Monday, February 27, 2012

The notch in a Peregrine Falcon's beak...

From reading about birds over the years, I knew falcons had a notch in their beaks called a "tomial tooth" that other raptors did not have, but I had never looked at it closely until this autumn...

The notch in a falcon's beak is called the tomial tooth, and it's an adaptation suited to their hunting style.

Here you can see how the top notch (the tomial tooth) and the bottom notch fit together. The powerful beak and shape of the notch work together to allow falcons to bite through the cervical vertebrae and sever the spinal cord of their prey with ease (with Peregrine Falcons, the prey is primarily birds).

The Tomial Tooth is an adaptation unique to falcons. The only other bird that has a tomial tooth is the shrike (click here to learn more about shrikes).

Tomial tooth of a Peregrine Falcon; labeled pencil sketch by Kelly Riccetti entry from my sketchbook on the Peregrine Falcon's tomial tooth.
If you want to accurately represent a falcon in a painting or drawing, it's important to pay attention to the shape of its beak. I wanted to spend a little time studying its unique shape, so I sketched it out a few times.

Beak Bit
Also specific to the falcons is the shape of their wings. Falcons get their name from the Latin word "falco" or "falx," which means "sickle" or "scimitar-shaped" and refers to the shape of their wings, which are long and narrow and pointed at the end, similar in shape to a sickle.

Raptor silhouettes - pencil sketch by Kelly Riccetti
Basic Raptor Silhouettes
...another sketchbook entry. By looking at the silhouette of a falcon, you can see the sickle shape of the wings and their pointed tips. When I first started looking up at the sky to identify raptors by silhouette, it took me a while to figure out the basic forms. After a while, it became clear...the shape of the tail feathers helped me the most. Accipiters (Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned hawks) longer and thinner...and Buteos (Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldere Hawks) shorter and wider. Falcons are and sleek with a very thin tail.

Additionally, falcons do not have well-defined supraorbital ridges like hawks and eagles (click here for a few posts that describe the supraorbital ridge--the bony ridge above the eye that helps to cut the sun's glare). Even though falcons have a much less defined bony ridge, they all have a dark stripe under their eye (called a malar stripe), which cuts the sun's glare to help them hunt.

p.s. The close-up shots of the Peregrine Falcon came from the photo-shoot at RAPTOR, Inc. back in autumn. For more close-ups of the beautiful raptors Matty and I photographed that day, click here. As always, artists can feel free to use these photos as reference shots. It's so hard to get close-up references of falcons in the wild. Going to a RAPTOR, Inc. event lets you study the birds and learn their subtleties. I would never have been able to study the notch in the beak if I had not seen this bird up close.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chickadee with bright red berries...

Do you recognize this chickadee? He's almost in the same pose as the chickadee in the previous post. I wanted to paint him in a different style, so I first created a loose watercolor of the bird (without much of a sketch), added in berries, and created a dark background. I then went over the painting with a chalky white gouache glaze (to give the feel of the cold day), and heightened the bird, berries and his perch with a little gouache detail. I'm still experimenting with gouache and learning how to use it...

Painting 216. Chickadee with bright red berries
(watercolor glazed and heightened with gouache)

The opaque white was nice because it allowed me to fix the misshapen branch in the original watercolor. The chickadee in the original watercolor (below) is much more spontaneous than the bird above, which has been softened, highlighted and detailed with gouache. I'm not sure which I like better. It's all practice...

The watercolor underpainting of the chickadee.

...this is another painting for Laure Ferlita's 100 Paintings Challenge.
If you're an artist looking for a challenge, join up! This is my third year of the challenge. I'm working on 500 paintings in 5 years.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hiking the Little Miami River for LMI's first GBBC...

Early Sunday morning I headed over to the Little Miami River at the abandoned Peter's Cartridge Factory for a bird walk. Penny Jarret, who works for Little Miami, Inc. (LMI), contacted me last week to see if I wanted to help bird the powder factory stretch of the Little Miami River for Cornell's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC--click here to learn more about the 4-day birding weekend). Penny found my blog through a Google search and after reading a few posts learned how much I love birding the Little Miami River. I didn't even know Little Miami, Inc. existed, so I was really happy she contacted me. Penny explained LMI is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the Little Miami River (click here for a link to their web site.) Since 1967, LMI has created over 50 nature preserves along the Little Miami River and its tributaries. Penny is trying to bring more awareness to Little Miami, Inc., and thought a GBBC event could be her first step...

