subjects to paint. So delicate, so alert, and so varied, they capture my attention all the time. I love to watch them, listen to them, and paint them.

I painted this Chickadee from a photo I took at my feeder. The mosquito is adapted from a photo I snapped of a Crane Fly on my mirror.
This Great Blue Heron was inspired by a photo Carolo Hickey took of a Heron taking off from a pond. I was enjoying the feeling of anticipation and hope that I feel early in the morning, so decided to try and paint what I was feeling. A local poet is considering using this painting on the cover of her new book!

Arielle photographed this Raven in Bryce Canyon National Park. I was experimenting with color here, not trying to get an exact representation of the bird but rather a sense of strength and pride.

This is another visitor to my feeder. This perky little fellow is looking up at me with a seed in his mouth, as if to say, "Thank you!" Chickadees are my favorite birds, and I've even had them hop on my hand to eat seeds I'm holding.

Birds, Birds, and More Birds

Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Cardinals, Titmice, Robins, Song Sparrow, House Finches, Yellow-shafted Flicker... I've seen and heard all these outside my kitchen window in the past five minutes. A constant coming and going and flurry of activity, both at the feeder and on the lawn. It's peaceful for me to sit and watch the birds, but there is no end of the activity for the birds.

About twenty or thirty young Robins with speckled breast have congregated in the yard, fluttering around and catching worms in the rain-softened earth. I haven't seen many Robins for a while, so I'm wondering why so many have gathered all of a sudden.
I've seen several young birds begging for food from a parent. The young bird squats low in front of the adult and flutters its wings out to the side while it cheeps pitifully. Sometimes the adult ignores it; sometimes it feeds the youngster something just picked up from the feeder they're both sitting on.

These pages from my sketchbook are from several days this year. I keep it by my rocking chair for sketching the birds at the feeder when I sit with Bituminous on my lap. Most sketches were done in a few seconds, as the birds rarely cooperate by posing for me.
I often refer to my sketches when I do watercolors or pen and ink drawings, and even when I don't use them for that, sketching the birds gives me more of a feel for them. I've watched and sketched these birds so often that I now recognize some of the individuals that come to the feeder and know which birds are bossier and which more submissive, which stay and stock up with many seeds and which grab one and leave hurriedly. I love observing not only their appearance but also their behavior. Even though birds of a species look so similar at first glance, I'm finding that they're all individuals, each unique and interesting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


It's 9 AM and the sky is dark and heavy. It feels more like dusk than morning. There's a nearly constant rumble of distant thunder and then the occasional CRACK and BOOM from nearby lightning.

I love this kind of weather. I've opened the windows so I can hear the gentle patter of rain that contrasts in mood with the loud irruptions of thunder.

Oddly, I feel both energized and calmed by the storm. All my senses are awake and enjoying the show, but I'm also content to sit still watching and listening. Bituminous is purring and kneading on my lap, Rowan and Petra are lying with heads up and alert on either side of me. Milo is nervous, but less than he used to be. We've had so many thunderstorms this summer that he seems to be getting used to them. Silver is wandering around, sniffing each of the dogs and standing up to sniff Bituminous. She seems oblivious to the storm.

I love the power and extremes in nature. The depths of the ocean fascinate me. Thinking of the far reaches of the universe awes me and makes me feel incredibly small but full of wonder. I love the smooth, hard rock of the trails at Minnewaska and the soft, moist moss that blankets the Adirondacks. Sunrise and sunset on the shortest day and the longest day. The baking heat at the height of summer (very briefly please) and the crackly cold of the dead of winter. It’s all special and delightful, each in its own way.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Birthdays, Blueberries, and Other Delights

Later in August we went back to Minnewaska for two days of hiking to celebrate Steve's 50th birthday. And hike we did! The first day (Steve's birthday) we hiked 11.5 miles. That night Steve told me he planned a shorter, easier hike for the second day. We went 10.8 miles that day. It didn't feel much shorter or easier.

