Words and Images from Ed Felker

Art

2016 Photos of the Year

This year I have put my favorite photos in a SmugMug album. Just click on the image below and it will send you to a slideshow. I think it looks best full screen. You can even purchase prints of any of the photos if you like.

Lots of dogs this year, more people than usual, and no fishing photos made the cut. I think that means I need to fish more in 2017. I hope you enjoy the photos, shares are greatly appreciated and don’t forget to subscribe so you can be notified when something new is posted. Have a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous new year!

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Musician Teddy Chipouras

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I don’t photograph people very often, but when local musician and friend Teddy Chipouras asked me, I was excited to photograph this extremely talented and photogenic rising star. These are a few of my favorite shots from a really fun day. Please visit Teddy’s web site here and check out his music. And if you get the chance to see him live, don’t pass it up. He’s just wonderful.

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Art of Nature

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I am encouraged by the young men and women I have met recently who defy the trend of their peers and immerse themselves in the outdoors, and particularly those who communicate their passion for nature through art.

Isabelle Sweeney, 17, has been crafting, painting, drawing and sculpting since she was little. “It started as something I would do with my mum and siblings, and over time it became something I would do to escape and unwind,” she said. “Painting has always been one of my favorite ways to do this.”

But she has always loved being outdoors. “I feel at peace in nature,” she said. So when her friend, naturalisit Brian Balik, suggested painting a deer skull, it seemed like a great way to combine those interests. Balik gave her a doe skull he had found, they cleaned it up and she set out to turning it into art.

Deciding on black paint because she liked the contrast on the white skull, she sat down one evening, turned on some music and started painting. “I never have a plan when I start,” Isabelle said. “I love the natural symmetry of the bones, so I let them guide me. I let the shapes I see in the skull come out in the black paint.” She finished that first skull in one sitting. “I didn’t stop until it was done late that night.”

I loved that first doe skull when I saw it, and asked Isabelle if she would paint the 6-point buck skull I used for my blizzard time lapse video earlier this year. She was excited to work with the additional interesting features of the antler bases, and came up with an absolutely beautiful design.

“I relish being able to take something from nature, something that had died, something that would have been wasted, and giving it new life as art,” Isabelle said. “To make it beautiful in a new way.”

I am so proud to have this work of art hanging in my office as a reminder of the beauty of nature, and of those who embrace it and find creative ways to express themselves through it.

Photo by Jodi Sweeney

Photo by Jodi Sweeney


Paintings from the Middleburg Hunt

A couple of recent photographs from the Middleburg Hunt’s Christmas parade and fox hunt caught the eye of two artists from either side of the Atlantic, and I was honored when they asked my permission to create paintings from my images. Since then, Ian Legge from the UK and Jeff Morrow from Cincinnati have produced absolutely beautiful, very different paintings. I asked them to share some thoughts about their paintings and the photographs that caught their eye.

Ian Legge
12 x 24, oil on canvas

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DSC_5808 copy“I came across the source photograph of Maureen Conroy Britell, taken by Ed at a Middleburg Hunt meet, on the Countryside Alliance Facebook page where a number of Ed’s photos had been posted. Many of my paintings are based on dogs or horses and am always looking for inspiration. A number of photos from the set caught my eye but the one I chose just has a beautifully elegant poise to it. Ms. Conroy Britell looks regal, balanced and elegant and is caught in a lovely light. It was a shot that just popped out at me. Ed kindly allowed me to use the image (with approval from Ms. Conroy Britell too).

“When it came to painting it, it proved quite tricky. I used some old oil brushes here, where recently I have been using watercolour brushes — totally incorrect with oil paint, but there were practical reasons for this. This has led to a slightly more ‘impressionistic’ result than some of my other work. It was nearly erased completely at one point, but I slept on it and found a way through. Possibly the biggest challenge was the veil. The first attempt looked very poor – painted lines just didn’t seem to work. So that got scrubbed. After the paint drying, I re-glazed the surface and then re-worked it by applying skin tones and highlights as ‘blobs’ hopefully suggesting skin through a mesh. Not sure if the end result is the right solution but it’s a solution. Next time I tackle a veil, I may explore other options.

“A learning curve certainly but I think offers a potential for approaches for future work and, happily, both Ed and Maureen have been very kind in their responses to it. Very many thanks to Ed Felker and Maureen Conroy Britell.”

Jeff Morrow
“The Conversation”
24 x 18, oil on canvas

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DSC_5143 copy“I never use other people’s photography as reference for my oil paintings, but a few weeks ago while perusing Facebook, I came across a photo [of Devon Zebrovious and Anne Sittmann] by Ed Felker. It caught my eye because of the arrangement of light and dark values that make an interesting abstract pattern. I also like the lighting and how the shadow is hiding the one woman’s eyes. That mysteriousness, along with the fact that the two women are in each other’s space makes the situation intriguing. I felt including the hands of the woman on the left would be distracting from the heads. In my painting it looks more confrontational than the photo indicates. Perhaps because in the photo it is evident that Anne, the lady with her back to us, is pulling down on her vest and not holding her hands on her hips.

“It was fun to paint the extreme lights and darks working against each other. It was a fun challenge to portray the hat on the right with few discernable edges – just melding into the background. Painting the veil over the woman’s…Devon’s…face was daunting because I was afraid if I messed it up I would end up repainting areas of her face. But I think I got the veil indicated just enough that it isn’t too heavily done, yet shows enough to read as a veil. Getting the satiny effect of the vest came slowly and with difficulty. On the other hand, the back of Anne’s head and her collar came easily and quickly. It “fell off the brush” as I like to say. Overall “The Conversation” was a joy to paint. It is being framed and is available at the Eisele Gallery in Cincinnati.”

