Monday, January 19, 2015

It did get better--

As my farrier noted today, it's hard to believe how bitterly cold it was only a week or so ago, given the nice week we've had, with temperatures in the single digits below freezing, and actually creeping up to and a bit over the freezing mark (0 C / 32 F) once or twice. We've enjoyed sun most days as well, so all in all, not much to complain about here.

I started my stint as a volunteer photographer for the local SPCA last Tuesday. I've drafted a willing animal-savvy friend as my handler/assistant, and the two of us headed off to our first shoot on a lovely warm and sunny afternoon. We were to have begun the previous week, but since the temperature that day was in the minus 30s with a stiff wind, that one was a non-starter. We photographed two dogs and two cats. There were four cats on our list, but one was in surgery, hence unavailable, and the other was so shell-shocked by where she was that we didn't have the heart to subject her to yet more unknown people handling her and relocating her to another area of the building for photos. Maybe she'll be more settled this week. 

The dogs were more than happy to go out to the big fenced play area with total strangers, and had a good time. There is a socializing room indoors for the cats, with climbing towers and many toys, but cats don't adapt to stressful situations as well as most dogs do, and they were pretty much like deer in the headlights. I did my best with them, but it's hard to get a decent shot of an animal that is pretty well shut down. 

Shot one shows one of last week's subjects, young Boris. He's a cute and lively young fellow with a lot of charm and energy, and available for adoption. 
 


We were up to the Patterson gardens by the university on the weekend, finishing up a tree photography project that has lingered on way too long (we started last August!!). As we went past the old university  cow barns, I had to get a shot of the masses of pigeons who were enjoying the sun and warm temperatures. The tops of the neighbouring grain silos were also thick with them. There were hundreds of them in total. This wasn't the best camera for this shot, but it's the one I had with me, so it will have to do.

 

Here is a longer view of the cow barns. There is now a very modern research facility for the university herd, and I'm not sure how much the old barn is still used, but it remains a local landmark that I always enjoy seeing. 


While we were in the Patterson tree gardens, my eye was attracted by the intricate play of texture, colour, and shadow in the trunk of this tree. 


I did this encaustic a few weeks ago, with no subject matter in mind at the time, but it does evoke a similar feel to the tree bark shot above. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

One more week---

One more week of bitter cold behind us, with high winds making it seem even more extreme, but by gosh it's been sunny!! I've spent most of my time, yet again, in the cosiness of my studio, poking away at my encaustic explorations. I don't really have a lot to show for the time I'm investing, but in the way of investments, I hope/expect that I will reap the rewards at some point in the future. This time of year, with no shows, sales or commitments in the near or even middle future, is ideal for developing new skills and refining existing ones, or, some days, just playing around.

Having flowering plants in our lives in the cold dead of winter is a wonderful gift. We usually grow an amaryllis or two, hoping for Christmas blooms, and both our amarylli produced on time this year. Shot one shows a close-up of the lovely pink one. It produced two stalks in succession, each with four huge blooms, so it has to be considered a success. We keep them going until spring, then plant them out in the garden for the summer, after which they are brought in so they can repeat their blooming cycle the next year. 



  A low winter sun combined with high winds blowing the snow in the fields gave me this rather impressionistic image, gathered on one of the grid roads as I drove home from the stables last week.


I saw a raven pass close in front of the studio windows a couple of days ago, so I beetled downstairs as fast as I could and grabbed the camera on the off chance it was still in the area. I got lucky and found that he was sitting in our American elm tree, having a rest and muttering to himself. Usually the ravens leave the area the second I appear with the camera, so I was grateful that this one stayed around for a few minutes, allowing me to record the moment. He's quite fluffed up against the cold. It was in the minus 30s with a stiff wind that day.


The elms across the street caught my eye when I arrived in the studio this morning, with the warm light of the sunrise turning the frost-covered branches to gold. Having an upper-level studio keeps me in tune with the birds and trees of the neighbourhood, even though I usually don't have a clue what is going on at street level. I'm not an early-morning person, and soon I'll be missing the colours of the rising sun as it gets up earlier each day, and I don't.


