Sunday, August 31, 2008

Better late than never?

A couple of (wince) months ago I was surprised, flattered, and delighted to receive a note asking if I would be willing to review the new "Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America," by Ted Floyd.

"Of course!" I responded, as quickly as possible lest the publishers change their minds.

It is with profound embarrassment that I admit I am just now getting around to writing aforementioned review. My only excuse is that I have barely even GLANCED at birds in the last few months... no time!... so an actual field test of an actual field guide was out of the question.

But this morning the DM and I went for a long walk along the "old" morning route (now sadly less traveled, as it's a mile longer round trip from the new digs and therefore at least 30 minutes more time if one is actually paying attention to surroundings). Whist we were strolling I saw a bird, the identification of which was uncertain... and voila! An excuse to test drive the book.

By now you've probably read a zillion reviews, so you know that this is a stout little book. Six inches by eight, and just over an inch thick... soft bound (I think they call this binding "turtle") and nice in the hand. Yes, I often judge books by their covers... the quality of printing and paper, how they feel in the hand... and this one is lovely.

But it ain't light. I'm guessing twice the weight of the regional Sibley volumes, but not so much as the original complete Sibley guide. Not something I will be inclined to cart around in my usual kit... the one already stuffed with sketchbook, paintbox and journal.

The Smithsonian guide is dense with information, as well as paper. It includes material for more than 750 bird species occurring in the "American Birding Association (ABA) Area." (Canada, Alaska, lower 48 US states, and some French islands off the eastern coast of Canada. No Hawai'i.) It is arranged roughly in the taxonomic order of the American Ornithologists' Union. Groups of similar species are clustered together, and each section is distinctly color-coded along the top of the page; a nice feature if, for example, one wants to find quickly the "gulls, terns, and skimmers" section (yellow ochre).

There are notes on molt strategies, vocalizations, abundance, habits and ecology... range maps... plumage variations for individual species. Each grouping of related species begins with an overview of habitat, diet, population and conservation status, as well as short essays on supplementary topics. The extensive introduction (almost 30 pages) includes vocabulary, general natural history of birds, and a description of the information that is included in the individual species accounts.

There are birding tips.

There is a glossary.

There is a checklist.

There is a disk with "587 downloadable bird songs." (Okay. Yes. But please be aware that it is 587 recordings for 138 species, and that the recordings are MP3 files and not your standard CD player fare.)

It's all very interesting stuff, and useful for sussing out some of the subtlties of the bird universe, but OOPH. Is it really material for a field guide? Is it helpful or overwhelming to the novice or casual birder? I'm willing to call myself a moderately adept birder. (I, ahem, suck at peeps and gulls, but I don't get much opportunity to practice around here.) If I'm trying to sort out a moving critter in bad light too far away, I want some simple, straightforward, easy-to-find help in the field. I'm happy to read all that other stuff... but later.

So I hate to be a grump when others have been so glowing in their reports, but although this is a book I am delighted to have for reference and study, there are several reasons I will not be using it as a field guide.

1) Photos, not illustrations. I'm sorry. I wanted to like photos, really I did. It turns out that several friends have contributed their fine images to this book, and I REALLY wanted to like photos. But I don't. Although overall I think that photography has improved tremendously in this application, I still have the usual gripe with poor light and busy backgrounds, and in this case ridiculously small size. I can look at a tiny (well-executed) illustration on a white background and find the bird's "jizz" right away. Not so easy if I'm looking at an inch-tall photo of a speckled brown bird against dry leaves.

2) No visual "hints" for field marks. You know what I mean: Those little lines or arrows that point you immediately towards important characteristics. Why is it that this useful convention is dropped when photography is used? I don't want to READ about what to look for. I want to SEE it. Especially with species that are similar. Point it out to me, please.

3) Inconsistent and too crowded page layout. I realize that the information to be presented is not the same for each species, but I want to be able to locate the information I want as quickly as possible. For me this means clear visual separation between images and text, judicious use of white space, and consistent layout. I want to be able to compare similar species easily, so I want to look to roughly the same place on each page for the same information. The entire book feels like an attempt to cram too much material into too little space.

That said, I have to reiterrate that I think it's a valuable and interesting reference, useful and informative. Had they left the word "field" out of the title, I would have been perfectly content. The "Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America" will undoubtly come off my shelf to be read and perused and to increase my wonder at the complexities of the lives of birds. But it ain't goin' in my backpack.

Friday, August 29, 2008

I can't think of anymore "little" lines

Happiness is little linocuts drying in the studio. These two were dessicated enough to slip into the scanner. Mule deer fawn and lynx. 2.5" x 2.5 " each. Editions of 15.

I might ultimately do something more with these little guys... they were fun to do at a time when I needed to use a different part of my brain, but I'm feeling like they could be part of something really groovy. Dunno yet.

