The Daffodil Thief

Many people are obsessed with particular flowers.

Daffodils, oil on canvas

History is peppered with stories of the adventures of people following a flower obsession. Tulip bulbs were at one time more valuable than the currency of The Netherlands.  Instead of Dutch coins, you paid with tulip bulbs!  It became so serious the government had to deploy armed guards around the tulip fields.

On a recent visit to Light Trap Books in Downtown Jackson, TN, proprietor Lauren Smothers suggested I might like reading Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. While the main story revolves around the life of a colorful orchid expert in Florida, the author goes into great detail about the history of orchids.  Orchid societies abound all over the world to feed the obsession of orchid aficionados. More on that in an upcoming episode!

Reading that book led me to look at my own flower obsessions.  I have to say obsessions because I have never settled on just one flower.  As a child I was obsessed with daffodils for a while. I loved their bright sunny faces that told me that spring was almost here. One spring I lusted after the daffodils that had sprung up all over a neighbor’s yard. There were bunches and bunches of them. I must have been about 6 years old.  I couldn’t resist.  I walked right over there and picked myself a large bouquet of the gorgeous blossoms.

Daffodils, watercolor on paper

Needless to say, my mother was appalled that I would do such a thing.  She made me take my whole bouquet back to the neighbor’s house, knock on the door and apologize for my theft. I cried all the way over to the neighbor’s house and could not summon up the courage to knock on the door.  I put the bouquet down on her porch and ran all the way home.  My mother never asked what the neighbor said and I never told her what I had done. Whenever I see daffodils, I think of the shame of a little girl who acted on her obsession with daffodils. I don’t think I have had the urge to steal flowers from someone else’s garden since. 

However, I do still have flower obsessions! Do you?

The Captivating Amaryllis

Symbolic of success, strength and determination, the Amaryllis’ name means “to sparkle” and so it does!

Symbolic of success, strength and determination, the Amaryllis’ name means “to sparkle” and so it does!

Pink Amaryllis, colored pencil

Symbolic of success, strength, and determination according to FTD.com, the amaryllis is a captivating flowering bulb. Gardener’s Supply says the Greek meaning of the word, “Amaryllis” means “to sparkle” and details the mythological love story Amaryllis and Alteo.  Gardener’s Supply also states that an amaryllis bulb can live for 75 years!

The exotic winter blooming amaryllis has become a part of the Christmas tradition for many people.  For me it began in my grandmother’s last years. She was mostly housebound in those years and my mother decided watching a beautiful flower grow would bring her joy.  My mother was right.  Both my grandmother and her caretaker, Betty, quickly became enthusiastic about the fast-growing bulb.  They kept the yard stick near the pot and made daily measurements of the growth, delightedly reporting every inch. Each year we gave her a different variety and each year the enthusiasm would build as the amaryllis came closer and closer to bloom time. What color would it be? How big would the bloom be? When the bloom day finally arrived friends and family made a visit to observe the amaryllis in all its glory. My grandmother and Betty would show off their gorgeous flower like proud parents whose child had just won the spelling bee.

Those memories came flooding back this year when my dear friend, Celeste, gave both me and another friend, Caroljeanne, amaryllis bulbs for Christmas.  Celeste works with the University of Tennessee Agriculture Center which has an amaryllis yearly sale where she was able to get some wonderful varieties.  The three of us made regular text message reports on the progress of each bulb. Caroljeanne’s delicate pink flower arrived first.  I realized immediately I would have to begin a painting to mark the three bulbs. Celeste’s gorgeous variegated red and white flower arrived second. And finally, my beautiful salmon-colored double petal variety, “Double Dream” made its dramatic presentation.

Instead of replicating my grandmother and Betty with their yardstick, I recorded the rapid growth with my camara. The preliminary work has begun for a painting of the three beauties with a colored pencil drawing of Caroljeanne’s lovely pink flower pictures above.  Next will come Celeste’s variegated beauty. “Double Dream” will bring up the rear as it did with its blooming.  In the meantime, I couldn’t resist showing off the progress of the growth in a slideshow.

