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 Lakeevery 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!

Cormorants

Cormorant, oil on canvas

These swimmers are so funny with their underwater antics. They love to pop up and get all eyes looking for them in one place while they dive down, disappearing only to pop up again in a completely different place. I think they do it on purpose just to confuse the humans. Unlike some birds, they are not very shy, occasionally swimming right up under the boat. Cormorants love to sit on buoys and other markers out in the middle of the lake where they can watch the boats and barges going by. Maybe they’re keeping tabs on what the humans are up to in case some illegal fishing or something is going on. The cormorants are on top of it. They want us to know they’ve got their eyes on us so we better not step out of line. Then again, they may be wondering why we float around on top of the water while they have so much fun diving down and swimming around. Their blue eyes must help them see in the dark down under the surface. Like the red eyes of night predator birds, the blue eyes work for underwater predator birds. I don’t know that I would call them pretty birds but they do have a look that is a bit on the fascinating side. I want to keep watching them to see what they are up to next.

Cormorant in the Wakulla River, FL

While ducks and geese seem to glide rather smoothly across the water, cormorants like to splash. Always the attention grabbers making a fuss to get all eyes turned in their direction while they prepare for their next underwater excursion. I wonder how they ever catch a fish with all the commotion they kick up with their big webbed feet. Maybe all the noise sets the fish off guard. After all who could think they are fishing with that rowdy splashing around and churning up the water. One friend commented that they look a bit like the Loch Ness monster swimming around with just their heads above the water unlike the duck and geese relatives.

Cormorants swimming in the rain

These guys swimming in the rain do look a bit like the Nessy monster. They are definitely unusual looking. I think they are doing water dancing in time to their own music.

As this cormorant stands on the dock with wings out drying, there are a number of thoughts going through my head about what may be in that bird brain. Is he saying, “Hey lookie, lookie!” or maybe, “Aren’t I gorgeous?” “What beautiful wings I have!” “If you keep taking pictures, I’ll keep my wings out.” Or maybe he’s defiant and saying, “I’m not scared of you. I’ll stand here with my wings out if I want to.” Who knows what he’s saying. The look on that face makes me think something is going on but I don’t speak cormorant so I’ll never know.

Cormorants seem to make a lot of friends and hang in groups. They even hang out with others who don’t fit in with the same style, like turtles. Turtles definitely lack cormorant style. But neither seems to care when they hang out together in the sun.

The cormorants never lack for entertainment. One tree we’d frequently go by in the boat would have a number of cormorants in it. The tree was right at the tip of a little land point that marked the edge of a cove. We started to call it the Cormorant tree. But as summer fades into fall, the tree doesn’t have quite so many birds there now. They must have a warmer place to go and observe from. Their antics in the lake will have to wait until next year. I wonder what kinds of fun they’ll get up too then. I hope they spend the winter thinking up some good stuff!

Cormorant Flying over Kentucky Lake

Until next year, “Safe travels, Mr. Cormorant.” Happy fishing to you and your friends until we see you again next year. Don’t forget where your tree is when you come back. I’ll have the camera ready.

Last year I saw the cormorants at Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee, FL, a beautiful place that is a must-see where the old Tarzan movies were filmed. While there enjoy at stay at the historic Lodge at Wakulla Springs where Johnny Weissmullerpracticed his famous yodel! 

In the summer, you can see them in the Cormorant Tree on Kentucky Lake at the mouth of Jonathan Creek. Bring your boat or rent one at the many places available like Moor’s. While you’re out on Kentucky Lake, you might get lucky and see a bald eagle or two.

At either place, the cormorants are ready to make you smile!

ZOOM Botanical Style Painting Workshops Open

Purple Pansies, watercolor

Registration is open for the first Two series of 3-Step Botanical Watercolor workshops that will be held in 2 hour increments over 3 weeks. The First part will cover the preliminary drawing and how to transfer the drawing to watercolor paper via tracing paper. Part 2 will focus on detailed under-drawing as the key to depth, shadow and texture. Part 3 is the finished painting in watercolor using layering or glazing techniques to achieve rich color and velvety smoothness in petals and leaves. The first series will feature sunflowers and the second will be on Pansies. Sunflowers will take place on Tuesdays and Pansies on Mondays. Two times will be available for both series. Click on the Workshop button in the side bar or go to the Workshop page. Class size will be limited to provide personal attention. I look forward to meeting new faces and seeing the art work of lots of artists out there. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.

Sunflower, watercolor

Once registered class materials will be made available for download in PDF form.

Coming up soon will be a Student Gallery of work created in the workshops! Help me make a place to showcase what artists are doing in Botanical Painting

Hummingbird Inspiration

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 about.il next year and the excitement of watching for the arrival of the first spark of rapidly moving emerald green.

Hummingbird with Red Throat, 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.

