Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy 2010!

Saale Nao Mubbarak | Kul 'am wa antum bikhair | Xin Nian Kuai Le | Onnellista Uutta Vuotta | Bonne Annee | Prosit Neujahr | Kenourios Chronos | Hauoli Makahiki Hou | Naye Varsha Ki Shubhkamanyen | Bliain nua fe mhaise dhuit | Felice anno nuovo |Akimashite Omedetto Gozaimasu | Saehae Bock Mani ba deu sei yo! | Nawa Barsha ko Shuvakamana | Godt Nyttår | Feliz Ano Novo | S Novim Godom | Feliz Ano ~Nuevo | Gott nytt år! | Warsa Enggal | Losar Tashi Delek | Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun | Shchastlyvoho Novoho Roku | Chuc Mung Tan Nien | Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Unidentified Toucan No More!

The mystery is solved! This photogenic bird that posed so nicely for me at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle back in September is a green aracari (Pteroglossus viridis); a type of toucan. You may remember I did a painting of it as well, but I couldn't identify what kind of toucan it was. Today I was surfing the internet, dreaming of someday being able to have the time and money to visit the Canopy Lodge in Panama for a birding vacation and noticed a photo from a visitor that looked a lot like my mystery bird. It was identified as a collared aracari. So I hopped back to the Seattle Zoo's website and typed "aracari" into the search feature instead of "toucan" and sure enough, I got a hit for "green aracari". I then google-imaged (I can hear the grammar mavens out there shuddering) "green aracari" and bingo - tons of photos of my bird!

The green aracari is found in northern South America and is the smallest of the toucans. It is also the only toucan species in which the male and female look different (called sexual dimorphism). Males have a black head whereas females, which is apparently what my bird is, have what is described as a rusty chestnut head (looks dark maroon to me...) and a slightly smaller bill.

So daydreaming and surfing the Web today turned out to be a productive activity for once. Plus fantasizing about seeing a green aracari in the tropics took my mind off the latest cold snap we're headed into. Brrr.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Story

One year, maybe 15 years ago or so, Paul and I spent Christmas with my mother and then stepfather. My mother polled each of us to find out what everyone wanted for Christmas dinner. Each of us - including my mother - admitted to wanting something other than turkey (the traditional British Christmas dinner if you aren't going to spring for a goose) because we all really just don't like turkey. So armed with our suggestions, preferences, and dislikes, dear Mama headed down to the High Street to do her Christmas shopping. So, when we all sat down to Christmas dinner, our bellies rumbling in anticipation, what were we presented with? Turkey. Why? Because, in my mother's words, it is tradition. And tradition is apparently more important than what the cook and the dinner guests want.

Well, fast-forward to 2009 and I say "Bah humbug!" to my mother's Christmas tradition. Tonight Paul and I made bings for dinner. From what I've understood in my research on the subject, bing is a Chinese word that can apply to a number of different types of flat bread. If you've ever had moo shu pork, the pancake is a type of bing. Tonight we made a kind of stuffed bing that we are in the habit of devouring at a local restaurant here in town but we wanted to try our hand at making it at home. I searched online for a recipe and found one from chef Ming Tsai that sounded like our restaurant version.

We are devout foodies, but I never meant this to become a food blog. Nevertheless, I took pictures of the process. I was in charge of making and shaping the bing dough and Paul oversaw the meat filling and the cooking portion of the project.

I cannot stress how delicious these were, and what enjoyment we got out of making a restaurant favorite from scratch in our very own kitchen. It beat the tar out of a turkey dinner. However, we are having pumpkin pie for dessert so I guess we aren't completely breaking from tradition. But in my book, pumpkin pie is a good tradition.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Waterlily Painting

Value sketch

The leaf of this waterlily was a problem child, as far as this painting goes. It is flat. Very flat. Maybe a slight upturn along the edge in a few places, but not a lot of different textures, values, or interest to be had on the leaf. It wasn't even considerate enough to sit a tiny bit above the water so as to cast a shadow or reflection. It made a lovely photo at the time, and if you are Monet, it probably would have made for a lovely painting, but as a painting reference I found this specimen decidedly dull.

Dull waterlily painting

So after much grousing and grumbling, I decided to throw caution to the wind and invent a reflection and some more shadows on the damn thing. I don't like doing this. I am comfortably co-dependent with my reference photos and straying from their photographic reality gives me gray hairs. In fact, in the sketching stage of this painting I had an argument with myself; half of me wanted it to look exactly like the lily in the photo, down to the last petal and the other half said "So I missed one or two petals - no one will know." (...except now all of you do. Keep it to yourselves, please). And since the number of petals ended up not being exactly the number my specimen had, a little made-up reflection in the painting could hardly hurt at this stage. Right?

