Chicka de de de

Remember that love affair with birds? Still going strong. One of my favorite visitors to the bird feeder (though, lets be honest: almost everything is my favorite so long as it isn’t the squirrel) is the chickadee. I remember watching them at bird feeders in touristy locations—they were the only birds brazen enough to brave the proximity of the crowds. Sparrows are pretty brazen, too, but they spend their time under picnic tables rather than feeders.

My feeder is dominated by house finches and cardinals, but I do have goldfinches, titmice, and chickadees…and in the wintertime I see juncos regularly.

This spring blue jays and starlings started hanging around more, and I’ve noticed more robins in the front yard.

A sketch, and Inktense scribbles in blue and purple.

It had been a while since I’d noticed a chickadee, and one came and sat on a branch quite close to the deck doors—I was surprised that I had forgotten just how tiny chickadees are. I mean, I could probably fit 2 of them on the palm of my hand if they were so inclined.

Such a loud voice and big personality in such an incredibly tiny body—specially compared to the other song birds I’d gotten used to seeing.

Blending with a wet paper towel.

I painted this charmer for my mother as a mother’s day gift. I’m so very pleased with out it came out. #firsttry

Brushing in the branch.

I’d been experimenting for a while with inktense blended backgrounds, and had a really solid idea in my head of how to use the brush pens. I guess it shows. Inktense is such a versatile and sometimes befuddling medium. You’ll be seeing more of it in the coming weeks.

Brush pen, already a little blended. Drying before adding the black.

Have I mentioned that I love the brush pens? Love them. I love putting the color where I want it deepest and then coaxing it out further.

All blacked! And some sharpie paint pen highlights for the branches and white patches.

I still adore my Daniel Smith watercolors—I’ve developed an affinity for their particular granulation and vividness. I’ve been using them so much I’d forgotten just how special they were. My past weeks challenging myself with artist’s loft supplies have been…eye opening…and challenging. So, successful? You’ll be seeing some of that practice, soon.

Prints of the chickadee are in my Etsy shop, if anyone is interested. Just have 5×7 up there now, but 8×10 could be arranged!

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Big Cats

One would think that with Disney’s The Jungle Book being a big part of my childhood, I might like tigers less. Shere Khan was only one of the most scary villains—though, simultaneously one of the most…noble? Not that hunting a child is noble, but his motivation was less self-serving than say, Scar’s. Actually, come to think of it…big cats are these terrifying, massively dangerous wild beasts…but it’s just hard not to like them.

Especially when big cats apparently have the same inability to resist cardboard boxes that their domestic cousins have and they are also openly fond of basking in the sun.

When I was a kid, I had this little plastic tiger cub who was classically named—Stripe. My brother had the same tiger, except white, and named Ghost Tiger—but we called him GT for short. Very creative names!

https://www.redbubble.com/people/ravenslanding/works/36640902-tiger-eye?

Tigers are very hard to paint, incidentally. I’ve really struggled to capture their bone structure. For some reason the leopard comes easier—perhaps because the leopard is more sleek?

I don’t have any childhood leopard memories, I think I might have had a plastic leopard at one point, but it was not as important a toy as Stripe.

I want to paint a series of big cats, glamourous big cats like these—and also more comedic big cats. Big Cats in Little Boxes, sounds fun and challenging!

Glamour Leopard is Glamorous

I have a hard time cartooning from scratch—but I’m trying to learn. I spent so much of my life wishing I could draw photo-realistic things that it’s been a huge mindset shift to accept that my strength lies elsewhere. It’s not that I can’t be photo-realistic, but the pieces that really shine with emotion and are fun to look at aren’t those. I’m better at whimsy, and better at evocative. And I’m finding that I like artwork that looks like art. Especially with so many amazing photographers out there, I don’t feel the need to duplicate their work, I’ll make it something new.

Both of these cats are done in colored pencil, over a watercolor background and inked blacks. They are both up in Redbubble, I haven’t put them in my Etsy shop yet, though. Do you think I should?

