Monday, July 18, 2016

Locusts Inspire more than the Latest Painting

You may have noticed a headline in Sunday’s paper that blew your mind the way it did mine. “Researchers think bugs could help find bombs,” News-Press, FL July 17, 2016.

Of course, the article didn’t mention just any old insect. The “bug” in question is a locust, long-held to be an enemy of man and is known to have destroyed thousands of acres of crops in a matter of hours or days resulting in famines worldwide.

The fascinating article noted that “Locust antennae act as a nose, with sensors more complex than any clinical sensor an engineer could make” (Oh, the wisdom and knowledge of God!) “A group of researchers at Washington University hopes to hijack that sense of smell using bioengineering to create the ultimate smelling machine.” If you ask me, bioengineering is the next greatest go-to career.

What’s the big deal? “First researchers will implant sensors in locust brains to understand neural activity when the bugs smell different things. They’ll use algorithm to interpret brain patterns, allowing them to decode what the locusts smell.

“Raman, head researcher on the project, has found that locusts can quickly be trained to recognize different scents. Taking a page from Pavlov, Raman and his team hit locusts with a puff of a smell, and then reward them with a grass pellet. Within five or six trials, a locust learns to associate that specific smell with food.”

Fair game, I suppose since people also eat locusts and other insects. Yum! Not for me. I saw silkworms roasted and eaten when I was in Korea. That seems tame now that I think of people munching on a large crunchy grasshopper or locust.

Currently a tiny backpack is in a prototype stage and the energy is powered by the locusts’ own movements. Even steering the locusts has been successfully tested, but researchers are trying to figure out which is more effective: “steering the locusts toward a potential threat or allowing them to sniff it out themselves. For now, the focus is on the technology.”

This whole thing reminds me of an old carnival act called the “Flea Circus.” Here tiny fleas are taught to play on minuscule equipment. The show is then viewed via magnification. Is the show a mirage of trickery or are the fleas actually trained? You’d have to ask the trainer. At any rate, people have always been intrigued by the natural world and the miraculous creations that abound in the universe.

“In Chinese “cricket” culture, the cricket-related business is highly seasonal. Trapping crickets in the fields peaks in August and extends into September. 

The crickets soon end up at the markets of Shanghai and other major cities. Cricket fighting season extends until the end of autumn, overlapping with the Mid-Autumn Festival and the National Day

Chinese breeders are striving to make cricket fighting a year-round pastime, but the seasonal tradition prevails.”

Below is a link to Wikipedia if you want to learn more about having a cricket for a pet.

There is an amazing array of artwork online that is inspired by locusts. Here is one by Katie Hoffman called “Locusts and Honey” that is both representational and abstract.

If you would like to see more of Hoffman’s unusual work go to Katie Hoffman's Web Address

More artwork using locusts as part of a theme is shown below.

Moving on to today’s technology, I’ve noticed that computer generated artwork seems to be more popular than traditional artwork and sells at a cheaper price. This future trend still requires the skill of an artist, but the materials and the end product are much different than the nuts and bolts of stinky turps and paints of the past. Will technology supersede and outpace the old style of doing business in the art world? 

Many said this about libraries when Kindle came along, but Public Libraries have actually incorporated this new technology into their game plan. Today they are busier than ever because society continues to crave information and entertainment.

How will you adapt your artistic repertoire into this new world? Many older artists are not even computer literate. I get asked to help others build an artist’s web site or help them learn how to photograph and upload their paintings (for free, of course!). I not only can’t spread myself that thin, but I find it almost impossible to teach these “old dog’s new tricks.” They simply can’t grasp the technology, and they forget our first lesson as soon as they leave requiring follow up calls.

The only way to be successful in the future is to keep up with the latest and greatest and learn how to bend your skills to take advantage of what’s trending. Good luck!

Here is the best web side to differentiate between a locust, a grasshopper, a katydid, and a cricket:  Locust Grasshopper Cricket Katydid

And thanks to the Agriculture department and .gov:

Locusts and grasshoppers are the same in appearance - how they differ is largely in their behavior. Locusts can exist in two different behavioral states (solitary and gregarious) whereas grasshoppers generally do not. When the population density is low, locusts behave as individuals, much like

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Artists Copy from Nature Either Intentionally or Unawares

Nine-Banded Armadillo -- a small knight in protective armor
Many artists pride themselves on their own ingenuity believing that what they create is unique or has never been done before. But the facts are that styles and designs repeat themselves over the centuries. Artists only do a variation on what has been done before.

