Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ponds Turn Into Prairies

8x10 inches
acrylic on birch panel

This dry pond on the Fair Oaks Estate has become a miniature prairie over the last couple of years. It used to be full of lily pads and water birds. Now it is a dry prairie. It is really a lot more interesting to paint as a prairie than it was as a pond. There are endless colors and textures in the grasses, and dips here and there. It is one of my favorite painting subjects. It is rimmed by cypress trees and grand old oak trees. I often see hawks and cattle egrets, shopping for dinner.

Linda Blondheim

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hopkins Prairie (Part Two) Local Color

Hopkins Prairie (Part Two)

More adventures from Hopkins Prairie.   I wrote in the last post about the isolated beauty of this prairie.  Ocala National Forest is a big place.  It is just west of Lake George which is the second biggest lake in Florida.  That means there is a big area with few people.  So there are no cell towers and no cell phone coverage.    I spent the morning taking photos and painting and decided I would head to civilization and call my office for messages.  The closest civilization was Salt Springs which is about ten miles from the prairie.  Salt Springs is pretty isolated as Florida cities go.  You know you are out there when you have to ask the convenience store clerk where you can get cell phone coverage and he says:  “ . . . down the road take a left at the fork and at the top the hill behind the billboard right across from the moose lodge people stop there and usually get a couple of bars.”  I left the convenience store and looked to my left and there was a big alligator hanging from a pole with a bunch of people standing around.  Now I’m a big fan of the show “Swamp People” so I had to stop.  I guess I should provide the following disclaimer at this point:  [The opinions expressed in this post are solely the opinions of the poster.  They do not reflect the opinions of any other artists, sponsors, advertisers or other individuals or groups associated with this blog.]  Now I’m a conservationist.  I’m an environmentalist.  I support these causes.  But I also grew up in Florida during a time when the alligator was an endangered species, and, in my personal opinion, they are not endangered anymore.  At least in Florida they aren’t.  So I, in my personal opinion, am not against licensed hunting of alligators.  This gator was ‘harvested’ with the appropriate tag based on a application made by the hunters.  In my photo with the gator you will notice that there is a tag in the tail.  Is this appropriate hunting?  I’d be interested in people’s opinions.   Sure I understand the moral questions.  But don’t talk to me about that unless you’re a vegan.  (I’m a vegetarian by the way, but not for any of those reasons).  Well anyway, I thought this would make an interesting adventure to write about.  You see stuff like this when you get in the outdoors.  And these gators look really big when you’re watching them from the comfort of your couch.  They are a whole bunch bigger up close.   Besides, as a Seminole what’s so bad about one less gator? : )

Thanks for looking.

Steve Andrews

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hopkins Prairie (Part One)

Oak Hammock 5 x 7

          I was down at Lake Weir last week which is just south of Ocala, so I decided to take a painting trip to nearby Hopkins Prairie.  If you check the google earth map on the left side of this blog you will see that Hopkins Prairie is located in the middle of the Ocala National Forest.  On google earth finding Hopkins Prairie looks relatively easy.  The national forest is cut into squares by long north-south and east-west roads. Just get on State Road 40 and go over two and up two and over a half and there should be a big neon sign with an arrow.  No, it’s not that easy.    First of all the numbers on the roads don’t seem to match the ones on google earth.  Then my GPS tells me I’m not on a road, and when there is a road it has different name than used by google earth or the forest service.  So bottom line I got to drive an extra 15 miles through beautiful dirt roads and see about a dozen wild turkeys, six deer and one bear. (It looked like a bear, but it was a long way down the road so I’m not positive).

          Hopkins Prairie is a beautiful peaceful place.  It is very isolated. I saw only three people the whole day and I’ll have to admit I was kind of spooked.  Maybe it was that almost bear sighting, or the constant muted thump, thump, thump of the gun firing range that you can hear even though it was almost five miles away.  (It must have been the wind because I didn’t hear it the next day.  But, how many people shoot how many guns, how many times?  Seriously, either it was that firing range or there is a war going on in the forest.)    

          The isolation was creepy.  I kept thinking about two movies.  One was “Deliverance”.  (Was that a banjo I just heard?).  The other was the scene in Shawshank Redemption where Morgan Freeman is looking for the box at the rock fence under the giant elm tree.   It’s really quiet except every time the wind blows or the bugs start making noise he stops and looks in every direction.  That was me.  (No bear is sneaking up on me!)

           Fact is I love this isolated exposure to nature.  It is one of my favorite parts of plein air painting.  I did three paintings.  The one above is a little 5 x 7 sketch, just looking at colors and values.  I also got some great reference material AND I spent most of the day outside the range of cell towers so I could only think about painting.  That’s a good thing.  So, if you need some time away from your cell phone plan a trip to Hopkins Prairie.  And bring a better map than mine. 

           This is part one of Hopkins Prairie.  There is more adventure to come involving alligators and wild game tracking.  Stay tuned and thanks for looking. 

