February 2005

I have zero motivation today.

There’s a coupla things I should be working on. I haven’t been. My brain is shot. Instead, I’ve been taking photos of the little birds, and then organizing and labelling several dozen photos (actually, over a hundred photos, but of that only several dozen tend to come out well enough to save and organize.) and that’s about it. I should do something productive. I really should, but I am just sort of slopped over the chair going “Bllurrrrrghgh…”

I blame the allergy meds I took an hour or so ago. The fact that I felt like this before I took them, too, is immaterial.

Also one of the titmice appears to have mange or something. The top of its head is bare. I was thinking molt, but now I’m thinking “Dude, does that bird have leprosy or something?”

I appear to have a new squirrel as well. In addition to Lumpy, Gimpy (who is getting less gimpy all the time, although he now appears to have a sore on his bad leg of some sort) and Stumpy (whom I saw again last week, but doesn’t appear to be a regular) we now have Notch, an otherwise healthy looking squirrel with a large round chunk taken neatly out of one ear. I only name them when I can identify them semi-reliably, but the ear is pretty obvious. We’ll see if he comes back again, too.

I’m really fired up about photographing the local birds–I think it’s because I’m kicking myself about all the birds I missed at previous places I lived, so now I’m bound and determined to get extensive documentation of every little bird here, so that when I eventually move, I’ll still be able to paint them. (Part of it is more sentimental than that–even my desultory glance-at-the-feeder birdwatching has come to form a fairly significant part of my day, and I want to document that, as well.) Some of them have been easy–the bluebirds, the yellow-rumped warblers, the downy woodpecker. Some are nearly impossible–the northern flickers are exceedingly skittish, and I hardly ever see the Carolina chickadees any more. Some of them I’d expect to be easy aren’t–I haen’t gotten any good ones recently of the Carolina wrens or the white breasted nuthatches. Some of them are very easy–I have enough bluebird photos to paint the Bluebird of Happiness, Glee, Sardonic Amusement, Vague Cheer, and all their related kin. No finches, yet–there’s nyger seed in the mix, but either they haven’t found it or don’t like the location. If worse comes to worse, I’ll set up another sock.

So that’s what I’m doing, that I shouldn’t be. Eh. I’ll call it feeding the muse, I guess.

I dreamed I tried to join a pirate crew. They wouldn’t take me because I was a centaur. I tried to point out that I had many sterling talents and they shouldn’t discriminate against me because I had an extra set of legs–they pointed out, fairly enough, that I was not going to be any good in the rigging. “But I can swim!” I said. They were unimpressed. Then somehow we all wound up in the water, and there was an elk wandering around who could walk on water. Which was a neat trick, anyway, although they still wouldn’t let me be a pirate.

Then I somehow wound up in a hillbilly version of Disneyland, run by Nazis, trying to get to the tiger enclosure so that I could do something or other. (I had two tiger cubs in my backpack, so it was probably related to that.) Sadly, the Nazis foiled my attempt, whatever it was. Those bastards. Their leader was the German prince from the last episode of Blackadder II. It was a surreal little moment.

Then I woke up and thought something like “The bears aren’t done yet!” which made no particular sense. But centaur pirates would still be cool, damnit. You could get so many peglegs, they’d KNOW you were a badass.

Good Deed For the Day

Took a walk with my friends Kathy and Leonor today, and as we were heading back to the car, a dog came up to us.

It was a medium-small dog, a nondescript yellow shorthair with a dark muzzle, and it was deleriously happy to see us. And it had been a Bad Dog. It knew it had been bad. It approached with the cringing, tail-wagging servility of a dog that expects to be punished but is terribly happy to see you anyway, legs hunched, rolled over on its back the moment we moved toward it, and waited to be punished or forgiven.

Not knowing the dog’s crime, we petted it. It was a very soggy dog–we’d been walking at the Bond Creek park, and the dog had obviously been swimming in the lake chasing ducks, but I am the sort of soppy animal lover who will pet even a wet dog, and Kathy’s just as bad. Delighted at the attention, it slumped against kneecaps and snorfled happily on hands. We glanced about for the owner, saw a woman over on the walkway, and Leonor went to talk to her, and the dog saw another dog, leapt up, and charged off.

It wasn’t her dog. Furthermore, she’d been there for about fifteen minutes, and hadn’t seen any owners, although the dog and his companion (a slightly larger brittany-esque spaniel) had been very friendly and inclined to come up to people and beg to be petted.

