Monday, December 21, 2009

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Have you been in a last minute crunch the past couple weeks like I have?! What a race it's been to get everything covered and finished or taken care of before the big holidays coming up!

I am grateful for being busy, but things have got to slow down some, if not only just for our sanity!

I haven't had a chance to really get out for winter photography for some used to be a favorite time for landscapes. One favorite location I liked hiking during the winter was Woodman Hollow Preserve in Webster County, down south of Fort Dodge, Iowa on the Des Moines River. As state preserves go, this one is nice.

This preserve actually had a decent access road in and even an old CCC type building, albeit small. The road was blocked off sometime in the1970's. I felt a little bad about it because it really cut off the ability to carry a lot of gear into it...except for younger (more able bodied) folk. The road had completely grown over in scrub trees by the early 1990's.

The photograph taken here was in December in the mid to late 1980's, along the path leading to the river overlook. This path passed through a goat prairie and overlooked the hardwood forest to the south. The main thing I remember about this day is the temperature being slightly below zero and the walk in took some time. I was carrying about 45 pounds of 4X5 view camera and my 35mm gear, and wooden tripod and ball head. I wish I could still handle that much gear below zero on a two hour hike now!

Well, whatever you can or wish you could do these days, get out and enjoy Christmas and New Years with family or friends if you're able.

Wishing you the best! (See you next year!)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's Winter...unofficially

Male Downy Woodpecker

Well it may not be the solstice yet but it's now winter. A good old blizzard with lots of snow brought it on fast and has us drifted in today. It usually seems that once we get frigid temps and a good snow covering, we're in it for the long haul.

As I sit in the studio pondering some scheduling changes I have to make because of the weather, I'm distracted in a fun way by the birds outside contending with the new landscape. One familiar favorite is the Downy Woodpecker; they seem to be the most plentiful and tolerant of people approaching them.

Downys look just like Hairy Woodpeckers, except in miniature (about a 3" difference). The only way to delineate the sexes is by the male's splash of red on the backs of their heads (same for Hairys).

Female Downy Woodpecker

I had a male and female pose for me this morning so I'll post them here.

I'm mustering up the will to crank up the snow blower and attack our hillside 200 foot driveway...but think the wind needs to die back some yet before I do. Guess there are sacrifices for living out in the middle of the tallgrass - especially in the winter! But, hey, I think I'll just stay distracted with woodpeckers for the time being!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


"Frigid Morning Bales"
Oil on canvas - 9X12"
Purchase the original work Here

Whoa! It's December already! I'm definitely past the ability to normally perceive the passage of time. It seems I'd think of it as still being October, except I remember October and this seems a lot nicer so far.

I was able to finish another piece in the studio this week. This is a small oil painting and is indicative of the season approaching. I rarely ever do more than one winter piece a year and when I do, that piece ends up being the illustration for my Christmas card.

I blogged about my Christmas cards last year. As I think I mentioned, this exercise in yuletide regalia started when I was 16 and in art class in high school. I think I remember doing a woodcut in class that was winter or Christmas themed, and took it even further when my mother took an interest in it...she thought it would be a nice Christmas card for the family to send out. I haven't missed a year since.

It is a bit of a stretch and stress some years, especially when our card list amounts to well over a hundred fifty...that's a lot of ink, paper, envelopes (never a standard size of course) and especially postage! I do enjoy it though...I've always liked to write old friends and relatives, it's just a bit of a rush when I end up waiting until 3 weeks before the big day!

I apologize if you get a card from me each year, I guess I just took part of the surprise out of the event for bad!

Here's wishing you a nice December!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Turkey!

November is slowly transitioning back to where it usually is now, but I don't see anyone complaining about having those three good weeks of weather after that rotten September/October stretch! What I'm really confused and frustrated about is how we got here so fast!

But Thanksgiving is a great time around here...the house and studio smell so good...Georgie cooks in the house and we feast out here where we have more room! We can seat around 20 out here (in the studio) with the majority around the same table, and we use the framing counter as the food service area.

It's been raining steady for the past day here and the farmers are stuck waiting till December now to complete harvest. It sounds like snow tonight and maybe tomorrow but we hope it's nothing to deter guests from arriving safely tomorrow and Thursday.

A couple days back when I was walking over to the studio I was noticing quite a ruckus in our north grove. Our year-round resident Red-headed Woodpecker was throwing such a hissy fit that Mudd (our resident farm cat/best buddy) even went over to see what all the fuss was about. She returned to the deck after a few minutes and I decided that maybe something was worth a look.

I saw nothing obvious - sometimes there will be a crow or hawk or owl around and the residents get a little agitated. We have been seeing a gray phase Eastern Screech Owl in the west grove Wood Duck box and I thought maybe it was outside snoozing and was attracting some attention, so I started looking in the conifers for it.

Eastern Screech Owl

The denser trees are good spots for these little guys and I found the "suspect" in one - buried back next to the trunk...don't know what all the fuss was about, he seemed perfectly content to stay tucked in until nightfall. After I went and got my camera it did give me some "looks", kind of like "Don't make me come out there"! type of looks or scowls. I couldn't get any more of the little owl than just a face shot because of the dense cover so I left it alone to nap the rest of the afternoon through.

I'd like to wish everyone out there a nice Thanksgiving with family, friends, or by yourself if it works out that way. Stay warm with good food and Love!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Autumns Past

Prairie Autumn Stream
7X14" Prismacolor (color pencil drawing)

It's still autumn here in the valley, but it's the time of fall when all color has drained from the landscape, save the sky. The sun still lends a beautiful yet subtle magenta veil to the hill sides and high tree branches when it nears it's last breath in the late afternoon.

Autumn was once (maybe still is in many ways) my favorite time of year. I used to spend fall days walking the edges of the Des Moines River in Fort Dodge (Iowa), or even wading to Duck Island...or wading Lizard Creek for Smallmouth Bass. There is nothing quite like fishing in-stream with a pair of waders on; you feel the stream, sense it's rhythm, and smell that fall air. It's easy to lose your balance and take a chilly bath if you get caught up in your surroundings and not pay attention to what you're doing. Sometimes I felt waders were just foreplay with the stream.