Steve Andrews

Monday, August 22, 2011

Paynes Prairie State Park

12x16 inches
acrylic on panel
palette knife

There is an area inside the state park that I really love to paint. It is between the entrance and Puggy Road. It is full of weeds, tall grasses, and palms scattered among the giant oaks. In the fall and winter, the colors turn to blues, rusts, wheats, and olives. That's my favorite painting spot in the park.

Linda Blondheim

Angeline, Thanks so much for writing and I'm glad you like the blog. That was a fun workshops and I'm so glad I was able to be a positive influence for you in painting.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gaining momentum...

This has been an exciting week of making plans with one of our new sponsors and one of our conservation partners.  We are busy finalizing opportunities for the public to meet us, to see and buy our paintings in support of conservation and art, and to get to know our conservation partners, what they do and how we can all support their efforts to preserve our natural world for future generations. 

Early in the week I met with our newest sponsor, Gainesville Wild Birds Unlimited. In case you don't know them, Bubba (that's him in the photo) and Ingrid opened Wild Birds Unlimited in Gainesville a couple of years ago.  It has become a haven for bird and nature lovers seeking everything from creature comforts and food for our birds to guidebooks to natural bugspray ~ a must for those of us who paint outdoors!  Bubba is also the chair of the field trip committee for the Alachua Audubon Society.  They have planned 30 field trips this season! Some of the trips are through the very prairies we are painting.  The schedule will be published this week and can be found at www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud.

Today I drove out to Prairie Creek Lodge to meet with Hutch and Lesa of Alachua Conservation Trust. It was a beautiful drive under the billowing clouds which kept the temperature manageable and gave me a glimmer of hope that cooler weather is on the way. The lodge itself was a hive of enthusiastic activity punctuated by the ringing of the telephone and the happy smiles of those at work on various projects. Soon the weather will have cooled enough for us to really get out into the prairies to explore and paint on location. Hutch told me that the normally wet prairies are so dry at the moment that in places the cypress knees are totally exposed and so tall. Perhaps it has been the very hot and dry weather, but there seems to be a noticeable absense of the plants which usually give the prairies their unique colors at this time of year. Once we have them finalized, we will share with you news of the plans which Six Artists Six Prairies and the Alachua Conservation Trust are making.

Watch for news about November and February....

Mary Jane Volkmann

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prairie Pines

12x9 inches
acrylic on panel

Pine Flatwoods and Dry Prairies are part of the Upland Ecosystem. Prior to the advent of air conditioning, Florida was an unbearable place for people to live. The things that sustained Florida before tourism were turpentine harvesting, logging and other industries that depended on these upland ecosystems. Nearly half of the land area in Florida is pine flatwoods - generally flat, low lying land with poorly drained soil. In fact, the term "flatwoods" arose from the noticeable lack of topographic relief in the lands of this habitat. One of the most famous prairies in Florida is Paynes Prairie, a state reserve just south of Gainesville, Florida.- From http://www.floridiannature.com/

I've always loved to paint pine trees and they often rim a prairie like Hopkins Prairie near Ocala.

Linda Blondheim

Friday, August 12, 2011

Paynes Prairie in the Morning Mist

Early one morning I drove into Paynes Prairie to have a look around to see what had changed in the landscape.  I often do this.  It's part of finding peace, solitude and inspiration.  As I rounded one of the first corners, the sun was rising through a thick veil of mist, casting pearls of light on the dew covered flowering grasses which had sprung up after a fire the year before.  It was so beautiful!  There was design everywhere I looked.  I got out of my car and just stood there, trying to take it all in.  Those of you who know me know my passion for detail and how the intricacies of nature leave me rather breathless with excitement.  Now that it's too hot for me to paint outdoors, I decided to challenge myself to paint this scene in acrylics, working from some photographs I took that day.

Mary Jane Volkmann

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paynes Prairie Muck Fire

   My wife and I traveled to Paynes Prairie over this past weekend. The weather has been just too hot to sit and paint, so once again we were armed with our cameras. Our first stop was the visitors center where we gathered up all the information about the area. Our second stop proved to be very interesting. From the observation tower we saw a muck fire in progress. It had been started the day before by lighting and according to the Ranger had burned about one hundred and fifty acres.
   The sharp contrast of the deep green trees in the foreground against the ever changing colors of the smoke in the background, was something to behold. The studio painting "Paynes Praire Muck Fire" came from my research that day.

