Animals have always had symbolic meaning for people. Many cultures and individuals still consider the sighting of certain animals as highly significant events. One of the most cherished of sightings is of a bird that is thought to represent many of life’s best experiences – joy, love, peace, overcoming adversity, the fulfilling of dreams. What bird can signify so much all by itself? Well, its the amazing little hummingbird!
And no wonder, right? It’s incredible flight ability, it’s diminutive size, it’s great power and resilience to migrate enormous distances, all make for the things of myth and legend. It’s both magnificently delicate and fierce at the same time.
We have always had a few plants which attract hummingbirds to our farm. This year my wife Lin made sure we had Bee Balm as well. Beautiful red flowers are hard to resist, especially for the hummers doing their tour around the farm.
I read during afternoon coffee time on our front porch which puts me in view of the Bee Balm. I had established that the hummers visit the plant around that time. In addition to my coffee mug and Kindle, I’ll have my camera with a long telephoto lens attached. I prefocus, preset the exposure, and previsualize compositions. Hummingbirds are fast and don’t typically hang around for long. My last quick decisions have to happen on the fly (sorry), but the result was marvelous. I hope you like it too.
For a print of this image, go to my website HERE.
The life of a full-time artist is multifaceted. For me it is primarily about the creative process of exploring a personal vision, and means of expression through a chosen medium. But being an artist is also a life-style choice which includes every aspect of daily living. This is certainly true for my wife Lin and I who live on a small farm from which we create our art. Every aspect of our farm is geared toward the creative process. From the almost 200 year old farmhouse which contains our multiple studio spaces, to the fiber-providing alpaca, gardens for growing dye plants, the natural areas we foster, and even the barn cats, we derive most of our inspiration from this farm.
There is nothing about the current situation which keeps us from making the art we want to make. What has changed drastically is the normal marketing of our work we do at fine craft and art shows throughout the year. So far though, we are hanging in there. We are also working on new, exciting ways to stay engaged with our clients, customers, and patrons.
This picture of one of our barn cat kittens exemplifies how we all feel. A wonderful thing about animals is their ability to express for us many of the emotions we experience. This rascal enjoyed the challenge of climbing, sometimes beyond its true ability. This piece is now part of my Barn Cat Series available at my gallery online HERE.
I recently asked friends of mine to list questions they had about the artistic process. One of the questions asked was why do I work in my chosen medium and not another. What is it about the medium of photography that has kept me so engaged for over 40 years? The image that I have titled Red Wing is very much pertinent to the answer. For me, being able to create in the moment when my emotions are running highest is very important. I appreciate the rush I get when I observe something extraordinary. To most fully experience something remarkable, I need to engage with it in real time. I can achieve that engagement uniquely through the medium of Photography.
This image was made recently in a wooded section on our farm. It was a cloudy afternoon. I saw the flock through my studio window and almost just chose to observe. Then a rather desperate urge came upon me to engage. I’ve been working in a rather impulsive way recently, just grabbing gear and going. I knew which lens I wanted to use, which camera body to attach it to, and that time was fleeting. I also knew these birds would not like me approaching them. I began adjusting settings as I worked my way closer and when in position, my gut instinct took over.
This is a very significant image for me. It is an image that defines the kind of work I have come to make over the last five years, and especially within the last couple.
This image is part of my “100 Series” and will be limited to 100 prints in all sizes. Prints are already available at my gallery online – HERE.
It’s still winter, even though we hit 72F yesterday. In fact this whole winter has been crazy mild. We’ve had way above average temps, and very little snow — except in the form of geese! Several times in the last few weeks large flocks of these magnificent birds have dropped into the fields behind our farm. It has been such a wonderful display. Big, white birds flying in unison, sometimes against the dark hillside made for an exhilarating experience.
Over the last five years, most of my work has been done on our farm. The arrival of the Snow Geese has added a new element to my series done right here on our 7 1/2 acres. Although I have done several series on large flocks of blackbirds, the snow geese afforded me the opportunity to create an interesting contrast. I composed this piece to emphasize a strong yin and yang relationship — with white geese against the dark hillside balancing the dark trees against the light sky. It is important too that some of the white geese cross the dark trees which creates a unifying element in the image.
I am offering this image as a Limited Edition print as part of my “100” Series. Only 100 prints will be made across all sizes. Order it now on my website here.
I received a fantastic email from a woman who purchased a print of mine at a show last year. Jen wrote to tell me that she had been searching for over two years to find just the right portrait of a hawk. She saw my work at a show here in Pennsylvania and was very pleased to discover my image titled Icy Stare. Deciding to purchase the print, Jen informed me that she “couldn’t be happier” with it.
“I am so pleased with the quality of Paul’s work. He captures the raw emotion of the natural world in seemingly effortless portraits” ~ Jen L.
Thank you Jen, for sharing your thoughts about this image with me! And thank you for asking me to share them here. Obviously, some real thought went into her custom matting and framing as well. It looks great!
The image Icy Stare was made in Bucks County, PA on a cold winter morning. The bird is a Coopers Hawk, a very handsome raptor with strong features and intimidating talons. I was working from a blind and was thrilled to see this bird show up. It remained for quite a while and enabled me to really consider my rendering. I had to be careful that my excitement didn’t cause me to make mistakes. When I began to relax, I allowed instinct to take over and created a variety of images.
One of the things I like about living in north-central Pennsylvania is our four distinct seasons. And while I don’t particularly like the coldest weather we get here, I do like the visuals of leafless trees and the landscape covered in snow. This type of scene elicits a mood within me that tends to be rather sentimental, nostalgic, or cozy. The cold air outdoors can be countered by a fresh cup of Pike Place coffee or hot chocolate (a bit of peppermint Schnapps helps too). Maybe a favorite blanket, a fireplace, a comfortable chair come to mind as well.