The image above is from the past 3 weeks with my color pencils and blenders. It was inspired by what I have just reminisced. When you get to my age, a lot of what directs or moves you is past experiences like that. How could someone paint, draw or write about something they have not experienced, dreamnt or reminisced?!

The material for this effort was garnered far from our last Watchable Wildlife trip down to Sac County in late October. It was very windy that day...30mph and higher, not a great photography day. But, as I described back then, the landscape was wonderful. I may have one or two salvageable images from that day to use as photos down the road...I just have not had the time to process/edit yet. But the material from my files were perfect to order for a painting or drawing, and I chose the later.

It could pass for Lizard Creek, or even the Little Sioux, and even (after a stretch) - Waterman Creek, here across the valley...but it's still a prairie stream.

Drift down your stream, if just in your mind and memory...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Clive Road Trip

Road trips for Georgie and I usually consist of exploring new or old sites for future artwork material or photo destinations, or just to get out and rejuvenate and get the cobwebs out of our heads after being immersed in work all the time.

This past Thursday, however, was an exception as we went to an invitational Art Gala down near Des Moines in Clive, Iowa. The event was being put on for the clients of DeWaay Capital Management and the public. Georgie and I don't usually participate in art "fairs" as we only exhibit and sell through galleries and art centers/museums but this event was somewhat different and it never hurts to meet new potential collectors.

25 artists from all over Iowa were invited to exhibit and sell their works in the building of DeWaay Capital Management...panels were furnished for the artists to use and wine bars were situated throughout the building's 3 levels. A string quartet played through the evening as clients of DeWaay and the public got to view and purchase artwork, and partake in the wonderful food bar and chocolate bar as well...all of which were complimentary and simply wonderful. The chocolate was nothing short of amazing :) !

I had many good conversations and contacts during the evening and sold a few prints and a is a very good feeling for any artist when people express their love for a particular piece of work.

The Business end of art is one I don't generally discuss but if an artist is to continue in their discipline, be it as a painter, musician, performer, or whatever - they have to consider their avenues of selling or getting work. Occasionally a road trip comes along that is all business, and it is a good thing to make new acquaintances and renew some old ones. (We were also able to visit a couple artists we hadn't seen in twenty years...that was great too.)

I'm going to begin offering the work I do here on this blog as well. I'm finding that occasionally someone asks me if I do artwork full time or if it is just a hobby. Art has never been a hobby for me - it's always been my life...what makes me get up each day. If I'm not creating, I'm seeking the seeds of that process so I can begin again to take part in that creative process.

I do have hobbies, things that interest me and are also fun to do...I love the prairie and educating others about it's importance. I love our natural heritage in general...Georgie and I like to go Birding whenever we're out and doing other things...we volunteer for many conservation organizations and activities. These are more like hobbies to me.

My art work usually reflects the natural part of this world. So maybe people find it hard to separate from just an "interest"? But as an artist I find I must do what interests and moves me on an emotional and even an intellectual level, or I will find it difficult to convey or celebrate it in my work.

As my message (or statement) says on my business web site home page "Our natural heritage is so important to me; it's a God given treasure upon the earth for us to use - with sincere respect. I am compelled to celebrate this gift in my work, whether it be a painting in plein-air or in the studio...or in the field through the lens or ground glass of the camera."

I hope you enjoy going through this process with me!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Fare for a Fair Day!

You could not insist on a day fairer than this...not without a guilt of greed anyway. I'd call it Indian Summer worth repetition many times over!

First thing this morning after breakfast, Georgie and I watched a nice looking 10 point buck following a couple does around the pasture across from us. We've been getting more activity than we like in the yard here (the bucks in rut really rake up the shrubs and small trees).

Later Georgie and I did some walking through the north pasture prairie remnant and picked seed. Things have dried out fairly well and we're trying to get enough prairie grasses and forb seed collected to heal the ditch over next year. The air was so pleasant and the sun warm, with a slight cool breeze out of the south west.  

Sandhill Crane in Center Lake Wetlands Complex, Dickinson County, IA

We were admiring the clouds and the cerulean sky when we caught a hint of sound to the northwest. I mentioned that it sounded a lot like Sandhill Cranes...we kept hearing it for a minute or so and then saw them - a small flock of 7 Sandhill Cranes flying past Prairie Hill farm! They flew south west but circled back a couple times as if trying to make up their minds as where they should go. That's a first for us "here" but we have photographed the cranes along the Platte in Nebraska and even on nearby wetlands in Dickinson County (but they're rare visitors there).

We came over to the deck on the front of the studio and admired the skies, watching the clouds passing over...took a break for a bit and just talked and watched. The White Ash in the backyard still holds it's seed bounty from last summer, it's now turned a deep amber and the contrast against the blue sky is quite leaves but the seed filled branches are heavily covered and they make a wonderful surrogate.

Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculat)

We decided to take a walk down the road to stretch the legs and take in some more of the view. After flushing a few pheasants I spotted the tiniest little sprig of brown laying still at my feet. I stopped to look closer and here was a tiny Redbelly Snake (Storeria occipitomaculat)! I've seen them before here at the acreage and south into Waterman Prairie, but they're so small and secretive that you rarely get to see or hold one. They're one snake that doesn't even attempt to bite or fight when handled.

This is one teenie reptile! Awww, ain't it cute!!!
This is one teenie reptile! I doubted the one I held was longer than 5 inches long stretched out. That probably meant it was born this year because adults are 3-4 inches longer; they're born live in small broods of 7 or 8 in late August or early September. Georgie doesn't care for snakes and didn't much appreciate me walking along side her with one so we headed back to the I got my camera out and went back out to the prairie remnant pasture and attempted some one handed shots of it in my left hand before releasing it.

This last shot of it gives a good idea how it got it's name! See how big it is compared to my ring! These little snakes are protected in Iowa and illegal to keep or kill so I had to release it, as tempting as it was to keep and try and photograph some more. I got one or two shots of it as it gained it's freedom but these little things move!!! Imagine something the diameter of a que tip post, about 5 inches long, brown on top, and moving real fast through the underbrush! Took less than 5 seconds to completely lose track of it!