Beautifully Purposeful

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“Create we must, and respond to this dark hour.” Makoto Fujimura

The artistic process for many can be a compulsion, striving to express an idea, a thought, a feeling bubbling up from deep inside. The expression is often not consciously mulled over before erupting into reality. How much time is spent reflecting on the purpose of the churning creative urge before releasing the explosion? What if this flow of artistic need is consciously directed in such a way as to nourish the human heart?

Even in the midst of the direst of poverty, the soul seeks beauty. Anne Ciccoline of Creator, Created, Create and leader of Creative Communion, describes her trip to Nairobi where she was taken to Kibera, the largest urban slum in Africa. Anne was captivated at the sight of a mud hut with an entrance adorned with strips of fabric and a tin can planter with a green vine growing up the side of the hut. Anne says, “…no matter how primitive or impoverished our shelter, we strive to make it beautiful.” Beauty lightens darkness as nothing else can.

The human heart longs for beauty.   Our darkest hours are brightened by the simplest of beautiful sights. When there is nothing else, there is still beauty. Artists have a gift. Are we seeking to use it in a way that demonstrates gratitude for the gift? What better expression of gratitude could there be than for artists to bring the longed for beauty to the hearts of others? Creating art to nourish the soul is a noble purpose, a goal worth pursuing. And that is a beautiful thing.

Mako Fujimura talks about his painting, “Golden Sea”

Eclipsing the Brain

The Rational Redbird

The Rational Redbird

Better be without logic than without feeling. Charlotte Bronte (from The Painter’s Keys)

The purpose in art is frequently directed toward the rational, the brain. Many artists seek ways to make the meaning clear so that others may discern the intent. The purpose is for people to appreciate the art because they have grasped the meaning. They “get it!” There is a sense of justification when that understanding is communicated. But what if art is created that does not have an outward but rather an inward meaning? What if people don’t “get it” but don’t care either?

When art is focused on the rational so people, “get it” and intellect kicks in, the heart is left out in the cold. “The approach of reasoning and ‘Rational’ debate has eclipsed the ‘heart’ approach,” says Father Brad Mathias of Four Winds Anglican Mission and RoadTripParenting. Engage the brain, lose the heart in a manner of speaking. The heart eclipsed is left in darkness. Art that seeks to enlighten the thinking leaves feeling untouched. Which is more memorable, art that enlightens the brain or art that touches the heart?

The rational art of the brain is so bleak, so heartless. Brain art is without feeling, cold, untouchable, like a beautiful flower incased in glass, forever distant and separate. Why leave the heart out? Is the brain really that important? Let the heart eclipse the brain instead and who cares if people, “get it?” They’ll be “feeling it” and that’s all that matters.

Breezy Magic

Yellow Bearded Iris

“The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” William Butler Yeats (from The Painter’s Keys)

To provoke the senses is to be inspired. Without the conscious act of giving in to at least one sense little would be painted, written, performed or otherwise translated into art. Art requires that openness that comes from recognizing the role the senses play in inspiration. It is not only one sense that must be provoked in the creation of art, but all of them. And all of the senses include the most important and most elusive, the sixth sense

Can a painter paint smell or a writer write color? Suppose a person wants to provoke the feeling of a breeze blowing through the trees. Painting a few bent over trees won’t do it. Neither will writing the words, “ a breeze blowing through the trees,” provoke much. But giving those bent over trees some texture and color with paint, words or action and perhaps the senses of sight, touch, maybe hearing, could be provoked.  Add some autumn leaves and smell might join the other senses. Taste could even be added to the mix if those trees happen to be apple trees. Five senses have now come into play with that blowing breeze.

But what about the sixth sense, the magic sense? How can one go from sensing taste, sight, smell, feel and hearing to actually standing one with the trees totally within the blowing breeze. The only way the magical sixth sense can be provoked is to let go of the effort. The sixth sense comes from feeling the magic. The magic comes from within. To become one with that breeze is to go within and patiently sharpen the sense of magic, to be in that moment.   Artist and breeze are one.

All very easy for me to say but doing is another thing entirely. In the meantime, I think I will go out and sit under a tree for a while. Maybe if I sit long enough, the magic will happen. Maybe I will begin to grow roots. Maybe birds will nest in my hair. Maybe leaves will sprout from my fingers. Maybe I’ll sit long enough to get arrested for loitering. I wonder what the judge will do when I say I was sharpening my senses by becoming one with the breeze? Maybe someone will come bail me out of the slammer.

Consciously Unconscious

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“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Edward Hopper (from Artpromotivate.com)

 

An eagle in flight, the newly opened bud of a spring flower, the crashing waves on a white sandy beach are sights that can momentarily take the breath away. For many artists the feeling cannot be put into words. Only paint can express the depth of emotion attached to magnificent sights in our world. But there are times when frustration can set in over the difficulty of expressing that emotion followed by feelings of failure. Why is it not happening?

