Filed under: Art News
I was honored to be chosen as this year’s Artist In Residence at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’ll be there September 3-23. If you’re in the neighborhood, pay me a visit. I’ll be painting at various places around the park. At the end of my stay I’ll do a talk about my work and travels, and I’ll have a show of the paintings I do in the park (Sept. 23rd, 7PM, @ park visitor center). Of course, I’ll post some blog entries while I’m there… if I can find wi-fi!
Pictured Rocks is one of my favorite spots (See “Chillin’ On The North Shore,” February, 2009), and has inspired lots of paintings. The masthead of this blog is a painting of the lakeshore at PR. Here are a few more:
Filed under: Art News
I was juried into the annual shows of two wildlife artist groups that I belong to, the Society of Animal Artists’ “Art and the Animal” opening at the Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure in Salina, Kansas,Sept. 5-Nov. 1, 2009, and the Artists For Conservation show, “The Art of Conservation,” opening at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum in New Jersey, Sept. 16-Dec. 20, 2009. Both shows will tour, check the organizations websites for details.
Filed under: Reptiles & Amphibians
We’re well into froggy season now, and we’ve seen our second batch of bullfrog eggs. For some reason, both the Bulls and the Greens seem to prefer to breed in the 2 x 4 x 2 koi tub instead of the big pond. There are fish in both the pond and the tub, so go figure. What really puzzles me is how the frogs find the tub. The water is not visible from ground level (the tub is 2 ft high) and there is no water noise of any kind. It doesn’t seem like instinct would lead one UP to water. They must either be able to sense the water, or they just explore a lot and found it by accident.
The frogs have been especially noisy this year, which hasn’t bothered the neighbors as far as I know. The bullfrogs can be quite loud at times. When the males are singing, they puff themselves up with air like a balloon so that they float high on the water. When they call, the air transfers from their inflated lungs into the ballooning throat as if an invisible hand was squeezing him like a balloon. While in this inflated condition they seem to be especially agitated, charging and barking at other frogs. Ahhrummm!
The eggs develop very quickly, hatching tiny black tadpoles in about 3 days, but it takes two years to get from egg to frog. Right now, I have tadpoles morphing into frogs in the big pond, survivors of eggs laid in 2007. There are several dozen little frogs visible at any time, and big tadpoles frequently rise to the surface. The big bullfrogs are getting fat by eating little frogs, but every year I see a few that survive to sub-adulthood. Out of the thousands of eggs laid each year, only a couple will survive to produce the next generation. In a larger pond, the tadpoles would have slightly better odds, but the percentage of survivors in nature is always low. This selection for survival keeps the frogs healthy and the population at a sustainable level.
Filed under: Insects
I was outside last night, staring intensely at M29 through the telescope eyepiece, when I became aware of a familiar rythm eminating from the woods…Katydids! This is the first time I’ve heard them this year. At their peak, they can become almost deafening in the night, the entire forest pulsing with their calls. I love it. Their name comes from their call, which some folks think sounds like, “Katy did, Katy didn’t.” Those who have grown up in the west or in a big city, may have never experienced this incredible sound event. The entire forest seems to pulse. When you have thousands of these really loud critters calling together, to me it sounds like a raspy “Shhh-Shhh.”
Katydids are members of the Tettigoniidae, or “Long-Horned Grasshoppers,” although they are more closely related to crickets. You can tell them apart from grasshoppers by the length of the antennae, which in Katydids are longer than the body.
Despite making such a prominent sound on summer nights, they remain inconspicuous visually. There are some good reasons for this: they live high in the forest canopy, rarely come down to earth except to lay eggs, and they look just like leaves!
I love cryptic animals, and the katydids are real pros at being inconspicuous. Our own common katydid, abundant in Eastern forests, is a pretty good leaf mimic. It is green, and its wing covers even sport veins and other leafy features. However, it is completely outdone by the tropical katydids, which have had more time to evolve cryptic features. Not only do some have perfect “leaves” as wing covers, complete with veins, the leaves also have insect holes, fungus spots, and lichens.
Not all katydids are cryptic, some going the route of intimidation rather than concealment. Looking like psychedelic bikers with multi-colored spikes and armor, these tough guys are willing to literally fight for survival. Watch out, they bite!
It’s no surprise that katydids go to such lengths to avoid becoming dinner. They are the main course in their habitat, the forest canopy. They are like the cows of the canopy, grazing on the abundant greenery, and becoming the food for canopy dwellers like monkeys, birds, and lizards. Everybody wants to eat katydids (they ARE pretty tasty!), so they have some pretty extreme selective pressure to develop camouflage or defensive weapons.
