Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Field #2

Here is a painting I completed before I moved, but did not have time to post before I left.  It's another from the WC pastel forum's monthly spotlight for July, with photo taken by Paula Ford.

My goal for this was to try a new surface:  Golden pastel ground on matboard.  I had some pre-cut pieces that were given to me by a photographer friend years ago, and I finally decided to give them a try.  The Golden ground was untinted, and the board didn't curl or buckle as much as I thought it might.  Nonetheless, I placed it under some heavy books to press flat after it had dried.  This particular piece was a 1:2 ratio, which sounded fun to try.

I used an underpainting for this, shown below, just the usual isopropyl alcohol and pastel.  I decided over half way into the painting process to try the alcohol wash, which ended up filling up the tooth of the surface a bit where the focal tree is.  Otherwise, I was quite pleased with the surface.

The is actually flipped from the original photo, and I opted to simplify and brighten the palette, being inspired by a delightful painting of a Cypress tree done in oils while blog surfing.  There are elements of the painting I like, but the trees and shrubs are a bit too contrived as far as their edges and shapes go, and there is no sense of space, I think due to values being too dark for the distal row of trees.  I also ended up cropping the painting from the original scale.

This painting, and the last field painting I did, were good practice, as I'm thinking that a series of such paintings is in order based on photos taken during our drive across the farm belt.  I saw many such fields/tree rows during the drive, and I found them to be quite attractive.

"Summer Field #2"
approx 8x14"


Friday, July 30, 2010

Sky Friday - A Colorado Sunset

Whew - today is the first day I've had access to my computer since our move (our stuff arrived yesterday, and we spent yesterday and today unloading it...glad that is over), and I was finally able to download the 1300+ photos I took since we left.  And, happily, can resume posting here.

Our drive across the east and midwest was an epic journey; I am hoping to do a post of it that will be quite long, with photos, in the next few days.  Most were shot through the passenger window of the Civic as we traversed the country along I-80, and many of them were - you guessed it - clouds!   So many amazing clouds during the drive, and it just got better after we got to CO.   For our arrival into Durango, we were greeted with one of the glorious monsoon storms that both Wayne and I have missed so much.

Since being here almost a week, we've gone out on drives and/or hikes almost every day, which has afforded me a rich assortment of photos of more monsoon skies, both in the mountains and along the plateau country south and west of Durango.  

Since it's been a while for any sunset photos, this Sky Friday resumes with some photos we took on a drive out on Monday, July 26.  The skies looked promising for a great sunset, so we headed south and east of town to get a more open view.

We drove down a dirt road that was surrounded by farmland, with mountains of the Rockies in the distance, and pulled off for some photos.  The mosquitos were a bit out of hand, due to the nearby irrigation ditch, so we didn't stay too long.

Here is the first of many Sky Friday posts of the beautiful skies of southwestern CO.  Enjoy, and thank you for your patience with the long delay in posts.

To the east
The face of the mountains captures the glow of the setting sun, while the cumulonimbus

To the north
Beautiful shades of purple- and blue-grays begin to infuse these stratocumulus clouds 

To the west
The sun silhouettes the stratocumulus clouds, while the San Juan Mtns. taper away to plateau country to the right

Back to the east
Cattle graze on the lush pastureland while the cumulonimbus continues to change in both shape and color

Farm with sunset
A building silhouette is dwarfed by the adjacent trees and colorful clouds in this view to the northwest.  The San Juans are visible in the left

To the south
A look down the dirt road leads to classic Colorado Plateau country, and the pink-purple clouds are remnants of earlier monsoon storms that are now fading away along with the light.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Monochromatic florals

Part of learning and growing as an artist is to challenge oneself.   With my photography, one of my favorite things I do is to take an otherwise average photo and see if there is anything I can do to elevate it to something unique using post-processing techniques.  Photo-editing software makes the process easy, but it's by no means a sure-fire ticket to creating an interesting and compelling image.   I know there are purists out there that feel that nothing should be done to a photo, either to manipulate the image before or after it is shot and developed, but I personally think this is nonsense.  As far as I am concerned, what matters is the artistic vision and final result, and not what was done (or not) to get to the end result.

In this case, I decided to take a subject - flowers - and turn them into value studies.  The impact and draw of flowers is more often than not their beautiful colors, so why strip color away?

The answer is the same as it with most black and white or monochromatic photographs:  to focus on value and form.  Color can often times be a crutch that we rely on in lieu of a strong design; let's face it:  even a poorly composed photo of a beautiful flower can still be pleasing to look at.   But, in black and white, the image must stand on its own, relying solely on value and form.  

Of course, this isn't going to work for many flowers, simply because they fall in the middle of the value range and all impact would be lost along with the color.  So, the challenge was to find images where the color wasn't what made the image.  

