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!