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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Getting To Know Ewe

Before my trip last summer, I had absolutely no clue how to paint a sheep, and certainly not the sort that a friend had asked for.  But last summer I learned how valuable it can be to visit the animals in their own natural surroundings... and not even necessarily sketch them, but just sit quietly... and observe.

The Trotternish Peninsula at the northern end of the Isle of Skye was a wonderful place for doing just that.  That's another nice thing about renting a car and leaving your schedule wide open... you do have time to stop, sit quietly, and just take it all in.

You can look at other peoples' photos without ever having personally seen the animal yourself, but you miss so much that way.  You don't see how they move, how they behave, how they interact.  You'll get their structure and conformation, but you'll not see their spirit.

 I don't think there are any sheep as spirited as those roaming freely in this still largely wild land.  In climbing up into high country I was constantly amazed at all the crazy places those sheep would climb to.  Browsing a steep incline at a high altitude was no big deal to them.

The closest I got was with flock of Hebridean black-face below Duntulm castle ruins on the west side of the Trotternish.  I simply sat in the grass with my camera, and it wasn't long before they'd moved in on me and completely surrounded me.  I managed to get a lot of great reference photos, as well as plenty of time to simply watch them.

The quill of this feather was painted with the colors of the Isle of Skye Tartan... seen here on the Isle of Skye Pipe Band.


I spent a few days roaming the Isle of Skye, especially the north end.  It's a hiker's paradise, and while I did wander to many places there are still so many that I did not see.  It was mandatory though that I visit the Old Man of Storr.  I'll make a more detailed post about that one soon, with many more photos from that hike and also the north end of the Trotternish.  I mainly wanted to show you the photo I used for reference in painting a big 16x20 canvas.... and yes, 16x20 is HUGE, that's like a mural to a feather-painter!

The nice thing about painting is you can move some elements from one location and put them in with another.  Such is what I did with the sheep.  The Hebridean black-face sheep in the painting below were actually on the west side of the Trotternish Peninsula,  While the Old Man of course is on the east side.  I did receive some ribbing on Facebook on that while working on this one, in that I'd better make sure I put the sheep back again before the shepherd misses them!

Yes, it's insanely detailed.  I normally work at about 2 inches by 4 or 5 inches, so it is difficult to cut back the detail while working in a much larger scale.  But even more so, I stood on that hillside, smelled the breezes and felt the early morning sunshine.  The lighting that morning was incredible... as the low rays of the sun pierced through the moist air, everything was bathed in a peach glow and the shadows cast by heavy sea clouds were nearly purple. It was a spectacular morning, and I wanted to bring the viewers there to experience it for themselves... to feel the cool breezes, to enjoy the warm sunlight, to watch the grasses gently sway.

Titling this one has been tough, but I think I've finally decided.  "The Auld Man and His Flock".  Where is the Old Man, you might ask?  That's him, to the right in the background... that magnificent stone spire standing sentinel all alone.  You can actually hike up to him, but I'll take you there in a later post.

...Happy weekend!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Giving Back

How do you respond when you've just returned from the adventure of a lifetime?  It might sound like an exaggeration, but last Summer's travel to Scotland, funded entirely by artwork and hard work, truly felt like that - an adventure of a lifetime.

The view I had  of Edinburgh city and castle from atop Arthur's Seat

 It took a while to get back on track once I was home again, but the memories, sights and smells, and the visions in my head of paintings to come were constantly with me.  The journey was more than the trip itself, it was the months of work in getting there, and the memories, friendships, and inspiration of a new body of work since I've been home again.  

The style of my artwork underwent a significant change since my travels.  It's grown considerably.  I find myself pushing the level of quality much harder than I ever have before, and I do attribute much of this to the massive inspiration from that adventure in Scotland.

One such push was to do better portraiture.

The Homecoming in Edinburgh was phenomenal, and was a signature event for 2009's year-long celebration of Robert Burns' 250th birthday.  So as I sat in my booth at the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage Center during the Puyallup Fair here in Washington last September, I tasked myself with a portraiture piece of A Robert Burns actor I'd met in Edinburgh, Christopher Tait... in character, of course. 

Now, given the size of my "canvas", this time the tail feather of a peahen, creating a likeness was no easy task.  I'd spent 18 hours working through this one, pushing the detail, form, and light and shadow ever further.  It took four tries to get the face close enough to acceptable.  In the painting the distance from forehead to chin is only three-quarters of an inch, so again - no easy task.  When it was finally done, I knew this that one could not simply go to a gallery or hang in my booth.  This one was capable of doing more.  I contacted Mr. Tait and discussed what might be done and what I hoped to do.

This 3 week adventure in Scotland had a huge impact on me.  Everywhere I went, I was met with such kindness from the people, saw magnificent scenery, and was constantly surrounded with history.  I wanted to give back in some way, to find a way to say thanks.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity.

This painting, for the time being anyway, now resides in Edinburgh and will go to promote and support the  Birthplace Museum at the Robert Burns National Heritage Park in Alloway, Ayrshire Scotland.  This is a joining of efforts between Mr. Tait and myself.  he has taken charge of the painting and will be acting on behalf of the National Trust for Scotland.  The painting will travel with him throughout the UK and Europe as he tours and makes appearances, and the painting shall promote the museum and all its renovations.  With much work underway, the expansions being done at the museum will be open in Autumn 2010.  Once the painting has made the rounds, it will go to the National Trust and likely be placed for auction to support this wonderful and very important museum.