There were even more wild blueberries along the paths this time! I browsed as we walked, often stripping a handful of juicy berries from a branch with one hand without even slowing down. It wasn't long before my hands and mouth were an eye-catching bluish purple color. The children and I always used to go wild blueberry picking on my birthday, so to have two trips filled with abundant blueberry picking with Steve was a special birthday treat for me.

Stopping at Castle Point, we took in the view and saw our destination-- Lake Awosting. Steve was excited to see antennas in the distance beyond the lake. He always loves to see antennas, and using them as landmarks, he figured out that we were looking across to Sam's Point, a Pine Barrons where we had hiked exactly two years before. It was cool to be so far up above the land and trees below the cliffs that we looked down on the backs of soaring hawks and vultures.

I love to be read to, so Steve read Psalms about the beauty in creation while I painted.

We hiked a section of The Long Trail that went through a narrow crevasse between very large boulders and then climbed up the cliff-like face of some other boulders (fortunately not very high).

I'm not so sure we'll be hiking along that section of trail again.

With the fragrance of the Clethra growing all along the banks and its sparkling blue water, Lake Awosting seems almost magical and is well worth the long hike.
Much of Minnewaska is puddingstone rock outcroppings covered in some places with a thin layer of soil, so there are trees growing out of amazingly small cracks and spots of soil.

Blueberries grow abundantly, forming islands of berry bushes joined by the grayish, glacier-smoothed rock and puncutated by dwarf pitch pines. It's like a special world with few signs of civilization and a playful, free feeling. Pretending to be a mountain goat, I jumped from rock to rock and ran farther and farther back among the bushes, looking for the best and fullest bushes of blueberries.
I love snakes, so was thrilled when Steve noticed this beautiful Smooth Green Snake in the path.

Kempton Ledge, a welcome resting place with a gorgeous view of the cliffs and descending valleys.

Happy Birthday, Stephen! I was delighted to share this time with you and hope we can do the same when I turn fifty.

My Birthday and Our Anniversary

Steve and I went away July 31 and August 1 to celebrate my birthday and our 26th anniversary. We stayed at Minnewaska Lodge, then spent the following day hiking at Minnewaska State Park.

The first evening we dined on the dock at Mariner's looking out over the Hudson, and I painted the Canada Geese while we waited for our dinner. Steve threw bread to keep them where I could see them.

After watching the sunset over Lake Minnewaska, we went to the lodge and sat on our balcony listening to the night sounds and looking at the stars hanging above the cliff. We each saw a shooting star, though not the same ones. The katydids were just finding their voices at the end of July; it was like hearing from old friends I hadn't seen since last summer.

The next morning I drank my tea on our balcony, while I watched birds and painted the impressive Shawangunk cliff rising 100 or more feet in front of me with the morning sunshine hitting it. I could have stayed there for hours enjoying the chance to sit quietly with Steve and paint to birdsong, but we packed up and headed to Minnewaska to hike.

There were wild blueberries EVERYWHERE! The trails were lined with low bush blueberry bushes heavily laden with berries of many varieties-- light blue, indigo blue, dusty blue, large small, seedy, juicy, huckleberries... We plucked berries as we hiked, scarcely having to slow our pace to get a juicy handful. I probably ate a quart and a half by the end of the day, and Steve said my tongue and teeth were blue.

We kept having to stop to admire the breathtaking views and take photos, as well as to cool off, since it was a very hot day. At one point we felt a gust of cold air, and found it blowing from a hole in the rocky ground. The air was cold enough for us to see our breath and we figured there must have been ice down in the hole. I don't understand why the cold air was coming up and out, but it was delightfully refreshing, and we stayed there for several minutes, until we were chilled and actually could appreciate the heat again.

We rounded a bend to Gertrude's Nose to see a Black Vulture perched on the edge of the cliff. He sat there long enough for me to do a couple of quick watercolor sketches.

The view from Gertrude's Nose and just past it is impressive, with precipices of white rock and boulder-strewn slabs of rock everywhere.

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