Thursday, March 27, 2014

Early March Wildflowers in Sandia Park

We've had mild temperatures and some nice precipitation in March, so...voila...early wildflowers are blooming here in Sandia Park (6900 ft. elevation) just east of Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Bladderpods with their bright yellow flowers and grey green foliage are everywhere among my juniper and pinon trees. Per "Wildflowers of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains of Central New Mexico" by Larry Littlefield and Pearl Burns, some historical native medicinal uses of the Bladderpod plant include: "Plant infusion taken as an emetic, and crushed plants mixed with salt as a rub for swellings by Keres; used by Navajo as an infusion to counteract the effect of spider bites." (page 115)

Fendler's Bladderpod Lesquerelia fendleri

I found lots of these tiny white flowers everywhere under my trees.  I identified them using Gene Jercinovic's Wildflowers of the Manzanos (out of print but available online) (page 155) as Wedge-leaf Whitlowgrass or White Draba (Draba cuneifolia).

Wedge-leaf Whitlowgrass or White Draba Draba cuneifolia
There are four green sepals and four white petals per flower.

The hairy basal rosette of slightly toothed eaves with a single stem with umbrel of white flowers of White Draba
Locoweed or Astragalus are pretty with their magenta flowers but they are poisonous to livestock.  Per Gene Jercinovic in his Wildflowers of the Manzanos, page 220:
"Several species of Astragalus in New Mexico 
contain chemicals toxic to animals, the alkaloid 
swainsonine, nitro-compounds, or selenium. 
Woolly locoweed contains swainsonine which 
has toxic effects on neurological, cardiovascular 
and reproductive systems. There is no effective 
treatment for locoweed poisoning."
Wooly Locoweed Astragalus mollissimus var. mollissimus

The flowers of the Wooly Locoweed
I see that Linda Carson at the 7MSN Ranch is hand-pulling every locoweed on her 80 acres to protect her equine herd.

 Cutflower Puccoon or Fringed Gromwell have delicate tubular yellow flowers with fringed petals.
"The showy yellow flowers of cutflower puccoon actually produce
few seeds. Later in the season, very small flowers form lower on the plant which never really open and are self-fertilizing. These obscure flowers actually produce most seed. Puccoon blooms from April to June between 4000 and 8000 ft." (Jercinovic, Wildflowers of the Manzanos, page 138)
Cutflower Puccoon Lithospermum incisum

One of the earliest spring wildflowers is Red-stemmed Filaree (Erodium cicutarium), a member of the Geranium Family. This hardy wildflower grows low to the ground and can be found throughout urban areas in cracks of sidewalks and streets.  It has tiny purple flowers and leaves that look like our house geranium flowers.  The seedpods are long and pointed, looking very much like the long bill of a bird; hence its various common names of Heronbill, Crane's Bill, or Stork's Bill. According to Jercinovic in Wildflowers of the Manzanos (pg. 250):
Filaree, a chiefly European plant, was apparently introduced into California during Spanish colonial times. Its seeds germinate in the fall, giving it an advantage over most annuals, so it has spread throughout the entire Southwest. Its small flowers, finely dissected leaves, and long, thin, “stork-bill” seed pods make it easy to identify. It blooms from March into October between 3000 and 7500 ft. 

Red-stemmed Filaree

The bright yellow Perky Sue Tetraneuris argentea is aleady blooming in the warm sunshine.  Gene Jercinovic's Wildflowers of the Manzanos (page 117) notes:  "The species name argentea is from the Latin word for silver. The foliage of Perky Sues have a silvery character due to long silky hairs. Perky Sue is a very early and persistent bloomer. It flowers from April into October between 5000 and 7500 ft."  A lot of people plant the easily cultivated and xeric Perky Sue in their gardens.

Perky Sue Tetraneuris argentea 

In the damp arroyos among the rocks, Dwarf Lousewort Pedicularis centranthera (page 412 in Wildflowers of the Manzanos) is almost unnoticeable.  It's flowers are ephemeral and will only be visible for a few days after rain before they go to seed.  Without the blooms, the lacy leaves are easily mistaken for ferns. Dwarf Lousewort is a hemiparasite, like Mistletoe and Indian Paintbrush, deriving it's nutrition from other vegetable material.  

Dwarf Lousewort

Here is a member of the Parsley Family: Wafer Parsnip Cymopterus constancei. 

