When I walk (carefully!) out into a savanna and look down, I am struck by the incredible diversity spread out at my feet. So many different leaf shapes, colors and textures. So many species vying for space. And that is just what I can see. Different seasons bring different species. Plus, think of all that is going on underground! Amazing. And yes, everything is connected.
I recently went to a talk by Doug Tallamy. Have you heard of him? He has written some wonderful books, such as Nature’s Best Hope. He is one of the most inspiring speakers I’ve encountered. He points out that in the US most of the land is in private hands. By far. And he posits the question: what if every homeowner planted some native plants in lieu of lawn? I have myself seen what happens when one person does it. At my last home I started 25 years ago with native trees and shrubs, followed by forbs. The appearance in my tiny yard of native bees, dragonflies, butterflies, and birds was astounding. I used to think, wistfully, what if the neighbors to either side did the same thing? What more could we accomplish? It amazes me to think the birds I support here with native insects and berries can then fly south to overwinter in far away places. Connected, indeed!
This is a largish painting, at 30×40″. A bit of a bold choice, maybe, for showing a bit of ground. I enjoyed the design possibilities, though. I hope you do as well.
We are in the throes of moving. It is wonderful now to look out at a pristine lake surrounded by trees when I wake up. Instead of barking dogs and carousing humans, we now fall asleep to murmuring geese.
But moving brings surprises, too. One of them was seeing my paintings in a new setting. Packing them all up and moving them, then unwrapping them here, suddenly all I see is flaws. Only natural, I suppose. Also, a wonderful artist by the name of Ian Roberts has been making videos that he sends out to his subscribers. I’ve been watching them faithfully and it has changed the way I see. Here are two paintings I’ve completed since coming here:
Sometimes I like to take a break from painting landscapes. This leads to happy hours in the studio playing with color and shapes. Pearl Crescents are flying right now. Dainty little orange butterflies, they dance and flutter busily in the field. As I worked on this painting I kept in mind their very active nature, wanting to suggest that in the way the background looked.
I’ve been mentioning a big commission that I’ve been working on since late November. Finally this past Sunday I put the finishing touches on it and am ready to share it with you. The client’s idea was to show four stages of a great blue heron lifting into flight, all on one canvas. He wanted the birds to be large enough to see detail and yet small enough so they didn’t look crowded.
First I’ll share a slide show that of the painting in progress:
As you can see, I started with a warm underpainting that would unite all that came after. I painted in the subsequent layers as energetically and freely as I could, only gradually bringing in closer attention to detail. By the second image, I began laying in the sky and the darkest shadows of the mangroves behind the herons. Lighter colored vegetation is layered on top of this as you come forward. There were times when I wished I’d started a bit more mathematically, as I was honestly in suspense the whole time as to whether all four birds would fit on the canvas. It is a large painting, 48″x30″. Steve, I’ll bet you would have measured and calculated how large each one needed to be and drawn them in with pencil first! :). But that isn’t me. I’m a jump in with both feet and figure it out as I go kind of artist.
And here is the finished piece:
My friend and client is happy with it, so I’ll be varnishing it today and then shipping it off. It has been a huge undertaking but I’m really pleased with the results.
A couple of years ago my good friend Joyce was walking through the site she stewards, Grant Woods. It was December, and the first snow was just starting to fall. The sky had gone dark and still, the woods were hushed, then suddenly big fat snowflakes began to fall. Luckily she had her camera with her and captured the magical moment. She had me paint a triptych of it, with the center image the widest. It was a pretty cool project. When I had the trees painted the way we wanted them I had her come to my studio and we spattered on the snow together. That is a fun memory. She just had a second hip surgery, and I’m hoping that will enable her to be back on the trail by spring.
The darned editor would not let me show the image on the right in full, so I added it below so you can see all of it.
