Living in an upside-down world

A white breasted nuthatch often travels upside down on a tree trunk. This bird has very strong feet, one for gripping  and the other to stabilize.  This enables the downward movement, allowing it to see and catch the “big bugs” not seen by most birds.  The nuthatch I painted came from photos taken in Concord MA while visiting a treasured friend.  The desire to paint the nuthatch came from the wish to hold on to a joyful memory.

Nuthatch - Watercolor painting by Barbara Bromley. Copyright 2017 Barbara Bromley.

It also fit with my feeling that the world has turned “upside down”.  Not so long ago I was reading books like the following: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey;  Live and Learn, and Pass it On by H. Jackson Brown Jr., and  Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

Where have all of these positive forward-looking books and beliefs gone?  Covey’s book promotes “The Character Ethic”  which includes the following habits:

  1. Valuing and respecting  people by understanding a “win” for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.
  2. Using empathic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you.
  3. Combining the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals that no one could have done alone.

Maybe rereading these books is a way for me to turn my personal world right side up again.  After all, unlike the nuthatch, I don’t need to catch the big bugs.

Thanks for listening!

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‘Tis the Season

Watercolor painting, used as the front of my 2016 Christmas card

The front of our 2016 Christmas Card

December marks a special time where kindness to others is focused on more than usual. In that spirit I wish only good things for you. Seasons Greetings! My artwork for 2017 will be filled with children doing the joyous, magic things that give us hope. That is how I plan to keep a positive outlook.

Our granddog Gilly, playing with a Christmas bell

Grand-dog Gilly playing with a Christmas bell

2016 has been a long year! 2017 could prove even more difficult when facing a Trump presidency built on bullying. As a former school teacher, I have spent countless hours educating students to demonstrate positive behaviors. Many after school hours were spent practicing self control skills with children who hadn’t mastered them. I have been thanked by former students who said social skill instruction proved crucial to their success serving America in the military. As an instructor, my biggest challenge was helping bullies lose bad habits and demonstrate positive behavior. Now America has elected a bully ( definition: a blustering, browbeating person; especially: one habitually cruel to others who are weaker.) I will not debate any of the reasons Mr. Trump was elected, but even those who voted for him know he shows patterns of bully behavior learned when he was young. He stands as a role model for our children who represent all of our hope for the future. Most Americans are wonderful role models for our youth. We must be even more proactive and vocal especially now when the message passed on from the top is that it’s acceptable to bully those who don’t look and think like you, or disagree with you.

To all I wish you joy and promise to treat you as I want to be treated. You don’t have to agree with me to get my respect. Your behavior earns it.

Thanks for listening!

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Birding is the Answer – Part 2

Using the source material from my trip to California, I have been creating cards showcasing  flowers and hummingbirds in watercolor.

Watercolor of several hummingbirds and hand lettered

Originally I thought I was observing  the Rufous hummer, but Toni the gardener from the Hill House set me straight.  It seems though the Rufous & Allen’s look very similar, only the Allen’s breeds in N. California. The male also has a green back further distinguishing it from the reddish brown of the Rufous.   The newly discovered Allen’s hummingbird has filled my summer and fall sketchbooks.  I’ve mixed new watercolor combinations to capture the beauty of the golden oranges, browns, reds, & greens found on this bird.  In the past I always associated hummingbirds with summer due to their fondness for nectar, but the Allen’s colors scream AUTUMN.

I just returned from a visit to Concord, MA where I enjoyed the company of friends who I’ve missed.  While visiting Betsi & Pete, I had the opportunity to photograph nuthatches, chickadees, and cardinals at feeders in their lovely backyard. As it gets cold, plants die, and  birds are drawn to feeders for food, giving us a chance to observe them up close and personal.  I saw a couple hawks watching with interest as well. That fact reminded me of a story relayed by my mother-in-law who saw a beloved cardinal snatched by a hawk near her Michigan feeder which she kept well stocked all winter long .  Ah the food chain……  November will see me happily painting nuthatches climbing down a tree head first, my favorite position.

Happy Birding Everyone!!!