Scott Hiestand

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Face to Face with a Green Anole in Paynes Prairie

Anyone who sees me get out of my car with all the gear I take with me to paint might chuckle because I like to anticipate all the things I might need while I'm out there.  I've pared it down quite a bit over the years, but I always have certain essentials with me such as my camera, my binoculars and my Audubon Field Guide.  These days my smartphone serves as a camera and has field guides!  While I paint I sometimes see something I will down my painting tools to photograph.  One day in Paynes Prairie I observed this little lizard.  I didn't see her at first because she was lying straight in the middle of one of the palm fronds, green as could be.  We eyed each other for awhile, then she slowly turned to the side and cautiously started stepping across the fronds, changing colors as she moved.  I read that she is a Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis), a member of the Iguanid family. The Smithsonian's National Zoological Park online guide gives some fascinating facts: "Green anoles have adhesive lamellae on their foot-pads for crawling along walls, much like geckos. Able to change color, the green anole can be anywhere from bright green to browns and grays. One thought is that the green coloration is related to dominance. Their color varies depending on their mood, temperature, humidity and health. They are often referred to as the American chameleon, although they are unrelated to chameleons. ...Males are distinguishable from females because males have a pink dewlap, a flap of skin that hangs in an arc below their neck. This dewlap is used for attracting females and in territorial displays...Green anoles have a stereotyped set of behaviors. Male anoles perform rituals of dominance and territoriality. They show their dominance by bobbing their heads, usually through pushup-like movements. They also flare their dewlap. When threatened by another male, the opponents begin with head bobbing and flaring. Then they extend their throat (different than dewlap) to enlarge their body profile, they turn lateral to their opponent, showing the side profile of their body. They also erect crests along the back, and form an eyespot. These performances are intended to intimidate the other anole. The loser of the confrontation performs submissive head bobbing and retreats to a different territory."  Oh, and they eat spiders, too.  I wish she'd stay next to me and feast on the insects that like to feast on me....

Mary Jane Volkmann

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Poetry Review

Storm at Payne's Prairie 6 x 14

This is a thunderstorm over Gainesville and Payne’s Prairie. You probably recognize the image from a previous post. I took a photograph a couple of weeks ago at the elevated walkway on Highway 441. Painting it, and thinking about prairies, reminded me of my favorite book of poetry. Yes, I own a book of poetry. I wonder what percentage of the population owns an actual book of poetry? Is it more than, or less than the percentage that owns original art?
Anyway, if you don’t own a book of poetry, and you’re also interested in art, I recommend “The Art of Drowning” by Billy Collins. First of all, it will look good on your bookshelf. I don’t know how many people have pulled it out from between other books and asked “what is this?” Secondly, it’s a great read. The guy can do amazing things with words. There are also a number of poems with references to artists, paintings, sculptures and even the process of making art. In the poem “Medium” for example, he compares writing a poem to the process of painting.
. . .
I want to write with the least control,
one finger on the steering wheel,
to write like a watercolorist
whose brush persuades the liquids
to stay above the pull of gravity.
. . .

And my favorite poem in the book, and the reason this post is being written on this blog, and has anything to do with this painting, is the poem entitled “Horizon”


You can use the brush of a Japanese monk
or a pencil stub from a race track.

As long as you draw the line a third
the way up from the bottom of the page,

the effect is the same: the world suddenly
divided into its elemental realms.

A moment ago there was only a piece of paper.
Now there is earth and sky, sky and sea.

You were sitting alone in a small room.
Now you are walking in the heat of a vast desert

or standing on the ledge of a winter beach
watching the light on the water, light in the air.

When you are out on a big prairie you have this same feeling of space. I only wish I could do with my paint, half the justice Mr. Collins does with his words. So go buy this book and let me know what you think. And while you’re at it, how about buying some original art. : )
Thanks for looking.

Steve Andrews

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Oak Savannas

I have always been crazy about trees and have spent a lot of time in the last few years studying and painting trees. Here is some interesting information about Oaks Savannas.

Oak savannas once dominated a vast acreage in the prairie-oak transition. These forests have experienced significant decline primarily due to fire suppression and land use changes. The oak savannas of today represent only 0.02% of the original range making them the most endangered community in the prairie. Oak savannas are areas dominated by low-density oak trees with an understory consisting of a diverse array of grass and herbaceous species. The historical fire regime in these systems was frequent low intensity underburns occurring every 2-12 years that consumed primarily the grass understory. Climate and ungulate migration may have also been determining factors in the expanse of these systems. Savanna oaks and the accompanying understory have adaptations that help them withstand fire, drought, and other disturbances. Fire suppression has resulted in forests with closed canopies, which limits oak regeneration while favoring favoring more shade tolerant hardwoods. Along with this change there has been an increase in litter layers, decreased species diversity, and decreased savanna wildlife.  Restoration is the primary means to reintroduce these systems. Oak savanna restoration requires reducing canopy cover to change structure and reintroducing fire to restore process. Often additional treatments are needed when prescribed fire proves to be incapable at reducing canopy density. Regardless of the restoration process, the oak savanna has to be continually managed to ensure regeneration. Restoring these ecosystems leads to an increase in understory heterogeneity and a unique assemblage of oaks and savanna species.

From: http://www.forestencyclopedia.net/

Linda Blondheim

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kanapaha Prairie Trees

18x24 inches
acrylic on panel

One day a couple of weeks ago, I walked down this road with Mary Jane Volkmann while we explored Kanapaha Prairie. I have been fascinated by the differences in the prairies we all are studying and painting. They are exceptionally diverse and all beautiful in their own way. They are all lush with summer green right now. I look forward to painting them in winter with a more diverse palette.

Linda Blondheim