Thursday, December 20, 2012

How I Manage the Wildlife in Our Yard

You may know from previous posts that I feed the small birds in our yard as well as the crow family, Bertram, Corvina, and Ned. What you may not know is that I've learned a lot about wildlife management this way. Here's my story.

Front Yard Bird Feeders
  1. To attract some feathered friends to our yard, I installed several feeders designed for small birds on a pole in front our house. 
  2. As soon as it was up, a squirrel climbed the pole and emptied the feeders.
  3. I added a squirrel baffle to the pole.  
  4. The squirrel turned his attention to the backyard feeder (more on this later).
  5. A family of northern flickers began hanging on the feeders and gobbling up the food, eventually breaking the feeders under their weight. 
  6. I replaced the feeders, and to distract the northern flickers, installed a suet feeder, which attracted an enormous flock of starlings who drove away all of the small birds and finished off the suet as well as all of the food in the rest of the feeders.
  7. I decided not to refill the suet and discovered that screeching loudly at the starlings drives them away, without perturbing the small birds in the least. 
  8. My neighbors, however, now give me frightened looks and run indoors whenever they see me coming out of my house.
  9. Another broken feeder inspired me to install a “Starling-Proof” suet feeder for the northern flickers. The starlings enjoy the suet very much. 
  10. I began screeching again. The little birds cock their heads for a moment and then go back to eating. The starlings and my neighbors flee the area.
  11. Some birds manage to get more seed onto the ground than into their beaks, which attracts the black-eyed juncos, who are ground feeders. Ground-feeding birds in turn attract the neighbor’s cat, which hides in our rain garden whilst waiting for a junco to stop by for lunch. 
  12. Unlike with starlings, screeching at a cat is completely ineffective (see Bad Bad Bad Kitty).
  13. I now keep a Super Soaker, full and handy for watering any cats that come into the yard. This doesn't endear me to cat-owning neighbors any more than does the screeching, or perhaps even less so. (Super Soaker:  $15.99 The look on the cat’s face: Priceless)
  14. I put up a seed hoop to catch the seed that the sparrows shovel out of the feeders and keep the seed and the juncos above kitty’s reach. I’ll keep you posted about how the seed hoop works after I install it. Bill predicts that it will make a nice platform for the squirrel to use to reach the feeders. 
More Stuff
Hummingbird Feeder
Note: This is a separate item, even though it hangs on the main feeder pole, because (1) hummingbirds do not behave like other birds, and (2) squirrels couldn't be less interested in hummingbird food.
  1. I installed a multi-hole hummingbird feeder based on the package illustration, which shows three hummingbirds peacefully sipping together on it. 
  2. Turns out a large Anna’s hummingbird owns the feeder. When another hummingbird approaches, she zooms in hot pursuit of the interloper, buzzing “ratatatata” like a machine gun. 
  3. Realizing that only one hummingbird at a time can ever eat at the same feeder, and that approaching a guarded feeder can be life-threatening to the interloper, I have installed several additional feeders on different sides of the house, none in clear line of sight from any other.
Back Yard Bird Feeder
  1. So that Bill and I can get away for the occasional day or two without my worrying that the little birds will starve to death, I put up a large, squirrel-proof feeder in the backyard that holds 20 lb of sunflower seed. (See it here:
  2. The squirrels can shake food out of the feeder by swinging on it. If they swing persistently enough it flies off the hanger entirely and lands on the ground, dumping most of the seed. 
Crow Feeding Stations
  1. I decided to see whether a curious crow who hangs about the house watching me garden would eat some peanuts that I set out for him. (He would.) 
  2. After a few days of getting peanuts from me, he brought over his mate. I named the two crows Bertram and Corvina.
  3. Bertram and Corvina now land on the neighbor’s roof each morning, peer through our dining room window, and caw while I eat breakfast until I get up and put out their peanuts. 
  4. And they bring their child, Ned, who occasionally brings his girlfriend along. 
  5. The squirrels (plural now, as the original squirrel had babies) also show up at peanut time, so I give them a few, too. They've become good at corralling all of the peanuts, preventing the crows from having any.
  6. To keep the peace, I experimented with a number of crow feeding stations and settled on the roof of the garden shed, in an attempt to foil the squirrels.
  7. The squirrels leaped from the plum tree to the roof of the garden shed and gobbled up all of the peanuts. 
  8. To distract the squirrels from the peanuts as well as the backyard bird feeder, I put out a squirrel corn cob feeder that holds two corn cobs. As of right now, less than 24 hours later, the squirrels have eaten all of the corn and are still getting most of the peanuts.
No squirrel on the seed hoop (yet), although a starling was sitting on it earlier, trying to pass for a goldfinch.
Well, that's what I've learned so far. I hope this has given you some good ideas about how to manage the wildlife in your own yard. 