Many thanks to Ian, Jeff, Devon, Anne and Maureen.

For more of Ian Legge’s work, click here.

For more of Jeff Morrow’s work, click here.


2014, My Year in Photos

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2014 was a good year, photographically. I took a landscape photography workshop and learned a lot, I had a few things published here and there, I experimented more than usual and I made an effort to really get to know my camera and its capabilities. I take a lot of photos, and my first cut tends to be about forty images, but nobody wants to view forty images. By the time I cut that down by about half, sometimes interesting patterns start to appear. This year, out of the final 24 shots, half of them feature water, including the one above, taken at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay. A tripod was used in six of the photos, by far the most yet. And this year features my first GoPro shot in my Best Of list. So, I hope you enjoy this glimpse at my year. I had a lot of fun living and photographing it.

The shot below was taken very near the last one, later that same morning.

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I continue to try to experiment and improve with low light photography. I captured a lot of deer at dawn, this photo was taken through the windshield in my driveway.

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I’ve been going to the Preakness for about twenty years, so it was a fun experience to have press credentials for this year’s event. It was hard to choose a favorite shot of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, but I keep going back to this one. Taken after the race, surrounded by throngs of fans and photographers, this horse just seemed to bask in the attention. My story and photographs about the Preakness just came out in the December/January issue of Virginia Sportsman magazine.

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Monkey doesn’t like stones in the water. They all need to be removed, one at a time.

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Regular readers of this blog know that Monarch butterflies were a very special part of my summer. I watched and photographed as this Monarch emerged from its chrysalis, only noticing later when I was editing the images that I had also captured a tiny spider whose web all of a sudden contained an unexpected guest.

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I took hundreds of shots of seeds floating in the air for a blog post about noticing nature’s little things. Almost all of them were no good, but I only needed one!

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We get a lot of different turtles around our property. I spent some time with this cool fellow.

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Hiking near Calvert Cliffs, MD, my wife walked into an inchworm hanging from a branch above the path. Her delicate returning of the worm to safety on a nearby leaf became one of my favorites of the year.

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Turkeys gather on the path ahead, C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland.

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Photographing sporting events is pretty far outside my comfort zone, but I had a blast shooting this championship game for my friends, whose boys play on the victorious team.

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I include this image because I was astonished by my camera’s low light capability. This is a hand held shot with a lot less light than it looks like here. Potomac River, looking from Virginia across to Maryland.

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My favorite image from the landscape photography workshop in the Canaan Valley, WV area. I had a great time, made some new talented friends like Risha, and learned a lot from Martin, Randall and Todd.

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The next two shots feature a great new Werner paddle I bought this year, and I’m very proud that Werner is using these images on their web site here and here.

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Shortly after the landscape workshop I tried my new knowledge at Shenandoah National Park. This is the Upper Rose River in Madison County, VA.

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I brought my good camera along on quite a few kayak floats this summer. On this day I hoped to get a good sunrise shot. That sunrise didn’t produce anything interesting, but after the sun came up, this scene unfolded in front of me.

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This is the same Monarch pictured earlier eclosing from her chrysalis, drying her wings in the sun.

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Sunset, Potomac River, Harpers Ferry, WV.

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I visited Solomon’s Island, MD twice this year and thoroughly enjoyed this quaint, beautiful and fun town.

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Team Orange at Rose River Farm on a beautiful summer day.

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I was out early one morning hoping to photograph a big buck I had seen the previous morning while jogging on the C&O Towpath. I got stuck waiting for a train and spotted this scene, I had to get out and photograph it.

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Early in the year this Sharp Shinned Hawk paused on our bird feeder while hunting our regular feeder visitors. Hawks gotta eat, too.

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And finally, one of my very favorites of the year, a GoPro shot of Winnie in the front of the kayak as we float down the Potomac River near our house. This photo was published in an article I wrote about kayak fishing for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine.

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You can view my favorite photos of 2013 here, 2012 here, and of 2011 here. Thanks as always for stopping by from time to time.


Yellow Leaves, Brown Trout

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This past weekend I spent a day wandering around central Virginia, not far from a town called Undisclosed Location. I was taking pictures, fly fishing and just enjoying the beautiful early autumn weather. I did not have much success fishing, but took a few photos I liked and did very well in the enjoying the beautiful day department.

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It’s hard not to feel good on the water when you’re carrying a wonderfully crafted bamboo rod made by Jerry Nonnemacher, and a beautiful new net from Brodin Nets. Early on when the fish weren’t biting, I set up a little product shoot.

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I don’t mind when the fish aren’t biting, I really don’t. So I decided to leave the area and find another activity. As I was leaving, however, I stopped at one more spot and had a look in. Brown trout, just what I was after. I hiked down the embankment and set up to fish for a bit. Remember when I said I don’t mind when the fish aren’t biting? I may have meant that I don’t mind as long as I don’t see a monster trout just sitting there! The smaller trout here are probably 8-10 inchers. The one bruiser had to be pushing 20 inches. I wanted him. Bad. So I fished to him. Over the next couple hours I tried countless variations of flies and tactics. I justified hammering him with everything but the kitchen sink because it takes me so damn long to tie a new fly on, I figured I had given him ample time to rest. But here’s the thing. You can’t fish one pool for two hours. You can’t throw your fly box at one fish who has no interest in feeding. I was just about to give up, when I tried dead drifting a San Juan worm right in front of him. I’ll be damned if he didn’t take that San Juan and shoot downstream with it. He broke me off after less than three fun-filled seconds. I was proud to have gotten him to bite, though … until I saw him a minute later with my fly stuck in his pectoral fin. I had foul hooked the beast. So with his fin and my pride stinging a bit, I called it a day. I had hooked two or three small ones earlier but lost them all before I could get them in my still virgin net.