Wafer Parsnip Cymopterus constancei
 "Wafer parsnip is an extremely early bloomer, setting flowers from early February to late April. The genus name Cymopterus is derived from Greek meaning “wavy wing”, in reference to the thin, papery flanges protruding from its seeds." (Jercinovic, Wildflowers of the Manzanos, pg. 11).  In a couple of weeks, the flowers will go to seed with their distinctive paper-like "wings".

The seeds of the Wafer Parsnip (May, 2012)

The bright yellow flowers of my forsythia bush look very much like spring outside my window.

Even inside, the flowers are recognizing that there is more sunlight lasting longer. The Christmas Cactus is blooming one more time and with great vigor.

Hope you're getting spring wildflowers in your neck of the woods!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Paying it forward" and other random acts of kindness

As human beings, we have infinite opportunities to practice random acts of kindness.  Although I'm not sure why our brains are wired to do so, most everyone is moved to "do something nice" for another person more or less regularly. This is just something we do. Neuroscientists tell us that we have "happy chemicals" in us that get triggered to make us feel joy, rewarded, loved, or important.

Sometimes we exercise an act of unrewarded kindness or contribute to someone's welfare as an act of "paying it forward". This video shows you just what paying it forward means:

Something happened in front of my house yesterday that again reminded me of the power of "paying it forward".  I had an old office chair that I had replaced with a new one, so I put it in front of my house with a sign that read: "FREE".  I knew that chair might still be useful to someone else and it seemed a shame to just throw it away. Within 30 minutes a couple walking by asked if I would keep the chair for them and they would come back with a truck to pick it up later. Their son needed a new swivel portion to his office chair and the chair had just the same part they needed.  I took off the "FREE" sign and put the chair close to my entry driveway.  I said to come back soon because someone else might just take the chair. I related to them that a couple of years ago, I put an old park bench across the street because I noticed that the schoolkids waiting for the bus had no where to sit except on a small piece of railroad tie sitting on the ground.  I put a sign on the bench telling people who might be tempted to take the bench that it was not abandoned but a seat for school children waiting for the bus.  It stayed there for two years. Then, one day, it disappeared.  The couple remembered that bench and wondered why it went missing.

A few hours later, the old office chair had been removed.  And across the street, this is what I saw:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring Is Just Around the Corner

A foggy morning Saturday after a night of sleet and snowy mush, now melting in the 33 degree temperature.

Looking down my street to the west...the Sandia Mountains immersed in fog on the morning of March 15th.
Glad to see the moisture getting into the ground as the temperatures stayed above freezing.

Snow-covered Cane Cholla

Snow melting on the cholla spines in the morning warmth

St. Frances looks hopefully to the skies for signs of spring

Ah..think spring!

Last spring we had a mere .91" of precipitation in the previous 6 months and no new  precipitation until late June, 2013.  Many pinon trees died from the long-term drought.  I manually watered my trees and was able to save them all.  The cost of my water in June was $200. So I am thankful that we have had several rains and light snows in the past few weeks.  This will help our wildflower production and help our wildlife, too.  This past week, I watched a fat skunk waddle down the street, watched wild rabbits scurry from my yard, heard the yips of a healthy pack of coyotes, and received an email that a mountain lion was seen in the neighborhood.

Pinon trees in my backyard

Beginning late Saturday afternoon, heavy flakes of snow began to blow in from the west.  Outside, a couple inches of soft snow accumulated amid blowing winds.

This morning, most of the snow has melted and the skies are sunny and blue.

Sandia Mountains this morning (Sunday, March 15) as viewed from my house just to the east of the mountains (that red colored pine is a dead pinon tree, a victim of last year's drought).

Forsythia blossoms beginning to bloom

At my house, the snow that fell yesterday has almost completely melted by this morning.

Buds on my crab apple tree

Buds on my plum tree

I welcome next Thursday when the Vernal Equinox arrives!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Art Workshop with Albert Handell

Albert Handell beginning a demonstration
I just finished a 3 day workshop with distinguished plein air painter, Albert Handell.  The subject was working in the studio in winter.  I take several workshops and classes each year to help me be a better artist.  I have studied pastel painting with Deborah Secor and she told us that she benefited from study with Albert Handell so I was excited to get some instruction from this Master pastelist and oil painter.

