Friday, August 5, 2022

August's Archival Works Friday!



It's Archival Works Friday – so soon??!! 

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month. 

I am now including photographs of past years. I hope you'll find it interesting! 

I know I've gotten into this topic before with 'some' of you; it is something I relive occasionally when someone poses the question where I started; where it all began I guess. 

First it was just unintentional small steps...parents who didn't protest about the little things...frogs, toads and turtles "free ranging" in the basement; keeping a Brown Bat in a bird cage on the front porch; science summer school; teaching the neighborhood squirrels to eat out of my hand; wading and fishing in neighborhood streams. (OK...the bat in the cage didn't go over well but we kept it for a couple days anyway.) 

I gained an appreciation for the beauty of this scheme of things. I was fascinated by the light shimmering off the membrane of an amphibian, the colors and design of a turtle's carapace and plastron, the shapes of trees, their leaves, the hillsides along the Des Moines River valley, the rocks and fossils along the favorite stream of my youth - Lizard Creek, or lying on a pasture hillside staring at the sky...watching clouds and the birds that intersected my field of view. 

One day, after saving for weeks, I bought a book..over $12 - a lot of money back then for a kid!  I was eleven or twelve; the book was full of color illustrations by Louis Aggassiz Fuertes. They were awesome, beautiful...the slip cover of this 1937 edition book, for the lack of a better word, transported me. On the front cover were two of my most favorite birds, a Cooper's and a Red-tailed Hawk - perched on treetop branches above forested hillsides. The landscape and the birds were mesmerizing for a young impressionable me. I wanted to paint birds. 

Birds in the yard would never seem to hold still long enough for me to draw; I got the idea I needed to photograph them, and then I could draw them from their photo; brilliant idea I thought. After all, Audubon drew and painted from his birds after shooting them – this would be less messy! 

I didn't have a camera, but my mother loaned me her old box camera. Ya, the old Ansco Shur-Shot Jr. at the top of this post, was to be my first camera. I actually took quite a few pictures with this Ansco...all B& was a 120 film camera (2 1/4X2 3/4" or 6X7cm). You can kind of guess how useful it was as a bird camera though - not very. 

One incident convinced me to get a "suitable" camera. I was walking the upper banks along Lizard Creek's south branch west of town (Ft Dodge, IA) one summer afternoon. It was a typical hot and humid day and the afternoon wasn't the best condition to find birds. By just dumb luck I came upon a Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree jutting out of the high bank below me. The bird was maybe 3 - 4 feet out from the bank on a branch about 8 - 10 feet above the water flowing beneath it. The bird was awake, looking across the creek into the woodland there. I dropped as fast as I could into the grass above the high bank and crawled very slowly on my stomach to the bank's edge and peered over - it hadn't seen or heard me, the noise of the creek had masked my presence. My heart was pounding so loud I was sure the bird would hear it! 

The owl was sitting in deep shade. I pushed the box camera ahead of me and tried peering into the viewfinder without raising my head too much and giving myself away. I was no more than 6-8 feet away from the bird, yet I could not find the owl in my viewfinder; the old box camera's viewfinder just was not bright enough. I looked up again and tried to reference where the bird was, then looked back into the viewfinder - still no bird, I looked up again and the owl was no was gone. 

My first SLR 35mm camera in 1963

Whether the bird spotted or heard me I really don't know, what I do remember is the rush from the experience and the needling anguish of blowing it! That was not going to happen again! I spent the next year saving money from about any odd job I could find, (mainly my paper route) and bought myself an East German 'Praktica IV' SLR and a 400mm lens. As best I can recollect, this was in 1963. 

My first bird photo with my Praktica SLR in 1964 (White-breasted Nuthatch) on Kodachrome slide film with a Kowa 400mm lens and a bellows attachment for a closer focus range.

I became hooked on nature photography that way...birds eventually led to all flora and fauna and to the landscape. Painting nature eventually led the same direction. I don't know why I didn't become an ornithologist, biologist or botanist? There was always an urge to paint, draw or photograph and that's all I can say. 

We all gotta start somewhere! 


Friday, July 1, 2022

Archival Works Friday for July (July already???!!!!)