Painting 215. Chickadee Singing Sweetly Along the Little Miami River
(Oil Pastel)
We saw 19 Carolina Chickadees during our walk--our most numerous bird, so I decided to commemorate the day with a chickadee painting. Although it wasn't snowing, it was cold!

For the walk, I contacted a few birdy friends, Paul (local herp expert) and Mike (Everybody Funny blog), and Penny brought a few friends too, Steve and Bill...

Paul, Bill, Penny, Mike, and Steve all stand on the banks of the Little Miami River for the first ever LMI GBBC outing! I really enjoyed myself and was so happy to meet more birding friends (and Little Miami River lovers)!

A little more about Little Miami, Inc...and a video!
LMI has been actively protecting the Little Miami Wild and Scenic River since 1967! About 30% of the river and the riverfront forests have been permanently protected through ownership or conservation easements. Click here for a video LMI created called "Greenway! A River Discovery Complete" showcasing the river--beautiful aerial video of the river's path, interesting narration, and closeups of the river and surrounding river valley. LMI has all sorts of volunteer opportunities, so if you're interesting in helping, send them an email. You can find contact information on their web site.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Painting a Great Horned Owl...and experimenting with gouache...

This was my first time to use gouache (pronounced gwash) paints, and I really enjoyed them. It took me a while to figure out that even though gouache is water based, it's not like watercolor. Really, it's opposite. I'm used to working from light to dark and reserving the white of the paper with watercolor, but with gouache, you work from dark to light.

What is gouache?
Gouache is an opaque watercolor. Its ratio of pigment to water is much higher than that found in transparent watercolors. Additionally, a white substance, such as chalk, is added to the mix. The chalk gives the gouache its opaque properties. Gouache has been around for a long time, really going all the way back to the primitive cave paintings. Click here for more information on the history of gouache.

Painting 214. Great Horned Owl in Gouache
The painting started as a watercolor, then I used gouache to slowly build up the feathers. After I finished the owl, I used watercolor to complete the background.

If you're a little stressed and want to spend some time relaxing, try painting with gouache. It's very forgiving, and it's fun to experiment and reverse the painting process traditionally used for transparent watercolors. I found that even after the gouache dried, it was still "active," meaning that if water touched any of the dried paint, it immediately re-wetted and could be lifted or blended (it could also quickly turn to muddy mess just like watercolor). Here's the process in reverse:

Stage 2. I continued with watercolor. Basically, before I started with the gouache, I had a completed watercolor. (I forgot to scan that version!). I used hard-pressed paper for this experiment. I usually use cold-pressed paper, but I read gouache works best on slick, hot-pressed paper. I enjoyed using it...the paintbrush easily slid across the surface. You can see here I'm "reserving the white" because it's still a traditional watercolor painting.

Stage 1. Great Horned Owl in black watercolor on hard-pressed paper. I painted the eyes yellow and worked on the shading of the eyes. If I couldn't get them to look right, the painting would have been a waste. When i was happy with the eyes, I just laid in the darkest darks. It's always fun to see a watercolor at this stage too.

Pencil sketch of the Great Horned Owl
You know me and pencil sketches! I love to draw and start most of my watercolors with a practice pencil sketch. I usually work out the problems in the sketch before even thinking about a watercolor. I didn't put a lot of time into this pencil sketch--just enough to see if I could capture those amazing owl eyes. They were fun to do, so I decided to turn it into a painting...

Great Horned Owl Coloring Book Page or Practice Drawing Pattern
I created this coloring book image for my cousin's daughter, Anna. She has become a very good birder and loves to draw the birds she sees on Red and the Peanut. She wondered if I could do a coloring book page for her, so here it is! My two nieces in Germany, Sarah and Alyssa, are artists too, and they will like coloring book pages or practice patterns too. Anyone can use this pattern to practice painting and coloring a Great Horned Owl. Just click on it, save it, and print it out. Have fun painting your own owl!

Great Horned Owl drawing pattern or coloring book page for anyone who wants to use it...

This owl's name is Sylvester. He is also one of RAPTOR, Inc.'s birds. For Sylvester's story, click here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Blue-winged Teal in red crystal waters...

I saw this beautiful Blue-winged Teal couple in the Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Island, Florida. They were swimming in the channel off the Indigo Trail quietly moving in and out of the mangrove roots. The water was dull and murky with a slight reddish-brown cast, but when the couple moved into an area of deep shadow sprinkled with pockets of filtered sunlight, an optical illusion brought the water to life. Wherever the sun struck the murky water, fiery red color seemed to rise up from below, as if it was being lit by flaming crystals underneath...

The male Blue-winged teal left a stream of fiery color in his wake. What an unusual sight!! I'd never seen anything like it before, and on my return walk, the illusion was gone.