For more about buying, growing and caring for Amaryllis bulbs follow these links:

Gardener’s Supply

FTD.com

University of Tennessee Agricultural Center, Jackson, TN

Tuesday Birds-The Canorous Cardinal

Cardinals are the main bright spot in an otherwise drab and dreary winter landscape

The Canorous Cardinal

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.

Cardinals in the Snow

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.

Cardinal in the Snow-2

For more information about cardinals follow the link to All About Birds.

The Guardian Eagle

The Bald Eagle is a majestic symbol of strength and courage in many cultures.

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.

The Eagles appearing in these two paintings were photographed at Reelfoot Lake State Park in Tennessee at the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge in West Tennessee and on Kentucky Lake on the edge of the Land Between the Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Both Refuges have many events for checking out the Bald Eagle populations in the parks. The image used for the featured painting came from a bald eagle recently cared for at the Reelfoot Lake Refuge. After healing, the eagle was released back into the wild.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbills are quite beautiful until you get a close up look at the bald head and long flat bill.

Driving through the St Marks Wildlife Refuge in Florida, my eye was caught by a group of pink birds standing still in the marsh water. I had never seen pink birds before outside of flamingos in the zoo. At first I thought they might be flamingos until I stopped the car and got a good look through the camera lens. A friend had painted a painting of a one with its head turned completely around and resting on its back. That’s where I first heard of Roseate Spoonbills. There were so intriguingly beautiful until you get a good look at the unfortunately ugly spoonbill.

Maybe that ugly snoot is what made this spoonbill bury his head underwater. Can’t blame him. All About Birds says “The flamboyant Roseate Spoonbill looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book with its bright pink feathers, red eye staring out from a partly bald head, and giant spoon-shaped bill.” Audubon describes the spoonbill as “Gorgeous at a distance and bizarre up close.” Both of these descriptions are very accurate and maybe that explains my immediate fascination with these unusual birds. For a couple of weeks, I drove through St. Marks checking up on the flock of spoonbills. They moved around through out the Refuge for those two weeks. Every time I saw them they were in a new location sometimes with just their flock and sometimes with other wading birds.

The first day I saw the spoonbills, they were standing very quietly in the late afternoon. Not moving, just standing. In a post on her blog, Audrey Oxenhorn describes the spoonbill as a reminder of the “importance of being weary.” In this photo, the spoonbills certainly looked weary as they stood unmoving in the still water. Another blog, Auntyflo, says that spoonbills like silence and they are a reminder of how silence can be the best form of communication. These birds certainly looked like they were enjoying silence but how do you really know? Do Spoonbills talk? They were standing in a marsh with no wind or waves, no trees or grass. not interacting with each other. Some were grooming themselves otherwise they were unmoving. Maybe they do like silence.

Whether Roseate Spoonbills like silence maybe a little hard to prove but they definitely have a Dr. Suess like bizarre look. The spoonbill’s beautiful pink color keeps them fascinating despite the strange bald head and long spoon shaped bill. I looked for them every day for about two weeks. They never failed to fascinate. One day I watched one walking through the waterway swinging the that bill back and forth through the water very methodically. I couldn’t tell what if anything her was catching but it must have been something. He looked quite content as he moved on down through the water.

One day I went looking for the spoonbills and couldn’t find them. They were gone. Moved on to someplace more quiet apparently. I was sad at the loss of my game of spotting the flash of pink lurking in the marsh or behind the tall grass. I wasn’t happy with the first painting, so maybe its time for another go at a spoonbill painting. I’ll try the silence thing while painting to “communicate” with them. That could help the painting process. Worth a try!

Eyes of the Heart

Reelfoot-Afternoon Shadows2

 

“I shut my eyes in order to see.” Paul Gauguin (from Skinnyartist.com)

How can one create with eyes shut? Gauguin’s statement would seem to not make any sense. Does he mean painting with a blindfold on? Many paintings out there look as though they have been painted with a blindfold on. Many more look like they need to have been painted with a blindfold on. But is this to be taken literally?