Animal lovers that we are, we sighed, tracked down the dogs, caught the yellow dog again, and while Leonor held its collar and I made idiotic whoozagoodpuppyden? noises and got wet dog all over my knees, and Kathy tracked down the brittany, the other woman, who had a cell phone, called the 1-800 # on the tag. The 1-800 # went to some service who called the owner, the owner called the woman’s cel phone, while Leonor hung on like grim death* and Kathy came up, having wrangled the brittany, which I then got to hang on to like grim death, and who, while just as cheerful as the yellow dog, being somewhat taller, managed to spread the wet-dogginess up to about mid thigh.

I was half expecting the owner to say dimissively “Oh, they run around loose all the time,” or something equally obnoxious, but far from it–the owner was in his car at the time, driving around desperately trying to find the dogs, and was at the park in two minutes flat. He offered us money for having found his miscreants, which we waved off–hey, we’ve all had dogs, we know how it goes, we’re glad we could help, etc–and the two deliquents leapt into the car immediately, obviously glad to be going back home, and happily spread wet dogness all over the back of the car.

So that was our good deed for the day (or in my case, probably the month.) It’s always nice to see a happy ending.

*This was quite a sacrifice, since she is allergic to dogs, and broke out in hives up to the elbow about ten minutes later.

I am contemplating erecting a bird blind in my living room.

What stops me is primarily the fact that I’m not sure how I’d go about it, although I admit there’s a nagging feeling of absurdity in there as well. On the other hand, nagging feelings of absurdity have never stopped me in the past, so we can mostly discard that as a problem.

The prime bird spot is about four feet outside of my sliding glass door. The tripod is just inside the door, with camera on it. When a little bird comes to the feeder, however, they can see me as easily as I can see them, so I am forced to do a commando-style skulk to the camera, trying to stay behind the vertical blinds, reach out and hit the power, focus, and by then the more nervous little birds are getting mighty suspicious of all that skulking going on and relocate somewhere safe. (The mockingbird and all the bluebirds don’t care, mind you–they’re confident they can kick my ass. But I’d like to get photos of some of the shy birds, too.)

Today I’ve got the camera hidden behind the vertical blinds, with just the lens protruding, but there’s still some motion going on, since the blinds are not a solid wall, and the gap caused by the lens pushing one aside reveals the top half of a chunky nondescript woman trying to be sneaky, which is undoubtedly causing a great deal of amusement for the little birds. It does seem to work a little better–I’ve got several shots of tufted titmice, including one rather scruffy individual missing the tufted part. (I’m assuming molt.) However, it’s still not all that great.

So how would I construct a bird blind? Ideally the sort that one could take down easily. All I can think of is taping opaque paper to the inside of the sliding glass, with a slot cut for the lens, and I don’t know if the lens, which requires a certain range of motion, would require a hole large enough that my laughable attempts at stealth would still be obvious. Anybody have any thoughts?

As I was driving to go pick up James, an owl launched itself from the grassy verge on the passenger’s side of the car and swept across the road in a great indistinct wash of wings, barely two feet in front of the car. My foot jerked on the gas pedal, but long before the message “BRAAAAAKES!” crawled out of my brainstem and began hitchhiking down the long slow highway of spine, the owl had crossed out of my lane–giving the person in the oncoming car presumably the same reaction I had–and sailed into the trees.

So that was kinda cool.

On A Clear Day, You Can See Outside The Swamp

The swamp is not bad at the moment. I am treading water easily, or will be once the obligatory Monday Malaise is over. One major project seems to have fallen through, since t’other parties have gone incommunicado for several weeks, and so I’m left with only…four things that need to be done–two covers, c comic run, and a commission–and another two–cover and illo gig–that will start up in a coupla weeks. (I’m actually not sorry that the other one is in limbo, since it would have choked my time badly and I’d be at the bottom of the swamp breathing through a straw.)

And Digger. And, of course, The Other Thing.

Okay, fine, since I already mentioned it–the Other Thing is editing and rewriting “Black Dogs” to get it ready for publication, a Herculean task, since the appeal of my writing, (if any!) is the writing itself, not, y’know, plot and so forth. It will be a much better work when it’s done, I have every confidence–in my editors, if not myself!–but rewriting it is…kinda weird. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never done this before, not, y’know, being a writer. Maybe it’s that it’s been so long since I wrote it. I have to drag myself back into the world of the story. I think once I get into the groove and start rewriting in earnest, it’ll be a lot easier, but it’s a peculiar mental gymnastic at the moment, like trying to fit into complicated clothes that you used to know how to wear perfectly, and not quite remembering how you tie this bit, and discovering weird snaps and buckles in places that you could have sworn there wasn’t a buckle, and suddenly that ten pounds you’ve put on in the last few years is really starting to matter.*

Real writers may sail past this stage with the ease of long practice, I dunno. Art, I know.** Writing, I wanted to know, and then got sidetracked.

