Thursday, September 30, 2010

Silhouette of grass backlit in the evening image of autumn.

A ripe seed head hangs heavy on this stem of grass in the high meadow of VOA Park. Always a symbol of autumn and the bounty of harvest, images of grasses are soothing. Whether it is the psychology of harvest or simply the aesthetics of its sculptural form, we're never immune to the allure of its simple beauty.

The silhouette of grass backlit in the evening sun evokes feelings of security and peace.

The shadows in the background enhance the play of sun on the ripe seed head, and we are struck by the beauty of contrast.

As summer departs, grasses that have gone to seed bend and sway in fields, meadows and along roadsides. The sight pulls us deeper into autumn and helps us separate from the easiness of summer.

Soothing and retrospective, autumn lets us marvel at nature in one final hurrah, because as greens give way to golds, we know a leaner and sharper season is on the way where golds drain to grays and color blanches before our eyes.

(Of course, it's not all bad! Crystal whites and sparkling snowflakes add a bit of spice--if we're lucky!)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Painting a Winter autumn

Painting #38 - Winter Robin
(9" x 12" - Acrylic on Canvas Paper)

"Winter Robin" is painting #38 in the 100 Paintings in a Year Challenge. It was my first attempt at painting with acrylics, and I loved it. The Plaza art store in Kenwood had canvases on sale for 70% off and acrylics on sale for 60% off, so with such a fab sale going on I decided it was time to dive in. I started with Golden's "Golden Open Acrylics." Golden Open Acrylics are creamy and dry slower than standard acrylic paints so they feel more like oils. Since I've painted with oils in the past, I decided they would be my best bet. I really liked them and had fun painting with them. I definitely went with a looser style, which was my goal.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Savannah Sparrow on the evening's golden glow no less...

Two sweet little Savannah Sparrows played hide and seek with me among the sunshiney crowns of blooming goldenrod at VOA Park yesterday evening. They would pop up and fly a quick burst, frantically diving back into the grasses and goldenrod stalks, and only occasionally perching long enough for a glimpse of their golden faces made even lovelier by the sun’s golden evening light.

...unfortunately, this fellow was a little too far away for a great shot, but his charm definitely shows through in the wash of evening sunshine.

...temps dipped almost wickedly yesterday evening, and I was shivering while I snapped this shot. Illusions of an endless summer were suddenly cut short, and with all my efforts, I couldn't conjure any heat out of the radiant, warm yellow tones of the goldenrod blossoms... are such a sweetie, and I'll definitely miss you when you decide you've had enough of autumn and head south for the winter.

...hopefully he has a home to return to next spring. The high meadow at VOA Park is falling prey to succession and the awful little Bradford Pear saplings are taking over...along with waves and waves of teasel, which is not choice habitat for Savannahs or my favorite little summer sparrow, the Henslow's Sparrow. They prefer grasses, and this summer the grasses were definitely in decline. Funds are thin in the Butler County park system, and there's not enough money to bushwhack or burn the fields.

...don't look south sweet little bird! I want you around a little longer...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Praying Mantis wings a little worse for wear...

If camouflage is her game, her wings match all the parched and brown leaves in our drought-stressed yard.

The rain predicted last night fizzled and long-term forecasts show only average or less-than-average rainfall predicted for the rest of autumn, so our mantis will continue to blend right in. Rick shot this photo for me. We were on the front porch when we saw her moving up the brick wall. I grabbed the camera, but by the time I returned she had already climbed out of my reach. With just the macro lens on the camera I was sorta-outa-luck, but I gave the camera to Rick and told him to aim at the bug, click, and pray. It worked!

p.s. In another shot (not quite so stellar) I could clearly see she had six segments on her belly, so I think that makes her a female. From past reading, I remembered females have six segments and males have eight.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Art in five-minute bites...

...tastes just as sweet!

Over the past couple of days I've been sketching birds on tiny sheets of paper sized 2.5" x 3.5". The sheets are called Artist Trading Cards (ATCs), and I'm having a lot of fun with them. My two friends, Amy and Chelle (waving to them), gave me a couple of packs of "assorted" Artist Trading Cards five or six months ago. I've moved them from here to there, always intending on getting started with them, but never really knowing what to do with them. A couple of days ago, I opened a pack and read about the ATC movement. I'm so out of the loop I really didn't know what there were about. Here is blurb from the introduction of an assorted pack of Strathmore ATCs:
"Artist trading cards (ATCs) are miniature pieces of art that are traded around the world. Artists create, trade and collect art at organized "swap" events, either in person or online. It is a great way to meet other artists and share your work. The only official rule for ATCs is the size: 2.5" x 3.5"."
Seems in 1997 a Mr. M. Vanci Stirnemann from Switzerland created 1200 of these small cards by hand for an exhibit. On the last day, he asked the other participants to create their own ATCs and trade with him at a closing party. That was all it took. The movement took off as other artists started creating and trading miniature pieces of artwork. I've started using them to sketch whenever I have a few extra minutes. I have the cards by my computer and all I have to do is bring up old photos to get started. I just did 12 cards and can already see a style emerging.