Gauguin, in my opinion, is talking about the heart. Let the heart see with the heart’s eyes. That is a difficult thing to do when the brain’s eyes want to remain in control. There is the natural inclination to recreate in exact detail what is physically present.   It may be necessary to actually close the eyes to get the right visual. It may take practice. It may take concentration to let go of one set of eyes to allow the others to open.

The art of opening the heart’s eyes and allowing them to take over does not necessarily mean losing realism. The heart’s eyes are eyes of feeling, eyes of emotion. Emotion is the spark that lifts realism out of simple recreation and gives it life. Emotion is the spark of any form of art that lifts it out of boredom and lights a fire.

A blindfold is not required to paint with the eyes shut. It just takes getting in touch with the heart’s eyes. Of course, painting with a blindfold may make for new and interesting art. It could even start a new movement in “blindfold painting.” Who knows, it may become all the rage. Anything can happen when the physical eyes are closed and the heart’s eyes are open.

Bottled Sensation

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“Painting from nature is not copying the object, but realizing one’s sensations.” Paul Cezanne (from The Painters Keys)

Seasonal changes and their effects on artists are likely as different as one artist’s work is from another. Copying nature improves with practice. The tough part is the “realizing one’s sensations” part. Each season brings new and different sensations.   It takes a conscious effort to realize those sensations. Translating the realizations into art is easier said than done. Copying is not the same thing as imparting sensation into a painting.

To realize one’s sensations into art is a topic for some concentration. Opinions abound on how to get in touch with one’s senses. It’s not the practice that matters. It’s taking the time to experience the sights, the smells, the tastes, the touch, and the sounds. In spring, the new green leaves are more intensely green in the spring. The smells are freshness, new growth. The tastes are raindrops coaxing out the new growth. The touch is the softness of tender new shoots. The sounds are the breezes scattering the petals of the newly blooming flowers of the trees. Summer brings a whole new set of sensations. Fall another and winter still another.

Realizing the sensations is one thing. Translating them to art is another. One can describe sensations, talk about them, think about them. But can one put them on paper or canvas? It is a high goal. I wish someone would figure out a way to bottle it. It would be so much easier. Open a bottle of Sensation Realization and pour it over the canvas. Presto! Instant sensation. Somehow, that just doesn’t translate as anything with real feeling. It sure sounded good. One can always hope. And in the meantime, keep calm and continue painting.

Weekend Inspiration–Forging Van Gogh

 

Van Gogh’s energy, so evident in all his work, is not as easy to emulate as one might think.  Follow the Master Forger as he helps three artists try to capture Van Gogh’s energy in self portraits.  My first attempt at painting was a go at emulating Van Gogh.  While the emulation was not so successful, a love of the incredible energy of Van Gogh’s painting style sparked the passion to keep painting.

Brushing up Adventure

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“The bold adventurer succeeds the best.” Ovid (from The Painter’s Keys)

Suddenly the realization dawns that things have gone stagnant.  The same direction is going on and on, endlessly.  Everything is feeling redundant.  It’s a circle going round and round.  What can be done to stop this looming boredom?  Maybe its time to go for some bold adventuring.  How about trying a bit of whitewater rafting, at least on paper.  On paper, there’s no danger of falling out of the boat and cracking a head or other various bones on a rock.

White water rafting involves skill and good equipment.  It requires knowledge and common sense.  Most of all white water rafting requires the willingness to go for adventure. Merriam-Webster defines adventure as, “the encountering of risks.”  The risk begins by strapping on a helmet and life jacket.  Next get into the boat.  Then push the boat out into the current.  A battle to hang on ensues.  The fast water picks up the craft and begins to toss it around as it moves swiftly down the river.  The task of steering the boat away from rocks and other obstacles will take over all focus.  The adrenalin starts to flow.  An adventure is in progress.

How does adventure happen on paper or canvas?  It starts with the willingness to try something new, beginning with fresh equipment.  Choose a bold new direction and get caught up in a swift moving river of adventure. See where the fast moving water leads.  It could land in an entirely new place.  Or it could end up back at the beginning but with a fresh new infusion of energy producing adrenalin.  You never know where a white water river will take you.  Strap on a brush and go with the flow.

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