Rony keeps track of the activity in the neighbourhood when I step out the front door to gather my photos. I have to keep a bit of an eye on the street to make sure no dogs are passing by when the door is open, as I don't think he could resist that temptation, but that aside, he's good about staying on the inside of the threshold. His life has been awfully quiet in the last couple of weeks as it's been way too cold to walk him, but we're about to get a big jump in temperatures (from the minus 20s up to near freezing) so he will be very excited to get off the property again.




Monday, January 5, 2015

Inhabiting winter----

We're deep into winter now, with bitter cold and vicious winds in the last few days, preceded by a fairly good dump of snow. At least that meant we (by which I mean husband Jim) could try out the new snowblower. It does a good job, and it is RED, which is really its best feature from my point of view. I'm willing to buy almost anything that is red or yellow, whether I need it or not. 

Maybe that's why I like collecting sunset shots so much, as the reds, yellows and equally acceptable oranges are so predominant. Shot one is the last sunset of 2014, taken as I was heading home from the barn on New Year's eve. 


With the windchill in the minus 40s and even down to minus 50 a couple of days ago, options for entertainment become seriously limited. I go to the barn to tend to my gelding Alpac daily. For the moment I'm not able to ride him as he's got a mild upper respiratory virus and needs some downtime  to get sorted out. If not for my daily barn treks, I likely wouldn't leave the house at all. Certainly walking the dog is right off the list until we get up to about minus 12. 

The above being the case, it is really good weather for my encaustic endeavours, which I have resumed in the past week. Involving melted beeswax/resin medium, hot plates, propane torches and heat guns, encaustic is something I do only in the winter. My studio gets hot enough in the summer that I'm not much inclined to do even computer work or "cool" artwork, never mind adding extra heat, but at this time of year, it's ideal. Despite the cold and endless winter of last year, I didn't do much in the way of encaustic, so I'm spending some time trying to remember the process and doing some exploring. 

Most of my encaustics are really mixed media with encaustic, as is shot number two. It consists in encaustic paint and medium on a tumbled marble tile (6" x 6"), with laser print transfer and overlaid oriental paper. 


This is another mostly encaustic piece, with image transfer and alcohol inks.


This is a study in texture--I swing back and forth between wanting very smooth glassy surfaces and highly textured ones. Encaustic lends itself to either approach.


This strutting crow is a mix of encaustic and cold wax ( a mixture of oil paint and a wax emulsion medium) as best I can recall. Like many of these pieces, this one has been worked on over a long enough time that I don't really remember what-all I used in it.  


Not an encaustic, but one of my favourite little compositions from the pre-Christmas work. It was meant to go to one of my seasonal sales, but I wasn't yet ready to part with it, so it's staying in the studio for a while. No encaustic here--it's a mixed media collage.
 


Monday, December 29, 2014

Winter colour---

It can be easy to dismiss colour as a concept here in the depths of a prairie winter, particularly on days when there is little little light and no sun to be seen, such as we've experienced through much of December. However, if you look for it, and/or if the sun comes out, there is still colour in our world, sometimes subtle, sometimes bold.

Shot one shows the subtle kind of colour. I had to stop en route to the barn last week to photograph the many colours in these trees as they glowed quietly through the heavy coating of frost. 



We headed north of the city a couple of days before Christmas to pick up our fresh farm-raised turkey for Christmas dinner. This colour combination is striking, with red, white and blue, a classic mix, tempered by the soft golds of the trees on the left. Lots of colour here!


This is another shot from the same site, this time facing south with the warmth of the sun providing a backlit golden glow.


The light was fading when I got this shot last week, but a little help from Photoshop shows the colours that were there. This is a classic prairie winter scene with its snow-covered fields and the grain bins waiting for next year's harvest.


I shot this same barn scene a year ago on a very dark and overcast day. The feeling is totally different on a day of bright sun with everything covered in a thick rime of frost. This was also taken on our trip to Pineview Farms for our turkey. It was so ridiculously beautiful that day that it was like driving through a big three dimensional Christmas card.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Turning---

We've officially turned the corner of the year with the longest night and shortest day now behind us. As I said in a FB friend's post yesterday, it was more like "eight hours of not quite as dark as night",  rather than eight hours of daylight.  However, the sun, wherever it is, is starting to come our way again and that has to be something to appreciate, if only in theory.

