Fall In! ~ Flyboys

I spotted a quiet cove along the shoreline of the sizable lake in Newport News Park, and pulled into the nearby parking lot.  I was planning on experimenting with different camera modes in order to produce clearer action photos of birdlife, hopefully ducks.  

As I walked onto the wooden footbridge that strategically crosses the wetlands, all hell broke loose, in a good way!  Like a squadron of fighter pilots, five mallard drakes came bombing their way into the cove, flaps up, quacking and squawking like crazy, readying themselves for a rough landing.  

By the time I had my camera rolling the mallards had landed.  It was then that I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing.  Like a drill sergeant, the largest of the drakes took charge.  As the Top Gun, he was quacking out orders and the squadron of flyboys started falling in line.  I was clicking away as fast as I could.  Worried about my aperture and my shutter speed and my ISO, I was praying that my photos would turn out.  

The troops were obviously following orders.  This painting, which I just completed, entitled Flyboys, represents the beginning of the tailgate party the mallards had that early morning in the quiet cove.  They took over the place.  Top Gun Sgt. Drake took the boys around as if they were all in uniform going ashore looking for hens.  It was all quite the spectacle.  

Flyboys , by William R. Beebe, 30 x 40, Oil on Canvas

Flyboys, by William R. Beebe, 30 x 40, Oil on Canvas

It was an amazingly magical moment for me with the dramatic reflections on the water, the action of rings around the leader, and the whitecap wakes produced by the mallards motoring quickly into formation.  The party was just beginning and the emerald headed ducks were all quite pleased with themselves.  

Fortunately, I caught it all on camera and I plan on painting several more canvases featuring this “band of brothers”.  I hope their personalities come through in this painting and that you feel the energy of the moment!

As I packed up my camera and was walking back to the car, two military fighter jets buzzed overhead, as if to tip their wings to their fellow flyboys!


Dedication:  On this Memorial Day, I dedicate this painting entitled Flyboys to all our men and women in uniform, past and present!

Was Somebody Trying to Tell Me Something??? ~ A Surreal Experience!

The title of my last blog, Getting My Ducks in a Row, was meant to be taken figuratively.  In it I talked about getting organized and prepared for future paintings of waterfowl.  Well, the morning I posted the blog something surreal happened to me.  I was taken literally!

I headed to Newport News, VA to get our car serviced.  I left a little early to stop by a pond in case the ruddy ducks were hanging out close to shore.  After taking a few shots I got back in the car and headed to Newport News.  Along the way, I noticed Newport News Park and made a mental note to stop by on the way home.  

I had been by the park many times but never really noticed it.  As I drove in, I saw a big lake and lots of hiking trails.  I pulled into a parking lot and went to see what the little kids were feeding.  Hoping for ducks, I was disappointed to see just bubbles from either fish or turtles.  

I drove around the bend, pulled into another parking lot and spotted a marshy area.  I had my camera out with my zoom lens ready and once again hoping for a duck or two.  As I approached the water, a noisy squadron of ducks came bombing down into the quiet cove, landing right in front of me!  They were all mallard drakes, with beautiful emerald green heads.  

Right in front of my eyes and my lens, the all male tailgate party formed an impressive row.  I took these shots of ducks in a row, coincidentally just after posting my blog by the same title.  I called home saying to Jen “You won’t believe what I am seeing!”  

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At the very same time, in front of me and behind me, there were rows of turtles lined up on fallen tree logs in the marsh.  Hoping the commotion made by the mallards wouldn’t scare away the turtles, I was “snapping” pictures as fast as I could of the turtles in a row and the ducks in a row.  Here are some of the pictures I took of the turtles.  

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Excited and amazed by what I just witnessed, I drove around another bend wondering what might be next.  There, along the right side of the road, was a smaller body of water with a fallen tree and the longest row of turtles I’ve ever seen.  I took this shot from afar, hoping it would turn out.  Check out the big daddy snapping turtle facing the wrong way!

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While I was busy photographing, a couple of naval fighter jets flying in tandem (row) buzzed overhead.  

I found this photography outing all very odd, coincidental, surreal and quite remarkable.  Was somebody trying to tell me something?  Was it a sign from up above, that I’m on the right track?  Is it my destiny to become a prolific painter of waterfowl and wildlife or is it all a momentary passion?

Whichever the reason, I was so inspired I came home and started a large 30 by 40 inch painting of the squadron of mallards (ironically, the common duck I mentioned in my last blog that I wasn’t sure I wanted to paint!).  They were anything but common.  They were wild and full of life, having fun in their protected natural habitat.  I hope you enjoyed seeing these photographs and that you find them as interesting as I do.  My painting is from one of several shots that I took that I think has the “Wow Factor”.   It will take a while to complete but I’ll post it as soon as it’s done.   

In the meantime, be sure to keep your ducks in a row and hopefully good things will happen to you!  :-)

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Getting My Ducks in a Row ~ The Art of Nature

The more I venture into the world of waterfowl and birds, the more I’m struck by the beauty and art of nature.  I’m busy getting my ducks in a row (as the saying goes), for a series of paintings that has me all jazzed up.  Doing my homework has actually been fun. I’ve been brushing up on my photography, Googling geese, Binging ducks, and Yahooing birds!

