Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Means Butterflies--In Our Yard and in Mandarin Gardens

Now and then, I repeat a post from a couple of years ago. We have enjoyed a busy butterfly and hummingbird year again, and I thought you might enjoy seeing the lovely 
creatures from this September
2010 post. I have not rewritten it, so the description is of a "date" from back then. The Mandarin Gardens butterfly garden on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida is as lovely and as active as ever. If you live in the area, I encourage you to stop in for some quiet contemplation, surrounded by beauty.

A couple of weeks ago, my master gardener husband suggested a unique "date" to see butterflies at the Mandarin Gardens demonstration garden on Jacksonville's south side, his favorite place to volunteer. Because our weather continues to be fairly hot, we opted for a morning visit and then breakfast out afterwards. It was fantastic, just sitting quietly among the flowers and watching the butterflies and other pollinators work their magic. I resisted pulling out the camera for awhile in order to soak it in--then took on the challenge of capturing photos of very active butterflies. I'll keep the photos small, but you can always click on them to enlarge (sometimes a second click will give you an even closer view).

Master gardener that he is, Mark has also developed our yard into a haven for butterflies and hummingbirds, so I will share some photos from our yard as well as from Mandarin Gardens. According to my field guide, the photos taken at Mandarin Gardens show a Gulf Fritillary (orange with just a few black markings--seen on both yellow and lavender flowers) and a Long-tailed Skipper (brownish one on a bright orange flower).

   The monarchs are just beginning to grace our yard on their way to Mexico; I took the monarch photos this morning. This one looks like a male because of the black spot on a vein of each hind wing. Although I can't always tell a Monarch from a Viceroy as they fly by, I know the Monarchs have been up north for awhile because the milkweed Mark plants for their caterpillars to eat has grown very tall rather than being stripped down to nothing (the yellow flowering plants shown alone in a photo above--very different from what I called milkweed as a child in Michigan). The black Palamedes Swallowtail photos were also taken in our yard, earlier in the summer.

Question of the day: Aren't butterflies amazing--beautiful and captivating in a special way and also so helpful to plant life?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Second New Salt Marsh Painting--"Castaway Island Cedars"

     "Castaway Island Cedars" is the second of two paintings begun at a painting workshop with painter/teacher Roger Bansemer. I described the painting process for "Castaway Island Palms" a few posts ago when it was finished. Both are 9" x 12" acrylic works on gallery-wrapped canvas using reference photos and notes from my outing to Castaway Island Preserve on the intracoastal waterway here in Jacksonville, Florida. Each scene shows characteristic North Florida native trees and other vegetation growing in or near salt marsh areas, scenes like those that greeted the first Europeans to step on the shore of what is now Florida.

     With apologies for the slightly washed out look of the palms photo, here is the other painting. As always, you can click on the images to enlarge the view.

     I used the same limited palette for these two scenes so that they could hang harmoniously as companion pieces, but made certain each could also work alone. This palette includes: cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, Payne's grey, cadmium yellow light, Indian yellow, cadmium red light, white, and buff, with some burnt umber in a few of the mixes. As described in the "Castaway Island Palms" post, this is my first experience using Indian yellow, a warm, slightly orangey hue. It's very nice. I rubbed each canvas with an uneven burnt sienna mid-tone before painting, which provides a warm undertone unifying the entire work as well as a base from which it was easy to judge the tones (relative darks and lights) of the rest of the painting. Beginning with what I planned as the darkest darks, then moving to lights and mid-range tones, I laid in the rough shapes of the composition, then gradually worked in greater detail. "Castaway Island Cedars" came together more quickly (or in my case, less slowly :>) than the palms piece.

     For each of these paintings, I had excellent reference photos, including those that showed more detail of the red cedar branches and needle clusters, or other crucial detail areas. Several times in the workshop, Roger Bansemer stressed the importance of starting with well-composed reference photos with adequate tonal variation. Sounds obvious, maybe, but I have begun with so-so photos more than once in the past and then struggled to compensate for a poor composition or monotonal appearance. There is a point beyond which I am not good at "making it up"--especially in trying to add something to the given scene that is not actually there. Some aspects of a scene are fairly simple to adjust. Given the lush, varied vegetation here in coastal North Florida, I inevitably need to leave things out to make a pleasing composition, which is simpler than adding elements. The horizon (which is often near the horizontal center of photos) can be moved easily to avoid cutting the composition in half (much less pleasing to the eye than placing it a third of the way from the top or bottom--or at another less symmetrical level). Beyond that, the fact that these works both came from good, solid reference photos helped me complete them with less stress and difficulty than sometimes.
Question of the day: In visual art (including photography), how often do you think about or notice the placement of various features of the overall composition? Do you know why you are particularly drawn to certain compositions?