...first three ATCs are of a Red-headed Woodpecker. I took these photos on 12-05-09. I was in Cleveland and went birding with Loopy and the Doodles (from Birds from Behind). Bringing up old photos and drawing them brings back all the memories from that day. The images on the first three ATCs are very small and light with nary a hint at detail or accuracy--the paper was slick, and I think they are destined for pen and ink and watercolor. Click here for the original post of photos.

...the second set of three are of a Northern Flicker. I found this little lady at Fort Ancient. I can see more detail emerging and the images are larger (less bird fits on a card). Click here for the photos that inspired these drawings.

...set three...a White-breasted Nuthatch from the Little Miami River Bike Trail. He was so sweet. These photos never made it on to the blog because they were a bit blurry, but for sketching I don't need high quality. I can see the style getting darker and and larger. Less and less of the bird fits on the card, but it's cool, because the bird's personality is starting to show through. This series might end up as colored pencil renderings.

...finally, in the last set I've switched to just head shots. The eyes always bring art to life, so it doesn't surprise me that I'd focus on the head. I found this Red-bellied Woodpecker on the Little Miami Bike Trail as well. I remember watching him eating the berries. I could hardly breathe trying to capture that moment when he had a berry in his bill! You can find the post of these photos here.

Rick snapped this photo of me late last night as I sketched out the last Red-bellied Woodpecker in the series. You can see the other ATCs on the desk. It's a great way to get art into your life when you don't have a lot of time. I leave the cards on the desk and whenever I have a few extra minutes I sit down, pull up a photo on the screen, and sketch it.'s see how quickly I can get color onto them to get the 100 Paintings in a Year Challenge back in swing! I've completed 37 paintings. That only leaves me 63 paintings to complete by December 31. Oh boy...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Beauty of the Little Miami River

Late evening sunshine highlights giant Sycamore trees along the Little Miami River in southwest Ohio.

I took this photo last November, 11-21-09 at 5:59 p.m. Night was falling quickly and most of the forest was in shadow, but the sun's light sliced across the tops of the trees for a few minutes and washed everything in a warm glow. It was a spectacular sight...quiet and still...and fleeting.

I found this photo tonight while I was looking for birds to draw (Remember the 100 Bird Paintings in a Year challenge? Too bad I didn't. I've got a lot of catching up to do!).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Spiderlady in the grasses...

Banded Garden Spider - Argiope trifasciata
Rick and I found this very colorful and artsy spider in the backyard yesterday afternoon. She is a Banded Garden Spider, but we just call her Spiderlady. She is formidable looking, but don't be afraid--she eats tons of insects and is harmless to humans. The first time I ever noticed one of these spiders was in 1990...the first autumn in our first house. That spider had spun a huge orbed web between two beautiful Chrysanthemum plants. It was also September, and I remember it very clearly because she gave me quite a fright--the kind of fright that causes the creep-out meter to run high, thus branding the image in your brain forever. Her bright yellow and black striped body was so well camouflaged I didn't see her until I was eye level and only about four inches from her abdomen. Yikes! I backed away quickly (I was on my knees planting something in a garden bed), but immediately came back to study her. I was amazed at her vibrant yellow color and the red spinnerets on her abdomen. I had no idea what kind of spider she was because I knew nothing about spiders, but I remember "red on the abdomen can't be good" went through my mind. Way back then the Internet wasn't quite as bloggy as it is today, so I couldn't just hop on and type "Ohio spider with a yellow, black and white striped body" in Google, but I did have a National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects and Spiders (1980) and found the Black and Yellow Argiope (Argiope aurantia) looked a lot like our spider. After hopping around on the Internet today, I think Spiderlady is a cousin of that first spider and is a Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata).

Hanging upside down, this female Banded Garden Spider is eye-catching--but only if you "see" her. I was standing about 4 feet from her web for a while before she finally materialized. The broken black bands of bright yellow, black and white on her abdomen are classic camouflage, and they really work.

Looking through the web to the underside of her abdomen you can see her red spinnerets.

Spiderlady waits for prey as she hangs upside down in the center of her web.

She really is an artsy little spider with beautiful markings, although little is probably not the right word. She's pretty big. The male is significantly smaller and not nearly as pretty.

...looking straight down on her.

...and let's go in for a close-up. She looks velvety soft and furry, but I don't think "cuddly" is going to come out of anyone's mouth!

Spiderlady takes the usual form of an X so that it looks like she has only four legs. You can also see the beginning of typical web decorations called stabilimenta.

I just went out to check on our Spiderlady and she's still there. I hope she stays around for a while. It would be cool to capture her spinning her prey up in silk.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Broken and tattered, but still beautiful...

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails at Fort Ancient
Yesterday I slipped out of work early and headed up to Fort Ancient. I was hoping to find a small flock of American Goldfinches as they worked the thistle-laced meadows looking for silky thistledown to take back to their nests, and I wasn't disappointed. As I walked toward the meadow next to the museum I could hear them, happy and chatty in their flight, but butterflies were everywhere, and their soft and gentle movements soon stole my attention away. From a distance, the butterflies looked fresh and new, but behind the camera lens I could see their wings were weathered, tattered and torn. (Click here for photos of goldfinches tugging out thistledown last September at Fort Ancient.)