 

Perhaps the beauty seems more than mere mortals can express. The great C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want to see merely beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Father Shane Tucker of Four Winds Anglican Mission and ArtistSoulfriend.com spoke of this quote and encouraged artists to search for those places that inspire awe and to breathe them in. Father Shane suggests getting still and thinking of when one has last seen awe.

 

Taking time to be in that place of awe, to breathe it in, absorb it, dwell in it then turn back to canvas and paint with fresh feelings intact can break the logjam of frustration. Getting out of the way of feelings when they are trying to express themselves may be just the ticket. Letting go of control takes the physical act of shaking out arms and hands. It takes a conscious act to let the unconscious take over. So start shaking, breathe deep and get out of the way.  The logs are breaking!

 

 

Falling Chips

Mini Pumpkin

“Beauty is whatever gives joy.” Hugh Nibley (from The Painter’s Keys)

Suppose your goal is to create “beautiful” art. The first thing you might set out to do is define, “beautiful.” Good luck with that! Volumes have been written about what is and isn’t beautiful. The subject was examined in a movie documentary starring Mathew Collings, titled “What is Beauty?”  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a mind bogglingly in-depth article on the definition of Beauty. Even the dictionary has multiple definitions of beauty. What’s an artist to do?

The first step may be to go back to the beginning and take a look at why you create art in the first place. Was the original purpose to create something “beautiful” or something that will be enjoyed by others. There is a big difference. As the exact definition of beauty is likely near impossible to pin down, while giving pleasure to others is not. Therefore, a better goal might be to define how art gives pleasure to others and set out to pursue that direction.

Now that the goal is in mind to determine how to make pleasurable art, you take a look at what you have and discover one person finds pleasure in one style and another person prefers a different style. Uh Oh! What now?? You could just throw in the towel and give up. Or you could follow your own heart, create what you find pleasurable and let the chips fall where they may. Some of those chips just may fall on a few likeminded folks.

Muddy Letters

Purple Coneflower, miniature

“I think all great innovations are built on rejections.” Louis-Ferdinand Celine, (from The Painter’s Keys)

 

All artists face rejection at sometime or other. It is inevitable. For many artists, myself included, our art can feel somewhat like our child. Art comes from the depths of our souls, our hearts. A piece of who we are is in each artwork. To put it out there for others to enjoy is what we create for. Each time we do, we face the possibility that others will not respond with the same love and acceptance that we feel for our art. It is a hazard of the job.

 

Every artist is admonished to “not take it personally.” Hearing that statement over and over does not make it so. But each rejection can become a learning experience. The majority of rejections are likely due to the simple fact that a particular artist’s work does not fit with the vision of the venue. On other occasions, the rejecter may feel it necessary to explain the rejection in terms the artist may find hurtful or discouraging. Other rejections can be deliberately demeaning. Unfortunately, it happens. And sometimes a rejecter attempts to provide constructive criticism. Daniel Grant writing for The Huffington Post states, “Part of the job of being an artist is determining which one applies, and there is not a Website as yet to help with that.”

 

Grant’s words can be taken to heart, as I recently found. While applying to a number of juried venue’s this summer, I encountered some success but not without the inevitable rejections, as well. Most rejections were of the variety, “We have XY applications for only X number of places, …” followed by some explanation. But one such rejection was of the hurtful type. The rejection included the scoring by each of the 5 jurors with comments. Four of the five scored me as a one (the worst) while the fifth scored me as a five (the best). What could be made of that?? Was the fifth one a genius or an idiot? Were the four a mean little clique or a group of learned critics? And no one was in the middle. There were no scores of three.

 

The first reaction was hurt. The four had been explicit in their criticisms. The second reaction was puzzlement. Why was number five an outlier? And why no middle ground? Either the art was terrible or great, not mediocre. That was the first glimmer of hope. No one scored mediocre! After running through all the emotions, a sober look back at each comment produced the final enlightenment. I could remain hurt or look for what was constructive in each comment. What did number five like and what did each of the four dislike. Surprisingly, I found some truth to work on.

 

Rejection has been written on over and over, sometimes helpfully and sometimes not. Some artists just want to stay stuck and grumble, others want to take positive action. Taking positive action requires Courage. For some encouraging ideas, Artpromotivate offers, “How Can Artists Deal With Rejection When Promoting Art?” On her website, Maria Brophy offers additional encouragement in an article titled, “The Illusion of Rejection and How to Deal with it.”

 

Artists can take positive action to overcome rejection or they can treat rejection as an illusion. Either way is better than wallowing in the rejection mud, unless you are a mudwrestler. In that case…nevermind, wallow all you want. For the rest it is worth remembering that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and we all know what his paintings are going for now. Not that we are all budding Van Goghs, but you never know! Someone out there reading his/her latest rejection letter may be sitting in the studio staring at a multi-million dollar masterpiece that is awaiting discovery. No rejection letter is so muddy that a little soap and water can’t do the trick. Time to wash the mud off and move on.