Right now as I'm writing, Georgie's out on the studio deck reading and a late Halloween "guest" is flying around in the warm sunlight catching a bonus crop of flying bugs (mostly Asian Lady Bird Beetles) - it's a Bat! Now that's one for our books! Never seen a Bat flying around feeding in broad daylight/mid afternoon in November!!! I'm guessing that the weather's been so cool and wet lately, that the poor little guy hasn't been eating! Guess now he's making up for lost time...well I'm rooting for him! Get those dang bugs!

What fare for a fair day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Finished with Part I

The Raccoon River Valley in Sac County

Georgie and I spent last Friday down in Sac County (Iowa) visiting the last of our designated 70+ sites for the NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife web site. Friday was a real crap shoot with the weather and had been raining in the morning, so we left in the afternoon. It wasn't as much fun as we would've liked because we were really on a tight schedule - to get photographs and video footage shot before daylight ended.

It was around 3-3:30 before we even saw a glimpse of sun, and then it was exasperatingly brief and unpredictable...but we found plenty of interest to keep us busy! Lots of waterfowl, Pelicans, Cormorants, etc. down on the Sauk Rail Trail area in the SE part of the county. And the Raccoon River had very nice color along it, as well as interesting features.

I'm not all that familiar with the Raccoon River, but I must say it is quite pleasant and worth checking out. The best part we saw was along the McDonald Greenbelt in the NE part of Sac County. It was the last place we visited and the sun had just finally broken through looser clouds. The sun was getting quite low and the colors in that valley along the river were very saturated. I love the color of the day's last light, but this was a little more challenging because the sun was in, then out, then in and out...and the valley was nearly back lit so I was contending with lens flare and the fact that the wind was almost too high for my carbon fiber old trusty wooden ash monster was home of course.

The wind softened much of the landscape for me, the foreground of native grasses became a recorded blur, as did many of the middle ground trees, but the impression was really quite nice for the late autumn colored landscape.

The tree color here at Prairie Hill Farm has been disappointing this year, but the Raccoon River valley made up for it.

Now that we've visited all our sites for the year we'll be spending time putting together information, editing video footage, and building more pages on the web site this winter.

Have a good autumn while it lasts!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seems Like Just Yesterday

Steele Prairie Dawn

I remember the day we first moved in at Prairie Hill Farm in October. I remember walking down the gravel road on a break from remodeling inside the house, looking at the valley and the colors...thinking "this is the most beautiful place!". Aside from a couple early snowfalls the first week in October and a bad band of hail passing through (which totaled many bean fields) it was Indian Summer-like weather.

We had our first introduction to Asian Lady Bird Beetles that October. I remember framing in a new window in the kitchen...I was outside on the ladder trimming it out after we inserted it. I was covered in "lady bugs" and even had to take my shirt off and shake it out; was a very weird first time experience with these crazy bugs! Later we were scooping "drifts" of these bugs out of our buildings...this is no exaggeration, there was 10-12 inch drifts against the east walls of the future studio building.

It's been seven years now and seems like just yesterday, how can time pass by so quickly? I relived the beginnings here again recently through Woodlands & Prairies magazine. The magazine ran a really nice article on Georgie and I, our work here and my photography and artwork depicting the Tallgrass Prairie.

I've mentioned Woodlands & Prairies magazine before in this blog, it is a wonderful place to find like minded folks out there, fighting the same battle! I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in passing their natural heritage on to future generations!

Woodlands & Prairies magazine isn't normally what I'd consider an "art" publication, but publisher Rollie Henkes has run features of other artists in past issues that related their work to the environment in which they work or lived.

The last issue had an article of Harvey Dunn, that great pioneer born artist of the South Dakota prairie...that issue's center peice was "The Prairie Is My Garden", a painting I've marveled at for as long as I can remember...a very emotive painting of a pioneer mother and her children, and the amazing expanse of the prairie before we nearly blotted it from the continent.

Another issue, the Winter '07 issue, had a nice article on a landscape photographer from
Illinois. A husband and wife that ran a unique lumber business together. Michael Johnson, though, is also a true artist with his 5X7 view Camera.

And each issue also runs work by good friend Carl Kurtz. Carl writes and illustrates the "Naturalist's Notebook" articles...Carl's photographs have been awing and educating Iowans since the '70's. Carl's work in prairie preservation and restoration/reconstruction have influenced myself and others far and wide.

Rollie ran my Steele Prairie Dawn image for the center two page spread of the Fall 2009 issue and wove his article on us and Prairie Hill Farm Studio and Prairie both before and after the centerpiece. A humbling piece for me to read...who is this guy!! (ha!)

Thank you Rollie and thank you to Rollie's readers who've made mention of the article to me the past couple days.

You can get back issues and subscribe to Woodlands & Prairies magazine by going to the web site at

Ya, it brings back lots of memories...seems like just yesterday.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Autumn Bur Oaks

I don't believe I would ever make it in the Pacific Northwest. I do think it'd be a cool region to visit - don't misunderstand me! But I need the sun to touch my face most every day. I also need that cerulean blue of the Earth's sky to overtake the clouds and create a wonderful back drop...a relief for the eyes and spirit.

The past week has been miserable! Overcast each day, cold drizzle each day; the coldest October on record so far for our region. Still no Indian Summer.

Our raspberry crop stopped producing over a week ago; a hard freeze put an end to it. But that's OK, just ask Georgie. She picked (with a "teenie" bit of help from me) a pint for every day of the year this past season. Ya, 365 pints! Whoa! We finally broke down and bought a small freezer - it's impossible to eat a pint every day of the year! Even though I love raspberries!

Usually when the raspberries stop here, we get Indian Summer. We're still may happen yet this week but it's usually here by now. That's my favorite part of autumn; when the air is crisp and delicious, as are the colors around us...nothing quite like the flaming yellow of cottonwood with the clear blue sky as a supporting back drop. Or the Bur Oaks when they turn that subtle burgundy. That hasn't happened this fall here...most everything has just turned brown and withered. The exception has been the prairie remnant here and in the area; I mentioned that in my October 9th Prairie Autumn blog; the
prairie never lets us down!

Yesterday afternoon was our first sunlight for many days so Georgie and I took off down the road to work on the Watchable Wildlife website project. We are getting closer to finishing the first leg of the 70 new location agenda...once we have footage and photographs of these 70 sites, I'll be adding them to the website this winter. It's been fun this summer; nice to get some new material for future paintings too!