 It's Archival Works Friday!!!

The next post for "Archived Works Friday” originated from a sighting and photograph taken in NE Kansas in the summer of 1976.

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work - the first Friday of the month. I hope you'll find it interesting!

I wasn't real familiar with birds of the grasslands or prairies early on...I grew up in a river valley with plenty of woodlands to explore and the birds found in that habitat were birds I grew up with.

Back in the mid 1970's we lived in the Kansas City area (Lenexa – then Shawnee), and spent what little free time we had exploring the Flint Hills and down along the eastern border and around Marais des Cygnes...all neat places. One day we were along an old railroad bed and a Dickcissel was singing away. Believe it or not – I “thought” I knew what that bird was but wasn't sure so tried getting a shot of it (shooting color slide film back in those days).

Although using a 400mm lens at the time, it was still not close enough and the slide film image wasn't the best...but there was a “seed” of an idea germinating way back then – the bird's pose was visually interesting enough to keep in my files for some future use.

It wasn't until 30 years later that I finally put an idea down on paper in color pencil...and the “study” drawing of a male Dickcissel singing was born -

"Summer Song - Dickcissel" - color pencil drawing (In the permanent drawing collection of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI) - © Bruce A. Morrison

About 10 years later I used the original sketch as a reference for adding to a prairie landscape I titled - "Prairie Song, Dickcissel" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison; now residing in a private collection in Minnesota.

I've been posting some about Dickcissels here on the acreage a fair bit this past month – I have grown extremely fond of them and have been having some preliminary thoughts in my head about doing something with them again; this time also as a tribute to this little grassland obligate. We'll see what comes of that in the near future I these little “Barking Dogs” of the Prairie!

Thank you for reading along!

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Summer Solstice



Just finished Spring - a chilly start and a HOT finish!  "Now" it feels like Summer!  Crazy stuff...

Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa) - photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison

The pastures here have been mixed in their forbs, but mostly everything has been a couple weeks later than the average from years past. Just yesterday I realized that the Prairie Phlox just bloomed and the Spiderwort is about finished.  The June Grass was at its peak last week an now maturing quickly along with the Porcupine Grass.


I have been playing catch up here in the Studio as usual - I have only been able to get out one morning before sunrise this has been so windy that the small stuff in the pasture hasn't been too willing to hold reasonably still for my camera.  But - the evenings on the "Prairie Schooner" (my old '82 EZ-Go electric golf cart) have been thing I've been chasing are the Dickcissels, which are more numerous this year.  

We have been hearing Bobolinks "occasionally"...don't know if they are nesting here or not?  We are just holding our breath that the pasture across the road from us "Doesn't" get mowed before the end of June this summer.  Last summer it'd been mowed early and we lost the nesting Bobolinks...a very sad occurrence...very sad.

Our Meadowlark population sounds decent - more calling than last summer...some behind us...we are hopeful there too. 

I'll end this post with a guest blog I wrote on invitation for Bleeding Heartland's "Wildflower Wednesday" - give it a read if you have a moment.  I hope you enjoy it!  Have a good summer - and stay cool out there!


Saturday, June 4, 2022

Archival Works Friday...ya, I know it's Saturday, what can I say?


