Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree
Oil on Canvas
12″ x 12″
Today I have finished a painting that I shared the early phases of on my Instagram account.
In-Progress view of Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree
I completed “Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree”, a piece meant to share the best aspects of one of my favorite hikes deep in the shade and protection of the lush Ko’olau Mountains. In the background, you can see the same waterfall I featured in my prior piece, Sacred Space. I love this waterfall because the rocks have a lot of character. This time, the falls are not the star of the piece, but take a supporting role as the very real location where many white-rumped shama thrush live. The shama thrush, its flowing tail a visual echo of the waterfall, perches in the branches of the mountain apple tree. Here I have recreated the magical experience of finding the bright pink flowers of the mountain apple in full bloom. If I could show it all in the same painting, I would depict how the petals carpet the ground with a layer of vivid pink, and I would paint the smell of the cool moss and the sound of the water.
Shama are very curious birds and will often follow you, gliding from branch to branch for a long time as you hike, watching and listening to you as you walk through the trees. As highly intelligent birds, they are not only keen observers, but also mimic birds to a limited extent, capable of learning short calls if you whistle to them repetitively. If you are lucky, they will whistle the song back, quickly evolving your small tune into their own variation (4 or 5 notes is a good maximum if you are trying to teach them). They may add clicks, chatters, trills, and melodic chirps until it blends seamlessly into their own repertoire. Their voice is one of the sweetest of the island, with a clarity I would compare to the Meadow Larks of my childhood. Some of my most unusual experiences with wild birds have been with shama thrushes. If you are quiet and still, they will venture extremely close, and examine you carefully with their shiny black eyes. Unlike Snow White, I haven’t managed to convince them to help me with my laundry…yet.
I have been quiet. This is a sure sign that I have been working on something very large. I am happy to unveil my latest piece: “Sacred Space” measuring 30″ x 48″ and what makes it such a large project is the level of detail. Murals are larger, but they also get painted with large brushes.
Sacred Space complete with a frame from Brilhante Framing of Kailua
The idea for this piece hit me like a bolt of lightning 4 years ago when I had just watched “Secret of Kells” for the third time. “The Secret of Kells” is a cartoon so beautiful it should be thought of as a moving piece of art rather than what you would typically think of with animation. It is about Celtic illuminated manuscripts and if you haven’t seen it, you should set aside a movie night to take a look. It is a beautiful story with amazing animation. After viewing the amazing animated manuscripts once again, I wondered what tropical illuminated manuscripts would look like, and then after a few odd sketches of extremely stylized Hawaii scenery with a Celtic knotwork spin, the thought pushed into its final form: “What if I used metal leaf like paint to add movement to the water and the leaves – the sunlight dappling, changing, shifting like the light on the leafing?” I knew this had a potential to add another element to the painting, allowing me to more fully express the sense of awe felt while secluded next to a stunning waterfall. I had to learn how to use metal leaf and get good enough to apply it smoothly. That took about 2 years. Then it took a lot of time and care to work my way through the details on the canvas. I set it aside a few times to work on other things and allow my brain time to solve some quandries by passively working on them in the background. I always returned with a fresh point of view. This will certainly not be the last “tropical leaf” painting! I am really interested in using the dynamic shimmer of metals in my work. I had to adjust for the variability of the silver leaf’s changing values, but the final effect adds motion and life that is impossible to show in a photo but I’ll try anyway by posting a detail from different angles.
Here is the ie ie vine in the painting, a woody endemic Hawaiian flower in the pandanus family, shown from two angles so you can see how the silver picks up and reflects light dynamically. You can also see a small portion of the waterfall’s silver leaf.
Giclees (durable canvas prints) of this piece will be available soon. It won’t have the leafing unfortunately since it has to be painted and blended into the rest of the piece, but when I get the final scan, I will be posting it on my “Giclees Available” page.
This piece will debut at the Punahou Carnival Art Show along with two of my little birds:
Akepa with Orange Ohia
Saffron Finch In A Cannonball Tree
A carnival? You might find that odd. Let me explain. Hawaii has a handful of schools that function more like colleges. They are rigorous, demand excellent grades, and inspire the kids who attend to really strive for their best potential. Punahou is one of the largest of these. They have a great scholarship program so that the school can admit kids who can benefit from the challenging education at a rate of payment their family can afford. Every year, Punahou holds a carnival to bridge the gap between what the kids are able to pay and what the school demands to keep the facilities top notch. Oddly enough, they have developed one of the largest, most prestigious art shows in the islands. I am pleased to be participating. If these pieces are sold at the carnival, half the proceeds will go to the Punahou scholarship fund.
