The Motmot Holiday Gift Bag is a Bookcase

A little festive commemorative ornament to download, cut out, and hang up. Cheers!

A little festive commemorative ornament just for you: download, print out, cut on the dotted line, and hang up. Cheers!

A few last minute gift ideas for you or the lucky bird artists in your life:

Clockwise from left: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, Drawing and Painting Birds, Capturing the Essence

Clockwise from upper left: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, Drawing and Painting Birds, Capturing the Essence

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds, by John Muir Laws, Heyday Press, covers so much ground so comprehensively that the next time I teach a bird drawing course, this will surely be the textbook. Proportions, angles, anatomy and birds in motion (there’s a cute orange-and-toothpick visualizing exercise you can do at home) are explained with abundant, beautiful illustrations. Laws is a great instructor and motivator, and this is my new go-to book when I’m stumped on eye-shape of a foreshortened flycatcher or the secret tricks of wing-drawing. Highly recommended.

Capturing the Essence, by William T. Cooper, Yale University Press. Cooper is the king of parrot painting, and if you haven’t seen his Parrots of the World or more recent  Australian Parrots, those would make splendid gifts, too. Capturing the Essence goes into anatomy and field sketching, and Cooper describes design process through thumbnail sketch compositions and good step-by-step painting demos of birds in watercolor, acrylic, and oils. Huge plus: we get loads of gorgeous sketches and paintings of Old World/Down Under species: bowerbirds, hornbills and birds-of-paradise. Admire and study this wondrous book.

Drawing and Painting Birds by Tim Wootton, The Crowood Press. A terrific blend of practical instruction and inspirational work by Wootton and other fine bird artists (disclaimer: I’m on pages 15, 24, 73, 83, and 121). Lots and lots of field sketches to ogle at; cool skeleton drawings reveal the internal scaffolds of various avian body types. There’s a super-helpful articulated gull model to copy, cut-out, assemble and draw from (and freak out the cat with). Demos and discussions of field sketching techniques, how to add color in the field and compose a painting, plus a slew of exercises to warm up your hand and eye prior to sketching real live birds. Awesome book.

Other than peering at a quetzal through new binoculars while wearing hand-tooled cowboy boots, I can’t think of a nicer way to spend the holidays than curling up with one of these volumes, unless you throw in a mug of cocoa and plate of cookies, which I will gladly catch.

Happy Friday.

Holiday wishes from Gizmo, Ant Man (who took the picture) and the Motmot. Cheers!

Happy Holidays from Gizmo, Ant Man (the photographer) and the Motmot. Cheers to all!

Posted in Art, Artists, bird art, bird-drawing technique, birding, birds, Drawing, field sketching, How-to, Illustration, natural history, Nature, Shopping!, Sketching, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Orchids and Flycatchers, revisited

Trying to make sense of a head pose, drawing from videos. Rusty margined flycatchers have insanely flexible necks. Like pretty much any bird. But this is a good illustration of what they can do with it.

Trying to make sense of a head pose, drawing from videos. Rusty margined flycatchers have insanely flexible necks, like pretty much any bird. But this is a good illustration of the feature. Pencil on paper, 8″ x 6″

Drawing from videos: very useful if you don’t have live birds in your studio. While painting a pair of rusty-margined flycatchers, I was troubled by a weird head position in the field sketch. What looked okay in the drawing looked bizarre in paint. So I launched a field video and sketched to see what was going on. A passerine’s tucked-up neck is relatively long and flexible. This flycatcher turned to the left and looked at something behind it, then swiveled and looked at the same thing from the other side. A flycatcher needs a circular view. Or, maybe spherical. Looks weird in practice, though. In the end I changed the pose.

Orchid drawing updated with some light pastel in the background and a few highlights. 14" x 20" pastel and graphite on Ingres paper.

Orchid drawing updated with some light pastel in the background and a few highlights. 14″ x 20″ pastel and graphite on Ingres paper.

Drawing and painting are two different art forms, and what’s on my easel lately is mostly painting. Even though I like lines so much, in the painting, outlines tend to squash the illusion of reality.

I added a little pastel to the orchid drawing, around and within the lines. Chalk or conte or white compressed charcoal works. The starting point is a mid-toned paper, like the Ingres above. It’s still a drawing, but the dry media adds light and suggests volume. A tip: when combining pastel and graphite, never go darker in pastel than your darkest graphite value. Dark pastel placed next to dark graphite sets up a struggle between the matte pastel and shiny graphite. The graphite always loses.