"Big Bluestem in Bloom" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

Archival Works Friday (Yes I Know It's Saturday!)
As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work. I hope you'll find it interesting! Posting the first Friday of the month...
This Archival Works day is a color pencil use of this medium dates back to the early 1960's. My first "Side Walk Art Fair" participation in Ft. Dodge, IA had all color pencil drawings; I think I was about 12 years old at the time and I only remember one of
them...probably a "self preservation" mechanism so I won't still be traumatized by how bad they must have been!!!!
The subject in the highlighted drawing "Big Bluestem in Bloom" is related to my 2 1/2 decade infatuation with "Prairies". I don't think my love of prairies is a very well kept secret - having been involved in prairie projects from the college level, public entities, and private consulting. Georgie has referred to me as "Prairie Boy" to many folks over the years (Ha!). Ya, well that's sure not where she found me - but yes, stuff happens doesn't it.
When we found the acreage here 20 years ago, it was the perfect fit for us...we had a few trees and a small bit of wooded habitat with nice spring ephemerals, and some great hillside gravel slopes with actual native prairie remnants...something that has become less easy to find in Iowa...only less than one half of one percent of this state's original prairies still exist. This little spot may not be on the super quality charts but even places like ours are disappearing much too frequently.
Something that I was hoping for in our little spot in the former tallgrass prairie was a place to work and has lived up to my hopes yet has so much further to go. But we all have a lifespan...we're just making the best of what this "gift" of time has presented us. I always wanted to just walk out the door in the morning...or heck "anytime", and wander with the camera or paint brush, and record native prairie plant communities and the fauna
found there. It has been a wonderful gift! Every day here is a blessing! I found myself not just photographing forbs (wildflowers) and grasses, but also painting and drawing them.
When I'm out and about on the pastures, I often video tape things as I'm photographing is just a side hobby now...I used to do video taping and editing for educational institutions, government agencies and non-profits, for part of my living, but no longer - it's simply something fun to do now.
The drawing in question...
One morning in mid summer I was out early on the pasture photographing things in the first light of the day. The flowers and grasses, insects and birds...the usual.  Later I was in the studio downloading files and editing images and sorting through the morning's video footage. As I was watching footage I came to a frame that I'd only recorded - a lot of times I'm easily distracted and forget to take stills (photographs) also (and vice versa). There was an image from the video that grabbed me - "That'd make a great color pencil drawing!".
"Big Bluestem in Bloom" - color pencil drawing was born from a still frame in the video footage.
I have since been inspired many times in a like manner from other footage as well in past years...some landscapes, some flora and fauna.
If you've followed me this far and haven't nodded off or just plain zoned out and left, I'm going to leave a link here for a video I edited together 9 years's of a walk down Waterman Creek about 5 miles south of the studio. During this walk I was inspired to paint two landscapes from the footage you'll watch. The video is here -
After you watch this video, go to my web site at the following link, it will take you to my Archived Works page. There are two oil paintings there that were inspired from footage in the video. The link is here -
(I'm really making this too easy!)
The first person that gives me the name of one of the 2 paintings inspired by footage in this video, will win a free signed print of that painting.  Just the first person, responding  to this story...just give me "one" of the painting titles and you win!
Thanks for hanging in there and good luck! (See you next month!)

Friday, May 6, 2022

Archival Works Friday - N0. 8!

"Archival Works Friday" No. 8!

The next post for "Archival Works Friday" hearkens back 12 and then 7 years ago.

As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen print) from the archive files of years past...and give a little back story on the work. I hope you'll find it interesting!

This post involves acceptance and rejection. Acceptance - something every artist craves...heck, something every human being craves! And rejection - something we are all familiar with at some time in our lives, unless amnesia's involved.

As far as art is concerned, I first became acquainted with these "rival aspects" back in art school. I remember so well, the class critiques...your work was put up for display in front of the class and sometimes other students were respectful and kind (or sympathetic) and then there were times you'd wished you overslept and missed class!!!! The most dreaded critiques were from visiting professors; you could seriously doubt your choice of career after one of those. But being critiqued wasn't just a learning experience, it was also character building - you sure learned what other artists thought about your work! Ha! It got pretty hairy at times - a lot of fragile egos out in the art world!

It takes many years for some of us to find really start to believe in oneself and create your own "look" or niche. But you also realize that your work is not for everyone. That can be a form of rejection to some, but hey you can't please them all and that's just the way it should be. Wouldn't it be boring if everyone liked the same thing! I could rattle off some very "commercially" successful artist's names that I wouldn't want on my walls - its all personal taste right?! But to have someone like your work enough to "invest" in it is something that makes all those years of plying yourself worthwhile.

Acceptance and rejection are always a fact of life for artists - even for old ones! I'll share a story of acceptance - then rejection - Then overwhelming acceptance. It was neat...then disappointing...then very gratifying.
"July in the Valley" - plein air oil painting
The example in question began with a small 6X8 plein air painting of the valley out in front of the house and studio one July 12 years ago The sky was just amazing to watch, as it so often is out here. I titled the small painting "July in the Valley" and was very pleased with it. Plein air painting (sometimes termed "pochades") are paintings done outside at the actual location, and are often done just as "studies"...sometimes to "test the water" for a larger painting maybe to be done later on.