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I wish I knew my trees better. I look forward to the orange and red maples of Virginia’s fall palette. But the early yellows, poplar I think, made for stunning reflections. And, fish or not, this time of year just makes me feel more alive. October in Virginia simply can not be beat.

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Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia

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I have been looking forward to spending some time in the highlands of West Virginia, a place I know and love from a long time ago. Photographers Martin Radigan and Randall Sangar gave a landscape photography workshop there, and it was the perfect place to learn how to better capture some of the incredibly beautiful scenery in the area. I had a great time, learned much and made some new friends in the process. I can’t wait to practice what I learned, trying out new techniques on some special places close to home. But, late nights and early sunrise shoots have made for both a rewarding and exhausting weekend. So forgive the lack of commentary, I am hoping for the most part the photos speak for themselves. My shutter snapped over a thousand times between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. The image above is my favorite of the weekend, and is in the running for my all time favorite. Thank you Martin, Randall and Todd Williams who was there helping out and offering his expertise as well.

From Friday night, Lindy Point. Cool, foggy sky, but the fog built until sunset was obscured. Great spot, though.

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The next set of images are all from a sunrise shoot at the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in the Monongahela National Forest. I have visited this place before, decades ago, in foul weather and in the middle of the day. As is the case with most experiences of my youth, it was underappreciated at the time.

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While we were shooting at Elakala Falls, pictured in the first image, a young couple waded over to pose in front of the falls. I snapped a few shots, hurrying to change from the long exposures I was just shooting to try to get a decent shot. I rarely include people in my photos, but this image of Frank and Olivia is among my very favorite people photos. Although it might be impossible to take a bad photo of Elakala Falls or Olivia, so math was on my side here.

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Another shot of these beautiful falls from farther downstream. What an amazing place.

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I don’t recall the name of these falls. But shooting waterfalls is a lot of fun!

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This is Blackwater Falls, over sixty feet high and quite a sight to behold!

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Our night photo session was interrupted by some heavy fog, but it was a blast experimenting as a group with different shots. I’m fond of this one, the twilight sky reflecting in a patch of lake before the fog rolled in.

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My new friend Risha carries her camera and tripod through the fog.

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I hope you enjoyed the photos from this great weekend workshop. I have a LOT to practice and work on, but I’m as enthused and excited about my photography as I’ve been in a long time, so stay tuned!


From a Block of Wood: Carving Trophies

As a fly fisherman, I have seen countless trout replicas. They are on display in the homes of my fly fishing friends, in fly shops, and in every bar in every fishing town I’ve ever been in. Almost all of them are fiberglass casts, molded by manufacturers in an array of different species, sizes and positions. Then they are painted — sometimes exquisitely — to look just like that special fish an angler wants to immortalize. To make those replicas appear lifelike requires great skill. But imagine crafting such a thing from scratch, coaxing life out of an inert, featurless block of wood.

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Meet Virginia-based artist Russell Pander, who does exactly that.

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I first learned of Russell when my friend Douglas Dear, owner of Rose River Farm, commissioned him to recreate a special brown trout he caught from the Smith River in Montana a few years back. When Douglas took delivery of the carving, pictured at the head of this post, he couldn’t call me fast enough. “You have got to see this thing in person!” he said, and he was right. It is astounding.

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I asked Russell to share how he got into carving and to tell me a bit about his process. While I tell some of his story, I’ll mix in some progress photos from this Smith River beauty.

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Russell’s interest in carving goes back to an uncle who carved decoys. But he didn’t start carving until he received a gift certificate to a class at the local Audubon Society. The class, given by carver Dave Farrington, was filled with mostly retired women and a 29-year-old Pander. Students carved a Chickadee using a knife and wood burner, and hand painted them with acrylic paints. “I liked it,” Russell recalls, “and found I had the ability to see symmetry and in three dimensions — two of the most important aspects of carving.”

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He took more classes from Farrington, carving a couple decoys, a skimmer in flight, a Greater Yellow Legs and a Sanderling in flight. “This is where I learned to power-carve, using mostly burrs and stones on a rotary tool to remove wood and create detail,” Russell said. But around the same time, life got in the way a bit. His family was growing, his schedule shrinking, and he put aside carving for two decades.

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But Russell never lost interest. An avid fly fisher and fly tier, he always wanted to carve a cold water fish. The opportunity presented itself when fellow member of the International Fly Fishing Association Bill McMannis caught a record Brook Trout. Word went out throughout the organization that McMannis was looking for someone who did reproductions. “I felt this was my calling and reluctantly offered to do it,” Russell said. “I had never carved a fish, I didn’t own nor had ever used an airbrush, but considered this my opportunity.” And with that Brookie under his belt, he was off and running.

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To me Russell’s carvings show an uncanny understanding of the natural movement and posture of the animals he creates, and Douglas’s Brown Trout is a great example. “The pose and posture of the fish come from how I think the fish would move,” he said. “I do a great deal of studying. I look for underwater shots of fish, to help me understand how they move, and things like natural eye and mouth positions.”

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He has carved with Sugar Pine and Bass Wood, but his favorite wood to work with is Tupelo. “It’s the best wood for power carving,” he says. “It’s light, and doesn’t ‘fuzz’ when ground.” This brown trout is carved from Tupelo.

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When it comes to subjects, however, Russell doesn’t play favorites. “I learn more techniques from not carving the same subject all the time,” he says. “I like to switch between birds and fish.”

