Thursday, March 25, 2010

Enjoy'n It!

"From Waterman South"
(color pencil on hot press paper - 5 1/2X8")

Forgive my "slang" spelling but I'm really enjoy'n it! The know - spring! And the birds...woke up to one of the yard robins singing it's dawn chorus piece yesterday morning, haven't heard that since maybe last July!

The Great Blue Herons are returning to the rookery across Waterman Creek, and the Song Sparrows have returned and are serenading in the south pasture.

The "glaciers" are rapidly melting away in the yard and pastures...there's still a couple 18-36" deep, but virtually the entire driveway and neighboring areas are free! Now the bees from the hives south of the barn are out searching high and low for pollen...poor'll be a while before we can help out there.

I just finished another small piece that's actually been on my back burner for several years. It was out on the south section of the Waterman Prairie complex south of here...actually a few years before we bought this property we now call Prairie Hill Farm.

Georgie and I visited the south section of Waterman Prairie the year that the ground was purchased for the state. It was an area I revisited many times in the first few years and I photographed the landscape around it whenever the light was good. This was a view I really took to; at first I wasn't sure what it was about it, but I believe the light and the graphic qualities in the image were the "hook" for me.

I'll readily admit I do many pieces for reasons that are my "weakness" per se. I cannot shake emotional attachments. Once I fall in love with a place...for a moment, or for whatever becomes a part of my being. I wonder what exactly goes on but suffice it to say - I have to revisit it, even if it has changed. Revisit just to regain that feeling or emotion I felt at the time there. This piece is no exception.

If I had taken a photograph that met my expectations, I would have very likely stopped right there. But I did not. It was good enough to serve as a springboard for this small rendering, but I didn't feel it was enough to stand alone. I find sometimes I can recreate the memory in the way "I want to remember it"...I think it worked for me in that way, and I'm happy with it.

I prefer color pencils be small, larger pieces and attempts in the past have met with mixed results, they are also extremely time consuming. My first college art professor once told me that you should charge the same for a painting or other artwork that a plumber charges for their services (by the hour). Ha! I'll never forget that! But...the plumber could have redone the entire house during the time spent on this piece (and most other small color pencils I've done). Guess we just have to live with our limitations don't we???

But I'll treat this piece as a study, possibly...maybe someday down the road it'll morph into a new life as a larger painting? One never knows...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Looking Forward To It!

Compass Plant and the Prairie Hill Farm Prairie Hillside

I'm almost's starts tomorrow! Officially anyway; tomorrow is the first day of Spring!

We woke up to a fresh covering of snow here at Prairie Hill Farm. The Robins are not happy but are doing their thing, strutting and pecking wherever they can. A little snow is no big thing now...even a lot of snow would be no big deal either, because It's almost spring! Whatever falls today or tomorrow will be gone in a couple days or so.

The sky was actually blue this Wednesday and Thursday! It was so nice to not be fogged in...a person's soul needs blue skies. Simple as that.

We're looking forward to the greening and flowering of the landscape here...the prairie is wonderful when spring comes, and even more so through the summer!

I went out and help Georgie a little in the yard yesterday...just could not stay in the studio. I pruned wild plums around the buildings while Georgie pruned the raspberry canes. During the afternoon the sky was full of many, many flocks of Snow Geese and Canada Geese heading north. Music to the ears.

Birds of the yard were singing as well...Robins, Chickadees, Nuthatches, and the many Red-winged Blackbirds and newly arrived Killdeers.

It's Spring tomorrow...did I mention that??!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Been Tough

Male Downy Woodpecker napping at the Studio
( Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz )

It's yet another foggy/overcast day here at Prairie Hill Farm studio. I've been going through tedious web site work for projects and other clients. I caught myself having a tough time staying on task and even awake (!) when I looked out the window to my left and there clung this downy little ball with no head! Now this snapped me out of my lapse of alertness, and I looked was a male Downy Woodpecker napping on the side of the tree trunk I hang the bird feeder from. I watched for several minutes and nothing...I went and got my small camera and took a picture of him with his head tucked into it's side.

Occassionally another bird would happen by, but the Downy seemed to be really "sawing logs", paying them no mind. I missed a really good image when a House Sparrow happened by and landed right next to him and gave him a very curious "look over". Very funny.

Eventually he came to, hopped over to the feeder and ate a little suet, then hopped back around to a different spot and tucked it's head under and snoozed some more.