Watercolor of waterlily. Now with more lilypad bling.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Put 'Em on Ice

For the first time in a week, it was bearable to be outside for any length of time yesterday. In the morning when I left for work, I felt there might be reason to hope since it was 10 F out (the same temperature as the high from the day before.) and sure enough, by my lunch break it was approaching 20 F. I headed outside to see the sun and breath some fresh air and to maybe catch sight of some of the bald eagles that have come into town for the winter.

So here I am walking along the riverfront trail, enjoying being outside for a change and some movement across the river catches my attention. Inexplicably, there's a guy walking around on the river, really close to the edge of the ice. This ought to be interesting, I thought to myself, so I stopped to watch.

Then this guy picks up a good sized river rock and chucks it waaaaaay up in the air and watches it smack back down onto the ice. He then walks out to the rock, picks it up and does it again, and again, and each time the rock falls a little further out onto the river, he walks a little further out on the ice. I decide that I've had enough when I see him throwing the rock onto the ice that is slightly submerged under the water. Call me crazy, but I think when water is flowing over the ice it should be a good indicator that you shouldn't step there, regardless of what the rock says.

Through the wonders of Photoshop, I have highlighted the thrown rock for you to see.

So I'm walking back towards work and start to notice that there are other river rocks scattered here and there on top of the ice in the river. This means that other people (or maybe just this one obsessed guy?) have been performing this same act all up and down the area! Why have I never seen anyone doing this before? I mean, my office is right on the river with a wall of windows facing it and I'm always peeking out the window looking for eagles in the winter; you'd think that I'd have noticed this before.

And why are they doing this? To fish? Sure, the river has trout in it, but there are so many open areas you could just as easily dangle your hook directly into the river rather than going to the bother of drilling a hole in the ice.

I will let you know if I ever find an answer.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

International Birding I

blue tit (Parus caeruleus)

My husband and I have made many sacrifices while he has been in school working on his PhD. However, once in a while there's a perk to the process that is just so priceless, I start to wonder if maybe he shouldn't become a life-long student. For example, Paul presented a paper in Paris and I got to go along. Poor me.

But while I was enjoying this amazing opportunity, I was still thinking like the nature nerd that I am. One day during our trip (one of the few sunny ones) while Paul was busy working, I ran over to Notre Dame. I was in the gardens at the back of the cathedral, admiring the magnificent architecture, when I heard and then spotted a little songbird in the trees. So picture the scene - everyone else is oohing and aahing at the Cathedral, pointing their cameras at the spires and the flying buttresses, meanwhile I'm running around peering frantically into the trees. The other tourists must've thought I was nuts. We all have our own priorities, I guess.

You Crazy Tourist!
What I was missing

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oregon Oddities

Hope all my US readers had a great Thanksgiving! We're now in the November blahs here in the Northern Rockies; it's dark, it's cold, and so Oregon in the summer is not far from my thoughts.

While Paul and I, and our friends Denise & Jim were traipsing about the lovely coast of Oregon, we did spot the occasional odd thing here and there. I've already shared the Head at Hug Point with you. A few days earlier we had traveled south to Newport, OR and Yaquina Bay Lighthouse State Park. We tried to get there when tide was at its lowest because the park has some great tidepooling and we got an hour or so in, and then we explored some of the other parts of the park once the water got too high to safely tidepool. There's a sheltered cove that seal lions and harbor seals often hang out in so we walked down to that area and noticed that the railing and posts of the fence along the sidewalk had become a caterpillar highway! They seemed to be traveling with great intent, but in all different directions.

This is just a small group of the hundreds of caterpillars we saw

Denise identified them as being in the Tussock moth family, but we've yet to figure out exactly what kind they were.

We then continued on down to the cove and watched two seals on a rock watching a great blue heron on another rock watching the fish. Unfortunately we discovered that although we had left the main batch of caterpillars behind, there were still some roaming the railings in this area and we accidentally squished a few as well as picked up a few hitchhikers on our clothes. It was tricky trying to remove them from us without touching those hairs that looked like they'd be
very itchy.

For a minute, the seal found us an interesting diversion. Then he/she went back to watching the heron.

On another day we headed into the temperate rainforests that make up the Northwest Pacific Coast in search of the ubiquitous banana slug. There was plenty of fog, plenty of vegetation, but no slugs. We eventually found one on the Washington coast, but it wasn't like the olive green giants that I remember seeing in Olympic National Park. However, it was the first slug we'd seen the whole week, so it became much celebrated and photographed.

