Saturday, April 2, 2016

Again, Some of My Favorite Things...

 "Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)" - oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison

 As I mentioned in my last blog, I've been thinking and focusing on prairie forbs (wildflowers) and grasses a lot lately.  One of these forbs is found in our native pasture, while the other is not, but is "local" to our area.

This time I've been working in oils and I'm trying to keep these close to "life size", so the painting are small (both 5X7").

The first painting is of a Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) bloom.  There are many of these plants in our pasture and they are quite the iconic Tallgrass Prairie plant - being anywhere up to 6-7 feet tall!  They also have quite a sturdy stock,  lasting through the winter.  To give you an idea of how sturdy these are, once the snow was out this spring Georgie and I found several of these stocks were used by the local bucks as "rubs" for their antlers!  (Even found a shed out there!)  Its amazing to me that White-tail bucks are using these on their antlers.

 "Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense)" - oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison

The next painting is of a Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) blossom and I actually did a very small drawing of this same plant a few years back I believe the original color pencil was something like a 1.5X2" miniature drawing.  I went for a life size painting from that tiny sketch.

I used to call these Turk's Cap Lilies but that was not proper as that is an entirely different Lily (although similar in looks).  This is a local native Lily, not found in our pasture though...it requires more of a moist mesic environment than our mostly gravel/well drained soil can provide.  I do believe that another local native Lily would have done just fine in our pasture - the Prairie Lily...sometimes referred to as the Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)...I've found them in both moist and dry soils near our acreage.

We just burned about 1/3 of our pasture a week and a half back, and will be burning another 30% in the next weeks if possible...part of our prairie pasture maintenance; this year leaving 40% for the invertebrates and possible other critters like small reptiles and even amphibians.  We've rotated burning for many years now and its always been our hope we're allowing leeway for species needing a break.  But the paddocks burned are always a showcase for flowering plants and produce great crops of seed - very fun to experience!

Its always nice to have something like the prairie to look forward to each year - giving me some of my favorite things!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Some of My Favorite Things...

 "Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis)" 
Color Pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison

I've been working on more drawings of prairie plants (grasses and forbs) and anyone that really knows me realizes I only do this out of a real love for the subject matter.  I guess I've been watching winter so long that I'm drawing for cathartic reasons!  But the subject matter this time around is one from our prairie pasture and that's the Canada Milk Vetch (Astragalus canadensis), sometimes these plants have other common names, I think Rattle Pod is one...these names usually make sense too - the seed pods do rattle when shaken about.  

This plant first showed up on our north pasture hillside over 10 years ago and in a location I had not been doing fall or spring seeding...again last year I found several plants in our south pasture, and again in locations not seeded before, so it may very well have been here before these areas were grazed years back.  Also, like some other plants I can think of, we've had some years intermittently that we could find no Canada Milk Vetch anywhere...2012, 2013 and 2014 were such years, yet last year they were "widespread" and in locations we'd never seen them.  That's very interesting to me but I have no answer to why!

Canada Milk Vetch, to me, has a very visually interesting structure...its almost graphic in quality ...although I chose to draw this plant - it would have made a great serigraph as well!  Or even a wood block!  Its a fairly common and somewhat aggressive plant - not one for the garden, but a great plant for the pasture here...I know the deer and rabbits sure love it!  (A lot of pruning going on through the summer.)

I tried treating the drawing's background a bit differently than in the past (more scribbling and less solvent), but tried being true to this forb's anatomy.  I drew this milk vetch at it's peak - which in the summer heat, lasts a fairly short time unfortunately...its a good thing there's lots of different prairie flowers and grasses out there and that they all have their specific bloom time - you have all summer to enjoy!

Spring is on the doorstep - get out and enjoy it!


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Going Domestic...Sort Of.

"Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) with European honey bee (Apis mellifera)"
Color Pencil drawing -  © Bruce A. Morrison

I've read that there are around 4000 species of native bees in North America (http://bugguide.net/node/view/8267) - that seems like an awful lot!  I believe I have read that there are around 30-40 species of  Bumble Bees in Iowa...and many many more species of other less conspicuous native bees in addition to that.

But most of us think of the "honey bee" when bees are mentioned.  I remember my grand father bringing us gallon jars of honey when I was a kid...he had a bee keeper keeping their hives on his farm and they'd give him honey for "rent".  I was a honey crazed kid - loved the stuff!  I'm afraid I still do but have to moderate my love for it a bit now.  But the main reason I wanted to have someone keep their honey bees here on our acreage was to help pollinate our berry and fruit tree crops.  Even then, they still get plenty of competition from the native bees and other pollinators.

