illinois

Hawks

Hawks have been a focus of mine since the beginning of this decade that’s now closing down. Catching a glimpse of a red tailed hawk coasting on the thermals while I rode my bike in the hills of California. That’s where my interest was first peaked. I feel I’ve lived a lifetime since then. Though that same situation still occurs while I’m exploring the shores of Lake Michigan or the very same prairies I did long before my love affair with painting hawks began.

It became important to me to learn how to paint those birds and all the countless others that I’ve crossed paths with. While this decade is coming to a close my journey as an artist is just beginning. I’m proud to share another hawk painting with you.

With this blog as I developed it, I made a point to steer away from the poetic and just share the science and while I still intend to share more species and information with you. Forgive me while I take but a moment to reflect on the miles and years we’ve all come to get to today.

hak process

This one is for our friends who can’t be here with us tonight. Thank you so much for looking at birds with me.

 

Warblers for Walt.

I like going to concerts for so many reasons. One of them is that I find ideas for art projects between the notes. At a concert in SF last week I got the idea of 10, 8×10 pieces of wood with two warblers on each. In acrylic this time versus my watercolors before. The watercolor warblers taught me so much about the medium, It is my hope this project will yield the same with my work in acrylic. I chose 20 of my favorites to paint and paired them up by color contrast and in the case of one (I’m sure you can guess which) by name. This project is dedicated to my little nephew Walt.

kentandmag

warblerstnandnash

yellowandbtblue

Bringing it all back home.

A morning in late May of 2008 I was standing in my parents driveway in Illinois.
I was setting out for California for what I imagined a summer but suspected could take longer.
I was saying goodbye to my dad and I was tearing up, he asked me why I was upset, and I said it’s because I’m going to miss home.
To which he replied in his honest way, “Yeah, well home is just where you’re at, where ever you end up, I’ll come visit”.
So with my Father’s words I set out in my Grandpa’s old car west on I-80 on a journey still defining my life today, and very much still underway.
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Looking down tonight at my drawing table I can see home just as he described.
This brings me a smile.

If I could, I’d give you the world in its own wings.

In July I had completed my first large (2’x4′) hawk drawing on plywood when it occurred to me, I could put words into the wings. The question I had was, what words?
It seemed Two words would be the best place to start. A word for each wing. Ok that was easy enough, but which two words?
So I thought it over for a few months. It got pushed to the back burner for a while.
Other interesting projects came and went across my drawing desk.
A recent voyage across the United States, took me from California, to Denver, to the prairies of northern Illinois.
I met my newborn Nephew, and forged many great new connections. I also connected with the roots from which I grew.
I was standing on the East bank of the Fox River, when the proper two words found me.
I didn’t bother to write them down, Instead with my mind I put them in my back pocket. Because I knew since they had arisen, they would never leave, or fall out of my pocket.
So I took the two words home with me back to California, where I put them into a hawks wings and let it go back into the world.
Thank you for the opportunity to share this with you. It absolutely means the world to me.

Hawks and flowers.

My father and I share bird reports regularly, he’s been sharing sightings of sharp-shinned hawks diving for birds at his feeders and in the field next door in Illinois.  That’s had me wanting to work one into a pen drawing for a while. The prairie piece was the perfect fit.

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The compass Plant is finished too, I ran some numbers and there are roughly 10,000 lines in the large bloom alone.  Drawing Illinois plants in a room 2,300 miles west.

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He not busy being born is busy dying….

My prairie restoration project

 

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The pen brings clarity to the flower and I. My Compass Plant flower that grew under light of the drawing lamps. Across from it on a branch sits an American Kestrel. A small and swift raptor of the prairie and open woodlands.

There is a Kestrel that hangs out by where I like to ride my mountain bike. Last week one hovered just 20 feet from where I sat. It has helped me a lot with illustrating to be able to watch them in the wild. Raptors aren’t easy to observe in detail. This local Kestrel did me a service in getting close for me to notice its face markings. A blessed encounter.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

I put in two hours tonight, I’m sure there’s another half dozen to go. My sister tells me that the prairie plants back in Illinois have begun to push through the soil and make their way towards the sun to later make flower. At that rate, I’m ahead of schedule.

Working my way up the page.

Working my way up the page.