Later, Denise told me that after we headed home, they saw some real field guide quality banana slugs on a hike they took near where we had been staying. They also finally heard a varied thrush on that hike; a bird we'd been trying to get all week.

And when you are hungry after all the hiking and beachcombing and gingerly picking caterpillars off of you, where do you go to eat? Why at the Inflatable Crab, of course!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hey Kids, We're Going on a Road Trip!

There are still many photos from our trip to Oregon in July that I haven't had a chance to go through and edit. One bunch of photos I knew I wanted to do a post about as I was taking the pictures. I think my friend Denise and I even used the word "blogworthy" at the time. Since things are pretty un-blogworthy around here right now, I figured it was time to dust them off and share them.

One day during our trip in July we all piled into the car and headed up the coast of Oregon and across the Columbia River into Washington. We were birding and hitting the Lewis & Clark historic sites along the way, but there was one stop we had to make just for the sheer silliness of it. In Long Beach, WA one can find Marsh's Free Museum, home of Jake the Alligator Man. How could we travel all that way and not pay Jake a visit?

Jake gets plenty of press time.

The, er, man himself. Watch out kid, don't get too close.

Packed in amongst the shelves of keychains, mugs, tee-shirts, magnets, toothpick holders, shot glasses and bumperstickers all sporting Jake's image, Marsh's also had other curiosities including a two-headed calf...

A shrunken head...

...a number of old music boxes and player pianos, a variety of taxidermied exotic animals from around the world, and a human skeleton on display in a coffin. The place kind of reminded me of a Coney Island-meets-Wall Drug-type tourist attraction. In one form or another Marsh's has been serving the discerning public since 1937. You gotta hand it to the family for being so enterprising.

Monday, November 09, 2009

When Life Gives You Turkeys - Painting 41

Nothing personal against turkeys, but it just kind of fit today. Paul went for his final exam this morning, and found out that one of the four members of his exam committee had come down with the flu and couldn't make it! So his final, final exam will have to wait until February! Argh! It's only just a little anti-climactic.

But life goes on. This is Painting 41. I need to complete 9 more paintings by November 20th to be at the halfway point in my 100 Paintings in a Year Challenge. That's kind of an exciting milestone to contemplate. I did this painting on the heavy cold-pressed watercolor paper I've been working on in Laure Ferlita's Imaginary Trip to Paris class. I used to swear by hot-pressed paper, but I've been very pleasantly surprised at the amount of control I still get with watercolor on this paper. Another bonus is that it takes a lot of water to make the paper buckle. I'm a lazy watercolorist, so not having to stretch my paper is a real perk to me.

For those of you wondering whatever happened to my ornithological ABC series that I had started, I hit a bit of a snag at C. I wanted C to be for crane, and I remembered that Paul had gotten fabulous photos of some sandhill cranes with their chick. Well, we have moved three times since he took those pictures and I am still looking for them. I may skip to D while I continue my search. Stay tuned...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hibernation - Can I join in?

I think in another life I was a bear. Or a groundhog. Or one of these box elder bugs. Whatever I was, the desire to go into hibernation this time of year has followed me into this realm of existence, as has the desire to eat everything in sight. And I am confident that the daylight savings time change this weekend will not help the situation one bit.

On top of the sleepiness, I have been so restless and listless lately. Maybe it is just because Paul and I are headed into the two most pivotal weeks of his PhD program to date, but as his supportive spouse there's nothing I can actually do about it except just wait. And bake cookies (with a rather Leave It To Beaver mentality that home-baked goodies made with plenty of butter and love will make everything all right). While the cookies may clog his arteries, hopefully they won't clog his brain cells as he needs them to pass his comprehensive exams. This is kind of like passing the Sphinx, or Fluffy the giant three-headed dog; making a mistake would be very, very bad. I have every confidence that Paul will pass with no problem, but it is still a long, nerve-wracking process for both of us. My preference would be that I go to sleep now and he can wake me up when he's got the good news.

So, to my little half-hearted sketch. I'm obsessed with these box elder bugs and I wanted to try something different tonight. I thought maybe using colored pencils for a change would shake me out of my stupor. However, I think they had about as much chance at really perking me up as trying to wake up a hibernating bear.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Out Enjoying the Weather

After a very rainy week and before more wintry weather arrives tomorrow, we wanted to get out and soak up the sun and fill our lungs with fresh air while we could. Turns out a lot of other creatures had the same idea.

A flock of about 7 wild turkeys were grazing in someone's yard.