A male Blue-winged Teal in breeding plumage is so striking. I love spotting the white crescent-shaped mark on his face and the white circular patch near his tail. If you look sideways and combine his reflection, he looks like an eerie owl with huge white eyes. His speckled chest and sides add to the owlish look. When I was photographing him, the owl illusion really jumped out. The whole scene was surreal...creepy...and Scooby Dooby Doo-ish!

...can this water be real? You would think red "mood" lighting had been installed underneath as an added attraction for tourists...sort of like the old disco floors...

Disco ducks?

...eventually the Blue-winged Teal couple left the deep shadows....

...and came out into the light. The glowing reds left the water, but a small patch of his his famous sky-blue wing coverts became visible instead!

I photographed these birds last March. I wish I were in Florida now, though!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Steel," the American Kestrel

I always enjoy catching a glimpse of our smallest and most colorful falcon, the American Kestrel. Every now and then one rips through our side yard as I look out the window, his orange and blue feathers flashing, and the bold, black and white stripes on his face visible even at his breakneck speeds, but he never sticks around long enough for me to grab the camera or the binocs for closer viewing, so I was very happy to get the opportunity to see one up close at RAPTOR, Inc...

Painting 213. A Watery Portrait of "Steel" the American Kestrel

A quick pencil sketch of Steel. I made the watercolor a little different from the sketch. In the drawing, his left shoulder is soft. In the painting, I made the left shoulder sharper, plus I took the curve out of his left side. He just seemed too soft and puffy in the drawing.

Back in the autumn, Matty and I went on a photo shoot at RAPTOR, Inc. (a rehab facility for injured birds of prey). Most of the birds at RAPTOR are treated, rehabilitated and released, but some are so badly injured they can not heal well enough to survive in the wild. (Click here to see more of the birds from RAPTOR).

"Steel" is an American Kestrel that is blind in his left eye, making it impossible for him to hunt. He stays on at RAPTOR, Inc. as a teaching bird.

" looks like a tiny aristocrat, with an intricate tapestry of white, blue, and reddish feathers..."

The above quote is from Robert Bateman's book "Birds." I love this book and pick it up and read it often. The book is a compilation of some of Bateman's most beautiful bird paintings, but what makes it even better, is he writes about each bird, supplying his inspiration for each painting and his encounters with the bird in the field. A few weeks ago, while eating breakfast I opened the book to his American Kestrel entry (page 84), and I liked his description:
"The American Kestrel is a superbly designed, compact falcon with unusually elegant plumage. I think it looks like a tiny aristocrat, with an intricate tapestry of white, blue, and reddish feathers on its upper body and a breast decorated with dark ermine markings."

The black bars under a kestrel's eyes are beautiful, but their purpose is more than just esthetic. The dark color absorbs bright sunlight to help reduce glare when the bird hunts.

...and the pair of large black spots on the back of his head....they serve a purpose too. They are ocelli (false eyes) and may make a predator think twice about attacking a kestrel from behind. Since ocelli look like a pair of eyes, predators may assume the bird is facing them.

Beak Bit
American Kestrels perch-hunt and hover-hunt. When they hover, they use the wind velocity to stay in one place, so even though they may look like giant hummingbirds hovering in the sky, their hovering method is different. Hummingbirds use a figure-8 wing motion to hover in one place, but kestrels fly into the wind at the same speed of the wind. Click here for an earlier post that shows an American Kestrel hovering in the air.

Those of you who follow Birding is Fun! might recognize some of this post. I'm a monthly contributor on the blog and posted part of this article on that site a week or so ago. I switched it up a bit, though and added the pencil sketch. The painting is part of the 100 Paintings Challenge.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Economy of brushstrokes...

These paintings all fall under "economy of brush strokes." I wanted to see how few strokes and how little detail was needed to capture the feel of the bird (I used no pencil marks either...just worked with the paint brush). The first in the series was the wren. By the time I got to the chickadee I found I didn't need many brush strokes at all to come up with a likeness...
(check out the date on the paintings. I wrote 1-2011...that's so me. At least I got the month right!).

Painting 212. Chickadee Light
(watercolor, cold-pressed paper)

Painting 211. Robin Redbreast
(watercolor, cold-pressed paper)

Painting 210. Northern Cardinal Aflame
(watercolor, smooth hot-pressed paper)

Painting 209. Carolina Wren
(watercolor, cold-pressed paper)

...more paintings for Laure Ferlita's 100 Paintings Challenge.
If you're an artist looking for a challenge, join up!