Shot one was taken a couple of weeks ago, one of the last times I recall seeing the sun.  It's been unusually mild here most of the month, and if you pick your spot the footing is good, so riding outdoors is an option (for the  hardy, not for me).  I had a fun impromptu shoot when I found out that Alpac's neighbour Marcus was going out for a gallop in the fields with his owner. Conditions were great for both riding and photography, and a very satisfactory time was had by all.


The rest of today's photos were taken in the past week, so they are pretty low-key and lacking in colour. 

 Shot two shows the heavy coating of frost that has blanketed the landscape as a result of the heavy fogs and the high moisture content that accompany the warmer temperatures. This was taken about three in the afternoon, and is as bright as the days get of late. 


I headed down to the riverbank on Sunday morning for a walk with the camera. I was a bit surprised to spot this tree, still standing despite some determined assaults by the local beaver population. They are an ongoing problem for the riverbank trees, but despite that I'm always glad to see evidence that our river remains in good enough shape to sustain them. 


Shot four shows the clock tower by the Bessborough hotel, with the Meewasin skating rink in the background. It was a wonderful day for a skate, and many people of all ages were enjoying an outing. 


I took this shot on the way home from the barn this afternoon. It is a colour image, although it could almost be a black and white one due to the low flat light. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Skies and plant-life

It took me most of last week to recover from the Sundog show/marathon, but I think I'm pretty well there. I got to the barn on Monday to discover to my mild horror that Alpac had broken off his remaining lower canine tooth while I was at the sale. I use the descriptor "mild" as I've been down this road before with him. He broke off the right lower canine a couple of years ago. Having had this experience which was in essence a non-issue when treated by the vet, I was hopeful that our result would be equally good this time round, and so far this has been the case. Neither the vet nor I can imagine how he has managed to do this not once but twice, but I'm grateful it wasn't worse as apparently broken canines are frequently accompanied by a broken jaw. I certainly wouldn't want to go there even with a young horse, never mind with my senior citizen. 

I was doing some "catch-up" seasonal shopping early in the week, and I observed this interesting jet trail in the sky over the parking lot I was in. As I like to say about many things, I'm sure there is a story here, I just don't know what it is. 

 

I shot this dramatic sky on the way home from the barn on one of the slightly less grey days last week. We've had a couple of days of the expected brilliant sun and blue sky to which we feel entitled in the winter, but otherwise it's been pretty grey, dark and dreary. I guess that goes with the warmer temperatures we've enjoyed--winter choices are often bright and darn cold, or less cold but overcast. This was taken shortly after 4PM--we can look forward to the sunset occurring later each the day in only a week. 


I was out in a local riverside park doing some tree photos when I got this nice detail shot, full of colour and texture. From the shape of the leaves, I think this is some sort of willow. The little seed pods suggest it is a wolf willow, but they are usually classified as a shrub, and this was a good-sized tree.


We made our last visit of the year to Solar Gardens on the weekend (they close next weekend until April), to purchase some edibles from the Tasting Studio and to enjoy the greenhouses. This shot shows one of the greenhouses with its many succulents in various stages of development.


I liked the symmetry of these little guys, snug and happy in their little starter containers.



Monday, December 8, 2014

Prairie skies and birds

I've massaged a few images into shape for this post, but I don't have a lot of words in me tonight. I survived the three day marathon that is the Sundog Arts and Entertainment Faire, but it has taken its toll on me and I'm very weary. I downloaded what shots I was able to garner in the past week---samples of which are here for your viewing pleasure.

Shot one features the lovely tangle of my friend's clematis vine, lit by the afternoon sun. 


It's shaping up to be a better than average year for city raven photography if the past week is anything to judge by. Shot two shows a lovely fellow coming in for a landing on the roof of the garage across the back lane from us.


I've learned (the hard way, as usual) to bring the camera along on shopping trips, as the ravens frequent the shopping malls along the commercial strip in my part of town. This fellow was after a bit of fast food debris right beside my parked car. I managed to get a few shots of him before he took his treasure and marched off behind an adjacent vehicle.


Late afternoon trips to the stables were good for nice visuals this week as well. This shot shows the moon coming up over the fields on one of the rather frosty days of last week.


I was excited to see this sky full of colour in the southwest as I was leaving the barn another day. The sun will soon be as far south as it's going to get, and these colourful events will be happening a little later than the 4:30 or thereabouts sundowns we have these days.