Thursday, June 18, 2020

For the love of June

Flocks of Cedar Waxwings pass through our area in spring and fall - always a joy to see!

Ever since our Spunky pup died, I've set about feeding the birds much more seriously. Now I've always feed the birds, but now that we no longer plan to have a pet, the birds are my friends on the porch.

If you've been following me for awhile, you already know that birds are one of my favorite subjects to paint. I've been photographing them for many years, and painting them for the past 8-10 years or so.

So feeding the birds even more than I already was so I could attract the birds closer to the camera, meant I needed more feeders! And they must be placed strategically outside my office windows so I can photograph from within the office. We have a very small yard, and it's mostly garden. We're on a corner lot - meaning the birds are frightened off by traffic - despite it being relatively rare. All these things had to be considered prior to installing more feeders.

When I needed elastic for mask-making, I stopped into JoAnn's and behold, they had various shepherd hook hangers on sale for 70% off! Perfect solution to how to hang more feeders in the yard! I bought two and each has 3 hooks to suspend feeders or plants. The "what" problem was solved. Now to the "where" these new poles should go. One is across from the front door - I can see it while I'm eating lunch in the dining room. That one had one flower basket and two Hummingbird feeders on it.

My feeder assortment as of this moment...

The second one is in the corner of the garden, behind a nice evergreen on the street side, and surrounded by low bushes and some heuchera (coral bells) plants. With lots of space below the feeders so I have a place to stand when filling them all, and the ground feeding birds have room to scavenger what they need.

Baltimore Oriole checking out the new Oriole feeder

Somewhere along the way, I bought an Oriole feeder - bright orange to attract them to oranges and jelly. They came for a total of two days, then disappeared, much to my sadness. So that feeder is now in the garage. I'll try again next fall during migrating season, and again in the spring - with hope to have them stop for awhile, not just eat and fly off!

Finches & Hummingbirds are regulars to our feeders

And Bluebirds stay year-round so the feeders are always busy - especially so in the spring, with their young.

I now have three Hummingbird feeders, two mealworm feeders (for the Bluebirds), two thistle feeders for the Goldfinch, House Finch and Purple Finch, and two "regular" feeders to accommodate the gazillion sparrows that come to visit and dine I toss out some nuts for the two Catbirds that come calling - and I do mean "Calling!" Their meows as they depart with their nuts are their way of saying thank you - at least that's how I'm interpreting it! Mrs. Robin loves the dried meal worms as much as the Bluebird families that have been coming for several years. Mama Robin fills her beak and rushes to her peep-squawking offspring while I watch.

Robins are always a favorite of bird watchers, harbingers of Spring, cute speckled kids, and a wonderful set of songs!

Of course, one doesn't feed the birds without attracting other critters to the feeder sites. There are at least 2 adolescent squirrels that come calling, plus an adorable chipmunk or two - all of which will, no doubt, multiply as time goes by... A problem to be considered at a later date!

Mind you, I THOUGHT that feeding the birds would be a cheaper alternative to the costs of Spunky's special diet and medications. Two months into this more "serious" form of bird feeding, I'm learning that feeding the birds is just as expensive as any other pet might be! At least, that's how it's worked out so far for me... However, I've captured some fun photos of my feathered friends - a hobby I've had for years. Now, several of the birds recognize me and are willing to land on the porch while I'm sipping tea while relaxing in the porch swing.

Monday, June 15, 2020

New Work Just Off the Easel

Hilltop Hollow Farm & Nursery in Winter - 12"w x 9"h - pastel painting by Pat Dolan

Last week, I was feeling particularly down for a number of reasons. But on February 29, Hilltop Hollow Farm posted this lovely winter photograph that I've longed to paint ever since the image was posted. It's a moody, gray winter scene and it suited my mood when I began to work on the painting. Here's their photo - and you can easily see why I chose it for my subject matter!

As a Minnesota native, I love winter scenes of all types. The opportunity to paint a winter scene in spring was not lost on me. The first step in creating a painting is to define the focus point. Doing some mini-sketches can help determine the composition. Alas, those little sketches were tossed out last week... So the first step you can see is the initial drawing on Sennelier Pastel Card paper - a sanded surface that hold a LOT of pastel pigment in it's "teeth."