The thin membrane of a butterfly's wings is covered in tiny scales arranged like shingles on a roof. Not built for long life, butterflies lose scales every day as their wings touch leaves, flower petals and other butterflies. Their color fades as the powdery scales drop away.

Even though the darks are a bit faded and chunks have been torn from its wings, this swallowtail's iridescent blue scales are still vibrant and beautiful. Two types of color show in a butterfly's scales--pigments, such as melanin, create black and other deep shades, while a microscopic open lattice structure creates reflective surfaces that form the iridescent blues and greens (similar to the structural color and pigment in hummingbird feathers).

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail looks like it's been through a scrape or two. I wonder how many birds have nipped at its wings or how many buffeting winds it's dodged. Butterflies can fly with as much as 70% of their wings missing!

...since butterflies have no means of self-repair, they can become ragged within a few weeks and many species die within a month. (There are exceptions, some species overwinter in a dormant state and can live up to a year, and, of course, those amazing migrating Monarchs can live about eight months).

Every day of living shows in a butterfly's wings.

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails also come in a dimorphic dark form (shown in the upper right). Dark form females mimic Pipevine Swallowtails. While caterpillars, Pipevine Swallowtails munch on pipevine leaves, which are toxic. The result is a foul-tasting butterfly that birds avoid. (Click here for the Pipevine's story...)

A fresh Tiger Swallowtail (left) shares a thistle plant with two other swallowtails of varying ages. There were easily 30 or 40 Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in this little meadow, all nectaring on the thistle blossoms while goldfinches joined them here and there, plucking thistle down from spent flowers...

...and taking it back to their nests.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Clouded Sulphur on Ironweed...on Labor Day!

Rick and I headed up to Fort Ancient today for a bit of birding, but when we arrived we found locked gates...d'oh! We forgot Fort Ancient is close on National Holidays. We forgot last year too, pulling up to the same locked gates. Apparently we like to bird on Labor Day, especially at Fort Ancient. Hopefully next year we'll remember. Last year we ended up birding the Little Miami River where it runs 240 feet below Fort Ancient (click here for last year's Labor Day/chickadee post), but this year we opted for VOA Park with hopes of finding Eastern Meadowlarks and molting Bobolinks. Birds were a bit scarce in the parched fields today, but butterflies were all around, floating and drifting from flower to flower, nectaring and sunning in the heat of the day.

Yellow on purple...yum!
A Clouded Sulphur nectars on Ironweed.

...the sulphur takes flight.

I love the action in the wings as the sulphur prepares for flight.
I'm guessing this fellow is a Clouded Sulphur. He has a touch of orange on his wings, but he seems mostly yellow. Orange Sulphurs are also common here, and I read they often hybridize with Clouded Sulphurs.

...much of the meadow was parched and brown due to the intense heat and lack of rain we've had this summer, which made the bright yellow of the sulphur against the deep purple of the ironweed even more striking.

Matty points out an Eastern Meadowlark as Rick watches. They didn't know I was watching them instead of the bird!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Labor Day!

Friday, September 3, 2010

I Donated to Save a Bird’s Life…

…is the t-shirt slogan Matty (my son) and Maria (my niece) came up with to raise money for the birds of the gulf. Early this summer they sat together in the kitchen and talked about the t-shirt's design and wording until they found the perfect look. Using an art package on the computer, they pieced together icons to create their image and added the text, but that was just the beginning. They had to learn how to silk-screen because they wanted to make professional t-shirts that would last. So….they got a small silk-screening setup and practiced. My brother, Bill, set the screen up in his basement and helped them figure out all the technical stuff. Then the kids took over and made the shirts. The shirts practically flew off the shelves, and they sold every one, donating $425.00 to the National Audubon Society’s Gulf Oil Spill Recovery Fund. I’m so proud of them.

Matty and Maria are both skaters. Matty ice skates and plays ice hockey, and Maria quad skates and competes in artistic dance, so they decided to focus their efforts on skaters by creating the slogan "Skaters Helping the Birds of the Gulf." They were able to piece together icons to create the skating pelican, which I totally fell in love with, and aren't those little webbed pelican feet at the bottom cool? Maria came up with that finishing touch.

Maria pulls the shirt into place on the press.

Matty skims the paint over the press.

The kids made 60 shirts and sold them for $7.00 each. It takes a long time to hand silk-screen 60 shirts! They donated all the money they collected to Audubon, absorbing the cost of the t-shirts and the printing press.

After sending the money into Audubon, Les Corey, Chief Development Officer, sent them a lovely letter of thanks. He also offered them a challenge for the future:
“…take the next step: become more aware of your local environment and the plants and animals that live in your community. Audubon believes that by gaining knowledge of your local environment you will be able to protect it. You are the future protector of our planet and you can make a real difference for our future.”
Matty and Maria learned anyone can make a difference no matter how old they are. Put forth the effort, and good things happen. I’m so proud of them for coming up with the idea and following through with it.

The cool letter from Les Corey at Audubon.
Congrats, Kids!!!