Animals

Evergreen

The word evergreen is of course very descriptive of the west coast of Washington state where I live. It’s on our license plates, the state college here in Olympia, as well as innumerable public places, groups, and commercial products.  

When I set off to explore the forest at The Evergreen State College on the opposite side of Olympia from where I live, I was searching for yet more varieties of fungi life. A few paces into the forest on the Beach Trail (trail to the Eld Inlet of the Puget Sound) it felt like someone had hit a dimmer switch on the day. The greens had all gone greener or darker and momentarily felt ominous. Gulp. Until I switched into something I will call forest bathing vision and started to feel like a kind of relaxed excitement. There was just so much life there talking to me! I slowed way down to listen, sense, absorb, linger, and take time to look in a different way.

fountain pen, watercolor, white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

The trees were like alien creatures, reaching their visible roots everywhere, entwined like fingers, claws, hands held. Trees growing out of downed trees (aka Nursery logs) like this image I had to paint.

Then I remembered I was there for the mushrooms!

And was not disappointed, because even though this one had already been found, it lay on the ground where it could not only thrill hunters like myself, but contribute its spores to the living forest floor.

So I decided to take nothing, even the smallest sample, home with me. I mean, would you take even the smallest votive candle from a cathedral?

like this translucent umbrella

I walked slowly so as not to trip over roots, staring up in puzzlement at the towering giants with their fuzzy monkey green tails.

then putting on my reading glasses to focus in on the tiny creatures like this elegant slug

until the waxy cap mushrooms stole the show for a few minutes

At some point I started to realize that without eating the magic mushroom I was being given an almost psychedelic ride in this enchanted forest!

And then I arrived at the promised beach of the trail’s end and was given a reminder of the drama of the salmon run and evidence that at least one of the salmon did not make it back up the river, but nevertheless contributed its nutrient rich flesh to the circle of life. Or is the footnote here about man’s destruction of vital habitat and sustenance for the indigenous tribes?

Back home again I confronted the limitations of my palette in the quest to celbrate the infinite greens of my evergreen home!

Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a protected estuary at the southern end of the Puget Sound where river meets sea, birds flock and salmon run and nature lovers can walk way out into the estuary on a long boardwalk. My friend Jane and I were there on a cold and windy but gloriously sunny Sturday. The meadows were densely populated by Canadian geese and the parking lot was full. 

After a bracing walk onto the open area of the boardwalk we entered the forest by the river to enjoy the dense fall foliage and sketch the play of light and shadow.

fountain pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue sketchbook

The boardwalk through the forest created the light and shadow patterns necessary to make visual sense of this dense forest scene. With nowhere to sit and get this view, I leaned myself up against the railing, sketchbook braced in the my arm, and got the pen moving! Luckily I’d brought clips and a water brush and mini-palette which attaches with a magnet to the clip. Otherwise it might all have ended up on the forest floor!

The punctuating sound effects of hunting season were intermittant and disturbing. It was hard to tell how far away the shots were, but not so hard to imagine the poor unwitting targets.

Tired after finishing the ink sketch, I sat down on a bench across the way to rest my legs and eat some chocolate. In moments a gray squirrel had hopped up on the bench and boldly approached me with obvious intent!

I took a picture of course, thanking him for his attention, but stopped short of offering my chocolate. Wouldn’t you agree that salted caramel dark chocolate is a rather extravagent offering for this little fellow who stays healthy eating acorns I imagine? But I suspect he probably wouldn’t have agreed.

Lattin’s Cider Mill

I live right on the edge of country, so if I drive a mile down Rich Rd from my house, the landscape starts to look like my Sonoma County home (after several good rains anyway) with barns and woods and old weathered buildings and open fields and the occasional farm stand, and then Lattin’s Cider Mill! Last Thursday they were in full swing getting ready for their apple festival and lots of families were getting a head start, enjoying the hot apple fritters and making the tour of the farm animal pens and cages.

bamboo pen and ink, red felt pen and watercolor in 8 X 8″ Travelogue Artist Watercolor Journal

