Monday Morning Birds-Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Pair, oil on canvas

Another week and the hummingbirds are still here swooping in and out of the yard, stopping at the feeders then swooping off again.  There are still at least 6-7 of them between my 5 feeders.  Its hard to get a count because they move so fast.  No reason to know how many other than curiosity.  They move so fast, they are blur of green, especially when the sun catches a spark of reflection on the vivd green of a little back as it swoops through the rays.  Some would insist on getting the exact color and markings correct.  Maybe I should too, but that would defeat my purpose.  My goal is to catch a little of the magic as these mini whirling dervishes zip around my yard from feeder to feeder. Magic is what these little guys are all next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.

Green Hummer on violet, oil on canvas

Magic must be what guides these jewels of the sky to find that one lone feeder for miles around. Once found, they stake it out and mark it as their own.  That must be magic too.  Otherwise more would show up until the feeder is empty more often than it is full. Who has time to constantly make up another batch of nectar and refill.  I do good to get mine refilled once or twice a week.  Right now, its about every other day. If it was like this all year, I’d never make it!  Soon these emerald flashes will be gone and I’ll be lamenting the sadness of the deserted feeders.

Everyone needs a little magic in their lives now and again. Streaking bits of emerald jewels in the sky can provide magic for a little while.  For me, the paintings are my way of capturing a bit of the colorful green flashes of fast moving magic before they gone for this year.  That time is fast approaching. I’m painting as many as possible while I can.  My camera is helping.  Then I’ll bring the feeders in, wash them well and put them back on the shelf in the garage where they will quietly collect dust.  Until next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.

Colorful Fridays–Soapy Violet Make-up

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Purple Pansies, Watercolor on paper

“A color is as strong as the impression it creates.” Ivan Le Lorraine Albright (from Susie Gadea)

Organic mineral compounded Manganese Violet is short on talk from artists.  Few have much to say about this rich reddish purple and direct compliment of Chromium Green. Manganese Violet has been around since 1868 where it was first discovered in Germany and called Nuremberg Violet.  Winsor Newton introduced it to England in 1890. This purple hue is non-toxic and shows up in a number of unusual places.

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Vasari Colors rates Manganese Violet as “Gemlike in mass tone” and “makes pinkish violet tints when mixed with white.”  Gamblin’s website says Manganese Violet is, “ a moderate purple that is redder and duller than Heliotrope, bluer lighter and stronger than average amethyst, bluer and stronger than Cobalt Violet, and bluer and deeper than average lilac.”  Holliday Pigments gives Manganese Violet a good semi-transparent rating.  According to, Manganese Violet, “has poor hiding power and has not been widely used.”

If you don’t wish to make use of your Manganese Violet pigment in paintings, it can always be used to make a nice non-toxic eye shadow.  No eye shadow?  Well, the pigment is also good for tinting hand made soap.  Gardeners will find Manganese Violet is a vital mineral in the diet of African Violets but it’s not for the color of the blooms.  Manganese Violet is essential for the healthy green color of the leaves of African Violets.  Maybe African Violet leaves are Chromium Green.

Here is a demonstration of a Manganese Violet wash:

Zoom, Zoom-Sketching

Hummingbird, ink on paper

The hummingbirds are migrating. They are moving so fast, zooming all around the feeders. Earlier in the summer, I had 2 regular visitors to the 3 feeders in the back yard and 2 regular visitors to the feeders in the front yard. Are these guys swarming around the feeders now their kids or friends passing through on the way to winter homes? There are least 10 of them. in back. Maybe 5 or 6 in the front.

I sat quietly in the backyard and watched. I attempted to draw. One of the problems I have with pencils is that I want to use an eraser. That slows the drawing process down immensely. With these fast moving guys, there is no possible way to slow down. Its hard enough to keep with them as it is. There’s just no other option but to go for the ink pen. No special pen. Just a standard every day ink pen. It’s the only I thought I could move fast enough.

Iris, silverpoint

Every now and then in moments of boredom, I’ll pull a pen out of my purse and scribble on whatever scrap of paper I can find. My favorite is copy paper. Sitting somewhere with out a lot of time, there is no other option but to work fast. It turns into a great exercise in getting the action or the structure fast without the work of erasing when it doesn’t work right. With a pen, creativity takes over to get it right. No going back. That type of drawing is the technique necessary in silverpoint drawing. Ink sketching is a great practice for silverpoint.

Cardinal, ink on paper

A few years ago, I did an iris one afternoon on day when work had been unusually slow. Yes I know there were things to be done but after a long day, a few minutes of drawing gave me the energy boost to finish the long day. Another time, it was cardinals while sitting through another long wait. In both situations, there wasn’t time to think or concentrate. It was more or less a bit of doodling. But I love those quick pen and ink drawings.