I’ve been studying what other artists are painting, especially experts in the field of waterfowl art.  I’ve been researching wildlife and nature preserves that are easily accessible to me.  I’m planning a quick trip to Chincoteague and Assateague, on the Eastern shore of MD and VA.

My last painting, entitled Gander in Flight, was hopefully just the beginning of many years painting the beauty of nature.  I thought it would be fun at this point in the process to show you some of the photographs that I’ve taken recently. Some will become paintings, some will be backup material to draw from when I’m looking for a certain something in a composition, and some I might not be motivated to paint but I can appreciate the image.

This great blue heron I spotted way across the pond.  I fortunately saw her take off headed my way, flying low and stealth-like. She landed near me and I was able to watch her predatory movements with fascination.  When she took off I was ready for her and lucked out with this picture.  

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Just this morning I had a calling to get in my T-Bird and go bird hunting.   Usually, I head right to the easel, but I had spotted a few ruddy ducks on the same pond last night and I couldn’t pass up a sunny, calm morning of photography.  This handsome, white swan saw me photographing three little ruddy ducks and swam all of the way across the pond to pose for me.  Like a runway model, he gracefully showed off his long neck and plumage and did a close-up swim-by.

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Mallards are the most common duck.  The mallard drake has the brilliant green head and the yellow beak.  I never thought that much about focusing a painting around this common duck until I studied some of the photographs that I took.  The way the male and the female stuck close together complimenting one another struck me.  I quickly changed my mind.  Visualizing future paintings of mallards is easy for me now.

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The little ruddy duck has always fascinated me.  I love the colors on the male; rusty-red body, white and black head, and a blue beak.  Not to mention how their little tails stick up as they swim along.  Up until yesterday, I thought to myself, where am I ever going to be able to photograph a ruddy duck?  I actually spotted these little, diver, ruddy ducks close to home!  They are constantly on the move, diving for food and being careful not to come too close. They make it difficult to get a crystal clear image of them.

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Some shots I take just to capture the different water patterns.  The different lighting, colors and ripples of the water alone will provide me plenty of material to draw from when developing a composition.  Overly dark exposure on the waterfowl can create a nice silhouette of the bird on a glassy, reflective surface.  Here are a few silhouette, water shots I took that interest me.  

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Every year, a couple of lovebirds (mourning doves) land on our deck railing.  They take in some sun and enjoy the springtime weather.  Here they are soaking up some rays.  

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Some shots are somewhat humorous.  I took this shot of a great blue heron in this awkward moment.  If she knew it was going to be plastered all over the internet she would be mortified.  :-)

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Lastly, this picture makes me smile.  The  drake and the mallard hen swimming away, their tails up, ready to motor out to deeper water and to enjoy some time together.  

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It’s been fun to share some of my photographs with you.  Soon I’ll be sharing more paintings too.  I’m also busy visualizing how I want to present each waterfowl/bird in my paintings, to make sure I do them justice.  Hopefully, you all will check back in soon to see what I’ve been up to.  Thanks!

Claudia's Monet!

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A long time close family friend demonstrated her patience and her belief in my artwork by waiting over 10 years for me to be able to paint her, her “Monet”.  For a long time I didn’t know if she was serious about having me do a painting for her.  She would tell me that she thought a painting of azaleas would be nice, since we both were from Bethesda, MD and the azaleas in the spring time are spectacular.  I had gone to work as the corporate artist for MBNA at the time and I was fully committed to painting full-time for them, so I told her when time permits I would love to paint a painting for her.

My wonderful career with MBNA lasted almost ten years and as soon as I was back to freelancing sure enough our good friend was there still waiting for her “Monet”.  She knew she wanted azaleas in the painting but she wanted me to come up with some suggestions for the composition.  Living in Williamsburg roughly an hour from Norfolk, I headed down to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.  The timing was perfect; the azaleas were in full bloom.  I ran around taking all kinds of pictures of wild azaleas.  As beautiful as the azaleas were though, they were mostly in a wooded setting without much interest surrounding them.  I went home without inspiration. 

One night not long after, a vision of Monet’s bridge popped into my head along with the beautiful gardens at Giverny.  Almost simultaneously a vision of the arched bridge, pond, azaleas, arboretum like setting at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Williamsburg, VA where I had played golf several times popped into my head.  The next morning, all excited, I grabbed my camera loaded with film (before digital) and hurried down to what I was hoping would be the way I remembered it. 

There it was.  The lighting was good.  The light yellow bridge with the Japanese influence was surrounded by azaleas.  The dogwoods were in bloom and the mallards were enjoying a morning swim.  It was exactly what I was looking for. 

After presenting a colored sketch of the scene, our good friend Claudia finally got her “Monet”.  Hardly a Monet, but I was pleased that the painting incorporated some elements of Monet’s beloved Giverny including the arched footbridge, the wonderful botanical surroundings and reflective pond which one could imagine flowering lily pads floating. 

It was a commission that I enjoyed immensely and I thank Claudia and Chuck for their belief in my art and for their patience, devotion and support.