Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Painting a Loggerhead Sea Turtle

It's often that while painting a subject that my mind wanders through the moments of first encounter.  In the case of this unfinished Loggerhead watercolor, I also couldn't help but wonder about the details of what I was sketching, specifically, the scales on the turtles' head, how they were arranged, what they were made of, whether they varied or were uniformly arranged in a species.  
My search led me to a familiar realization that I don't know a whole lot about some things, turtles being among them, especially sea turtles.  It was humbling to land on the US Fish and Wildlife/North Florida Ecological Service "Sea Turtle Quick Facts" page (link provided below) and begin reading the description of Loggerheads.  I understood the first sentence.  But in the next, I encountered carapace and plastron and as I read on, costal scutes, nuchal scute, inframarginal scutes and bridges.  I needed a turtle dictionary!   

Sketching and painting heightens my senses and deepens my curiosity, making me eager to learn more.   I'll share my recent experience with Loggerhead sea turtles at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Brevard County, Florida, in an upcoming post.  But for now, get ready by brushing up on your memory of turtle anatomy and the language used to describe it.      

Reference links:  
Sea Turtle Quick Facts, US Fish & Wildlife and North Florida Ecological Services
Introduction to Marine Turtles at Marine Science, an educational site created by a family of marine biologists
Sea Turtle Identification Key, a great two-page pdf with identifying characteristics and comparison of sea turtle species  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Sea Turtles

It has been such a joy to watch the hummingbirds that have come to my feeders this summer.  Those that live in northern breeding territories in Canada and the northern USA began their migration journey's in July, progressing southward approximately 18 miles per day.  In the southeastern USA where I live, in Tennessee, our birds have begun migration as well, the males departing earliest, leaving females with late fledglings and vigilant juveniles guarding nectar sources.  
All this activity has been an incredible thing to watch.  The more time I spend sitting near the feeders, the more I understand the necessity of all that chirping and diving and chasing that takes place.  In a few hours of observation, I may see a male define his territory with an incredible high-speed dive, a tentative fledgling at the feeder with his 'baby' gape still apparent, and two juveniles sparing in spiraling flight so ferociously that they both land on the ground.  The juxtaposition of so many aspects of their lives unfolding in front of me gives me deep pause.
And while I sketch these juveniles, internalizing every feather, the shape of their beaks, the position of their wings, their expression, I feel more and more connected to them, more and more hopeful that they will each survive their migration journey.  My art inspires my love for what I'm painting, just as surely as the nature I encounter inspires my art.
I experimented with salt in this painting, sprinkling a little too much, in my opinion, in a couple of places to suggest the sparkling of light in the trees.  While I waited for the paint to dry, I sketched a loggerhead sea turtle.  This was my first sketch of a turtle of any kind.  And as my pencil gave it shape, I fell in love with it all over again, bringing it even deeper into my heart, if that's possible.
Standing on a dark beach in the light of a full moon with the sound of the surf breaking while watching a sea turtle lay her eggs was quite enough to fortify my love for these giant marvels forever.  And while I'm sketching, I internalize what I know about them even more, see more deeply, and feel more deeply.  Painting is a meditation of sorts, and during that meditation I am one with this turtle, enjoying her beauty, the shape of her head, the sheer size of her body, those deep ancient eyes.  Every aspect of what I see and feel about her moves through me and forms the image I create on paper.
And when I paint hummingbirds, I'm one with their high-speed world, filled with a fledgling's uncertainty and mindful of the power and speed of that mature male.  I marvel at what they show me and how nature has put it all together.  Art and nature, nature and art.  They make my world a richer place.

Visit Ruby-throated Hummingbird Migration and Delightful Fledglings to see more images and stories of the hummingbirds in my life.  And more about sea turtles and sketching coming up.

Ocean Trail at Rancho Palos Verdes Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Rancho Palos Verdes Preserve, California--2015

Joshua Tree National Forest, California, with son Chad and daughter Thuan--2015

Joshua Tree National Forest, California, with son Chad and daughter Thuan--2015
Photo credit: Thuan Tram

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park - 2014

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park - 2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Birds Close-up

Birds Close-up
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill, Manitoba

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill, Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky Expeditions, Churchill, MB--2014

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky Expeditions, Churchill, MB--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Churchill, Manitoba--2014

Churchill, Manitoba--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky

2014 Hummingbird Festival

2014 Hummingbird Festival
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John--2014

Muir Woods on the Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach, California--2014

Muir Woods on the Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach, California--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Checking out the gulls at Stinson Beach--2014

Checking out the gulls at Stinson Beach--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Discovery Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska--2012

Discovery Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska--2012
Photo courtesy of Ruth Carter
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