February 17, 2010

The Squirrels’ Birdfeeder Breakfast Buffet

Two squirrels eating sunflower seeds at the base of a tree in the grass
The Squirrels Birdfeeder Breakfast Buffet. Susan K Donley, 2009. Engraved clayboard with ink (scratchboard), 14×11 inches. ©2009 Susan K Donley. Backyard Wildlife Series

No bird feeder is complete without a clean-up crew of squirrels sifting through scattered hulls for the occasional sunflower seed. I saw these Eastern Gray Squirrels feasting under a bird feeder early one spring morning last year. The low, raking angle of the sunlight caught their fur coats and made them positively glow against the shadow cast by the trunk of the tree right behind them. Very soon, the sun moved on and the effect was gone leaving the squirrels to finish their breakfast in the shade, but not before I grabbed my camera to record the dramatic lighting. It inspired this painting in my Backyard Wildlife Series.

Squirrels are a perfect subject for scratchboard with their coats of gray variegated with black and brown. Click on the image here to go to a larger view. Then mouse-over to reveal a close-up of one of the squirrels showing the fine engraved lines depicting his fur. The white clay’s high reflectivity (compared to paper) really makes the glow, which pops them forward from the background.

Learn more about scratchboard here. See more artwork from the Backyard Wildlife Series.

February 9, 2010

Peace in the Storm: Eastern Screechowl

Peace in the Storm - Eastern Screechowl sleeping in tree - painting ©Susan Donley Left: “Peace in the Storm: Eastern Screechowl,” Susan Donley, 2008. 14×11 inches, ink on engraved clayboard (scratchboard). Backyard Wildlife Series

The calm between two storms

As I write this post, our town (Oakmont outside of Pittsburgh, PA) is bracing for its second blizzard in less than a week. Last Friday and Saturday we got 23 inches of snow, instead of the 6-10 inches predicted. School has been cancelled ever since, as municipalities have yet to clear all the streets. Thousands are still without power. Humvee-equipped National Guard soldiers is helping emergency services reach people still trapped in their homes.

Now another storm is bearing down on us! The National Weather Service predicts the same 6-10 inches as last week and we are all hoping they are correct this time! Six inches would seem like a mere dusting at this point, though just a week ago we cowered at the thought!

Though I’m a fan of winter in moderation, these back-to-back storms have me bouncing between worries: power going out, trees toppling, cars getting stuck, milk running out, wild birds starving, and all manner of things I dream up. I tend to forget that the same God who created the seasons and the elements, also created me and all the people and critters I worry about. He’s not likely to suddenly forget us!

A lesson in faith

At times like these, I find the natural world full of lessons in faith. Several years ago, I looked out my bathroom window to see wonderful surprise guest sleeping in the hole in the sycamore tree: An Eastern Screechowl with red coloring (they also come in a gray version). I was thrilled that he stayed there off and on throughout the winter, though he was often down inside the hole where I couldn’t see him.

One late afternoon as the sun was going down, I looked out at the snow that was beginning to fall. Lo and behold, the little owl slept soundly, the snow piling up on top of his head! I imagined a cartoon balloon above him saying “What? Me worry?”! I took a photo to remember that perfect picture of peace in the middle of a storm.

Last year I dug out that photo to serve as a reference for this scratchboard painting titled “Peace in the Storm.” (Learn more about scratchboard here.) I decided today was the perfect time to unveil this painting and remember the lesson this little owl taught me that day.

May you have peace in whatever storm you face today!

February 2, 2010

Art for Groundhog Day

Groundhog sitting up eating with its paws to its mouth with fall bushes behind
Groundhog Bulking Up for Winter, Indiana, PA. Susan K Donley, 2009. Engraved clayboard with ink (scratchboard), 16×12 inches. ©2009 Susan K Donley. Backyard Wildlife Series

Like all my fellow Pennsylvanians, I find it hard to ignore Groundhog Day (February 2, for those who don’t track this major holiday). This is, of course, because our state is home to the Official Groundhog Day Groundhog Punxatawney Phil. Phil slumbers all winter long waiting for his big day in the sun when he, according to legend, peeks out of his burrow to check on the progress of winter. If he sees his shadow, the legend tells us, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, well, there won’t be six more weeks of winter, but it was never clear to me whether that meant there would be less than six weeks or more than six weeks of winter!

The state lottery has capitalized on Phil’s fame to introduce us to the Second-Most Famous Groundhog in Pennsylvania named Gus. This endearing little fellow tries his best to part us from our hard-earned money by playing the lottery’s very bad odds. But Gus is cute, no doubt about it!

My groundhog is not at all famous, but he is a resident of Pennsylvania, just the same. He lives under my brother’s tool shed in Indiana County, PA. I would call him Indiana Jones, so he didn’t feel badly being a Pennsylvania groundhog without a name, but I’m suspect that name is trademarked. My painting shows him on the other side of winter from Groundhog’s Day, fattening himself up for his long fast during hibernation.

This painting is one of a series that I’ve started celebrating Backyard WIldlife. These are the critters we share our lives with everyday. Though some are considered pests, I enjoy them all, and have undertaken to do their portraits as time permits. I’ve chosen scratchboard (engraved clayboard and ink) for this series, as it excels at depicting the tiny details of these small creatures and the colors and textures of their environment. Learn more about scratchboard here.

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