I’ve been a snake guy as long as I can remember. Well, that’s not really true, dinosaurs came first, then lizards, and THEN snakes. That’s the same track many reptile lovers have followed. Dinosaurs fired the imagination as a youngster, followed by the realization that living reptiles are just as cool, if not quite as big. My first pet was a Green Anole, a real dinosaur in my 7 year-old imagination. I still love dinosaurs, and have made several paintings of them.
Snakes are really special animals, however. They have that reptile “coolness,” an aspect that says “danger!” the same way a gang-banger might try to say it by looking tough. Many snakes even have a supraocular scale that gives them a wicked look, as if they’re frowning. Combine that with the use of venom and swallowing their victims whole, and you have the perfect attractants for adolescent boys. As we mature, we begin to appreciate other snake qualities, such as their beauty (both subtle and outrageous)and amazing adaptions for life without legs.
The first snakes I kept were Northern Water snakes, readily available in Ohio. Then came Garter snakes, Black Rat snakes, and the holy grail for young snake catchers in my neighborhood, the Eastern Milksnake. By the time I was about 13, I got my first exotic snake, a Columbian Rainbow Boa.
I paid $15 dollars for it at a local pet store. My dad helped me build a cage for it, a wooden box with a glass front and screened vents. I worried over it for about 2 months because it wouldn’t eat. One day after returning home from school, I went to my basement corner to check on the snake, and was astounded to see a squirming mass of baby boas and afterbirth! My Rainbow Boa had 17 babies, all live born. I was, of course, thrilled. They all had a spot and rosette pattern like the more exotic Brazilian Rainbow Boa. The mother was essentially plain brown (but very iridescent). At about 12 inches long, they needed baby mice (pinkies), which wasn’t always easy for me to get. I started trading the baby boas for other snakes. I did keep a few that I raised to adulthood and kept until I was in college.
The next several years saw an enlarging collection of snakes. I began working at the Dayton Museum of Natural History (Now the Boonshoft Museum) as a high school Junior Curator, and took care of the Museum’s live snake display. I had visions of becoming a herpetologist. As I became acquainted with sources for exotic snakes, I began to covet the venomous ones. They were extra-cool. Not only were some really extraordinary in appearance (like the Rhino Viper), they were dangerous.
Teenage boys love dangerous stuff. I bought by mail order some fairly dangerous snakes that I kept hidden under my bed or explained away as a harmless venomous snake look-alike. I was very lucky and was never bitten. I also had a little training by some of the older staff at the museum, watching them handle the museum’s live Copperheads and Timber Rattlers. I never tried to actually touch my “hot” snakes, using hooks or tongs to transfer the snakes to a secure box before cleaning the cages.
I eventually got on a track that took me into a career in museum exhibit design and then fine art, instead of becoming a herpetologist. I usually point to Algebra 3 as my turning point from a career in the sciences to one in art, but it probably had more to do with growing up with artists for parents.
It took many years to outgrow my desire to keep deadly snakes, but I never lost my fascination for them. Perhaps was the realization that I make my living with my hands (definitely at risk in a bite), and the arrival of a baby in the house. While living in Florida and Kentucky, I was able to observe venomous snakes in my own yard, without having to keep them. There were Diamondbacks in my Florida yard, and Copperheads in Kentucky. Other folks might be pretty upset about this, but I was thrilled.
I still love vipers, cobras, rattlesnakes and all the rest. Whenever I travel to places where these animals live, they are highest on my list of desired sightings. After growing up reading the adventures of famous herpetologists, it has been a thrill to see rattlers in the Arizona desert, Fer-de-Lance in the Amazon, cottonmouths in southern swamps, and cobras in Borneo.
The dangerous ones will remain my favorite snakes to paint. They offer a measure of drama just because of their dangerous potential, and many are quite beautiful. Some are beautiful in their cryptic camouflage, and others are outrageously colored, such as the coral snakes or the African vipers like the Rhino viper and Gaboon viper. All of them have that special something that appeals to my inner 15 year-old.
I actually haven’t painted all that many snakes, despite having a reputation as a herp artist. Really, only a handful. Perhaps it’s because they are incredibly difficult to paint well, or maybe it is the limited market for snake art. If you know my art, you know I like to do detail. Detail on snakes means lots of scales, and in specific patterns and numbers. Not only that, but the scales change in perspective as they go around the snake’s curves, and they change in how they overlap each other depending on if they are on the inside or outside of a curve. This is very difficult and tedious to re-create. It is not so simple as drawing cris-crossed lines as we did when we were kids. Still, I’ve pushed my way through a few snake pieces, and will likely do more in the future.