As soon as I sat down to draw, a drunken yellow jacket joined me and wouldn’t go away. And I hadn’t even treated myself to an apple fritter yet, so I’m not sure why he chose me to bother. Soon a whole family decided to join me  – I guess, figuring I was part of the show and would be fun to watch while they devoured their donuts and fritters, dropping powdered sugar around me in a semi circle and not once being visited by that yellow jacket. Go figure. I held my ground though and eventually it got bored with me. 

fude point fountain pen, watercolor and watercolor pencil

At this point after sitting in the damp and cold for an hour, I was about done, so I bought an apple fritter to boost my energy for more sketching! And then stood at a couple of fences to sketch my old favorite. . .goats! Later when I got home I added a larger drawing from a picture I took, just to feel more finished. Those goat eyes are so very alien that it takes concentration to get even close to capturing goat-ness.  

And the sheep are so very different!

So back home I slowed down and studied a picture of an old goat I’d taken, playing with my Inktense pencils and white gel pen and, I swear I started to feel warmer and like I was knitting a muffler, enjoying the hyggelig (coziness) of winter wool and charm.

And the apple fritters? Where were the apples? They were warm deep fried dough with a sugar glaze. Give me a hot piece of apple pie over that any day. I’ll be back when they go into full production of pies next month!

Ashley Creek Farm

What is it about pumpkins and autumn? Is it the pie? or the color orange which we experience as sun saturation that warms the belly and the soul? Is it orange’s tendency to make a blue sky electric?

I think I’ve probably painted pumpkins every year since my beginning in watercolor in 1992 and possibly even longer. So when the local sketchers got permission for a private access to what I’m guessing is the primo pumpkin harvest farm in the county, Ashley Creek Farm, I couldn’t wait!

The farm was getting ready for the hoards of pumpkin-loving families to arrive for their season opener, when their field fills up with carloads and they sell pumpkins so fast that they are constantly replenishing them from the fields nearby. It’s not just the pumpkins that draw folks, but the idyllic and beautifully cultivated farm by a creek with hundred year old trees and house.

I was drawn to the contrast of blue-green to orange and red pumpkins and orange tractor! and anxious to practice with my new bamboo pen and India ink, followed by the Derwent Line and Wash palette.

And while I was sitting there painting I kept glancing over to the farmer who was feeding the cows and driving the tractor. He was a much older gentleman who walked with a cane and moved through his farm chores slowly and with great care. I was delighted when he came over to see the art makers and show interest and gratitude for our efforts. 

And so I got to hear Robert Sand’s story of moving in the 1950’s to Tumwater, Washington  from eastern Nebraska where he grew up on a farm. He raised 6 (or 7) children on this farm, teaching them the work ethic of farming.

He wanted to join us for our “critique” time after sketching and shared specific appreciation for each of our sketches, charming us all!

But Robert was not the only art lover. His black kitty stole the show by making a big deal of the art, particularly Ineke’s lovely sketch of the house!

Grandfather Bunny

Out in the side yard doing some garden trimming I suddenly came eye to eye and inches way from a bunny lying under cover of a plant I was about to trim. When he made no effort to move away. . .well, here’s the art and the story to go with it.

acrylic inks on w/c paper

Found in a tangle of lily fronds, eyes open and question posed in absolute stillness, “if I do nothing will she go away? But from my touching proximity, I knew those deep dark eyes that gazed at me would not spur action. You were waiting for that which my world is trying to escape. I restored your soft shell of leaves around you and was drawn to speak to you as that beloved wildness that I have wished to reclaim for these many years, way back into childhood, standing at its door, impeded by my human-ness.

And so I softly pleaded with you Grandfather Bunny to let me step across the threshold with you, to hop and nibble and land softly with grass stained flower fragrant belly onto the softest spot in the garden. For a few moments I was almost close enough, but could not interrupt your last minutes of life with my human gaze, even though my prayers were to spend time with you in a rabbit warren, in the path of deer and all manner of birds and bugs.

Perhaps you knew that and had already sent blessings back to me from the other side, when I found you an hour later, eyes closed and body left behind, not a scratch on it, and I brought you inside because it was darkening out and I was not ready to abandon you to nature’s hungry reclamation crew. . .yet.

Next day I located a resting place under a conifer, on the far side of the ancestral grove, and the hole dug, filled it first with love and then your perfect wild body.

