Wednesday, September 28, 2022

After the Autumnal Equinox

This can be a real fun time of year, and bitter sweet in some ways.  We had to say goodbye to many of our summer friends, like the Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, the Wrens, Chipping and Song Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Dickcissels and the Hummingbirds.  

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to properly time their departure?  Ha!  Just put out a new jar of grape jelly and the Orioles leave...just mix a new batch of sugar water and the Hummingbirds leave!  It's crazy, oh well...

Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the Viburnum - photo - © Bruce A. Morrison

 

I've been welcoming the new arrivals the past few days.  Lot of Harris's, Lincoln's and White-throated Sparrows; a few warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  The Harris's and White-throated Sparrow lyrics have been the new morning staple out here on the acreage...very pleasant music to start the day with.

And I've been trying to get photos but there are so many distractions in the studio and outside.  Apples to pick, seed to harvest in the pastures, chain saw work in the groves - still left over from the last derecho 2 months back (final small cleanup work).

Also been trying to get back into some artwork!  Much has been left for summer work and now maybe can be picked up once more.  I had a Dickcissel idea last spring and it keeps evolving/changing...maybe it'll be next???  Also have a larger painting on the easel that got started too late in the spring...waiting for summer and fall to end.

"Eastern Kingbird - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
 

I had a friend stop by a couple months back mention Eastern Kingbirds...I joked how they seem to move in the opposite direction - fence post by fence post whenever I have my camera with me!  Funny but true.  I did manage to find some fair poses in my image files that made a nice iconic Eastern Kingbird pose for a small color pencil portrait.

"Red-breasted Nuthatch - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

Getting the pencils out brought on more image ideas that had been pent up all summer.  I haven't caught up with all those ideas but I've done a few. Here's a Red-breasted Nuthatch...one showed up a couple weeks ago and it makes an appearance every now and then.  Hope it sticks around! 

"Sharp-shinned Hawk - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
 

I've had some raptors in the yard this summer...mostly Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and an occasional Red-tail.  This bird, a Sharp-shinned adult gave me such a great pose a few years back...I knew I had to save the idea for a drawing.  With it now being Autumn and our colors so poor this year, I decided to give it a colorful background to set it off.  I try and do all these bird "portraits" life size.  Sharpies are only about Blue Jay size or slightly larger, so this is not the biggest drawing - but then, in comparison the that Red-breasted Nuthatch it sure looks big!

Now I need to catch up on framing!  Always something!

We've got another dry Fall here on the acreage...our third severe (listed) drought in a row.  We seem to be in a "finger" stretching up from the southwest; travel 10-20 miles north and its not as bad...travel 20-30 miles east...again not so bad.  Further south seems to get rain as well...it is what it is.

Really the only issues we have here are the gardens being poor producers, the orchards were insect and bird damaged, and the pastures had poor seed production, stunted growth and many plants gone dormant, again.  We've found out the hard way that the American Viburnum we've planted are not "consecutive year" drought tolerant...holes are being punched into the 20 year yard planting here.

Weather all over the world seems to be in the news...Hurricane now hitting Florida, drought out west, and the NE...flooding in so many locations worldwide.  We'll just be grateful for what we have and do the best we can for those in need.

Its a crazy world out there - be kind to one another!


Friday, September 2, 2022

September Archival Works Friday!

It's Archival Works Friday!

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! 

 

My first large format camera - a 1951 Crown Graphic

I was first introduced to “large format” photography back in the early 1970's when a student at the University of Iowa's School of Art.  My Father-in-Law bought an old Crown Graphic 4X5 press camera from an older gentleman who had been a professional photographer all his life. The retired photographer “Andy” had bought this camera new back in 1951. I was a one year old in '51!!!

For those out there that don't know what large format is – its a camera that takes any type of sheet film from 4X5” and larger.  One sheet of film.  Large format cameras were build to accept film holders – they held 2 sheets – you'd shove the holder into the camera's back, pull a dark slide out of the holder, take the photo, push the dark slide back in and pull the holder out...if you wanted to take another photo you would turn the holder over and shove it back into the camera back and repeat the process.  You had to remember to mark the holder or flip the dark slide so you'd remember that sheet was already exposed...in the heat of the moment I must have double exposed my share of film over the 30 years I used my 4X5's!  Oops!!!

