Friday, May 6, 2022

Archival Works Friday - N0. 8!

"Archival Works Friday" No. 8!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 1, 2022

Archival Works Friday - No.7!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from a private Vermont collection)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Winter's Last Breath? (Crossing Fingers!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please be good to one another.


Friday, March 4, 2022

Archived Works Friday No.6!


Post No. 6! The next post for "Archived Works Friday” comes from just over a decade ago. 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! 
I also want to mention, starting this month I will limit "Archival Works Friday" posts to the first Friday of the month...I don't want you tiring too quickly with my ranting! 
This was a pencil drawing done in the early 1980' is a bit personal but maybe more on that before I close.
I always loved walking creeks...some of you who knew me well may have even accompanied me back "in the day". A person sees things a bit differently from "in" the creek, river, pond; I know, I could have easily grown webbed feet as a kid! But on this particular day I wasn't frogging, seining or fishing...just decked out in waders carrying a pack, tripod and camera. 
The stream was Prairie Creek. If you're familiar with Dolliver State Park in north central Iowa - this is the creek you had to drive through to go from one end of the park to the other. Kids could always be found wading or playing in the water between sparse traffic on hot summer days. The road has since been re-routed for water "sensitive" drivers. 
Prairie Creek has somewhat attractive features downstream before it empties in the Des Moines River, but on this early spring morning I chose to walk north to the west park boundary, since it would be new to me...besides the other direction was typically busy with park goers and I liked the idea of being by myself. 
It was a fun walk. Once past the Copperas Beds trail head and sounds of activity from the nearby group campground cabins, it got very secluded and beautiful. Accompanied by the occasional warbler and sweet spring bird songs, I found unaltered woodland and was like I walked into a different world. I still remember this walk nearly 40 years ago. 
I didn't get too many photographs of the landscape. I did photograph some ferns, mosses and wildflowers. But one landscape image I did make was one I felt compelled to draw instead of process a print. I knew my photography and the darkroom well - it had been my profession already over a decade at this time. I was seeing the scene so differently in my mind than on the 4X5 large format color transparency that I processed from this morning walk. 
The subject had a clump of Basswood in early leaf, surrounded with a thicket of scouring rush. The bank hung heavy over the creek and I noticed a set of mink tracks heading under the bank...always on the hunt for crayfish and frogs. I've watched mink fish in and along streams and marshes before - they're pretty good at it! 
Prairie Creek is a name likely given it because that's where it originated - way before it entered the sandstone walled ravines leading into the timber. And here the stream resembles those that traverse through woodlands...stones litter the flowage, decorating the water and defining patterns on the surface. This stream had poetry within it's banks and I wanted this to show.
I worked on this piece exclusively for several months - I had a daytime job at the time. Little by little I gained ground. To keep from smearing lead already placed where I wanted - I drew from the top down...never leaving a mark unfinished. Seemed counter intuitive to not put the "foundation" down first, but that's how I always worked with graphite pencil leads; making mistakes with pencil, even with an eraser handy, makes it extremely frustrating to hide the "error". (Of course something like india ink would be impossible to erase an error!)
I only used one grade of lead – a very soft grade of Eberhard Faber – Ebony Jet Black – Extra Smooth (6325)...every light touch of the pencil equaled fine lines...heavy touches made for darks that you could get lost in. I try and draw on acid free paper. The last few years I switched to quality hot press watercolor blocks and use that for the color pencils as well now.
My Mother was dying from bone cancer at this time...years earlier it started as breast cancer; she had a 5 year reprieve and they declared her cancer free. As suddenly as we all celebrated, it was back, but in her bones. In her last weeks I worked frantically on this drawing. I wanted her to see it finished. My Mom always supported my artistic endeavors and trials. She was actually a good artist herself but was a practical person who had grown up during the great depression...providing for her family, along with our Father, was “her” focus and she did little for herself in comparison. 
One day, when I was around 13-14 years old, Mom showed me something she had done as a teenager. If you are my age or close you'll know what I'm referring to – it was a magazine ad...”Draw Me” from Art Instruction Schools in Minneapolis...I had done the same thing without knowing she had years before. She and Dad agreed I could enroll. It was a mail order type art school and the lessons were good for me...made me focus and think things through. But I always thought back on this and wished my Mother had the circumstances she and my Father now provided me.
Mother never got to see “An Iowa Spring, Prairie Creek” finished. I was just reaching the water beneath the overhanging bank in the drawing when she last saw my progress...she passed shortly after. But I did it for her and I think of her every time I look at this drawing...its my visual song to my Mother; a poem to her memory.
“An Iowa Spring, Prairie Creek” - pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison
(from the collection of the artist)

Friday, February 25, 2022

Archived Works Friday - No. 5!


