Big Bluestem at Illinois Beach State Park

20170126_143002melissabluefineart.com

I meant to be painting snow, but when I was glancing through some photos I took in the fall I was struck anew by the play of colors and texture along this stretch of trail. Late afternoon sunlight was slanting through, picking out the stems of this this fine tall grass.  Besides, we’ve hardly had any snow this year, and I don’t want to tempt fate!

Spangled Fritillary

Fritillary

Great spangled fritillaries are the cheetahs of the butterfly world~orange streaks of energy flashing past as you walk along. As you can see here, they do stop to fuel up at monarda blossoms, and that gave me my chance for a photograph.

Twenty years ago, if you drove for any distance in Illinois your radiator and windshield would be fairly covered with, I’m sorry to say, dead bugs. Today, you’ll have almost none. I’m seeing very few butterflies of any species when I go for walks now. They re still there, thankfully, just in reduced numbers. They could come back, if we have the will to change. What will we choose to do? Will we stand up to Monsanto in time? Do we need a new book, this time about Roundup and the chemical soup we create when we apply pesticides? Yes, it is farms. But it is municipal agencies doing mosquito abatement. It is homeowners, spraying for grubs and dandelions. You can’t see chemicals, so it is easy to forget they are there. But they, or their break-down residues, linger far longer than the companies want you to know.  And they combine with other chemicals to create ever more toxic brews in our soils and water. It would be one thing if it even worked but guess what-it doesn’t! We still have dandelions and mosquitoes. But we are losing so much else.

What do you choose?

…And a Dragon

Illinois Dragonfly Painting

Small original painting by Melissa Blue of a red dragonfly on native flower.

There is a lovely woman at the farmer’s market every week who brings cut flowers from her garden to sell. It must be a small farm, really, because what she brings is really impressive. As much as I love fresh organic vegetables, fresh cut flowers are a real lift to the week! Her space is right in front of my studio and we get to talking a bit as I sit there painting. She asked me to paint something small and colorful for a gift for her mom. This is the painting I did for her. I really love this little flower  for its light airy feel and gentle pink color. The attraction is mutual…later, it will form broad flat seeds that adhere to my jeans when I brush past. The dragonfly is one of several species I see flying at Illinois Beach this time of year.

I’ve been without a computer for a week. That will certainly make you realize how much you rely on one! The old one has been slowing down and balking more and more but I didn’t realize how bad it was until finally I just went out and bought a replacement. This new little Mac is solid-state and lightening quick. I’m having a lot of fun learning it’s controls and loving how intuitive it is.

 

Painting in Progress, and a Walk

in progress

To begin a painting, I like to create an underpainting con brio. That’s fancy for “letting the paint fly”. This one is planning to be a wetland painting, with an egret in it. Let’s see if that is where it goes. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime I ran off to play hooky at Illinois Beach State Park earlier this week, and I want to share with you some of my favorite photos of the day. They will probably become paintings eventually but I’m slow.

Euphorbia corollata turned red

Here is a Euphorbia corollata, all decked out in red for fall. I love this plant for its lacy white flowers that dance over the savanna for several weeks, and then light up late dog days of summer by turning red.

Dead River TRail

We are on the Dead River Trail, heading toward Lake Michigan in a meandering sort of way. That is my favorite way of getting somewhere, so this is pretty much my favorite trail ever. To the left are older dunes, left by the retreating glaciers. They are cloaked by Black Oaks, Quercus velutina. To the right is a glorious sedge meadow wherin rises the Dead River. In the summer is it filled with fritillaries and many other butterflies. In fact, back when I was the butterfly monitor, this was a very busy spot. Woodland and Savanna butterflies on one side of the trail, wetland and meadow butterflies on the other. Swiveling my head back and forth could make me dizzy but it was worth the effort.

Ladie's Tresses

Ladie’s Tresses! What a cool find. I really like how the blooms spiral up.

DunesAnd that brings us out to the foredunes.  This photo doesn’t show it well, but blazing stars, asters and golden rod were in bloom all over the flanks of the dunes. More, in fact, than I’ve seen before. When I first started coming to the Park, the dunes were much more bare of vegetation. It has been quite interesting to watch succession take place here. By the way, I find it quite odd how the lake appears to be about to pour right off the screen. That is a bit unsettling. A check of the tree reassures me that I was not leaning, myself. Photographers, what am I doing wrong?

As you can see, it was a very good day to play hooky. At one point I looked up and could see the Chicago skyline. You can’t always, but on a clear day you can. I marvel about that~the contrast between the wildness where I stand and the city I can see.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our walk 🙂

Blazing Stars to Racine Art Museum

Blazing Stars along Dead Rivier

http://www.zhibit.org/melissabluefineart

A couple of summers ago the Blazing Stars blazed brightly at Illinois Beach State Park.  They made a spectacular show, and I’m so glad I was there to witness it.  My soul is happiest when I am able to drink deeply of the beauty I find in one special place, and it has been amazing to see what nature has offered up for me over the past, er, several years.  I’ve seen wonders, such as the time the Dead River blew out it’s sand bar, creating sine waves far out into Lake Michigan.  Some years one plant is ascendant, other years it might be rare turtles.  What a great journey!