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Among the animals on his wish list are raptors, including a Kestrel, a Pueo Owl native to Hawaii and a Red Tailed Hawk. But don’t put anything past Russell Pander. Who knows where his drive to learn new techniques will lead? “Some day I may carve a life sized Elk,” he says. “I have always admired the chainsaw artist, as the scale they work on is so great!”

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I look forward to following Russell as he explores new horizons with his art. Just as long as when that trout of a lifetime comes to hand for me, he’s willing to go back and create another masterpiece like this one.

For more info, check out Russell Pander Wildlife Art on Facebook.


Light and Shadow

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When the snow blankets the fields and woods and lawns, shadows have a blank canvas on which to paint. I am drawn to the shadows…shadows make me love the light.


The Gyotaku of Rob Choi

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1009707_10151527861582167_1558411676_oRob Choi is, unquestionably, an extremely talented fisherman. This year he was awarded Saltwater Expert Angler status by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. How does a person earn such a title? All you have to do is catch a trophy (citation) fish. In six different species. In one year. This is an incredibly difficult task even for power boaters, but Rob accomplished it fishing solely from a kayak, only the second angler to have done so.

Being very good at catching fish is just one of Rob’s talents. He also captures them with beautiful, handmade prints using Gyotaku, a traditional Japanese technique of directly printing from nature. I didn’t know much about this art form, and after reading a little bit about it on Rob’s blog here I wanted to dig a little deeper. Rob generously agreed to a little Q & A about Gyotaku.

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On your blog you mention that your Mom taught you the art of Gyotaku fairly recently. Did you grow up in an artistic household? Is this your first venture into art?
As long as I can remember, I enjoyed being creative. Also, I got my bachelor of arts from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in illustration… so yeah, art school kinda helps :)

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Can you describe the process of making a print from a fish?
You take a fish, put ink or paint on it, then paper on top of that, rub it down, pull the paper off, voila.
(Rob made a video of the process you can watch here. Having done a little printmaking myself from woodblocks, which are decidedly less rounded and slippery and challenging than fish, and I can tell you that Rob is being humble here. Even in the video he makes it look easy. And as for the details he adds with a brush once the print is made, he is a gifted painter. I’m not saying this wouldn’t be fun and rewarding for a beginner to try, but it will take some practice to get the results you’re hoping for!)

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You are primarily a catch and release fisherman. Unfortunately there are occasions when a fish does not survive. Do those instances feel less unfortunate when you are able to create art with them? 
Definitely. I also keep fish on rare occasion when I get the hankering (or when the kids start asking for daddy’s fish sticks).  It’s a fun way to commemorate the catch and sort of pay respect to it.

How many species have you printed? Are any of them particularly challenging and if so, what about them makes them more difficult? 
Flounder, striper, speck, red, black sea bass, sheepshead, tautog, tripletail, sunfish, largemouth bass, hickory shad, and probably a few others I can’t think of at the moment.  The hardest was a 45″ striper just because of the sheer size.

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Your signature on the prints is beautiful. Tell me about that.
The top one is a box “C” (for Choi) and there is sort of a cursive “r” in the middle. I went to VCU for illustration and many of us made up little logo type signatures for our paintings so I figured, might as well use it for these prints. The bottom one is my Korean name (since my mom turned me on to this type of art).

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You have donated many prints to charity tournaments. You have much to be proud of as an angler, but how does it make you feel to see fellow fishermen bid on your artwork? 
It’s a very different sense of pride from my angling accomplishments. The simple fact that the buyer/bidders enjoy the artwork to that extent is truly gratifying.

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Thanks to Rob for the opportunity to share his art with the Dispatches from the Potomac readers. I encourage you all to follow Rob’s blog, Angling Addict – Ramblings of a Kayak Fishing Junkie.


2013, My Year in Photos

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From Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay to the hills of southwest Virginia, I logged a lot of miles in 2013, saw places I’ve never seen before and met many great people. I had my camera with me most of the time, and when I didn’t, my iPhone stepped in to capture the moment. Above is a shot of the sunrise over the Chesapeake aboard the Renegade. Below are the rest of my favorite shots of the year, starting with elk prints in Buchanan County, Virginia. Meeting the people involved in the elk reintroduction program in this part of the state was one of my highlights of the year.

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An eerie fog blocked the normally outstanding vistas on Sugarloaf Mountain, but the resulting mood was equally beautiful. Team Orange helped by posing cooperatively, as they usually do.

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One of several neat iPhone panoramas I took this year. This was at Rose River Farm, awash in golden morning sun. Team Orange, far left, enjoying a romp before a hike nearby.

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Speaking of iPhones, this may be my favorite iPhone photo I’ve ever taken. Hiking with a friend on the Loudoun Heights trail near Harpers Ferry, WV, the light gave us scenes like this all morning.

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We have a lot of deer around our property. But, common as they are, when they come close enough I can never resist getting the camera out and snapping a few photos. I liked the background in deep shadow here.

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A fun action shot of Finn chasing a chukar during a training session with my friend Anna.

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Petey is unlike any dog I’ve ever known, and is full of surprises. Here, when any of our other dogs would have run and barked and chased this young deer away, Petey decided to simply make friends.

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Friend and fishing guide Gary Burwell at Rose River Farm with the mist hanging heavy in the air.

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They do indeed. Old guys — and tractors — ruled at the antique tractor pull and show at Gladhill Tractor near Frederick, Maryland.

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The Wildlife Center of Virginia‘s Ed Clark released this stunning eagle along the banks of the Rappahannock River in front of a crowd of volunteers and spectators. It was a day I will not soon forget. I am holding back a special photo from this day for which I hope to find a print venue for publication. But I love this and many other shots from the event.