This was the first real work I've accomplished since the Artisans Road Trip weekend. I'd be the first to admit I have stretches with a lack of direction or attention. It's hard for me to describe, but any artist, writer, or song writer knows what I'm getting at. Keeping the creative self moving uninhibited is hard and I personally have never been as good at it as I care to admit. I find myself just poking through things as if I've lost something...I'll go through books, old magazines, drawers, etc. The other night I rediscovered my "Black and Yellow" boxes. These are my Kodak boxes of old cameras and photography memorabilia. I know this is a distraction but it takes my mind off having an empty one (mind!) at the moment! There is a kind of melancholia I experience when handling old cameras...thinking back on those days when things were made of bakelite instead of plastic and were so much less complicated I guess?

Last night Georgie and I were listening to a neighborhood Great Horned Owl hooting from the north grove. It was still daylight and we walked out into the back yard when Georgie spotted it. We watched it watching us for a few minutes then went back inside. Later, before turning in, we walked out and sat on the studio deck and stared mouths agape at the Milky Way and a quick obliging meteorite. What an amazing sky when the moon is absent!

I tried starting a new painting last week...ended up tearing up the canvas. This too shall pass. When? When it's as simple as that. But for now, I'm so happy to see the sun and my favorite color of blue...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Birthday Snow!

Hey! I got snow for my birthday! Isn't that great?! (?) Well it's pretty anyway and I guess I'll take the positive approach and be thankful - I made another year after all, and my sweetheart is still by my side! And all the kids and grand kids are definitely something to be thankful for too!

I went out onto the prairie here at Prairie Hill farm and did a little video taping while the snow was falling and covering everything, and put together a short video for you to enjoy - my gift to you.

If you're on the email list for this blog, I don't know if the video will show so I'll post a link here and you can watch it that way -

I guess I should be painting a snow scene maybe?? Naw, it'll be Indian Summer soon...I hope - and that'd be better!

Keep warm!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Prairie Autumn

Big Bluestem stalks in Autumn at Prairie Hill Farm

It hit 24 degrees farenhiet this morning at Prairie Hill Farm...I think autumn has really arrived and will be here to stay. It's really not too early for a hard frost here, it just seems like it should still be August!

Most people don't realize how beautiful the prairie can be in the fall. Even Big Bluestem covered hillsides have a wonderful amber or bronze blush from a distance. Little Bluestem and Indian grass also add to the mix, creating an forgetful patina.

Stiff Goldenrod are never a dissapointment on the autumn prairie!

The forbs (wildflowers) are richly multicolored too in the fall. Probably the best examples are the Stiff Goldenrods...they're kind of like the "hard maples" of pairie autumn color makers! But all the goldenrod family celebrate fall in similar ways, so even the most docile CRP or pasture will yeild a show worth stopping and looking.

There are even asters still blooming at this time and despite the frost, their stems and leaves are ablaze with reds, burgundy, rusts, orange and yellow. Another late bloomer is the Downy Gentian...a flower of deep blue sky, a bloom to be jealus of.

We have been nearly overwhelmed with chores in the garden, yard and pasture since the A.R.T. weekend event, so there has only been minor work going on in the studio at present. Today we're off to Waterman Prairie south of here to help the Prairie Heritage Center pick seed for their prairie work. That's fun work, especially on a crisp sunny fall day like today!

Hope you can get out and enjoy this day as well!

Sunday, October 4, 2009


It was GREAT! (to see you!) And great fun meeting new faces and sharing stories this past weekend at the 2009 Artisans Road Trip!

Thank you for your patronage, and thank you for your friendship and support! And as I always say - "Come by any time!"

P.S. Weren't Georgie's raspberry pastries amazing! (She and gallery guests picked over 20-30 pints today as well!) And hot apple cider hit the spot this weekend!

Friday, October 2, 2009

It Begins!

We've had some very needed rain start fact we got more rain yesterday here than we got during the entire months of August and September put together! And we received less than 2 inches. Prairie Hill Farm seems to be drier than surrounding least to us! We've had one good year of moisture in the last seven we've been here; we're usually on the dry side.

Don't let the rain dis way you from taking in the Artisans Road Trip today and this weekend though! These are studio and gallery artists "inside"! Dry and warm!! We're going to have hot apple cider here in the studio in case you need to warm your bones!

There's a lot to see on A.R.T. whether you're out here on the remnants of the prairie or up at Iowa's Great Lakes or down in Storm Lake. Take it in! And support the Arts at A.R.T.!!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Looking Back (and other stuff)

"Spring Bobolink"
Oil on canvas - 6X8"
Things are really getting busy and crunch time is near with the Artisans Road Trip nipping at our heals. The A.R.T. starts this coming Friday afternoon (October 2nd) at 3 p.m. and runs through Sunday...9 a.m. - 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.

We had an opening at Arts On Grand in Spencer last week with the A.R.T. artists participating with pieces of their work, this exhibit will run through October...Georgie and I had a fun time seeing samples of what others have at their studios!

I tried doing another small painting this past week and finally's a study of a Bobolink. I haven't painted a bird in such a very long time that I was actually feeling a little trepidation while trying to work through it. I hate getting rusty at things, especially those things I like.

Bobolinks aren't really "in season" right now, but I'm looking back at a bird we really enjoy here at Prairie Hill Farm and on the prairie elsewhere. Bobolinks are "grassland obligates", or birds that depend on grasslands as habitat...they need grasslands (or prairie) for nesting and forage.

Bobolinks are also a rather curious case each summer. They arrive around late March/early April, nest, raise a brood and leave. Well maybe that sounds typical of other birds? Well, sort of - but they leave each summer around July 4th...then they spend the rest of the summer traveling in small flocks like nomads, wandering from place to place with no apparent pattern. They're pretty hard to find after the first part of July, so I always miss them through the rest of the summer. My father calls them the "Spink, Spank, Spink" bird. He said he remembers them from his early years growing up on the farm back in the 30's. There would have been more pasture and grasslands back then so I don't doubt he was familiar with them. Spink, spank, spink might be a common translation of their song, but I'd say they do an extremely good rendition of R2D2 from the Star Wars movies! Seriously.

