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!




Saturday, February 5, 2022

Friday - Archived Works Day!


"Autumn Migration, Red-tail Hawks" 
pencil drawing - © Bruce A. Morrison 
(from a South Dakota private collection)
Here's the second posting for "Archived Works Friday”...OK, I realize its Saturday but did post on a couple other social media platforms and forgot (!) my blog!!! This time its a pencil drawing from 35 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!
I had a long, long relationship of just plain awe and admiration for birds of prey...I built my first (and last) “mew” when I was 12 years old, behind the garage in the back yard. ( My first sidewalk “art fair” drawings were birds of prey, also at age 12. I spent too much time in the timber searching out hawk nests and never grew tired of lying on my back on a hillside along the Lizard Creek valley watching birds of prey soaring on a thermal or migrating through in the fall or spring. While doing so, I did try and squeeze in some experiments with bal-chatri, or "hair umbrella", an old East Indian idea – I carried a small home made one and a “volunteer” English Sparrow (House Sparrow) around in it on my long hikes to watch hawks. ( I also devoured “The Falconer's Handbook” by Howard Smith, as nightly reading before bed...
I always had trouble drawing things that didn't hold still for extended periods of time (that just wasn't my gift)...Audubon worked from skins that he and his parties “shot” - I couldn't do that! (Didn't want to anyway!). I saved money from my Des Moines Register paper route and eventually got a camera and lenses to get pictures of the birds to draw from...this was in 1962...I'll save more of that for another post.
The posted drawing here was probably my first “serious” try for drawing hawks (Red-tails in this example)...I never forgot those carefree days idling on the hillside gazing up and this drawing was prompted by those memories. And although the scenery was very similar, I drew directly from the hillsides and valleys I became familiar with after moving back to NW Iowa, where we've lived for many years now. Hillsides and valleys along the Little Sioux River just south of our studio a few miles.
Now we can enjoy the same sort of view here off the studio deck, or a park bench on one of the hillside pastures...full circle? I haven't indulged in pencil (graphite) for a few years, but still admire a good pencil rendering when I see one!
(This drawing and other archived artwork can be viewed at -