Little Brown Dude

I like hanging out with naturalists. Say you’re out for a walk and you spot an interesting clump of scat. Where a non-naturalist friend will likely want to take a big step over it and keep on walking, a naturalist will crouch down, help you pick the scat apart and merrily join in discussing who produced it and what they ate for dinner.

Also, you can count on naturalists to not look at you askance when you make odd requests, such as: So…can I borrow that desiccated bat you have in your bookcase?

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It was fascinating to get such a close look at this little fellow, on loan from a naturalist friend who knew and liked him when he was alive.

Projects update: a whale of a book, and some giant sketches…

It’s been a while! The book mentioned in the last post, When You See Flukes, is now published, and people seem to be enjoying it. You can take a look at it, and find out more about my latest marine-related art, at Spot the Whale, where you’ll also find another occasional blog, with whale-related entries.

I’ve also been busy with a large-scale (literally) sketching project. Last spring, I applied for, and received, an individual artist grant from the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. The grant was for supplies and time to create a series of large paintings in the style of my field sketch pages. So from July through December, I battled canvas, splashed paint, wrestled easels, and learned a whole lot about painting with big brushes, working with canvas, and getting over my obsession with tiny details and fussiness. It was a wonderful experience! Here are a couple of the resulting canvases. First, the version that’s really just about making the sketch page big, then the version where I started letting go of the idea of tidy page arrangement and tidy notes, and tried to just celebrate looseness of brushstrokes and the connections between words and images. Both paintings are about four feet wide.

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I might post a few more of the canvases, and the stories behind them, in the future.

More from Wrangell

Wrangell-park-sketch-hockerOne of the fun things about traveling in Southeast Alaska is noticing the often-subtle differences in vegetation from place to place. Wrangell is just far enough south so that cedars are a major component of the forest, lending it a a different texture. Here in Juneau, we have to hike quite a ways in to find the little pockets of cedar that exist here.

The fauna's a little different too. Northern flickers are fairly common around Wrangell, but not so commonly seen here. I love watching their wings and tails flash fiery orange as they fly.

Spring, 1 year later

Wrangell-hbird-hockerIt's amazing how quickly a year passes. I've traveled and taught and sketched a lot in the past year, but haven't returned to my lonely blog til now. 

Just got back from a teaching trip to Wrangell, Alaska, for the Stikine River Birding Festival. Bird highlights for me included sandhill cranes chortling overhead, flocks of white-fronted geese descending on the school football/soccer field, snow geese whirling over the Stikine Delta, and a fascinating talk about the wildlife of Wrangel Island, Russia by biologist Vassily Baranyuk. Also, this sad highlight, a female rufous hummingbird that hit a window. I tried to capture her iridescence by starting with white Prismacolor for the feather texture, then layering metallic green watercolor and several shades of Neocolor pastels and water.

Today, two hummingbirds–a male and a female–are tussling over the feeder outside my window, swirling around each other and surrounded by swirling snowflakes. It has been a long, cold spring.Nice to see these little spots of warmth.

Gustavus willow

Hocker-gustavus-willow-sketchI just got back from a great two weeks in Gustavus, where I was working with students and teachers at the school.The school is wonderful; there are just over 50 students, grades K-12.  And Gustavus is a fascinating place: a broad, flat landscape, formed by outwash from the Glacier Bay glaciers over many centuries. The combination of flat land, lush meadows and wetlands, wandering rivers, and pine/spruce/cottonwood forest are an unusual mix in Southeast Alaska.I saw swans and herons, listened to a wolf moan under the stars, and got thrilled (even a little over-thrilled) by moose.

I'll post a series of Gustavus sketches next, starting with an iconic plant: willow.

What the Jays Showed Us

Hocker-marten-sketch Was on a walk with my friend Jill this afternoon, when we noticed about six Steller's jays hollering at something in a cluster of spruce and alder. After craning around a bit, we spotted a small, round-eared animal, the first wild marten I've ever seen. On the way home, I tried to hold the spring-steel body, rounded ears, downy fur in mind until I could get to my sketchbook. This page of memory sketches is the result.

Island Naturalists

Hocker-kayak-trip-sketch- Spent a blissful three days puttering around Benjamin and North Islands with two naturalist friends. Kayaking and exploring conditions couldn't have been better: warm, sunny days with glassy water, cooler breezy evenings, lovely sunsets, few biting insects. Most importantly, we were surrounded by a paradise of nature puzzles and treasures to discover. Here's a first page of sketches; I'm planning a second page of memory sketches and notes and plan to post it soon.

UPDATE: looks like our mystery orchid is Malaxis (Hammerbya) paludosa, bog adder's-mouth orchid.