This small painting was spotted on the studio gallery wall and purchased by another artist from eastern Iowa, a retired architect. I was very pleased this person was so taken by this small painting! Acceptance is good!
"July in the Valley" - studio painting
A couple years after this sale was made I had another visitor to the studio. This was a local/area person that had been to the studio before and a former customer. (I'll keep this customer "vague" so as not to shine a light on anyone.) The visitor remembered the small plein air painting that had been sold to the artist I mentioned, and the visitor knew I was thinking of doing a larger painting in the studio of this same scene. I told the visitor that I would alert them when the painting was finished and that they had first dibs if they wanted it. Well some time passed and I finally got to the painting, eventually finished it, and notified the potential client. The potential client came out to the studio and I showed them the painting, the painting was accepted and was purchased. Now it would be normal and nice if things ended here. But several weeks later the client called and asked if they could return the painting...they sounded uneasy but I graciously accepted the return and refunded the purchase price. I felt bad but could tell the client was embarrassed...I won't go into their reason but it was a bit "out there". But that's life right?! Rejection is not fun.

Rejection can often cause a person to question the painting a good work? Am I missing something? But I've learned over the years to not get too rattled when things don't come out quite like I expected.

The studio painting took it's place on the studio wall, right along with other paintings - for the next couple years.

Down the road I submitted this painting, along with two others, to EMC Insurance Corporate office in Des Moines for consideration for their Corporate Art Collection of Iowa Artists. EMC has a neat way of adding artist's works to their collection - they let their employees vote on their choice! After the works submitted for their collection had gone through several EMC employee committees to narrow down the choices - I was notified that "All 3" of my paintings had been over whelming accepted!! Again - acceptance is good!!!

It felt like a win for me, especially since multiple people and committees had "wanted" this painting...sure, one person thought it wasn't right for them personally after a while, but now it was a favorite of many, over and above a lot of other artists that had submitted work! And, oh ya - they also wanted my other two paintings as well...that was REAL acceptance!

So now my studio painting "July in the Valley", and the two others, are part of the EMC Insurance Corporation's EMC Art Collection (as well as one other from 3 years earlier), and I still plug along and strive to do my best. But I know that whatever I do...painting, drawing serigraph or even my photography - aren't everyone's cup of tea, nor do I expect them to be. And I also know that having work purchased by clients is a very good feeling, one that will never grow old.

Thank You, all of my past and present friends and clients, for giving something from my life a good home!

Friday, April 1, 2022

Archival Works Friday - No.7!


As I mentioned before - I'll post a painting, drawing or serigraph (silkscreen prints) from the "archive" files of years past...and give a little back story on the work. I hope you'll find it interesting!

These posts are now on the first Friday of the month – lo and behold this one happens on April Fools Day! Ha! Well it may fit the circumstances somewhat – there were some big goofs on my part with this painting!

I really appreciate the opportunity offered by folks in our area, to allow me to have access and walk their properties. I'm not as big of a hiker as I once was but I still try when the opportunity arises. This property is one I'd hiked several times between 2008-2012. I still drive by there quite often and have done photography and artwork from the 'edges' on occasion.

This particular painting almost never saw the light of day. It was a beautiful and still summer morning...probably late August or very early September...judging by the vegetation I portrayed along the roadside edges. I remember there was a lot of ragweed present and that's how I painted it.

But as I said – it nearly never became a painting. Why? Well, even though I break my own rules sometimes, in general I don't usually paint a scene if my mind is set on recording it as a photograph from the beginning. I found myself on this small one lane dirt road at the SW corner of the owner's property and the sun was about to rise. I was in my old beater S10 pickup and climbed into the bed, as I often do – to gain a bit of elevation and perspective.

