Tuesday Morning Bird-Pelicans

White Pelican, oil on canvas

The white pelicans are arriving in my part of the US on a daily basis. They will hang out here for the winter. Large numbers of them come to Kentucky Lake and Reelfoot Lake every year. The numbers of winter arrivals have been increasing in recent years. The white pelicans are mostly people-shy and stay well away from populated areas, hanging out in large flocks. It hasn’t been easy to get decent photos to paint from. It will take a longer lens to catch up to these shy guys. There are comparisons between the white ones arriving for the winter and the brown ones more associated with the Gulf coastal areas. The brown pelicans I have encountered in coastal areas are not nearly as camera and people shy as their white counterparts. Some brown pelicans appear to actually pose for the camera. While the white ones remain on the far side of the lake shore the brown ones will sit around on the docks and and the water’s edge begging for scraps.

Brown Pelican, Marco Island, FL

Pelicans have always appeared to me to be a bit prehistoric in their look. Turns out they may actually be prehistoric as fossils have turned up that are almost 30 million years old. Of course the ones we are now familiar with have evolved a bit over the last 30 million years but are similar enough to the fossilized version to be easily identified. That’s pretty old! Maybe that is part of the reason that make these birds fascinating survivors. Quite adept at fishing, the brown ones are also good at hanging around the docks when the local fishermen bring in their daily catch patiently waiting for the fish cleaning process to leave bits for them to quickly pick up.

White Pelican, miniature oil on canvas

As an ancient bird, pelicans have figured in folklore for many centuries. It was believed that a mother pelican, lacking food for her young would actually pierce her chest with her beak so that the babies could drink her blood. That myth was eventually proven false but remains a legend still. It is believed that the pelican is a symbol for the passion of Jesus as she spills her blood for the survival of her children. Saint Thomas Aquinas even adds the pelican to his hymn, “Humbly We Adore Thee.” Queen Elizabeth I in medieval times is said to have taken on the symbology of the pelican and is seen in one portrait wearing a pelican broach. The pelican is the national bird of Romania and the state bird of Louisiana. Louisiana is known as the Pelican State. Several countries in the Caribbean have also adopted the pelican as their symbol. The pelican is quite revered as a symbol of self sacrifice, in spite of its rather awkward and ancient appearance.

Juvenile Pelican coming in for a Landing, Alligator Point, FL

Even with all the noble history and folklore surrounding the pelican, I tend to think of them as more comical. In this photo, a juvenile brown pelican was trying to perfect the art of landing on the water and having a bit of a struggle. He eventually mastered it and made for good entertainment as he repeatedly practiced. It was a great moment when he landed without so much splashing and thrashing. I wanted to cheer him on!

Pelicans were the subject of a witty limerick that has several variations. The original was written by fellow Tennessean, Dixon Lanier Merritt in 1910:

A wonderful bird is the pelican,
His bill will hold more than his belican,
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week,
But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

Cheers to the wonderful pelican!

Colorful Fridays-Shady Green

Afternoon in the Park, oil on canvas

“Like emotions, colours are a reflection of life.” – Janice Glennaway (from Irene Osborne)

Most greens fall into the yellow spectrum following the colors of leaves, grass and other growing things of the natural world.  These greens usually produce a nice mud color if mixed with red.  The discovery of Viridian green changed that, creating a clear bluish green perfect for cooler uses and making a better glazing green.  Mixed with alizarin crimson, viridian makes a beautiful gray, similar to Payne’s gray.  Viridian next to red creates an energetic drama.

In the early nineteenth century, painters began looking for a less toxic green than the highly toxic emerald green.  Painting Through the Ages states that Viridian is Chromium oxide Dihydrate and was first patented in 1859 by Guignet of Paris.  It quickly became a widely used color.  So popular now it is even seen in the paint of cars as in the new Chevy Volt.  For artists, viridian’s uses vary according to artist but remains very popular and a “must have” right next to alizarin crimson.