Here we have a wide variety of flowers, some solo, some not, that I've used a variety of pp techniques on.  At this time, I'm limited to what is offered in iPhoto, since I have not yet purchased the Mac version of PS Elements.  Nonetheless, sometimes it doesn't take much:  cropping, some minor adjustments to contrast or even just simple conversion to monochrome.  

black/white conversion, cropped

Field of Daisies
sepia conversion with color fade, edge blur

Crop, sepia conversion with color fade


sepia conversion with color fade

Shrubby Mallow (hibiscus tree) blossom
crop, sepia conversion with color fade, shadow and contrast adjust

Closed for the Evening
crop, sepia conversion, color fade

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Swan Family

This post is more about the story than the photography, since I was using my Olympus (now carried at all times in my purse, for moments just like these).   The experience I found touching and sweet, and just another example of what it means to be and have a family - dedication, nurturing, innocence and protection - are never far from us.

Last week, I was driving back from a shopping trip, and decided to stop and take some photos along a small bridge that passes over a creek opening up into an inlet.  Small private boat docks line the right hand side, and there is a public paved trail that is on the left that I'd never taken.

As I go over to the bridge, I see a family of swans resting on a small rocky bar in the inlet.  It's the time of year that the cygnets (young swans) are seen more often as the parents take them out.   Noticing the path, I decided to follow it to see if I could perhaps get closer to the swans and get some photos; I've only seen the babies a handful of times and always far away.

I found that I could stand up on a concrete wall next to the pathway and see over the reeds to the swans. Having enjoyed part of their afternoon on the sandbar, they headed for the water: babies, mom, with dad following up the rear.

Much to my amazement, they soon turned and headed right towards the opening in the reeds near where I was standing!  At this point, dad is now leading the way.  They keep right on coming.  I jump off the wall, and not wanting to scare them off, slowly go through the reeds onto some flat rocks that lead right to the edge of the water where I can get a better view and hopefully some better pictures.

For those not familiar with swans, those found in this region are Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), introduced from Europe and Asia.  While they are beautiful, elegant birds, they are large and can be very aggressive towards humans; a day after I took these photos, I watched a large male swan block a guy from getting back into his car near the small boat ramp he'd parked to watch the swan and its family over along the Mystic river.  It then proceeded to bang its bill on the rear window of the car when one of the kids tapped on the window.  They will also hiss when angry or threatened...or maybe because you didn't give them any food.  

Knowing this, I definitely didn't want to provoke them, possibly risking an attack.  So, I stood quietly and watched.  Both mom and dad hissed at me, as a warning, probably.  The cygnets paid no attention, and immediately got to the business at hand:  eating!  They eat plant material, and these photos show that the long, curving neck isn't for aesthetics, but to facilitate finding food underwater.

While mom and babies ate, dad immediately got out of the water and strategically positioned himself between myself and his family, as any protective father would.  I was actually worried he might come after me, and looked around to see if I could get off the rocks and onto the trail quickly if needed.  He did nothing more than stick his head through the reeds towards me, and I moved back a few steps.  

This seemed to satisfy him, and he remained in that position for the remainder of their stay.  Mom is eating, but mostly keeping an eye on her brood, who are completely oblivious to my presence - no need to be, as their parents are providing them a safe and secure place to eat.

I watched them feed for probably five minutes.  Then, for whatever reason, they decided to move on again.  Babies headed out first, with mom behind them.  

Dad waits until they are further away, then shuffles back into the water.  Before leaving, he casts me a last backward glance to make sure I'm not contemplating anything against his family.  Then, he was gone.  

I have no doubt that the parents, the male in particular, would risk serious injury to protect their brood.   Witnessing this, it made me have a new appreciation and respect for swans.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Reflections - abstracts of a pond and creek

Regular readers know my fondness for both abstracted nature and reflections.  No opportunities for photos similar to the abstracted reflection series I did while back in AZ, but I've managed to find some interesting above-water reflections that appealed to my abstract gene, and the whole "out of context" concept of these types of images.

This collection is from different dates and in Haley Farm State Park and along the small creek that runs nearby in our neighborhood.

Sunbeams and Shadows

Dreamscape #1
Probably my favorite of the series


Dreamscape #2

Abstract in Blue and Green

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lepidoptera - a small sampling

Members of the order Lepidoptera, better known as butterflies, are in abundance along with all the summer flowers.  In addition to providing a colorful display in meadows and gardens, they are a delight to watch...and notoriously difficult to photograph!  One needs much patience and just plain luck.

One of the neighbors on our street has a glorious garden filled with insect-attracting flowers.  I've walked down there on a few occasions and was lucky enough to capture some images of these attractive and benevolent insects.

Where possible, I've tried to identify the species.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Blazing Star flower

Least Skipper feeds on a coneflower
Skippers are in their own family, and are much smaller than most butterflies.

Black Swallowtail

Dun Skipper

Two skippers, possibly the same species, are together on the same flower for just a moment.

Monday, July 19, 2010

An Osprey builds her nest

A few weeks ago, during a photo outing at nearby Haley State Park, I was lucky enough to see a pair of ospreys (Pandion haliaetus).  These members of the hawk and eagle family are also known as "fish eagles" or "sea hawks", and thusly, their habitat is wherever large bodies of water occur that are suitable for fishing.  I'd never seen one until moving to CT.  They are beautiful birds.

Osprey platforms can be found throughout marshes and in small inlets, and during breeding season, I've noticed they are always occupied.  They also build nests in dead trees...and even on top of an Amtrak train wire platform!