You probably heard the news about our false ballistic missile warning here in Hawaii. There was a lot of panic, but also a lot of cool heads too. You don’t hear about the cool heads on the news. It’s not very exciting compared to reporting about the very real panic a lot of people felt, but most of the people I know were concerned rather than panicked. Nonetheless, for those of us in the “concerned” category, it was still a very strange morning.
I woke up to the sound of my cell phone and my husband’s cell phone chirping in unison. The first thing I did was to wake up a touch annoyed. We get flash flood alerts like that with the same alarm, so I thought they were going to tell us it was a flash flood. I was preparing to roll over and go back to sleep, but then I saw the screen. The missile alert was on the screen like the graphic below (this image is thanks to Tulsi Gabbard, who you will hear about later on):
Like a dope, I got up out of bed and went to look at the sky because I am not a good morning person and it took about 20 seconds for me to realize that of course I wasn’t going to see the missiles – they take 15 minutes to arrive. All I could think of was “bzzzzzzz” (the brain equivalent of TV static) and then after another minute of squinting into the sky and trying to be sentient, I thought “How do I prepare for this? Hmmm….” I realized you can’t prepare for something like that past what you would do for a hurricane, and I was already passable with my emergency kit, so no need to worry about that aspect. I remember being relieved and a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t think of any unfinished business or last desperate wishes that could be fulfilled in 15 minutes other than filling the bathtub with water. It made me feel uncreative. Some people have the wackiest ideas of what to do with their last few moments of life, but I, who make my living being creative, drew a blank. I also thought it was weird that North Korea would actually send a missile. I know they are always threatening, but they have lots of reasons NOT to actually go through with it – in fact it’s highly unlikely if you sift through the pros and cons. Then I realized no sirens were blaring. “Let’s check it out on Twitter to see if it’s false!” The lack of sirens was fishy.
If there is one thing I have learned from being a night owl, it is that if you have a weird earthquake at 3 am, Twitter is the best place to figure out if other people know what is happening. I don’t know what kind of magical server is running over there, but the second something bizarre happens, you can start searching for information, and usually you will have your answer in under 5 minutes from a reliable source – technology is wonderful! I ran to Twitter to figure out what was going on with this alarm, and immediately got the word it was false from our local hero of the day, Tulsi Gabbard, who immediately confirmed the status of the alarm and sent out a very quick Tweet.
Many of us had moments after it was all over where we realized our lives were the everyday humdrum and we were so grateful! It’s NICE to be stuck in traffic (sort of). It’s nice to fold laundry and have a list of errands. It is a luxury to have routine everyday life unfolding. It is nice to know you have kissed your kids and given your family notification on a regular basis that you love them. I felt squared away and spared and happy to be sweeping the floor. And I am also grateful to be able to take all the everyday stuff for granted too. It’s nice to be able to relax into it rather than having to be acutely aware of all the beauty and all the multitudes of blessings we have in our lives every moment of the day. I am grateful for the ability to take it all for granted. That’s part of the charm of the “everyday” too.
This November and December, I am getting a chance to show my works from September’s miniature work frenzy. I had 4 pieces accepted into the AHA Miniature Show which ran throughout November, and 3 were juried in are still on display at the Koa Gallery. Details are here for the Koa Gallery Show which is still on display: http://www.wendyrobertsfineart.com/event/mixed-media-miniature-show/
Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree day 2 progress. I put in the base colors today, modelling some details, but mostly blocking in color and firming the locations and shapes of everything. Lots of work got done today!
Today’s bird is one of my favorites that I paint more than any other bird, the iiwi. I love the bright red-orange color of its feathers. I keep finding new color schemes I want to try with this vibrant red color. This time the tiny honeycreeper is nestled on a vivid blue-purple lobeliad plant in bloom, using its curved beak to feed on nectar within the flowers. Thanks to Kim and Forest Starr for a wonderful series of photos that served as inspiration.
Day 1 of “Shama Thrush in a Mountain Apple Tree” Yesterday’s work was rushed and didn’t turn out well, but you will see it later on once it’s had time to be sorted out. In the meantime, I started a new painting that I will show the daily progress on. I don’t always do an underpainting, but this is a complex scene and I felt a brown undertone would be great for this one.