 

 

My Illinois

My Illinois has grown into a place it couldn’t be until I left it. I was too preoccupied with plotting my escape to truly sink into its beauty. That’s not to say I didn’t look for it before I left. In the plots of restored prairie around Kane county Illinois I found the greatest beauty, and came to fall in love with grasslands.
My first large paintings were of mountain ranges, rather cartoon like, they captured the image of where I was heading. I painted them on the walls of my room (to my mother’s delight).
That feeling when you’re driving in towards Denver from Nebraska. To put the grasslands and corn in your rearview mirror and the mountains right on ahead. I was making a break for it, running for my life, cool and calm doing 65mph on Highway 76.
Illinois out the basement window.

Illinois out the basement window.

 

It was to just be another summer job at a kids camp in Tahoe and then return. Though that wasn’t to be the case at all. Here I am 6 years later, I’m putting my eyes on the rearview mirror and revisiting some old familiar plants and animals. All the while sitting on a chair in California drawing birds.
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I wanted to do a page called “Raptors of the Illinois Prairie”.  I chose the American Kestrel and Sharp-shinned Hawk. And after sketching a few old friends from the plots of Kane County. I went with one of my top three favorite plants, the Compass Plant. They stand a good 6-8 feet tall and their roots go almost twice as deep. Part of my love for the flowers they put out is tied to the roots they send so deep. Escaping the full wrath of the fires that recycled the prairie.
I will put a good many more hours into this drawing. To explore it further in pencil and pen, before coloring with watercolor.
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I remember it well standing in the driveway saying goodbye to my Dad that May morning. The dogwood was blooming.  I was sad to leave home I told him. “Home is where ever you go” he told me. Those words put a smile on my face whenever my heart grows heavy.
He knew I wasn’t coming right back to Illinois before I did.

Books, birds, and a broken cot to sleep on.

I remember well when I met my first mocking bird. A sunny California morning some five years ago. It was 7am and I was sleeping on a broken cot inside a closet of an office I rented in a house in this central coast town. The bird landed on a branch that scrapped against my window whenever the wind blew. it sat there for 40 minutes and sang, not repeating himself once. I awoke in amazement. Who is that bird and how do I become friends with it?! my first thought that day, and every encounter since.

I first became aware of the mockingbird from reading Harper Lee’s “To kill a mockingbird”. It was during my freshmen year in high school back in Illinois, English class.

While the bird itself is of smaller significance in the plot of the book. No book I’d read at that age before had woke me to the country I lived in. And the following year I read  “Of Mice and Men”.

The two stories melded together in my mind to form a drive to travel around this American land. Mockingbird wrote me out a moral code, and Of Mice and Men put the wheels on my wagon and got me headed west.

There are a lot of fence posts and telephone wires down all the roads I’ve been down to get to this part of the coast. On those many posts and wires were plenty of different birds. Here and in my books you’ll find them on a page. And come to find out recently my favorite Grateful Dead song, “Jack Straw” was inspired by “Of Mice and Men” as well.

“We used to play for silver, now we play for life”.

 

Northern Mockingbird.

Northern Mockingbird.

 

 

Atticus has a bird in his name too.

 

From waves of grain to the golden coast.

I used to pretend I could find my way home by the moss on the trees, or the leaves of the compass plant in the prairie. That was my Illinois. A grassland spotted with rivers and forests. An existence on the verge of a great adventure.

But that was Illinois and this is California.

I don’t recognize many of the plants here, and I don’t know any wives tales about them. I can’t find any discernable moss on any part of a tree around here.

There are a lot of long nights of highway driving between where I write these words, and where I was born to do so. highway homesick blues.

Hearts and ideas going by like the tops of the telephone poles through the window while you lay on your back across the whole backseat while your friend drives.

Driving across the country I grew up in helped me fall in love with a whole planet.

To be embraced and cared for. Fragile like eggs in a backpack full of hatchets.

I’d heard it sung:

“Picture a bright blue ball,
Just spinnin’, spinnin, free.
Dizzy with the possibilities.”

Too look over my shoulder tonight at Illinois and all it taught me, It leaves me feeling blessed for this opportunity to try my hand at an age old craft, and with my time, give something to the world to help it see it’s own beauty tied into the thread of our life in Earth’s natural kingdom. And California seems a fine place, with great biodiversity…..and The Grateful Dead are from here so yeah.

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