This month my focus is on crows. There are a pair of crow characters, Rupert and Rose, in my w.i.p. Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor. They're the guardians of the animal community living in the woods behind Milkweed Manor.
Early this week I finished a sample book for Tales of Love and Courage from Milkweed Manor and ordered a copy. I can't wait to see it! The purpose of this sample is to verify the various design and layout choices I've made - margins, text spacing, and so on - before I finalize and publish. As part of the project, I redesigned the cover and I really like it! I'm on track for the book to be published (self-published, that is) early in November, and it's so exciting.
One lesson I've learned through this process, and one that I want to share with you, is how important focus can be. A year ago I was working on so many different things. Yes, I'd finish each project before I proceeded to the next, but each project was fairly small (finished in a week, at most), and they were all over the map: a painting, then a needle-felted animal, then a collage, then a ceramic animal, then some beading, then maybe something totally new! It was all very fun and I was devoted to my free spirit approach to art. Meanwhile, I had the idea for this book, and had even done some work on it, but it just wasn't happening.
When I realized I really wanted it to happen, I also - with the help of a video from Jessica Abel, a teacher and coach - realized I needed to focus on it if it the book were to ever become a reality. And not just sort of focus, but really focus. Jessica pointed out that this "big" decision actually involves a myriad of "little" decisions all along the way. And that's because each day I decided to work on the book I also was deciding to not work on the myriad of shiny objects that were tempting me. Thinking about this new way of being and exploring my willingness to make those little decisions - sacrifices even - day after day allowed me to make the commitment to focus.
Pretty soon now I'll be deciding what's next, and I suspect it will be more of the same - volume 2, Dangerous Days at Milkweed Manor. More focus, but by now it's comfortable!
We've all heard how intelligent crows are, and I have my own "amazing crow" story. I used to live on a little-traveled country road lined, on our property, with black walnut trees. In case you don't know how hard the shells of those nuts are, I can tell you it's very difficult to crack them even with a hammer! Well, the crows loved them, and they had an ingenious way of dealing with those hard shells. A crow would pick up a nut in its bill, fly to the highest tree branch that hung over the road, and drop that nut on the asphalt. If it didn't crack the first time, the crow would keep trying until he got his reward! I never tired of watching them perform that clever trick.
Animal researchers have given us other interesting crow facts. For one, when a member of a group of crows dies, its 'murder' (special name for a group of crows) gathers round the deceased. Researchers tell us that it's not only to mourn the dead, but also try to discern what happened as a way of learning dangers to avoid.
Then there's the ant immersion. Crows will stand on ant hills letting the insects crawl all over them. The ants eat mites and other parasites off the crows' plumage.
But my favorite "fun fact" is that the nestlings - at least in the U.S. - have blue eyes! In lore, crows have mystical powers and deep connections with the spiritual world. I often (not in this piece, but in the free downloadable art below) paint my crows, even the adults, with blue eyes. I think it adds a mystic feel.
This piece is a small (6" x 6") collage on a raised wooden panel. It's part of a series of 30 north American animals in the same style. I created them for a show but then at the last minute decided not to enter. I didn't want the set to be broken up, so I kept all of them!
Another Black Bird
My beautiful chicken, Maisie, heard that this newsletter issue is about crows and, as a black bird herself, really thought she should be included. She's a lovely and loving chicken. She allows me to hold her on my lap and pet her, and when I'm weeding in the garden she stays by me, giving encouraging little chirps and trills.
For this collage, I used a technique that I developed for those who don't want to draw. I began with a photo I took of her, then manipulated it on the computer to lighten the exposure and really saturate what color remained. I printed the altered image on my ink jet printer and sprayed it with workable fixatif. I could then use it in a collage and - here's the fun part - really exaggerate the colors with colored pencil. It's a fun technique, and one that gives good results with no drawing required! I encourage you to try it. (I should do a video - yes, that's a good idea - stay tuned!)
I'm offering you, my precious subscribers, a 15% discount in my Etsy shop. (Please note this discount does not apply to any of the items in the bear section because I donate the proceeds from sales from this section to Idaho Black Bear Rehab.) The offer applies to everything else in the shop - all items hand made by me. From October 5 to October 20, just use discount code OCT15OFF at checkout. I ship the day after I receive your order, and shipping is free. Click on the image above to go to my shop - you'll land on this listing! (I try to use images of pieces that are currently available, but the only crow I had is this one and he's sold. I'd be happy to make another, though, if you're interested.)
This Month's Free Downloadable Art
Creating this piece was a real art party! The background is layers and layers of collage. I painted the crow with acrylic, and the rust you see at the top is a type of "paint" that is a suspension of tiny iron particles. The paint comes with an accompanying patina solution which penetrates the not-quite-dry suspension and rusts the iron particles. Very cool! By the way, they're from "ten seconds" - weird name, great product! Click on the image and it will open in a new window (from dropbox.com). You’ll see the image, and at the upper right of the window you’ll see three little dots. Click on them to open a menu, then choose “download.” Please note that I’m sharing this image for your personal use only.
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