Nature provides us with countless designs and shapes. Unconsciously we bring them into our work and they become a part of whatever we create. The saying: “There is nothing new under the sun” was spoken (or written) for a reason. It is true. Conjure, if you will, the varied shapes and intricacies of a flower or a leaf; an insect, the odd shapes on a giraffe, the stripes of a zebra, a caterpillar’s fuzzy or lined patterns.
The things that surround us find their way into our art. We manipulate them. We re-color them. We may even change their shape, but the origins of idea are still formed from that which we recall. Even abstract forms are reborn on canvas maintaining a semblance of the original nugget of thought. Scientists also admit that they create and change those things that already exist. They may duplicate life, but they cannot create it without using parts of that which already exists in nature.

I’ve drawn many simple creatures of nature simply because their intricate outer covering intrigued me. Usually I do some research to discover how unique and independent these magnificent insects or animals are in the scheme of things.
A quick sketch of an armadillo I saw while out walking.

Yesterday morning my husband discovered two young armadillos foraging in our back yard. I snapped a photo hoping to capture them in the early light. 

Normally, armadillos sleep during the day; but these two were still in the throes of youth, and were perhaps more daring than their parents. These were “nine-banded” armadillos protected by a hard, scaled shell that some playfully call “armor.”
Two nine-banded armadillos in our back yard.
Armadillos have poor eyesight which explains why I was able to stand fairly close without getting them overly excited. They can’t hear very well either, but if attacked or fearful, they will roll into a tough, round ball.

How do they eat? They are expert at burrowing and can smell insects nestled in the ground. They make three to five inch circular holes boring for a meal. Usually we don’t see them, but we know that they have been in our yard by these small holes placed at intervals in the soft earth of our flower beds.

"Nine-banded armadillos do not have any front teeth; they have rows of 28-32 peg-like teeth in the back of the mouth. Their diet consists mostly of insects and invertebrates but on occasion they will eat a small vertebrate, berries, or mushrooms. They burrow to find insects and other invertebrates. They also will root around ground litter to find their food.

"Armadillos breed in July, but the embryo is dormant until November. In March the females give birth to four young which are always the same gender because they are identical quadruplets. The armor of armadillo young is soft and leathery, becoming firmer with age.
Thanks to the University of Miami web site I learned a lot about these beautifully designed warriors."
Another shot of our back yard armadillos.
Somewhat alarming about this particular animal, known as the nine-banded armadillo, is that in rare occasions they have been known to spread leprosy. But according to the Smithsonian Institute, “leprosy is a wimp of a pathogen. It is so fragile that it dies quickly outside the body and is notoriously difficult to grow in lab conditions. But with a body temperature of just 90 degrees, the armadillo presents a kind of Goldilocks condition for the disease—not too hot, not too cold. Bacterial transmission to people can occur when we handle or eat the animal."

Yes, in some areas they do eat these small animals. According to connoisseurs, armadillos taste like chicken. If you're hungry for something outrageous, search for armadillo recipes. My own gut reaction is “Why would I want to eat a possible carrier of leprosy?” I’ll just leave it at that.

“Though Hansen’s disease effects 250,00 people worldwide, it only infects 150 to 250 Americans. Even more reassuring: up to 95 percent of the population is genetically unsusceptible to contracting it. And these days, it is highly treatable, and not nearly as contagious as once believe.

"And as for armadillos—the risk of transmission to humans is low, only the nine-banded armadillo is known to carry the disease. And most people in the U.S. who come down with the chronic bacterial disease get it from other people while traveling outside the country.

“Experts say the easiest way to avoid contagion is to simply avoid unnecessary contact with the critters. And, of course, they advise not to go hunting, skinning or eating them (which is a rule that the armadillos would probably appreciate, too)."
From the Smithsonian @

Friday, July 8, 2016

It's Spring -- Bless the Baby Birds!

I couldn't resist sharing a childhood experience with you. The story probably accounts for why I love birds and delight in painting them.

 Robin Hood
He was pink, blind and featherless when I found him lying in the bright spring grass. His lifeless three-inch body brought back a rush of memory and I was eight years old again, looking down on another fragile baby bird.

"Tufted Titmouse" drawing

He had fallen so far from the nest that I convinced myself his mother would never miss him. Carefully, and with a modicum of shame, I scooped the tiny fledgling into my cupped hands. I would nurse him back to health and become his protector. In turn, he would be my friend, my pet. He could perch on my finger and I would teach him how to do tricks. He could sing for his supper. Surely mother would let me keep him.

