“Relatively few people know why an artist acts in this way or that . . . . A peasant who sees me draw an old tree-trunk, and sees me sitting there for an hour, thinks that I have gone made, and of course laughs at me.” (Van Gogh letter to brother Theo)
The Ospreys were calling! How could I ignore their distinct aerial cries? A decision awaited – continue dicing the onion or dash to the window? Trading knife for camera, I dashed to the window!
Not one but THREE Ospreys patrolled the airspace just past the treetops! The magnificent brown and white raptors careened and spiraled on unseen currents of air. A sleek streamlined Frigate joined them, then another. I gazed toward my abandoned work, and an Osprey screeched again!
One raptor landed in a tree by the water. Snail Kite or Osprey? It was time for stealth mode. My field bag, unpacked from yesterday’s outing, contained everything I needed – except for paint brushes, overlooked the day before. Adding a bottle of guayusa tea and a handful of fiber-rich crackers, I headed to the rain-soaked outdoors!
The landscape transformed almost overnight after the life-giving rains returned. Some days the gentle rains stay all day; sometimes the rain falls hard during the night, and the mornings begin with a lazy residual drizzle. Rejoicing a month ahead of last-years weather calendar, birds are molting and nesting and chattering throughout the day – and sometimes the night!
After confirming the Osprey, I settled into yesterday’s bird-watching location and turned my attention to a nearby Common Tody Flycatcher’s nest. (A second day of reference photos will ensure a successful watercolor study.) Selecting a nearby tree trunk as an easy model for drawing, I propped my stool against a twisted guava tree, leaned back and sketched while watching the cast of birds.
Working outdoors on drawings or paintings presents challenges: how to balance pencils, pads, paints and containers of water while keeping the camera within reach. Mosquitoes and ants often protest about the human’s intrusion on their turf. Spiders explore an arm or shoulder until they are directed elsewhere. Those spiders and their webs play important roles in the health of the neighborhood, but – ahem – move along little spider! Sometimes an obscure little insect parades across my paper; the proportions of this particular one made me smile:
Sun evaporates watercolor washes as fast as they’re painted; sweaty arms affect the paper. The sun turns to clouds, the clouds to mist, and mist to sprinkles. The approaching roar of incoming rain usually gives a three-minute warning. With no obvious wind, it sometimes seems to come from nowhere, and sometimes it vanishes as quickly as it appeared. If I’m painting there’s the decision to stop and protect the work – or ignore the approaching rain (gamble) and keep working!
The greatest challenge, however, is to remain focused on my work when immersed in wrap-around nature! This happened yesterday: “What bird just zoomed past? A hummingbird – but what WAS that bird? Not one I’ve seen before!” Not moving my torso, I slowly reached for the camera, turned it to my left and snapped several shots in the direction of the perpetual-moving machine. Si? No? I’d check later, as the bird vanished as fast as it appeared.
(A second mystery bird appeared at the house and allowed many good reference photos. Anyone out there know what this might be? Some branch of the Amazilia lineage?)
For the next few hours, the petite Tody Flycatchers performed nest-building gymnastics while I juggled sketching and birdwatching. Using dried leaves, they wind and stitch the pendulous nest with delicate threads of spider silk. Pacific Horneros worked on their oven-shaped nests. Snail Kites landed nearby to feast on a just-snatched snail from the water hyacinths below.
A rich-chocolate large-billed Seedeater foraged along a vine-draped tree trunk. Two Pacific Horneros worked on their unique oven-shaped nest, while honey bees and butterflies inspected a vivid splash of yellow wildflowers.
Twice my attention veered to the distinct KERSPLASH in the water behind me, and twice I twisted to confirm — Osprey!
I realize now why my studio-gallery at Casa Loca worked so well; with no windows, I could work all day and/or all night, and never be distracted. At this new location, my greatest challenge – or perhaps it’s a gift – is deciding which interest to pursue. Perhaps that strange little insect can teach me how to observe the perimeters of my visual circle while paying attention to what’s close at hand!
“…it’s nature that I feed on. I exaggerate, sometimes I make changes to the subject. Nevertheless, I don’t invent the whole picture – on the contrary I find it ready made in nature but in need of unraveling.” – Van Gogh/letters to Theo –