Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Brother's Plant

I believe the commonly used name is "Hen and Chicks", a rosette shaped succulent that reproduces miniatures of itself, looking like many off-spring.  Though not native to North America, this is a hardy little plant. 
We've had more days of sub-freezing temps this winter than I remember in a long time.  As the weather has warmed, I set the pot of hen-and-chicks out in the garden so it could receive some of the rain we were expecting.  On Thursday, a falling tree missed it by inches. I was stunned. With branches curling up all around it, it sat upright and unscathed. I brought it back to the shelter of the patio.
Early in the afternoon today, I took my journal outside and wrote:
"Gorgeous day. The sky is gray, full of moving clouds made invisible by the rain. Thunder keeps rumbling from the west and the light changes frequently, the sun breaking through a high layer.   I couldn't be more content. I'm on the patio listening to rain falling down the gutter, pattering in the trees, titmice singing, a bluebird in the distance.... I'm comfortable in a double layer of long sleeves, no coat, no shivering. Three windows are open in the house and I have successfully made a home for my cedar chest treasure. It is a great relief to have it no longer the center piece in the living room [while I decided where to put it], to have an open floor again....Mother always called it the cedar chest.  She gave it to my brother. My brother has now given it to me."
When I walked outside again later, I had the urge to sketch this plant.  For one thing the outside air was so inviting.  But I was also marveling at the plant's hardiness, thinking about my brother, feeling a wave of sadness wash over me, and noticing once again, the simple texture scratched into the clay, the loveliness of the piles of rosettes in their container.  Suddenly, I realized why I had been feeling so sad.  March has all but arrived.  On March 3rd, it will be a year since my brother died.
The unconscious is an amazing creature.  So many times it takes us where we need to go, whether we are paying attention or not.  I had not considered the date that is approaching, nor that my grief might have a reason for intensifying.  Nor had I considered why I was so drawn to this plant today.  It lived on my brother's porch and invited me to bring it home.  I am so happy I did.
After making a rough sketch, I wet the paper and added paint.  Getting the paint juicy enough was a challenge since my small kit had not been used in a while.  I didn't bring a spray bottle outside with me.  It's a little slower to shake water from a paint brush into the pans, but it works just the same.
I used the sketch as a guide and continued to apply color, wet in wet.  That is, adding color into color.  What you see below is what I accomplished while still outside.  
It is still unfinished, though I like the loose quality of it as it is.  I would like to study some of my photo images of the rosettes, and sketch one in more detail.  Then we'll see what happens next.  

To see all three post in the series click:  Brother's Plant

Wiki on Hen and Chicks

To see more patio sketching visit Seeing a Lantana.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Watercolor Painting--A Reflection of Life

I've been approaching painting one-hour-at-a-time lately.  This is not my favorite way to paint.  I much prefer to dive in and lose my sense of time, enjoying the painting as it unfolds and remaining in that trance-like state for hours.
Of course, you can create the same effect in a smaller amount of time by making "smaller" decisions.  What you do next is on a smaller scale, covers a smaller area, or simply consists of fewer strokes of paint.  And there is an up side to painting this way.  You have plenty of time to think about what you want to do next, loading your library of options so they'll be ready the next time you sit down to paint..
Besides time, there are a couple of other things that enter into this dance we call painting--mood and inspiration.  My mood has waxed and waned tentative lately.  It is easy for me to identify one reason.  I have been actively participating in a conservation effort over the past few months, one that required many hours of research, writing and consideration--an effort underway to hunt the eastern population of sandhill cranes, a population that was nearly extirpation just 70 years ago.  Conservation controversies are intense, full of conflict and, inevitably, cause us to dig deep into our inner resources.  (See links below for more information on the sandhill crane issue.)
All of the above stimulates changes in mood, from concern to fear and hesitation, to anger, back to tentativeness, and finally to the boldness and determination that leads to decision and action.  Now that's a bouncy ride for any person's mood.  It is hard to paint with all that going on.  But painting can add balance, a quiet introspection and reflection that can be very beneficial.
As the conservation issue was unfolding, the above sandhill crane image that I took in the waste grain corn fields of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico kept coming into my mind.  A male crane was boldly displaying to another male, establishing his family's feeding territory.  It's hard to imagine there are territories with so many cranes in the same field, but once they are established, these carefully claimed boundaries provide order while families feed together.
This behavior and this image gave me inspiration.  It symbolized the attitude that I needed to go forward with conservation efforts.  And partially because it contained that kind of meaning, I've approached it tentatively.  I've said to myself many times, how are you going to do this?  What are you going to say about that background?  (The image has little variation in light and values.)   How are you going to enhance the subject with these colors?  And, as I have observed to myself many times while working on both the painting and the conservation issue, I don't know the answers.  I just know I need to show up.  One decision at a time, one hour at a time, I'll move forward and the painting will happen.  So, also, the conservation.  

Related Links:
About sandhill cranes and conservation:  A New Plan for the Eastern Population of Sandhill Cranes and  An Intimate View of Family Life.
Join the conservation effort.  Visit the petition site and let USFWS know you want to see a New Management Plan for the Eastern Population of sandhill cranes.
More about the sandhill crane behavior seen in this image and painting:  Are We Dancing Yet?
About painting--The Illusive Nature of Confidence and approaching "uncharted territory".

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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