I had just bought a new camera...not a really expensive one but I had needed to replace my old Nikon D1X. The D1X was the flagship 'digital' Nikon that came out around 1999-2000. It had an “amazing” capability of 5.6 MP if my memory serves me correctly. Boy did things advance quickly after that! But I was still making calendar and magazine sales with that camera – it was top notch at the time. But 10-11 years later it was having issues and I had no choice but to become a camera consumer again...this new camera had 12MP, which was well over twice the old one...but nowhere near the head of the pack with all that were available then – but it was fine for me.

My new camera had good auto-focus capabilities and I was looking forward to that...these old eyes need any help they can get. Well, back to the pickup bed. I was setting up the tripod with my new camera and suddenly realized – I had totally forgotten my glasses! For crying out loud! I never had much trouble with 'distance', but closeup...looking through a lens or at the digital back screen – I was flying blind...big time Mr. Magoo...Then I though “Hey, this camera can be totally auto-focus, not to worry”!

I loved the composition of the scene before me, and the early light was great...the colors were just singing a song I couldn't get enough of! I wanted to catch the sun just as it broke the horizon and waited for it.

I set the tripod head to swivel the camera for 4 frames – I was visualizing a panorama and one frame just wouldn't do it. I could go heavy wide angle and get the panoramic view...but I'd have to crop a lot of stuff in the image to get what I was 'seeing' – and the size I wanted to output to (print) would have required too much enlargement of the small file to look decent. This is a camera technique I still use to this day – stitching several frames together can achieve a higher resolution for more demanding work.

But back to the camera...since my glasses were apparently still at home, I trusted the auto focus to do it's thing. It had worked at home the day before when I tried it out so I wasn't concerned...just still a bit disappointed in my dumb move. It was a great image – I was sure of it!

Well, I took the camera off and set the tripod over the side of the pickup bed and walked to the edge of the tail gate and hopped off onto the ground.

I remember just totally losing my vision to a bright flash of pain, then everything as quickly went black -it is hard to adequately describe. I came around and found myself on all fours just screaming in my head. “I shouldn't have done that.” went through my mind. Its like a traffic accident. You spend way too much time thinking back...trying to stop what had just happened. Needless to say – I didn't take any more pictures that morning.

The chiropractor saw dollar signs I'm sure when I limped with a cane into the office that afternoon. In all fairness I'm being facetious, but it was 2-3 appointments a week for a while and at least 6 months before I felt I had finally gotten through my injury.

But back to the pictures I took. To add insult to injury, when I brought the image files up on the computer – EVERYTHING was out of focus...fuzzy beyond salvation! my nearsighted blindness, I just could not make out the small print on the camera controls – I was sure I had selected “auto-focus” but apparently had disabled it instead. Aaccck!!!!!!!

I was a mess to put it one should ever be seen by another human being when they get like this. Poor Georgie!!! (She sure puts up with a lot, let me tell you!)

Its bad enough losing a productive day, but losing nearly 6 months to rehab on top of it makes it grimmer. I don't remember how much time passed, but one day when I was about to dump all the files from that morning, I thought “If I could just work through the out of focus mess – this would make a beautiful painting!”

I really do not remember how long it took to have this epiphany, or how long I kept tossing this idea back and forth in my mind, before I committed to trying – but I eventually tried. I started the painting in January of 2012...I figured if the Mayan calendar was right and the world was about to end – then, hey why not. (Ya, that was really a 'thing'.)

It took a bit of work re-imagining the 'near' objects – they were just 'blobs' of shapes; the back ground was a bit easier but still no cake walk...the color was still there and the tonal range of the image was very helpful. I hacked my way through and finished the painting the first week of February – I was sooooo happy with what was brought back from a total loss and very pleased how well it was carried out.

I should never have let go of this painting – I regretted it the minute I spent the check! Seller's remorse – we've all experienced it. But it went to a great home – an appreciative home...and made for a very nice share of return business from this first-time client from out-of-state. There's several silver linings – and complete flops in this one painting!

"Southwest Corner Fence Line Along the Jordan" - oil painting © Bruce A. Morrison

(from a private Vermont collection)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Winter's Last Breath? (Crossing Fingers!)