I was able to get down on the edge of the water in the small inlet off the trail in the park maybe 100 yards away, and did have my tripod with me.  However, most of these shots were hand-held, panning with the bird as she flew through the air.  It was a moment like this I was thrilled to have a telephoto lens (and fast auto-focus!).

I took many photos of the female as she flew to and from her nest.  I tried to be still and unobtrusive, yet she was clearly perturbed by my presence...look at close-ups of a couple of the shots and you can see she's giving me a fierce look!  Her mate sat on a nearby pole - probably put there for that exact purpose - during the entire time I watched.

It was a thrill to be able to capture images of this beautiful bird.  I hope you enjoy them as well.

All are shot at full 200mm and at the fastest stop possible (f/4 probably).

On the nest
The man-made nesting platform is visible, along with her extensive nest of dead sticks.  The power lines for the Amtrak regional train are seen in the back (south-facing).

The osprey flies out over the open water of the inlet.

A glaring look
Birds of prey always have intense stares, and she casts a cautious glance at me as she heads back towards her nest.

Her very raptor-like silhouette and distinctive plumage is visible in this shot.

Another for the nest
After flying back over the train tracks, she returned with a new stick gripped firmly in her talons.

Final approach
Returning to her nest with her building material.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer flower series: Lilies

Today is the last day I'll have access to my computer and the internet for possibly up to a week, as we are loading the truck tomorrow and leaving Tuesday morning (thankfully, we aren't driving it!).  So, I'm going to load up multiple posts for the week.  Mostly photos, but  hopefully some paintings.

They'll be a bit light on the commentary, but I doubt anyone will mind.  And a range of subjects, just to mix it up a bit.

I hope everyone enjoys these posts over the next week.  Next live post will be from Durango!

First is a selection of lilies, which are the quintessential summer flower here.  Beautiful, colorful and in a wide variety of shapes, it's easy to see their popularity.  They are abundant in gardens, and the orange daylily has escaped cultivation and is found along roadsides.

These were all taken during walkabouts in my neighborhood.  I've done some PP to a few.


Oriental lily

Small yellow daylily

Peach daylily

Detail of Oriental lily

Dark pink daylily 

Orange daylily

White Oriental lily

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sky Friday - Colorado skies

It is now only four days before we depart from the east coast begin our 2248 mile trip to our final destination of Durango, CO.   To say that I am excited is a bit of an understatement; we have been planning this move for 4 years.  I leave behind some wonderful friends I made through my two jobs, and they are what I will miss about living here.

Given our impending move, a Colorado-based Sky Friday seemed apropos.  Last year, Wayne and I spent almost a week there, and of course, I came away with hundreds of photos.  These photos are as much about the sky as the land...what can I say?

On August 2, we took a day-long drive encompassing highways 550, 62, 145 and 160.  The loop offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the state.  It passes through several scenic mountain towns, then drops down into a valley, passing through the towns of Dolores and Mancos, and then back east through Hesperus before returning to Durango.

Monsoon season was in full swing during our trip last year.  As we started our drive late that morning, dark rainclouds were forming over the San Juans (a sub-range of the Rockies), chilling the high mountain air and adding drama to the land.  As is typical of such storms, they seldom last, and rain is often confined to a small geographical area.  We expected to drive through a downpour, but it only sprinkled along the pass south of Silverton.

Near Telluride

After heading north as far as Ridgeway on 550, our route took us southwest, along Hwy 62, which eventually terminated on Hwy 145.  Telluride is  a mere 2 miles to the east off the highway, so it's a must-see.  A stop for gas just outside of town was situated near a glorious field, filled with summer grasses, yarrow, and other wildflowers.  A row of cottonwoods, flanked by the receding mountains offered a splendid view.  

Virga over Yellow Mountain

Continuing south along Hwy 145, we climbed up towards Lizard Head Pass.  Beautiful clouds were forming to the east over Yellow Mountain in the distance and a beautiful, sweeping alpine meadow right off the  road.  Following the small river valley formed by the Dolores River, the highway continues through the small mining town of Rico.  Stands of aspen, with their brilliant green foliage and smooth white bark,  are interspersed amongst the conifers and hardwood on the mountainsides.  

Cumulus over Mesa Verde 

Eventually, the view opens up and the mountains give way to mesas which eventually taper down to a plateau and the town of Dolores.  Heading east from Dolores, the land opens up and scattered ranches and farms are seen.  Due south of this area, is Mesa Verde, home to the famous cliff dwelling ruins of the Anasazi.  

Back towards Dolores

The next day, we decided to drive back up Hwy 550 towards Silverton, to do a hike starting from Crater Lake.  At 11,000', it's a decidedly alpine climate and biotic zone.  Wildflowers were in full bloom, and we were treated to yet more beautiful monsoon clouds.  Amazingly, we managed to avoid getting caught in a downpour, although it seemed dicey at times.

Monsoon clouds over Coal Bank Hill

Forming clouds from Crater Lake trail

This trip was a reminder about priorities, lifestyle and location, and how the southwestern part of Colorado is idyllic in all of these criteria, and more.  
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