Friday, June 25, 2021

More Birds and A Reminder Lesson

The other day, while standing on the deck overlooking the McKenzie River, an orange flash above the water caught my eye. I immediately did a visual search up and down the river (through the leaves of the big leaf maples) hoping to catch an identifying view of what I had just a glimpse of. To my delight, a few seconds later, a western tanager landed in the maple tree, close enough to clearly see him in all his glory.

These birds are among my favorites for two reasons. First of all, they are so flashy with their yellows and reds. (After all, we artists are suckers for color.) Secondly, they are rare enough in the McKenzie Valley that I only get  to see one once or twice a year. They prefer the more open coniferous forests on the east side of Oregon. In any case, this one small guy began a new creative urge. I tore a full sheet of watercolor paper into four 15" x 11" pieces and decided to paint each one featuring a western tanager.

In the last few weeks, I have started using a mouth atomizer as a way to create a gentle color and texture. I've also been studying the beautiful Japanese woodblock prints and mainly focus on the work of Ohara Koson, who used birds and simplicity in much of his art. So given my tools and my interest in Koson's art, as well as this flash on the river, I started a 4 part series of western tanagers.

The Start

The finished painting
Western Tanager #1 (working title)

Western Tanager #2 (working title)

Western Tanager #3 (working title)

With the success of the first three paintings, I confidently began #4. 

Now the reminder lesson:

Watercolor paint is easily reactivated. Even though the gold paint was dry, when I put my damp arm down on the painting to work on the upper portion of the paper, I created much unwanted blobs creating a disturbed area in the otherwise unified paint. Phewee! 
I am pretty good at fixing things, but I could not fix these splotches to my satisfaction. 

So once again the lesson is, always protect areas under the arm or wrist (unless you never rest your arm on the painting ha-ha) with a rag or paper towel.

I now have a new start to the nesting western tanager and I have a protective towel ready!

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Art is My Lifeboat

I have been thinking a lot recently about my fixation with flying birds. They are taking flight in my paintings regularly. Of course, there are many obvious reasons: they are elegant and beautiful, they are part of my daily view, and they are a common subject most humans can relate to. But I know they have become an important symbol to me in the last few months.

Wouldn't I just love to take flight! I'm not a complainer, but I have to say this period of time has been a challenge for both me and my husband, Mike. We have been so attached both physically and emotionally to our home, that being displaced from those roots has been like being thrown to sea where we are riding the waves. There are the hopeful waves, the frustrating waves, the stormy waves, the calm waves. But it seems like there are just way too many more waves in the future than we want until we get to shore again. So that's when I want to fly up into the bright and open sky.

Heading Home
Transparent Watercolor
21" x 29"

I have been looking at many pieces of art that have birds as the subject matter. And as was true for Van Gogh, Bernard, and many other artists, I have been drawn to the wood prints of the Japanese artists.

These two pieces are an homage to Ohara Koson (1877-1945), an artist known especially for painting birds and flowers. I really enjoy painting on long, thin pieces of watercolor paper, a format that suits this theme.  (These paintings have been purchased as a companion pair.)

I do love the egrets and herons, but I see so many songbirds in the trees off the deck of the house we are renting, that I think I may be painting some of those. I have really enjoyed adding the birds to my more graphic art pieces.

Early in the spring, the tree swallows flew into the river area in the hundreds. Their beautiful blues were enhanced by the sunny stream of light hitting their heads and backs.

Then came the violet-green swallows. They became the dominant birds and one little violet-green swallow made a nest in the burned stump just a stone-throw from the deck. Can you spot her little head poking out of the hole?

A few days ago, I was startled by an orange flash flying across the river. A moment later the flash clearly became a bird, as a Western Tanager landed in the tree right in front of me. It is always a special treat to see these birds, as they are more rarely sighted than the robins, swallows and finches. I know that the Western Tanager will be in my featured in my next painting. Perhaps I'll paint a pair coming right near the maple tree I see off the deck. 

These lovely living creatures are a "wave of inspiration." So the waves aren't all bad, and we are navigating through them. I am thankful everyday that art calls to me and presents itself as my lifeboat.