Sunday, December 21, 2014

Spruce Grouse Sketch

The nickname for Spruce Grouse is "fool's hen".  These ground-foraging birds are described as behaving as if they are tame.  The irony is Spruce Grouse inhabit northern coniferous forests in such remote areas that research on the species only spans about 30 years.   
On my recent trip to Manitoba to see Polar Bears in Churchill, I went birding with friends at Riding Mountain National Park and enjoyed a great experience watching a flock of grouse foraging.   We spotted six of them, a group of males and females.
Of course, they immediately scattered when we stopped, some running into the woods, others flying into spruce limbs.  The species' ability to remain still for long periods and the excellent camouflage quality of its plumage combine to help it avoid predators.
When a Spruce Grouse remains still, it is very hard to see, disappearing almost completely into the shadows of the environment.  As we stood still photographing the birds at close range, one by one they rejoined each other again as a flock and began foraging all around us.  The forest floor felt like a soft sponge under my feet, cushioned by peat moss and pine needles.  I felt as though I was walking with a group of tamed chickens as they pulled rose hips and berries off stems.  
This sketch included a lot of exploration and I immediately wished I had used watercolor paper.
The sketch is created on Canson 9 x 12 all media paper which is fairly strong but it won't take the changes that Arches cold press watercolor paper will tolerate.  The blue on the bird is ultramarine darkened with burnt sienna and sepia, although it looks more blue here than the actual sketch. Creating this sketch gave me practice in creating the suggestion of feathers, as well as, a review of mixing greens.  
I started out using ultramarine with arylide and the resulting greens were not cool or bright enough.  I like to use the same blues throughout, but I switched to phtalo blue with arylide to create the green and this combination was more to my liking and more closely resembled the colors of the flora on the forest floor.
I added a wash of diluted ultramarine blue as a layer over part of the background to help unify the yellows and greens with the blue in the main subject.  It also helped the sketch look less cluttered.
One of the many benefits of practice--if you've forgotten it, here's where you remember.  If you didn't know it, here's a safe place to discover it!

Wishing you a Happy Holiday season and hoping you will find some relaxing moments for sketching and painting!

To see more images of Spruce Grouse and read more about the journey that took me to see them, visit my blog posts on my journey to Churchill to see Polar Bears at Vickie Henderson Art.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Stretching Your Creative Mind

Some projects serve many purposes!  
I have never painted on this type of surface before--sleek, round, three-dimensional--nor used acrylic paints enough to know much about their qualities.  The surface of my gourd art is the only experience I could relate to this project, and that wasn't very helpful because of the difference in the surface.  As I began, it was one of those times I asked myself, "what were you thinking?!"

The request to decorate this ornament came from one of the park rangers at Seven Islands State Birding Park and the ornament now hangs on the center-peice Christmas tree at the governor's mansion among 56 ornaments contributed by our state parks representing Tennesseee's "landscapes and creativity" during this holiday season. Quite an honor.
The pull for me to say 'yes' and venture into this unknown territory--I love the park and spend many early morning hours there with the bird banding team.  Seven Islands became a state park in 2014 and Tennessee's first state park to be designated a birding park. By "unknown", I mean, I didn't know what the ornament was made of or its shape or texture until weeks after saying yes when I received it in the mail.
Since every artist goes through moments of doubt and mistakes when trying something new, I thought I would share a note I wrote in my journal while working on the ornament.

6:08 a.m. "I have so much resistance to starting when there is a deadline and someone else to please--otherwise, I can discard what I don't like.  It's the "have to get this done and it has to be good" pressure that keeps me frozen.  (12:30 p.m. the same day.)  Well, it's happening as I feared--it is a total mess.  I just stuck the ornament under the faucet and scrubbed off all the paint and then watched an acrylic blending video online and also read some more info about using acrylics.  I awoke too early and I'm tired.  I'm stuck but I need to finish this.  This ornament is making writing my book feel easy by comparison!  Now, what I really need to do is focus--one decision at a time--choose one background color, sketch the bird, use my watercolor pencil to divide it into sections, mark the horizon line.  I'm determined to do this horizon thing..."
Something else important happened along with the scrubbing off paint.  My tension softened, and by taking a break to journal, I gained some important emotional distance that helped me sort through what I needed to do next.