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Mini Lesson – Painting a Bluebird

This “mini-lesson” shows step-by-step how I created a watercolor painting of a Bluebird.  For reference, here’s the finished painting:

Finished watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

1. Begin by sketching the bluebird on your watercolor paper using an HB pencil. Make sure your drawing is accurate. Lighten the pencil lines by dabbing at them with a kneaded eraser. Contrary to what most books say, once wet, these lines can’t be erased completely.

Stage 1, pencil sketch, in preparation for watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

2. Use liquid frisket to mask the outline of the bird. Use a cheap brush coated with standard bar soap to “paint” this outline, which will stay white. When the frisket is dry it will look and feel like dried rubber cement.

Stage 2. painting the edges around the bird, in preparation for watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

3. Mix the following puddles (a puddle is paint mixed with enough water to dilute it to the desired value):

  • French Ultramarine + Hookers Green (make two puddles: one more bluish & one more greenish)
  • Cobalt Blue + Brown Madder (make three puddles: one dark purple; one reddish; one bluish)
  • Alizarin Crimson + Burnt Sienna
  • French Ultramarine + Paynes Gray + a bit of Alizarin
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Sienna + Raw Sienna
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cobalt Blue + Winsor Blue
  • Cobalt Blue + Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Blue + French Ultramarine
  • Sepia + French Ultramarine (make two puddles: one very dilute light gray & one almost black)
  • New Gamboge

4. Paint the background

Background Painting

a. Glaze over the entire background until it glistens evenly; drop in the following colors and combinations based on where they can be seen in the photo:

To the left and lower right use French ultramarine/Hookers Green mixtures.

For the upper right (our light source) use more dilute greenish mixture of Ultramarine/Hookers Green; then drop in a bit of New Gamboge and a little Cobalt Blue/Brown Madder (reddish mixture) near the bird

Important – Make sure to paint quickly but stop if background begins to dry. The background can be re-wet after drying completely; Then stronger washes can be added.

b. Rub off the frisket to expose white outline.

5. Paint the base washes of the bluebird.

Stage 4. Paint background and bird further, in watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

Applies to steps 5 and 6

Glaze water over the entire bluebird; drop in the following colors & combinations based on where they can be seen in the bluebird:

a) For the head use both the bluish & reddish Cobalt/Brown Madder mixtures
b) For the back of the bird paint Cobalt Blue/Ultramarine mixture. While it’s still wet, drop in a bit of the reddish cobalt blue/brown madder.
c) For the wings & tail use Cobalt Blue/Winsor Blue as well as Cobalt/Cerulean blue
d) For the belly, use very dilute mixtures of Burnt Sienna/Raw Sienna as well as the purple puddle of Cobalt/Brown Madder
e) For the eye, beak, and leg paint the French Ultramarine/Paynes Gray/a bit of Alizaring mixture; then while still damp add the darks with Sepia/French Ultramarine

6) Paint the log

a) Glaze water over the entire log until it glistens evenly. Paint a very dilute mixture of Sepia/French Ultramarine over the entire log.
b) While still wet drop in darker mixtures of Sepia/French Ultramarine on the left and lower middle.
c) Important – Allow washes to completely dry
d) For the final layer, use scumbling to create texture on the branch. Scumbling technique:

1. Squeeze most of the water from a round brush after dipping it in the Sepia/Ultramarine mixture.
2. Hold the belly of the brush (not the tip) flat to the paper and gently wipe it across the surface where it will hit the raised edges (grain) of the paper.

7. Allow all washes to dry! Never paint into an area that has started to dry.

8. Add the final details using wet-on-dry technique.

a) Use Cobalt/Brown Madder mixtures for head and wing details
b) Use French Ultramarine/Paynes Gray/Alizarin and Cobalt/French Ultramarine mixtures for tail details
c) Use purple mix of Cobalt/Brown Madder for detail below the wing
d) Use Burnt Sienna/Alizarin for chest detail

9. To create or regain white highlights, use the lifting technique:

a) Wet the previously dried area with clean water to reactivate the pigment.
b) Use a small bristle brush to scrub away the undesired areas of paint. ** Remember to dab the bristle brush on a paint rag between scrubbings to remove the paint you lifted rather than reapplying it elsewhere.
c) Dab the white areas with tissue.

