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)

Seal of Approval

We’re right in seal-whelping season so I thought I’d share this adorable little seal pup I painted. I’ve been on a wild animal kick lately. My whole life I’ve been focused on drawing horses, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m enjoying branching out. It’s fun and challenging to draw new animals. I’ve been rather surprised and delighted how cool the pictures come out!

Brush shaped markers have always been among my favorite tools. Almost two years ago my husband got me a set of water-soluble brush pens, then my brother got me an expansion. I love mixing them with proper watercolors like I did for this adorable little guy. His background is watercolor, primarily Daniel Smith brand, but he himself is brush pen. The brushes fit with the way I think about light and dark, allowing me to put down color in dark places and bleed it gently away.

When I was a kid, we used to visit Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute‘s tiny public aquarium, which always had two seals. I’m utterly embarrassed that I couldn’t tell you what type of seal they were–probably harbor seals, because this is New England.  I loved watching the seals swoosh by through the water with no effort at all. So sleek and fast! I have always wanted to touch one to find out what they feel like. Is it like wet dog??? If any scientist out there knows, please tell me. (But nobody go harassing these adorable creatures in the wild. It’s sort of like any other cute little ball of fluff in the wild—if you touch it, you probably just ruined its chances at survival.)

Harbor seals are protected species nowadays, threatened by habitat degradation, chemical contamination, collisions with ships, entanglement in nets, and illegal feeding and harassment from people. They provide food for sharks and killer whales, making headlines on Cape Cod by bringing Great White Sharks (back?) to the region.

Harbor seals live up and down the Pacific coast, Alaska, and New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. The Marine Mammal Center estimates there are only 500,000 harbor seals worldwide. Pretty crazy to think about, actually.

They are remarkable animals, born swimmers (literally), able to hold their breath for at least 2 minutes when they are only days old, and then even in their sleep (up to 30 minutes!) once they are adults. They also molt. Which. I just find interesting.

 

 

 

EPSON MFP image

 

Anyway, this fun little piece is available on all sorts of things on Redbubble (you know the drill) and I’m also selling fine art giclée prints through my Etsy shop.

Do you have a favorite Marine animal? Tell me about it, maybe I’ll give painting it a try!

Fairies

Fairies watermarked

I was inspired to paint a bunch of fairies, each based on one of the four  seasons. I think Fall is my favorite….but I love Summer’s wings and Spring’s hair and Winter’s snowflakes.

I’ve got a couple different ways to buy them. You can buy fine art prints by clicking here. You can buy the originals by heading out to the Fire House Gallery in Berryville, VA, or you can buy the set, stitched together like you see above, on a floor pillow or coffee mug at Redbubble!