Golden Paints says viridian green has excellent permanency.  And Gamblin says viridian is very good as a tint.  Paintmaking.com and others state viridian is excellent for oil painters but not the best green for water-based media.  Its transparent qualities and tinting ability do not hold up as well in acrylics, watercolor or gouache.

The writer of the website Paintmaking advises to pay attention to the quality of viridian as some manufacturers may not fully purify the pigment leaving problematic traces of borate and chromate.  In the case of Viridian, apparently, you will get what you pay for so test the different brands.  The quality is worth the price.

For oil painters, viridian makes a beautiful cool green for shade, water and other areas the yellowish greens would tend to heat up.  Few artists use it straight, usually diluting it with titanium white, ultramarine or alizarin.  Straight or mixed, viridian will grab attention, even in the shade.

For the daring, here is a guide to mixing your own viridian from Painting Through the Ages.

A color guide of the many beautiful mixes that can be made with viridian is demonstrated by Colorbay.com.

Wetcanvas.com has an excellent discussion (here) posted of artists explaining their uses of viridian green. Very informative!

Happy shady painting!

Falling for fall

Leaf drawing, pencil

When Fall arrives, it is a fresh opportunity to reflect on Nature’s beauty as the landscape changes from greens to reds, oranges and browns. To some it is the end of summer. To me, it means the beginning of the next phase of the year with new things of beauty to discover. Every year my Fall leaf collection grows. My favorite place to keep my leaf collection is in Gardner’s Art Through The Ages. I have two versions of the book. Occasionally, I need to check an art reference in one version or the other and leaves fall out every time I open either one. Just walking in a parking lot in October may yield new additions to the book! Some specimen have been in the books for more than 10 years. I can’t bring myself to ever throw any out. I love being outdoors and making art in the Fall. The crisp air and changing colors are perfect for nature journaling.

Fall Leaves, Ink and bamboo brush

There are so many ways to capture Fall leaves and other bits of Nature that seem to line all outdoor paths this time of year. Naturalist, John Muir Laws literally wrote the book, and course and workshop and more, on Nature Journaling. Laws believes that the way to get kids and others to appreciate and care for Nature is by journaling and creating art out in the wild, parks, or even your own back yard. His premise is the process of painting, drawing and identifying nature in its natural location leads to a greater understanding and love of Nature. And with greater love of nature, there will be more of a desire to protect and care for beautiful spaces where nature can be free to live and grow in its natural habitat. No artist’s or nature lover’s library is complete without a John Muir Laws book, workbook or reference book. Teachers will find a wealth of resources at Laws’ website. Fall is a great time to introduce working outdoors in nature and Laws has the tools to get started.

Maple Leaf, watercolor

.Another great resource, for taking your art outside to nature is Clare Walker Leslie. Leslie, also a naturalist and artist, believes one of the best ways to learn about our natural world is to keep a Nature Journal. She has books and other great resources on her website to help you get started. Leslie’s Nature Journal books are fairly simple to follow and can even work well for children. One of the great things about Nature Journaling with children is that it is also a great way to teach botany and other sciences. Her book, The Nature Connection, is a wonderful tool to use with kids and adult beginners. Teachers will find it full of resources and wonderful projects for classroom and field trips. I have a copy and love it. There are so many wonderful projects and tips. Nature Drawing is another favorite of Leslie’s for me.

Fall Leaves, watercolor pencil, water brush

My favorite tools for field sketching are watercolor pencils with a water brush. They are the easiest to carry requiring minimal supplies. No worry about water jars or easels. No special chairs or tables to go. When going to work in the wild you never know how far you will have go to find the plants and things to paint, so the fewer heavy things to carry, the better. A good mixed media sketchbook or journal with a hard cover is the best to work in. All that will be needed is a box of watercolor pencils, one or two water brushes, filled, and a pencil sharpener. Don’t forget to pack a snack and drink for yourself. You may get so engrossed you won’t want to go back to civilization too soon.

