Week 40: Wild Geese

Every Autumn I hear the musical honking of the wild geese, as they pass through Virginia on their way south for the winter. The sound always stirs something in me, like the changing golden light of shorter days and the burnt orange and red of falling leaves in October. The call of the geese weaves itself seamlessly into the fabric of Fall, my favorite time of year. The sound brings back memories from my childhood, when my father taught me to observe and listen to the natural world. We teased apart the honks and warbles of waterfowl and shore birds, and looked for the identifying white patch on the face of the Canada Goose. Our family liked to visit a nature preserve on the eastern shore of Maryland, Blackwater Refuge, where we climbed the observation tower to look out over the ochre landscape of cattails and marsh grasses, the wild geese calling to each other, flying in their characteristic “V” formation. My young mind thrilled at this sight. “How do they choose the leader? How do they know which direction to fly? How far is their journey?”

Thirty something years later, I hear the sound of the geese flying overhead, and remember that feeling of wonder and curiosity. Our neighborhood sits up high on a ridge, a small network of quiet tree-lined streets, cul-de-sacs, and well-tended lawns.  There is a spot where the entry road climbs the steep hill to our houses, cutting open a clearing that reveals a long view to a wilder place. There are layers of open field, farm, and woodland, the Rivanna River winding its way in between. As the leaves fall, we can see a widening band of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains. The Canada Geese congregate in the field at the bottom of our hill. Sometimes I see their tiny black shapes rising up in a graceful “V” through the clearing, other times they fly directly over our rooftops, calling loudly. I think of my son, who is inside playing on his iPad, and I remind myself, “Teach him to listen for the wild geese. Don’t forget.”

Wild Geese, acrylic collage 12 x 12

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Detail, Wild Geese

Advertisement

Week 20: The Blue Egg

Robin’s nest in the cherry tree, moments after Mother Bird flew away.

This collage is about hope and possibility– inspired by the robins nesting in my neighborhood, but driven by my feelings about home, motherhood and personal aspirations. I look at the tiny blue egg and it holds all the dreams and possibilities for my own child. My son is my only egg. He hatched into a wonderful boy. Ten more years before he leaves the nest. My task is to love and appreciate every detail of every age, be there for him in every moment, while letting go a little more each year as it passes.

I look at the egg again and it holds all the dreams and possibilities for me and my creative work. Can I hatch my plan to build a full-time creative career? The egg is so fragile. Can I tend to my nest like the mother robin: weaving a miracle out of twigs, lovingly guarding my most precious possession, hatching a dream, pushing it out of the nest, having the faith that it will fly?

Wave Pattern

I began this collage with paper eggs. I decided to use a wave pattern that I designed about a year ago. The wave motif has been an important theme in my paintings for several years, suggesting creative momentum. The meditative quality of the ocean’s powerful and continuous rhythm became a metaphor for creative flow and the practice of art-making.  (Take a look at the Momentum Series on my website to see more of this work.) It felt appropriate to use this pattern for the egg, adding two different layers of meaning. First, it seems to fit the spirit of my young boy- joyful, dynamic, and immersed in the flow of childhood. Secondly, it is a remnant of my early efforts to transition from drawing and painting to learning Illustrator and digital pattern design, as I began to find a new rhythm in my work, and formulate my goal to build a creative career. I saw this collage as an opportunity for me to bring together drawing, painting and pattern in one piece. Ultimately, that is the goal in the life of my work: to integrate my different modes of art and design in a way that can support me financially and fulfill me creatively.

Paper Eggs with Wave Pattern

In the final piece, I chose to include just one egg, centered in a scribbly nest, balanced in the crook of a tree branch, sheltered by leaves. Here is the final work with some close-up images of the details.

Nest, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Nest Detail

Nest Detail

Nest, Detail with Bird

Week 19: Mockingbirds in the Pear Tree

Assembling the drawings and collage elements

This week’s collage is inspired by the birds of our neighborhood. Once I made a conscious effort to be aware of their presence, I began to notice more and more interesting details about their habits. Each day as I strolled around our yard or walked my dog through the neighborhood, I watched and listened for the birds instead of getting lost in my thoughts. Tiny hummingbirds buzz around the flowers on our deck. Robins nest in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. Mockingbirds chastise the cat from the pear tree. A variety of small songbirds twitter to each other on the rooftops, while hawks glide and circle high above it all.