This went on for all afternoon...I ended up video taping 2 or 3 times when he was sleeping and waking; he seemed as "out of it" as I was feeling!

It's been sun here for many days, thick fog is the norm. The snow is slowly melting but it's more conducive to napping around here lately!

Eastern Screech Owl (gray phase)

A few days ago we had another feathered friend here get caught snoozing during the day. It was drizzling, cold, windy and foggy...a nasty day. Georgie spotted this little Eastern Screech Owl (gray phase) napping on a 2X4 brace inside the lean-to where we park. It started out soaking wet, apparently coming under the lean-to to dry off and catch up on it's beauty sleep. We let it dry off and rest there all day, and could almost walk right up to it. Too bad the backdrop for our little owl wasn't better for the sake of a decent photograph...I'll just have to file this away until I come up with an owl drawing or painting idea down the road!

I think I'm awake now...the Downy is back and sleeping again (it's been awake, gone and back at least 8 times now), hope it goes "home" for the night or that little Screech Owl may have a feathery snack after dark!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

From the Beginning

I don't know if I've ever gotten into this topic before (?), but it is something I relive occasionally when someone poses a question where I started; where it all began I guess.

First it was just unintentional small steps...parents who didn't protest the little things...frogs, toads and turtles "free ranging" in the basement; science summer school; teaching the neighborhood squirrels to eat out of my hand; wading and fishing in neighborhood streams.

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 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 I bought a book, 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 1917 edition book, for the lack of a better word, transported me. Two of my most favorite birds, a Cooper's and a Red-tailed Hawk, were 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.

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 blog, was to be my first camera. I actually took quite a few pictures with this Ansco...all B& was a 120 film camera (2 1/4X2 3/4" or 6X7cm). You can kind of guess how useful it was as a bird camera though - not very.

One incident convinced me to get a "suitable" camera. I was walking the upper banks along Lizard Creek's south branch west of town 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 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, it just was not bright enough. I looked up again and tried to reference where the bird was, then looked back into the viewfinder - still no bird, I looked up again and the owl was no was gone.

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, and bought myself an SLR and a 400mm lens. As best I can recollect, this was in 1962.

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 a 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!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Count Down 1!!!

Prairie plants composite from the Pasture
here at Prairie Hill Farm in 2009

Yesterday afternoon, as I was gazing out the living room window in awe at the deep snow still caressing the acreage, Georgie mentioned to me that daylight savings time starts this weekend. That is just amazing to me, but I'm seemingly getting used to everything surprising me this year. How can it be?! Well, get used to it Bruce...that's the way it is!

Happily though, these changes are most welcome! Our first American Robins of the year were in the yard two days ago! The past couple days have had about three dozen Red-winged Blackbirds in the yard as well...this all means things "are" changing for the good!

Even though we've not seen 40 degrees here at Prairie Hill Farm Studio since late November, it has changed from snowing to raining! Messy - yes, but a step in the right direction! This morning we still have maybe a third or a quarter of the 65 inches of snow that has covered us since December, but I can now "see" the daily progress the rain is making...our hillside driveway is now clear!

Last year the pasture here was amazing...this memory has sustained us all winter long. I put together a small composite for this blog celebrating the spring and summer to come. We are now a week and a half from the vernal equinox, but spring has really begun; the small signs now tell us it is here - it will just get better!

Counting down (but already enjoying)!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Count Down 2!!

Great Blue Heron

Wow...March! Ya, I know it's been March since yesterday, but it's been a hard thing to comprehend because everything is still "very" white! The temperature still says "winter" each morning when we wake up, but it's toying with the freezing mark each afternoon and the sun is gaining height in it's arch, making it feel so much warmer on the face outside.

March is's the first month of spring. But what a difference a year can make. Last year this week the Great Blue Herons were returning to their rookery across the creek from us. Today...Ha! No way. The creek is still frozen fast and buried in deep snow. But the rookery nests of the last few years are still standing like beacons waiting their boarders.

The studio work here is still immersed in the Watchable Wildlife web site project; I've downloaded 75 videos this I have to embed them into templates I've set up and do google map work. The easel talks to me every day...all I can say is "I miss you too!" I have a feeling I'll need to scratch the camera's itch as well once the weather makes the "real" turn! From feast to famine and back!

Less than 3 weeks now - counting down!