I chose a muted bluegreen colored paper to be the base from which I would work. With a white colored pencil, I quickly sketched in the scene with the focal point just off center - which generally is a "no-no" in the art world. But I liked the composition of the photo and figured I'd just work with the painting until it satisfied me on a personal level. I was not creating this as a commission, although I may well give it to the owners of the nursery in thanks for allowing me the use of their photo. With artistic license, I chose to eliminate the piece if farm equipment in the foreground and the back of the truck.

Here is my set-up with PanPastels for the base painting from which the rest would evolve;, a fairly dark and simple palette of colors, and a wide selection of soft and hard pastels to chose from for accents towards the end of the painting.

The dark sky suited my mood perfectly, working through the loss of my friend. I laid in the darkest parts of the sky with the PanPastels using a large sponge tool, which helped create the turmoil in the sky. Then I added the other darkest areas on the painting, again, suiting my mood at the time.

Unlike watercolors, with Pastels, the artist generally works from the darkest darks to the lightest lights to create an effective work of art. Watercolors must work in reverse, starting with the lightest of the lights to be carefully preserved as the artists adds the middle and dark tones to create the final image. Again, this suited my mood - I was somewhat "in reverse" from my usual mood when painting.

In the next stage of painting in pastel, the darker and middle values are applied in the appropriate areas. A general molding of the landscape by using darker values with middle values.

Then some lighter values are placed over the darkest areas, allowing the bushes and underbrush to materialize. The dark pathway into the distance is placed firmly on the paper. Also lightening the sky a bit at this time.

Art, for me, is an exercise in stepping out of daily life and into a world of color, design, shape, image, essence. When I am working in the studio, I have forgotten time completely - whether it's moving slowly or quickly is totally irrelevant to me. I'm in a different state of mind - and what a wonderful place to be when the world is surreal, topsy turvy, and I am missing a dear friend. I become centered and still, working with my inner spirit to create something from both without and within.

Above, I've added a bit more detail, bringing the distant hills forward with lighter pastels, adding the tree and tree lines, working a bit on the roadway.

At this point, some accent colors need to be added to enrich the scene. Snow is NOT all white or gray. Snow reflect light, so it carries the full spectrum of color within it's reflection. Our eyes may not capture all the colors, but we do often see blue, pale yellow, even pink in the snow, if we are paying attention. I added pale aqua, lavender, and pale blue.

Also at this stage, when adding specific detailing, like the trees and bushes, I needed to use the firmer stick pastels to add tiny lines, shapes, and details.

As often happens, I went overboard in the adding of the cool colors and neglected any warm tones. Thankfully, pastel is a "forgiving" medium, and adjustments can easily be made at this point, especially on sanded paper. On a smoother paper, with less "tooth" to hold the pastel pigments, it is harder to remove unwanted pigments or to work over pigments already held by the flatter, less toothy paper.

I was also displeased with the placement of the horizontal shadows/puddles on the road. They were too strong and too close to the bottom of the page. They needed to move back into the painting to create the adventure of moving into the distance. Below is the completed painting, with a warmer tone added in the underbrush, much less blue in the snow, but some blue added to the sky. The weeds in the underbrush also received some texture to create more interest as the eye travels around the painting.

By the time I completed this painting, my mood had shifted considerably and that is reflected in the whiter snow in the foreground. I lightened the entire painting as I worked through the problems with the painting and the situations in my life.

I hope you find this narrative on the production of a pastel painting to be helpful and give you some insight into the workings of the artist 'at work.'

Friday, June 12, 2020

Tough Week, Anyone???

Some days are delightful from start to end. Some weeks are, too. Then there are those other days...sometimes strung together with sleepless nights and dark days.

I recently lost a very close friend - not from Covid 19, but from the scourge of cancer. She had breast cancer quite a long time ago with no recurrence of the disease. She was vacationing when she had some trouble breathing which eventually led to ER, hospitalization, scans of every sort, and a tragic diagnosis. Cancer had returned in multiple places, including the esophagus, lung and brain.