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A visit to our friends Mike and Carole Pivarnik of Tulip Hill Farm resulted in this heartwarming shot of two unlikely friends.

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Another shot from my trip to southwest Virginia, here Josie watches intently as her human partner, Conservation Police Officer Wes Billings, drives.

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Volunteer guide Kiki Galvin nets a nice trout caught by Aaron Greene Morse at the 7th Annual Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament at Rose River Farm.

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It’s hard to grow tired of catching these hard fighting, colorful sunfish, even when you are targeting bigger and stronger smallmouth. You will never hear me complain about a day with no smallies, but with dozens of these enthusiastic little fish.

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I spent a lot of time on the Potomac this year. On this occasion we were towing an extra kayak to a takeout ramp downstream. We made it just in time as a big storm was closing in. This is another iPhone photo.

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This photo warms my hear because of how I felt when I took it. I love spending time with my dogs, but to hike in a beautiful park and fly fish for native brook trout in their company was a wonderful experience. I had to capture it with a rare if unconventional selfie.

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Team Orange loves the snow, and we had a couple good ones in late 2013. Here Finn sports a snout full, a result of chasing snowballs as they disappear under the surface.

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This is not our friend August’s first appearance in my Photos of the Year. Two years ago this pic made the cut. It’s fun to watch him grow up so fast, here he entertains a lady friend.

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My special girl Winnie absolutely loves riding in the kayak. Here we are taking a break because she does not do much paddling. Propped against a rock in the middle of the Potomac River, I shot this iPhone panorama upstream (left) and down. The Native Watercraft Slayer pictured was a new addition this year, of course in Team Orange orange.

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I’ll be honest, I wish this photo was more in focus. But I’m including it because, while technically flawed, it is likely to hold up as the best photo I will ever take of a baby wild turkey running full speed away from a pursuing moth.

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Another technically flawed, blurry and grainy image, there’s still a lot to like about this hawk image. I took this through my windshield after chasing this bird off a deer carcass nearby.

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The native brook trout is so beautiful, it’s just about as fun to see one as to catch one. On this day in the Shenandoah National Park, I saw plenty. But none would be fooled by my fly.

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I hope you have enjoyed Dispatches from the Potomac this year, and had fun looking through my favorite images of 2013. You can view my favorite photos of 2012 here, and of 2011 here. And if you haven’t already signed up to receive a notification of new posts, I’d love it if you added your email in the ‘Follow this blog’ link on the top right of this page. Thanks again for stopping by from time to time. I hope your 2014 is filled with fun encounters with nature and lots of opportunities to take your own favorite photos of the year!


Blood on the Pages

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Over the years, my friend Guy Neal Williams has introduced me to many things that remain important parts of my life to this day. He is the one who first put a fly rod in my hand, teaching me the basics of how to cast at a pond near his Winston-Salem home, and triggering in me a lifelong passion. He convinced me that I could create woodcut prints despite having no carving or printmaking experience. He shared books that remain on my shelf today and music that has shaped everything I now listen to. He loved music so much. The fact that he was nearly deaf was such a cruel injustice. But his greatest gift was the first thing I knew and loved about him: Guy was a storyteller.

A strong voice, an easy laugh, an infinite supply of stories and a deep desire to share them made Guy a human campfire. Friends and strangers alike would gather around his warm glow as he weaved truth with fiction, humor with sadness. His spoken words were slow and deliberate. When I first met him I was enthralled. The topics of his stories didn’t even matter. Potato guns. Cave paintings. Fish. He told me once in great detail how to prepare carp on the grill. The process entailed soaking a cedar plank in saltwater, wine and peppercorns, carefully filleting and seasoning the fish just right. He told me exactly how the coals should look and when to know the fish was ready. When it was done, he instructed, “carefully slide the fish into the trashcan and eat the plank.”

His real talent, though, his genius, was in his written word. Here, too, he was a storyteller. Okay liar. He was a liar. I was tempted to say lying was like a game to him, but somehow that doesn’t give it the necessary respect. You wouldn’t go to the Masters in Augusta and tell the greatest golfers in the world they were merely playing a game. No, lying to Guy was a sport. And he was a hall of famer.

He used to like to challenge his friends by writing three essays. Each was skillfully crafted, impeccably detailed and utterly unbelievable. But only one, he warned, was a lie. The other two were true stories. It was impossible to discern fact from fiction in these tests, as his astonishing gift of storytelling was equaled only by his impossibly colorful real life experiences.

My God he loved a story.

He had the ability to paint a scene, to put you in it, to lead you down whatever path he wanted you down, then jump out from behind a bush of his own creation and punch you square in the gut. I had never seen, or even imagined, that someone with world-class writing skills would use so much of that power to simply entertain his friends. We all wanted him to write a book. Not so much because we needed more of his stories, but I think because we felt his stories needed a bigger audience. But a bigger audience isn’t what he was after.

He once told me a story that I cannot repeat here. (Okay he told many stories I cannot repeat here, but that’s not what I meant.) It involves a tattered photograph and a legendary fish. The story is so fantastic it almost certainly can’t be true. Yet it contains enough verifiable details that it just might be. It involves a secret so sacred that it must now remain with me until I die. It’s hard to explain how, or why, he did this. But he told a Perfect Story, a spectacular story, a story he could have easily published anywhere, a story any number of people would declare the best story they had ever heard, but one that could never be shared. I instantly regretted having been told it. If it’s a lie, it’s an epic masterpiece. If it’s true, I wish it had died with him. But he told it to me, an audience of precisely one, and asked that I never tell anyone. Hell, who knows. Maybe he privately told the same story to everyone. But I’ll keep his secret, true or not, and the burden of not telling a soul will be a reminder of his gift to me.