This is the book I wrote before I started blogging, and whatever else writing practically every day since the end of 2002 will do, it gets your voice hammered out like nobody’s business. So this is probably not the book I would write today. On the other hand, that’s probably not a bad thing–whatever I’d write today would have a lot more torturous metaphors and tend to ramble off in places, and there aren’t many novels on the market where the narrator stops halfway through a chapter and goes “What was I saying? Um…right. Er. Somewhere a dog was barking..?” Presumably the people who can stand my blog are predisposed to like that sort of thing, but I suspect it would give many editors apoplexy.

But anyway. Full-scale rewriting hasn’t kicked in yet, as we still are trying to figure out exactly what bits need to be tweaked or expanded, and expect t’occasional post about the weirdness of re-writing as it happens. No ETA at the moment–never having done this before, it may expand to swamp me utterly, or it may be a breeze. (Okay, it’ll swamp me. Nothing’s EVER a breeze…)

Until then, back to the studio!

*Exactly like when I tried to get into my old martial arts outfit at Halloween and discovered I no longer remembered how in blazes to tie up a hakama and had to look it up on the internet.

**Let me qualify this outrageously arrogant statement by saying “At least as much as anybody knows art when they’re way closer to the beginning of their careers than the end.”

Hey, look! A gearworld painting!

In the wrong frickin’ media! As an experiment with oil pastels!



My muse is an absolute cad.

If anybody has worked with oil pastels, any advice or suggestions would be welcome–I really like the textures, and would like to fool with ’em a bit more, but I’m still just starting out, obviously.

Ursula Vs. Her Hindbrain

Today is a make-prints, make-art, wander around forgetting where you put things day. Fooling with this painting using oil pastels, which I had a mad urge to try–two of my favorite artists, Susan Seddon Boulet and Oscar Chiconi use ’em over acrylic ink washes, and since I’ve been playing with acrylic ink washes, I figured, what the hell? It’s interesting. I can get some neat textures, but I suspect I must work much larger than usual in order to get any good crisp detail. The first experiment with this will be uploaded shortly.

On the bright side, this appears to be what my hindbrain wants me to be doing, because it’s calming down. Yesterday was tough. Things were definitely being worked on back there, and it obviously wanted more processing power, so it was diverting resources from the rest of the brain. This sounds absurd, I know, but it’s the best analogy I can come up with–it’s as if the wall between the me-that-does-the-thinking and the weird, freaky, busy muse-ridden subconscious bits in the back got moved forward, so that the me-that-does-the-thinking was suddenly in a rather smaller space than usual, and the slight echo you get when you think something didn’t echo, so my thoughts felt really flat, and there was this impression of swelling, busy activity on t’other side of the wall. Also, I was walking into doorframes a lot.

Okay, that sounds like I’m a certifiable loon right there…Saying that the wall has dark wood paneling and a bare light bulb hanging in front of it doesn’t help, probably. I really don’t spend that much time contemplating the inside of my head, particularly when little birds and wombats and whatnot are way more interesting, but occasionally these things happen.

But anyway. Working, somewhat distracted. I don’t know if other people wander around the house with a painting in their hand, put it down somewhere, wander off again, and then spend ten minutes scouring the studio for it when it’s really sitting on a chair in the living room, but I’ve been doing a lot of that today. I assume once the ‘ol hindbrain is done with whatever it’s working on, and either spits out orders or admits defeat, I will get full functionality back. Which would be nice. I mean, I may not use my short-term memory all that much, but I like knowing where it is when I need it, ya know?

Since people keep asking for photos, here’s some of the results of a coupla days last week spent with a tripod focused on the suet feeder. Mostly I got bluebirds and a mockingbird, but I’ll try again this week. The photos have been filtered a bit since the lighting washed things out, so they may be a little more contrasted than real life–I’m a photographer purely for reference photos and there is very little artistry involved in what I do. (Also, feel free to correct any species identifications–it’s always possible I’m wrong!)

Enough caveats!

Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker (This one actually wasn’t filtered much–their heads really are that unnaturally vivid color.)

Male and female Eastern Bluebirds

The bluebird from an angle I will probably never paint.

Northern Mockingbird. I got dozens of this guy. It’s all the same bird, too. He was a camera hog.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler — one of a bunch of small, generally interchangeable warblery things that come to the suet.

If anybody wants to use these for reference, go ahead–I’d suggest not copying them exactly, since I’ll probably do paintings of them at some point, but feel free to do studies or use them for general ref.

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