"Courtship" pencil drawing
She shook her head when she saw him; a bad omen. But when she gave me an empty matchbox, I grew hopeful. We stuffed the matchbox with tissue and laid the bird gently on the soft white sheets. His head wobbled back and forth as his tiny body struggled to get up. The dark swollen eyes were closed, but the hungry beak gaped wide in a perpetual state of readiness.

My mother went for the “crumb jar;” the kind you fill up with leftover toast or stale bread until there are enough pieces for croutons or crumbs on a casserole.

We moistened a small chunk of bread in warm milk; and while mother left to prepare dinner, I dropped soggy snippets of bread into the bird’s open mouth. The feeding lasted until the tantalizing smells from the kitchen and the clatter of dishes distracted me.

"Berry Picking Time" 16 x 20 acrylic on panel
It was nearly bedtime before I remembered. I skipped to the back porch, half expecting birdsong to greet me. Instead, I slammed into a cold wall of silence. I held my breath and peered into the matchbox. The bird’s too-large head lay angled against the white tissue, his pale colored beak hung open. The bread I had pushed down his throat earlier was now stuck like a gummy wad of dough. I yelled for mother.

"Hut Two Three Four" drawing
She came quickly with tweezers in hand. “He’s too weak to swallow,” she said, making one final effort to remove the dough from the tiny gullet. “He’s not breathing,” she muttered to herself. And then seeing my tears, she added, “It’s not your fault. He’s too young, that’s all. His eyes aren’t open. He has no feathers.” In spite of her words, I cried. Sad lesson learned -- end of story, or was it?

Returning to the present and my adult moorings, I studied the baby bird at my feet. If I left him here, a neighbor’s cat or a hungry hawk would surely destroy him or a child’s bicycle could crush him unawares. Impulsively, I scooped him into my hands. I had to give him a second chance. Who knows? This time I might succeed; and, perhaps, redeem my childhood guilt in the bargain.
"Star Billing" mixed media on 14 x 18canvas

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Contrast Reveals Truth and Clarifies what’s Important

Thinking back to grade school, the kids who stand out in my mind, are not the popular or good looking ones whose faces I have long since forgotten, but the ones who were different. Even in memory, I can see them clearly. Back then, I felt their pain and even imagined that I could feel their awkwardness and aloneness.

My sense of fair play demanded that I do something about it. I decided to befriend each of them in turns. I got permission from my mother to walk home with Gail to play for about an hour and then walk back home.

My parents were poor by most standards. At the time, we lived in an upstairs apartment over my grandmother’s home. My dad didn’t own a car. Each day, he walked to and from the Caterpillar Tractor store where he repaired and maintained rental machinery. In our small town, income levels were low, and most people lived simply.

Gail, on the other hand, had a house and a yard with a swing in it. Dirty gray stucco that hadn’t been painted in years gave the house a somber look. There were no flowers or shrubs. When we finally made our way inside, I was shocked at the barren rooms.

We looked through the cupboards for something to eat, but the shelves were bare. A dry piece of cake with mildew sat on the counter top. Gail’s parents were not at home and the house gave off an empty lonely vibe. There were no toys to play with except the swing outside so we ended up playing outdoors.

When I got back home our small apartment seemed like a castle. Cheerful colors welcomed me and the sound of my mother's singing while she cooked made me smile. The simple soup and bread we had for supper seemed like a feast after the barren offerings of Gail’s existence.

The contrast between our homes re-defined the word “poor” for me. Gail's home expressed a poverty of spirit and a shortage of amenities. I would never again view myself or my family as lacking in anything.

Over the next few weeks I went home with Alice, a student who had a visible disability. She was a polio victim as a toddler; as a result, her left arm and leg were shorter. Alice limped in a funny hop bounce way that made her arms bob with each step. Everyone made fun of her, except me.

She had six other brothers and sisters. It was obvious from the moment I stepped inside their large old fashioned home that she was loved. There were games, giggles, and a relaxed easy-going ambiance that made time fly. Alice’s life was already full. No wonder she was able to handle the nasty remarks from her peers. The wisecracks didn't shake her world.

Lorraine was a bed wetter who sometimes had accidents in class, especially when she was listening to a story. In the silence of the room her accidents sounded like raindrops on our wooden floor. The janitor was quietly invited to our room and mopped up without noise or distraction. The teacher (my grandfather), continued the story without dropping a beat. The intrusion went unnoticed.