This painting is part of the 30 in 30 challenge. You can see the completed paintings to date here: 30 in 30 gallery
Mynah Bird in a Coral Tree
Acrylic on Gessobord
5″ X 7″
Mynah birds can be trained to talk, and they do not sound like parrots. If you want to see one that was rescued and taught to talk, I highly recommend this link:
I love listening to this bird’s voice. Their usual chatter includes an amazing range of sounds: the soft peep of surprise that sounds like the mew of a cat, loud squawks, shrill dual-tone screams meant to defend territory, and even clicks. I have placed it in the boughs of a lovely coral tree. They are both introduced species from India that thrive in the mild climate of the islands, mynah birds particularly are one of the most common birds in the low elevations.
This painting was a joy to paint, though I don’t think it is 100% done. It is another alla prima oil painting experiment. I felt slightly more at ease painting the entire painting in one sitting this time, though I still have many hours to log before I will claim expertise in this direct wet-in-wet painting technique.
This summer, my family went scuba diving. It was the first set of dives for my daughters who are finally certified in scuba. I used to have an underwater camera a long time ago, but the photos are only as good as your equipment allow them to be. My cheap camera never did a good job with underwater photos, so I ditched the camera and got in the habit of taking detailed notes of my dives, including as many fish names as I could figure out, but I missed the visual aspect a camera can offer, even if it is subpar. This time, rather than taking a camera, I took inspiration from a friend and talented artist, Cynthia Schubert-Richmond, who has spent a lot more time underwater than I have in a lot more locations. She solved the issue of sharing what she saw underwater by making paintings from memory, and what a wonderful memory she has! It’s quite a brilliant idea really, because it had never occurred to me to paint from life after the fact without a reference, let alone trying to record the underwater world with all its unfamiliar sights, which always feels so surreal to me. Her paintings of her dive trips were gorgeous! They are not online, but you can at least see her other amazing works.
Her underwater scenes inspired me to sketch when I got back to the hotel in the hopes that I might be able to reconstruct the feeling of diving – painting is more accurate for me emotionally than a photo ever could be because even with the best equipment, it is challenging to take a good panoramic photo in the water, and you can’t always catch your favorite fish sightings within your favorite ocean landscape scenery. You have to choose macro or micro when using photography underwater generally speaking. Thus, how nice it is to be able to paint it! This painting is like a shadow of how it felt to me when we went on our last scuba dive. It’s not accurate physically. I couldn’t draw a map of the location. I was too dazzled to pay attention to how the cave was shaped. I remember the rays of the sun shining through the multiple openings, the feeling of mystery within the system, wondering what would be around the next pillar, seeing a few spectacular and unique fish, and swimming up over the coral beds. Most of all, I was struck by the beauty of the amazing black coral dangling down overhead from the top of the cave like a chandelier, complete with three little cowry shells in its boughs like monkeys in a jungle tree. Because it is a painting, I get to capture many of the aspects of this dive all in one image, albeit, you could never really do it full justice compared to seeing it in person, but this is much better than my photos ever were. When I look at my painting, it does evoke the memory of gliding through this mysterious underwater cave for me.
Today I finished my revamp on the Ripening Bananas. Above is the revamp. Here is the original before revamp:
Ripening Bananas – before revamp
Everything is more defined now, and the composition changed. I feel like I understand the banana plant more fully than I did 3 years ago since I am now the proud and hassled owner of a small banana grove that requires a lot of pruning and removal of suckers. Just a tip for any of you who have bananas, they grow better fruit, and more of it if you limit the number of suckers. What was 2 “trees” 3 years ago has necessitated more than a dozen “trees” to be removed. I am learning to get the unwanted suckers chopped down early. It’s very cathartic to go out into the back yard with my favorite horihori knife (a gardening knife that is my favorite tool of all time – Here’s a link to it – I highly recommend it for you or for a gift that anyone with a yard or a talent for gardening can use – it’s well made and hands down the best weeding/hacking/sawing tool you could ask for in the garden). I can use it to chop down even the big “trees”. Bananas are not a woody plant, hence why even though people call them a tree, they are actually a giant herb! The “trunk” is actually a stem, but it is as thick and tall as a tree, so the source of the confusion is obvious. Individual bananas are called “fingers”, and the whole stalk is called a “hand”. I have had three harvests to date, with my largest 2 hands of bananas weighing in at more than 60 pounds each! It’s a plant that inspires generosity since it’s too much fruit for one family to use.
This is part of the 30 in 30 challenge, day 16, but two of the painting took 2 days, so It’s painting number 14 in 16 days so far – I am hoping to eventually catch up, but I am freely following my inspiration in my daily painting regimen – if I feel like making a larger piece, I have been spending the extra time to do it. This may mean a catch up session eventually, but my gallery for the 30 in 30 continues to grow!.