Saturday, June 25, 2016

Western Bluebird - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Western Bluebird" Colored Pencil

The Western Bluebird is an energetic pioneer always looking to expand his territory. It’s early spring at Noble Meadow in Evergreen, Colorado and this male has recently arrived, robed in his finest breeding plumage.

Backlit by golden light, the diminutive monarch oversees his vast domain from a mullein stalk perch. With his abstract background framed by a simple border, the confident bluebird sits comfortably in the spotlight.

Upon close inspection, the triadic color scheme becomes obvious. Multiple shades of red, yellow and blue are applied in translucent layers on textured paper, resulting in a finished piece that sparkles with luminosity.

In order to capture the essence of this scene, the photographic accuracy of the drawing has been simplified. Also, the color saturation has been exaggerated in a way that better expresses the lively spirit of these vibrant, little birds.

The focal point of this creation is the bluebird's remarkable eye and head. By carefully rendering the details in the bird’s eye and head with more precision, the viewer's attention will be directed to that part of the composition.

Artist friend Ann Kullberg asked me to thoroughly document the unique methods required to produce this work of art. The painstaking process of drawing, scanning, writing and re-writing has been compiled into a small step-by-step booklet.

Published by Ann Kullberg, the drawing guide is part of a series of JUMPSTART lessons for beginners. They feature simple instruction that includes pencil stroke and pressure descriptions, promising that even a novice will learn the ropes in a flash by following ten easy steps.

If you’d like to learn more about drawing in colored pencil, please check out this site: Western Bluebird Step by Step

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Vesper Sparrow - A Happy Grass Dweller

Vesper Sparrow

So far this summer, the bird I’m seeing most frequently in our foothills is the decidedly nondescript vesper sparrow. His name is Latin for ‘evening’ a time when this bird loves to sing.

At first glance, this stout sparrow looks rather drab but if you take the time to look closely, you’ll discover that he’s really quite beautiful. His overall light-brown color is intensified by a bright orange patch on the shoulder.

A pattern of dark streaks helps him to blend perfectly into the environment. Barely visible in the vast meadow to even the keenest observer, his exuberant song is what gives his presence away.

If you happen to cross paths with him, he’s not shy and he can be photographed rather easily. He tolerates a friendly encounter and watches curiously with his white-ringed eyes.

He hops down the dirt trail searching for his favorite foods, insects and seeds. If you get too close though, he will flash his white outer tail feathers as he alights to a nearby mullein stalk.

From this summer perch, the vesper sparrow vocally declares ownership of his nesting territory. This happy grass dweller loves to bask in the sun but even on a dreary, gray morning, his cheerful song will brighten your day.

Decidedly nondescript

This bird loves to sing

He looks rather drab

He's really quite beautiful

An orange patch on the shoulder

He's not shy

Tolerates a friendly encounter

Vocally declares territory

His cheerful song will brighten your day

Saturday, June 11, 2016

White Ranch Park - Summer Unfolds

Summer at White Ranch

It’s really hot and dry down at White Ranch Park in Golden, Colorado. Van Bibber Creek is running low and slow as the rocky watercourse cascades through a grassy, green gulch.

On a warm Saturday afternoon there’s not a cloud in the hazy sky. Ascending the steep Belcher Hill Trail on such a dusty day is definitely a sweaty endeavor.

During the climb, a looping traverse opens up and offers sweeping views across an impressive valley. To the right is Ralston Reservoir and the Hogback is an arched ridge connecting a rugged rock formation known as the Devil’s Thumb.

Back down at the bottom, the forest canopy is a priceless sanctuary of cool shade. Compared to what we usually see in the high country, the place is bursting with all kinds of colorful birds.

The black-headed grosbeak sings with passion and a Bullock’s oriole is a flash of brilliant orange in the tangled brush. Donning a black mask, the blueish scrub-jay is a striking creature while a spotted towhee’s fiery red eyes seem almost supernatural.

As summer unfolds, the usual cast of characters continues to return. The tourist season is one of my favorite times of the year because back are the aspen, irises, columbine, hummingbirds, bluebirds, squirrels and of course the thunderstorms.

Van Bibber Creek is running low and slow

Belcher Hill Trail

An impressive valley

A long ridge connects Devil's Thumb

A cool sanctuary

Black-headed Grosbeak

Western Scrub-jay

Spotted Towhee

It's tourist season

Summer is one of my favorite seasons

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Dugout Creek - A Pastoral Scene

Dugout Creek, Nebraska

Winding its way through the southern sandhills of western Nebraska, Dugout Creek is a lively waterway that becomes even more energetic during the spring. The riparian habitat supports a wide variety of wildlife and offers a lucrative bird viewing experience.