She was always upbeat about her life and circumstances, and this was no exception. As a poet/author, she could be very cryptic and that was how she spoke if this illness for the past few months. No details. Cheerful. Highly cryptic updates that left one to try to figure out just how bad it must be for her.

We had 26 years of deep spiritual companionship along with a delightful, playful friendship. Our lives were very different on so many levels, yet whenever one faced difficulties, the other would have a mirror-like situation in her life. We would compare notes as to what life was trying to teach us, and were able to see our own truths by witnessing the truths of the other.

I recall calling her on one occasion after Frank and I had moved away. We were left with long distance phone calls to share our lives. This particular day or week for me had been very stressful and unpleasant. I remember asking her, "What the heck is going on in your life right now? My life is a mess, so maybe I can figure out how to sort it out if you tell me what's going on for you!" In our sharing, we always came to a place of clarity and peace, ready to move on through that particular life lesson.

Each year, we celebrated each of our birthdays by going to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Middletown, NJ. We both would order Cashew Chicken, enjoy the hot tea, and then she would order her sister's favorite dish to-go. She was always thoughtful of others, this is but one example of her kindness.

She came to visit one summer and we sat on our porch swing having a lovely afternoon before driving down to Fisherman's Creek and the Fish Hatchery to watch the Great Blue Heron's return to their rookery at dusk. She was thrilled to witness such a wonderful event watching close to 100 herons flying in for the night. And we were so happy to share it with her.

As I work through different layers of grief and loss, there are so many funny little things that come to mind about what she said, did and how she lived. She was an environmentalist, for sure. She was the most frugal person I know with water. She understood that water is our most precious commodity, something we cannot live without. And she never wasted one bit and timed her showers to be as short as utterly possible, to save our natural resource.

She was also an advocate for the handicapped. She could not remember a time before juvenile rheumatoid arthritis was not a huge determining factor in her every movement, activity, and chore. Yet, when I met her, I didn't even realize she had a handicap! She was very clever at deflecting attention away from herself and minimizing the effects of the disease in her abilities to do everything she chose to do. I remember one turning point in her openness with me about her handicap. She was ready to sit down, but the chair was accidentally bumped by another friend. Vikki landed on the floor, in a state of shock/surprise. Her sense of humor immediately took charge, and that was the day she taught me how to help her get up off the floor - without hurting her, doing too much or doing too little to assist. And I recall now, with some embarrassment, how I never quite understood why she delighted in having her nails done. To me, it was a needless expense, a frivolity. She never told me that there was no possibility for her to do her own nails, given the warped finger joints she lived with. But that never occurred to me - until much later.

She became a champion for the disabled - from writing letters to movie theaters requesting space at the end of the back rows for wheel chairs to fit in, out of the way of others in the theater, but allowing those with the need of a wheel chair to not have to try to get out of the chair and into the theater seat without falling. Little things, to most of us who are not handicapped. Big things for those who ARE handicapped. Vikki wrote a blog focused on championing the needs of the disabled population. She saw what others needed, and set about trying to evoke change so supply that need for the wider public. She spread good news on Facebook about legislation for the handicapped - and noted when such legislation failed to support the disable population.

So, Miss Vikki, it's our final farewell in this reality. Our love is eternal and I look forward to joining you when my time is right.

In memory of Miss Victoria Kaloss, with love.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Chipping Sparrows on the Easel Today

Two Little Chipping Sparrows - Pastels - 6"x10" each

I'm still in the learning phase with using Panpastels, and enjoying every moment of it! It's so much fun working directly with pigments - and the temptation to use my fingers to blend the colors (unsafe due to chemicals in various colors) has diminished greatly with this product. That's because we use soft, shaped sponges to apply and blend colors on the papers. There's also so much less pastel dust (also poisonous to breathe in), so it's both safer and easier to use today than throughout history!

The following shows the progress on each as I worked on them yesterday.

And the finished pieces:

To be honest, I actually prefer the paintings without the background color added. I like the birds against the subtle gray paper.