Launching into a project with a deadline and with very little experience to guide the way can be stressful.  I made my big blunder right in the beginning. The ornament wasn't ruined and even though the first application of paint did not come off completely, I was back to a smooth surface and could start again with a new approach.  Art is like that sometimes.  Our efforts begin in chaos, but as the mind integrates mistakes and turns them into useful information, order rises up and moves us forward.
Though I use reference images to help with details, my many hours of observing birds always comes in handy while painting.  I looked at the bird after roughing-in some detail and kept thinking, something isn't quite right. I pulled out my field guides and compared the features.  Individual sparrows have variations in color and markings, but there are field marks that will be fairly consistent between individuals of a species.
As a fun exercise, see how many differences you can find between the initial sparrow image on the left and the final result.  While I was looking for specific details in the crown stripe, I noticed other details as I examined the field guides. Observations are recorded through our eyes and stored as wholistic images in our memory.  Sometimes we remember detail.  Other times, we just know something isn't right.
I selected the White-crowned Sparrow because it is one of the wintering sparrows that seeks out the shrubby, grassland habitat at Seven Islands State Birding Park.  You can see this bird in my post on bird banding at Vickie Henderson Art:  A Day of Beautiful Sparrows
I was introduced to this sparrow and several others in 2009 when I began to visit the banding station at the refuge.  The inspiration for the scene on the ornament comes from those early morning sunrises at Seven Islands when the birds start chirping and stirring around.
A sketch of a Field Sparrow on dried wingstem that I created in 2009 gave me my guide for the stems and seed pods.
The ornament was finished with an acrylic coating that gave it an iridescent sparkle and a soft glow. Happy ending to a creative adventure!

Golden Artist Acrylic tube paints
Liquitex Professional Iridescent Medium

Bird Banding at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge--now Seven Islands State Birding Park
Seven Islands becomes Tennessee first State Birding Park and the Painting
Mark Armstrong-Master Bander
Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society on Facebook
Seven Islands State Birding Park on Facebook

Sunday, November 30, 2014

So Where Have I Been since July?!

Though, I knew I hadn't posted a blog here in a while, it was a shock to see that my last post was July! Thank you loyal readers for still being here!
After the July post about the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival, I was busy getting ready for the festival, an annual event sponsored by the Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society and Ijams Nature Center.  This was our festival's fourth year!  You can see my blog posts about the festival at: 2014 Hummingbird Festival.
In this post I want to show you what the club has done with my simple little sketch that was so playful and had no original purpose other than practice!
This is a fun collection of images taken at the 2014 Festival.  I personally had surprises this year.  I didn't know about the two long banners, one welcoming visitors, the second identifying the location of the banding station (shown below), until I arrived at the festival and saw them!  My reaction was, "wow"!
The logo was also printed on T-shirts worn by festival volunteers, T-shirts sold to visitors, and decorated a variety of signs, festival brochures and promotional information.

A fun feast for my eyes!  I became acquainted with our local bird club through a hummingbird-banding demonstration KTOS held at Ijams in 2009.  This was the beginning of the festival that now benefits two non-profit organizations that educate our community about nature, conservation and, of course, hummingbirds!  There couldn't be a happier project for my hummingbird sketch to promote!
That's me, exhibiting my art at the festival!                             Photo credit:  Jody Stone

Coming up:  An ornament for the Governor's Mansion, a trip to Churchill MB to see polar bears! and another art project dear to my heart, Discover Birds.

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival blog
Wonder of Hummingbirds on facebook
Knoxville Chapter of Tennessee Ornithological Society
Hummingbird Studies--Movement and Light
Sketching Hummingbirds in Flight!
Hummingbird and Downy
Visit my prints  and art cards on my merchandise page at my website, Vickie Henderson Art.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

2014 Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival--Saturday, August 23rd!

Mark your calendars!  Make plans to come to Knoxville's Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival on August 23rd, 2014.  This beautiful rack card, created by Mindy Fawver, features my hummingbird art and gives the highlights of festival events.

You will find more details about speakers, exhibits, festival events and directions at the Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival blog!

Wonder of Hummingbirds Festival Blog
Wonder of Hummingbirds Festivals past
2014 Event speakers
Mark Armstrong and hummingbird banding

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Great New Publication about Hummingbird Gardening

Just in time for the return of our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a new publication is available free as a pdf download!   I am excited to have my hummingbird image of a juvenile Ruby-throat nectaring a Cardinal Flower featured on the cover and three more images on the inside pages!

Hummingbird Gardening in Tennessee is published by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.  The book is co-authored by Marcia Davis, Master Gardener, member of the Knoxville bird club (Knoxville Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society) and the Bird Life columnist for the Knoxville News Sentinel, and Emily Gonzalez of the UT Extension.

