Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Super Moon's Influence on the Sea

That close encounter with the super moon this week tried it’s best to vacuum up the world’s oceans. Evidence of the moon with it’s accomplice (the sun) ganging up on the sea showed via some especially low tides -- minus 4.3 feet here in Petersburg. Thus, Monday’s tide was getting close to rock or, in places, sand or mud bottom. In contrast, our highest tides run up to a height of over 20 feet.   For those of you in mid-continent, the 0 tide line is supposedly the average of all low tides.  In contrast, sea level is the average of all tides.  Thus, there are two zeros out there -- the 0 tide line and 0 elevation and a never-never land in between.  Of course! 

Wherever one draws a line in the sand, any time Karen and I can walk on the bottom of the ocean and not get our cameras wet, is a cause for an outing -- especially during our just-completed spell of sun-drenched days.  Although we didn’t hit the searing 82 degrees that was forecasted, we did hit a head-for-the-shade, swing wildly at the horse flies, 71 degrees for our morning at Sandy Beach.

Alas, every silver lining has a cloud.  The colors of critters abandoned by the sea during these extreme tidal events seems less intense in sun than during our more normal cloudy days.  In an impromptu game of chicken Karen and I tied because neither of us complained about the effect that golden orb had on our photos.  We just grinned all morning long.  By the time the tide crept back up the beach to chase us back above zero tide and then sea level, we both had the same reaction -- how could time have passed so quickly.  It must have been the super moon.

                               Karen walking on the "bottom" of the ocean.

A Black Leather Chiton, a species of mollusk, clings to a rock while patiently waiting for the tide to return.

                               Bull Kelp left high and dry -- OK, at least damp. 

                                              Touch me in the morning.

             A Greater Yellowlegs takes advantage of the opportunity for some fine dining.

So much for having the beach to ourselves.  Then again who were we to complain about the invasion of three Sitka Black-tailed Deer for whom the extreme low tide provided a short cut around the cove.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Research Melds with Art in Vermont

In college I learned to relish inhaling the scent a toxic chemical (turpentine) in a fume-filled art room during a class entitled “Introduction to Oil Painting.”  I also discovered the excitement of biological research.  Would tree seedlings rise up in protest if I grew them in bark mulch rather than real Vermont dirt?  How low could internal temperatures plunge in bats.  They were merely trying to hibernate in peace while I subjected them to the indignities of “wearing” a rectal thermometer as I lowered the temperature of their milk cooler cave to a point below freezing.  Would I end up with something besides bat popsicles?

My store of knowledge grew exponentially.  I discovered that hours in a green house quietly urging tree seedling to grow were tantamount to a mini Hawaiian vacation in the middle of Vermont blizzards.  Bats weren’t real keen on hibernating in a milk cooler so happily crept out of a hole the diameter of my index finger which, in turn, enabled them to populate the halls of the science building.  Their silent protest at the indignities of spending the winter with a probe stuck up their south end somewhat degraded one budding biologists carefully calculated sample size. 

But I’ve rarely linked the loves of painting and research. -- until Susan McKibben, a college classmate called.  “Would I be willing to paint the cover of a yearbook commemorating our 50th Middlebury College class reunion in June, 2012.“  Gulp!  I need visual images from which to paint. 

It was time for some research.  Enter Google and Yahoo Images -- even Google Maps.  Enter the alumni office’s photo collection.  Enter my own Alaskan photos and memories of wind and blowing snow.  Like a mad scientist probing the depths of a bat, I dove deep into the world wide web for images to stitch my model together.  Yes, research and painting combined -- pure bliss.  Why hadn’t I figured that out 50 years ago?

I didn’t make the reunion, but I could save on delivery costs.  Who needs UPS, FedEx or the USPS when you own a car?  I could deliver the painting in person -- just hop on a ferry for an 18-hour ride from our Alaskan home to Prince Rupert, British Columbia and then a little drive to Vermont.   No problem.  OK, I had already planned a trip to visit my brother in NY that fall.  I merely added a side excursion to the campus for the first time since the 1960s.  I even got treated to lunch out of the deal.  Some friends sure know my weak spot.

                         Winter Memories    16 X 20 inches    Alkyd on Canvas

By the time I finished Winter Memories, I needed more of a Vermont fix.   Why not try an abstracted painting of the campus?  In my research I had discovered one photo by Barbara Ganley that particularly appealed to me.  So, with Barbara's permission I gave it a try.