Bobolinks are also a hard bird to paint! They are very black colored birds are not easy to portray because...well...they're lacking in color. Bobolinks do have some white in their wings and their rump and a light yellow "skull cap" marking, so they can be broken up with these accents but the study I did had one back lit form the side and its a sunny setting so the contrast makes it challenging.

This study has been on the back burner for a few years...I'd really like to incorporate it into a larger piece some day but thought I'd better try it on for size before I lose the memory of it!

I apologize if it registers too dark on your computer monitor...I've actually tried bring the contrast and density range down a hair on my monitor so it would look more like the original does from under the lights I paint with in the studio.

We've been (or I should say Georgie has been) working hard to keep up with the raspberry crop here at the farm. Georgie's been keeping records of the harvest and, unless a hard freeze comes soon, we'll go way past last year's yield of 330 pints! We're almost there today and there's at least a hundred more pint potential on the canes if we can squeeze a couple more weeks out without hard frost. Last year at A.R.T., we actually let studio visitors pick their raspberries?!

Hope to see you at Artisans Road Trip!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Till Next Year

Monarch on Stiff Goldenrod at the Prairie Hill Farm prairie remnant

Tomorrow is the Autumnal's amazing how fast summer went by.

One sign of this around Prairie Hill Farm is the Monarch migration and roosting. This is one insect that really gets me excited each year - in the spring and the fall. The fall population now feeding and roosting here is called the "Super Generation"...they're different than the ones that arrived last May or stayed during the summer months. This Super Generation of Monarchs has the ability to switch off the aging mechanism of previous generations (whose life cycle could be measured in just "weeks"). This Super Generation will go on to complete an amazing migration of 3 thousand miles - and then live for more than another 8 months! (8 months for a Monarch is the equivalent of a human living for 600 years!)

We've been having smaller "roosts" here on the acreage this summer. Last year we had between 400 and 500 Monarchs roosting in the trees here on one night. "Roosts" is the term for numbers of Monarchs staying overnight together in a group; why they do that I'm not sure but it's really a sight to see. To view part of the Prairie Hill Farm Monarch roost of 2008, go to the Watchable Wildlife website link at the bottom of this page ( and click on "Monarch Migration".

Roosting has been lower here this year and I have been reading that the population is at it's lowest since 2004, so that may have some bearing. Life recently has not been kind to our continent's most fascinating insect...with some recent hard freezes during the winter in their mountainous Mexican sanctuaries, and illegal logging in those sanctuaries as well, things are getting tough. Here's to a pretty cool bug - hope to see you next year, and forever after that!

Happy Autumn!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer Still

September Dawn, Little Sioux River
Oil on mounted canvas - 6X8"

This morning was a nice replay of many mornings this summer, particularly this month. A nice morning haze or low lying fog along the valleys and streams. It is something I like to try and chase on occasion, for the effect it plays upon the landscape.

I did a painting today and the fog on the Little Sioux River was fleeting, it was gone when the work began, but there was a very light transparent veil over the water as the sun burned through the trees upstream.

This was a difficult effect I've never tried to tackle before and very transient. The inception of the piece was begun on site and the painting finished here in the studio. I tried a smaller canvas in hopes I could do justice to the fleeting impression I had of the river at dawn...but even so it is something I'd like to try more of in the future.

I don't know if I can get in any more painting before the Artisans Road Trip in two weeks, but I'll try if possible. My to-do list for A.R.T. is getting longer!

5 days till summer's end!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Signs Ahead

It felt like summer again yesterday, humid and warm. In nine days we'll have the autumnal equinox upon us and summer will be something we just think back on or ahead to.

Yesterday my oldest grand daughter, Cassie, and I were out scouting around for images. We found Garter Snakes and Red-tailed Hawks (got HD video footage of each)...Turkey Vultures and Wild Turkeys. But one place we frequent had a definitive sign of what was ahead. A saturated hillside of sumac with a couple bales tossed in meant Autumn to me. A pleasing splash of color.

The bean fields all around us are a glorious yellow; they'll only call out for a week or so yet and I should be taking advantage of them, but for now this splash of scarlet has won me over.

For splashes of color and inspiration "here and there", don't forget to explore the Artisans Road Trip ( coming up in just 3 weeks! It's October 2, 3 and 4th. You can start here at Prairie Hill Farm Studio if you sure to stop by and say "Hi"!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Remembering Summer...No It's Not Over Yet!

Mid Summer, Prairie Stream
Oil on mounted canvas - 9X12"

I spent the day remembering summer, and occasionally leaving the studio to enjoy it as well. I worked on a new painting of my favorite small prairie river - the Little Sioux River.

It's along this stream that remains the last important unprotected and protected vestiges of the Tallgrass Prairie in NW Iowa. It's also an unruly and surprising can take you for a great ride or break your heart. I can't think of many other "rivers" in this state that are so quick to flood or constantly "banging bottom" from drought. But it's a true prairie stream, meandering through the tallgrass and hills. A pretty river, but not without it's scars. About 65-75 miles south of here it was straightened into a channel by the enterprising and ignorant minds of men many years ago, and losses it's true wildness and beauty.

Painting or photographing the Little Sioux is a great way to remember's not over yet but close. Get out and enjoy it while you can!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Waning Days of Summer

This morning at Prairie Hill Farm

Sometimes we remember back fondly on things that stood out in some way...a place or time...a person. I'm going to remember this "summer" for it's amazing weather, the days of beautiful skies and slight/friendly breezes. Of our prairie remnant...the birds and butterflies...the morning, afternoon and night sounds.

Certainly I missed most of the summer, working inside on things that ultimately help keep us here...those chores of work; but a foot step away from the studio deck, 50 steps more to the prairie pasture, have all helped temper the incidental loss during any particular moment or day.

I'm going to remember this summer through the long cold of winter, the one to come and all others beyond it. I'll remember the misty haze along the valley as the morning sun begins to burn it's path through the tallgrass prairie on our hill.

Perhaps things happened to many of us this summer that we'd as soon forget; some things were annoyances and some hurtful. But this "event"...this "summer" of our lives, is worth all those chemical synapses that will replay the good parts through my mind till I am satiated with it!

