In 2009, I went to the state of Texas for a new field job, this one doing nest searching and surveys for black-capped vireos. I was nervous about living in Texas. At the time, I knew two people who had lived there, and neither had had good things to say about it. The birder in me was excited, however. Texas was supposed to be a great place for birds, and I looked forward to birding trips on my days off from work.
Growing up in Pennsylvania and flipping though my parent's bird book, there were birds that caught my eye. Scissor-tailed flycatchers, vermillion flycatchers, summer tanagers, and, of course, painted buntings. My childhood self wondered if I would ever see such extravagant and amazing birds.
My adult self was delighted, upon my arrival in the Texas Hill Country, to discover that some of these birds are common. So common, that some birders I encountered jokingly referred to them as "trash birds".
Summer tanagers fought in the trees. Vermillion flycatchers loudly and ominously declared ownership of their territories. One afternoon, during spring migration, I noticed a sapling along the road decorated with seven (seven!) scissor-tailed flycatchers. I was headed back to the field house from grocery shopping, and almost wrecked my car in my amazement.
And then there were the painted buntings; I saw them everywhere! Singing from the tops of shrubs, darting across my path, peeking at me when I was crawling through the bushes in search of vireo nests.
Texas, I decided, was awesome.
One morning, while following a vireo pair, I saw a little green bird dart in front of me, carrying a long piece of dried grass. A female painted bunting with nesting material! I had to see the nest, so I took a moment to see where she was headed. I succeeded in finding her nest, hidden low in a tangle of green briar.
That evening, I did some research on painted buntings. This is what I learned: The male defends a territory. The female builds the nest by herself, and cares for the eggs and nestlings, by herself. When the nestlings fledge, the male takes charge of the fledglings, and if there is time left in the breeding season, the female may build another nest and raise a second brood.
About a week after finding the bunting nest, I left for South Llano River State Park to do surveys for black-capped vireos and golden-cheeked warblers. It was several hours from the field station, so I camped at the park for the duration of the surveys.
After the completion of a day's work, I was free to enjoy the park. The park had a delightful feature...bird blinds set up with baths, feeders, and nesting material! I spent a good portion of my free time in the blinds watching birds come to enjoy the amenities, and attempting to photograph them through my binoculars with my digital point-and-shoot camera. The photos may not have been National Geographic quality, but I was still proud of them.
This place, in the blinds at South Llano River State Park, is where I photographed the model for my painted bunting and summer tanager ACEO paintings. The painted bunting (pictured at the top of this blog entry) was the first in my series of pointillist bird paintings, completed the winter after my Texas field job. The tanager is pictured below.
It was February in Florida, late morning, sunny and hot. A couple of months before, I had been accepted into an internship at Ding Darling NWR, on the barrier island of Sanibel. On our weekends off, I would take trips to the mainland with a fellow intern. This weekend, we were at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.
Today, at the sanctuary, we stood quietly, with several other people, at the end of a nature trail, facing a bird feeder. Some of us clutched binoculars; others cameras. We were quiet and still, ignoring the sweat on our brows and insects buzzing in our ears. Occasionally, someone whispered to his or her companion, but we were mostly quiet. There was an air of reverence. We were waiting for a special visitor, and we didn't want to miss him.
Suddenly, after nearly twenty minutes of standing in the sun, someone gasped...they'd seen movement in the bushes! I looked hard...I saw it too! The faintest quivering of leaves. Finally, a tiny face peered out of the vegetation, a dark eye, ringed by red, set in a field of blue. The leaves rustled, and the face disappeared.
And then, a tiny, rainbow-colored bird burst out of the bush and landed on a perch at the feeder. It was a male painted bunting.
The colors of his plumage, now glowing in the sun, were both striking and ridiculous. Royal blue! Green! Red! His admirers murmured approval; cameras clicked. I looked hard through my binoculars, not wanting to miss a moment.
A green female appeared. The male was displaced. The birds fluttered around the feeder. The male went away, then came back. Finally, both birds disappeared. The little crowd of birders waited. The buntings didn't return. Their visit almost seemed too brief.
Some people wandered back down the trail, and were replaced by new people. About fifteen minutes after the birds departed, my co-worker and I retreated down the trail too, to make space for more people to see the flying rainbow.