Post No. 5! The next post for "Archived Works Friday” comes from just over a decade ago. 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!

I've done a few commissioned works since my early years...some that were kind of "out there" and some I never expected.  I've forgotten many of them too I'm sure, and I don't even have records or photos of some of these.  But a more recent memorable commission was done for a good friend 11 years back, yet was months in making.  This commission wasn't exactly up my alley either but the story behind it and the "landmark" it entailed got me  interested - commemorating (if-you-will) my friend's Saturday morning trips to a local grain elevator with her father, back when she was a child. 

The elevator is one I was familiar with, have driven past and around it for 40+ years.  What I didn't know were some of the history and stories behind the "Ritter Elevator" - was fun to research and depict the elevator during the early 1950's!  This elevator is located on old highway 60, a few miles north of Sheldon, and just south of Ashton, in NW Iowa.   This was a thriving grain storage facility and I believe still is.  (Although the modernized part of the facility is just south of this depiction.) What surprised me about the Ritter Elevator was that, "back in the day" it also served as a hardware, lumber, and grocery store, as well as a post office and train station. Need to catch a train south to Sheldon, Hospers or even Sioux City?  No problem!  Pretty cool for the rural population of the day.

In the painting, the red IH box truck was my client's father's truck, supplied by an old B&W photo (they described the color of the truck to me).  I added the figure at the rear side of the old IH and declared that it was her father!  I took the rest of the vehicles from the area and other sources - just so they fit the time period.   I consulted a neighbor about what would fit that time period of the early 50's and he was very helpful -  the red tractor is his father's Farmall "M" and their flare-box wagon (that I painted a color to suit the painting).

The house was the elevator's caretaker's had a deck added onto the front when I photographed it...decks weren't a thing here in the early 50's so it had to go.  I did keep the color similar to what it still was...just a call on my part.

As I mentioned - the vehicles were of that period, but the hardest to rectify was the box cars believe it or not.  Georgie and I drove all around rail yards in the area photographing box cars, but none seemed right - they were too new or recent.  Then I spent hours online looking and researching box cars.  I found that there are just no box cars in use today that would have been used back in the early 50's...I found that the rail cars I needed to work from would've been built in the 30's and they had all been virtually scraped and no longer in use.  I combed pages everywhere in all the search engines to no avail - until I hit a "model railroading" site that had highly detailed images and explanations of those box cars from the 30's-50's...amazing I had to draw from hobbyist models to maintain accuracy of the period!  I even talked with a friend, that just recently passed away, who described shoveling grain out of the cars up at the Ritter Elevator, "way back when", after getting into a bit of trouble as a kid - that this was his punishment...quite interesting all the stories that materialize with doing research for just a painting!

After the painting had been finished I made some prints for the client's family members and then even folks from farms nearby; and one who actually grew up living in the care-taker's home.  Really fun conversations were had over this iconic stop along the rail and farm roads of many years gone by.

If my friend had just approached me about "an idea", I doubt I would have taken it on.  But there was so much evidence and even first hand knowledge to gather - and the actual site was still there to visit; it opened the door to possibilities I could visualize.  I will admit it - my inclination is mostly visual...concepts and ideas are invaluable, and I try to incorporate them when I find guiding evidence I can "see".  It is "all" of these considerations that dictate commissioned work in the studio here to this day.
"The Ritter Elevator" - oil painting - ©Bruce A. Morrison (from a Minnesota private collection)

(This and other archived artwork can be viewed at - )

Friday, February 18, 2022

Archived Works friday - No.4!

