Animals

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!

Caw Caw!

A crow arrived in my meditation, a big black bird body, up close and personal with his back to me – demanding attention like all his cohorts in the skies, on branches and wires, beak open and loudly proclaiming, or was it complaining? I wondered if I could ask for a smattering of blessings from the crow proclaimer, blessings for us earthbound mortals. 

So I did some art and asked.

collaged, hand painted papers

(And Crow spoke)

“Look to each other

be the sentinel at your friend’s gate

stand watch over that which is most precious

to yourself and also to others

listen to others’ voices

and speak your own clearly

base your claim to nobility

on your readiness to share

your own inner wealth.”

Pomegranates and Hummingbirds

I had just picked the miniature pomegranates and found a place in the sun to arrange them, a concrete bench in front of the house, where I could also sit to sketch them. The wee red fruits and even my paints and brush were just an excuse to sit there in the winter sun, next to all the bird feeding activity – mostly goldfinches and chickadees.

But my back was to the hummingbird feeder where a noisy drama was taking place. It sounded like a noisy helicopter propeller, only faster and close enough to cause a breeze on my face and a shiver of danger down my spine. Could these two aggressive hummingbirds actually have in mind attacking me instead of each other? As I turned around, the feeder with its red cap was dancing and a full scale battle was raging over a spot at the feeder. My bucolic setting had turned savage and I hurried to finish up.

Lizard Spirit Speaks

The black and white gecko from my dream last week finally spoke, and just in the nick of time. How does that work? Well, you sit down with a pen and paper, focus your attention on it, and ask it to speak. Then you take dictation. Of course you have to assume the spirit guide has manifested in your dream and in the art because it has a message.

So with paper and pen before me finally Lizard spoke and I wrote.

“Lay low and listen, to music that soothes and restores. Fill your eyes with images that look past the doom and bitterness that still brews, to the fantastical carpet of green velvet and scarlet mushrooms and the visual cadence of shapely trees and bare branches. Feel the warmth of your own skin inside cozy layers and fresh cold air spicing and refreshing your breath, clearing out cobwebs of thought, and making room for a deep contentment beyond all the distressing rumblings of bad news.

Lay low and listen. Be ready to act in a heartbeat when the time is right. Attune with every sensor in every cell of your body, even to the littlest toe. Feel the drumbeat of upcoming events there. . . . and there, but be not alarmed. Embody readiness, and if a tail must be lost, fear not, for you are a lizard and can grow a new one!”

Later that day I watched as the insurgents stormed the citadel in Washington. By the next morning the tail, which had been lost, was already growing back, stronger than ever!