Saturday, June 29, 2013

Backyard birds

This year has been a wonderful year for bird watching in our yard.  We noticed a lot of wood chips on the patio and discovered a pair of Yellow-shafted Flickers (Colaptes auratus auratus) had decided to carve a nest cavity in the old Paper Mulberry tree outside the kitchen window.  The location gave us a great view of the Parent birds as they came and went, and later of the fast growing chicks being fed.  We were lucky enough to watch the chicks fledge, taking flight from a dead tree limb.  I took many photos but haven't done any paintings of them yet.

On the other side of the house a pair of Bluebirds had taken up residence in one of the 12 cubbies in our Martin house.  In 12 years, our Martin house had never even tempted a Purple Martin once, it had always been a condo for Purple Finches and House Sparrows.  But this year we are the proud landlords of two beautiful Bluebirds.  While we could watch the parent Bluebirds fly about the yard catching insects and eating berries, the Martin house is too high for us to easily view the interior.  We set up a spotting scope that allowed us to see dim shapes moving inside the Martin house.  I spent a morning working on a sketch of the parents feeding the chicks (upper part of the page).

We had cleaned out the Martin house once we were sure the Bluebird chicks had fledged and the parents were no longer visiting the house.  This was a bit of a task since the telescoping pole the house is on has rusted together and we couldn't lower it.  We ended up using a 12 foot ladder to climb up to the house to clean it.  But it was worth the effort, we were rewarded by having the Bluebirds build a second nest the very next day!

We have spotted the young Bluebirds from the first clutch in the yard.  They look like odd half sparrow half Bluebird birds, with blue wing and tail, but a brown stripped head and breast.  I added sketches of the parents and one of the first clutch immature Bluebirds to the lower part of the page.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sketching birds

The plan was to spend an hour or two sketching flowers at the  Georgia State Botanical Garden.  The roses are in full bloom now and they were my target.  The roses are in the new terraced garden, at the far end from the lower parking lot.   As I walked along the winding garden path on my way over to the rose garden I heard an irritated chirp chirp chirp.  As I got closer I caught fleeting glimpses of a small yellow bird flitting from branch to branch.  Stopping only to emit a few abrupt chirps before moving on.

Since I had binoculars but not a camera or bird book, I decided to take a few notes and do a quick sketch of  the bird.  This should be quick and easy I thought, and I could identify the bird when I got home.  Well 30 minutes later I was still working on the sketch.  The bird was small, fast and dodging around leaves and branches giving me glimpses of only bits and pieces.  It lead me up and back down the garden path several times.  I did however, with the help of the binoculars manage to take enough notes that with my pencil sketch I was able to identify the Kentucky Warbler (Geothlypis formosa).   This was a new sighting for me, so it was well worth my time.

The yellow underside without any spots or stripes, the black mask that extends down the neck like side burns, and the yellow stripe that wraps around the eye were the distinctive characteristics that helped me identify the bird.  After reading that these birds nest in bushes near the ground I realized the bird was trying to defend a nest (which I never saw).  This also explains the mohawk hair style the bird was sporting.  I never heard the bird's normal call, since it was so irritated with the foot traffic along the path.  

I did finally make over to the roses, but by then it was hot and there isn't a lot of shade in that area of the garden for comfortable sketching.  The roses sketching would have to wait for another day.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Comparing techniques

Earlier this spring I attended two workshops at the Georgia State Botanical Garden.  Both artists focus was on botanical watercolors, but the techniques of each artist were very different.  Kie masked the flowers and leaves and used many layers of poured watercolors to achieve a rich background first.   Margaret painted the flowers first then added a wet-on-wet background with or without masking the previously painted flowers.  

I thought it would be instructive to paint the same flowers, using these two techniques and compare the results.  I selected a photo of apple blossoms taken while I was at the John C. Campbell Folk School this past spring.  It is the perfect photo for this exercise because the flower cluster is in sharp focus, while the background is out of focus.  I printed out a large version of the photo and used that to trace the image on to two sheets of watercolor paper.

The painting on the right was done first following Margaret's steps.  The painting on the left was done second using the techniques Kie showed the class.  The color palettes are the same except I used Ultramarine Blue in the first painting and Cerulean Blue in the second.  I picked a different blue for the second painting attempting to more closely match the photograph.  Lemon Yellow and Permanent Alizarin Crimson are the other two pigments used in both paintings.  I also added some touches of Cadmium Yellow to the stamens and Burnt Siena to the branches.  


The central flower in the first painting is a focal point, and the other flowers around it fade into the background.  This is because the edge between the background and flower in the first painting is soft not hard.  The only hard edge in that painting is between the central flower and the flowers around it.  

In the second painting all the whole clump of flowers are the focal point, the central one doesn't stand out.  This because there is a hard edge between the clump of flowers and the background.  The hard edge was created by the masking, and can be seen in the photo on the left taken while removing the masking.  You can soften the edges, but I didn't try to in this exercise.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Spring flowers

This spring the whole yard suddenly burst into bloom.  Purple and yellow Crocus, yellow and white Daffodils, Blue bells and white and red Lenten Rose filled the early spring with bright colors.  I kept a vase full of fresh cut flowers for many weeks, and even managed to find a little time to paint some of them.  

This was one of my attempts to create vibrant backgrounds similar to the ones Margaret Walsh Best exhibited at the Georgia State Botanical Gardens. 

The birds have also returned.  This year in addition to the Cardinals, Chickadees, Titmice, Wrens and Hummingbirds that feed and nest in our yard, blue birds moved into the Martin house and Yellow Shafted Flickers nested in an old tree in the backyard.  We have been able to watch the bluebirds come and go from the back porch, and the flickers from our kitchen window.  It has been fun to watch them all.