Upon entering the pastoral scene, an abandoned homestead is sunken into a hill overlooking an expanse of farmland. The creek’s name is most certainly a reference to the submerged structure that’s half-buried into the soft earth.

A herd of curious cattle are wary of conspicuous intruders and their constant chorus of bawling makes the visitor feel unwelcome. A massive, black bull is irritated by the disruption to the herd and angrily paws at the ground.

A great blue heron wades downstream, searching for prey while a great horned owl is flushed from its daytime perch. Wild turkeys are up on the ridge sneaking through sagebrush and as for the orioles, they’re happily singing during the nest-building process.

Everything seems perfect now but before the end of the season, a powerful swell of icy runoff will transform the brook into a destructive torrent. Combine the annual deluge with an afternoon thunderstorm and the potential for flash-flooding becomes a reality.

Evidence of past disaster is everywhere as enormous cottonwood trees have been uprooted and strewn across the restless stream. Any critters unfortunate enough to be caught in the draw during such an event have surely met their end.

Continuing along the watercourse leads the explorer ever deeper into a tangled woodland. It’s an astonishing discovery as the place is an oasis of lush greenery snaking through a semi-arid grassland often disparaged as the Great American Desert.

Winding its way through the sandhills

Dugout Creek is a lively waterway

It's a pastoral scene

An abandoned homestead is sunken

The submerged structure gives the creek its name

The cattle are wary of strangers

A bull was irritated by the disruption

Bullock's Oriole

Everything is perfect

Enormous cottonwoods have been uprooted

An unfortunate critter

Lush greenery in an arid grassland

The Great American Desert

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Courthouse and Jail Rocks - Ghosts of the Great Plains

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

On a wintry morning in western Nebraska, I wandered around Courthouse and Jail Rocks, photographing the countryside in bad weather. The megaliths were like ghosts of the Great Plains as they were barely visible during an extreme whiteout.

It was no easy task trudging through a foot of deep snow but any type of moisture is a blessing for the parched prairie. The blizzard could only be truthfully documented in black and white because there wasn’t even the slightest hint of color.

During a cautious approach across the bleak landscape, the formation was a gray apparition that flickered in and out of view. Just as resilient as the first settlers, a solitary tree was somehow still standing fast in the face of fierce, northerly winds.

The return to the roadside was a gloomy venture provoked by bitter cold. Along the way, a cheerful robin singing in the tangled brush was a surprising ray of hope that brightened the dreary day - spring may actually be closer than it appears.

I wandered around the rocks

The Courthouse

Jailhouse Rock

The countryside in bad weather

Ghosts of the Great Plains

Moisture is a blessing

A bleak landscape

A gray apparition

A solitary tree

A cheerful robin

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Beaver Brook - An Extraordinary Snowscape

An extraordinary snowscape

The morning after our latest blizzard, I wanted to photograph open water set against the extraordinary snowscape. I trudged down into Beaver Brook and discovered a wilderness that had been reduced to nothing but white space.

The stoic pine trees were smothered with heavy snow, resembling an eternal landscape frozen in time. The vista was incomplete as an oppressive, gray fog had lurched into the valley and erased the big peaks from view.

The placid lake was encrusted with a thin layer of textured slush while the rocky shoreline was smoothed over by two feet of fresh snow. After receiving so much precipitation this season, the mountain environment has become a wetlands.

The swollen reservoir had flooded into the forest’s edge, creating an arctic swamp of tangled trees and small islands. The frigid water was perfectly tranquil as it reflected the unusual scenery with stunning precision.

The place was saturated with peace and solitude as glittering snowflakes continued to gently fall. The only disruption came from a stubborn woodpecker who tapped furiously into the loose bark of a lodgepole pine.

The summer birds are here, waiting anxiously for better weather. Usually by this date, the snow line has receded back to the summits but with this year’s cooler temps, we’ve been mired in a persistent winter since last October.

Open water and deep snow

The wilderness was a white space

The trees were smothered with heavy snow

Frozen in time

Gray fog lurched into the valley

The lake was encrusted with a layer of slush

Flooded into the forest's edge

An arctic swamp

The reflections were stunning

Mired in winter