We are at the end of sandhill crane season. There is a south wind today so I wonder if they won't take advantage and soar off to the north. There is nothing like the trill of cranes, sometimes almost a purr at night, rising wave as they wake up, thunderous roar when rising off the river and singing in the wind for their mid-day flight.
My son, Van Jensen, was home for a week and was reminded of breaking his nose during high school basketball practice leading to a discussion of me breaking my nose twice as a child - once getting hit by a wooden swing and once having a heavy pedestal table with my brothers on top smashing my face. When I was in high school I started begging my parents for a nose job and they finally agreed. They took their time, long enough that I decided I didn't need it and could live with a broken nose. The conversation inspired these two paintings.
I'm never quite content with brilliant orange poppies and light lavender lilacs but each spring they burst into bloom together with their odd color scheme.
Both are gifts from favorite women who were buddies as little girls through high school. Both ended up living in Lewellen as married women. One was my mother and the other an art buddy - Alice Bailey.
My mother loved the country and wild things - the poppies are from her. Their long spindly stems sway with the slightest breeze turning their spray of color in interesting shapes.
Alice Bailey was a lover of the genteel - beautiful costumes, classic paintings and formal settings - the double lavender lilac was a gift from her. Alice had an walled-in English garden with a little grass, walking paths and bountiful flower beds. Many of my paintings are from photos taken in her garden.
Birding during Covid 19
With Covid 19 and social distancing, birding has risen to the top of my to-do list. We participated in the May e-bird count and spotted thirty-five species at our bird feeder and around the place during a couple of days of watching. Notably absent were flickers this year. We do have red-bellied, downy, hairy and red-headed woodpeckers however. I had been finding chunks of wood on my walking path and found the newly hollowed out hole for one woodpecker. Unable to identify the bird sitting inside I resorted to the Cornell ebird site and listened to woodpecker calls, making it very clear it was a red-bellied woodpecker.
We are getting the beginnings of 60 mph winds this morning so I have decided to walk early before it gets worse. A crust of ice covers the snow, making walking treacherous. I take Oliver north on our trail, cross the bridge to my sister’s house and then head back along the county road. As Oliver trots down the road he spies a rabbit and gives chase, flying along the fence row and plunging into the undergrowth by the creek. He is in and out searching for the lost rabbit. With a lot of encouragement, I am able to get him to come to me and finish our walk. As he approaches I realize that he is covered with blood on his face, neck, chest and leg. I am surprised as I didn’t think he caught the rabbit and usually rabbits don’t bleed that profusely.
As we near home I see that he has ripped a strip of ear loose and that it is his own blood that is spraying him as he shakes his head. I take him into the house to clean him up and patch his ear with a bandage. This is futile as, although he can’t lick his ear, he can catch the bandage with his large paws. As I work to clean him up, I notice a few drops of blood on the floor, then more as the ear bleeds profusely. Soon there are splashes of blood all over, dog foot prints in the blood and then the cat spreading the blood with his tail. Once I have the dog somewhat bandaged I start cleaning the floor only to discover that blood is sprayed across the washer and dryer and walls in the bathroom and entry, on the white carpet and over the lid of the cat litter box.
Oliver is locked in the bathroom as I write this – hoping that the cut will clot up and that I can let him out. He is not happy locked in the bathroom and the cat has been kicked out.
This is my idyllic life in beautiful nature – it involves blood and messiness.
I have a perfect life for an artist, living in seclusion in an isolated rural acreage, the closest village with less than 300 people. Our 60 acres of wild land includes pasture, rows of cottonwoods planted in the 1950’s, a great variety of shrubs, grasses and wildflowers and through it all the crown jewel – Blue Creek – winding its way out of the Ogallala Aquifer springs to the sandhills to the North Platte River on the south. Our yard abuts the creek, blue grass lawn mowed to the edge. Birds feed at our window, a blue heron fishes along the bank, Sandhill cranes fly over during migration seasons. We have seen deer, skunk, raccoon fox, coyote, mink, otter, beaver, porcupine and small rodents.
This is also a perfect life for a dog. Oliver is our Weimaraner rescue dog, that is, I rescued my daughter from his craziness. Oliver is best described as an ADHD Olympic athlete, muscles rippling as he runs across the prairie. He has boundless energy, an explorer of every smell and animal track. He often corners a rabbit or small animal in a hollow log or irrigation pipe, working for hours to extract his prey.
In case you are imagining this perfect artist life as one of beautiful sunsets, winding trails and glowing grasses, you are correct. There is another side to nature however, a side that reflects the shadow and darker side of existence and here Oliver is also a reminder of the fullness of life.
I often hear, "How long did it take you to do that painting?" I will share a little of the process for this pair of vegetable paintings.
First, one day I was inspired by two red buckets full of vegetables that I had picked from the garden. I loved the way the sun was hitting the vegetables and shining through the bucket so took a bunch of photos inside and outside of my front door. Then I selected my favorites, messed with the lighting on my computer and then cropped the photos into being square since I thought that shape fit the subject. Next I bought a couple of deep-wrapped canvas and did an orange underpainting - showing here - and then sketched on the subject trying to catch the pattern of light and dark. Then I get to paint! In oils, first dark and working lighter. I have the zucchini and cucumbers pretty well done and the shadows. Now for the tomatoes and red basket.
Here is the nearly finished pair hanging in my studio. To answer the question of time, paint and brush time was about 20 hours - or about 40 years of experience!
Sometimes when I am painting I get excited about the colors on my palette. The one on the left is done with three primary colors - ones that are more muted Nebraska colors. I used these same three for about ten paintings in a row including the November and Abandoned series. The palette on the right includes a bright red and Manganese Blue - more of an aqua blue. These are great for flowers. I had a great time making yellowish greens and blue greens for the leaves.
We have had so many cloudy days, I thought I would share this recent painting of our little walking bridge across Blue Creek. My daily walk starts with crossing this bridge and heading out through the pasture and around the lagoon. Each day is different as the seasons and weather affect the color and light.
When painting I am trying to turn a flat canvas into the appearance of three dimensions so the viewer sees into the distance. A trick that is based on reality is to make the back objects lighter and cooler. This is readily apparent on a misty day but true anytime.
(On a side note - thanks to the Scottsbluff Star Herald for great coverage Sept. 26. Read here.)
I set out from my house for my daily walk – along a leaf strewn path lined with poplars and garden beds, around a bend in the creek, past an old barn and onto a driveway under huge cottonwood trees losing the last of their golden leaves in the fall breeze. It was at that point that I realized I had missed all of it, lost in my own thoughts. The words “Look up and live!” came to mind, a safety advertising campaign of the local electric company. Their warning is to keep people aware of power lines overhead. My message was to look up and see what was in front of me, the world I was walking through that moment. Look up and live. Stay present. Appreciate that glorious warm fall day, the breeze through my hair, the crunch of leaves under my feet, turkeys slinking through the grass to avoid the dogs.