And the day after I found a fresh hole in the earth above you. I wonder, did someone in your home team come to get you and take you home? Or did you find your way back out and beyond so that now you are munching clover in a sunny field somewhere. . . eternal.

Camouflage

We tend to think of the creatures who eat the vegetation in our gardens as unwelcome intruders. Can you imagine what they must think of us?! Lately I’ve been startling bunnies and deer on a regular basis. One deer family in particular, a mom and two spotted fawns. Their pert heads lift at me with the unuttered challenge of “what the heck do you want?” They pause rather than bolting, unwilling to give up their munching or napping on the soft grass in the shade of the ancestral grove (the back side garden, under the birch trees, where we’ve “installed” the Grandmothers whose ashes we have shepherded since they died less than a decade ago). This deer family knows they are welcome there.

My mother had a very soft spot for creatures like deer, and surely would not mind a all watching the doe jump easily into the fenced-in vegetable garden and help herself to the bean and tomato plants. We can certainly survive without those extra veggies, and the plants of this world are accustomed to being munched on by all manner of creature. 

I did however subject this family to a round of picture taking and exact payment for their “rent” of my garden and its bounty, by including them in my art making.

Daler Rowney inks on w/c paper, 1st layer

Prior to the recent deer sighting, I was actually inspired by the trip to the Japanese Garden and a picture I took of the koi pond.

This image reminded me to play around with the “painting on water shapes” technique I love, as an expressive and highly spontaneous way to achieve nature shapes, especially since I live in an area dominated by trees, trees, trees!

So I started by wetting the paper with lines of water and crosslines connecting them in almost a tangle.

Next step: dropper onto the wet shapes with two different inks, somewhat randomly.

And next: tip the paper and add drops of water into the shapes if necessary, so that the inks mix and move.

Then I dipped a dip pen into the darker ink and added some calligraphy to delineate or suggest tree texture and branches, including dry pen texture.

Lastly I dipped a cotton ball in the inks and dabbed on leaf and bush foliage.

And that’s when the doe found her way in. With a bit more ink she found her place, a native with every right to live here with us and share this fertile ground. She fits right in. I considered adding birds and dragonflies and all manner of other creatures to this Where’s Waldo piece, but decided I’d told the story I wanted to, and time to move on.

Currently I’m reading a book which has had a significant influence on me lately, and I highly recommend it as a great read. . .Martin Marten by Brian Doyle

It’s about a boy coming of age and a marten also coming of age and a million other things to surprise and delight, so that you begin to see the world from the perspective of the non-human creatures, plants, etc which inhabit “our” world while we overlap and inhabit “theirs”.  (As you can see it’s making me more verbose than usual!)

Rookery and Stuck in the Muck

When you launch yourself out in nature settings you have to be ready for anything. . .which obviously we weren’t last week when we returned to Woodard Bay with the kayak, ready to explore from the water side.

I had checked the tides and we put in at high tide on a gravel shore with a gentle incline into the water. The day was sunny and warm with a cool breeze. We paddled along to the foot of the noisy cormorant rookery. From our front row seats we enjoyed watching the bird family commotion in the tall trees above us!

pen and watercolor

(This sketch, which was done quick and messy when I got home, shows the impact of the scene.) What we were able to see was silhouettes of nests and leaves and birds, sometimes indistinguishable, and a white feathery dust over it all.

Two juvenile bald eagles glided over the water next to us and lit on fallen trees over the water. Later some seals followed us and kingfishers, great blue herons and an osprey made appearances. We were indomitable explorers in high spirits.

Until it was time to go home and the shore had become an expanse of brown muck with holes spouting water from hidden mouths.

Oh right. Low tide. Actually it was a pretty funny joke on us. Attempts to get out of the boat and walk to shore resulted in sinking in up to mid shin level in stinky (of the organic smell variety) brown muck. Using the paddles as a platform and leaning heavily on Andrew’s youthful vigor and strength, we finally made it to the parking lot with every exposed surface coated with muck, which mostly got wiped off with beach towels to avoid smearing the insides of my freshly washed car. 

. . .one of those great new memories which improves with the telling! 