Please do visit the National Trust website for more information about the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, and also the website of actor Christopher Tait ... a talented fellow and an excellent Robert Burns!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Touring Scotland - Get Far and Away

Early August, cool and spotty showers.  A typical day in Scotland, so I'd been told.  Plenty of mud on both sides of the single-track from bouts of rain sweeping through the glen, but that didn't stop many from pulling off to the side to sling on their backpacks and trek across the fields of tall wet grass to the hills.  Glen Etive, one of the more remote Glens in this magnificent country.

I pulled my little rented Vauxhalle Astra off to the side near other vehicles, to do some walking on my own.  I wasn't going to overnight here on this day, I'd already reserved a pitch at a campsite in Kinlochleven.  Laundry facilities available there, and I was in need.  But now, I was off enjoying the breezes and cool afternoon weather, far from tours and mobs of visitors. 

This is the way to see Scotland - at your own pace, away from the crowds, into the hills - get to know the land, its wildlife, its people, its history.  Immerse yourself.  Get far and away.

Driving the single-track roads are not nearly as difficult as the first-timer might fear.  Just stay alert to any oncoming vehicles (and animals that might be in the roadway!), and make sure that you use the pullover on the LEFT when letting the other vehicle pass.  If the oncoming car is near and the pullover is on the right, stop on the left by that one and allow the other car to go through that layby and you can pass one another.  Make sure you wave to the other driver, it's the polite thing to do.  

It won't take long before you're able to judge distance and speed, and when you see an oncoming car and a passing spot between you and him, you'll be able to pace yourself to the other car and  to get to a passing spot at the same time and neither of you will have to come to a stop.  Single-tracks are a lot of fun, I really enjoyed them.

There's a large herd of red deer that reside in Glen Etive.  Red deer are similar to North American elk, but smaller.  Such regal animals!


When I saw them this day, the stags were in one group and the hinds in another.  They would pause and look up at me now and then, but I did not approach too near, not wanting to disturb them.  They calmly went about their business, not much bothered by my presence.

One of the very best things about leaving the car behind and getting out afoot over the hills and through the glens, apart from the wildlife, is coming upon old remnants of structures.  I came upon this one well down the glen.  These livestock pens don't look like they've been used in quite some time, but probably have fairly recently - judging by the tin additions to the old stone walls.  There's lots of things in these hills, the more you look the more you'll see.

The single-track road dead-ends at the bottom of the glen, at Loch Etive.  I dare say no tour bus will take you down here. 

As you wander by car and on foot, take time to notice the little things.  While monuments are grand to look at, many of the little things make the best memories.  Sometimes, the little things make the best paintings.
At the bottom of the glen  and right after a rain, I came upon this pair of geese on the road.  One paused for a drink in a puddle as its mate looked on.  I managed to pull out my camera and snap a picture before they continued on their way.

It's a little gray and moody though, isn't it?  Still, I loved the picture and the interaction of these two geese.  Once back home again, I knew it would be one I would have to paint.  I took some artistic liberty though and brought sunshine into the scene, and reduced the road to a gravel path.

I think it's a bit more cheery this way.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Painted Feathers Article in China

An email came in from the publisher the other day.  She had first contacted me last Autumn, requesting permission to publish my story and artwork, which I accepted. 

Her recent note included these images of the article from last September.  She mentioned she had meant to send them on much sooner, but business being busy, had thought she had already done it.

I'm looking forward to having a hard copy of Chinese Wild Bird Magazine here in the studio.  Don't you just love the fun layout they did with the article?


Monday, March 01, 2010

What sorts of feathers can I use?

I recently made a rather lengthy post in the sorts of feathers I use in painting, which are shed flight feathers of turkeys and peacocks.  I described these flight feathers and their functions in flight, as well as how to tell a naturally-shed feather from one that is pulled.  One other item I mentioned at the end, almost as a post-script, is domestic vs. wild feathers.  I do need to touch on this in more detail.

"Puddle Geese" ... from 'To Scotland and Back' collection
Currently available through
Fusions Gallery in Ocean Shores WA
I strongly advise that if you are going to collect and use feathers, use those from domesticated birds or feathers that you have purchased from a craft supplier.  It's not a good idea to use the feathers you find in the wild, and in many cases may be illegal.  I wanted to track down some cases for this, and have found some information to share with you.

This, from a question to California Fish and Game:
I recently learned that in order to collect feathers that I would need a license. I hike mainly in the Baylands along the San Francisco Bay and every so often I see a feather that would look good in my hat. In any season I may collect five to 10 feathers total. The bulk of these might be egret or turkey vulture feathers. How should I proceed in order to remain legal?
Both of the birds you list are protected species. According to Capt. Phil Nelms (ret.), under both California and U.S. fish and wildlife laws, dead wildlife and its parts have the same protection as the animals do when alive. This protection also extends to all of the pieces and parts of animals. If it is illegal to possess the whole bird it is also illegal to possess any portion of it (e.g. feather, talon, leg, etc.)
I would recommend collecting feathers from birds which have a hunting season. Turkeys and upland game birds like pheasants and quail have beautiful feathers which you may find in your outdoor treks! You are allowed to possess game birds and though their take is regulated, you are allowed to possess their parts.

Native birds that are birds of prey or migratory are all protected.  Migratory birds protection has been in place since the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 which not only makes it illegal to possess these birds, either living or dead, but also includes any of their feathers and parts and also their eggs.  

Would you like to learn more about the legalities of possessing feathers?  I found a great webpage that teaches you everything you need to know!

Oh, and a little-known fact... I don't know if it's nationwide or just here in Washington State, but crows are protected. They fall under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act!  Please, don't pick up a crow feather, it could get you into trouble.

This all is exactly why I only use the feathers of domesticated 'barnyard' birds!