Today I have to use the writer brain to get a draft of text for six new interp signs finished for a client. We'll see what I have left after that.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Assorted stuff that's come my way recently. Surely you can find SOMETHING here to keep you busy for a while.

Crows can apparently recognize individual humans.

A student at the Rhode Island School of Design has started an art materials 'pedia. Think Wikipedia for art materials. Long way to go, but interesting idea.

Colorado Art Ranch is gearing up for its October Artposium, "What's so funny about art?" They've a great lineup of speakers, including a New Yorker cartoonist and certified laughter yoga instructors.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art has developed a nice set of short videos explaining various printmaking processes. They're up on YouTube, you can see the Relief Printmaking one here.

A little cheer

Hm hm hm hm hm hm hm diddy dum. Can you hear my contented humming from where you are? Ninety (count 'em, 90!) little bitty linocuts strewn about the studio. They're doubled up on the rack and decorating the floor (we still haven't gotten the second rack installed since the move, sigh).

Plenty of other things to do, but sometimes you just have to admire collections of paper and ink.

I'll scan 'em and put them up once they're a little more dry.

Monday, August 25, 2008

In a little mood

It's been one of those days.

Everything I tried to do was thwarted by outside forces:

1) My host is moving my email to a new server so I can have a little more space. This requires access to my domain registration. Let's just say it took several tries to get that information right. When I finally did get it, I sent it off to my host.

2) Little did I know that this change would mean that my email went down at mid-day and has remained down. I left a message.

3) I went to Wal-Hell to pick up a few things. I hate to go there, but sometimes you just gotta. For the second time in 2 weeks they declined my check. So I called Telecheck. Three (!) years ago my checkbook was stolen. I closed the account immediately, but of course the thieves wrote checks. All of which bounced, because the account was closed. I have straightened this out with the check companies AT LEAST 8 times since then, but for incomprehensible reasons it pops up again from time to time. Now I have to go through the whole mess AGAIN tomorrow.

4) Whilst at the aforementioned store, I discovered that the door lock on the passenger side of the car isn't working. Tug on it a few times, and it pops right open. Okay for Salida. Not so okay if I'm going anywhere else. Wouldn't bother me so much if I hadn't just taken the car in a couple of weeks ago because the driver's side door wouldn't open even WITH the key.

5) I started work on an overdue project, only to discover that crucial information is missing. This requires a site visit. Forward momentum stalled until Thursday.

6) I'm taking care of a friend's online business while she's away. Today an order came through that I couldn't for the life of me figure out. It's still on the desk.

7) I went to the post office. Forgot to take part of the mail. Had to go back.

8) Something ate the rest of my tiny eggplants.

Needless to say, I spent the afternoon drinking an espresso milkshake and eating chips. Can you say "cranky"?

So, since I was already in a little mood, I decided that I was also in a Little Mood. As in little linocuts. Went to the lumber yard up the street, got a dozen little 3x3" pressboard blocks cut. Mounted lino. Made some drawings. Started carving.

Feel much better now.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

If it's Sunday, it must be Salida

Okay. WHOOSH! We are home again. No alarm clock this morning, just a languid return to something that resembles our normal routine. We wandered down to the Salida Café for tea (coffee for the DM) and breakfast and a conversation about our lives now that I'm not running out of state for a while.

The Santa Fe workshop unfolded splendidly. We stayed with friends Matthew and Mary (a climate change scientist and art teacher/potter respectively) in their fabulous digs and enjoyed their generosity of spirit, belongings, and local know-how immensely.

The only questionable part of the week was that the DM got to slack off on the Plaza while I went to work.

The workshop took place on Museum Hill, at the amazing Museum of International Folk Art. THIS place you've gotta see, that's all I have to say.

Santa Fe art teachers sketching in the shade outside the
International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe.
What could be nicer?

I spent a day and a half with the elementary (K-8) level art teachers of the Santa Fe School District, a talented and dedicated bunch facing an amazing array of challenges. On the one hand, it is exciting to see a school district that HAS art teachers at the elementary level. On the other hand, each teacher sees an average of 400 kids, one hour per student, every week. Many of these teachers are working in classrooms WITHOUT WATER, if you can believe it. Think of a room full of first graders with paint or clay and try to imagine that you have to haul water by the bucket load. It's crazy.

But we had a great time working together, sketching in and around the museum, making stab-bound books, and sharing ideas about education and educational processes.

On Friday after the workshop was over we were able to take the bus directly from the museums to downtown Santa Fe. The DM had scouted out all the cool places to visit before the insanity of the Indian Market began, so we wandered around for a bit until time to meet Mary and Matthew for dinner. If you've never been to Santa Fe in high tourist season... well... let's just say the people watching is GREAT. There is a dizzying array of over-the-top things to look at in any season... paintings, jewelry, pottery, sculpture of course... but also home furnishings and clothing. This shop was closed when we went by, but.... new boots, anyone?