                          Campus Colors    16 X 20 inches    Alkyd on Canvas

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Special Place

I wonder what most most people would do given a choice between a dinner of surf and turf served by a charming French waiter at a posh New York restaurant followed by a Broadway play getting rave reviews and a nightcap of Irish Cream on the rocks with the cast of the play in a swanky bar...or...a day on a remote beach looking for pretty rocks?  Just a minute, I’ll ask Karen.....She says “what time does the boat leave for the beach?”  Actually -- I’ll stick with her.  So, when Barry and Kathy Bracken invited us for an outing at one of their many favorite beaches, a scenic boat ride out of Petersburg, Karen was floating on more air than the boat was on water.

The beach exceeded Karen’s wildest dreams.  We had trouble reeling her back in for lunch.  The memory card on her digital camera almost burst with all the photos she squeezed onto it.  Her pockets bowed out of shape from so many stones stuffed into them and her shoulders sagged from the weight of the rocks filling her new “rock pack.”  Beginning the second we lured Karen back into the boat, all she could talk about was how to get back there.

With all the rocks Karen collected it’s amazing the raft ferrying us back to the boat stayed afloat.  The elevation of the beach headed another notch towards falling below sea level while atlases will need to be amended to raise the elevation of Petersburg a comparable distance.  Best of all, Karen positively glowed all day long.

Karen and the Brackens enjoying the fruits of seemingly endless Alaskan storms --  driftwood and rocks rounded and polished by the churning waters -- what more could anyone want?

                   Somewhere hidden on this beach is the NPR (near perfect rock).

                     "Treasure hunting" is more fun than an Easter egg hunt for Karen.

Now that she looks at her photos Karen asks herself how she missed this one and that one -- oh and that one.

              Just seeing the forest above the beach would have been enough reward.

Yes, Karen and I agree, sharing a day with good friends on a remote Alaskan island topped off with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (even one squashed flat by rocks) is far more luxurious than surf and turf in any restaurant -- even with a play and nightcap tossed in.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Plein Air in the Rain

I’m a fair weather plein air painter.   I like paintings splashed with sunlight, not drops of rain.  Shadows give paintings a sense of depth.  Well placed shadows can navigate a viewer around your painting -- theoretically. Rainy days -- forget it -- my studio beckons.  Cloudy days -- my basement is stuffed with cloudy day paintings that never see the glow of a light bulb on a gallery wall. 

So when Ohio plein air painter, Susi Havens-Bezaire, contacted me saying she was looking for artists to paint with during a nine month plein air odyssey, all I could say was YES.  Of course I knew that killed any chance of her four days in Petersburg being sunny.   Susi started her odyssey in Arizona sun.  It chased her north to Ketchikan.  And Wrangell.  I was available during two of her four days painting in Petersburg.  You guessed it.

So, on two for sure studio Painting days I had a wonderful time painting with Susi and several of our Petersburg artist friends outdoors despite weather that midwest farmers prayed for last summer. 

I even completed a piece the first day.  The idea of combining painting with a picnic got in the way the second.  Cooking hot dogs always interferes with art for me.  Karen wasn’t as enchanted by the hot dogs and scored with her camera -- subjects for rainy days in our studios.  Maybe I should paint a hot dog next time.

                           Rainy Day Light    9 X 12 inches    Alkyd on Canvas

                                             Plein Air Painting Weather?

                                                         Of Course!

                                   Joe Viechnicki and his number one fan, Leia.

                                        Karen's photo of skunk cabbage

                                 And an alder branch draped with lichens.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Remembering Niko 1999 -- 2013

It's been a really hard week as Karen and I said goodbye to our faithful Niko.  There aren't enough adjectives in any language to express how much we loved that animal.  We pray she is running free across the muskegs in heaven now and that some day we will rejoin her.

                   Karen's painting "Niko on Rug"   9 1/2 x 7 1/2 inches    Watercolor 

                                   We miss Niko waiting for us on our deck

                             Niko was the perfect companion for a couple of artists.

               The positions she could find comfortable, never ceased to make us smile.

                            How we miss seeing her almost float across the muskegs.

                                    And her joining us for our nightly games.

We've been shedding a lot of tears this week.  We know we'll recover, but we'll always miss our beloved Niko.  I know it's crazy, but when I walked one of our usual routes today, I even felt she was with me.