Lorraine was embarrassed, of course, but she never said a word. If she could have stopped wetting her pants, she would have. Most of her classmates felt sorry for her. A few twittered and teased, but most accepted her as she was.

Diane was taller than most girls her age which made her feel ugly and conspicuous. She hunched her shoulders in a grotesque slump to make herself appear shorter. Eventually her posture became permanently cemented for life.

Diane was funny, friendly and likable. It was easy to overlook her rounded shoulders once you got to know her. I was posture conscious. My grandfather had encouraged his granddaughters to walk with books on their heads and their backs straight so Diane’s rounded stance was a constant irritant to me. Her mother never said a word about it knowing it would make her feel even more self-conscious. Her unsightly hump made me want to stand even straighter.

When you are different from others life can be cruel. My heart goes out to those children who are bullied or made fun of because they stand out.

In a painting, contrast defines and highlights the center of interest. The differences in shape, value and color makes the objects jump out at you: dark against light, round against rectangular, bright against dull. A composition becomes interesting or impressionable because of these contrasts.

It’s too bad we don’t view people in the same way. The ones who catch our eye, or are unique would be seen as beautiful rather than nonconforming or odd. The differences would be viewed in a new way; much like a highlight or an unusual shape catches our attention and pulls us into a painting.

"Raccoons at Sunrise" (the last drink before bedtime), 20 x 16 acrylic on canvas

Monday, June 20, 2016

You can make a Difference if you don't Give Up

"Tansy's Pride"
In addition to loving books written about the Depression Era and World War II, I enjoy novels about slavery, especially from the perspective of a slave. Once immersed in the heartaches and hardships that come out of these historical time periods, you can better relate to the families that came after and those in the present day.

Everyone has a different memory of the same event. There were courageous and honest people who helped others and made their own lives count, and there were shallow people whose actions were hateful and spiteful. There were those who committed monstrous acts of violence and treachery that can only be called evil.

In the book "On to Richmond 1861-1862" The second book in the Civil War series written by Ginny Dye, the slave Rose asks her mama "How do you endure? How do I endure, Mama?" Her mother answered: "by going around every obstacle and embracing every hard time as if it were a friend carrying you to your final goal." Talk about positive attitude.

Reading opens up your world. You can gain understanding of other peoples and races. You can learn new skills. Education may expand your thinking and change the way you see your life. With knowledge comes responsibility. Your capacity to change your circumstances and conversely change the world becomes tangible. You can make a difference!

I taught myself to do many things while I raised six children. Each week we selected 10 books from the library that they could share. I also chose a few for myself. I studied writing, I read plays, I created scripts. I went on to study art in all of its forms. I experimented. I grew. I hungered to learn. I think my children caught my enthusiasm because they were full of never-ending questions.

If you're feeling trapped and think that you don't have the time or money for classes or that you'll be stuck in the same rut for the rest of your life, think again. You have it in your hands to create the life you want.

Think creatively. Reach out for help. Don't give up just because your life doesn't fit in with the pattern of others. Like the slave Rose learned from her mama, "embrace every obstacle, every hard time as if it were a friend carrying you to your final goal."

Nothing worthwhile is easy. You've probably heard that many times. It's easy to give up. You give into your fears, your imperfections, your lack of self-confidence. But you don't have to! Your state of mind determines where you go in life and how you end up. Take the reins of your thoughts and accomplish what God intended for you.

Norman Vincent Peale a famous Pastor and the author of many motivational books wrote this challenge in "Positive Thinking for Every Day of the Year:"
"Are you going to live all your life and never feel the presence of God?"

I issue a similar challenge. Are you going to live the rest of your life never feeling the exhilaration of overcoming weakness or the power that comes from self-control? Be in charge of your life. Don't succumb to indifference, laziness or fear.

The painting below is the first coat of paint on a gesso board. You can still see the white gesso show through in come places. I will show this work-in-progress over the next few weeks.
(Work in Progress)

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Violent Weather can Affect your Plans Whether you Like it or Not!

Pusan, Korea, hotel
June 1 through November 15 is not “summer” here in Florida, but “Hurricane Season,” which means we have a torrent of rain almost every afternoon and a few violent storms; some of which are hurricane proportion and some not.