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Trying Too Hard

If you're an artist, do you ever paint a scene, and then paint it over again to try and improve it? If so, does it work? I often find, much to my frustration, that the first attempt is better than the second one, and many of my artist friends report the same thing. This seems contrary to common sense because a painting should get better with practice, rather than worse. What's going on here?

I encountered this phenomenon yesterday, painting at Greenlake in Seattle with my watercolor meetup group. Below is attempt #1, depicting my friend, Christina, sitting on a dock painting.

First version. I liked it in general, but noticed that the three trees were similar in shape and size.
It came out well enough, but I thought the composition could be improved, so decided to give it another go to see if I couldn't do better with a second try.

Second version. The tree sizes were better, but nothing else. In fact, the painting didn't turn out as well overall as the first version (in my opinion, anyway). 

Oh dear. That didn't work! What happened?

Well, for one thing, my paint was starting to dry out in the fresh breeze that had been blowing all afternoon. So I should have added some fresh paint from the tubes to my palette. (For more about painting with gushy paint, see Overcoming Fear of Paint.)

But that's not all. Something happens to creativity when one stops being receptive and starts being analytical instead. Although very useful in certain situations, such as figuring out why my second painting came out poorly, being analytical requires a critical frame of mind. The artist must decide between bad and good, okay and good, good and better, and so forth. In the judging process, creativity flees, or at least hides behind a bush, because it has a very hard time coexisting with criticism. Brush strokes become more tentative, less confident and sure, as the artist wonders, "Oh, is this really the best place to put this stroke? Did I get the color right? Is there enough paint on my brush. Oh my!"

It seems that the time to be analytical comes after the act of creation, and not during it. For my next do-over, I'm going to try and remember this (without being too analytical about it!) and see if I can maintain a non-critical mindset while painting. Here's the process I'm going to try out:

1. Draw the scene.
2. Critique the drawing and make adjustments.
3. Paint with a non-critical mindset.
4. Critique the painting, deciding what I like and what I  want to improve.
5. Go through steps 1-4 again.

We'll see how it goes. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Setting up an Outdoor Easel

As you know, the plein air painting season is in full swing. Outdoors I usually sit in a low beach chair with my paper clipped to gaterboard in my lap and my watercolor paint and water on the ground. This is OK, but standing up with the paper in front of my face works better because I can see what I'm doing more easily. However, although I've been looking for good outdoor easel for several years, none of them were ever "just right." Recently though, at her Yakima Canyon workshop, I saw Catherine Gill's easel, adapted from a camera tripod. It looked perfect, and so I decided to try setting my own up the same way.

To show you what I did, I'll start with the finished product and work my way backwards through the process:
Here's the finished easel. Gaterboard and paper, attached to the  tripod head, is completely adjustable for level and angle. I could even lay it down flat if I wanted, as if it were on a table. BTW, if you don't already have a tripod, you can buy the complete setup rather than baking your own. But that wouldn't be as fun doing it yourself, would it?
Side view. 
I bought the tray already made. It's plastic, lightweight to carry around, and has channels that the tripod legs fit into.  The legs can be spread farther apart if necessary.  You can see the different size holes for brushes and a water cup. The shelf is called a Traveler Series Watercolor Tripod Shelf and cost about $46 with shipping. Catherine's tray was made by a friend out of wood.
Here's where the tripod head attaches to the gaterboard. It attaches by using both parts of a tripod head quick-release attachment, a piece of plywood, and some velcro. It isn't necessary to decorate your gaterboard as nicely as mine.
Here's the female part of the camera attachment. I'm going to connect the gaterboard to it by using the male part of the camera attachment, as you'll see in the next photo.
Here's the male part of the camera attachment, called a quick release plate. I ordered one from B&H Photo so I wouldn't ruin the one that attaches to my camera. This plate usually clips onto the bottom of the camera. Instead, Bill screwed it into a square piece of plywood for me, which my neighbor Pete had kindly cut from a scrap left over from building his new kitchen cabinets. I had to get a particular screw from the hardware store that would work with the quick release plate. After looking at the plate, the hardware store guy knew just what I needed. 
On the other side of the plywood, I stuck some industrial strength velcro.
Here's the other side of the velcro stuck to the back of the gaterboard. Voila! All set!

 I've already used this ensemble a few times and just love it!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What's the What and So What?

I recently attended a painting workshop given by Catherine Gill, a wonderful artist and teacher from Seattle. You may be familiar with her recent book, Powerful Watercolor Landscapes, which is one of the very best books of its kind that I've ever read, and simply loaded with jewels of wisdom based on Cathe's 30 years as painting instructor.