I never thought about writing before I knew Guy. But being exposed to his words made me think for the first time about putting down my own thoughts. I found myself writing for fun, trying to find words to describe a scene or person or feeling. I wrote with more care, more effort. Perhaps most importantly, I didn’t save that care and effort for particularly important topics. I learned through Guy that there is great value in taking the time to describe the smallest observations. My early attempts were just an awkward mimicry of his writing. But I like to think that along the way, I found my own voice, my own passion for spinning a yarn, my own desire to lead someone down that path. Guy Neal Williams taught me that it is a noble pursuit to sweat over choosing the right words, assembling those words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into stories, for the pure joy of it. Just to make someone laugh, or cry, or to simply relate to a shared experience.

“Books are better,” he said once in response to a movies-versus-books discussion. “Books are better because there’s blood on the pages.” Movies, he said, are creative endeavors by committee, and as such were diluted. But books, written in excruciating isolation, were painful pursuits. He wrote of pain. He wrote of burying his beloved dog, Augustine, until you swore you could feel the worn shovel handle in your hands and smell the moist clay through your own tears. There is blood on those pages. He wrote of love. I’ll never forget the first description I ever read of his wife, “a tiny engineer with ice blue eyes.” Jesus, it’s probably been twenty years and I know with certainty those are the seven words exactly as he wrote them. But mostly he wrote of beauty. The beauty of the natural world, or the human spirit, or math, or science or enduring friendship. Of music. Beauty, to Guy, was everywhere. But he wasn’t just an observer of it, he created his own beauty from whole cloth.

He loved art, numbers, music, friends, bullshit and cigarettes with limitless enthusiasm. He was a genius. A spectacularly flawed genius, but a genius. He had his share of demons, and took on a few extras to make it a fair fight. The demons are all silenced now, and I hope to God that silence is forever filled with music, clear and bright and loud.

This morning, the first of my days on an earth without Guy Neal Williams, I plugged my phone into the car stereo. The first random song that played was a Patty Griffin song I thought a lot about yesterday. I have a thousand songs on my phone and this played first. Thank you Guy for your friendship, I am different and better for it. And thank you for your words. All of mine have you in them.

The song is Goodbye.

Today my heart is big and sore,
It’s tryin’ to push right through my skin.
I won’t see you anymore,
I guess that’s finally sinkin’ in.


2012: My Year in Photos

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My favorite photos from this year feature more birds than dogs, surprisingly, and more dogs than people, not surprisingly. The picture above, a wild brook trout being released into the cold, winter waters of Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park early this year, is my favorite. Holding a slippery trout in one hand while operating a DSLR with the other is a low percentage proposition. But luck is a big part of photography. At least it is in my photography. The best of the rest of 2012 are below, in no particular order.

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This misty photo of the so called Platform was one of the most popular images I shared on facebook this year. In fact, a few friends now have the print hanging in their homes, which is a great honor to me. This grownup tree fort is one of my very favorite places, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word.

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I chased this impossibly vibrant sunrise around for a half hour before work one morning, looking for an interesting foreground to silhouette against it. When I came across this tree with a group of black vultures perched in it, I hurried to get this shot as the fleeting, red was fading with each passing moment.

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The blog post that featured photos from the falconry event I attended was featured on the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ page, an incredible honor that brought many new viewers to this blog. Welcome and thank you to those who still follow from first seeing it there.

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Something about grey, snowy days make me want to capture them with the camera, but it’s challenging. I’m really going to put an effort into photographing some winter scenes this year.

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We are lucky enough to see bald eagles regularly where we live, but they are hard to get good pictures of without a zoom lens. I got lucky as I had borrowed a nice lens from a friend and had it when this eagle came around. Taken from our back yard in Virginia, that is the town of Brunswick, Maryland across the river in the background. I’m happy to report that my wife got me a 75-300 lens for Christmas! So look for more eagles and other wildlife pics in the future!

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A brown thrasher sits on her nest protected by the thorns of a lemon tree at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia.

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None of my photos are technically perfect. But sometimes they are so flawed that they become interesting in a more abstract way than was originally intended.

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Low light photography is equal parts fascinating and frustrating to me, and extremely rewarding when it works out. This is an evening shot from our place looking out over the Potomac River.

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I wrote a blog post I’m pretty proud of about the space shuttle Discovery and what it meant to be present for this historic event. You can read that post here.

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Oddly, my favorite photo from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum shows neither water, nor a boat.

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I have better pictures of ducks, and better pictures of snow. But I love the mood of this picture of ducks in snow, taken at my next door neighbor’s pond.

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Same pond, different time of year. Here a green heron is chased by a female wood duck as they both try to escape a clod without a zoom lens trying to get close enough to take their picture.

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This is one of those technically flawed, lucky shots that turned out nicely. I was unaware as I was composing the photo in the viewfinder, that the balcony rail was aligned with the line in the background where the snowy foreground meets the woods. The result is an interesting effect, I think. I’m surprised at how many of my favorite shots came on less than pleasant weather days.

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These amazing miniature donkeys are hard to photograph in the same way puppies are: They are affectionate and curious about the camera, so by the time you get down to their level, they’re in your face wondering what you’re doing and if you have any treats.

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The Virginia State Police would surely be alarmed to know how many photos I have tried to take of my dogs in the rear view mirror. This is a challenge while parked, never mind while driving. But I love this one of Finn and remember exactly the day I took it because that’s my 3-weight Scott fly rod in the rack. We were on our way to the Rapidan.

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I love this photo of Winnie, taken on a summer kayak outing. You’ve seen a cropped version of it before, it serves as the masthead image for this blog, but I thought the entire image warranted extra mention here.

