Our garden shed on a summer day

This oil painting of our garden shed, I did from a photo taken during last summer’s long dry season. In the real life it is my favorite spot throughout all our other plants and native landscape: It is in a location away from the tall evergreens where the sun lays its rays upon the soil to warm the earth for flowering plants and vegetables to produce; plus, it is in constant change during the growing season. The shed is cedar board/batten that Bill constructed many years ago for garden tools and the entrance into our fenced vegetable garden. That is the part I love most about this garden shed. I can stand inside the shed, lean on the gate to the garden for several minutes while being protected from the sun to enjoy the summer’s warmth and watch the vegetables grow. It is so relaxing and satisfying to see all the greens slowly appear from a pencil point size seed to this eclectic assortment of tasty nutritious food. Nature is amazing!

Having to be indoors during the heavy rains this week, I decided to paint a scene that would remind me of those warm, dry and bright days of summer…so I selected my favorite spot. The painting was an experiment with oil pastels on board, a medium I haven’t worked with for a several years. Total fun!

Snow on the Willow

The long snow event in the northwest is finally coming to an end with the arrival of more seasonal weather that will melt the snow. Yay…I will soon be able to get outdoors for some fresh air and needed walking exercise. Although, I can’t really complain: Staying indoors has encouraged me to clean house, put away the ceramic Christmas tree, select items to bring to the thrift store drop off center for recycle and, best of all, spend more time to sketch the outdoor snow scene from comfortable chair next to my window.

There is a forest view from the living room window of mostly cedars and evergreens. Growing in front of the dark trees is a group of wild willows about fifteen to twenty feet in height. Presently, the long branches are heavy laden with snow and striking against the dark tree and wild shrubs in the background. The native birds fly quickly from the feeder toward the willows to hide away in the mass of branches. Its future of its life is nearing each year as it decays and eventually falls to the ground; but, in the meantime, it supplies a refuge for the birds and is a beautiful brilliant yellow/gold color in the fall that contrasts with the trees in background.

The forlorn brown bird

This small brown bird was perched on our porch early this morning with the temperatures in the teens and fresh snow covering the ground and steps. It appeared to be cold and forlorn not knowing how to cope with the sudden disruption in its daily survival activities. As I approached the window for a closer look, it became aware of my presence then flew away.

The scene was so touching, I had to sketch it while meeting with my artist friends on ZOOM today. We gather together each Tuesday to do our artwork and critique each other’s work. The sketch was drawn from memory plus I was able to snap a quick photo to use for reference.

The white stuff arrived a day after Christmas

This entire week the weather report kept promising a cold front from western B.C., Canada, heading toward the northern western states and bringing snow with it. Almost a phenomena on Christmas Day in the Pacific Northwest!! This morning, December 26th, we woke up to a beautiful blanket of white snow covering the ground as far as we could see.

Later, after morning chores completed, I sketched the backyard bird feeder as the local birds gathered near for a chance to get a black sun flower seed from the feeder. I spotted the usual Nuthatches, Chickadees and Juncos crowding around the cylinder, grab a seed then fly away to rip off the shell for the inner seed. Three days ago, we poured more feed into the mesh cylinder to ready for the storm; but it appears sometime tomorrow it will be empty again since the birds are unable to mix their diet with native seeds hidden underneath the snow.

From my upstairs window while admiring the snow, I observed one of the large fir trees that stands out from the others: It is healthy and has a somewhat symmetrical shape with branches nearly touching the ground and very picturesque with the fine snow covering the needles on its sweeping branches. Evergreen trees are very time consuming to sketch because of the fine detail, values, perspective and shape to express the tree’s own character, the reason I don’t always sketch them. Today, I spent some time completing the challenge with patience.

Coupeville City Wharf

Wednesday was Plein Aire day for the Whidbey Island Artists group so I packed my folding chair and art tools into my car and drove north about 20 miles to Coupeville to sketch Penn Cove and the wharf that includes a board/batten wood building from past years. The morning was beautiful, sunny and warm making it easy to settle for a lovely view along the grassy bank with an incline to the shoreline.

While sketching, I noticed a gal waving her hands and saying hello to me. I didn’t recognize her as being part of the WIA group, so I called back asking “who are you?” She replied, “I’m your daughter!” Surprise! She had driven to Coupeville for a short visit before returning back to Oak Harbor. We chatted for a while then she continued with her errand. Sometimes, it can be a small world on Whidbey making life wonderful and full of surprises.

The graphite sketch was completed after my daughter left that day The composition is the long wharf extended on the north side of the small Coupeville village and it is a great walk on a sunny day. Penn Cove harbor is long and somewhat narrow creating a safe harbor for boats. In the future I plan to use this sketch for a watercolor painting.

Plein aire sketching at Keystone (Coupeville ferry landing)

The meeting of strong currents going in different directions during certain times of the day at the mouth to the Keystone ferry landing can either give the ferry rider a thrill of their life, or experience a short miserable sea sickness. The captain at the helm takes the challenge very seriously as he/she pilots the large boat through the swells and choppy water toward small key hole entrance to reach the dock.

The pigeon guillemots were socializing and playing with each other on the breakwater rocks. Across the water way is a state campground with an everyday perfect 180 degree view of the straits. Further across the waterway hidden in the fog is a large freighter announcing its presence with frequent blast from its fog horn as it propelled its way to the deep ports in Seattle

The guillemots are very social marine birds and they were either settled on the large rocks or playing on the water surface and keeping in constant communication with each other. I never saw them diving for sea life the entire time while sketching the three scenes. Possibly, they were well fed during their early morning fishing expedition. I am suspecting they may have nests tucked into the deep openings between the rocks, the reason for being on the breakwater. It’s a wonder they nest and hangout so close to the ferry landing, a very active center.

The morning fog was still in the air and hanging out around the group of evergreens and fields near the water. Later in the morning the fog started to lift to give warmth while we sketched.

The currents in the Straits of Juan de Fuca are swift and strong just outside the entrance into the key hole at the Keystone Landing of Coupeville. I did a sketch of the large white caps forming by the choppy water. During that time the large ferry navigated into turbulence from an angle as it slowly tried to aim for the landing.

Robin’s egg

A new life began sometime in the early morning hours on a warm sunny morning after a nights heavy rainfall. The grasses and trees were heavily dampened as well the road where I was walking. I could see the warm sun rays evaporating into the air from the road…what a lovely sight. While enjoying the scene, I spotted the robin’s freshly broken half shell before me. It was soft and moist so I carefully held it in my hand to prevent it from crumbling and headed back home to paint it in my journal. The thin shell had to have broken open recently since it still contained its brilliant blue/turquoise color; and, somewhere above where I had stood were the branches in the tall trees where the little chick was tucked into a cozy nest built by its mother.

Two days after I had sketched the egg, the brilliant color had already started to fade and the egg shell had begin to dissolve. In the past, I had picked up an undamaged bird’s egg from the ground…it either fell from a nest, or the nest had been raided by a local raptor and the egg fell out. I placed the whole egg on a shelf with other nature items in my house, not realizing that in a few months it would become a very small pile of powder.

Early spring is when we hear the mating songs coming from the many robin’s who habitat on our property. They are the loudest and first bird we hear in the morning and late into the evening so it’s not surprising to find empty half broken shells on the ground after the chicks have hatched. The local raptors are eagles, owls, ravens and hawks, and for those birds, the robins are easy prey to observe their habits for an easy nest capture. The robins are very aware of any predator near that could be potential danger to their nest. Their loud cries and quick flights toward the large bird alert all the other birds to join the chorus until the danger has flown away.

The colors in the above image have been edited on my computer to show the details of the egg. The value range in my original watercolor painting was light and very limited for a good visual image after scanning it.

A determined Hummingbird in search for a mate

Yesterday was cold with a heavy precipitation most of the day but that didn’t deter the small Anna’s Hummingbird’s determination to post himself not more than ten feet from the sweet syrupy Hummingbird feeder. He established his perfect perch on top of the flower basket hanger in front of the dining room window, where I kept a watch on his activity, from early morning until almost sundown. He was burning up a lot of his energy by the constant motion of his head turning quickly side to side for any females heading to the feeder and predators that had other plans for him.

It was thoroughly entertaining and educational to watch his behavior and activity when female Hummingbirds came close to his perch. In a resting mode, he would make a dart to the feeder to replenish the burned calories while trying to impress a beautiful female; or, he just remained perched and his colorful feathers would become more subdue. I cannot explain the scientific theory for the sudden flash of brilliant colors appearing on his feathers, even on the gray day as yesterday. The upper chest, neck and top of his head would turn an iridescent red the entire time his head was in motion. If a female approached the feeder he would immediately zip over to her, making lots of buzzing noise with his wings, but she would quickly fly away with him in pursuit; then shortly after, he would return to his perch for more patrolling.

In the afternoon, he did finally attract and impress a female when I peered through the window to see two hummingbirds dancing and making quick darts around the feeder and bushes. It would have been somewhat dangerous to be within their space as they performed several quick aerobatics.

I sketched the front and back view of the male Anna’s Hummingbird colors during yesterday’s mating scenario. Even the back feathers had changed to a warm tan.

Discarded marine life houses

During my walks along the beach, I noticed as late summer turns toward fall the change of sea tides every six hours frequently bring new marine debris of sorts onto the shoreline with the incoming tide. Then, as the tide slowly lowers again some of the discarded marine animal particles get left high and dry upon the sand by protruding rocks, swirling sand and water, different levels of the beach and other obstructions. Several of the objects are marine animal homes that their bodies have outgrown, then realize a need to move into new dwellings either by molting; find a safe empty home; or, continue to grow the outer shell surrounding the animal.

Each walk I notice new treasures getting my attention for interesting objects to sketch and paint plus lots of great views of the surrounding landscape; but, the small beach objects can be picked up and sketched at a later time when I can observe them better in my tiny studio. If the animal had died in its shell and left any body particle inside it will have a strong rotten odor that will not be welcomed in my house.

So this is what I gathered last fall from a nearby beach on Whidbey Island: A Dungeness female crab identified by the small pinchers plus a wider flap on the underside; it’s illegal to catch for consumption; males are legal. Normally the crabs are more of a gray/blue color when alive. After leaving its shell during molting, which is mating season from May to August, the shell dries then turns red.

The moon snail is a beauty with the soft pastel colors inside its shell and the perfect round shape it forms. These can grow very large. The animal will extend itself way beyond the edges of its shell to cover a large sand clam to devour by penetrating a hole through the clam shell so to suck out the meat. The moon snail creates a circular sand collar on the beach surface to lay its eggs that will hatch in to larva and imbed themselves into the sand to grow.

The brown kelp is like a forest and is a very important marine life for the health of animals, plants, sea and human life. It photosynthesis from the light it receives through a bulb extends to the surface of the water to capture the exposure. There are no roots on the kelp but they keep stable by attaching to rocks on the sea floor. It is illegal to pick kelp but the ribbon extending from the bulb can be harvested. Healthy kelp grow in large forest on several beaches throughout the Salish Sea in Washington state.

The animal that lived in the empty barnacle shells attached to a heavy flat rock still remain attached with the rust colored dried sea life surrounding the old shells. Live barnacles filter the sea water creating a healthy environment along the sea shores on the west coast. They attach to all objects that are stationary and stable within a salty habitat.

The varnish clam catches my eye when the shell is open and lying on the beach. It is small, has a brown stripped outer shell and a beautiful shiny warm blue/violet color on the inside. They are deceiving being high in biotoxins and possibly unsafe to consume.

Sweeping Branches

The Japanese Maple tree in my yard has long delicate branches reaching into the sky from its trunk with delicate colorful leaves that change throughout the growing season. The range of colors can be greens, yellows, brilliant oranges and reds. It captures my eye every time I peer out the window to view any wildlife action outdoors and then my eyes stop for a while at the tree to take in its beauty. A nice resting place.

Even the Oregon Junco will hop onto one of the branches for a rest or get a bird’s eye view of what is happening on the ground beneath it. There are many Juncos that habitat on our property searching for small seeds, bugs and other on the ground around the tree planting area. Also, the local hummingbirds like to stop on the branches to check out the surrounding environment for predators before flying a few feet to the bird feeder.

This painting was a long project time wise, painted with acrylics on a board ten inches by forty inches. My husband cut the board per my requested dimensions to fit a space above our fireplace and it will stand on its own w/o a frame to maintain the free flowing movement.

Salamander, Frog and Mushroom

The frogs vocal croaks have been loud and plentiful this fall resonating through the tall evergreens around the neighborhood. We listen to their single messages that are hundreds of feet distance from each other. Could these lovely vocal green amphibians be tree frogs? In the spring, we can hear the chorus of frogs that habitat a pond on a neighbor’s property; but, near our house, we hear all the croaking coming from a single critter possibly attracting or notifying the other nearby frogs of their location.

Being so many frogs exposing themselves during this wet season, I wasn’t surprised to spot that one had it’s life cut short as it attempted to hop across the road. It was drizzly and wet during my morning walk, a perfect setting for other amphibians to venture out that day. A few steps further a Salamander about five inches in length was on its way to cross the hard pavement. I found a stick to turn it onto its dorsal side to photograph its belly for a later journal sketch, and then I flung it into the brush to prevent another critter’s end of life.

Several new mushrooms beneath the tall evergreens are forcing through the hard soil to reach the sunlight appearing in all sorts of strange shapes with pale colors. Most are of one variety and consistent formation and then a few will have unidentifiable formations and look really out of this world. I am not a wild mushroom connoisseur but sort wish I had the knowledge of safely identifying all those fungus growing. They do look very appetizing with their pale pink and brown color.

Sometimes I have to encourage myself to get outdoors to walk in the rain, but when a new discovery are finds of nature’s gifts, the first step through the door was worth the effort.

Chasing the rabbit

Seeing the rabbit this morning enjoying the weeds in the lawn, through the kitchen window , it reminded me about this summer’s frustrating but hilarious scenario of Bill and I attempting to protect our sweet string beans from the pesky baby rabbit. Each day we entered into our fenced vegetable garden to check the bean stocks for healthy growth and new blossoms; then one day, we noticed that one group of bean stocks was thinning out and a few of the twisting stems were separated from the roots. “Oh darn! A rabbit had entered into our garden!” Keeping a lookout for the garden thief we finally were able to spot the cute little animal after the second group of bean stocks appeared to be thinning out. We did a walk around the perimeter of our rabbit proof fence that was constructed several years ago and found some openings between the bottom of the fencing and the soft sandy loam soil that had shifted over time. We patched up the holes and thought our beans would be saved!

The next day, while in the garden, we spotted the rabbit disappearing into the raspberry bushes as it tried to hide from the mean old gardeners. Bill immediately started clapping his hands as he chased the rabbit around through the vegetables as it tried to head for its escape hole. I grabbed the watering hose and sprayed water toward the rabbit while Bill was continuing the hand clapping and loud vocal scare technique. Finally, the rabbit was able to escape and we did another fix on the fence. The scenario continued throughout the day and into the next day. Foreseeing that we may not be able to harvest the lovely beans we were anticipating, I arranged a temporary chicken wire fence around the entire remaining bean stocks with success! At harvest time, we enjoyed a few weeks with fresh green beans added to our evening meals.

A volunteer Buttercup squash in the garden

In our kitchen by the sink, we keep an indoor compost container for the throw away vegetable scraps that we eventually dump into the large compost in our garden. Then all those scraps after they have decomposed over several months will be tilled into the ground. Every year the garden will offer volunteer vegetables from the seeds that go into the compost and survive through the year. Some years it’s tomatoes and potatoes; or, an unidentified squash plant appears out of the ground that often does not mature so we pull the long stems and root out and toss it back into compost.

This year, a new squash plant appeared with curly shaped leaves that were different from the other previous squash. Bill wanted to get rid of it but I insisted we keep it for the adventure of seeing what it will turn out to be. We left the single plant in the garden and watched the long healthy stems reach the climbing pea plants, the beet and chard plants so I redirected the long stems away from the other veggie plants. The plant produced several nice orange blossoms but only three squash developed to full maturity to the point where I was able to identify the fruit by a photo that was very similar on the internet. I am certain it is a Buttercup, a winter squash.

Reading information on when to pick the ripened fruit is when it makes a hollow sound when tapped with your hand and by the lighter colored vertical stripes appearing on the outside. Being that the squash appearance met all three mentioned requirements in the description, I selected one of the squash as possibly being ready to pick. I did so but before cutting it open to prepare it for a meal, I painted the outside skin, then cut it open to expose the inside meat to determent if it’s color was orange enough for eating….sure enough, it was ready!

Red Huckleberry – Vaccinium parvifolium

In the early spring the red huckleberry, a native bush, peeks out from beneath the tall evergreens reaching for sunlight, protruding from the tops of rotten old growth tree stumps or growing in the open sunlight at the edge of the forest. They are covered with small delicate almond shaped spring green leaves. Several branches extending from the main stem crossover other branches creating a delicate lacy texture juxtaposed against the nearby tall dark thick tree trunks. The long draping branches extend outward and droop slightly to the ground so the light weight of the branches will dance and twist with the wind.

During the spring months, tiny single blossoms appear throughout the bush before bearing small bright red transparent berries in the summer. The bush maintains its delicate lacy appearance with the addition of the tiny red berries decorating the plant like a unique Christmas tree with red ornaments. Throughout late summer, the birds that habitat the area before returning south for the winter will harvest the entire bush for the nutritious fruit that gives them energy needed to feed their young and the return flight.

This sketch was completed today from a branch I broke off from the main stem during my walk. Several bushes are becoming dormant and dropping their leaves. Soon all that will remain through the winter will be the interlacing branches. Note: The sketch was photographed by me using my iPhone and then downloading the image onto the photo icon on the computer. The final image has a green tint background rather than white as the original. The tint was not my intention and it causes the lack of crispness to the image….

Praying Mantis on the west side of Cascades?

On Thursday, Bill spotted what he thought was a green twig on the porch. But after taking a closer look at the unusual appearing object, he was surprised it was a three to four inch Praying Mantis resting in the open space. The Mantis was very well disguised in its green leaf appearing garment from the overhead owls, hawks and eagles.

Praying Mantis on Whidbey Island! In all my many years, I have never ever seen this unique insect on the west side of the Cascades, so you can imagine how disappointed I was to not have seen this creature on Thursday. But yesterday, taking a stroll on the nearby road, I saw my first ever P.M. resting in the open on the paved roadway. Its vibrant green body color immediately attracted my attention toward it. The size was two and half inches long and in a sitting position and as I approached it for a better observation, it raised the front legs in a praying position (probably praying I wouldn’t harm it.) Praying Mantis are amazing creatures and beautiful to the human eye but a deadly threat for other bugs! The P.M will attack its prey for a good meal, even the female will eat off the male’s head while mating! That’s a very short and strange courtship!

Sighting two Praying Mantis in one week was an unbelievable treat to us and I want to share our special treat to all.

Wind and Rain on the island

The first wind and rain storm during the beginning days of autumn blew like a torrent through the island ripping the dry summer leaves and brittle branches to the wet ground. The dry decaying deciduous trees toppled onto the roads and long driveways to block owners from entering onto their property. Fortunately, the power remained intact on most of the island and we did not have to wait hours for it to return. The rains were welcomed by the trees, plants and vegetable gardens and many folks who were in close proximity to the threatening forest fires along the western coastal states. The heavy rains doused most of the fires so we no longer had to endure the heavy smoke that forced us to stay indoors for more than a week!

After the wet and windy storm, I ventured outdoors for my usual two mile walk to observe any changes from the strong winds and possible social chat time with neighbors if they were outdoors. I noticed that a fragile tree had fallen across the new neighbor’s long driveway to their house that will need to be removed when they arrive back on island; it’s too heavy for Bill and I to remove it. The fresh air and light wind was welcomed into my lungs with the brisk walk and feeling content with the coming change of weather. The treasures I found were a few wet windfall leaves I picked up, brought them home and painted their image onto watercolor paper experimenting with a variety of hues using the three basic primary colors as my palette.

Apples from the yard

Stopping at the Bread Farm bakery in the small rural community of historic Bow is always a treat for anyone meandering or browsing while driving through it; if you blink while following the turn in the road, you’ll miss it among the other shops next to it. Before my husband and I arrived at that particular bend, we spotted a mother and young daughter standing at the edge of their large property selling bags of bright red apples for five dollars. Being that fall is arriving and the sugar in apples is sweetening and possibly ready for harvest, we made a quick stop and purchased a bag.. The young girl was so pleased and appreciative she gave us a big smile and thanked us.

We continued on into Bow for a stop at the bakery for Bill to satisfy his sweet tooth with a cinnamon twist and then continued home toward the island. Upon our arrival, I bit into a deep red apple and discovered they had been picked too early and were without much flavor and had a rather woody texture; even so, the purchase was worth making a young sales person happy with more money in her cache. Also the beautiful assortment of reds, yellows and greens in the apples made a colorful center piece in the kitchen, plus gave me the opportunity to sketch them.

Laid back summer day at Glendale

Wednesday was a muggy hot day on the island with no wind to clear the moist marine air as it wrapped around my skin. By the afternoon I was exhausted from the heat. I needed a rest…my activity level doesn’t tolerate hot weather as years in the past. I did an early morning walk along the shore collecting items for future paintings while Bill painted the trim on the cabin. Mid day while he was working, I sat on the porch for several hours and sketched the calm still waters of the late August summer scene.

The eagles, blue herons, and deerkillers and other marine birds kept me busy enjoying their activity near the water. We spotted an bald eagle grasp a small fish from the shallow water then take it to a beach log to consume it. There was a lot of pleasure boats cruising the Puget Sound on their way north to the San Juan’s and south to Puget Sound waters. I would have liked to place those images into the painting but the results of doing so sometimes appear awkward and distracting in the painting.

A comfort zone for the deer

Last evening I peered out my dining room window seeing a strange object on the ground underneath the giant cedar trees low hanging boughs in the front of the house. The ground is soft and warm from the shedding needles and droppings from understory native plants. The sun had been shining on that spot in the afternoon and remained warm after sunset. From my view point of about 50 feet and considering dusk was approaching and softening edges of objects from a distance, it was difficult to see what this doe was doing while resting. She appeared to be cleaning her body coat while her ears moved and twitched. I thought she would spend the night in comfort with no fear of coyotes approaching and threatening her, but later into the night she was gone.

The deer often give birth to their young near neighbors’ houses for the protection of their fawns. Then, I think after the birthing, the doe will leave her fawn in search of nutrients. In the past, we found a new born fawn on the walkway to our house while mama deer was out foraging for food. We did not touch the fawn but left it in its place until the doe returned to start their adventures together into the nearby forest.

The next morning, I walked over to the spot where the doe had been the night before and there I found an indentation in the ground the shape of a round belly where the doe had rested for a few hours. The above sketch done in pencil was drawn with the memory of the deer scene. The trees were my models that are always there.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquafolium)

“Ouch!” The loud cry coming from my mouth when accidentally I grab a sharp prickly leaf on the Oregon Grape plant that grows wild on our property. The green and red colored leaves on the plant blend in with the Salal and Evergreen Huckleberry bushes, so it is easy to not see the sharp ended points on the edges and ends of the leaves before it sticks into my skin.

The Oregon Grape is a Northwest native plant that grows from southeast Alaska to Northern California and is an exotic plant invading into the other wild plants growing nearby. Its growth can range from three feet to six feet, depending on the species, with spiny leathery leaves resembling holly; the stems are tough and twisty and rather corky. It blooms in the spring with bright yellow blossoms that attract bees before the lovely blue berries form on rust colored stems. The berries are edible but very sour and bitter to human taste; a few birds seem to tolerate the bitterness. only to obtain the nutrients.. In the fall the leaves will glow a range of colors from yellow, rust to red. These plants can be colorful in a native garden but need to be controlled to prevent spreading via their deep root system.