Cathe Gill demonstrating
If you've read her book, or even heard her talk, you'll know that one of Cathe's signature expressions is "What's the what?" Before this workshop, I'd never taken a class with Cathe, but I'd certainly heard this phrase plenty from my studio mate, Mara Bohman, who's taken more than one. Mara would look at my work and exclaim, "What's the what? What IS the what??!"

Simply stated, the "what" in a painting is the thing that draws the viewer's eye first -- the most important thing in the picture. Without a clear "what" the viewer is likely to skim over the painting and move on. As I often didn't have an answer to Mara's question, I decided to really focus on this "what" business during the workshop and learn more about how it can help improve my artwork. It turns out there are various methods artists use to draw the viewer's eye, including:
  • Value contrast-- The lightest light and the darkest dark placed next to each other, or at least near each other, draw the eye. The less the value contrast in an area, the less the eye is attracted to it.
  • Shape - A big or complex shape can help define the "what."
  • Color contrast -- Complementary colors placed near each other attract the eye. Complementary colors are those on opposite sides of the color wheel, for example red and green, blue and orange, purple and yellow.
  • Edges -- Rough edges. These attract the most attention in a watercolor, so should be placed where you want the most attention. Next are the hard edges, and finally the blurry edges, which should be placed in the parts of the painting that are less important.
  • Details -- Small marks also draw attention, so details should be reserved for the "what" part of the painting.
Cathe says that using just two or three of these elements is plenty to define the painting's what. The artist can reserve the others for the parts of the painting where the viewer's eye can travel after it visits the "what."
Cathe's reference photo
Here's Cathe's demo painting. Where is her "what"? Can you tell which of the methods listed above she used to attract your eye to it?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Golden Times

Last night Bill and I attended a concert at Seattle’s Town Hall in which the musicians played medieval instruments. One such instrument was a ceng. Looking and sounding a bit like a modern harp, the ceng was played with such sensitivity that, as the music floated up from it, I found myself mentally hanging onto each note as if doing this would somehow freeze it in my mind. After a few moments, though, I realized that clinging to one note prevented me from hearing the next, and that to enjoy all of the music, I had to let each tone  freely pass through me as it was played.

In a similar manner, I've found myself wanting to preserve a golden time of my life -- to stop the clock and forestall the end of a wonderful, but transient era -- playing with my children, romping with the dogs on our little farm, hiking with a group of “empty nester” friends, and, lately, painting with fellow artists and enjoying time with my husband Bill, a happy addition to my life's second act.

After all, just like the notes of the ceng, each golden moment recedes into the past much too quickly. But continually looking back and clinging to a passed experiences would keep me from enjoying the ones to come, so instead I remind myself to savor each moment as it moves through my life -- and then let it go.

"Best Friends" (c) 2009-2012 by Megan Davis Seagren

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Time to Paint Outdoors!

Hurray! It's that time of year again, when painters dust off their plein air gear and head outdoors. I'm gathering information about plein air groups in the Seattle area, and updating the information on the Plein Air tab above. If you know of a groups that's not on my list, please comment on this post and I'll add it. Thanks!

"Old Stump," (c) 2009-2012 by Megan Davis Seagren

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Robin's Sketchbook, Travels Near and Far

Robin loves to travel near and far, and lucky for us, she makes watercolor sketches of her adventures. Here are some of them. 

Diamond Head, Oahu Island, Hawaii

Somewhere in Central America
A Grey Whale swimming along the shore of Whidbey Island, Washington.
Around Seattle
Chautuaqua, New York
Chautuaqua, NY
Portland, Oregon
Occupy Seattle
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Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Excursion to the Flower and Garden Show

This morning my friend Liisa and I paid a visit to the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. Liisa worked on the "Bird Song" display garden, created by the Arboretum at Washington Park and the Seattle Audubon and wanted to go back today as a spectator instead of worker to take photos for her fabulous blog, the Intercontinental Gardener. Liisa's already got some posted, so I won't duplicate things she's already covered.

[Photography Geek Note: Bill just bought a fixed F1.8 35mm DX lens, which I wanted to try out at the garden show because of the low light. The lens worked well, except I didn't always get the right thing in focus. If I had to do it again, I'd manually focus everything. Also, because of the low light, the depth of field had to be so shallow in some shots that the photos just didn't turn out well. I guess that's the price you pay for not using flash.]