Our pastures are "native" pastures with plenty of native species of gasses and forbs (wildflowers).  Here is where the native bees seem to really shine...I see many types of Bumble Bees there as well as a small Metallic Green Bee that I particularly enjoy watching - just a gorgeous little bee!

But the European Honey Bees like the wildflowers in the pastures as well, especially when the garden plants have finished flowering or haven't cycled to new blooms yet.  One flower the Honey Bees especially like are the Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea); this forb is also a favorite of Bumble Bees.  When deciding to do a color drawing of the Purple Prairie Clover, I intended just drawing the flower/plant itself but when going through my files for a subject to draw from, I noticed a lot of photos with bees!  So...in tribute to my sweet tooth and love for honey - I included a Honey Bee.

Here's to ALL of our pollinators - may we have a long and ever lasting relationship, and may it always be a good one!
 

 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Waiting for the Thaw

"Passing Don's Old Place at First Light - Study"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view
 
What does a person do around NW Iowa with 2-3 foot drifts still in the garden and throughout the back yard and pasture?  Work inside the studio!  And what kind of work seems best for this cold old duffer while waiting for the thaw?  Summer landscapes! 
 
This is a gravel road about 4 miles south of us as the crow flies...you'd have to be a crow to get there in just 4 miles because the road passing our place stops - hits a "T" intersection 3 miles south of us.  Evidently the valley and creek bottoms there dissuaded road construction straight through back then.

This is actually a small oil painting "study".  I have an idea for a much more elongated painting in the future of this same location but wanted to do a smaller work-up of it to judge just how I'd approach the palette for this piece, and to just see if it might be worthy of a try.

This depicts an old farmstead and home of a gentleman I never met...he was using the small home off behind the trees on the left for a summer residence while, as I understood it, living with a daughter during the winter months.  His family also had a farm and home place a mile north, of which the house no longer stands.  Don passed away 3-4 years back and the small house now belongs to someone else.  
 
The trees along the road create a nice "tunnel-effect" and one morning last summer I was heading out to another location when I passed through and thought it would make for a nice painting "some day"!  Now I need to find the time to do it!  (The bigger version that is.)

Meanwhile I'm still in the studio - picking up things I meant to be getting to for what seems like a long time...and waiting for the thaw!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Always Interesting

"First Light-Late Summer Beans"
oil painting - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
 
One thing about being cold and white out here this winter - it gives a person more time for studio easel work!  At least between the times "moving snow" this weather brings any way!
 
I like this type of landscape; not that bean fields are the kind of thing I look for - never done one before.  No, its the light and atmosphere, the linear qualities, composition and color...warm colors of summer.
 
This is an actual scene I came across here in the "neighborhood" just last summer.  It was a nice scene that I thought about just photographing but the more time I gave myself there that morning, the more I liked the idea of painting it instead.  Saving the idea this had given me for colder times helps warm the spirit!
 
Its always interesting when I pass by a location hundreds of times, but its just this one instance that gave me pause...an ordinary scene with a song of its own.  I'm very grateful I heard it!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, January 9, 2016

No Complaints!

"January Sun Dogs"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)

The temps have dropped below zero at nights, the wind is blowing everything into drifts and the creeks are now icing closed...but its January after all - amazing winter so far I'd say!

"Waterman Icing"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 
 
Its time to stay inside the studio and get down to business.  As long as I don't gaze out the windows and get distracted (and have to grab the camera again) I should make some headway on those jobs I've been putting off!
 
"Frost Along the Creek - panorama"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

No complaints here - Stay warm and stay happy!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Winter in January!

 "Along the Shelf Ice"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

January...how many times will I now accidentally write 2015 on checks and such before I finally get it right!?!  I know I'm not alone out there!

We've had a couple snows in the last few days so we look quite like winter again; and the temps are closer to what they normally are this time of the year too.  I usually prefer winter landscapes early in the morning but late afternoon can work nicely as well and yesterday afternoon was a good day outside!
 
 "January on the Waterman"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

With Waterman Creek so close by, most of the afternoon was spent up and down the valley searching for those snippets of Waterman "treasure" just waiting for appreciation!

There isn't a lot of shelf ice out there due to high water levels but I did manage to find a vantage point with some ice along a gravel bank - with the additional benefit of tracks in the snow adding to the composition...and the creek itself in the valley a few miles south offered up a bright landscape benefiting from a pure blue sky!  

Pleasant scenes and simple compositions...may your winter days be ever so pleasant too!