Fall Cypress Trees, oil pastel

Other tools for getting down your outdoor artistic expressions are many and varied. While my favorite is the watercolor pencils, I have also used oil pastel and oil paint. Oil pastels are also easily portable for outdoor use. The definition and detail of plants is more difficult with oil pastels but landscape impressions are perfect. Oil pastels capture vivid color, so necessary in Fall, in a way no other tool can. There are some very cool carrying cases available for oil pastels with shoulder straps. Mine is made from wood and is a thing of beauty in itself. I found it at Plaza Art Supply in Nashville. It is small and easy to carry. A mixed media sketchbook works well with oil pastels too.

Fall Park, oil on canvas

Plein Air painting was the choice of the Impressionists. In fact, the the name came from their habit of painting outdoors to capture the “impressions” of what they were seeing. The term, though meant as derogatory, was embraced by the Impressionists. The Artists Network has a great description of Plein Air painting. There are many wonderful plein air painting groups who will go together to beautiful places to paint as the Impressionists did. Check your area to see if you have one locally. If not, start one! Nashville has the wonderful Chestnut Group. Check out all the wonderful things the Chestnut group does. The Forgotten Coast of Florida has a yearly Plein Air event at Apapalchicola and Carabelle, FL.

Nature Painting at Percy Warner Park

We took our Botanical Style Watercolor workshop from Watkins College of Art at Belmont University to Percy Warner Park in Nashville last week end. Even though it was cold, rainy and dreary, we had a wonderful time doing field sketches with watercolor pencils. We collected specimen and worked at the picnic tables under a shelter. The next day, we took our field sketches and made finished watercolor Botanical Style paintings in the studios at Belmont. It took a while to thaw out Saturday night but it was still a wonderful time. There is just nothing like being out in nature to paint it. I prefer the studio for finished work but field sketching creates a sense of actually getting in touch with nature. Pick your favorite tools or try some new ones. Then get outside and get to work!

Check out all the fun we had last week end!

Tuesday Morning bird-mockingbird

Mockingbird-colored pencil

Mockingbirds did not become part of bird legend until the 20th century, likely because of the Harper Lee book and movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. The mockingbird then became a symbol for lost innocence as the story goes. Yesterday when I was thinking about the different birds I had painted, I realized I had never painted a mockingbird for some unknown reason. Maybe its that I never found any inspiration in the mockingbird’s rather drab gray coloring. Sad but true. The bird’s I enjoy painting have bright plumage usually or some other intriguing visual characteristic. Mockingbird’s are just gray. Saturday as I was talking in the nature painting workshop, the subject of the paint color, Payne’s Gray came up. Payne’s gray is not just a mix of black and white. It has a richness that is derived from a myriad of colors. That got me to thinking about gray birds. From there, the mockingbird came up. Immediately, I had to remedy the fact that I had never painted one. My first thought was watercolor but I discarded that in favor of colored pencil. I wanted to see what other colors besides gray, came into play in the feathers of a mockingbird. There are more than gray. Perhaps with oil paint, I may find even more.

From painting a mockingbird, I went looking for intrigue with folklore of the mockingbird. After getting past the whole innocence lost angle, the genus name of the mockingbird brings up a whole new look at these amazing birds. The Audubon Society states that the actual name for this particular mockingbird is the Northern Mockingbird and species name as Mimus Polyglottos which translates to “many-tongued mimic.” An apt name as the mockingbird is known to sing hundreds of different songs. All About Birds says the Northern Mockingbird continues to sing all day and into the night. The Audubon Society says, “John James Audubon was so in awe of this bird’s singing ability, he wrote of the Northern Mockingbird in Birds of America, “There is probably no bird in the world that possesses all the musical qualifications of this king of song, who has derived all from Nature’s self.” All About Birds has recorded some beautiful singing by the Northern Mockingbird. Both sources say Mockingbirds can even mimic the human sounds, as well as machinery.