I know some working cowboys who will be rolling on the floor when they see this display.

Saturday (was that only yesterday?) was, of course, market day. We've been missing our local market routine, so it was off to the Santa Fe Farmers' Market first! We had ginormous breakfast burritos, fresh organic cranberry juice, and of course coffee for the DM. We were on a quest for small, mild green chilis called shishitou (I think), which Mary had served up for us... roasted and salted and yummy. We brought home two bags of what I hope are the right thing. We'll find out at supper.

Don't you love the flower she's carrying?

From the Farmers' Market it was just a few blocks' walk to the heart of the 87th SWAIA Indian Market. Our friend Sally Paschall was one of the 1,200 artists (!!!!!) from about 100 tribes who show their work in over 600 booths. (And, hooray Sally! She won a first place ribbon in her division!) Talk about visual overload. Santa Fe more than doubles in size on Indian Market weekend... they estimate 100,000 visitors over two days.

The DM at Santa Fe Indian Market yesterday morning!

Luckily the DM and I have about the same tolerance for crowds, so we strolled street after street until we agreed we had had enough and then headed for home. That great New Mexico light came with us all the way back to Colorado, and now we're excited and revved up about getting back to our own work! Can't wait.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All's well that begins well

Right about the time I decided I ought to give the yard a little water, we got a downpour. (Complete with small hail.) I'll take the culminating light show as a good omen for the journey ahead. We're off to Santa Fe in the morning (yup, the DM gets to come along on this one), where I am pleased to be doing an inservice for all of the elementary art teachers in the Santa Fe School District. Wow! Very cool. We'll sketch and journal and even make the stab bound books I described here once upon a time. Back on Sunday, see you then!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Maine postscript

Two more images to add by the light of day. "Seabird Sue" Shubel was kind enough to sift through 8 or 10 cameras to take this shot (over and over again) of the motley Audubon Leadership Week cast and crew on the last morning.

And those infamous puffins. Cute, aren't they? I think maybe these were taken by Bob "Big Lens" Schamerhorn.

Back to unpacking/laundry/repacking.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Maine Event

Just stumbled in this afternoon from Hog Island, Maine, where I was privileged to attend Audubon Leadership Week. I was there as the representative from Audubon Adventures, the national education program for which I've served as illustrator, photo researcher, and a couple of times even as designer and writer, for the last nine (!) years. I felt a little out of my element giving presentations in this particular format, but really. Who could turn down a gig HERE?

No time for a big trip report... in another 48 hours I have to be ready to leave town again to present a teacher inservice in Santa Fe. Whoosh! But... some highlights:

The view back to the mainland across the harbor. Hog Island is in Muscongus Bay, near the charming village of Damariscotta. I didn't have a ton of time to draw (and when I did have time, I confess I was busy rooting around in tidepools), but here's a little sketch of some cairns on this particular point of the island.

And see? I wasn't the only one mucking around at low tide. I think this is Indian Cove, on Hog Island. We had a huge variety of weather: Sun, fog, rain, fog, RAIN, sun, fog, sun, fog, fog, sun, fog....

Oh, you get the idea.

One of the highlights of the week was a trip to Eastern Egg Rock to see Atlantic Puffins. It's getting late in the season, so we weren't too sure what we'd find... but WOOHOO! A goodly number of the cheeky little devils were still around. We also saw tons of black guillemots, double-crested and great cormorants (a life bird for me, I think), common eiders (a personal favorite), assorted gulls, and the vent end of a wandering juvenile gannet. (And harbor seals, of course.)

The trip was particularly meaningful to the campers, because on Monday evening we enjoyed a presentation by biologist Stephen Kress, who in 1973 began a project to re-establish this very puffin colony. More about the Puffin Project here.

The trip was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but we woke in the middle of the night to a downpour that continued all day. We shuffled the schedule around and sailed instead on Wednesday, which you can see was a stunningly beautiful day. We stopped at Harbor Island for lunch and hikes and the very popular Nap Workshop.

(The fellow with his back to us is biologist Ian Stenhouse, Senior Scientist for the Audubon IBA program and devisor of a cunning project to track Sabine's gulls from Greenland. And guess what? He does linocuts, too!)

In all a great week, full of informative workshops covering the many resources available to Audubon chapters across the country. There's plenty more to say, but for now just two more images.

The clever staff in the Hog Island kitchen have devised this charming napkin rack. One receives a cloth napkin at the first meal, and is directed to keep using it until it's too manky to deal with. To keep track of whose is which, they are affixed to the line with labeled clothespins. I spent the week as Dogwinkle. (The plaid one in the middle of the second row.)

And of course, no coastal report would be complete without a photo of muscle... errr.... mussel beach. I think I feel a new linocut coming on.