So it’s not really the landscape itself which has a mood, it’s our response to a scene which is projected onto the landscape that elicits our feelings. When I am creating images outside in the winter I am working mostly by gut instinct. A combination of conscious and subconscious responses to the visual environment effected by the feeling of cold, the sounds around me, maybe the smell of a distant fire. I cannot, of course, put all of these sensations into my image, but they impact the creative process.
When the images are brought into my studio and viewed on a computer screen away from the conditions in which they were made, I can evaluate them at a different level. Without all of the sensory stimuli which were associated with the making of the images in the field, I can look at them with fresh eyes. Elements like contrast, tonality, texture, composition, visual impact, and even just how much I like the image, can be evaluated more consciously. My goal in this part of the process is to be authentic to my visual experience in the field and my aesthetic response to that image in the studio.
The image below was made a short walk from my studio. I was drawn to the texture of the trees and to the way they surrounded the small red building. The evergreen trees provide a visual color balance to the red and a color harmony with the blues in the shadowy parts of the woods. Strong diagonal lines throughout the image lead from the the upper left to the lower right and so to the red building as well. Most of this analysis takes place in the studio and not in the field, at least not consciously. But I am sure that the studio analysis of the image impacts my subconscious responses going forward when I am working in the moment.
As an indie artist I feel it is important to maintain an authenticity in my work that speaks honestly to who I am. In the art world in which I exist, there are many players. It is both a smart business move and my absolute desire to distinguish myself as an artist. When I’m comfortable and confident in the work I am doing I have also been more successful in the art I create.
For me, this image only ever had one interpretation. An independent, self assured, non-conformist who would do it’s own thing regardless of the social pressures put upon it. The title “Be Yourself” came to me quickly. Notice the bird doesn’t completely isolate itself from it’s social system, but neither does it feel compelled to always be a part of the group. It is still close enough to be a part of the picture, but also able to be it’s own…….well, bird.
Like many images I have been making recently, this one was made on our farm. Tall electrical poles and long wires run along the creek at the back of our property. I often watch how various birds use this seating area and how they interact with each other. My university background in Psycho-biology (Animal Behavior) still informs my work. I was initially absorbed with pondering this individualist soul. Rock Doves are very social animals as can be seen by the tight group behavior on the top wire. So what was up with this rebel bird?
After a short while I began to see the scene for its simple geometry. I began composing in my head……….then ran to the studio to grab some gear. I’d need a long lens but one that would give me compositional freedom…..a zoom lens then! Since the sky was overcast, I knew I’d need to over expose the image. I wanted a stark, blank sky anyway so that worked out. Ultimately I printed the image as a black and white on a matte finish paper which gives the piece the character of a pencil drawing.
Its a fun piece, one that I have been offering at shows only since the beginning of June. The response has been interesting eliciting a variety of feelings about it. Some see the individual bird as I do, others as an outcast. Some just feel sorry for the poor thing. It may be a bit of a Rorschach Test type of image. We relate to the bird on the lower wire in our own unique personal-history, life-experience kinda way.
Archival pigment giclee prints are available matted and framed on my website HERE.
“The enjoyment of beauty is a kind of escape from, a going out from, the urgencies of place and time.” ~ Virgil C. Aldrich (American Philosopher, 1903-1998)
There was a point early in my career where I realized that the process of creation was no longer an option. The act of creating had became an escape from the everyday stresses of life. If I didn’t get into the field at least once a week, I went into a low level depression (withdrawal?). Being out in nature was a big part of what drove the creative process. The science is clear about the benefits of being in areas of woods, around water bodies; even just looking at pictures of nature lowers stress levels.
I have come to realize as well that beauty itself drives my creative process and can serve as an escape. One of the benefits of working in the arts is the ability to create things of beauty. I can create my own escape when I need it. In my farmhouse studio space I can explore subjects in detail at my own pace and experience a world of beauty all to myself. For me art is all about experiences.
The image above was the result of an exploration of a silk moth which I found on our farm earlier this spring. Discovering its intricate wing scale design was a joyful experience. It felt like I was looking at a mosaic of tiles when I viewed a section of wing close-up. For the period of time in which I created images I thought of nothing other than the wonderfulness of the color and pattern. With its rhythm of scales though, it was the curve of the wing that I was drawn to most.
Curves introduce a feeling of tension. While sensual in form, curves imply resistance. Straight is less tense while driving; a curved road requires more expenditure of energy to maneuver. A river that flows through an oxbow is constantly fighting the curves. Straightness implies a fight with gravity which is lost, or even a struggle with death no longer fought. Leo Stein (American art collector/critic, 1872 – 1947) remarked, “Tension in line can be observed if one will follow the outline of a vase and notice the force it takes to bend the line of a contour.” Curves to me speak to a life force, something I think art can convey uniquely.
For many in America, the Bald Eagle is the symbol of freedom and strength. These magnificent birds represent both qualities well. They are also however symbols of what happens when Americans stand up to the greed and short-sightedness that causes great environmental harm. Once Endangered, these birds have made a great comeback. They represent a resolute attitude by those who understand that we live on a planet where our actions have consequences. When I see these majestic birds in my own backyard, it gives me hope and a sense of determination to fight so that this experience may be had by our children.
This image is available as archival 7×10″ and 10×14″ Limited Edition prints from my gallery on-line.
I sometimes feel transported back in time by the simplicity of the rural landscape around me. I can imagine that it is the middle of the Nineteenth Century with no wires, no automobiles, no cell towers. On a wintry day with snow on the ground, the landscape becomes even more stark. Working with the most modern of photographic tools, I still felt compelled to create a monochromatic piece suggestive of old glass-plate days and wonky lenses.