Georgie and I hopefully still have a few weeks of pleasant evenings out on the studio deck this year, watching the light of that magic hour washing over the valley hillsides...listening to the early calls of Great Horned Owls, Coyotes rallying for the night hunts the katydids, crickets and cicadas songs.

And we wish the same pleasures for you.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Exploring The River

Leaving Ranney Knob - Little Sioux River
Oil on mounted canvas - 9X12"

A week ago last Saturday I spent some time down on the Little Sioux River in the morning. I was taking pictures and video taping the first annual Prairie Heritage Center's Inkpaduta Canoe Race. It started a bit foggy but turned into a beautiful day. Race participants seemed to have had a great time too.

I scouted around a bit for picture ideas and think I may have some nice things tucked away for this winter or some other studio time...or revisit for plein air. Today though I took time to paint the Little Sioux River at Ranney Knob...a park Georgie and I first visited in Cherokee County a few weeks ago in mid summer. I revisited the river in the studio today...I liked the material I had from this summer and wanted to strike while the iron was hot. I hate mulling things over too long...the embers in my mind go cold and that's that.

The pressure is on around here and I'm scrambling to get things ready for the upcoming Artisans Road Trip up here in NW Iowa. I hope if you have any time during the first weekend in October free, that you'll stop in and say hello!

Have a great last 3 weeks of Summer!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

If I Could Only...

Pilot Creek meets the Des Moines River - Pocahontas County

Georgie and I spent the past couple days working on traveling and filming sites in 3 counties for the Watchable Wildlife project. As we traveled around and explored these sites, we'd also check out other places in the areas we visit.

I find myself overwhelmed as new and renewed discoveries (for us) continually mount up. If I could only live long enough to act upon all the images and ideas rolling around in my head! Oh what a quandary to find yourself in!

One place we visited and filmed was east of Rolfe in Pocahontas County (Iowa). The site was south of Pilot Creek and west of the Des Moines River by a few hundred yards. It was the site of the last battle in Iowa between different Indian this case the Winnebago and the Sioux.

The Winnebago were camped and settled in for the night, with a man stationed in a nearby Walnut tree. The Sioux were sneaking up to take the other tribe's cache and to claim their trapping/trading grounds. The scout in the tree spotted the Sioux's movement in time to sound a warning and although lives were lost, the Winnebago kept their territorial interests against their rivals.

It all conjures up some cool stories doesn't it!

After visiting this site we headed over to the nearby river and I took the image above of where Pilot Creek enters the Des Moines River.

The rivers, streams and other bodies of water are literally books of stories of many kinds! Oh what wonderful stories of adventure, struggle, celebration and sorrow they must hold! I can't wait to paint another river!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Yesterday's Effort

"Little Sioux Sand Bar"
oil on mounted canvas, 9X12"

Yesterday was a new painting day and the Little Sioux River over by Linn Grove (Iowa) was the location of choice. This area is below the dam there and there are many spots to walk along or even park on both sides, but this view was from the north side looking across stream.

I think I'm trying to do things I'm comfortable with because I feel out of touch and "shape" with the canvas at the present time - having spent so many months in front of my monitor working on websites and educational presentations, and such. I spent so much time on the rivers and creeks when I was growing up that I find them both mentally and physically intriguing and well as relaxing and visually exciting. It's a bit less of a stretch, I guess, to make an image of a stream look inviting.

The painting wasn't finished until this morning though...I just had to work on the water more; fine tune things if-you-will.

Enjoy this October "like" weather while it lasts!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Back At It...

Sand Bar Slough - July Skies
Oil on mounted canvas - 12X16

Finally...back to the easel! I firmly believe that - yes, once you learn to ride a bike you can always get back on and do it after years have passed. BUT - I also believe you'd do fairly poorly if you don't get in any practice!

This is true of anything of course...musicians need to practice or they'll get rusty; doctors need to practice or they may do more harm than good; artists need to work or they'll find they have a lot of "brushing" up to do!

So I'm back at it once more...not because I "have" to, but because I want to...I need to; it's definitely a need and I get cranky the longer I can't get back to it!

I wasn't able to swing a plein air piece yesterday but took some reference material from a trip up to the lakes with some of the grand kids in July. Love summer skies up around the marshes and prairie potholes! The painting is of Sand Bar Slough, just off the NE tip of Spirit Lake in Dickinson County, here in NW Iowa. I believe Sand Bar Slough is privately owned but is just off the east grade of the highway and there is a little spot on the grade you can pull over on in a small vehicle. I'm not sure one could get away with doing a plein air piece there since you're not likely parked legally and I'd certainly be there a while if I tried!

I'm lucky the opportunity arose to get some time in the "other side" of the studio!

I'm also very lucky to be celebrating a great day with my great lady Georgie today, it's our 39th anniversary today! What a girl! I love her more than I can express!

Do something with someone you love this weekend!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

OK, It's Back!

Verbena hastata at Stiles Woodland Preserve, Cherokee County

OK...summer's back for sure now! Dewpoints in the 70's and temps in the 90's (thankfully not higher!). I'll admit right here that I'm not real fond of high heat and humidity, but I got real lucky this summer with a couple month reprieve so I'm not going to complain (just melt).

Georgie and I spent the afternoon and evening yesterday doing more NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife work, visiting areas in Cherokee and Buena Vista counties south of us here at Prairie Hill Farm. We really found some pretty nice locations and I'm wishing it'd be possible to revisit some of these places more often!

One place I was really taken with wasn't one of our assigned locations - Stiles Woodland Preserve. It's identified as a preserve under the ownership of a group called "Friends of Conservation", and is an area of heavy woodland bordered by lowland/wetland and prairie remnant. It would be a great place to bird and we were serenaded by Eastern Towhees singing "Drink your tea!" all the while we were along the remnant hillside and meadow area. I didn't do any video taping in this area but did record the bird's phrases for a short bit...I'll have to add it to my website audio page when I can manage the time.

"Bull's Eye, Bison"

I'm to the crunch stage with a lot of things right's just 8 weeks till the Artisans Road Trip the 2, 3, 4 of October and am in two exhibits at the moment also. "Horizontal Grandeur 2009" at the Stevens County Historical Museum in Morris, Minnesota...this exhibit runs clear through the end of October. I have a couple pieces in this show, one of which, shown above, is of a Bison Bull up close and personal.