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My first, hopefully of many, trip to Yellowstone National Park was a life changing event. It is an extraordinary, magical place I will never forget, and a place I will long to return to more each day until I drive through its gates again.

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Another gloomy, blue-grey day, in the woods near our house.

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Ever tried to take one picture of four dogs? It’s not easy, but I’m really happy with this one. Clockwise from top left: Finn, Petey, Monkey and Winnie.

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2012 had a few amazing lightning shows. I was lucky enough to capture this strike from our deck. The rain had stopped but the lightning continued for more than an hour, the perfect opportunity to try to capture it.

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I love this little bird, walking on his tiptoes on a sun bleached dock at St. Michael’s, Maryland.

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A bull elk bugles in Yellowstone. I had never seen elk before this day, nor heard their bugle. I was very lucky to capture this on the first day I experienced both.

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My friend Anna and I stood in the bitter cold trying to capture a meteor from the Geminid shower in December. This was one of the brightest of the night.

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Driving on a Montana highway, when we saw this amazing old car with a tree growing out of the roof, my friend Joel turned the car around so I could get some pictures of it.

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We had the privilege of attending a local Mexican Rodeo, an incredibly fun day immersed in culture, food, drink and awesome people.

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In Washington, DC for Memorial Day and the mind blowing Rolling Thunder rally, I took hundreds of photos. But I like this one best.

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Fun with dogs, fly rods and waterproof cameras. I’m fascinated by the turbulence in the water and how the camera captured it.

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Another low light image I’m pretty happy with. This was taken from our yard, my guess is probably some time in early July.

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Nature is full of surprises. Who knew butterflies looked like this close up? Not me!

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Finn and I are similar swimmers. We dog paddle, poorly, and never open our eyes under water.

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Another accidental photo I ended up liking. While fishing for smallmouth, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. I had it set on macro, so it kept trying to zoom in and focus closely. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire fish, but I love the textures of the fish and water here.

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It was hard to choose one photo from Slough Creek in Yellowstone. Simply the most beautiful place I have ever had the honor of being. We hiked in about six miles to get there, and the moment we arrived, I was sad at the thought of having to leave it later.

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Hiking with ‘Team Orange,’ my two Wirehaired Vizslas, has been a recurring joy this year. But I seldom come back from a hike with a photo of them I’m crazy about. This is an exception.

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On the same night as the meteor shower, I captured this peaceful image of a vintage tractor, quietly rusting beneath the winter sky.


Doggitude Giveaway

51m6W+lmtXL._SS500_Watercolor artist Carole Pivarnik has created a fun, beautiful book of dog portraits, each accompanied with a haiku, “What dogs really think, in 17 sassy syllables.” The book is called Doggitude, and I welcome my readers to visit the web site here.

I am especially excited about it because one of the portraits included in the book is of my one and only Winnie! And in honor of Winnie’s inclusion in this lovely book, I am giving away a copy signed by the artist/author! Five syllables, seven, then five again. Comment on this post with a haiku, and I will randomly pick a winner from those who commented and send a copy of Doggitude your way!

Below are some ‘in progress’ photos of Carole’s wonderful painting of Winnie. I couldn’t be happier with how this portrait turned out!

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Winnie

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Here is the model,
Posing with me and her book,
Which someone will win!

Comment in the form of a haiku by the end of the year and you could win a book!

UPDATE! Four people entered with a haiku, so I had Winnie choose the winner using the scientific Equidistant Milkbone Randomizer method. Congratulations to Christine! Email me your address to ejfelker@verizon.net. Thanks everyone, and Happy New Year!

dogg1

dogg2


Dispatches from the Potomac on Instagram

instaI’ve entered the world of Instagram and have been enjoying it! If you would like to follow me, the username is dispatches_potomac. See you out there!


Fish Eye


It was a fun morning, fly fishing the home waters of the Potomac with a friend. A few smallmouth were caught, but for me it was mostly these pretty little sunfish. They’re small, but they fight hard. The Jack Russell Terriers of the fish world, we decided today. The only interesting photo I took today was this macro of a sunfish eye. You can see my silhouette in the reflection.


Where the Wild Things Still Are


As I get older, as we all get older, early memories fade, naturally. As a result, most of the characters in most of the books of my childhood are long forgotten. The exception has always been those of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, published the year I was born. Those illustrations, so often labeled as “grotesque,” were imprinted in my mind at a very young age and remain there still in vivid detail. I have no recollection, really, of the story. But I can clearly recall having dreams of these characters coming to life in my room. While the characters in my mind are in clear focus, their source is muddled. To me they are half memory, half dream, and whenever I see even a glimpse of a corner of a Sendak illustration, I am instantly transported to the utterly unique world he created. It was never grotesque to me, that world. The dreams were welcome, and the memories never fail to bring a smile. It may be that my early exposure to this particular art stirred my imagination so that I pursued art partially as a result of its impact. That’s impossible to say, certainly. But Where the Wild Things Are is an undeniable part of my childhood, and those characters — even if I don’t see them or think about them for years at a time — will always be a part of me. Rest in peace, Maurice. And, pardon the cliche, thanks for the memories.


And Dog said…


As this living dog art unfolded in my living room, I was reminded, of course, of the Sistine Chapel. I pondered the scene, trying to recall Michelangelo’s arguably more powerful original. I snapped a single picture with my phone, and when I Googled it, I was pretty surprised at the similarities in the composition.


The Fauna-tarium

My immensely talented friend Steve featured us and our entire crew in a comic for his web site, every nine minutes. Thanks Steve, I love it!