The fifteen page booklet is full of useful information about creating hummingbird habitat in your garden and lists the kinds of flowers and native plants that are particularly attractive to hummingbirds.

The free pdf can be downloaded from this link:  Hummingbird Gardening in Tennessee.

Links and resources:
Hummingbird art
Hummingbird Notes
More about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
Tennessee's wintering hummingbirds

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Whooping Crane Story in Art and Video

The images from each of the four paintings were transferred to individual banners and together they tell the story of the eastern Whooping Crane re-introduction.  
The banners celebrate the National Zoo's Whooping Crane Exhibit and are featured along the walkway at the entrance and exit of the exhibit.  Above, the images are in story order representing:  1) Hatched with care, 2) Flying South, 3) Returning North, and 4) A New Spring.
"Returning North", watercolor by Vickie Henderson

In the video below, Outdoor Wisconsin presents a program that explains the Whooping Crane reintroduction project featuring Operation Migration.  Move the video cursor to minute 9:16 to begin with the Operation Migration segment of the video.


To see all my posts on the Smithsonian National Zoo project visit:  Whooping Crane art
More about my involvement with the Whooping Crane reintroduction at:  Whooping Crane Migration from my companion blog, Vickie Henderson Art
Whooping Crane art:  Whooping Crane Watercolor Gallery
Organizations that help Whooping Cranes:
Operation Migration
International Crane Foundation
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership

Monday, April 28, 2014

A New Spring--Hope for the Future of Whooping Cranes

Here is the finished painting, "A New Spring", representing the hope that the eastern reintroduced whooping cranes will pair and reproduce their own young.  (See previous post for progression of painting.)  Once this population is self-sustaining, that is, increasing its numbers by raising chicks in the wild, we will have more assurance that wild Whooping Cranes will be safe from extinction.
The painting has become one of the four images representing the Whooping Crane reintroduction story on the banners decorating the entrance and exit to the Whooping Crane exhibit at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.
Photo credit:  Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park

In my last post I mentioned that the image in this painting was inspired by my observations of Whooping Crane parents caring for their chick during its first six days at the International Crane Foundation in 2005. That was the first time a pair of Whooping Cranes had raised a chick in public view. While I was there, I called my videographer friend, Jeff Huxman, and asked if he knew this was happening!  He came right away and took some video images of the chick.  I thought you would enjoy seeing a little bit of what it was like to enjoy these intimate moments with the Whooping Crane Family.



Next:  The four finished images

To see all my posts on the Smithsonian National Zoo project visit:  Whooping Crane art
More about my involvement with the Whooping Crane reintroduction at:  Whooping Crane Migration from my companion blog, Vickie Henderson Art
More of my Whooping Crane art:  Whooping Crane Watercolor Gallery
Organizations that help Whooping Cranes:
Operation Migration
International Crane Foundation
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Whooping Crane Art Tells the Migration Story

"A New Spring", below, depicts a Whooping Crane parent taking care of its chick. The world's Whooping Crane population reached a low of only 15 birds in 1941 and it took many years to discover the nesting grounds of the original wild population of Whooping Cranes.  The eastern reintroduction of Whooping Cranes is helping to insure the survival of this magnificent species.    
The Eastern Whooping Crane Partnership, made up of Federal, state and private organizations in the United States and Canada, began the project in 2001.  The goal of the reintroduction is to establish a self-sustaining wild migrating population in the eastern United States.
The images above show the progression of this painting, with the first image, showing the masking fluid applied to preserve the white paper, and washes of color that were poured and allowed to dry between pourings to achieve the background colors.
After applying the washes, I drew in more grass.
I always add some detail to my main subjects early in the painting to give my eyes a sense of how the finished colors will look and how the observer's eye will be drawn to the main subject.  In particular, I watch for the contrast in values, patterns of darks and lights.  Do they make the subject stand out?  Do they help the eye move through the painting?
The image above was sketched from a photo I took of a Whooping Crane parent caring for its chick at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI, in 2005.  I was fortunate enough to receive a call on the evening before this Whooping Crane chick hatched.  I drove to Wisconsin and spent the next six days observing the Whooping Crane parents taking care of their first chick.  You can see the images and read this story by clicking this link:  Whooping Crane Family.
Next:  The finished painting