We spotted this spruce grouse up in the mountains. Sorry about the quality of the picture. They move quickly and this was the best shot I got. Check out his gorgeous red eye combs!

We watched as two gray jays made their way from tree to tree down a forest service dirt road. I wasn't able to get a picture today but I took this photo last year in the same general area so just maybe it is the same bird! (Er, yeah sure.)

Around our place the box elder bugs are congregating.

A couple of them always manage to get inside the apartment. Madeleine has learned that they don't taste very good so she leaves them for me to escort back outside. I think they are beautiful.

Thanks everybody for putting up with my whining about my cold last post. I was being a total wimp. I feel much better now!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Painting 36 - Exuberant Toucan

This toucan - which still remains unidentified - is everything I'm not right now. He's colorful (unless you count my red nose), he's smiling, he's exuberant. Well, maybe "exuberant" is taking this a bit too far, but he's certainly got more energy than me. After nearly two years of sniffle-free days, I have at last succumbed to the common cold. Not only am I reduced to a lot of sitting around feeling sorry for myself, I'm also downright grumpy. Okay, so I'm not really sick sick, but a cold is really annoying. Not so bad that you can stay home from work, but certainly bad enough to make you miserable at work. How could my immune system have let me down? What about all of those anti-oxidants I ingest; rooibos tea, leafy greens and dark chocolate? My serious attempts at 8 hours of sleep a night? Dragging myself out of bed after said 8 hours to exercise? But hey, I suppose while I'm sitting here keeping the facial tissue industry in business I can take comfort in the fact that, according to Star Trek, they still won't have found a cure for the common cold by the 23rd century.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Painting 34 - Monsieur Puglsey

I know I haven't posted any paintings lately. But I am still managing to squeeze in some painting time in between life. I am also taking Laure Ferlita's Imaginary Trip to Paris this Fall to try to improve my non-nature watercolor sketching. This little guy is the first natural history subject I've done in the class, so thought I'd share it here. We're each working in a hand-made watercolor journal for the "trip", so with keeping a travel journal in mind, I've left room on the left of the page to write my entry.

This was a tricky piece for me to do. We had a cute photo of this dog to work from, but I wanted to add some details that set the scene - in my mind the dog was standing under a its owner's chair at a Parisian cafe, patiently waiting for a treat, but to do that I had to work from my imagination and try to guess how the light would fall on the chair legs and how the dog would realistically look standing under a chair that wasn't really there. I also wanted this to be a loose watercolor sketch, with pencil lines showing and all, but I got so caught up in the details around his eye!

Meanwhile, I'm hunkered down, craving hot soup and other cold-weather comfort foods, waiting for this cold snap to break. The snow is pretty though.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Happy Birthday!

This month is Madeleine's birth month. She is 8 years old, making her a little older than us in cat years. Possibly why she gives us those looks "Oh, you youngsters!".

Not only is this her birth month to celebrate, but she just went to see her specialty vet today and her meds will stay the same and she won't need to go back for another year. Good news! Madeleine has kitty cardiomyopathy, meaning one of her heart ventricles is enlarged and doesn't pump blood very efficiently. It was diagnosed 2 years ago and our regular vet prepared us for the worse, giving her 6 months to a year before she started showing signs of heart failure and a fast downhill from there. We were referred to a specialty vet who put her on Atenolol (a human heart medication - go figure) and she has stabilized and has been doing very well ever since. We know eventually it will catch up with her, but for now we're thrilled she's holding steady and giving us a few more years of purring and head-butts.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Look What the Wind Brought

There's a wind advisory for our area today and tomorrow with gusts of 35 - 45 mph. I know this isn't even close to hurricane force winds, but this evening the wind was so strong that it knocked out our power for a couple of hours. We live in a basement apartment so when the power goes out, it's dark, especially on a cloudy evening. With nothing better to do, I stood at our door and watched the wind blowing branches and garbage cans around the neighborhood. So it is amazing that with all that movement all around, my eyes caught sight of two little birds hopping about the relative shelter of our garden across the yard. And they weren't the usual house sparrows, either. Cursing the fact that my binoculars were in the car, I grabbed my camera instead and zoomed in, through the dusty glass in the door and all the yard debris. This is the best shot I got. I believe this is an adult (right) and immature (left) white-crowned sparrow. (You more experienced birders out there let me know if I misidentified these, please!) Not a lifer for me but a first for our yard/neighborhood and certainly an unexpected treat.