Please take a few moments and visit some of my Cool and Talented Friends linked on the right hand side of this page. There are amazing painters, innovative potters, dog loving photographers and watercolorists, wonderful engravers, brilliant artists who write about art, thoughtful photographers who write about the outdoors, and more. And I’m proud to know them all. Thanks for supporting them!


“You do art as your JOB??”

Today I read this wonderful interview of Pamela Wilson, a truly gifted and fascinating artist I admire greatly. In the article, she is asked to recount her favorite art memory from childhood. Click on the link to read her answer. As for me, a memory jumped to mind when I read the question, and has been in my thoughts all day. So I thought I would share it here.

I was artistic as a kid, always drawing. And my parents supported and nurtured that the best they knew how. They paid for and drove me to classes, where I underachieved, much as I did in school. I enjoyed it, but at some level I didn’t ‘get’ it. I didn’t see the point. I worked on specific things, how to draw with pen and ink, with charcoal and chalk, graphite. I worked on how to draw from photographs, from objects or places in front of me or from imagery in my head. But, big picture-wise, I don’t ever remember thinking about being creative, or what that meant.

One day, a Saturday, my Dad headed into his office at the Department of Interior in Washington, DC. He asked me to come along, and I jumped at the chance. Never mind that he never asked me to go to his office before, and never mind that he never went into work on a Saturday. Any moment with my Dad was relished back then, no questions asked, and though he died long ago — far closer to that day than to this one — all those moments are cherished still.

The Department of Interior in, say, 1974, was grey. Inside and out. Floor to ceiling. We walked down long corridors under bands of yellow, flickering fluorescent light. The first office building I was ever in. I wondered why my Dad spoke to some people, ignored others. We passed door after door and saw empty offices with grey filing cabinets and grey metal desks. Then we stopped at an open door and my Father spoke. “Bob? I want you to meet Eddie.”

I caught up and peered in the door as a man turned around to greet us. Not from a metal desk, but from an easel. The fluorescent bulbs in his office had been removed, and he had warm, bright floor lamps in their place. Covering the cold linoleum was an ornate area rug. He listened to music.

As I shook hands with wildlife artist Bob Hines, my Dad said he’d be back in a bit and continued down the hall. I was shy, not to mention confused. But it didn’t take long for my attention to turn from the empty doorway back to Bob and the easel.

I will never forget the painting he was working on. I didn’t know at the time what a bighorn sheep was, but he had several photos of them clipped to the side of the easel. His painting showed a mature bighorn not in any of the positions depicted in the photos. I was confused for the severalth time since breakfast. His words broke my dumbfounded trance. “Your Dad tells me you’re an artist too.” I remember being embarrassed, for some reason.

We talked, and I got more comfortable, and started looking around and soaking it all in. “You don’t have a desk.” He laughed, and threw a nod toward the easel. “It’s just different than everyone else’s.” As slowly as those flickering tubes of gas in the cold hallway first thing in the morning, I started to figure it out. “You do art as your JOB?” Another laugh.

Bob Hines, artist for the Bureau of Sports Fisheries and Wildlife at the time of our meeting, produced a huge volume of work. From conservation stamps to illustrations for dozens of books and pamphlets. It took me a while to figure out that the meeting was of course set up in advance. Why my Dad chose to play it off as a chance encounter I never asked, it’s just kind of how he did things. I continued to draw, and to some extent to underachieve, and I certainly never became a renowned wildlife artist. But until today I’ve never thought back to that day in enough detail to write about it, which is noteworthy in a couple ways. First, it points to the value of writing, I had no idea I remembered it in as much detail as I do. And second, maybe I didn’t follow down Bob’s path. Maybe instead of an easel in my office I have a desk. Maybe I never could study photos of animals and construct and illustrate a pose from that knowledge. But you know what? I’m a graphic designer. I do art as my job. And how many people get to say that?


Ceramics Experiment

I’ve been working with ceramic artist and instructor Amy Manson on translating some of my carved blocks into ceramic tiles. And even though I’m just starting to experiment, and working with clay is totally new to me so my results are pretty rough, I thought I’d share what I’m doing. And since I started a new project from scratch just as sort of a test, I’ll walk you through the whole process…

I started with a 4″x5″ linoleum block, and even though I personally get much better results if I take more time at this phase, I didn’t. A rough sketch of my image, reversed, from an old photo I have of Winnie as a puppy jumping off the ground toward the camera.

I carved away the background, very loosely, leaving lots of ridges and shapes that will show up in the clay.

Then I did some more subtle carving for the actual dog, I was curious just how small a depression could be and still show up. Very small!

Then, as Amy showed me in her studio and made it look easy, I covered a board with canvas as a non-stick work surface, got two slats and a dowel, rolling the dowel over the clay until it spreads to the thickness of the slats. I mentioned Amy made it look easy. I found the clay stuck to the dowel and I couldn’t get a nice even slab. So I basically got stuck on Step One.

But I had gone this far, so what the hell. I pressed the block into the clay and tried to apply even pressure. But the variation in thickness showed in some areas that didn’t imprint. Also, the sticky clay didn’t cleanly separate from the block, so there’s an area that’s just kind of a mess. I’m going to buy some different clay.

I also don’t remember what tool Amy showed me to use to cut the slab when I’m done. Did I mention I’m not a very good student? So anyway, this was done sloppily too, with the wrong tool. But there you have it, a clay tile.

At Amy’s studio, we made a few tiles from existing blocks, and then tried some different glaze combinations. This is my favorite, might be hard to see but the image is me shielding a puppy from the rain with an umbrella.

And here is a tile made from the Rose River Brown block I recently made prints from. I like some aspects of this, particularly the texture and that amber color. The rest of the background needs something more, but like I said, I’m just getting started with this experiment. I hope to have something cool to report soon about it, so please keep in touch!


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