10. Fini!

Finished watercolor painting of a Bluebird, by artist Barbara Bromley

Hope you enjoy!  If you have any questions at all, please use the comment form below.

Thanks, and happy painting!

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Whatever the Problem, Birding is the Answer

After months of bad news including biopsies, surgeries, recovery, setbacks, etc., a birding adventure seemed in order to help force the healing process.

In search of bluebirds, hummingbirds, and jays, Steve and I set out for northern California and the small coastal town of Mendicino.  Some of you may remember Mendicino as representing the fictional Cabot Cove in the TV series “Murder She Wrote”.  We stayed at the Hill House Inn, a quaint hotel also featured in the TV show.  This friendly hotel has the most beautiful, hummingbird-friendly gardens I have ever seen.  (Thank you Ms. Toni, the gardener)

No bluebirds in sight, but as for hummingbirds, Stellar’s Jays, and and barn swallows, we saw and photographed hundreds!  It was awesome.

I observed, sketched, photographed, and painted both Allen’s and Anna’s hummingbirds.  They posed on lovely plants and fed from a broad variety of flowers.  For five idyllic days I wandered the gardens feeling the magic flow through me.  Mental healing began.  As this post is titled:  Whatever the problem, birding is the answer!  As I write this blog post I’m back in the real world, well on the road to full recovery.

I had already planned a July demo – “Watercolor bluebird painting”.   This painting portrays a bluebird originally photographed some years ago by my husband. Watercolor painting of a bluebird perched on a china pitcher In remembrance of my father Albert, who’s birthday was July 14th, I perched the bird on a small china pitcher.  I chose this pitcher because the backstamp represents several emotional connections with my father:  “ROYAL ALBERT” ties to his name, “ENGLAND” is a place beloved by both my parents, and “FORGET-ME-NOT” because anyone who knew him, never will forget him.Backstamp from china pitcher used for watercolor painting

Thanks for listening!

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Music Begins Where Words End

I’ve always agreed with the sentiments expressed in Trisha Yearwoods’ hit The Song Remembers When.   For that reason, I’ve memorized hundreds of songs which bring up special memories and places.  Ironically I can’t sing in key at all!!  My mom and others have shared the notion that some people (meaning yours truly) should NOT sing out loud.  I agree.  Still, I have a very active mental music life and I do love to listen.
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Recently I watched a 4-hour HBO special “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All”.  My dad Al Russell was an avid fan of Sinatra and his incredible musical timing.  Dad saw Sinatra in Chicago at numerous matinees during the 1940’s.  Whenever I listen to a Sinatra song, I see my dad:  his blue eyes filled with delight, recalling all the moments spent enjoying the magic of the Windy City.  

I recently painted a blue-eyed black kitten simply because his owner had named him Sinatra.  My husband Steve shares my dad’s blue eyes, and his love of muisic.  Currently Steve is enjoying his new audio system and celebrating the new year with music.

In celebration of music, here is a little something from the past:

Happy 2016 to all!

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Thoughts on Fall

Autumn is always my favorite time of year. Thanks to the colorful leaves, I find myself surrounded by beauty everywhere I go. The air is crisp and cool, making long walks joyful. Then there’s the food: Apples, pumpkin bread, spiced wine and cider…. need I say more!!?
HappyFall-Bunny-P1-587x218

The monumental events of October include watching my grandsons jump into leaf piles, gather apples, and dress up for Halloween. At ages 3 and 6 “trick-or-treat” is still delightful for the boys and all who are lucky enough to witness the magic.

Happy Fall to you and yours!

Thanks for listening,
Barb

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Unlikely Friends

The dogs in this painting/card are named Mufasa and Rafiki.  As the card suggests they are truly friends.  They are friends because they live together, and to a large extent because they are both dogs.  Friends - A watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley with the word "Friends" hand painted, and two dogs who are looking at one another. I met them when I first submitted a rack of my cards to the Decorator Warehouse in Lexington.  Mufasa and Rafiki are “store dogs”, happily spending their days with shop owner Natalie.

