Saturday, September 15, 2018

Cedar Waxwing - A Silky Bandit

Cedar Waxwing

We are in the middle of fall so most of the local birds have left for the season but some interesting species that we don’t normally see are currently passing through on their way south. Last week we watched as a flock of silky bandits raided fruit from the bushes that surround Evergreen Lake.

The Cedar Waxwing is a beautiful bird painted with a shiny palette of brown, gray and lemon-yellow. It’s most striking characteristics are the regal crown, yellow-tipped tail, a devious black mask outlined in white and the brilliant-red wax droplets accenting the wing feathers.

The happy, little gang of marauders gorged themselves on berries and other sugary fruit to the point of intoxication. A few of the birds ventured out over the water in order to capture tasty insects while still on the wing.

They flitted about from branch to branch while calling to each other with a thin whistle and they took great delight in splashing around the shallow creek. Unfortunately, the late travelers didn’t stay for long as the weather is starting to turn.

I’m sad to see all of our colorful, summer visitors pack up and leave but I’m happy to have the quiet, rocky trails back to myself. It won’t be long now and this place will become a deserted sanctuary for the snow.

A silky bandit

A beautiful bird

Colored with a shiny palette

Yellow-tipped tail

A black mask

They eat fruit and berries

They flitted from branch to branch

They didn't stay for long

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Spotted Towhee - A Hefty Sparrow

Spotted Towhee

Rustling through the leaf litter below the dry scrub brush that laces the steep, Colorado foothills is where you’ll find a hefty sparrow known as the spotted towhee. Such beautiful birds, the males have a white belly, orange sides and a black head, throat and upper parts. The back and wings are flecked with white spots while the red eyes are the defining characteristic.

During the early spring, those males creep up to the top of the thicket and sing all day long while trying to attract a mate. In the breeding season they eat mostly insects but they’ll also dine on acorns, berries and seeds. They’re nest cup is built deep inside a sharp briar and usually concealed somewhere near the base of the shrub.

A close cousin, the eastern towhee, used to be considered the same bird as the spotted towhee and in the past they were called the rufous-sided towhee. During the last ice age large ice sheets split the continent down the middle, isolating the separate birds into eastern and western populations. Today, scientists classify the spotted and the eastern as two completely different species.

Rustling through leaf litter

Dry scrub brush

A hefty sparrow

A beautiful bird

Orange sides, black head and white spots

The red eye is a defining characteristic

Singing all day

A different species

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Golden Foothills - The First Hint of Fall

Golden Foothills

Framed by wildflowers, a big, violet boulder marks the beginning of the way up into golden foothills. Around the bend, a slope of mixed vegetation leads to a broken ridge and the blue storm clouds beyond.

The first hint of fall is a surreal splattering of yellow leaves below a pine bough of arched and broken branches. In the low light, a grove of turning aspen seems to glow when set against the coniferous forest.

Their white trunks undulate like wispy ghosts disappearing into the darkness. Under threatening clouds, some must stand alone engulfed by a sea of black trees while we get drenched by a deluge of freezing rain.

A boulder marks the beginning

Slope of mixed vegetation

A surreal splattering

Glowing aspen grove

Wispy ghosts

Some must stand alone

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Berthoud Pass - A Mountain Landscape

"Berthoud Pass" Colored Pencil

While wandering below Berthoud Pass on a warm summer evening, the wilderness scenery was a sight to behold. It was Classic Colorado as a blue creek, born in the big peaks beyond, came crashing down through a thicket of tangled willows.

A giant, yellow fir captured my attention and led my eyes back up to the snowy mountains whereupon the ribbon of cold water carried my gaze back down. This complex arrangement occurred in a narrow valley enclosed by a forest of dark pine, forming a visual barrier that precluded retreat.

That carefully observed composition has become the centerpiece for a new colored pencil workshop I’ll begin teaching this fall. The two day, ten hour clinic will start with warmup exercises, progress to a simple step-by-step and then finish with the main demonstration - drawing the mountain landscape above.

My friend and fellow artist, Ann Kullberg, is internationally know for her exceptional portrait workshops. Her class has become so popular that she can’t keep up with the demand so she has invited thirteen of us to help in her crusade extolling the virtues of colored pencil.

