Cardinals are the main bright spot in an otherwise drab and dreary winter landscape, unless you are fortunate enough to have a snowy winter landscape. Cardinals are magical in the quiet beauty of falling snow. When spring arrives, they become just another one of the many bright and colorful little birdies showing off their warm weather feathers. For now, cardinals provide all the color we get until the season changes. They are the stars of the winter landscape.
Red dashes along a brown ground are frequently cardinals foraging around for dropped seeds from shrubs or left behind by other birds. Once the foraged meal is done the sweet sounds of a singing red beauty can be heard from the upper branches of a nearby shrub. When the branches are covered in snow, that bright bit of red fluff singing his heart out is a sight to see. It might even bring on some added cold chills.
Down in the Valley where the Chickadees can be heard with their continual chatter, the Cardinals are a bit peeved. Carson Cardinal was quite annoyed and said to Cameron and Caroline. Will those Chickadees ever stop chattering? It’s so hard to sing above all the chatter. Nothing stops the chatter more effectively than the sight of a glorious red bird preening about in the snow-covered branches of a tulip poplar. When he begins to sing the beautiful melodious tunes as his friends join in harmony, the Chickadees quickly become quite mute. The Chickadees cannot remain chatterless for long, so if you catch sight of a bit of red flitting through the branches, stop and listen. The reward will be worth it.
Egrets, Herons, Cranes and storks are often confused in folklore and real life. These long legged wading birds alternate between elegant graceful shallow water walking to awkward wing flapping squawks. The fascination with them is real. Does it matter which one is which in the world of folklore? Some stories are generalized and some are very specific such as the stories of storks delivering babies even though many times the stork very closely resembles a great white egret.
The Chickadees have once again gathered in the branches of the old pine and are joyfully watching the antics of Emily, the Great White Egret, as she gleefully stirs up the water in the spring fed pool at the base of the Valley. Emily’s sleek white feathers and bright yellow-orange beak contrasts beautifully with the crystal blue water. Emily is having a fine time churning up the water and making the droplets fly all around as she goes about her fishing exhibition.
Up in the old pine tree, the chickadees can be heard chattering away. They are having a fine discussion of which symbol of folklore Emily must be an example. Caroljean Chickadee is leading the chatter as usual but Cindy and Charley are not hesitant to throw in their two cents worth. Celeste Chickadee is pondering whether Emily will make a great model for the Chickadee origami-making group. They are working up to 1000 origami birds and are always looking for inspiration.
Oblivious to the chatter, Emily goes on slowly making her way through the tall grasses on the edge of the Valley pool and trying to decide to stay here or follow the stream from the pool on down through the Valley to the river beyond. In no great hurry to decide, Emily goes on gently splashing the droplets into the air with each dip of her beak as her long legs quietly lift up through the water with each elegant step.
Yellow is yellow. Or so it would seem. Or is it? Yellow has many variations though it doesn’t appear to. When painting a daffodil or a sunflower, are there any yellows that can be used besides Lemon Yellow or Indian Yellow, my favorites? I confess to a dislike of any variations of yellow other than these two. If I need to paint shadows in either Lemon or Indian Yellow, I most often use purple for Lemon Yellow and Prussian Blue for Indian Yellow. But what about painting those little nuances in petals that can quickly go flat with too much of the purple/blue additions? Digging around in my yellow paint drawer, at the very back I come up with Yellow Ochre.
Yellow Ochre comes in just about every packaged starter set of paint, oil, acrylic or watercolor. If you’ve ever bought a set, have a look. In every medium-sized set, yellow ochre is nearly always the second yellow. Sometimes buying a set can be less expensive than a single tube, if there is a sale on. When I get those, it’s usually for the browns. The yellows promptly get thrown to the back of the drawer until spring flowers pop up. Then back in the drawer again until late summer when the sunflowers are in force. That’s when I realize I am dissing a timeless classic.
Winsor Newtontells the story of how Yellow Ochre is an earth-based pigment, a staple of artists until the 19thcentury when synthetic Mars Yellow took over. Pigments through the Ages says that original Yellow Ochre is made from silica, clay and an iron oxide derivative, goethite. Today’s Yellow Ochre is almost entirely made in a lab but don’t let that keep you from choosing this originally earth based paint in the painting of earth subjects.