When I lived in Seattle, the drizzle in winter was called “six months of wet.” The other six months were relatively mild and beautiful. The trade-off was exquisite weather half of the year. I could live with that.

When I was visiting Pusan, Korea one fall, the residents reminded us it was “Monsoon Season.” We stayed in one of the oldest hotels on the top floor. Our windows overlooked the bay and the ocean. Our only saving grace was the fact that the hotel had survived many years of violent weather and was still standing.

A monsoon did rip through one of the nights we were there. The next morning there was damage all around us, but the hotel had withstood. We went to Hunan Bay and saw destruction in many quarters and along the beach. I guess luck was with us on that trip.

 They were selling silk worm larvae (worms) that people purchased and took away in brown paper lunch bags so they could munch them on the beach. Some of the larvae was smoked, but in either case we were not buyers.

Later, we took a wild taxi ride into Seoul. Today it is a huge modern city, but outdoor markets still thrive. If you stand at one end of the city, you can see open-air stalls as far as the eye can see. 

North Korea is only a few miles across the border from Seoul. While we were there college students were rioting and demonstrating for the North. My parents were terribly worried about us; but as it turned out, we saw a crowd of no more than 50 people. The photographers had made the scene placed in newspapers around the world look like a mob of hundreds.

Since that time I’ve always been skeptical of the reports in the news. They usually hype up the violence and problems and make them look larger and worse than they actually are.

Cheju do Island
We also traveled to Cheju do Island to see some of the damage from the monsoon. Luckily most of the island at that time was farmland.

These little statues are everywhere on Cheju do. They represent good luck.

During another trip to this same Island, my son married a Korean girl whose father was a building contractor. They were wed on the island of Cheju do in a hotel her father had built. First they had a traditional marriage in her parent’s home, and then a contemporary wedding on Chejudo.

Does the weather affect the artwork in these Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries that experience monsoons on a yearly basis? Definitely! Not only did I find many photographs, but fine art that clearly represents the turmoil and angst that accompany violent weather.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How many Untold Stories are Still Out There?

(Potential model?)
Just when you think you’ve heard and seen it all, a shadow catches your eye; your point of view or perhaps the time of day makes everything seem fresh and new. A ray of sunlight illuminates radiant color; and wham, you know you have to paint that scene or, at the very least, capture this feeling on camera.

Now you’re hooked, pursuing that elusive dream; hoping that this canvas will make a difference not only in your life, but in those who view it. Is the process of art addictive? Could you stop these urges even if you wanted to?

When your vision is complete, and you’ve rendered that last brush stroke are you satisfied? Is your thirst quenched or are you left wanting more? Does the smell of wet paint and turp cling to your nostrils like an aphrodisiac? Don’t fight the feeling. You’re an artist (you know who you are). Go with the flow.

When I meet with my artist friends there’s one thing on which we all agree. We walk on the weird side. We think with our eyes, and our gut instinctively guides our hand. We see life differently than most people and that sets us apart; sometimes even alienates us from family and others.

Not all of us are so driven. Some artists try to quell that constant beating of their senses in order to fit in and lead semi-normal lives working, raising children, involving themselves in a thousand mundane activities in their neighborhoods and communities. Those who do dedicate themselves to an artistic profession are usually teachers, commercial artists, illustrators who have found fulfillment in working for others.

The few who do break the mold may soar on their ability to create and tap into the dreams of others. They are leaving their mark in the world and managing to make a living at the same time. With effort and determination, this could be you.

Yes, this is what black bears do in your neighborhood!
I had one of those moments yesterday. My husband and I were talking and he was facing the window. “There’s a bear,” he said.  I turned quickly. My eyes opened wide. A medium-sized black bear was sauntering past our screened-in porch. I went for the camera. By the time it was in hand, the bear was long gone.

“It isn’t likely he’ll come back,” I said, leaving the camera on a nearby coffee table. About an hour later, here was the bear lumbering past our porch going back to where he’d come from. By the time I grabbed the camera, he was gone. This is the first time in 12.5 years that we’ve seen a bear in our back yard. Now there was a story. Sadly, the painting that got away.

My next canvas I’m going back to what I love; painting the world’s people. I haven’t narrowed it down completely, but I’ve been looking for inspiration in the flavor of Mexico. My visit to San Antonio, Texas reminded me of how colorful the culture of the people is and how beautiful their faces.

I’ve been searching for poses and ideas online. A few samples are inserted. Continue to watch this blog for that first sketch and the work-in-progress to follow.