I also had a Graphic 6 sheet holder – this was very cool if it didn't jam up or fail...it was finicky!  If I were to fog or waste a sheet – B&W film wasn't too bad...maybe about 35-50 cents a sheet, but the color film could be as expensive as $1.50 to $2.00 a sheet!  To make matters worse, if you didn't realize you screwed up your shot, having to get it processed or doing that yourself spent more money on processing or chemical costs!   It was always a moment for regret after processing a batch of film only to find out something had gone wrong!  A sheet of color film, after being processed could add up to as much as $5.00 “A SHOT”!  That was a bundle to lose back in the 70's through the 90's!!! Especially for just one picture!

There was a lot of ways to lose shots...the subject moved...the tripod jiggled a bit during a time exposure...the film holder leaked, or jammed...you just plain blew the exposure...and a lot more ways!

Don't get me started with how easy everyone has it these days!!!  Oh dear, my age is showing!

I became very good at processing sheet film...I worked in a professional photo lab in Kansas City for 3 years back in the mid 70's...processed thousands of sheets - “manually” by hand. And I found I could cut my costs by over a third by doing my own that way, but it was extremely tedious and time consuming...and chemicals were not cheap or forgiving.

My 4X5 Field Camera - a Tachihara
 I used 2 types of 4X5 cameras – the first one I mentioned a ways back was just one year older than me...the other was a beautiful wood/folding field camera...a beautiful piece of workmanship, a Tachihara 4X5 Field Camera.  This wooden field camera was lighter than the lenses and lensboards I used!  I won't get into all the drawbacks or challenges of large format film and cameras, suffice it to say I've already mentioned a few, but the 2 toughest hurdles for me were always depth of field and the shutter speeds you were forced to use.  Most large format landscape images required F/32 or higher and shutter speeds of ½ second or longer...ya, try hand holding that!  NOT!  My favorite tripod was a wood ash tripod – still use it to this day – HEAVY bugger but steady as a rock!

I guess I could keep complaining or bragging about how I had to walk to school for over a mile, up hill both ways, when I was a kid (Really – I kid you not! Well, after grade school any way) But it was “work” for sure. (Just don't get me started on cameras and smart phones these days – Aacck, there I go again!)

There are a lot of stories I could get into with Large Format photography, but the all time favorite was one vacation back in the early 1980's.

On vacation, the family had to resign itself to the fact that I was always stopping to take pictures...always!  The tripod and back pack were ever present and a photograph could take up to several minutes to as much as a half hour or longer – depending on what was going on or where we were.

I carried a lot of loaded film holders, but it didn't take me long to run out of film! The only way to “re-load” film holders was in total darkness.  OK...if you're out camping in a tent, on vacation, your opportunities are limited!

One day in Cascade River State Park in NE Minnesota I ran out of loaded film.  This was NOT the place to run out of film!  We were camped in the park itself and there were too many cars, headlights and flashlights at night to chance changing film holders in the tent, so I went searching for the park ranger's house, knocked on the door and tried best I could to explain my dilemma...I showed him a sheet of film and a film holder...showing him how it worked. I asked if he had a room in his house that was able to be completely darkened in the middle of the day. He said the only room he could think of was the hallway closet and agreed o let me take it over for about a half hour!

Well the closet was “close” to being dark...there was light making it's way under the closet door, so I took clothes off their hangers (ya using the ranger's coats and jackets) and stuffing them around the door bottom. It worked! The room was very hot after a few minutes and I had to try and keep from letting sweat drip onto the film – literally!

As I was getting to my last couple holders I heard a woman's voice enter the house. Then I heard foot steps walking down the hallway toward the closet door. Next I heard the ranger's voice almost shout “Don't open the closet door – a man's in there!!!”

I don't remember much after this point except with me “popping” out of the closet drenched in sweat – then the ranger's wife shrieking hysterically!

I'm sure we spoke briefly before leaving the ranger and his wife behind, but really all I remember is the unstoppable laughter emanating from their house as I carried my pack of film holders back to the campsite.

I do remember leaving them a sheet of film as a memento of this auspicious/wacky occasion.

I'll wager the word “photographer” brings back a story for them both to this day!

Crazy camera nut!!! 

(No argument there...)


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&W...it 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 where...it 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 hope...love 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 June...it 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 fun...one 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!

https://www.bleedingheartland.com/2022/06/15/iowa-wildflower-wednesday-a-prairie-home-remnant-in-obrien-county/?fbclid=IwAR1EGI3peIrcO_mOYme0IZVqZQCphEaScnEXHLKqYI-VFYh_kCf2HE5D9oo

 

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 drawing...my 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 play...it 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 them...video 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 back...it'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 ourselves...to 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
(6X8")
 
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
(12X16")
 
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 things...is 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!