I see my life as a quiet one, hunkered down in one spot, learning to see it deeply, celebrating it in paint.  Pursuing my career pushes me out into the wider world, however.  This doesn’t come easily…I read the business books and quail at the advice.  Mailing list?  Newsletter?  EEK!  What I have found is that I can fold my career right into my life until it is a natural extension of myself.  Focus, and do the next thing.  The next step always appears, as if by magic.  It has also become an interesting journey.  Most recently, it has led to my being invited to take this painting to the Racine Art Museum to be part of their rental and sales program.  I’m so excited!

Killdeer at Illinois Beach State Park

Killdeer on Dune Trail, IBSP

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The dress is white and gold.

Or at least, I was pretty sure of it.  Last night my son and I were bantering about the silly things we find online, and that dress was one of the things we were chuckling about.  He brought up the image, and it was clearly white and gold.  He looked at me oddly, and said, “blue and black.”  We looked warily at each other and then showed it to his dad and sister.  “White and gold” said my daughter.  “Blue and black” said their dad.  The four of us stared at the dress and each other, mystified.  In our house at least, it seems to come down to male vs. female eyes.  This morning I saw a photo of the dress and it was blue and black.  What goes on here?  To see for yourself, here is a link:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/blue-black-white-gold-dress-color-debate-goes-viral/

This is a triviality, except it made me question what I take for reality.  What any of us take for reality.  Then this morning when I was photographing this painting to share with you, there it was again.  The painting has a lot of purple in it.  My camera, however, insists that it is blue.  I tried taking the photograph in different rooms, different lighting, different settings, no matter.  Blue.  Also, the camera has sort of compressed the image so the proportions don’t look right. I am putting all of this down to the questionable magic of digital media.  Or perhaps I’ve lost my marbles…

In any event, here she is, fresh off the easel.  Last summer on a gorgeous warm day, she graciously took pity on me and my inadequate photographing skills and posed on the remains of a train trestle that whispers of past human activity there, in the dunes at Illinois Beach State Park.  The photograph I took in the field has lots of noise in it which I would ordinarily have translated on the canvas, depicting habitat.  This time I was after something more dramatic, pared down.  I haven’t done this before, but I think I like it.  Or maybe the dress is blue and black….

The Birds, the Bees, and You

Image

Blazing Stars Along the Dead River

This was an exceptional summer for blazing stars at Illinois Beach State Park, and I wanted to share them with you.  I think I’ll probably paint a whole series, because it was just so pretty.

This kind of beauty is worth hanging on to, don’t you think?  Luckily we have nature preserves.  However, everything on this precious Earth is connected, and that brings me to today’s title.

Have you read the yahoo headlines today?  I have, and I felt ill.  Thousands of bees found dead in Oregon; the cause?  Insecticides.  Around here, ash trees are dying because of the emerald ash borer.  I was fortunate enough to attend a program given by some leading ecologists and it was very interesting to hear what they had to say about this.  They are not worried, because the ash is an abundant seed producer and a not so important component of the woodland ecosystem.  Their thinking is that it is likely the borer will race through the area and pretty much fade away when it runs out of fuel.  That abundant seed bank will then give rise to a new generation of ash trees.  The problem is that communities planted so many of them.  In the future, hopefully, we will learn to embrace diversity and plant a variety of trees along our streets.  But here is why I bring the ashes up:  at nurseries and hardware stores, I am now seeing chemicals advertised as ideal for treating emerald ash borer.  This is bad news for a couple of reasons.  First of all, by the time the homeowner notices that there is something eating his ash tree, it is too late to save the tree.  Period.  Second, these chemicals soak into the soil and kill everything they come in contact with!  That is what killed the bees found dead in Oregon, and it is what is killing bees and other beneficial insects all  over.  And it doesn’t stop there, of course.  The birds and other creatures that eat these poisoned insects are killed as well.  We are not immune, either.  Cancer rates are on the rise, as well as other disorders related to chemical poisoning.

WE MUST STOP USING PESTICIDES !!  Please, the next time you are experiencing a nuisance bug of some sort or other and reach for the RAID, think twice.  This stuff spreads into the soil and water and combines with other chemicals that are being sprayed, creating deadly cocktails that do not go away.

The beautiful blazing stars in my painting depend on insects.  The plants may be saved by the Nature Preserve boundary, but the chemicals applied by neighbors don’t recognize boundary signs.