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.
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.
12 x 24, oil on canvas
“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.”
24 x 18, oil on canvas
“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.
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.
Meet Virginia-based artist Russell Pander, who does exactly that.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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!”
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.
Rob 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.
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
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!)
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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 email@example.com. Thanks everyone, and Happy New Year!
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.
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?
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.
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!
Watercolor artist Carole Pivarnik is working on a book called “Doggitude,” which will feature 45 paintings of dogs, each accompanied by “light-hearted haiku from the dog’s point of view, and charming anecdotes shared by each dog’s owner.” I don’t know what charming anecdotes she has in mind, but I am really excited that Carole chose Winnie to be included, and I couldn’t be happier with her painting! So, well done, Carole! And YAY WINNIE!