Anyway, here are a few of the many things that caught my eye:
Colorful hand-blown glass galore, for garden and in-home use. If you're into glass, this is a great opportunity to see A LOT of it. 
Dan Robinson, of Elandon Gardens. It's really hard not to be a groupie, so I just am. He is the rock star of bonsai. If you ever get a chance, get yourself down to Port Orchard to see his nursery. It's worth the trip, believe me! 
What we won't do for art! Liisa has gotten permission  from Dan Robinson to move his "Gold Medal" award so she can get a clear show of this impressive root that he somehow managed to get into the convention center. 
Liisa photographing the gigantic tree root. Hopefully she got a better shot than I did.
This is part of the Arboretum "Bird Song" display. They created a beautiful, natural bird habitat, mostly  out of native plants, and put some bird replicas in it. If you're thinking about making your own wildlife habitat, this display will give you some good ideas. For more on that subject, see Gardening for Wildlife.
Another habitat shot.
A beautifully formed Japanese maple. It's obviously been shaped and pruned over the years.
I want a garden shed like this in my backyard!
The best photo ops were of the flower arrangements. 
A french horn and a willow variety that has flat branches. Very fun.
I don't know what these little yellow puff ball things are, but I like them a lot.

This was so cute, I included it even though it wasn't all in focus.
And last, but not least, my personal haul. Bill's going to be digging some new holes this weekend.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Artists Are Not Like Software Engineers

As mentioned in a previous post, last year I joined an artist studio after having spent more than 20 years in high tech. While I've rubbed elbows with artistic types in the past, I've never been in a work environment with them before, and although this may not come as a surprise to you, what amounts to a revelation to me is this: Artists are not like software engineers.**

This fact first dawned on me during the studio annual meeting (required by regulation because of the studio's LLC status), which was held right after I joined. I'm used to business meetings being called and driven by a major stakeholder or owner of the project under discussion, or at least someone who has a lot of skin in the game. This person sets a formal agenda and keeps people focused on its points during the meeting. The goal is to reach agreement on how each point is to be addressed, and to assign action items to participants. Following the meeting, the owner follows up to make sure each action item is addressed and closed on and the results circulated to the meeting attendees according to an established timeline. (And of course, the fact that time is of the essence goes without saying.) 

I submit that if you're a business professional, you've probably read the previous paragraph and thought, "And...?" But if you're an artist, you're likely squirming in discomfort entertaining the image of such an environment, and mentally looking for the Exit door. I could be wrong about this, of course, as I'm just in the learning phases about how artists experience such things. But at least based on my observations so far, artists don't tend to be nearly as linear in their thinking and their goals tend to be somewhat open-ended, allowing for unexpected things to occur. Serendipitous Things. Not that either approach to conducting one's particular type of business is better or worse than the other. The two are just very, very different. 

So, back to my first studio meeting. There was a suggested time for us to get together, and when everyone had arrived, about 20 minutes or so after the suggested time (I was probably the only one who noticed), someone suggested that we look at the LLC documents to see what we were supposed to do. The documents were found and dug out of their folder, and it was determined that we needed to elect officers. The current president called for volunteers, and one person volunteered for each spot, while another person wrote down their names and positions on a piece of paper. Because we had a new treasurer, there was some discussion about the bank account and how money was collected and deposited. The departing treasurer indicated that people new to the LLC should go to the bank and sign the signature card. Next, the discussion turned to our studio party and somehow (I was unable to sort out how it happened) the date was picked, and a menu decided upon. 

During the entire meeting, I was certain that nothing was going to emerge from this loosey-goosey approach but chaos, but fortunately had the good sense to keep my mouth firmly shut. After a surprisingly short period of time, the business part of the meeting faded into a purely social time, and that was that. Six months later, I can report that everything was carried off flawlessly, and with no fuss whatever. In fact, the way the studio operates is awesome, but I won't take more time for that here. I think I'm still a bit shocked. 

So here's my attempt at a visual illustration of the two types of meetings. Interestingly, both software engineers and artists like to draw pictures (although software engineers like to call them "diagrams").

Typical Business Meeting in High Tech

Annual Studio Meeting
** Disclaimer: Of course, I realize that no person is purely artist or purely software engineer, or purely anything else for that matter. Individuals are always a mixture, and imposing stereotypes ensures that nuances will be missed. Nevertheless, I'm going to do it anyway because, taken as a group, IMHO artists are in fact very different from software engineers.

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  • Overcoming Fear of Paint  -  Someone once said to expand your abilities and horizons, you should do one thing a day that makes you afraid.
  • More Fear of Paint - I'm still putting lots of paint on the page while holding my breath.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Robin's Sketchbook, Children

Here are some more pages from Robin's sketchbook, most of them with her notes as captions. This time the theme is "children." Robin is both mother and teacher, so she has lots of time to observe them in school and at play.

Another fun week of school!

Imagine feeling so cool in your bike helmet--that you wear it all day at work as these children did at school! The bikes were used in gym that week...
The school year is almost over!
Going to a high school soccer game.

A sunny day! 

A stop at the Greenwood Library.

The students came to school today with Halloween costumes in their bags. It was lively all day! The candy wrappers will be crinkling tomorrow!

The Methow Valley was sunny and charming. From the roads up to the mountains for day hikes----it was beautiful!

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