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!

Tuesday Morning Bird-Sparrow

House Sparrow, oil on canvas

As a child, whenever I was troubled about some worry or other, my grandmother’s standard comeback was, “If His eye is on the sparrow, He watches over me.” That was her way of telling my child self not to worry. Many of her answers to my troubles came from the bible and many responses were about birds. She’s been gone since I was 16, but her admonishings remain. The sparrow response was always puzzling because I could never see anything particularly special about these abundant backyard guys fluttering around my grandmother’s garden. She would throw out the toast crusts from breakfast to feed the sparrows every morning before doing the dishes.

Little did I know about the lowly little brown sparrow until I began to read up on these frequent visitors beneath my bird feeders in the winter. Its hard to pay attention to these drab fellows when constantly distracted by the bright green of hummingbirds or the brilliant yellow of goldfinches. The hummers are all gone south now and the bright yellow goldfinches have turned dull winter green. Cardinals are remain distracting with their bright red, but it becomes easier to spot the little chirping sparrows without the presence of all the eye catchers.

LBJ’s are what sparrows are known as to birders, according to The Spruce. LBJ’s, code for Little Brown Jobs, got that designation because of how notoriously hard to identify they are. Birds and Blooms, in a wonderful article by Sally Roth, says there are over 33 species of sparrows. Oh my! No wonder birders call them LBJ’s! House Sparrows like the one I painted are the most abundant according to All About Birds and have lived around humans for centuries. Audubon says House Sparrows live in military-like units with an identifiable male leader marked by the most distinct black head markings. Now I’m going to be out searching for him!

Sparrow in a tree

Sparrows come up in multiple stories from folklore. Owl cation has a great round up of the details of sparrow legend in many cultures. Ancient Greeks felt sparrows were associated with the goddess of love while Indonesians believed a sparrow meant coming marriage or the birth of a baby. In China, sparrows are harbingers of good luck. The Celts thought sparrows kept ancestral knowledge. To Egyptians, sparrows carried the souls of the deceased to heaven. The Bible and other ancient writings believed sparrows were symbols of God’s presence and His love for everything. When examining a sparrow on someone’s tattoo. the meaning could be any one of the above. Or at one time, sparrows were common tattoos for sailors who believed if they died at sea, a sparrow would carry their soul to heaven.

When seeing a representation of a sparrow, now you will have to stop and think what the intended meaning is. Is it good luck? Somebody’s pregnant? Could be any one of several meanings. To my grandmother, there was one meaning and one meaning only. God was watching over us all so worry was useless. She was evidently on to something because Audubon says the House Sparrow is one of the most abundant songbirds in North America for one reason: it associates with humans. Hmmm…

Sally Roth has a great book titled An Eye on The Sparrow that can be purchased from Amazon, (mine is on the way!) and you can read more about the book at: Goodreads

As for me, I think I’ll paint some more of these LBJs while I listen to their sweet singing in the shrubs outside my front window!

Colorful Fridays-Rich Man’s Blue

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When the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness, also.” Paul Cezanne (from The Painter’s Keys)

From King Tut’s tomb to 14thcentury illuminated manuscripts to the luxurious robes of the Byzantine Madonnas, ultramarine blue has been used to illustrate the importance of the person or object depicted. Ultramarine blue earned this place in art from the high cost of its chief ingredient, lapis lazuli.  The introduction of the semi-precious mineral into Europe likely came from Marco Polo through Venice, say some accounts.

According to the website of The University of Hull (UK), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) painted only with true ultramarine.  Vermeer’s pure whites were achieved by the mixing of ultramarine with lead white.  Hull reports that due to the high cost of ultramarine blue most artists had chosen to use a less expensive blue made with azurite.  However, this did not have the brilliance of the true ultramarine.  Vermeer chose only the pure form.  And his “Woman with a Water Pitcher” beautifully exemplifies this choice in the woman’s white head covering and her rich blue gown.  Hull’s in-depth description of ultramarine is a fascinating read.

Another website, EssentialVermeer.com has a more in-depth description of the process Vermeer utilized in the painting, “Woman with a Water Pitcher” and others.  Essential Vermeer has detailed and enlarged portions of Vermeer’s paintings where the artist has used ultramarine in the shadows of pure white objects to maintain the luminosity of object.  The more famous Vermeer painting, “Woman with a Pearl Earring,” also had the characteristic use of ultramarine.

Gamblin states ultramarine is a great glazing color and calls it one of the few mineral colors to be “completely transparent.”  Golden Paints gives ultramarine blue an excellent permanency rating and a lightfastness of one (very lightfast). Synthetic ultramarine is what is now produced by both companies, as well as most other art suppliers.

Synthetic versions of ultramarine didn’t arrive until the early 1900’s when the cost came down markedly.  If you want to make your own ultramarine blue, the pure pigment can be purchased from the Dutch company, Kremer Pigmente.  Kremer specializes in reproducing, as close to exact as possible, pigments of the original Old Master’s paint formulas.  Kremer’s pigments are widely used in the restoration process of Old Master’s paintings.  A word of warning though, if you are planning to purchase original formula Ultramarine Blue pigment, you will quickly see why it isthe rich man’s blue.

Purchase Kremer pigments here

The painting “Woman with a Water Pitcher” is in the original collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.