Catching a few more head poses of a rusty margined flycatcher, drawn from a video taken on Barro Colorado Island last May.

Catching a few more head poses of a rusty margined flycatcher, drawn from a video taken on Barro Colorado Island last May. Pencil on paper, 8″ x 6″

Video drawing birds, by the way, is a great tool. Here’s the flycatcher video if you’d like to try. You can see it swivel its head around and hear the engine of STRI’s BCI-Gamboa shuttle boat Jacana at the dock nearby. At the end, you might even catch the sleepy roar of a far-off howler monkey troupe. Normal sounds of Barro Colorado Island, always there in the background.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, bird art, bird-drawing technique, birding, birds, field sketching, How-to, natural history, Nature, oil painting, painting, Panama, Pastel, rainforest, Sounds & Movies, Stupid Critter Tricks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drawing Orchids, Wanting So Much More

Vanda Orchid drawn at the Myriad Botanical Garden's Tropical Conservatory. 14" x 20" 6B pencil on celery green Ingres paper.

Vanda Orchid drawn at the Myriad Botanical Garden’s Tropical Conservatory. 14″ x 20″ 6B pencil on lovely celery green Ingres paper. Sometimes, drawing the thing you desire is as good as having it. Sometimes.

This week I did something I knew I would regret. I fell for an orchid.

Ant Man’s favorite expression,”Ever desiring, ever desirous” sounds a little redundant, but he claims it’s from the Tao Te Ching. ( he uses it on me whenever I shop online). Pressed for clarification he said, “It’s the obsessive, unquenchable nature of desire: the more you have, the more you want. The notion you’ll be happy when you finally get what you want is now known to be untrue. You can just read any novel, but there’s science behind it.”

Vanda orchid, "Robert's Delight Big Black". It grows from a small basket hanging in the air under a live tree branch at the Myriad Botanical Garden Tropical Conservatory in OKC.

Vanda orchid, “Robert’s Delight Big Black”. An epiphytic orchid, grown in a basket under a branch at the Myriad Botanical Garden Tropical Conservatory, the glassed-in jewel box centerpiece of Oklahoma City. It still bears a tag from the original grower. I looked it up the minute I got home.

Let me first say I garden avidly, but I’ve resisted orchids on the principle that I won’t grow anything that needs more attention than I do. So after dropping off two paintings at the Myriad Botanical Garden’s fundraiser auction, I spent a couple of hours in the tropical conservatory glasshouse at my easel, right next to this blooming jezebel. I drew the shining clumps of strappy leaves and the cascade of lurid purple flowers, and I clearly heard their siren song. Have you ever noticed that when you draw, you go into a more open, vulnerable state of mind? The more I drew this orchid, the more I wanted it. Ever desiring, ever desirous. Or so it’s said.

Drawing the alluring Vanda from the top of the catwalk at the Myriad Garden's Tropical Conservatory. I could hear the siren song of the orchid above the sounds of a rushing waterfall under my feet.

Drawing that alluring vamp, Vanda, from the catwalk at the Myriad Garden’s Tropical Conservatory. By the way, a great place to warm up on a cold day.

When I got home, I looked up Vanda orchids: highly prized, showy, expensive. Not for beginners. Phalaenopsis orchids looked promising, though, and I even found a Martha Stewart video on making orchid wall-hanging gardens. Downside: daily watering. I browsed the pages of orchid devotees and their tiers of humidity trays, misters, grow lights, whole rooms of floral life support. Being the obsessive type, I know I could go there, too. But I have my principles. I won’t grow anything needier than me. So, for now, I’ll stick with irises. They’re showy, too.

Although Homeland has some reasonably priced phalaenopsis this week…

Happy Friday.

Posted in Art, Art materials, Artists, Drawing, garden, Nature, Oklahoma, plein air, rainforest, Science, self-indulgence, Shopping!, Sketching, tropics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Happy Turkey Day, with or without feathers

Turkeys are wildlife, too. These didn't get eaten- they were honored guests at the backyard feeders of my friend, Cindy.

Turkeys in the raw: wild turkeys at the New Hampshire backyard feeder of a friend and fellow bird artist. Thanks for the turkeys, Cindy.