Watching the zooming hummers took me back to those quick copy paper sketches. There’s just no other way to get the movement of these guys down than fast ink sketches. With no time to think, it’s a good exercise in going with the feeling. It is also a great stress reliever. Like killing two birds with one stone. NO! No bird killing allowed!

Monday Morning Birds-Chickadees

Four Chickadees, oil on canvas

Like little sprites flitting around in the trees, chickadees look like miniature fun guys. I can’t help but smile when I see them with their little black caps and collars,with snowy white scarfs around their necks like their ears are always cold. Just a dab of yellow creeps up their otherwise snowy chests brightening up the lack of color in their choice of attire. How do they keep the white bits so clean and bright? I don’t see them very often in my bird bath so they must be taking their suits to the cleaners on a regular basis.

2 Chickadees in the snow, oil on canvas

Chickadees are always chattering in the trees. They seem to never be at a loss for things to say. When I paint them, I find myself imagining what they are saying to each other. Are they gossiping about what Cindy Chickadee wore yesterday? Or maybe Charlie Chickadee ate all the good seeds from the feeder again. You know how he is! Or the others are wondering if Cindy and Charley are whispering sweet nothings to each other because of all those long starry eyed gazes they are sharing.

Chickadee Friends, oil on canvas

The Chatty Chickadees could be saying just about anything since I can’t translate Chick language. Can you? They could very well be saying, “I wish that crazy lady would put down her paint brush and refill the feeder! That pesky cardinal has been at the sunflower seeds again.” At least that’s what Clarence, Connie, Carly and Cassie are saying. Cindy and Charlie are still starring deeply into each other’s eyes.

Chickadee in the Rain, Photo

So if you are out and about, and you hear chattering going on above your head, look up. It just may be the Chickadees. Ask them what they’re saying. But don’t be surprised if you get the same kind of a look like Calvin Chickadee over here is giving my camera. Don’t worry about it though. Calvin doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain. Neither do any of his buddies. They must like to get all soggy. Evidently, rain won’t make them melt.

Colorful Fridays-Disgustingly Beautiful Golden Yellow

Cardinal Couple, oil on canvas

“Yellow-colored objects appear to be gold.”  Aristotle (from

Discussions of the origins of Indian Yellow vary though most authorities believe it to have arrived in Europe from Asia in the Fifteenth Century.  Conflicting accounts exist as to the truth of a 19th century investigation into the process of creating Indian Yellow.  The disgusting smell of the hard brown balls imported from India to make the paint gave credence to the story of how it was made.

Bluebird. oil on canvas

According to a late nineteenth century investigation by The Journal of the Society of Arts (now known as in London, the hard brown balls of pigment were made from the urine of cows fed only a diet of mango leaves and water.  The urine was collected and dried to form the hard brown balls that were imported intact and later ground down to create the paint.  The paint was banned when news of the treatment of the cows became known.  The cows fed the mango leaf diet exclusively were severely undernourished to the point of starvation.  Synthetic forms of the paint began appearing shortly afterward.  Winsor Newton has some of the original imported brown balls on display in the Winsor Newton Museum.  However, they are quick to point out that the balls are in a sealed glass case to prevent the smell from escaping.

Indian Yellow is a rich, beautiful color making its origins hard to fathom.  Frequently used in glazes and for tinting, Indian Yellow makes jewel-toned greens when mixed with ultramarine blue.  Alizarin crimson, zinc white and Indian Yellow make a nice warm orange.  The Dutch Masters used Indian Yellow to create the luminescent glazes so characteristic of Dutch painting.  It was also a favorite with the Scottish Colourists of the early Twentieth Century.  The Scottish Colorist painter, Lesley Hunter, is a perfect example of the beauty of the warm, glowing gold the liberal use of Indian Yellow can produce.

Fortunately, today’s painters don’t have to deal with the disgusting smell of the original Indian Yellow.  In both oil and watercolor, Indian yellow is highly transparent and lightfast.   As a tint, Indian Yellow gives depth and richness to the paint.  On its own, it is beautifully golden. Indian Yellow is my favorite for adding the touches of yellow on Chickadees and the warm orange on the breast of bluebirds. Female cardinals are just plain dull without the warmth Indian Yellow adds in the layers of glazes. Indian Yellow is also the warmth that takes the male cardinal from plain red to striking when added to under-layers or as a thin glaze over the top.

Enjoy your Indian Yellow with gratitude for the synthetic process we have today. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with the smell or the knowledge of the disgusting origins of the paint, true or not.  Aren’t scientists wonderful! I don’t know what I would do without Indian Yellow. It is my all time favorite must-have color!!

For more on Indian Yellow, Winsor Newton has a “spotlight on color” feature on the website with a detailed description of the history of Indian Yellow.

More information on the Scottish Colorists can be found at the Scottish Colorist website.  A wonderful group of painters!

Iris, oil on canvas
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