Note to self: next time you go kayaking in the Puget Sound, check the low tide times and get out of the water before!

 

 

Bunny bunny

In my “old home” I used to spend a great deal of my time in my studio, a modest detached building next to the house surrounded by garden. The deal about moving was that the studio would hopefully have some degree of separation from the house, the washer/dryer and every other manner of house chore interruption. In the “new home”, that separation will be a wall built inside the garage. . .eventually. Apparently there’s a shortage of contractors for that kind of work here.

So I packed up my “old studio” with that delay in mind, and built a sort of wall partition of those boxes here. Then I pulled out just the supplies for mixed media play, otherwise sometimes known as my Conversations With the Muse.

studio in the garage

As you can see there are windows to let in light and even the fluorescents for nighttime and overcast days, and the water is a quick walk across the garage. Who needs more that this?! A fan sometimes, but otherwise I’m good.

torn watercolor painting, cotton balls and bunny painting!

The start here was to tear up an old painting, always a great way to start when you have nothing in mind. A bunny kept hopping through my mind, so I knew to put bunnies in. They wanted to hide, but you know they’re not very good at it. The bunnies in my yard are different shades of brown and buff and easily seen on the green grass which they love to munch. In the bunny world you learn to freeze if a possible predator, like one of those towering humans, gets close. Bunny lore has it that you cannot be seen if you stay still enough.  Haha! But when the big bumbling human reaches for the cell phone to get that coveted picture, the next thing the human sees is the white of the cottontail and startled, drops the phone! So I had to paint some bunnies since I couldn’t get a good enough picture to share with you here! Maybe there’s a hidden teaching here, but I didn’t find it. The bunnies are enough.

It felt good to tear paper and paste and draw and all that. I miss my Muse Group but I can sit at my table among the boxes in the garage and be happy to be at play again. Time to do another now!

Attempt at a Conversation with Birds

This blog was titled Conversations With the Muse many years ago, and mainly that’s been happening. I make art, and then I think and write about it. Otherwise it feels so unfinished. With the mixed media expressive art there is often a verbal interaction attempted with the content of the piece, which usually contains a great many unanswered questions. . .like this one.

For my underpainting I used an unfinished experiment with dripping inks and blowing them across the page with a straw. Then I found pieces of deconstructed paintings I’ve been keeping for the collage. The result was something that totally short circuited all the rules of color, design, technique etc that i have been learning and relying on in my art for many years. Thank goodness. My favorite thing is to create something bizarre, unexpected, and fascinating to contemplate. Hopefully it will get me wondering outside the box of my usual thinking.

acrylic inks and fluid paints on w/c paper

You crows, all black and squawky on one side and cooing doves on the other.

You’ve laddered up from the lower realms and found a roost for your pulpit.

Now speak!         

(silence)

How can you be so silent now, as I sit expectant with pen in hand to take dictation?

What do you see and hear and feel in your vast communications network?

Am I too dense to plug into it and understand?

How long would I have to sit and watch and listen to receive even a micron of the information which sails unseen, unheard by us humans, between you  and your avian family each moment of the day.

Surely this painting entitles me to just a bit of all that? . . .a feather dropped that I might keep for a dream catcher? A song that I could learn and sing to myself?

Perhaps when the cawing meets the cooing I may at last get a feel, by audio transmission, for the freedom of flight?

a look at the process of construction from beginnings to placing collage pieces and drawing in the focal bird

Have you had any conversations with your art lately?

In the winter garden

There’s so much going on now in the winter garden. I keep poking my head outside my studio door to see how the Gulf Fritillary chrysalid is coming along with its metamorphosis. Moments ago it was wiggling its wing and two shiny eyes looked back at me from within its leaf-like encasing. Want to see?

I’m hoping it gets on with it before nightfall. It’s not something one wants to miss!

And then those fuzzy little knobs all over the pipevine are starting to plump out into the orchid-like red Dutchmen’s pipes I have sketched so many times. And that means that some time this month the butterflies will also arrive and lay their eggs and. . .well you know the cycle.

And then, since it’s been raining off and on, we have a new crop of ‘shrooms that are particularly lovely as they progress through the stages of their own life cycle.

All this to be enjoyed even without a vaccine!