Ant Man is lamenting the unusual size of our turkey. When agri-giant Butterball declared 2013 a bad year for turkeys to explain their smaller-than-usual production of (presumably) wizened, skinny little poults, I ordered a fresh, organic, free-range bird from our local natural foods store, just large enough for dinner for four. Delivered was a behemoth of almost 18 pounds, with an apology for the unexpected near-emu. It was certainly a fabulous year for organic turkeys, which gained more weight than usual. I guess we will, too.

These didn't get eaten, either. Lovely bronze beauties, perfectly at home eating bird seed, but wild and wily. Benjamin Franklin's favorite bird- he lobbied for it to be the national bird of the USA, but the bald eagle prevailed.

Lovely bronze undomesticated beauties, wild and wily, cagy and uncaged, right at home on a lawn, free and uneaten. The wild turkey was Benjamin Franklin’s favorite bird- he admired its intelligence- and lobbied to have it designated our national bird. The bald eagle won instead. Which is just as well, since you shouldn’t consume your national symbol.

The size expansion kind of derailed Ant Man’s original plan- he was going to roast the turkey flat, butterflied a la Mark Bittman. But this big bird, laid out flat, would flop over the side of every pan we own. Therefore it is being roasted in the traditional Thanksgiving turkey fashion: on its back, tanning like a sunbather on a nude beach.

Wild turkey hen on nest, Petersham, MA. She was surrounded by raspberries, not cranberries as is traditional. Watercolor over pencil, 8 1/2" x 11".

Turkey hen on nest, Petersham, MA. She was surrounded by raspberries, not traditional cranberries, and eventually hatched out a dozen fluffy chicks and walked them down to the woods pronto. Watercolor over pencil, 8 1/2″ x 11″.

Our little feast will be celebrated in the delightful company of a student from Croatia, experiencing her first Thanksgiving, and our beloved niece from Boston, who gamely decided the perfect place to spend the holiday is out on the prairie with her aunt and uncle. Ant Man is going with the flow, roasting up the biggest turkey he’s ever tackled. All is harmony. We’ll eat like kings. For days and days.

And speaking of giving thanks, I’m thankful, as always, to have you here. Wherever you are, wherever you live, whether you eat turkey or not, have a fine, peaceful, and harmonious day, too.

Posted in Art, bird art, birds, Diversions, Drawing, Family, Food, Home, Oklahoma, Pop culture references, self-indulgence, Shopping!, Uncategorized, Wildlife | 6 Comments

Friday Figures: Couch Potato

Got to draw a nice nude today after a bit of a break.

Nude, vegetating. 6B pencil on Stillman & Birn Zeta Series sketchbook. This drawing beautifully represents my state of low energy and lack of enthusiasm tonight for anything but pizza and TV.

A really long week, which will magically end with streamed movies and hot food delivered in a cardboard box. All’s well.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Drawing, figure drawing, Food, models | 5 Comments

Friday Fauna- garden-variety pairings*

Natural wonders at the small end of the scale: a pair of wheelbugs (Arilus cristatus) copulate in my front garden, where the neighbors can see, if they look real close. Watercolor over pencil on Stillman & Birn Epsilon series sketchbook.

Small wonders: a pair of wheelbugs (Arilus cristatus) mate in my best Blue Mist Spirea bush. Watercolor over pencil on Stillman & Birn Epsilon series sketchbook.

Our front yard has lost its lawn, piece by piece, in favor of more and more flowers. We have become an arthropod haven and refueling station for every bee, butterfly and hummingbird in the neighborhood. Pollinators need a little sanctuary from your basic urban/suburban food desert. And beneficial predatory insects and arachnids need a little love, too.

They also need a quiet place to breed.

A favorite predator of mine is Arilus cristatus, a.k.a. Wheelbug, the biggest assassin bug (family Reduviidae) in North America, 1 1/2″, gray and black. The deadly beak folds out, stiletto-like, to plunge into insects and suck them dry. They can inflict a bite- don’t try to pick one up- but they are marvels to watch. The cog-wheel projection on their back just adds to their steam-punk clockwork appearance.

I have wheelbugs in my garden and have observed the gritty details of their hemipteran consumation twice now (see video below and drawing above); both times the female fed on a bee during the act, a gift from the male (I assume), who wanted to get through their date without being eaten himself. While she fed he clung to her back, away from the vicious beak. Once the bee was sucked dry, she worked hard to ditch the mounted male. He hung on like a cowboy on a brahma bull.