"Frosty Morning Light - Hay Rake" - oil painting - ©Bruce A. Morrison    

Is it Spring yet?!!!  One below zero Fahrenheit this a.m., but above freezing this afternoon...a good southwest wind bringing up the warm air - welcome!  This is the beginning of several warm days in the 40's to 60's, so looking forward to it!

I've been cranking out winter themed work the past month...had to get them out of my system before work outside on the acreage presents itself.  I don't do loads of winter artwork, but had these in my memory file; if I don't get them down I can lose them.  I just have so much memory available in this old hard drive (my brain)...if something new or memorable comes by - something has to go.  I find my brain deleting memories a lot these days...hey, it happens to all of us eventually.

The oil painting above is of my favorite acreage "prop"...I wish I had one or two more different types of old farm machinery that I could place here or there on the pastures, but this one is just perfect.  The old John Deere hay rake came from an artist friend's family farm - he even remembers using it each summer, then bailing afterwards.  It was his Grandfather's, then his Father's...his Dad just passed away about a month ago.  Although it wasn't the purpose of the painting, I suppose you could think of it as a tribute to his Father and Grandfather, representing their farming heritage and years now finished.

"Litka's Winter Bales" - color pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison

 The next artwork is a color pencil drawing that about finished off a couple pencils...especially the blue one...lots of shades of blue in there!  This was a winter scene about 4 miles down the road from us...on a piece of property that the owner has let me walk for years.

We have not had much snow this winter...what we did get was fairly fleeting.  So both works were done from older photo files I had to dig up from my system folders.  Winter images aren't the best sellers for me but I'll admit that I'm not all about supporting this habit anymore.  Life is too short and doing what makes me happy has become more pleasing and important for my well being.  And if something "does" strike someone and goes to a new home - that's a double good thing! 

As I mentioned, the winter has been a dry one...we did a pasture inventory yesterday afternoon and it is obvious we cannot burn this spring unless things turn around and the rain comes.  We keep mowed paths between the paddocks, and along property boundaries for fire breaks...these are usually very green once the snow melts and the spring comes.  Any burning we do is helpfully controlled by the green/short mowed barriers.  These "barriers" are toast brown and tinder dry this Spring.  Even with "all hands on deck" (my wife and I) there is no safe and secure way to burn right now.  If the rain comes, maybe a late spring burn will be possible?  

We did do a couple limited fall burns last November though...I did an Elm sapling/volunteer killing campaign for some weeks in September and October.  There were too many for me to keep up with so I went back to a woody herbicide I used many years ago for poison ivy...Garlon 4.  I'm not fond of herbicides but I found myself completely at the mercy of the Elms - they multiplied exponentially over the past several years, and just plain got past me.  The Elms on the neighbor's grounds are still supplying seed - even though they're all in stages of decline.  

The Garlon 4 is sprayed on, so quiet mornings with no breeze is perfect as long as the volunteers have green foliage to take it in (although I believe epidermal absorption still factors in).  Several trips of spot spraying over a few weeks was necessary because there are always those plants that eluded me and some volunteers that needed multiple hits.  Once the pasture was speckled with dead reddish brown leaves and no green, then I set about with seeding plans for the late fall.

It was a busy fall in 2021 for seed gathering...mostly from our own ditches and the north pasture.  It wasn't as much as I needed but seed purchases are off the radar here in these times of limited income.  I was able to seed maybe 60% of the northwest pasture with what I had - I seeded on December 15th as there was a winter snowstorm coming in the next day.  Well...the next day we got snow...horizontal snow...our first ever recorded "Winter Derecho" - very high straight line winds.  I'm sarcastically guessing that ALL of my seeding was stripped from the NW pasture, as NO snow stuck to that pasture - it was as clean as a whistle after the storm...oh well - I tried.

We had a lot of limbs down after that storm but thankfully nothing serious.  We lost part of our sheep barn's roof but nothing we can't fix this spring.  In that effect we were very fortunate here!

We'll see down the road if any pleasant surprises still come about from the seeding I did.  I'm not holding my breath though.

But Spring is coming!  And we're looking forward to it!

Have a Blessed Spring out many will not, especially in the Ukraine and possibly the Baltics...praying for peace in this world with all my heart.

Please be good to one another.