We began our first day at the New Mexico Art League studio with a demo on pastel.  Albert's technique is very different than mine.   Although he has a photo for reference, he paints largely from memory after decades of field study and plein air painting. He demonstrated the drawing of a tree in the forest.

finished demo by Albert Handell Pastel on UArt paper (500 grain)
He taught us that we must understand a tree's geometry, from how it's bark curves to how the roots curve as they leave the ground. He taught us the importance of the cast shadows. He taught us that the cast shadows are darker for near objects (like the shadow under a tree limb emerging from the tree) and lighter for far objects (like those of branches from another tree or from the other side of the tree). He taught us to consider the time of day as well as the direction of the light in drawing the length of the shadow.  He taught us to find colors in our palette in advance that are of the same value and apply them adjacent to each other for visual blending rather than blend them on the paper or canvas.  He started with a charcoal drawing of the composition and then began establishing the values. Using soft vine charcoal, he sketched the drawing as "notes" of what he saw.

As he began to apply color, he started with the darkest values to lightest values. He told us to use muted colors at first. Then he began to define the 3 dimensional shapes and angles using darker values and different colors.  He deletes features and shapes that are not pleasing or are unbalanced such as a rock that doesn't seem to have the proper support or that points in a direction that draws the eye away from the focus, creating distraction.  He said a crucial aspect of landscape painting is the lost and found edges and he said to put the warm hue of a brown tree next to a blue tree for a contrast in color.  He uses some brighter hues of blues or mauves or yellows to create musical effects and harmony in the painting.  He varies his pressure on the pastel to create lighter or darker tones.  He then uses line in a way he calls "calligraphy" to establish deeper fissures or details in the rocks or trees.  He uses a white line to establish the movement of water as a creek running from the rock.

Here is the demo from the second day as he created a rock formation with a creek spilling down among the rocks. Sketching with abandon with a soft (2B) pencil, he established proportions and values.

Then, he used a color wash of transparent watercolor.  He used Payne's Grey to reinforce line in the composition.  Then he mixed Van Dyke Brown with Payne's Grey to create variation and depth.  With these two colors and two separate brushes, he used darker applications, rich in color and then added water for mid-tone and lighter areas.

Albert's water color palette, bushes and pencils

He pre-selected pastel colors with similar values

He had some photos from previous paintings for reference

Here are a series of photos as he progressed through the painting.

The finished "demo" painting (pastel and watercolor wash on UArt paper)

Albert talked about the delicious details that draw the eye and create interest: Objects in life, luminosity, and making use of cast shadows that frame areas of importance.

I worked on a pastel landscape on the first day.  Albert provided some good criticism to improve the painting. I still need to add touches of color in the mountains and tree line to enhance interest.

My first cut in pastel for the workshop

I later modified the sky (eliminating the mountain layer) to establish a predominant light value for a better painting.  I still have some work to do on the trees.

Finishing the landscape "Los Brazos" in my studio

I started with a charcoal sketch and then began to block in my color and shapes

I began a second pastel on the second day and stuck with pastel for the entire workshop.
The photo I was working from

Work in progress after about 5 hours.  Albert suggested I get more values of green because I didn't have enough values.

Nearly done after a few more hours work in my home studio

On the third day, Albert demonstrated his process in oil painting: Using a white or toned canvas, use brown umber with Gamsol or turpenoid wash to tone the canvas. Use a small brush, scrub the brush to get shapes, lines and values. Don't use black, but use extremely dark colors for the darkest values and use three values of grey for light, medium and medium dark mid-tones.  Add yellow ochre for a warm grey and terra rosa (be careful as it is a strong color).  In mixing the color for the sky, apply just a note next to the darker tones of the ground initially.

Add burnt sienna on top of black for a warmer dark.  Add viridian green on top of black for a cooler black.  Use pure blue for cooling dark shadows.   Squint your eyes to see the underlying transition of things.  Use the side of the brush to dab to allow for lighter values. Use pure ultramarine for  colder values.  Use accents to bring forward details and moderate the color.

I will try an oil painting in the week ahead to try out the many techniques he suggested.  I also plan to do a "Paint Along" plein air workshop with Albert Handell at Jemez Springs in mid-May.  I am working in my new studio now, although it's still chilly (no heating yet).