Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Hooded Mergansers are back in the pond

I love this time of year for several reasons.  For one, my wedding anniversary is coming up soon.  This reminds me how Steve found the last rose of the year on his rosebush and gave it to me after he proposed.  How rare is a November rose?

I also love late fall because everything begins to slow down a bit at this time of year.  We take the time to reflect and ponder the stark beauty of nature when the world (well, at the least parts of the North Hemisphere) is laid bare.  And when the foliage is almost gone, it's a lot easier to identify the wild birds in our yard.  This is when we begin playing our bird identification game in earnest.  We especially look for the waterfowl who, escaping the colder climes, return to our pond.

Earlier this year, Steve bought some excellent binoculars with a tripod, so we are all set up for viewing from our porch to see the waterfowl this year.

Right before Thanksgiving this year, the Hooded Mergansers returned.  Steve looked for these diver ducks because I get so excited about seeing them.

(photo credit: Gary Witt, Flikr,

Almost perennially, we have the Mallard ducks, the Great Blue Heron (which will turn white in the winter), and red-tailed hawks.  (Although the red-tailed hawks are not considered waterfowl, they really do love the pond.)

But at this time of year, we also identify the Hooded Merganser and the Belted Kingfisher.  Both species are especially wary of humans and will fly away if we do not stay on the porch of our house.  One step into our yard, and they are gone.  Also, since they are diver ducks, they do not stay on the surface for long.

(photo credit:  Hugh Vandervoort)
Female Hooded Merganser in the middle

It took me a couple years to identify the Hooded Merganser.  Prior to having our excellent binoculars, I finally was able to see them only somewhat close up through my opera glasses.  I had originally said that they were perhaps Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, or Barrow's Duck.  I could not be certain because I simply could not get close enough to identify them properly.  I had only fleeting, blurry images of them in my mind.  And they do not hold their hoods "open" all the time.  In addition, the female's head camouflages so well with the pond that I did not realize her head shape was the same as that of the male's.

I love these birds so much that I researched to find the last time they were featured on the federal duck stamp.  Anyone who has ever watched "Fargo" knows about the national duck stamp contest for artists in the United States.  The last time a Hooded Merganser won the Federal Duck Stamp contest was 2005, with an entry from artist Mark Anderson.  

(Photo credit:

It's also easier at this time of year to see the Belted Kingfishers, who really shy away from humans.

(photo credit: Ralph Hocken)
Belted Kingfisher in flight

When I first saw a Belted Kingfisher years ago, I thought it was a Blue Jay from far away.  But it is slightly larger than the Jay and has a large head, out of proportion with the rest of his body.

(photo credit:  The Hanover Conservancy)
The female Kingfisher showing the characteristic rust-brown "belt" here.  
They are here year-round, but I see more of them in the winter.

(photo credit:
The Belted Kingfisher loves to perch on our sunken logs that eclipse the waterline. He will wait there until he is ready to dive with his scissor-bills to grab a tasty snack from just below the surface.

I am very thankful for our November guests, as Robert Frost would call them.

My November Guest

...The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But if were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

                     - Robert Frost

Soon, I'll do a blog post about how some of our bird visitors turn white in the winter.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Latest sketches + Artomat Paintings

Lately, I'm intrigued with Joan Miro's work.  
16 paintings down, 34 to go to make my 3rd Artomat batch ever.

At night, I've been sketching some skeleton keys.  
I will probably do a series of paintings of keys next,
similar to my series of paintings of gears.

Operation Christmas Child 2014

This year, for Christmas, our family will do something different.

Instead of buying gifts for adult family members, we are giving a gift in honor of family members to Operation Christmas Child.

Clarice committed to packing 10 shoeboxes this year for Operation Christmas Child (OCC), which is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse.

She made her goal, and on top of that, she volunteered 5 hours over this past weekend to unload and help pack shoeboxes at Christ United Methodist Church, our local drop-off location for OCC.

First, Clarice packed her boxes for little girls and little boys.

She included a picture of herself and a hand-written note in each box.

Pink bunny rabbit for little girl!

All kinds of fun things, from jewelry to school supplies to toys.

Clarice was in the Christmas spirit really early this year.

Alex, Clarice, & Karlie (Clarice's friend) unload shoeboxes at the local drop-off center.

And here's a short message from the gang.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Gear paintings

Just finished these small 5 x 5 inch and 3 x 5 inch deep cradle acrylic and ink paintings.
I chose colors that would really pop off the wall:   bright blue, coral red, bright yellow, and green.
I used a little bit of a printmaking technique by making the impression of a 
contrasting color using burlap. 

 So, I paired:
Yellow with green, 
Green with yellow, 
Coral  with blue, and
Blue with coral.

Then, I used black India ink to paint the gears.  I have been studying Kandinsky for some time and his preference for circles, squares, and triangles in his paintings has translated to me though mechanical gears and cogs.  These cog-like shapes have the advantage of representing all of Kandinsky's prized shapes.

I also liked the unevenness of the ink application because it reminds me of the unevenness of grease.

As a last step, I sprayed all paintings with several applications of glossy permanent fixative.

I have no plans for these paintings.  I am just building a portfolio and really getting a kick out of the "Joy of Painting," as Bob Ross often said!

Here are some previous steps below, so you can see the development of these paintings:

 Starting with painting the brightly colored (acrylic) backgrounds, and

then I enjoyed getting messy with the burlap application.

Arnold Family Fun in the Fall

Holiday Handmade crafted ornaments

I just recently completed a set of ornaments.  I'm not sure where they will end up, but I'm thinking that Clarice may end up selling them at a holiday fundraiser for her school.

They have been very fun to make.

The color palette is Mondrain:  with yellow, blue, and red on a white background.
The gourds were painted and then sealed twice with an opalescent and then a glossy fixative.

Tied through the eye screws are leather bands (for jewelry) that should hold up well on any Christmas tree or other hanger for the holidays.

Monday, November 03, 2014

New Art-o-mat map

Recently, I got a check from lovely and gracious crew at Artists in Cellophane (a.k.a., The Art-o-mat folks).  This means that my Mini Masterpieces are selling again across the country at potentially new locations.  I was pleased to see that all my pieces sold in "new" (to me, at least) locations.  Art-o-mat is a wonderful idea inspired by artist Clark Whittington, and the goal is to make art accessible to the public.  For $5, you get 1) handmade, beautiful, original art, and 2) the chance to put a coin in a recycled cigarette machine.  Save the planet, expand your horizons... all at the same time!

Here's a map of all the locations where I've sold "the goods" across the United States so far:

New locations added lately where art lovers are enjoying a "morsel of a masterwork with a bit of art history" are the following:


I'm very grateful to all the art lovers out there who were so kind to pay their $5 to vend an original work of art from a recycled cigarette machine in these places.

Now, on the next batch of Mini Masterpieces.  In the past, I've focused on Kandinsky, Mondrian, Klimt, and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Next up:  Joan Miro.