And that was my first sighting of the painted bunting, as a special winter resident in the state of Florida. It would be almost two years, but I would see the species again in Texas.
You may have noticed that many of my paintings composed of dots. I affectionately refer to them as my "dot paintings", but there is an official name for the style: pointillism.
The style emerged in the 1800s, and, evidently, was not well received at the time. Georges Seurat is one of the most well known artists to use the style. If you have a chance, look up his most famous painting: "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte". It took him two years to complete.
None of my pointillist paintings have taken quite that long, but from my experience with the style thus far, I can say that it can be tedious. After all, I am filling my canvases with thousands of dots. My record for completing an ACEO-sized painting? Seven hours.
I try to limit the number of colors I use in a painting, so I have to think carefully about where I'm going to put my dots, particularly if I'm trying to create a color that isn't in my palette. For example, I have not used black in any of my pointillist paintings, so if my subject has black in it, like the condor and vireo paintings, I have to come up with something that looks black, without using black paint.
What would compel a person to paint in this style? Well, I guess I just liked Seurat's style. I also liked the challenge of painting with gazillions of dots, and the challenge of getting my limited colors to work together. I had to try it, and I still am doing it.
Hello and welcome to my new blog! I would like to start with an introduction. In short, I am an artist and biologist, by training and by nature.
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, first living in a house in the country, and then moving into a small town after my second brother was born. Those first years of my childhood, when we were out in the country, probably had the biggest impact on me.
I was a biologist early on. Every rock, log, or wooden board had to be overturned so I could see, and capture, what was under it. I caught earthworms, sowbugs, and slugs. After several instances of finding earthworms in the laundry water, my mother learned to check my pockets before putting my clothes in the machine.
As I got older, I became more sophisticated; I started using jars and buckets instead of my pockets. I stalked more advanced quarry...salamanders, toads, and frogs! Snakes! Birds!
Birds were my favorite animals. There was a big field behind my house, where killdeer, a kind of shorebird, nested. Sometimes I would hide in the grass and watch the adults go to their nests. I got good at finding killdeer nests. Despite my extreme curiosity concerning everything avian, I left the eggs alone.
Barn swallows caught my eye. They had bluish plumage, swallow tails, and flew really fast! I found them hugely appealing, so I stalked them. I wanted to touch one. I carefully devised a plan, and carried it out. I'm not going to go into too many details, other than that my scheme involved a butterfly net, but, in the end, I succeeded in catching an adult barn swallow. Don't worry, he was released unharmed.
I have many fond memories of the happy hours exploring the fields and woods behind my house.
I also have many happy memories of sketching and drawing. I had pencils and big boxes of crayons. Birds were my favorite thing to follow outside, but in my sketchbooks, I drew horses, cats, dogs, and dinosaurs. My family encouraged me, my art teachers, encouraged me, and regularly winning school art contests encouraged me.
Both of my interests, in nature, and in art, have been part of my entire life.
By the time I headed off to college, I decided that I was going to illustrate comic books. Not the most practical plan, now that I think of it. I enrolled in art classes with the goal of achieving a degree in Fine Art.
The college years are a time of growing and changing. After a while I found myself taking more and more environmental sciences and biology classes. I took photography classes and started to love making photos. The dream of being a comic book artist faded. As graduation loomed, I knew I had to find a job. I applied for biology jobs, and I was offered my first field job working as a nest searcher in West Virginia.
Biology work is what I've been doing ever since.
I have not given up on my artistic side. What could be better than combining two of the things I love most, nature and art? So that is what I am doing.
Flores Crow Studio is the name for my art studio. It's named after a bird, of course. The Flores Crow is a crow found on the island of Flores, in Indonesia. I feel great admiration for crows and ravens, they are so smart.
With my blog, I want to share my art, and share my stories about what inspired me to paint my subjects.
I invite you to sit back and enjoy.
Hello, I'm PJ. I'm a wildlife biologist and artist. I enjoy drawing and photographing the plants and animals I see when I'm in the field. I have lived in several states in the US, including CA, TX, and MI. I'm originally from Pennsylvania.