I decided to focus on the mockingbird, one of whom has become somewhat of an overlord of our front yard, perching in the pear tree and announcing its presence with an admonishing “Chuh Chuh Chuh!”  My son named this bird “Chuh” and he became loosely regarded as an extended family member- not quite a pet, but a part of our local clan. Intrigued by this bird, I have enjoyed observing its antics and listening to its rich and varied song. In reading up on the mockingbird, I learned that they tend to be either solitary or in a small family unit, but in my collage I filled the pear tree with a whole chorus of mockingbirds. Maybe this is a picture of many mockingbirds, or maybe it is the same mockingbird, seemingly everywhere at once, which is true to its insistent nature.

After assembling all my drawings of the birds, I scanned the originals and re-sized them in Illustrator. This digital step has become an important part of my process. It allows me to scale down or enlarge the images, flip their orientation, and make multiples. I can also use the digital images later in patterns or illustrations.  I printed this collection of birds onto natural fiber collage paper, tearing out each bird to create a soft-edged shape.  I also used some drawings of the rose bushes from last week to complete the scene of the front yard. (A great example of the advantage of having digital copies of all my drawings saved to print out again later.)

Here is the final piece: a pear tree full of mockingbirds. Olivia, the cat, hides under the rose bush, while Holly, the dog, wags her tail in the front yard. The perspective is a topsy-turvy view from above, perhaps how the mockingbird would see the scene, swooping down from the sky.

Mockingbirds in the Pear Tree, acrylic collage, 12 x 12

Detail

Detail

Detail

Birds

Neighborhood resident perched in a tree

There are layers of secret sub-cultures in our neighborhood that will reveal themselves to the patient observer. Deer roam the forests behind our houses and sneak up into our yards at night to nibble the shrubs and flowers. A red fox flashes across the ravine at the edge of the woods. Squirrels chatter away, chasing each other through the tree tops and then disappear into a small round hole in an old birch tree. Worms and slugs do what they do in the low-down unseen realms of grasses, mulch and mud. Whole societies coexist side by side on every block, as we come and go, largely oblivious.

Hatched Robin’s egg found on the ground.

And then there are the birds! They are harder to miss. If only I could know all their secrets. I have been listening to their songs and observing them closely this Spring. I found a tiny blue egg-shell on the ground, discarded by its inhabitant, hopefully in birth and not death. (My cat, Olivia, slinks under the rose bush, avoiding my eye.) After I found the egg, I began noticing that robins are building lots of small nests in the cherry trees along the sidewalks. One day I was lucky enough to have my camera with me when I saw a Mother Robin sitting in her nest. I snapped a quick picture before startling her into flight.  Guiltily, I stood on tiptoe, raised my camera above my head, leaned into the branches and took a blind shot of the nest from above. The photo revealed one perfect blue egg.

Mother Robin in her nest

Robin’s nest in the cherry tree, moments after Mother flew away.

“Chuh” surveys his kingdom from a rooftop.

We have a favorite grey bird that we often see around our yard, one of whom entertained us once by swooping down from the pear tree and dive bombing our menacing cat.  My son nicknamed the bird “Chuh.” Not the most charming moniker, but this is the sound that it makes, “Chuh! Chuh! Chuh!” as if furiously admonishing someone. Then, in sudden forgiveness, it breaks into more varied and lyrical cries, as if it had so much more to say. One early morning I saw Chuh perched in my neighbor’s birch tree. I crept in very close, til I was only a few feet away. He didn’t move, but began to sing. I was astounded by the variety of beautiful sounds that he could make. What does it mean? I stood very still, watching and listening for a long time, until he finished his soliloquy and flew away.

I decided I had to identify Chuh. After some online research, I discovered the fantastic website, WhatBird.com.  It has a search database that allows you to plug in different characteristics to identify your bird. It turns out that Chuh is a Northern Mockingbird. I had to laugh when the description said, “The Northern Mockingbird voraciously defends its territory, attacking intruders including house pets and even people.” So homeownership in suburbia does not preclude other creatures from making their own claims.  Look out, Olivia!

Olivia and the Mockingbird

Mockingbird Sketches