Post No. 4! The next post for "Archived Works Friday” comes as a pair from the mid 1980's. 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!
Back in the 1980's I experimented with floating bird blinds; the kind you take pictures from. I took my first one out to a favorite marsh. it was a floating "bass buddy"...maybe I'm not getting the name right but it was essentially a nylon zippered slip cover that fit over an inner-tube, with a seat sewn in for the "occupant". It made a "bobber" out of the wearer! It was actually made for a fisherman to wade and float around on small ponds and fish from it...I guess the idea was to make you more mobile and get you out to where the fish were without a boat.
I got the brilliant idea that I could use it as a floating bird photography blind. I made a dome of chicken wire mesh and covered it in cattails which I tied to it - trying to imitate a muskrat hut. Great idea huh!???? I wore chest high waders and walked the blind out until I lost contact with the bottom, then just kind of bobbed around and "paddled" with my feet...took some getting used to but eventually made my way to a clump of reeds and anchored my feet around them to try and hold still.
It was kind of hit and miss that first try out on the marsh...muskrats would swim by and look at me like "what on earth!?". Thankfully none tried to “enter” the hut!!! An occasional Yellow-headed Blackbird would land on top of me - where I couldn't get its picture of course! The neatest encounter this first trip in the blind was an American Bittern - I had never been so close to one before! It was up clinging to the rushes trying to get a better look at this "thing" (my blind) - it was probably thinking "This wasn't here earlier!?". I did my best to get shots with the camera but it was difficult with the blind bobbing with every move I'd make.
This was back way before digital cameras. I didn't even have auto focus back then and shooting Ektachrome E-6 film that I'd process myself. The photos didn't turn out too bad. The Bittern's body was somewhat hidden by the reeds as it climbed along. As I looked at several of the slides I picked some out and created a composition from them - trying to portray the bird among the rushes without it's features being so obscured from view.
I first did a detailed pencil sketch, and was fairly pleased with it...but I was looking for something a bit more "graphic" in presentation and decided to do a serigraph (silk screen print) of it. I won't get into the details of that process this time, as its very lengthy. I had been accepted into the international "Birds in Art" exhibition the year before with a pencil drawing and thought I'd try entering again with a serigraph...I wanted to prove to myself that the acceptance the year before was not just a "flash in the pan".
The design was drawn directly on separate screens from the original pencil composition and broken down into solid colors...the exhibition deadline was fast approaching and I was having great difficulty registering colors and getting everything to look like I wanted. I finally managed to get one that I liked and hurriedly got it entered in time for the deadline.
It was accepted! I was over the moon and beside myself... once again being included in the prestigious international Bird Art exhibition "Birds in Art". Rubbing shoulders with artists from every continent was very humbling - I could see how far I had to go to even measure up to what work I was seeing.
As a side note on my maiden voyage on the marsh - when I had been out on the water, the wind had come up from the south and soon I had white caps! I was a good 100-150 yards out from shore and the wind was taking me to the other side of the marsh! It took all of an hour, or more to fight my way back to the landing. Completely played out, I drug myself into the car and turned on the radio - it was giving high winds/watercraft warnings for the day! NO KIDDING!!???
I revised my "floating blind" design - used marine plywood with foam filled pontoons, a lighter camo covered chicken wire frame that sat on top, and a platform for a tripod "head" to affix the camera and much better! (and safer) Still have it today...hanging out in the studio shed. Just need the time and "energy" to take it out again into the marshes...sounds like "The Old Man and the Sea" revisited to me!
"Rush Lake, American Bittern - Study" - pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison (from an Iowa private collection)
"Rush Lake, American Bittern" - serigraph - ©Bruce A. Morrison (from the Permanent Collection of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, Wausau, WI)
(These and other archived artwork can be viewed at - )

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Archived Works Friday! (Uh...Saturday!)