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Mounting

The Midas Report May 2019

We had a few good weeks of steady progress in May. I had, this spring, but some focus on mounting block etiquette, expanding previous training to include “mounting from anything that might work” out and about. Last winter was rough on the trees, so there are a number of little wood piles here and there about the property, and I’ve been using those as training opportunities. The first time I asked Midas to walk up to one he gave it, and me, VERY dubious looks and was extremely reluctant to partake in this venture. It took several tries to get him to come to the right spot so I could scratch his back and praise him from where I stood on the wood pile (and that was after circumventing it on foot to make sure it was a wood pile and not a wolf pack or something.)

Exploring on a long rein ❤

As an aside, here: There was a day after our first or second exploration of the woodpiles that Midas was just really distracted. He kept staring at something in that portion of the woods, no matter where we were in the ring, and was skittish going down the driveway—which at this point in the spring we’d been down several times in the recent past (including extensive sessions standing still in the middle of the driveway waiting patiently.) FINALLY I figured out that there was a new woodpile. So, I rode him directly to it, he came peacefully but on HIGH ALERT ready to evacuate just in case it was an evil woodpile. We got within 10 feet and stopped to observe.

He finally noticed the big stand of grass next to the pile. I pointed to the grass (from his back, mind you, so just in his peripheral) and said, “you can eat that, if you want” and he decided it was not an evil woodpile if it had grass next to it.

The grass was destroyed. We searched the rest of the pile and it was deemed safe. He was perfectly calm and mannerly the rest of the ride.

Sleepy face of a relaxed and happy horse.

Anyway.

I’ve been trying to teach him to come to the mounting block. Monty Roberts teaches horses this, and I love it. It’s so useful. Endo the Blind, this eye-less Appaloosa, does it and he can’t even see. Midas should be able to learn. The idea is that the rider goes and stands on the mounting block, then calls the horse, who comes and positions himself so the rider can mount easily.

You might not remember this, but we used to go rounds with Midas to get him to stand at the mounting block long enough for someone to get on. (Way back at the beginning). This is such a common problem with horses in general that there are comics about it. Horses seem to wait for you to position, them, then when you climb onto the mounting block or fence, they sidle out of reach.

I’ve been working on Midas off and on for years about mounting block manners, and he is actually quite good about the mounting block. (For me, anyway. When one of the littles leads him up, all bets are off these days). This spring I decided that there was no excuse, he should come up and present himself even if I don’t lead him up to it before I climb up. I’ve also found that teaching him something new really helps with mounted work.

Midas already knows how to be sent and called in from a circle, so that’s where I’d started in the past. I’d stand on the mounting block and work him on the line, sending, circling, coming back. Mostly without tack, sometimes ending with a little bareback riding.

I refreshed him on that, and then practiced parking him a bit away, telling him to stay, then walking to the mounting block and summoning him. I did this with tack and without, but always with the 14’ rope.

He’d come, and I was frankly surprised at how readily he marched to the right spot with a proud look on his face. I’d shower him with praise and scratch his neck, withers, and back.

He even did it without the rope to reinforce if he pretended to not know what I was asking.

This spring I also started going out in the big field again—it’d been a while since we’d been out there working in hand (used to with the inlaws). We marched around the field and did some basic groundwork in hand, and he was good. Then I’d go do something else entirely with him.

Then, last week I tacked him up and we marched into the field in hand. I didn’t have a full plan, just wanted to do something different. I had the rope and stick with me, but started with just asking him to follow me this way and that without the rope or me touching the reins. He was only so-so on that, so I attached the rope to the bitless bridle. Ended up at the farthest edge, climbing up onto the little coop and asking him to present himself so I could mount.

And he did.

Came right up, cuddled close so I could easily swing aboard. I was so surprised. It took a bit of doing to unclip the long rope from his bitless bridle, and then I rode for a while in the field one-handed because the other was occupied with my stick and my 14’ rope. But you know what? It went great. He was relaxed and easy, and I was relaxed and easy.