Speaking of birds, Heather of the Hills jogged my memory by thinking that the first photo of the tropical birds in my last post was a trogon and sure enough, it is a white-tailed trogon. And Maree from Art & Creativity said that the second photo was a Bali mynah. She's got a lovely watercolor of one over on her blog, as well as some good natural history information on this highly endangered bird. Thank you ladies!!! I still have not tracked down what kind of toucan that is, though. Sadly and surprisingly the Woodland Park Zoo's website does not have a complete list of all of their species.

As I've been trying to write this post, the power has gone out yet again, so now that it is back on I am going to post this before it goes out a third time. At least this time when it went out, I had found new batteries for the flashlight!

S***, I realized I made a boo-boo. It was Eve who mentioned the trogon!!! I'm so sorry, Eve! I had lit candles during the power outage and it must've been the lead in the candle wicks affecting me. A million apologies!

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Seattle Zoo

I've had a hankering to do some tropical bird drawings lately, probably inspired by the beautiful artwork at Drawing the Motmot. Since I am sadly not going to be heading to any tropical rain forests anytime soon, I decided that a trip to the zoo was imperative when we planned our quick visit to Seattle. I knew I wouldn't have time to sketch, but at least I could get some photo references. I could kick myself for not taking better notes, but we were on a tight schedule with a ferry to catch and I was kind of snapping photos on the run. Anybody know exactly what these birds are?

I didn't realize there were so many species of toucans. This one really posed for me.

I was not on a mammal mission but I couldn't resist this picture. He/she just looks soooo relaxed. That's the life!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Hey Folks! I know I fell off the Blogosphere there for a little while. My husband was in England for two weeks at an academic conference and doing some dissertation research. When he returned from across the Pond, we wanted to have a little escape together so we hopped in the car and headed to Seattle. I'm back now, and trying to sift through everything that piled up while I was away (and I was only away a few days!!!). The freelance design projects are coming in a mile a minute, which is a mixed blessing. I appreciate the work and the extra income to help us through, but it also cuts into my art and blogging time! Anyway, here are a few pictures from our trip to tide you over until I can put together a real post.

Seattle has some great public art, including this sculpture of
an umbrella that moves with the wind.

The Seattle Public Library is an architectural wonder.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Painting 29 - Mountain Lion Sketch

This is a really fast watercolor sketch of a mountain lion that knew my husband. (Yes, you read that right. More in a minute.) When we lived in the Philadelphia area, there was a wonderful little zoo in Norristown, PA that specialized in North American animals. I loved going there more than the Philadelphia Zoo because 1). parking was easy and free 2). it wasn't crowded and 3). you could see everything without exhausting yourself. They had a prairie dog town, pronghorn antelope, elk, foxes and wolves, bison, a great assortment of owls, etc. And they had a mountain lion.

This mountain lion loathed Paul. We have no idea why, but it did. One time I went on ahead and positioned myself so that I could see the lion as Paul approached. It was just hanging out, lying down, watching the world. Then Paul came into view some distance away and that cat went from laid back to Red Alert in half a second. I was amazed. If Paul remained in front of its enclosure for any amount of time, the cat would start snarling and occasionally even lunging. So as not to upset the animal too much, Paul usually observed it from a distance. This is what was happening in the photo that I did this sketch from; Paul was a ways away and the cat was keeping an eye on him. I was hoping to catch the intensity of the cat's gaze, maybe even a hint of aggression in this painting.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Painting 28 - B is for Blackbird

Taa-daa! Still working the kinks out with the lettering, but I am loving this! I used an X-acto knife to scrape away the paint to create the fluff on the cattail. I have also discovered that painters tape - the colored stuff you use to protect moldings and create a clean edge when you are painting walls - works very well to preserve the edges around these watercolor pieces, too. Go figure.

You may remember the quick sketch I did of this bird a few months ago - I used the same pose for this piece. It makes such a difference having my own reference photos! The avocet in the previous painting was a made-up pose based on a bunch of different photos from various sources and I think it showed. So from now on I'm going to try to choose birds that I have good photos of. It makes such a difference. Hmm, I wonder what I've got in my photo collection for "C"...

I do find that the imperfections in the lettering attract my attention away from the piece as a whole though, and I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I should skip painting the lettering by hand and just do it digitally. (Please let me know YOUR opinion on whether I should go with digital or handpainted lettering or even include any lettering at all, in the comments section. Thanks!!! )

These ABC pieces take a lot of time and planning, so the paintings are not materializing as quickly as they were before and I have fallen behind in my 100 Paintings Challenge. I am thrilled with the series, but I'm not about to abandon the Challenge. And this is still quite a ways in the future, but I'm also wondering what I am going to do for the letters "X" and "Z"!