I have to say that, when their cog-wheels didn’t interlink and spin, I was pretty let down. Why else have such a structure? (By the way, there’s a recent discovery of a real, functional cogwheel in another insect. It’s awesome).

They continued mating in the blue mist shrub until after dark, so I didn’t see how it turned out, but here’s my best guess: once I’d left, the gears clicked together and slowly rotated, transforming the two lovers into a tiny Chevy Malibu.

Happy Friday.

* the original title of this post may or may not have caused it to be blocked due to its straight-forward wording. Biology is a straight-forward business. Apologies all around for the error. 

Posted in Adventure!, Drawing, entomology, Environment, Evolution, field sketching, garden, natural history, Nature, nature journaling, Oklahoma, Pop culture references, random speculation, Science, self-indulgence, Sketching, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

100,000 Ways to Start a Painting

Crested guan, hand-colored inkjet print of a thumbnail pencil rough, drawn from an original field sketch. Sounds like a lot of steps, but it's actually really fast. Watercolor over inkject print on bond paper (you can do this on watercolor paper, but this is just as good for the purpose). 8 1/2" x 11"

Hand-colored inkjet print of a thumbnail rough in graphite, eyeballed from the field sketch of a wild crested guan. Watercolor over inkject print on bond paper (or on watercolor paper, but bond is fine). 6″ x 6″

Actually, it’s probably somewhere in the billions. Anyone with a pencil or brush can devise a new method. I like to experiment. Here’s my newest: take an original field sketch and make a thumbnail rough on another piece of paper. Keep it small (it can literally be the size of your thumbnail). No details, just dark and light and vague (guan-like) shapes. I use a scanner to get drawings into the computer, but a digital photo will do the trick. You want to print out and paint over it.

Here's the original sketch. This guan sat on a vine in a clearing, honking and looking this way and that, but basically staying put. Lucky me. What struck me most was how brightly the wattle glowed in the understory shadows- a red lantern in the dark. That became the focus of the composition. Pencil sketch, 8 1/2" x 11"

Original sketch of crested guan perched on a vine on BCI’s Wheeler Trail, at marker 6. It honked in alarm, then relaxed into the pose. Lucky me.  The wattle glowed brightly- a red lantern in the dark. Pencil sketch, 8 1/2″ x 11″

It seems the hand drawn thumbnail- the act of hand drawing- is a crucial step. I’m not positive, but I think the hand has all the talent. Something spontaneous happens between a field sketch and a thumbnail design. A rough sketch is no big commitment, either, so you can freely generate ideas by the bushel. Take advantage of creative bursts; if you’re on a roll, stay there and crank it out. Thumbnails don’t have to be good, just abundant. You’re priming the pump and you might get something you can develop and use for real.

Here's the thumbnail rough, which measures 4" x 4". Smaller= faster. I used a graphite bar to rough in the values. Ask yourself: where's the light coming from? Where are the darkest darks?

Thumbnail rough, graphite, 4″ x 4″. Smaller is faster. I used water soluble graphite in a tin brushed over 6B pencil lines. Resketching this small helps with placement of design elements, light direction, values and focus.

I noticed that, in redrawing the field sketch, it underwent some unplanned changes. The guan became more animated. It turned its head to catch more light in the wattle. Here’s where I  make choices. Do I keep the original pose or follow the thumbnail’s interesting  suggestions?

After I scanned the colored rough back into Photoshop, tweaked color and contrast, copied and pasted the sunlit palm leaf back over the guan, I moved the image around and resized and cropped until it seemed ready. Then I framed it.

It's all about seeing in a new way. Some use a mirror for a fresh view (the digital analogy is flipping it). I photographed a frame I have lying around and, in  Photoshop, plunked in my color comp. Magic. I can adjust again until I'm happy with the results.

It’s all about seeing in a new way. Some use a mirror for a fresh view (the digital version of a mirror: flipping the image). I photographed a frame and digitally pasted in the color comp. I can now adjust the image as if it were already hanging on a wall. At this point, you can match the couch. Kidding.

Framing helps. It may only be a photo of a frame, but even so, it helps me visualize how it will look, finished. The digital version will be reference for the next phase: the actual painting, made by hand with brushes and paint. Can’t wait to start.

Happy Friday.

Posted in Adventure!, Art, Art materials, Artists, bird art, bird-drawing technique, birds, Computer graphics, Drawing, field sketching, How-to, natural history, Nature, painting, Panama, plein air, rainforest, Science, Sketching, tropics, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments