It is not uncommon for artists who work in any medium, to reconsider, reimagine, reevaluate, and/or rework, an older art piece. I’ve had time over the last year to fully explore images in my oeuvre. I think this kind of self-reflection is important for artists. Evaluating previous work gives an artist a way of tracking their growth. But it also allows for making changes that better represent their present esthetic, take advantage of new skills, new philosophies, changes in experience. And frankly, it’s just plain fun to do.
The image accompanying this post was made with an earlier digital camera and before I had established a work flow that I was really comfortable with. Move forward to the present and I have developed a number of new skills which allow for me to develop this image to my evolved tastes and address technical challenges more fully. Most importantly, I have a stronger style, and more developed sense of likes. Also, I have years more time looking at art, the world, and my own work. I see things differently both figuratively and literally.
One of the things about this image that really jumped out at me this time is how much the grasses on the left mirror the shape and form of the dragonfly on the right. Was that something I realized subconsciously when I originally made the image? Maybe. But now it’s very apparent to me and has really enhanced my appreciation for the picture. It is only one example of many in which I have made a new discovery in my own work.
I find myself drawn to ice in a way that is similar to my attraction to art-glass. There are many elements to ice that make it fun to work with. The natural forms it develops as a result of melting, wind, and other physical forces, is wonderful. The way ice reflects, refracts, and otherwise transforms light, is a never ending inspiration.
When exploring icicles visually, I look at form and light, but also background. Backgrounds are key to me in much of my work and as icicles are transparent, or at least translucent, the background becomes an even bigger consideration.
In this image I found myself annoyed by a distraction in the background. I had become very attracted to the form of two icicles hanging from our milk house roof, but there was a car in the way. Since I could approach these icicles closely, my first thought was to use a macro lens, but that stupid car…….
Then I thought about turning that problematic background into an esthetic solution. I changed lenses to a long telephoto and backed up. With my Olympus 100-400mm set at 400mm (equiv. of 800mm), I was able to isolate the icicles and also diffuse the background to just tones of color. The 800mm equivalent focal length allowed me to select the background precisely, and draw it forward into the image. The blue-gray color is from the body of a Toyota Odyssey, and the red is from the taillight.
This winter has certainly been full of snow, a real change from last winter. With all of the white stuff falling from the sky, I have renewed my Winter Bird Project started a few years back. In this effort, I have been working to create images which speak to the character of winter, and to the birds which spend that winter, at least partially, on our farm.
The project requires a lot of time watching and learning the various species behaviors. This year, we seem to have a larger number of Sparrows. In this image which I have titled “Winter Sprout,” a Song Sparrow peeks its head above the rim of a planter during a snow fall as if checking if spring may be near. The birds which stay locally during the winter will, by necessity, explore every nook for potential food.
I enjoy observing the behavior of the birds, all of them, but some just seem to have more interesting gestures than others. This Song Sparrow certainly caught my attention. It is hard not to ascribe some human motivation to its behavior.
Now available as a Limited Edition giclee in the Bird Gallery of my website – Here.
I grew up in the city with cats. Now I live on a farm, with cats. Lots of cats actually. They were here before us and will probably be here after we are gone. They are a part of the land here. There are the cats that call Shady Grove Farm home, and others that just wander through.
Cats are fascinating creatures and for someone like myself with a degree in animal behavior, they may be even more fascinating. They are also beautiful and affectionate (at least a few of them). The cats are a part of our lives here. All of this is the subject of my first book — Barn Cats of Shady Grove Farm.
The book is an obvious extension of my art and just the beginning of a new endeavor, Shady Grove Farm Publications. More books under this new label will come from both myself and my wife, fiber artist, Linda Doucette.
The soft cover edition I have just released is 52 pages and chock full of wonderful imagery of cats and our farm. Available at my website now in two choices: you may order the book alone (Here), or a book/print package (HERE) which includes a Limited Edition 5×7 print of the cover image matted to 8×10. The soft cover edition is limited to 500 and will be signed and numbered by me inside.
Winter is the most unique season of the year I think. The cold, snow, and ice change the landscape in a way that is just visually distinct from the other seasons. While I don’t particularly like the cold, at least extreme cold, I do enjoy the simplification of nature that happens during winter.
One of the unique aspects of the cold period is the creation of ice. Whether it’s the freezing of pond, creek or lake, or the formation of icicles, ice has many properties that I find visually fascinating.
After a heavy snow, the melt water drips and freezes on our old house and forms icicles along a number of roof lines. I become engaged with the repetition of form of a row of icicles. Their linearity can be very harmonious.
But these ice sculptures are not static, they are fluid, literally fluid. When the sun hits them and the solid becomes a liquid, the drops form and create a constant patter on the surfaces they land. It has a regular beat to it. Also though, I find the circular drop shape a wonderful contrast to the straight line shape of the icicle.
In this image I wanted to juxtapose the round drop with the linear source. I needed a very fast shutter speed and some good timing. The deep blue sky background allows the drop to stand out. I also used long telephoto lens to isolate the icicles and drop (Olympus 100-400mm lens on an OMD E-M1X).
Typically, my year consists of around 25 shows in which I exhibit and sell my work. Of course 2020 was like no other year, all shows were cancelled. While that has resulted in several challenges for me, time to create was not one of them. My wife and I were able to create more of a nature friendly setting for the wildlife that typically visits our little farm. Most of our land is wild anyway, but some of it is set aside as gardens and grazing for our alpaca. We did have one back grazing area that we no longer needed for the alpaca and so decided to convert it to a bit of a wildflower meadow and pond.
Our hope was to draw more birds, more butterflies and bees, and more wildlife in general. With this goal in mind, we set out to develop a space that would be an inspiration to our art making during all four seasons.
This winter is our first since beginning our project and of course winter has just begun. From my second floor printing studio, I can view the back field nature area we have developed. It is useful to be able to monitor how and when the birds use this space so that I can plan to be out there when activity is highest. Snow seems to have a great impact on the bird’s presence. After a 12 inch snow we had in late fall last year, I was able to work for several days in a row making images in our new setting.
This image is of a Song Sparrow on a berry laden branch with grass meadow in the background. I chose a spot that would put the background far enough away to create a clean backdrop. For the first time, I’ve begun working handheld and with great results. Working handheld allows me to respond more quickly and with greater freedom to create. It requires I work with a lens long enough for my visual goals but light enough for me not to tire too quickly. My solution is the Olympus 100-400mm on the Olympus E-M1 X. I can literally work for hours without inducing arm fatigue and thus keep from shaking.
As part of my overall effort to make the farm into an “outdoor studio,” I’ve spent much of the year getting to know the creatures that reside here with us. Because of travel restrictions, my wife and I have made great strides to improve the farm’s landscaping and gardens. We have a nicely diverse 7 1/2 acres of field, woods, wetland, and flower beds.
Among our many projects, we wanted to create a couple areas dedicated to birds. For this purpose, I allocated a couple pieces of white-picket fencing. These I placed in a back field overlooking a grassy wetland area where birds often naturally feed. It is also an area that I can watch from my second floor studio window.
My aesthetic goal for this series is to make photographs with visual simplicity, strong geometry, and expressiveness. Birds take on a variety of postures which we translate as body language. We do this naturally with other people as we try to gage someone’s mood. And while it is certainly an exercise in anthropomorphism to suggest that a birds body position always signifies their inner feelings, it is likely to be true at least some of the time. Even if it is never true, their posture certainly speaks to us which is all that really matters.
One of my favorite winer birds is the iconic “Snowbird” – the Dark-eyed Junco. This familiar, two-toned visitor is perfect for the type of minimalist winter imagery I want to make. The red berries add vibrance to an otherwise monochromatic scene. I composed in order that the Junco’s colors were in contrast with its background and yet still harmonious to the color palette of the image overall. Titles Snowbird, this image is available now as a Limited Edition print at my on-line gallery – HERE
For this series so far, I have been working entirely without a tripod, something that is rare for me. But the freedom to respond using a handheld lens has been very beneficial. In this case I am using an Olympus 100-400mm on an Olympus E-M1 X which I am finding to be a wonderful combination. I am still not happy wearing gloves though, so despite the cold, I am working bare-handed.
Ever on the lookout for fascinating mushrooms, we discovered a nice grouping growing inside a willow tree on our property. I worked this set during sunset but was not happy with the lighting. Somehow I wanted to create an image that felt more magical, more in line with mushroom’s mythical status.
On a dark, clear night, I set up a tripod and camera to make an image that would speak to the ancient belief in the spiritual essence of mushrooms. Using a small, narrow beam flashlight, I “light painted” the mushrooms to achieve an effect that they were giving off light and guarded by legendary fairies. Lots of trial and error, but ultimately I worked out a routine that achieved my vision.
Limited Edition prints may be purchased from my gallery on line Here. As part of my “The 100” Series, the regular edition will be limited to 100 prints with an allowance for Special Editions of 10 on different substrates.
This spring our barn was selected by a pair of Black Vultures as their nesting spot. Ultimately two eggs were laid and the incubating began. We checked on their progress regularly. One egg hatched, the other never did. Black Vultures mate for life and share in rearing the little ones. They are romantic birds engaging in a variety of courtship displays including one called “billing.” Billing is a behavior where the two birds touch beaks together which appears to strengthen the pair bond.
In our side yard, we have an old snag that is kind of a perfect perching tree. We’ve had Bald Eagles, various hawks, kestrel , pileated woodpeckers, and others use it to scan the fields. The snag is also a favorite spot for the vultures to hang out. One evening I spotted the two of them at the very top of the dead tree. They were silhouetted against a featureless sky. I ran outside with a camera and long lens and began to work at creating some minimalist images. When they starting “billing,” I recomposed to make sure their bodies didn’t overlap. I exposed to emphasize the silhouette.
I held off in printing the image because I suspected I would be able to combine it with another image in future. Last week I made that image; a wonderful large moon rising over the ridge across from our farm.
Moonstruck is now available as a Limited edition print in a variety of sizes and can be ordered as a canvas print as well (contact me for the canvas). Prints are available on my website HERE