All the work I’ve been putting into riding with seat and legs, for both our sakes, paid off. We calmly looped around the field, this way and that, at walk and trot. It was amazing.

The next time I rode, I asked him to come to the big wooden mounting block the kids use. He sidled right up. I rode him up and down the driveway before the littles arrived and we gave them pony rides in the woods, then I asked him up to a woodpile so I could get back on. He came.

I am so pleased that he seems to have really learned and understood and embraced this little thing.

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A love affair with birds

I don’t know who started it, but I belong to a family of birders. Compared to a truly avid birder, we aren’t, but compared to the folks who aren’t sure what a robin is, we’re absolute bird nerds.

I think this is a wren. I should have written it down.

Growing up, we had a couple blue bird houses in back and a hummingbird feeder hanging off the deck. But my grandparents maintained a monstrous contraption of a bird feeder, with suet, thistle, sunflower, and probably a couple other extensions. My grandfather had a longstanding contest with the local squirrels, but unlike me he was actually pretty successful in building baffles to keep the little moochers off. It wasn’t until recently that the trees had gotten too big and too close, and the squirrels could just LEAP directly onto the feeder.

But for years, the squirrels foraged under the feeder and the birds fed at their appointed places and splashed in their heated (in winter) birdbath.

My Grandparents received Birds and Blooms magazine, and whenever we arrived at their house for a visit I would immediately grab a magazine and flip through the pages looking at all the spectacular, brilliantly colored, photography. I never read the full length articles, just the short little blurbs and funny stories. But oh, those pictures.

Phone calls, letters, and conversation centered on the happenings at the bird feeder—what notable bird visited, or the time the fox came through with a half-eaten something in his mouth, or the day the hawk visited and ALL THE BIRDS avoided the yard for hours. I imagine, if there were a zoologist historian at some point in the future, they would like to have my grandmother’s letters. But given that they are all written in cursive, they won’t be able to read them.

The aviary is my favorite part of the zoo, and I always try to stop and listen to the birds, even though I have only the barest grasp on which birds I’m hearing. Now that I’m grown and have a house of my own, I have a sunflower seed feeder.

I hang it off a tree branch I can reach from my deck, so I had no illusions about keeping the squirrels off—though I do throw cups of water at them sometimes when I feel like they’ve been on the feeder Every Single Time I’ve been out there.

I don’t mind at all when the cardinal in the tree outside my bedroom window scolds loudly because the feeder is empty. I love watching the housefinches, chickadees and the occasional titmouse pigging out on the feeder.

Blue Jay (those Jays…)

After a lifetime of drawing horses, I was surprised to find an affinity for birds. I really love painting birds, and half the time I really love how the paintings come out. I attribute it to the hours and hours I spent poring over Birds and Blooms, staring at breathtaking hummingbirds, titmice, tanagers, orioles, chickadees, bluebirds (east and west), blue jays (east and west)…of course, the more shy, insect eating birds I know essentially nothing about (there are armies of wrens and warblers and sparrows that I’m only seeing now because I have an uncle and an aunt who are Real Avid Birders with a Really Nice Camera).

I’ve started to experiment with different looks and feels for my bird paintings, and will probably start asking various wildlife and raptor rehabilitation centers if they are interested in having a piece to auction.

What about you? Do you bird watch? Or are birds those mysterious avian monsters from that Hitchcock movie? Which of these birds did you like best and want to see in the Etsy shop? (The Blue Vireo is already there)

A King in Spring

Exploring on a long rein ❤

It’s been quite a while since I’ve given an update on Midas—we’re still riding! We had some interesting setbacks last fall, ironically due almost entirely to the success I’ve had remaking Midas into a good citizen. He’s got a teenager now who rides him a couple times a week, and my rides now include a good bit of retraining. Anyone who grew up at a lesson barn on lesson horses should understand how lesson horses, with the rare exception, are the way they are because they have so many riders at so many skill levels that they either get away with murder or they plod along keeping their heads down.