In painting daffodils and sunflowers, Yellow Ochre is the winner for the subtle variances in petals. Yellow Ochre can also be quite effective in the variations of bird feathers as most birds are colored naturally in earthy hues. While Yellow Ochre comes up as number 6 on my list of essential Yellows, it is never the less essentially, essential. When adding a bit of dirt in your art, don’t forget this important yellow once made from dirt.
High on a ridge overlooking the valley, the Guardian is perched in the top of the old oak tree. From his vantage point, he can see the goings on down in the valley while at the same time keeping up with the fishing situation on the backside of the ridge where the river flows into the lake. Eliot Eagle has long assumed the role of Guardian of the valley. From his perch, he is on the look out for predators such as the Hawks who are always disrupting the serenity of the little dwellers of the valley, specifically the Chattering Chickadees, as they insist upon grouping together in the old pine tree. The Chickadees, though they are always on the look out, tend to feel safer when they know Eliot is keeping his eagle eyes out for the little birdies and those who would stir up trouble.
As the subject of many of her stories, Caroljean Chickadee loves to expand on the mystery surrounding Elliot Eagle and the other eagles nesting around the great lake in the winter. According to Chickadee legend, the great bald eagles are direct messengers between God and humans. Of course, Chickadee legend was derived from sources like One Green Planet and American Cowboy Chronicles. Caroljean Chickadee is known for her ability to weave tales around facts she has gleaned from various sources on the internet. One of her tales had Elliott Eagle taking part in an ancient Greek legend. Another had him as the star of a cave painting over 130,000 years ago. Elliott never blinks at these stories. Nor does he refute them. He just remains in the top of the old oak tree watching over the valley.
Next time you are privileged to catch a glimpse of Elliot or one of his majestic cousins, Chickadee legend will have you staring in awe and wondering if the one you are looking at is related to those eagles featured as the star of an ancient cave painting. Or maybe the one you see is descended from the eagle the Aztecs believed fought a panther and won to be the sun god. It’s possible your eagle is related to a past honorary guest at festivities celebrated by any number of cultures from most Native American tribes to Irish folklore. You can count on Caroljean Chickadee to share the latest Eagle story. But don’t ask Elliot. He’ll never tell.
It was a sunny afternoon in the valley when the Chickadees all swooped in to take a break in the old pine tree. They had all had their fill of red berries from a shrub up on the hill. Now it was time for a story. Always one for a good story, Caroljean Chickadee began her latest tale. Catherine, Caroline, Celeste and Charlotte gathered round, perched on the branches in rapt attention. Caroljean’s stories always held the most important info disguised as an incident or some other intrigue. The trick was to figure out the meaning of the story to figure out what was the absolute latest events or happenings going on.
Sometimes Caroljean would tell a story with a moral to it. Other times she might weave a bit of intrigue to point out the need to pay attention. Occasionally, Caroljean’s soliloquy could cause quite a stir among the flocks who hang out in the valley. You never knew what could happen when the Chickadees began to chatter and spread the latest drama from the beak of the most infamous chatterer in all of the chattering of Chickadees.
Word would go out that Caroljean Chickadee was chattering another great chapter from the cantons of chickadee wisdom. The valley would soon be echoing with the sounds of other flocks as they descended into the trees surrounding the old pine. (The old pine was considered to be the undisputed territory of the Chickadees.) Cardinals were usually the first to catch the sound of Chickadee Chatter but you never could tell who might arrive first. The cardinals pecked around on the ground beneath the old pine, where they could eavesdrop in relative obscurity.
Stay tuned to discover what Caroljean Chickadee chattered and who was the first to catch the gist of the chapter as it unfolded. Were the cardinals the first? Maybe it was the herons down at the pond? One thing you can be sure of: the mockingbirds would be mocking within moments of the momentous meanderings. Mr. Hawk will hang horrendously near the happy little group. They better be on the look out!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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”