Tuesday Morning Bird-Tufted Titmouse

Bird Group, oil on canvas

These funny little guys, the tufted titmice, love to flit around in the trees around my bird feeder haranguing with the chickadees and the cardinals in the winter months. They were frequently up in the trees wearing their cute little blue shoes and serenading the others at the feeder with their sweet song. One thing, I noticed about the titmice was the way they would take their seed up into the tree before they ate it. So many of the other birds would sit at the feeder gobbling up multiple seeds like little gluttons or foraging around the ground underneath picking up what others knocked out. The little titmouse would swoop down to the feeder, grab a seed and flit back up to a high branch to munch down on the newly acquired treat before breaking back into song. I wondered whether he was afraid of someone stealing his treat or was he just in a hurry to get back to his singing?

Tufted Titmouse in the snow.

The Tufted Titmouse is part of a family of titmice according to All About Birds and are most visible in the Southeastern United States. Birds and Blooms says: “The tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) is a small songbird in the tit and chickadee family (Parade).” That would explain why I always see them hanging around with the chickadees. The reason they grab a seed and fly up to the tree tops is not because they can’t wait to sing. Birds and Blooms also tells us, “they grab one seed, fly to a nearby perch, hold the food with their feet, and then pound it open with their stout, round bills.” Seems like a slow way to eat but then they aren’t particularly fat little birds so maybe that’s why! Maybe I should grab a bite then flit off somewhere to eat it before coming back for the next bite. I might be as little and energetic as a titmouse if I did that. Interesting thought but back to the Titmouse.

Tufted Titmouse in the Trees

The titmouse gets its funny name from the old Anglo-Saxon names “tit” meaning small and “mouse” referring to any small bird or rodent. I can’t see the mouse reference. They don’t look anything like Mickey to me but what do I know. Can’t quibble with those Anglo-Saxon bird namers. This information came from The Charismatic Planet. Another source, Birdwatching.com says that originally it was Titmase, the word “mase” meaning small bird. Around 500 years or so ago it was changed to mouse because of the widespread understanding of the word mouse. Tufted Titmice are such cute little guys, I hate to have them associated with scary, creepy little rodents. But then the word Titmouse is so much easier to say that titmase. Perhaps that is the real reason the name was changed. How could everybody know so much about mice when Mickey wasn’t even around then? Oh well.

Titmouse in a tree

At any rate, Tufted Titmice are so cute at the feeder and just hanging around. I love to watch them. Who couldn’t love a little bird with a sweet song wearing blue suede shoes! To invite these little singers to your house, you can find out more about how to attract them to your feeders by following the advice found on the website Kaytee.com. The sweet sound of the music the Titmouse sings is reason enough to want more of them in your neighborhood. Fortunately there doesn’t seem to be any concern about them disappearing anytime soon as Thought.com says the IUCN has the tufted titmouse rated at “least concern.” Good news for a change! Maybe thats why they hang with the chickadees. Safety in groups!

Listen to the sweet sound of the tufted titmouse:

Blue Suede Shoes

Colorful Fridays-The Rosy Red Siblings

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“Red is obviously such a stimulating color, it has so many connotations.”P.J. Harvey

Quinacridone Red and its Quin siblings, Rose and Magenta, cannot call up an intriguing history. No ancient minerals or archaic farming practices discovered these beautiful bluish reds. No Old Masters can be credited with having discovered this gloriously rich red family. All the credit goes to a wonderful unknown modern-day scientist who mixed some organic chemicals up in a lab and came out with these lovely, fully transparent, lightfast, nontoxic reds. Many a twentieth century botanical artist would like to pay homage to this brilliant chemist.

Rose, watercolor

The “quins” are the colors of romance. Though rather strong, they are still the reds of orchids and carnations. The “quins” are the pinks of rose petals. They are the sunlight through a stained glass window. All of this romantic pinky, lavender, rosy color surely must come from the ground up petals of wildflowers gathered at midnight on a full moon. Wrong! They come from a boring test tube in a sterile lab located in the windowless basement of a huge chemical compound. (Actually, we don’t know where they are made today, but the windowless basement sounded pretty good).

Layering transparent glazes with the “quins,” according to Chris Cozen on his blog, “tend not to turn muddy or grey.” The Daniel Smith website states Naples Yellow can be added to Quinacridone Red to create nice peachy shades. Williamsburg Oils says Quinacridone Red can be used to make the “cleanest pinks, flesh tones and violets.” And who would want muddy pinks?? Okay, sometimes a muddy pink is needed in a painting for delicate shadows. In that case, go with the Cadmiums.

Daniel Smith demonstrates a wash with Quinacridone Red:


Tuesday morning bird-Barn Swallow

This past summer was my first in my new home so I’m slowly learning about the birds in my new neighborhood. One evening when I was coming in the front door after taking the dog out, I looked up and saw two little birds with long tail feathers sitting on the ledge above my door. I raced inside, grabbed the camera and came back out to snap some photos of these little cuties thinking about future paintings. They were so cute until they weren’t! And Wow! Did the cuteness ever wear off! I soon found out what determined little guys these were. And my front door was the object of their determination! My heart was torn about what to do once the mud splatters began.

My neighborhood is very small and has a little pond out back behind all the houses, the pond being the apparent attraction. When I stepped outside in the morning to see what kind of birds these were, I found my neighbors out with brooms in hand shooing them away. A swarm of the little fellows were zooming around all over the neighborhood trying to nest over all the front doors. Once I heard about what damage they can do, I realized I would have to move them on too before they had a chance to settle in. The back door would have been so much more appropriate but they weren’t having it! It was the front door or nothing! Neighbors got together to plan out strategy as none of us wanted them to leave the neighborhood, we just didn’t want them over the front door.

Barn swallows over the front door

Their sweet singing was so beautiful, it wrung my heart. Bird Songs.net has a beautiful recording of their singing. I went looking for more info on these little guys and found it at All About Birds. They really are quite helpful at keeping down insect populations which are heavy around where I live. According to legend, they can even help tell the weather. In a story in The Guardian there is a quote, “When Swallows fly high, the weather is dry.” I really want to keep these cuties around but can’t have the mud and debris all over the front door. The broom shooing was not working so research was needed. There was no question that the only remedy must be one to keep them around just not over the front door. My next door neighbor was also researching.

The first remedy we heard about was the plastic owl hanging near the door. I can tell you first hand not to bother with this one. These are smart little birds we’re talking about. They just started building a nest on top of the owl! When I opened the door one evening to find one foot away was a swallow hovering in mid air in front of my face daring me to step out! Another time one flew in the house and began to make itself at home on a ledge over the fireplace. By turning out the lights we were able to get that one out without much fuss. We finally, after much trial and error, found the solution was to cover the front porch entry with a plastic shower curtain until the birds found another space to build. We also found shaving foam across the top of the door frame helped deter as well. Before next year, I have decided to install a pre-made nest in a safe space in hopes they will come back but settle in a safer location near enough to enjoy their sweet song but not the mud splatters every where!

For a while, they sat on the gutter of my neighbor’s roof and let us have it about their displeasure. Never have I seen such an ability to stare with the evil eye in a bird. They were so mad at us!! One neighbor did leave them to nest thinking they would move on after the babies flew. They did but so did his ruined porch furniture. Next year, I hope to be ready for them with acceptable housing! Since legend says they are good luck I want them to stay around. And I will try not to give them a reason to fix the evil eye on me or chatter their anger at the neighborhood!

Colorful Fridays-Berry, Berry Grass Green

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.” Pedro Calderon de la Barca  (from the paintedprism.blogspot.com)

The perfect green for the leaves of the trees and the grass of the fields has a name that misleads.  Sap Green was not made from the sap of trees or leaves or grass.   Berry green would have been a more appropriate name.  More precisely, sap green was made from buckthorn berries and stored in animal bladders.  Why animal bladders?  Beats me!  For some reason, bladders seemed better than jars to these early makers of sap green, perhaps because at the time this green was known as verde de vescica.  (Since my knowledge of animal bladders and what they have to do with paint, is limited, we will move on.)  It is an old paint color and early painters of illuminated manuscripts considered it part of the four primary colors needed in their work.  Red, yellow, blue and green were the primary colors of these artists.  Sap green was the primary green.  Unfortunately, the early sap greens were not lightfast as they are now.

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If you would like to make your own sap green, the blog, Medieval Whimsies, takes us through the process of identifying the different varieties of buckthorn plants growing in North America, Europe and Asia today.  The writer is planning to make a personal supply of sap green and is gathering berries from different buckthorn shrubs to make a determination as to which shrub’s berries make the best sap greens.  So far step one is all that is posted and we will have to stay tuned to find out what the outcome was.  In the meantime, you’re on your own with the berries but the blog has nice pictures (shown right) of the plant and the various berries to help you identify each.  There is no mention of where to find the animal bladders.  I guess you are on your own with that, too!

 Channeling-winslow-homer.com describes Winslow Homer’s use of Hooker’s green and sap green in his wonderful landscapes.  Homer’s The Blue Boat is a great example of the lovely green grass that can be made with mixtures of sap green.  Susanart.com claims to have found the perfect “luscious” mix of sap green using Schmincke sap green and Schmincke translucent orange for richgrass and moss.  Gamblin states sap green warms nicely when mixed with Hansa Yellow and cools nicely with any of the blues.

Daniel Smith’s website describes techniques for using sap green’s staining ability in paintings.  Removing sap green from a painting, whether in oil or watercolor, leaves a green stain behind that creates many different wonderful effects.  This staining ability is the main reason sap green is favored in the layers needed for glazes in botanical painting.  Daniel Smith’s description goes on to point out which color mixes will make the best deep shadowy forest greens or the more olive tones of mossy greens.

Sap green is a must have in all paint boxes, especially for landscape painters.  Whether or not you make your own pigment, sap green is essential for wonderful lovely green mixes.  The adventurous may try gathering and boiling down the berries to see what happens.  Since buckthorn is wild and grows profusely, it should be easy to find.  Animal bladders may not be so easy.  Good luck finding them.

Artist Martine L’Etoile, at abstractchannel.com demonstrates a beautiful step-by-step use of sap green in a landscape painting here.

Winsor-Newton demonstrates sap green washes in the following You Tube video.

The Union of Art and Science

Castles, oil on canvas

Leonardo Da Vinci is likely the first and unquestionably the most famous artist to seriously study science and bring what he learned to his art. Leonardo had more than a passing interest in science as his inventions prove, but which came first, science or art? Experts on Da Vinci can probably answer that but what the average art lover can see is his masterful use of perspective in one of his most famous works, The Last Supper. Most other well known artists of The Renaissance brought science into their art too by means of perspective, foreshortening and other techniques.

Cypress Trees, pencil on paper

Science made a comeback in the 20th Century in Cubism with Picasso, Braque and others, according to Jonah Lehrer. (I wrote about Lehrer’s arguments Here.) However, another argument can be made that science never left art, it just moved into different realms. Science is evident in Vermeer’s use of the Camera Obscura and the evolution of that tool that are still in use to this day. The science of paint color invention moved from earth materials to the chemistry lab in the 19th century. Scientific illustration in the 18th and 19th century was vital before photography took over. And the list goes on.

Albert Einstein is not known as an artist but he was quite a prolific one. He considered art one important source for his inspiration in science. Thomas Edison made numerous sketches of his inventions and even botanical drawings and sketches. Though Leonardo Da Vinci remains most famous as an artist, take the time to check out his scientific illustrations in his sketchbooks. These three known geniuses used both art and science in their works. Hmmm…

Reelfoot-Late Summer, oil on canvas

While you are contemplating the importance of the union of art and science, take a look at the writings of the late Professor Emeritus of Art Education at Stanford University, Dr. Eliot Eisner. Dr. Eisner was a pioneer in his belief that the arts are a valuable tool to teach all other subjects. Not a fan of standardized testing, Dr. Eisner believed arts were another means of expression of knowledge that is missed in written testing. Check out Dr. Eisner’s book, “The Arts and the Creation of the Mind,” for more on how art can teach science, especially with children.

In my art, I switch back and forth between botanical-style illustration and an impressionist style of oil painting. Even though my oil paintings are a loose form of Impressionist style, the botanical-style nature drawing trains my eye to see details in form and color. Every time I draw a flower, I see some nuance I haven’t noticed before that I can take back to oil painting.

One of the most important ideas Dr. Eisner taught was that art is from the heart while science is from the brain. We all know what happens when the heart and brain are separated. Not a pretty picture!

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