Friday, August 8, 2008

No cat-astrophy

Tomorrow I am off to the beginning of two solid weeks on the road for teaching engagements. A hundred loose ends are left to tie up, of course... but there was one BIG one that demanded attention ASAP this morning.

It was time to round up the kitties.

(Sorry, it's a shot through the screen door. The best we could ever do with the kittens.)

On the advice of local humane society folks, we started to feed the stray mom and kittens a few days ago. THIS was deemed an immediate success. All three kittens came out from under the deck and the mom cat decided I was her best friend. Poor thing, I don't think she's been stray for long. As a matter of fact, I begin to suspect she was left behind by the previous house occupants.... but I digress.

Upon application of food to hungry tummies (the mom cat was skin and bones... and FUR!), socialization began. They ate in our presence... mom was happy to accept scratches and rubs (and to give me immediate hives)... and by yesterday I achieved the touching and picking up of kittens. (Food is a great distraction.) We borrowed a carrier from friends who are owned by a cat, punched holes in some cardboard boxes, and this morning sat on the deck to stalk the lot of them.

Food dishes down. Waiting begins.

Kitten #1. No problem. Into the box in under 10 minutes.
Kitten #2 (The Orange One). Came out quickly, but didn't go into the box without leaving its mark. (Minor scratches to the rounder-upper... who would be me.)

And now the decision. Mom cat is out and visible and happily glomming food. Kitten #3 is under the deck. Huh.

Mom cat let me pick her up and put her in the carrier with very little resistance. So in she went.

Kitten #3. After the problems with adding #2 to the box with #1, we got out another box. #3 remained under the deck. And under the deck. And under the deck. Right at the edge, mind you. Just out of reach. We were starting to worry that the entire mission would have to be aborted. Long minutes went by.

The DM suggested we put the mom cat in her carrier out where the kitten could see her. Eureka! Cautious #3 finally made it to the food bowl, chomped a few bites, and was promptly scooped into another box.


Cat and caboodle are now safely delivered to the kind folks at Mountain Shadows Animal Hospital. We're optimistic that since the mom cat seems so desperate to be a house cat and the kittens are still young, all will find homes without too much trouble. If you'd like them to come live with you... give Mountain Shadows a call!

And now it's time to starting packing up ME. I gotta get my act together!

Mom cat at my feet, happy to hang out.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Get off your duff and hang your work

If you've been popping in to Brush and Baren for any length of time now, you've probably "heard" me mention Alyson Stanfield, Art Biz Coach. Aside from being one of the most inspiring-ly active women I know, she's pretty darn smart about marketing stuff. That's her book, "I'd Rather Be in the Studio," smiling at you from the sidebar.

Alyson's always got something cooking, and next week it's a groovy teleseminar about exhibitions. (Hint, hint MJ!)

If you have an exhibit coming up--or even if you want to create your own exhibit opportunities--you should check out "How to Curate and Install Your Art Exhibit Like a Pro." Alyson is presenting this 75-minute teleseminar on Thursday, August 14 at 3pm ET. And even if you can't be present, you can get the audio or CD version without missing a thing. You'll learn

-Tricks for planning and designing your exhibit (to make sure the focus is on your art)
-A checklist to help you practice by analyzing other exhibits
-Numerous ways to engage your viewers and help them connect with your art
-All kinds of rules for writing and hanging your labels
-Guidelines for revealing your prices
-You'll also receive an e-book that serves as a transcript of the call, but goes beyond the content of the call itself.

And just in case you haven't clicked on through to check it out yet, here's one more chance.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Blog as message board


PBR: Got your emails, but your system must be blocking my return correspondence. I tried via another route. If I don't hear back from you soon, we might have to resort to (gasp!) tracking down phone numbers.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Star gazing

I'm working on illustrations for the chapter headings of a friend's new book. Just a little set of eight images of star constellations, a subject about which I know very little. It's been fun looking through books and online images to see some fabulous photography, like this view of the Pleiades in the "Astronomy Picture of the Day" section of the NASA site. (Astrophotography by Robert Gendler.)

I'm going to be off to Hog Island, Maine in a week, to be an instructor for Audubon Leadership Camp. I understand that the Perseid meteors will be in peak shower mode whilst we're there, and I hope we'll get good weather for watching them. (But please tell me WHY the peak stuff always happens at 2:00am. Hey! I need my beauty sleep! Snark.)

Anyway... It's been fun to do some simple little paintings this weekend, instead of bonding entirely too closely with my computer. Reaching out instead of in, up instead of down at the keyboard has been a nice change of perspective, even if it's just a 5- inch-wide imagining of something 100,000 light years in diameter.

Linocut in Progress: Let's wrap this up!

 Okay...  Remember that cartoon in which a couple of scientists stand at a chalk board filled with complex equations, at the bottom of which...