I also have many pieces (Giclees) at the Grimes Farm Nature Center near Marshalltown, Iowa for a solo exhibit through the end of September.

The Artisans Road Trip also has a sample exhibit going at the Sanford Museum in Cherokee, Iowa. Be sure and take in any shows in your area - support your local artists!!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Whoa! Now where's this coming from? I'm definitely not ready for August but I must say I'll take today's weather (and most of July's) any day, any where! Love this...we'll think back on it fondly once the heat and humidity returns.

Song Sparrow

This weather really reminds me of the summers we used to spend at our small place in NE fact this weather has been giving me pangs of pleasant memories there. If I were to close my eyes I'd swear we were there once more, sitting on Lake Superior's north shore listening to the Song Sparrows serenading along the shoreline Tag Alders. I remember the local Song Sparrows there and the birds here in NW Iowa had a distinct difference in their songs; oh it was the same song for sure but you could hear there was something like a regional accent coloring one area's song from another.

Common Yellowthroats (female top - male bottom)

Our Prairie Hill Farm Song Sparrows have been very vocal the past 2-3 weeks, as have our prairie remnant's small population of Common Yellowthroats. The Yellowthroat's calls aren't as melodic as the Song Sparrows but still nice music to the ears. These little guys are a little more on the "pretty" least the "males" are. Georgie likes to call them "little bandits" because of the black mask across the male's face. The female is much more non-descript than the male...more of an olive green/yellow plumage with no real obvious markings. You hear these little birds more than you see them; you have to get into their habitat and seek them out when they sing their "witchy, witchy, witchy, witch" call.

Better get back to work here, but the distractions and the weather are great!

Monday, July 20, 2009

On The Road Again

It's been a bit since my last entry; I think we've been too buried in work here to do a decent job of keeping current. I could make this entry a continuation of the last one...oh what a tangled web technology seems to weave...but let's not go there!

Summer is in full swing on the Tallgrass in our region now...even here on our prairie remnant things are looking pretty cool. I always hate to see some things finish up and disappear but others always take their places. The Bobolinks have left to their wandering now, from the pasture here and across the road. I enjoyed their "spink/spank/spink" calling through the late spring and early summer, but they've finished up their nesting and rearing and have headed off to wander the grasslands for the remainder of the summer.

Narrow-leaf Purple Coneflower

Our native Narrow-leaf Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) has been beautiful and held up pretty well over the past 3 weeks but is now waning...they'll stand sentry over the remnant north of the house - their drying stalks and seed heads will still be standing next spring.

We're off one project and on to another. This one has us visiting many sites in NW Iowa, to eventually add to the NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife web site. Its a real enjoyable project and one that makes me get out and away from the studio and the computer.

Along the trail in the Bertram Reservation

One location we visited last week was one I photographed on several years back, it's the Bertram Reservation east of Peterson, Iowa in Clay County. A Boy Scout camp 40 years or so ago, is now an area of remnant Bur Oak savannas and hillside prairie. The wooded trails and open vistas are a real treat. It's nice to find things again you forgot about!

Looking forward to more adventures this summer; hope you have some too!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Don't Get Me Started...

The road into our Prairie Hill Farm Studio is in much better shape than a couple weeks back. The county crews are a couple miles south of us now, doing more work yet. They aren't finished here on the ditches but hopefully will be some day!

There is so much happening here's a very busy time for the birds...the Robins are on 2nd and 3rd nestings, the House Wrens are in several houses around the acreage. The Red-headed Woodpeckers, Hairys, Downeys, and Red-bellieds are all raising families in the grove and beyond. The Baltimore Orioles are in their hanging "basket" about 14 feet above the driveway and the Eastern Bluebirds are in the box about 20 feet south of them!

The Killdeers are running amuck all over the 'New" gravel road...don't know how they've fared with new construction? And each day and night we hear the crazed squabbling over at the Great Blue Heron rookery across Waterman Creek.

The last blog led with a photo of our American Kestrels. I've been trying to watch for the adults feeding the young but have not been able to sit in a blind to keep track due to deadlines I've been facing. However, yesterday I set the camcorder up and just let it run on the nest box...then went about my work while it taped without me.

One of the youngsters has left the nest now and is sitting in the trees nearby, while it's sibling is still box bound and begging from there. During the 75 minutes I taped, the chick in the box was only fed can see how long the parent bird lingered - not long! It shoved a dragonfly into the chick's mouth and was off and running again. I sure hope they're catching more than one dragonfly every 75 minutes!!! I'm sure they are :)

Take a look at the sequence here and watch the little guy (gal?) gulp it down!

Ain't technology wonderful! It let me see this by doing something for me while I was doing something else!

I've also added this video to the NW Iowa Watchable Wildlife website's "Trips Afield" page at: - you can just click on the "American Kestrel" tab and watch it there as well.

On Monday I was finally able to deliver a computer kiosk with a fun educational touch screen program with over 50 videos. I've been working nearly non-stop on it since April. The kiosk's hard drive went south on Wednesday.

Ain't technology wonderful?!

Well, OK sometimes...but don't get me started!

Monday, June 29, 2009


Although a little scruffy yet, this American Kestrel chick
is definitely a little beauty!

Most folks never seem to notice this little sits patiently on telephone and power lines or hovers with rapid wing beats over the ditches and pastures. How can you nonchalantly drive past our most colorful falcon...the smallest falcon in North America, and not stop to notice or admire!?!

This summer a pair of Kestrels (American Kestrel) took up residency in our north grove Screech Owl box. Kestrels are cavity nesters. A couple weeks or so back I began to hear chicks making noises in the box and the parent birds were being very vocal around the yard...doing lots of stunt flying, scattering birds everywhere.

I watched whenever I was near the grove and did see the adult birds dive swiftly into the box but they never hesitated at the entrance for photo opportunities. Today the chicks finally became large and brave enough to stick their heads out the entrance, and one even hopped onto the top of the box for a couple minutes. I walked over after seeing this and did manage a very few shots of just one of the youngsters squawking for more breakfast.

It'd be nice to get photos of the parents but that may not be likely, as they're very skittish when Georgie or I walk toward the nesting box, but we'll try and monitor whats going on when we're out and about.

