Saturday, July 30, 2016

Elk Studies - Watercolor

"Elk Studies" Watercolor

Browsing along the forest’s edge, the Rocky Mountain elk is a force of nature that thrives in Colorado’s foothills. Being one of the largest land mammals in North America, the bull of this species is an impressive creature.

The monarch of the mountains is distinguished by large antlers which are shed annually. Big bulls usually have eight or nine tines on each antler but there is no correlation between the number of tines and the animal’s age or maturity.

The elaborate antlers start growing in the early spring and are shed each winter. During growth, they’re protected by a soft cover-layer of fuzzy skin known as velvet. The velvet is worn off during the summer, revealing the fully developed bone antler.

Each fall massive males engage in a ritualized mating behavior known as the rut. During this strenuous season, mature bulls compete for the attention of cow elk and try to defend the females already included in their harem.

Bulls that enter the rut in poor condition are less likely to garner the strength needed to survive the harsh winters brewed in the Front Range. To prepare for such hardship, they spend the entire summer gorging on lush, meadow grasses.

Rival bulls challenge each other and display dominance through aggressive posturing, bellowing and occasional sparring. Much of the intimidating body language is for show but in extreme circumstances, a minor conflict escalates into a real brawl.

Vocal males are rewarded as females are attracted to bulls that bugle more often and have the loudest call. For everyone else around here, the distinctive sound is a haunting indicator that summer’s gone and winter is almost upon us.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beaver Brook Reservoir - A Blue Pearl

Beaver Brook Reservoir

Situated below Old Squaw Pass Road, Beaver Brook Reservoir is a blue pearl offering some solitude in the bustling foothills of Colorado. Getting to the shore is just a short saunter through a dense forest of aspen, pine and fir.

A converging perspective and big clouds always seem to create complications in the background. Constructed for confinement, the wonderful watershed allows a steep outlet into an infinite, green gorge.

After spending numerous hours near the water’s edge, I’ve never actually seen the lake’s nocturnal namesake. Despite the unfortunate absence, many other creatures are quite common.

Deer and elk skirt the forest boundary while out on the rocks, garter snakes seek the sun. Betrayed by its distinctive trill, the elusive kingfisher flees from my camera like a desperate fugitive.

Luckily, the mountain landscape is more cooperative as it always keeps perfectly still. I envy the stoic peaks and their unchanging nature because down below, the seasons are moving way too fast.

With life streaming at lightning speed, there is much work to be done. A sense of urgency exists at the studio and in the field where I know I’ve got to hurry if I’m ever going to catch that blasted king-bird on film.

A blue pearl

Solitude in the foothills

A short saunter through the forest

Big clouds

Create complications

A wonderful watershed

An infinite, green gorge

Near the water's edge

The mountain landscape is cooperative

The stoic peaks are unchanging

The seasons are moving fast

Life is streaming at lightning speed

A sense of urgency exists

That blasted kingfisher

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Cattle and the Canal - A Peaceful Retreat

The Nebraska Sandhills

Flowing through the southern Sandhills of western Nebraska, an irrigation canal offers some relief from the sweltering, summer heat. A ditch road that runs alongside the waterway is the perfect path for a morning hike.

Rain from the night before creates a thick haze that burns off into white clouds as the day begins. Even though filtered light glazes the landscape with gold, the pastures seem greener than normal this year.

A bunch of shaggy sheep are vocal inhabitants while swallows skim across the water’s smooth surface. Sometimes I’ll see wary jackrabbits or a white-tailed deer but in this big sky county, cattle are king.

They are voracious grazers but when confronted by peculiar visitors, it piques their interest. Cows and calves come running in order to get a closer look at the unexpected newcomers.

The deep, blue water is a natural barrier between us and the domestic beasts so the situation remains completely harmless. As we continue on our prairie trek, it starts to get scorching hot.

We head back to where it all began, hoping to get some much needed rest and a cold drink. Still full of life, the old homestead is our peaceful retreat in the middle of the Great Plains.

The irrigation canal

The ditch road is a perfect path

A thick haze burns off

Filtered light glazes the landscape

The pastures seem greener than normal

The water's smooth surface

Big Sky County

Cattle are king

It got scorching hot

A peaceful retreat

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Gore Range Wildflowers - Colored Pencil

"Gore Range Wildflowers" Colored Pencil

Drawn mostly from memory, this landscape depicts the vista from Ute Pass, looking across the Blue River Valley. The summery scene is an optimistic vision of a fruitful future.

North out of Silverthorne, the gentle mountains turn jagged, purple and picturesque. As golden clouds glide overhead, the chaos of opposing angles creates an exciting composition.

A bouquet of colorful wildflowers fills the foreground as the natural beauty is a garden of earthly delight. Delicate details of dark and light define this beautiful arrangement.

Rising sharply out of the fertile plateau, the rugged range is still laced with an intricate pattern of white snow. Finally, the forms are intentionally simplified in order to better express the mystique of these heavenly peaks.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Sharp-shinned Hawk" Colored Pencil

Perched patiently on a rusty fence, a sharp-shinned hawk has appeared in a flash. It’s winter in western Nebraska and a flock of sparrows has congregated in the farmyard, feeding on chicken scratch and corn.

Relying on stealth and camouflage, the sharpy prefers ambush to capture its prey. Decorated with a gold-leaf pattern, the pale chest is cloaked by dark wings that are detailed with the suggestion of broad feathers.

The raptor’s noble head is a remarkable profile distinguished by streaked spear tips and bright yellow eyes. Just a juvenile, this bird of prey is a natural born hunter that’s still trying to find its place in the forest habitat.

The unsuspecting sparrows are easy pickings for this woodland warrior. While living on earth can be a struggle for most of us, it’s not so for the sharp-shin. This confident creature seems to have the world by the tail.