Last week I set a challenge for myself - to draw/paint birds only from direct observation and memory, not from photos. This is quite a challenge because, as you know, they don't stay still for long.
I've been watching birds at my feeder for a few years now. With my backyard bird guide I've learned to identify most common birds in our corner of Pennsylvania, I know a few bird songs, and with my new challenge I decided to study bird anatomy, especially their skeletal structure. I felt ready.
Then, a great gift fell from the sky. The day after I set this challenge, my family found a deceased blue jay on the sidewalk near my children's bus stop. I came home as soon as I could to get to work.
I learned so much from my time with this jay. I made this painting from direct observation. When I was done, I gave her a proper burial.
I figured out in the following days that she was one of the regular birds that came to our bird feeders because, sadly, now only one blue jay comes when there used to be two. While I am certainly not glad that this dear bird died, I am grateful for the time I had with her and it just seems so uncanny that she came to me just when I felt ready for her.
Now that I'm commuting to downtown Philly most days, expect to see some more Philadelphia scenes. My new digs are at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (the oldest art school in the U.S.) as I toil away for two years toward a Masters degree in Fine Arts.
Today, I biked 13 miles from my house to the school. I'm glad I had my mini pallette of paints (in an Altoids tin) with me because, of course, I stopped to paint a few times.
Here is one of my sketches. On this 90 degree day, Swann Fountain at Logan Circle was a popular wading spot. Despite the fact that going into the fountain is not allowed. Thankfully, on a day like today, that rule is not enforced.
I decided to focus on the fish that I never noticed before in the sculpture. This figure with it is a Lenape who represents the Delaware River. The other two Native American figures not pictured have swans with them... pun intended by Alexander Stirling Calder, father of the more famous modern artist Alexander Calder... and they represent the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Creek. The fountain is a memorial to Dr. Swann, who as founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society made sure that horses, dogs and pedestrians had many places around the city to hydrate in the late 19th century.
Thank you, Dr. Swann!
In order to prepare for the culminating exhibition for my painting residency, I've been pushing myself to work larger.
It takes a certain kind of faith. I usually finish paintings the same day or at least the same week that I start them. This one took me over a month! I had almost lost hope that I could realize my vision. I am very glad to report that it came together this morning in Howard Watson's watercolor class at the Woodmere Museum.
Howard, in his unique way, encouraged me early on to put some creatures into the scene. I believe he had said, "Nice scene. I like the cows."
I chose chickens instead of cows for a specific reason. This work began as a plein air drawing of the root cellar at the Richard Wall House in Elkins Park. In colonial times, that supreme era of self sufficiency, the top room was used as a chicken coop. There haven't been chickens here for some time, but don't they just look right at home?
I've been putting a lot of miles on my car this week, traveling to various sites in the Brandywine Valley in order to paint competitively.
Who knew plein air painting could be a sport?
It's been glorious. I've finished and framed 7 paintings so far (including this Bearded Billy). After training this summer, my supplies and technique have been primed, including a temporary framing station in the trunk of my car.
The most intense moment so far was the Quick Draw yesterday where I created a work then had 12 minutes to frame it before I ran it to the submission station in just under the two hour deadline. Whew!
Today is the last day so I need to get myself to the assigned location, Winterthur, which is also the location of the art sale this weekend. 40% of all proceeds go to Children's Beach House, a Delaware non-profit that supports children with special needs. Come check it out if you can! The show will be up until 3pm on Sunday.
Off I go!
Goldfinches are normally a very rare sight in our yard. Once or twice over the last two years, the kids and I have seen one fly through. So, the fact that one came to our bird feeder on Monday (and it returned briefly yesterday!) is very exciting news. Could it be related to the fact that we "adopted" a goldfinch through the Audubon Society as a Mother's Day gift the day before? I don't know, but sometimes the universe does work in mysterious ways.
This sketchbook page is a part of a new art habit that I hope to continue. I have about 25 pages left in the book to use for a daily practice of capturing animals and plants in my yard. I was brainstorming with my son about starting a project to document all of the flowers in our yard, and he replied, "Well, you and dad better stop planting new ones then." Very sharp he is.
Each sketch teaches me a tremendous amount. It channels my attention to detail, whether its the markings on a bird that tell its gender, subtle differences in a flower species or a plant's leaf shape. Details help refine google searches, thereby opening a wealth of information. Field guides help too!
In the meantime, this practice helped me to celebrate the "nest warming" of my new neighbor. I hope I can spot her again real soon.
I've always been pretty mesmerized by the depth and simplicity of Aesop's Fables. These ancient Greek stories reveal so much that is true, and therefore often contain a darkness.
This story about the Tortoise and the Birds has a third character, the Crow. The Eagle is happy to help the Tortoise in his move (for a price) because he doesn't think he is able to eat this creature with a hard shell. It's the clever Crow that tells the Eagle that if he were to drop the Tortoise on the sharp rocks, they could share a meal.
Despite the serious look on the Eagle's face, I chose the short happy moment before the Crow's intervention. It would be quite thrilling for a tortoise to fly, right? However, the moral of the story, and there ALWAYS is a moral with Aesop, is to never soar aloft on an enemy's pinions (flight feathers). Consider yourself, and everyone else who has heard this story in the last 2500 years, warned.
Every year I visit The Flying Pig Coffeehouse in Oak Island, North Carolina (OINC, get it?) and buy a mug. At home, for the rest of the year my morning ritual includes drinking coffee from one of these mugs. I now have four. I am quite excited to add the blue one to my collection.
"OINC" is 4 x 6 inches.
Harper and Fitz, two Golden Retrievers pictured here in this watercolor painting I did on commission this week, are like siblings to me. Really. They belong to my dad and his wife, so in a way they are my siblings. I may spend more time with my human siblings, but I generally don't muss up their hair quite as much.
As a former English teacher I am a HUGE fan of the names my dad and stepmother chose for them. Both dogs are named after American Literary Figures: Harper Lee and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I'll leave you with the parting words of The Great Gatsby...
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”