What's your opinion on that?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

RIP Spunky

Our wonderful little Spunky has left us. RIP Spunky 2009-2020

Spunky came to us in August 2009. I'd explored several rescue sites looking for a King Charles Cavalier pup, since they are lap dogs - just what I wanted! There were very few such sites on-line at the time, and only one in Pennsylvania, where we live. They had two pups, a black one and runt of the litter, and a multicolored little girl named "Little Miss Spunkmire" - formally registered because her mom was a pure-bred. She was a "rescue" because mom had escaped confinement and met a nice fellow, probably a terrier, given Little Miss Spunky's personality and size. She was supposed to stay relatively small, weighing no more than 16 pounds. Or so we were told.

Well, she was a lap dog for about 4-5 months. Then she grew even more, to her total weight at full adulthood of 37 pounds. I never did measure how tall she was at the shoulder, but my guess would be about 15-16". She lived up to her name, as she was quite a little Spunky girl.

Spunky loved to play hid-and-seek in the garden when she was small. It was one of her favorite games!

As she grew, her personality for playfulness was quite hilarious. Upon meeting our daughter's Sheltie, Spunky promptly picked up Keagan's leash and began prancing around leading Keagan!

By Christmas, she quickly learned that she had her own Christmas stocking, to be given to her when others took theirs down from the mantle. She proved quite efficient as unpacking the sock and unwrapping each treat and toy hiding within.

By the following spring, she was getting big enough to find it hard to jump up onto our laps, unless we were on the couch.

Spunky loved going to Millbrook March in State College.

While she enjoyed the boardwalk, she much preferred getting OFF the boardwalk...

Christmas 2012, she was already quite an armful!

And then the twins joined our family!

Spunky was a short haired puppy - which lasted only a few years. And in her last 2-3 years, her hair became the longest ever - showing her King Charles Cavalier traits at long last. But the fur was definitely influenced by her daddy because it was never curly and soft like a Cavalier. It was more course and prone to sticking out from her body. By 2014, when the girls were two, her facial hair had grown quite long!

Spunky loved the snow. She liked jumping in it, shoveling it with her snout, and listening for mice beneath the surface!

And she more than tolerated the girls - she loved them in her own way, careful to remain safe from little hands!

Spunky had a favorite spot on our sofa - we called it her "throne" because she would sit there regally expecting every guest to great her with lots of petting upon their arrival.

By 2015, we were in our new home. Spunky was no longer able to run free within an electric fence as she had done in State College. Now she had to be on a leash or fenced on the porch. She was happy to go for walks with the girls. They, of course, generally fought over who got to hold the leash the longest or first or whatever else came to mind.

Spunky was used to being fondled by the grandchildren, too, and any other visitor they brought with them.

Michelle was probably her FAVORITE grandchild since Michelle was the one who trained her to do tricks, to walk on her hind legs across the floor, to roll over, and lots more!

Michael didn't visit quite as often - and when he brought his guitar, Spunky was terrified of this new, frightening shape leaning on the fireplace!

Over her lifetime, Spunky had a number of health issues. Her first was a combination of gall stones and pancreatitis when she was barely two years old. The rest of her life she was on a special died due to chronic pancreatitis. Next, she developed allergies that always worsened in the fall of the year. Then, the onset of arthritis in her legs. In the past two years, she developed glaucoma and eventually she was blinded by the disease.

Spunky had headaches in the last year with us due to the pressure caused by the glaucoma. She would come to me and stare at me, silently asking me for a head-rub to relieve the pain. She developed high blood pressure, possibly due to the glaucoma. But we were surprised when we went to the vet to discus eye removal to help her headaches due to glaucoma and also had him check out a fast growing tumor on her rear leg. We were shocked to learn it was an aggressive form of cancer with no chance of survival. We brought her home for one last then, she was limping after they drained the tumor. But the tumor filled up immediately overnight, leaving us no choice but to let her go.

Spunky was a large part of our lives for 11 years. We will miss her always, and remember her with love and laughter. Sleep well, little Spunky. Until we meet again.