I’ve been working closely with Ann in order to develop a certified curriculum that features my own style and subject matter. Now, after months of intensive construction, she has unveiled her Soar Workshop Network where she’ll be sending us out across the US and Canada presenting our unique techniques to anyone who wants to attend a class.

My first scheduled workshop is not until February at Keizer, Oregon but I believe a couple more may happen before then once the details are worked out. In the meantime, I’m toiling feverishly to finish an illustrated, step-by-step booklet that will be included in a packet that’s handed out to all students who take the class.

I’ve been working with colored pencils for 40 years so I’m hoping it will be a gratifying experience to share my knowledge and philosophy with other artists who wish to learn more about this wonderful medium. In my class you will learn some new things about drawing a mountain landscape in colored pencil.

You will learn how to construct a warm undertone that displays an accurate value study in preparation for the addition of future colors. You will learn how to build multiple layers of color in order to create beautiful neutral and bright tones.

You will learn how to do some basic shading by creating simple gradients that indicate the direction of light. You will learn how to create the illusion of vast space by using size, contrast, color and soft edges while employing the principles of linear and aerial perspective.

You will learn how to simplify while letting yourself break free from the constraints of a reference photograph by using it as more of a prompt. Taking such a risk empowers you to express yourself in a more creative, original and stylized manner.

If you’d like to know more about the Soar Workshop Network, please click here: Soar

If you’d like to host a Soar Workshop in your hometown, please fill out this short application form: Soar Application

Reference photo

Warmup Exercises

Line drawing for the main demo

My own style and subject matter

Keizer, Oregon

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Birding at Evergreen Lake - A Kingdom in the Cattails

Birding at Evergreen Lake

Spread out below Mount Evans, the Front Range foothills are an exquisite parcel in Colorado. There are dark forests, clear creeks, deep canyons and wide open meadows that support a diverse variety of wildlife but if it’s birds you’re looking for, Evergreen Lake is the place to be.

Formed when Bear Creek was dammed, the lake is a birder’s heaven centered around a riparian ecosystem that hosts a vast array of feathered friends. Red-winged blackbirds appears to rule the roost from their kingdom in the cattails while barn swallows are masters of flight that own the airspace just above the water’s surface.

Of course you’ll see some of the stereotypical waterfowl like Canada geese, crows, mallard ducks and prehistoric cormorants. There are also some more exotic species so on any given day you might see a great blue heron, a rufous hummingbird or a gang of masked bandits called cedar waxwings.

At the pond, we’ve also seen a hooded merganser, American dipper and dazzling goldfinches. I’ve never been able to get a pic of some of the majestic visitors like an osprey, bald eagle or belted kingfisher but I do take the time to observe one of the wetlands most unassuming creatures - the common muskrat.

Red-winged Blackbird

Barn Swallow

Canada Goose

American Crow

Mallard Duck

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Rufous Humminbird

Cedar Waxwing

Hooded Merganser

Common Muskrat

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Cedar River - A Blue Deluge

A blue deluge

Flowing down from the wilds of Minnesota, the Cedar River winds its way through central Iowa and joins the Iowa River just before emptying into the mighty Mississip. The voluminous waterway streams through the heartland at a fairly fast clip as the swift current is not something you want to underestimate.

The adjacent, fertile valley is distinguished by dark-forested hills and vast fields of corn. Back in the old days they called it the Red Cedar River because of the abundance of those junipers that thrive on the limestone cliffs overlooking the blue deluge.

One evening while we were up in Waverly, we walked along the Cedar and were astonished by the diverse variety of colorful wildflowers that decorated the pathway. At Mount Vernon, a steep stairwell escorted the explorers down to the water’s edge where the Cedar’s true power was revealed.

The American Midwest is a fascinating region to visit, characterized by high humidity, verdant hues and afternoons embroiled in severe thunderstorms. It was a peaceful change of pace that I’ll never forget with memories of down-to-earth people, vibrant arts and a beautiful landscape but still, it’s good to be home.

A voluminous waterway

Streaming through the heartland

Colorful wildflowers

Decorating the pathway

A steep stairwell

A fascinating region

Verdant hues