Currently we have a few inches of snow from a few weeks ago that have condensed down to ice…I’m ordering some spikes for all of our shoes so we can go outside safely. Pete’s feet come with spikes! 🙂
Standing on the trail with your back toward Lake Michigan, you can see the layers of habitat. In the distance a line of trees on a very old moraine, and next closer is a ridge of shrubby brush and smaller trees. Then the wet meadow where once I would see so many butterflies on the wing, back when I was a monitor. It was heaven. Now that I’ve hung up my net, so to speak, I must stay on the trail with all the other visitors. The red-orange tree in the middle distance is a black oak, Quercus velutina, which as you can see holds onto its leaves through the winter. Leaning into the scene is a young bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa. I really liked how its gnarly branches were set off against the horizontal bands of color behind it. Although young, its bark is already thick and corky. Bur oaks are well able to withstand fire, and so are the big open oaks you see dotted through a prairie. Black oaks dominate at Illinois Beach State Park, because they like the sand. I would say that the bur oak represents a later stage of succession, as organic material has built up on the older dunes. In fact, this oak is older than it looks, just smaller because it is on fairly lean soil. I believe it is about 25 years old, based on my memory of seeing it grow there.
This painting is very small, just 5×7. I painted it as a little break from concentrating on the big commission.
Some of you will remember this painting from a post last year. Between Christmas and the big commission that I’ve been working on, I don’t have anything new to share with you and this seemed appropriate this morning. Winter came for us last night here in NE Illinois, with snow followed by freezing rain. Throughout the night I heard strange explosions and scraping sounds, like when a metal boat rubs against an aluminum pier. Odd. A story in the news revealed that people all through out SE Wisconsin heard them, too. Usually when snow falls the world is muffled in silence. There was no wind or storm to explain it.
An interesting thing happened when I was working on this painting. The sky kept coming out more blue than I wanted it to, so I reworked it the grey I was after. When I did, the colors of the rest of the painting immediately shifted and the life went out of it. That is the nature of color, and why you really cannot predict the outcome of a painting no matter how carefully you plan it. So, blue it is for the sky, and the rest of the painting sprang back to life.
Over the years I’ve posted quite a few paintings of the bog, and here is my newest one in which we are at the open water eye of the bog. You can see the ring of tamaracks, Larix laricina, just starting to turn golden before dropping their needles. To get to this spot you’ve passed through the shrub zone where such goodies as leatherleaf and calla lily grow.
From here we turn the bend in the boardwalk to find things like pitcher plant.
I had a lot of fun with that one, going a bit steampunk at the bottom.
Several species of ferns crowd together here, along with arrowhead and a rose pagonia.
And, finally, out to the open marsh that surrounds the bog.
The marsh doesn’t look like this anymore. Changes due to nearby development have altered the water table, and a severe drought allowed emergent plants to close in. It is now almost entirely cattails which saddens me. The bog itself is fairly inaccessible these days as the beloved boardwalk has nearly rotted away and would cost a staggering amount to replace. I was unable to visit the bog at all this past year and I don’t imagine it will be open again any time soon. My hope is that the bog is thriving without us.
Before I talk about this little painting, I want to give a big thank you to all who have visited my Fine Art America gallery and made purchases. The things I’ve gotten from there and that my friends have gotten have all been of really nice quality~they are doing a great Job there with the different products they offer. So, thank you! I’m so excited, and I hope you are delighted with your purchases!
This painting is just 6×6, and I see that when I photographed it I got in so close that even the weave of the canvas is in focus. That’s not the look I was after, so lean back in your chair and squint a little…. 😁 . I’ll have to remember not to get so close next time.
When I’m out enjoying nature I find that sometimes I’m really drawn to what is at my feet, as here on the dunes. I liked the pattern of the faded grasses against the sand with fallen leaves woven in.
I’m working on a large commission right now, and have been taking shots along the way so hopefully that will be finished by next week and I can show it to you.
On a windy day this past summer at Illinois Beach State Park, I saw these showy goldenrods and blazing stars dancing a duet in the wind, and the Monarchs passing through had to hang on tightly to avoid being swept out into the Lake.
This is a lovely little patch of prairie on the older dunes, with several prairie species growing in a dense community. However there are also quite a few grey dogwoods starting to muscle their way in. While native, they can be weedy and will quickly overpower the other species if not controlled. Prescribed fire works well on a prairie to maintain the balance, however this can be tricky on the dunes as fire will kill the creeping juniper and bear berry that grow nearby.
I built this painting up by layers, stem by stem, leaf by leaf, and finally color by color. Last was the butterfly but at first she looked like she’d been stamped on the surface. I had to tease a goldenrod and a grass stem over her wings a little to drop her down into the habitat.