To see all my posts on this Smithsonian National Zoo project visit:  Whooping Crane art
More about my involvement with the Whooping Crane reintroduction at:  Whooping Crane Migration from my companion blog, Vickie Henderson Art
More of my Whooping Crane art:  Whooping Crane Watercolor Gallery
Organizations that help Whooping Cranes:
Operation Migration
International Crane Foundation
Whooping Crane Eastern Partnership

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Whooping Crane Art for the Smithsonian National Zoo

Big projects demand a lot of time and everything else is abandoned, I'm afraid.  This is why it has taken me so long to post another blog post!  I am currently working on a book project that is consuming most of my time. I will tell you more about that soon.  In the meantime, I want to show you a project I completed for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in 2013.  It was such an honor to be invited to create art for this project and work with their team of experts!
The park has a new Whooping Crane exhibit.  The exhibit enables visitors to see one of the most endangered crane species in the world and one that only lives in North America.  The watercolor above is one of four images that depict the story of the Whooping Crane's return to the eastern United States.
Photo:  Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Costume-reared juvenile Whooping Cranes, imprinted on ultralight aircraft and costumed pilots, learn their migration route by flying behind ultralight aircraft during their first fall migration.  In the spring, they return on their own without human assistance.  In this way, a separate migrating population of Whooping Cranes has been established in the east to help insure that no natural or human-made disaster can cause the loss of this species to the world.  The hope is that the re-introduced Whooping Cranes will raise young and increase the eastern population.

I have not seen the exhibit in person, but, look forward to making that happen sometime this year. In the meantime, I'll show you how I approached the paintings for this project.  
Above you see the layout of the painting in my sketchbook.  White pages are hard to photograph, so I apologize for the poor quality of some of these images.  The dimensions of the final banners called for a full sheet of watercolor paper with its width reduced to correspond with the banner's proportions.  This made for a tall slender painting 30" x 15" which I taped to a backboard.
I decided to pour the backgrounds for these paintings to take advantange of the translucence and uniformity that can be achieved with this method, as well as, the special qualities of layered colors. Pouring required that I cover any areas I wanted to remain white with a masking fluid or resist, a rubbery solution that resists the water and pigment.  Above and below, I have painted mask on the cranes and the ultralight air craft.
Once the resist dried, I prepared three pigment solutions in laundry detergent cups that I had saved for this purpose.  I placed a small amount of pigment in each cup, added the amount of water desired, and mixed with a brush until the pigment was disolved.
When I pour the paint onto wet paper, I am creating a thin layer of color without the aid of a brush.  The tilt of the board and the water move the pigment.  Mostly, the movement happens without touching the paper, though sometimes the aid of a brush is needed to move pigment that has collected around the edge of the masking fluid. Pigment can also be moved by spraying water in the area desired.  Additional water will dilute the pigment and make the value of the color lighter.  
I first wet the paper and wait until the paper surface looses its shine.  Pigment is then poured on the paper and the flow of pigment controlled with the board's tilt.  Both the amount of water added to the pigment and length of time the pigment remains on the paper influence the color's value or how dark or light it becomes. Excess paint is poured off the paper when the desired value is reached, remembering that the paint will dry lighter than it appears when wet.
The pouring above included yellow and rose on wet paper.  The paper is still wet in the image. You can see that the colors flowed vertically in the direction of the board's tilt. When more than one color is applied in the same pouring, the colors blend when they meet to create a third color in some areas. More of the rose hue is visible in the image below.  

In the image above, I used burnt sienna to define the tree tops.  These billowy shapes are sometimes interpreted as clouds.  The ultralights can not navigate above clouds, but the entire migration and recovery effort is a magical story, so if the viewer sees clouds, that's okay too!
In the next pouring I used blue to create an atmospheric haze over the tree tops. Water is sprayed over the paper first and lightly spread with a brush.  The thin blue mixture is then poured over the paper and encouraged to move with the angle of the board to avoid puddling.  I accomplished this while holding the board over the sink to insure that the pigment continues to move.  Excess pigment was caught in a paper towel in the sink.  And yes, with this size painting, this was a bit awkward.  I did wish for a large utility sink!
A closer look at the colors.  You can see some of the variation of greens, blues and purple that have been created by the layered colors.  I let the paper dry completely and removed the mask with an eraser.  
The easiest part for me is adding the detail to the juvenile cranes.  The contrast of the white and black on their wings never fails to pop and brighten all the colors around them.

Links and resources:
More about layering
The Smithsonian National Zoo
To see more of my Whooping Crane art visit these links:  Whooping Cranes in WatercolorWhooping Crane Activity Book, and Whooping Cranes on gourd art.

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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