Midas would be the one getting away with murder. It’s not really because he likes murder, per se, it’s just his default solution to things. A regular murder-hobo, that one.

We have definitely spent a lot of time rehashing issues I’d buried years ago. It’s really interesting to see which parts of the training unravel, and which parts you have to focus on in order to restore the whole.

I get the impression that most people find manners either dull, cute, or otherwise optional until the manners are so bad that they are obviously dangerous. But manners are everything, and the only way to get them is to teach them and insist on them.

One of the most important things in re-establishing behavior and boundaries is the grooming time. I require that the horse stand still while being groomed, and not wander off to eat unless given express permission. For example, Midas knows that if I point to grass and say “OK, eat” he’s clear to stuff his face until I have something else for him to do. It doesn’t count as permission if he dives for the grass and I say, “ok, fine, whatever, I’m tired of fighting with you.”

In return for respect, I try to provide an incredibly pleasant grooming experience full of kind conversation and itch scratching.

It’s important the horse not move unless asked or released, because I’m the one in charge. The last thing I asked was for the horse to stop and stand still, so he should until told otherwise. He’s not loose and alone, he’s with me.

It’s important to note here that I don’t tie the horse, haven’t in years, and haven’t used crossties in so long that it startles me to see a horse cross-tied. Now, you don’t START with a horse who stands quietly without being tied, but you can’t get one unless you teach him.

There are some days we spend the whole grooming time with Midas trying to walk off or eat, and I quietly put his feet back where I left them and refuse to let him tune me out. On a very bad day, I hold the lead rope the whole time I groom. Days like that pretty uniformly mean that our mounted work will be rudimentary and fraught.

Sometimes, though, I can recapture his mind with groundwork—since he already knows yielding in hand, I try to change things up. New locations, mixing commands with just following me at trot or walk or through figures. We had to give up total liberty for a while, but we’re getting back to following work without the rope as a training measure.

As spring really kicked into gear, we started to have mounted work that felt like the work from last spring. He stopped charging into trot again, and I invested a few rides in making him stand and wait outside the ring and the payoff was the ability to have a nice long hack on the buckle around all the neighbor fields.

I mix up my rides as much as possible, one day we use a saddle and work on softness at trot and transitions. Other days we use the bareback pad (or nothing at all) and focus entirely on seat and legs and mounting block manners in the ring and abroad using woodpiles.

A couple weeks ago I got on him with just a lead rope from the woodpile down the driveway and rode him utterly gearless back to the barn.

Last week we wove cones at walk with just a neck rope.

I’m starting to hope that we can, again, start working at trotting bridleless.

Each ride varies, and I’ve no doubt that the mindset I walk in on is directly tied to what happened when the teenager rode him.

But what doesn’t vary is that he won’t calm down if I am not calm. He won’t obey if I am not the leader all the time—isn’t there a line from something, “Am I not Queen?”—either I’m Queen all the time or I’m not Queen.

I’m a good Queen. I work very hard to pay attention to his needs, to make sure gear fits and is smoothly in place, to scratch itches, reward good tries, and not punish things that weren’t intended as slights or rebellion. I try to listen when he has something to tell me, so he knows that he’s not a slave. But….he is a subject.

Midas isn’t a fool. He appreciates considerate behavior. But, he has this baggage, and sometimes can’t bring himself to just BE considerate himself. Last year I’d mostly re-structured his responses so we were working on canter and brideless and liberty.

But, the introduction of a beginner intermediate rider brought his baggage roaring back. Not as bad as it was—not by a long shot. He was still ridable, for one thing. I don’t think he’s bolted outright with her, for example. But he does charge around like an idiot, and he doesn’t exactly steer or bend amazingly.

It’s good to see, though, that he doesn’t lose everything. That I was able to give him a new lease on life, another level of usefulness, another way of relating to humans that doesn’t shoot first and ask questions later. At least…he sticks to kneecaps…baby steps, right?