The next post for "Archived Works Friday” is a color pencil drawing from 37 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! 
Hardly any of us are strangers to color pencils...who didn't play with them as kids...they were less messy than crayons, but not as color filled with contrast and pigment as crayons were. The color pencils “of old” had wax based pencil leads and broke very easily, nearly impossible to erase and hard to get some “punch” out of!
My first (semi serious) attempts at color pencil were of birds of prey...I believe it was a Peregrine Falcon on a cliff above a waterfall or something like that. I have lost a clear memory of it – maybe out of self preservation! I do remember exhibiting it and some others at the first Ft Dodge sidewalk art fair when I was around 12 years old. 
Years later I became aware that this “second class” medium was getting more attention. People were really starting to do some impressive work with them; and the pencils themselves were a much higher quality and even more permanent than they had ever been years back. I started experimenting with them and found they were “fun”! 
In the mid 1980's (and earlier) the state and national conservation stamps had become all the rage and artists were going out of their way to enter into the competitions for them. The Federal Duck Stamp was the holy grail. These “stamp” artists and contests even made their way into American lore in the 1996 movie “Fargo”, where a pregnant police woman from Brainerd, MN is bent on solving some murders, while her husband stays home entering duck stamp competitions. Ha! Funny stuff for such a dark comedic crime thriller!!!
I decided to try one of Iowa's conservation stamp contests in 1985...I was fond of fly fishing and decided I'd do a Brook Trout, since they are actually native to the far NE Iowa cold water streams. The Iowa Brookies are pretty small delicate trout, matching the small spring fed streams they originate in. I, in all my “great wisdom” (ha!!!!) decided I'd make my Brook Trout a real hog and impress the judges! (Oh boy...where was my head?) Anyway, I decided to do the Brook Trout in color pencil, as I was getting pretty confident with this medium.
On the day of the Iowa Conservation Stamps Judging in Des Moines, we decided to go down and actually witness it! This was pretty exciting stuff for us “wannabe stamp artists”!!! When the Trout Stamp entries were shown I searched all through the images to find mine (of course) and was horrified! They hung mine up “SIDEWAYS!!!!” Auuughhhh! I could not say anything as the judges were not to know the identity of the artists (no artwork was signed on the front). After anguishing over what had happened, and as the judges were finishing their deliberations – another artist across the room pointed out that they had a picture hanging sideways – (THANK YOU!!!)...leave it to an artist to recognize something so obvious to any “SANE PERSON”!!!
The judges all stepped over to my of them reached out and turned the picture upright...they talked among themselves for half a minute maybe, turned around and announced my big fat Brookie as the selection for the Iowa Trout Stamp for 1985!!!! 
This comedy of errors was transferred to the actual stamps when they were printed...I was again horrified when I received my stamps to sell with my prints – they were printed WRONG! I did NOT want to sell sideways stamps with my prints and contacted the Iowa DNR. Well...they would not reprint the stamps -there were 30,000 of them! BUT...after a bit of soul searching they agreed to reprint 300 the correct way so each of the 300 prints in my limited edition would have a correct one...I had to make an agreement that the only way someone could buy a correct stamp was to buy a much dumb luck can I wrap myself in!!!!???? It was just nuts. 
It soon hit the news across the country that 30,000 1985 Iowa Trout stamps had been incorrectly printed and “ONLY” 300 had been printed correctly! I was busy for a couple weeks shipping prints and correct stamps everywhere across the country and even got into a bidding war over the original drawing. It was almost as crazy as a movie, but without murder and mayhem – thank goodness!!!
I've stuck with color pencils ever since – only the modern ones are like day and night compared to those of those crazy days in the 80's and earlier!
(This drawing and other archived artwork can be viewed at - )
"Brook Trout – 1985 Iowa Trout Stamp" – color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison
(from a California private collection)

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Prairie Landscapes and Birds - in the Studio and Our World

"Stream Side Autumn Ashes" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

After so much time spent rebuilding web sites - I've finally been spending time trying to be productive in the studio.  I've managed to tick off some ideas that have been on my to-do list...mostly color pencil works, although I'm also working on an oil at the present as well.

One landscape is of some Ashes along the Waterman Creek, just south of us about 5-6 miles.  I remember the ashes being in good autumn color - these trees always seem to be one of the earlier trees to turn around here and I've often lamented that it's also one of the more abundant hard woods around here - with Emerald Ash Bore only a breeze away now, soon they'll just be a memory...

This was a fun piece to work on, kind of a struggle at times to give the ash leaves the luminosity I wanted, but all in all - the piece worked out satisfactorily.  And autumn is probably my favorite season!  It was fun doing a pleasant autumn day in our valley while warm and toasty inside during some frigid winter days! ("Stream Side - Autumn Ashes" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison )

"Prairie Sunflowers" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

The second  landscape is a little different...more of a foreground subject with a slight bokeh to the background (more out of focus). I wanted to cast more interest and color contrast on the sunflowers and let the focal interest decline behind them. I may have spent too much time trying to delineate the type of sunflowers though...they are meant to be “Showy Sunflowers”...or as some call them “Prairie Sunflowers”...the scientific name would be “Helianthus pauciflorus “. I found it a bit daunting getting the leaves the way I wanted...should have drawn them before drawing in the background...its hard controlling color pencil when drawing over previously sketched spent a lot of time on damage control. These sunflowers have been known to hybridize with other types, so all this can get confusing! I'll just call 'em “Prairie Sunflowers” and let it go at that. (“Prairie Sunflowers” - color pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison) 

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

I just recently finished a White-Breasted Nuthatch "portrait"...these are a favorite from the early years - actually the first bird I ever photographed up close - with my first SLR and telephoto lens...back in 1963. Winter days always seem more uplifting with the pleasant nasal calling of these little guys...they're one of the friendliest yard birds as well - often still on the feeder when bringing new seed for the day, seemingly unconcerned with my presence. I portrayed this one “head down” as they are typically seen climbing up and down tree trunks, branches, and on the bird feeders! (“White-breasted Nuthatch – Portrait” - color pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison) 

"Bobolink - Portrait" - color pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison

The last (but not least!) bird is my prairie favorite - the Bobolink! My father remembers them on the farm in the late 1920's and early 30's as the "Spink-spank-spink" bird. I get a kick out of their call and antics; a birding friend mentioned he thought they sounded like R2D2. Ha! He's right!

When we first came here 20 years ago, I found Bobolinks along several pastures...these birds are on the list of grassland obligates in most trouble in North America. I have been concerned with their situation for many years, and watched their local populations in the "neighborhood" with interest. Slowly I have noted nesting pairs disappearing in local pastures.

We've always had Bobolinks in our south pasture...until last year. We share this pasture with a neighbor and last year they took out their fenceline bordering their crop ground and plowed into their edge to gain more ground and eliminate the weed issues the fence was creating, but then they went into the pasture even more. The small pasture apparently lost too much size and the birds never returned. 

"Our" pair disappeared last year but we still had a pair directly across the road to keep their song and antics still in view. The pasture across the road had never been mowed/hayed before the 4th of July since we've been here (now 20 years). I always appreciated that! Not only does that protect nesting birds like Song Sparrows, Common Yellow-throats, Meadow Larks, Sedge Wrens, Dickcissels, and many others - but it also protected Bobolinks.

Bobolinks are curiously different birds - they are early arrivals - often around the same time the Pasque Flowers bloom on the prairie slopes. They get right down to pairing up, setting up their territories and nesting. And they only nest "once" a season. Their young hatch in late spring and fledge quickly. So many are lost to haying...if their nests don't remain unmolested till around the first of July - they are usually lost. Once they have fledged, they gather with other birds and resemble "nomads" through the middle of summer - traveling around in small flocks until heading out for their winter homes in South America.

Sadly, last summer the pasture across the road from us was mowed early...mid June. We watched hopelessly as the adult male could be seen flying around in the spot it's nest had once been. We don't know how the female fared? The male left after a couple days...their nesting season was done. Will this or another pair return to that pasture next year? It is certain their progeny won't. Gradually, bit by bit this scenario plays out across their nesting range. They are grassland obligates - in need of conservation practices. Sure, there are still pastures or small grasslands in the region that still support Bobolinks, but that does not negate the fact they are noticeably vanishing from there former ranges. I am still "sincerely" hoping that a pair will return here for another chance...

I read last year that Bobolink numbers have become so low in New England states that in Maryland some regional farmers are being given a stipend or payment for not haying before July. I don't know much about this effort or what other plans (if any) are being considered to help this bird remain on its former nesting sites for the future? I don't want to sound alarmist, but I am concerned, and so are conservationists and ornithologists familiar with the well documented decline in our grassland birds.

I realize that our birds are all in decline, recent reports from the past couple years are not promising. I'd like to believe that we can still do something, but being a small witness to this firsthand is hard on this old birder's heart.
(“Bobolink – Portrait” - color pencil drawing - ©Bruce A. Morrison)

It's still February but much warmer than usual and very dry...we've only had two snows this winter and the last one is about 50-60% gone.  It makes for better farm chores for sure but we are still in a drought here...I sure hope March and April bring good rains!

Have a great February out there - please be good to one another!