Look up every now and again when you're outside and enjoy the aerial wonders above the prairie!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

June! Where Ya Goin'?!

Daisy Fleabane

How's it happen? Is it just me?! June finally came and now it's about gone! Well, we have till next Tuesday but it still looms as a past deed about to be retrospect.

I'm finally rapping up a long job here and am hoping for some real prairie time and even easel time (!) fairly soon. Meanwhile everything has no regard for my absence and continues full steam ahead.

The prairie remnant pasture here is a good example...during this week we've had more plants come into bloom...just to name a few there's the almost weedy Daisy Fleabane shown at the top of this blog. It's not a particularly attractive plant but the blooms are quaint and from a distance they bring an air of fun.

Butterfly Milkweed

A real favorite, the Butterfly Milkweed is just now blooming is a drop dead gorgeous bloom...unlike other milkweeds, this Asclepias does not have a milky discharge if broken...the Monarch caterpillars love to eat the seed pods on this plant, almost preferring them over leaves.

Pale Penstemon

Our smaller Penstemon, Pale Penstemon is in bloom now, just coming on after it's larger brethren has finished out (the Large-flowered Beardtongue). I like the tubular flowers and so do the Hummingbirds and the Bumble Bees.

"July Afternoon, Compass Plant"
oil on mounted canvas

And now summer must really be here as the Compass Plants have just begun their colors...we waited 5 years for our first bloomers here a couple years back; there's more each year now. This was a small oil painting I did of a Compass Plant last year...ya the title won't fit for a week yet but they bloom through July.

I wanted to mention an event this weekend near here if you have either Saturday or Sunday free. The nature center at Lost Island in Palo Alto County is having a "bioblitz"! The public is welcome and encouraged to participate.

It's a 24 Hour Snapshot/Inventory of Animals & Plants and the public is invited to join scientists as they survey over 7,000 acres of prairie, wetland, lake and timber. Teams will inventory mammals, birds, insects, fish, prairie & wetland plants. Fun stuff!!

I volunteered to help out so am looking forward to it.

You can join us for all or part of this event - it starts at noon on Saturday and goes through Sunday. Register by calling 712-837-4866.

Keep cool out there!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

It's Father's Day and I'm goofing off. That's nice to be able to do every once in awhile...I don't think I'll apologize anyway!

For many years I recorded the sounds of the prairie and the environment wherever we may have been at the time...I recorded many years on the North Shore of Lake Superior and in NW Ontario as well.

Audio is a wonderful thing to keep for other times or any time. Right now it's a drizzly windy day and I'm enjoying the Prairie Savannah on a summer morning with Song Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Robins, Red-headed Woodpeckers,and even the farm's cows down the's pleasant and fun.

Take a load off and enjoy a prairie savannah morning I recorded...have a page set aside on my website...enjoy the day!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Haven't had many visitors to the studio or farm lately...but then I don't think they'd make it in unless they were driving 4X4's. It's really hard to tell from the photo how bad things are, but they've raised the road by about 18-24 inches and totally scraped out and lowered/widened the ditches, and repositioned all the culverts. Then it rained.

If the road hadn't had big "Road Closed to Thru Traffic" signs placed at each end I'm sure someone would've looked at it and thought it was just "a little" muddy, but it became a sucking slurry that only a slow moving 4X4 could traverse...and that's only if you stuck to the middle.

We got real lucky yesterday and all the rain missed us! Never thought that'd make me happy (we're behind in our moisture) but it gave the road some chance to dry out a the county is back to work on it and have been adding and packing more gravel. It's actually driveable today...the entrance to our place is still not up to par but at least visitors shouldn't get stuck there today.

If we miss rain the rest of the week we'll be in better shape but I don't think we'll miss what's brewing...feels just like summer now! Heat and more of that cool nonsense we've had since winter ended. (Did like those sunny cool days though!)

Been checking the prairie pasture here and another forb has been blooming. Prairie's a real stand-out when there is a lot of it but we've only got a small number blooming...maybe that's one we need to encourage. A beautiful magenta blossom...but the deer here really appreciate it too (salad?), that's why we don't seem to have enough. Unfortunately when the plant is browsed back it does not bloom.

I don't want to discourage visitors! Just give us a week or two, weather permitting we'll be dry and ready for art and prairie lovers! Stay cool!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things Progressing at Prairie Hill Farm...

False Gromwell in bloom

Things are moving along here...both on the prairie remnant and in the studio. The grant work I've been immersed in since April is beginning to find the next week or week and a half, neighbors (all about a half mile away) will likely hear a big sigh of relief!

In the meantime life moves on the prairie here and on the gravel road out front (more on that later).

False Gromwell is in peak bloom this's a local native that most people have never had experience with, yet is one of my early favorites in the tallgrass prairie. It's also called Marble seed since the seed is extremely hard and "roundish". They're (the seeds) about BB size, so I'd hate to play marbles with them. I can't really attest to it but I've heard that wet plants tend to smell like a wet mule...I've never seen the deer bother them so maybe there's something to it?

False Gromwell with Bumble Bee

Although False Gromwell flowers are fairly non-descript, Humming birds and Bumble Bees love to pollinate these flowers. The plants themselves though are very handsome in shape and structure, and vary from a yellow green through almost gray hues.

"False Gromwell Slope" color pencil - private collection

One of my first experiences with this forb was on a newly state aquired prairie site back in the late nineties. This is now the south section of Waterman Prairie south of here. There was a slope I did a small color pencil study of and it was rampant with False Gromwell!

Wild Four O'Clock

Another small, and very common. wildflower that's in bloom on the pasture is the Wild Four O'clock...another overlooked native forb! A very colorful but small blossom...usually pops up wherever it wants, but the fence line seems to be a favored location.

Porcupine Grass

And the cool season native grasses are beginning to flower...Porcupine grass is a cool one...but there's also Western Wheat, June Grass, and a couple varieties of panicum or Panic Grass.

Right now you may have trouble getting to us, the road is completely torn up and the rains we "finally" managed to get are making things quite troublesome. If you have 4 wheel drive you'll probably be OK, but I would not recommend it until the county gets things straightened out. In the meantime if you need anything, just email or give us a call.

See you on the tallgrass!