Ironically and more unexpected friends:  Sam, our family dog many years ago, and “George”, the orphan baby blue jay.   These two became friends as I nursed George back to health.  I fed George every day with Sam, still a puppy, watching.  As the jay learned to fly Sam became very interested, especially when he saw the bird poop on my friend’s head and my drawing in the same day.  A watercolor painting by artist Barbara Bromley showing a dog and blue jay looking at one another. When he was ready we released George near the town home where we lived at the time.  When I walked Sam the blue jay would follow us, flying high in the sky.  When I swam in the complex pool, George perched nearby on the fence.  When I opened the door to our house, George would fly inside take a bath in the small tub of water on my drawing table.   The entire neighborhood came to know and delight in seeing George and Sam frolic together.

It was the perfect yet dangerous (for George) friendship, a result of how a baby bird imprints on whoever it spends time with, in our case a dog and humans.  Following this imprinting experience with George I learned how to care for wild animals in a way to prevent such connections.  My ignorance in George’s case gave us the opportunity to really appreciate the antics of George the Jay, and our puppy Sam.

Thanks for listening!

Barb

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Free as a Bird

Watercolor painting of birds perching on the hand-lettered text Watercolor painting of a Red Tailed Hawk, by artist Barbara BromleyWatercolor painting of a bluebird, by artist Barbara BromleyI have been a birder for as long as I can remember. Chasing after birds as they flew actually made me feel free and unencumbered. It was the birds of prey that caught my attention first. The hawks and owls with their fierce eyes were a pleasure to sketch and paint. In Florida I discovered brown pelicans, watching in wonder as they dove beak-first into the ocean to catch fish. They way their bodies “kerplopped” into the water in such a bizarre fashion intrigued me. Then there were the Osprey diving feet first to grab fish with their talons. Sometimes they misjudge the size of their prey and are pulled under the water to certain death.

When I met my (eventual) husband Steve, I found a fellow bird lover in his mom, who introduced me to wrens, finches, and bluebirds. We observed these lovely critters together as they fed from the feeder just outside the large picture window of her Michigan home. Winters were hard, but the birds in her area thrived thanks to the massive quantity of seeds in her feeder. Who needed TV? We had ready entertainment watching a great variety of birds just outside the window.

Watercolor painting of a Rufus hummingbird, by Barbara BromleyIn Texas the hummingbirds provided me with a favorite subject to sketch. I’d work on five different drawings in various poses as the hummers got “nectar” from our feeder. Every year a male black-chinned hummer would arrive perching on our peach tree waiting for females. After mating, off he went to chase another! The females laid eggs then raised two babies alone.

Watercolor painting of a Rufus hummingbird, by Barbara Bromley

While living in Texas our entire family observed the pea-sized eggs in a nest constructed of spider silk and lichens. As the young hummingbirds grew the silk stretched to accommodate their growing bodies.

photo-hummer-on-nestP1Another Texas favorite was the roadrunner, which mates for life. I observed one wandering about seeming greatly disturbed only to find his dead mate close by, the victim of a fast-moving car. It always amazed me to know that roadrunners are capable of working together to kill a rattlesnake, not quite the cartoon image from long ago…

In Massachusetts the nuthatches caught my eye as they moved down a tree trunk head-first. Another treat was watching marsh wrens at Great Meadows. When the babies were fledging the parents had to come out of their hiding places in the reeds to feed them. I was ready with camera and sketchpad!

sketch-singleducking-standing-P1duckling-sketch-P1

In Kentucky it was the common mallard ducklings that ticked my fancy. The young would follow their mommy anywhere including a busy street. I’ve also been shocked by the number of cooper’s hawks winging their way through housing developments instead of the forests for which their wings and tails were designed.

Get ready for my next blog about birds I’ve know “personally”.

Happy Birding to ALL!

Artfulbarb

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