According to the website, AuntyFlo, mockingbirds are aggressive defenders of their nest and territory. As a symbolic meaning, the message of the mockingbird is, “We must also have confidence to protect our own means and stand up for our rights.” Perhaps that is the reason the Mockingbird Society chose to name their organization after this fearless defender of territory as they seek to protect and defend children of color from racism in the foster care system.

Red-shouldered hawk with mockingbird

Purely by accident, I had the opportunity to capture a fearless mockingbird in action when I came upon this scene of a Mockingbird fearlessly attacking and harassing a red-tailed hawk that was hanging around his territory. The poor bedraggled hawk was rain-soaked and looked tired and sad. That didn’t effect this mockingbird. He quickly scared the hawk off apparently knowing the rain would stop soon and the hawk would then go into hunting mode.

While working on the colored pencil drawing of a mockingbird, I thought about the different legends of the mockingbird. From the lost innocence of Harper Lee’s book to the more recent MockingJay of the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones Mockingbird, sweetly singing, fierce defender of territory is a much more appealing legend of the mockingbird for me. This photo totally captures that characteristic. The hawk is probably three times the size of the mockingbird but the little guy made short work of scaring off the bigger bird.

Maybe the strength in the face of bigger, stronger adversity is the reason the State of Tennessee chose the mockingbird as the state bird in 1933. But it could also be the fact that the mockingbird is known for its amazing musical ability and vast repertoire of songs it sings on a daily basis. What could symbolize my home state more that strength in adversity, where the name “Volunteer State” came from, and musical ability characteristic of both major cities, Nashville (Music City) and Memphis, (Home of the Blues). Audubon, himself, called the Mockingbird, “the king of song.” And the state where Graceland lives on as the home of Elvis Presley, King of Rock and Roll, B.B. King, King of the Blues and Roy Acuff, King of Country, (among others!) would choose a bird known as the King of Song, as the state bird. Makes sense to me! Now to find more colors hiding in those gray feathers…

Colorful Fridays-“Green” Rose Brown

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“In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” Sir Frances Bacon (from the Painter’s Keys)

Mix cinnamon, ginger and chocolate and you will come up with a color very close to Burnt Sienna, (not to be confused with the rock band, Burnt Sienna).  However, you may not want to paint with this mixture.  For paint, you will need iron oxide and manganese oxide.  Then you will have to set it on fire, unless or course, you are looking for the more yellowish Raw Sienna.  In that case, leave off the fire.

Burnt Sienna is an old paint color dating to early cave paintings..   The rose brown of Burnt Sienna was originally called terra rossa or red earth in accounts from the Renaissance period but later came to be known for the Italian city of Siena where the minerals were first mined.  Siena is an old, old city in Tuscany with a fascinating history worth reading up on. Today Burnt Sienna is mined on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, in the French Ardennes and American Appalachians.

Rembrandt favored Burnt Sienna as is evident in the warm rosy glow so characteristic of his paintings.  Burnt Sienna is favored in most Renaissance paintings as well.  Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro was likely achieved with the liberal use of Burnt Sienna in the rich deep shadows that became his signature style.  Burnt Sienna was a popular paint of many of the old masters and continues its popularity to this day.

Most makers of Burnt Sienna today give a light fast rating of one as extremely light fast.  Golden classifies it as semi-transparent.  The Gamblin Company states today’s Burnt Sienna is more opaque than 200 years ago and recommends Van Dyke Brown or Gamblin Earth Tone Colors as better choices if seeking greater transparency.  Daniel Smith, speaking of the watercolor, says Burnt Sienna combines well in glazes as a semi-transparent pigment that won’t “sully or stain the other pigments” in your glaze.

Artists seeking to become more earth-friendly in painting can buy natural pigments of Burnt Sienna for home mixing from EarthPigments.com.  If you would like to be more “Green” with your browns, try mixing your own earth tones from actual earth pigments.  What could be more natural?

Order natural pigments from Earth Pigments here.

Canva.com has more information about exactly what the chemical make up of Burnt Sienna is.

Burnt Sienna, the band, talks about their music on You Tube: