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Newsletter October and November 2011

December 29th, 2011

Newsletter October and November 2011

NEWSLETTER October/November 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Our mountains have been changing from the deep blue-green of summe,r to the brilliant patchwork of October, to the somber colors of November. My life the past month has been a patchwork, too, so this will be a newsletter of bits and pieces.

One of the patchwork pieces was doing a commission for a local businessman. Another piece was limping around on crutches, giving my body the space to heal from a torn ligament in my foot. (This made everything go in slow motion, hence the combined October/November newsletter.)

Finishing the Canada lily work with a drawing of a mature seed pod was another piece of the patchwork. This is a colored pencil drawing, on heavy watercolor paper.

I have been reading more about growing Lilium canadense from seed. (A helpful article can be found at www.nativeplantnetwork.org.) It is considered an easy plant to propagate, but this is not a quick process. If you sow the seed directly outdoors in the fall, the seeds remain dormant until the first growing season. The first year they produce a small bulb. The second year the plant grows a single leaf. The third year a whorl of leaves appears. Those magnificent blooms in my back yard have been a long time in the making!

Another piece of the patchwork was continuing to work on the bloodroot painting that I am planning. I have become entranced with Renoir’s color handling and brushwork style, and spent many hours reading all I could find on his working technique. What attracts me to his work is the brilliant purity of color and the transparency of his paint layers. I am thinking that this is the direction I want to take in order to actually be able to paint the images I can see inside me.

And another piece of the patchwork was adding new products to my online “Maine Mountain Art” store (http://www.printfection.com/mainemountainart). The Printfection company has come out with some new items, like baseball caps, ceramic ornaments, and laptop and iPad sleeves. So I spent some time dreaming up ways to use them.

And lastly, I have opened a second Printfection store, “Nature’s Mandalas,” to showcase products using the round format work in the Exploration of Natural Design and Moments of Transcendence collections (http://www.printfection.com/naturesmandalas). Here is where the cucumber slices and cosmic zucchinis come together in practical everyday items like sweatshirts, travel mugs and cutting boards.

The basic idea of my art bears repeating: I would rather get my work out where a hundred people can enjoy it than have one painting hanging above someone’s couch. The whole concept of what I am doing is based on sharing. It’s about me finding beauty in some everyday bit of nature and saying, “Look at this! Isn’t it lovely? What exquisite design!” I hope that it not only enriches your life, but that the next time you cut up a carrot you will pause and look closely at it and appreciate it all the more.

My gift to you this month is simply to offer you the chance to design any custom items you wish, in either store. If you have an idea for a product, please share it, with no obligation on your part to buy one. I just like the cross-pollination of getting other people’s input about what to put in the store. If you want to order a custom item, I will create and post it at no extra charge, from now until the end of the year. Custom designs will retail for the same price as similar items already on the site. You can find the images at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com.

If you take the number of images that I have, and multiply that by the number of products that Printfection offers, the possibilities are virtually endless. Personally, I find the whole process addictive, kind of like eating potato chips. How would this bloodroot flower look on a round ceramic ornament? What if I put a row of three veggies on a tote bag? (That one was my sister’s idea.) How can this row of multiple cucumbers slices be formatted to go on a laptop sleeve? The inspiration goes on and on! So dream it up and email me your ideas. Please.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the Blurb.com booksite: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640 . And my online stores for shirts, mugs, and housewares can be found at http://www.printfection.com/mainemountainart (the Swift River Treasures art) and http://www.printfection.com/naturesmandalas (the Explorations and Moments of Transcendence art).

All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travelers to walls and fences, hunters to field and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken.... (from the short story “No Door” by Thomas Wolfe)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.

Betsy

Newsletter December 2011

December 29th, 2011

Newsletter December 2011

NEWSLETTER December 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Short days, cold nights, soup simmering on the woodstove—December is a season for sticking close to hearth and home here. Our summer residents are long gone, leaving only a few hardy friends behind.

I always wonder where they have all gone, and what adventures they are having. The robins, vultures, myrtle warbler, and some of the sparrows are wintering down the east coast, in warmer parts of the U.S. The wood thrush and veery have gone to Central America. So has the chestnut-sided warbler. Some of the smallest ones journey the farthest. The yellowthroat may travel as far as the West Indies, and the brilliantly colored redstart even as far as Brazil. The tiny ruby-throated hummingbird spends its winters in Mexico or Central America.

The groundhog is deep in the winter sleep of hibernation, its body processes slowed to a faint shadow of life. The chipmunk sleeps deeply but does not truly hibernate. Occasionally he wakes and eats some of the food stored in his underground storeroom. The raccoons and skunks also sleep, but will be up and about from time to time, foraging for food. The snow will soon be full of tracks from the deer, foxes, and coyotes, who carry on business regardless of the season, and are ranging far in their search for provisions.

Different species of butterfly handle the winter months in different ways. The mourning cloak butterfly winters over as an adult. It is the first large butterfly to appear in the spring, usually looking ragged and worn. The tiger swallowtail hibernates in its chrysalis, and enters the butterfly procession in June, just in time for the lilacs. The admirals and viceroys spend the winter as caterpillars, so they appear later in the summer.

And our amazing monarch butterflies journey 2000 miles or more, some even traveling as far as central Mexico. In the spring the migrants begin the flight home, but they stop in the southern U.S. to mate and lay eggs. It is their descendents who continue the trip north to leave their brightly striped progeny on our milkweed plants.

The studio work has been of the invisible kind this past month, as befits the season. My biggest project has been to start building a website for myself. It will pull together all my print-on-demand sites and provide one landing page for my image gallery and blog. This has been in the planning stages for a long time, so it is really satisfying to get it underway now.

I have been starting from scratch, learning about the WordPress software and working through all the design and construction issues. What color background will show off the images best? How big a header do I want? And what goes on it? And what pages will I need? I want to do the best job I can to showcase what I am doing in my studio on a day to day basis. And hey, if you have any suggestions or requests, let me know. After all, this is for you. Needless to say, I am having a blast doing this. I love the challenge, and I love the desiign work. It will be fun to watch it unfold. Stay tuned for new developments.

My gift to you this month is a breath of summer, a file of the canada lily drawing attached to this email. You may do with it as you wish.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the Blurb.com booksite: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640 . And my online stores for shirts, mugs, and housewares can be found at http://www.printfection.com/mainemountainart (the Swift River Treasures art) and http://www.printfection.com/naturesmandalas (the Explorations and Moments of Transcendence art).

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” (Edith Sitwell)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.


Betsy

Bloodroot

November 16th, 2011

Bloodroot

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has a special place in my heart because it is the first wildflower I see every spring. It flourishes in a shady corner of our backyard near the bend in the stream. In late April or early May I find it covering last year’s dry brown leaf litter with a carpet of pure white stars.

A member of the poppy family, bloodroot is well named. The sap in the roots and leaves is a startling scarlet color. I accidentally broke the bud off of a small stem with my clumsy boots when I was photographing the flowers, and was aghast at the gory results. The stem immediately began to ooze brilliant drops of red. I understand that native Americans used it as a dye and also mixed it with animal fat for body paint. Dry, the juice looks exactly like a bloodstain.

Native Americans also used this plant for its medicinal properties. In the hands of a good medical practitioner, bloodroot can be a potent medicine, but it is not one for amateurs. It contains opium-like alkaloids and can be deadly if taken internally or leave scarring if used externally. For this reason it is considered toxic.

Bloodroot is a very simple and economical plant. Each consists of one leaf and one flower stalk. They only open their blooms on warm, sunny days. The plants work their way out of the ground well-protected from the harsh spring weather they face. The flower bud is covered by a pale green pair of sepals and completely wrapped in the large lobe-edged leaf. The sepals fall off as the flower opens. Even after the flower is open, the leaf still wraps shelteringly around the stem. On a cold cloudy day they look like a company of star-people with blankets wrapped snugly around their shoulders.

Bloodroot is an ephemeral spring star. The blossoms last only about a week. Insects to pollinate the flowers can be scarce in the early spring, but that does not matter. For the first two days after the flower opens, the stamens are close to the petals and do not contact the stigma, even at night when the flower is closed. But on the third day, the anthers are positioned upright and the filaments bend inward, so that the plant will self-pollinate if it has not already been pollinated by an insect.

After the petals fall, the leaf continues to grow, and can be as large as eight inches across at full size. The veins of the leaf show clearly in a complex network pattern. The top side of the leaf is bright green and the underside a dull grayish green.

The seed pod develops at the top of the stem that held the flower. The plants spread by seed and also from the roots. Bloodroot plants have a fascinating relationship with the ants that live among their roots. The seeds carry an appendage called an elaiosome that is a very nutritious food source for the ants. The ants collect seeds, carry them home, and eat the elaiosomes. Then they discard the rest of the seed, still intact, in their refuse tunnels, where the seeds eventually sprout and grow. This mutually beneficial relationship between the ants and the plants is called “myrmecochory;” the ants get the food and the bloodroot seeds are preserved and given an ideal environment for germination, which produces more food for the ants.

Bloodroot thrives in semi-shaded conditions, in moist woods with acidic soil. Most of the bloodroot currently used for medicinal or landscaping purposes is “wild-crafted,” that is, grown in the wild and harvested by herb collectors. Since the demand is greater than the supply, some are experimenting with growing it commercially on a small scale.

Newsletter September 2011

October 1st, 2011

Newsletter September 2011

NEWSLETTER September 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Fall is coming in softly this year, in gentle nudges. We have already had one frost, but many of the days since then have been warm and summer-like. A flock of flickers stopped off for breakfast in our yard this morning, on their way south. It will not be long until the color is behind us and the landscape is all black and white again.

I spent a lot of my studio time in September revisiting an old friend, the bloodroot plant, Sanguinaria canadensis. Working from photos that I took this year, I have been reworking my bloodroot drawings into the format I have chosen for the Swift River Treasures drawings, colored pencil on heavy Arches watercolor paper. Here is the mixed media drawing I did in 2009, and the drawing that I just finished, so you can compare them.

The old drawing is on the left, and the new one on the right. I will be going back and redoing the other subjects from my first year of botanical studies, too, like the pine tree and the Canada lily. Then the work will present a cohesive image that I can turn into a fine book.

I have also gone deeper in my research of the bloodroot plant and found out some marvelous things about it. For example, bloodroot plants have a fascinating relationship with the ants that live among their roots. Their seeds carry an appendage called an elaiosome that is a very nutritious food source for the ants. The ants collect the seeds, carry them home, and eat the elaiosomes. Then they discard the rest of the seed, still intact, in their refuse tunnels. This provides ideal conditions for the seeds to germinate and grow, safe from being eaten by other predators. This mutually beneficial relationship between the ants and the plants is called “myrmecochory.” The ants get the food. The bloodroot seeds are preserved, moved away from the parent plants, and given an ideal environment for germination. And this produces more food for the ants. A number of wildflowers are myrmecochorous (for example, trilliums and some violets).

Bloodroot is an ephemeral spring star. The blossoms last only about a week. Insects to pollinate the flowers can be scarce in the early spring, but I have found out that this does not matter. For the first two days after the flower opens, the stamens are close to the petals and do not contact the stigma, even at night when the flower is closed. But on the third day, the anthers are positioned upright and the filaments bend inward, so that the plant will self-pollinate if it has not already been pollinated by an insect. I had no idea that the bloodroot was such a marvel of natural design.

I have also started work on a large (three feet by five feet) painting about the bloodroot. I am in the composition stage with it right now, pushing the design elements around on my computer screen. I will keep you up to date on my progress with it over the next few months.

My gift to you this month is a file of the drawing of the bloodroot bloom with the leaf behind it, attached to this newsletter. You may do what you will with it; I give you my permission.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my art, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the Blurb.com booksite: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640. And my online store for shirts, mugs, and housewares can be found at http://www.printfection.com/mainemountainart.
All the big people are simple, as simple as the unexplored wilderness. They love the universal things that are free to everybody. Light and air and food and love and some work are enough. In the varying phases of these cheap and common things, the great lives have found their joy. (Carl Sandburg, in a letter to his wife, as quoted in My Connemara by his granddaughter, Paula Steichen)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.


Betsy

Newsletter July and August 2011

August 23rd, 2011

Newsletter July and August 2011

NEWSLETTER July/August 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

On the downhill side of summer now, you’re getting a combined July/August newsletter this time.

Our star this month is the showiest wildflower we have, the stately Canada Lily, Lilium canadense. With its golden crown of graceful nodding blossoms, it is enough to make me gasp when I come across one unexpectedly. Once it was a common flower from Canada to Alabama in the eastern half of the United States. Now it has become more rare across parts of its range, and is even considered threatened in Indiana, Rhode Island, New York, and Tennessee.

I first found a Canada Lily blooming in our back yard two years ago. Last year we had none; this year we have five! The plants are two to five feet tall, the flowers three or four inches across, with one or more flowers on each plant. The petal color varies from yellow to orange, spotted inside with the color called “Tuscan Red” in my pencil box. The flowers have no fragrance that I can discern. The leaves grow in whorls of three to twelve in each group. I have read that native Americans used this plant medicinally to treat stomach disorders, rheumatism, irregular menstruation, and snake bites.

Canada lilies are perennials. They bloom in mid-July, and the seed pods are formed by mid-August. Once ripe, the seeds need a month or two of warm, moist weather followed by a good long spell of winter weather in order to germinate. It can take them a year or two to produce blooms, but the wait is well worth it. They love the wet soil in old fields near streambeds, moist wood margins, or damp meadows, which is a good description of our backyard.

Like many plants in the lily family, the Canada Lily appears to have 6 petals. But to be botanically accurate, because of the flower’s structure the inner three are considered to be petals, and the outer three are sepals. Collectively they can be called “tepals,” which as far as I can see signifies, “they all look the same to me.”

The drawings were done in colored pencil on Arches hot-pressed (smooth) watercolor paper, from photographs that I took this summer.

Canada Lilies reproduce either by seeds or from offshoots of the corms, the large scaly roots. Only one of the plants in my backyard has produced a good big seed pod. I have marked it, and am watching it as it matures and ripens. When it is fully ripe, dry, and splitting open, I plan to collect the seeds and see if I can start some more Canada Lily plants.

My gift to you this month is this: if you would like to try starting some Canada Lilies, too, send me a reply to this email, along with your street address, and I will send you a few seeds (with planting instructions) when they are ready. I would like to do all I can to keep this graceful beauty in our woods and fields. They like sun or partial shade, and moist soil conditions, if you have a place like that.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the Blurb.com booksite: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640 . And my online store for shirts, mugs, and housewares with Swift River Treasures art on them can be found at http://www.printfection.com/mainemountainart .

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers. (Claude Monet)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.

Betsy

Newsletter June 2011

August 23rd, 2011

Newsletter June 2011

NEWSLETTER June 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Warblers as a family of birds have always baffled me. Most of them are tiny, secretive, and spend their time flitting either in the very tops of the trees or in dense underbrush. The fact that they change their plumage before the fall migration only adds to the confusion. I have two coats to remember for every bird, as well as differences between male and female.

But this summer I am finding that watching for them and learning to identify them is very rewarding. They are among the most beautiful and colorful birds in my yard here, and their songs fill the air every June day. I have been patiently stalking each of these little songsters until I could catch a glimpse of them, and then running for the bird books to identify them. They are my friends, too, because they consume great quantities of the insects that would trouble my garden.

Sadly, I found a dead male parula warbler on my doorstep in early June. I do not know what happened to him; I am guessing that he must have tried to fly through the window beside the door. I took photos of him from all angles before giving him a decent burial, so I have been able to immortalize him in drawings.

The warblers that have been around the house this summer include the redstart, the yellowthroat, the yellow warbler, the parula warbler, and the chestnut-sided warbler. I have also seen a myrtle (yellow-rumped) warbler and a blackburnian warbler, but they were apparently just passing through.

Their larger relative, the ovenbird, is a frequent nester here as well, and his loud “te-CHER te-CHER te-CHER” call is a familiar sound out by our treeline. I have never heard one say “TEA-cher TEA-cher” like the books describe. Ours always says, “te-CHER.” I have always wanted to find an ovenbird’s nest, which is a tiny dome-shaped nest with a roof and door, hidden in the leaf litter on the ground, but I haven’t yet.

One of the most familiar of the warblers is the little masked bandit, the yellowthroat. His “witchety witchety witchety” song is the easiest to recognize. We had a yellowthroat with a speech impediment nesting in our front yard for a couple of years that sang “witchitchitchittittittitty” over and over, but he is not back again this year. The variation in songs from bird to bird sure keeps us bird-watchers on our toes.

All of the warblers I know sing a simple phrase that they repeat over and over. Putting their songs into the traditional words helps me to recognize and remember them. The chestnut-sided warbler is a handsome fellow. He is always in the treetops declaring, “Pleased, pleased, pleased to MEET you!” (I can hear him singing outside the window as I write this.) And the yellow warbler, who looks like a tiny bright yellow canary, says, “Sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet!” The parula warbler sings a less musical but still distinctive “zzzzzzzzeeeeee-UP!”

I have added some more mugs and shirts to my store this month. The new designs include a single tiger swallowtail, a cluster of ripe blueberries, and a botanical drawing study of the white pine. So far, the reviews from people who have bought products have been great.

And just at the right time, Printfection has a holiday sale in process! Here are the coupon codes and the instructions, good for any item in my store:
Coupon Code: StarSavings
Discount: $5 off any order!
Coupon Code: BrightSavings
Discount: $10 off subtotal of $50+
Coupon Code: SpangledSavings
Discount: $30 off subtotal of $100+
Please enter coupon code StarSavings, BrightSavings, or SpangledSavings before completing checkout. Discount is applied to the base price and does not include shipping, taxes, or additional charges. Email us if you have questions. This offer may not be combined with other offers. Coupons valid from 6/29/2011 to 7/5/201111:59 pm Mountain Time.

My gift to you this month is to extend my offer to do a custom item at no extra charge above the stock items. All you have to do is to go to my art website:
http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/, pick an image, and tell me what you want it printed on (if it's a shirt, what color you want it, too). I will do the formatting of the image and upload the product to the store just for you, at no extra charge above the regular retail price. I have attached to this newsletter a full list of the merchandise from which you can choose.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the Blurb.com booksite: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640 .

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.


Betsy

Newsletter May 2011

August 23rd, 2011

Newsletter May 2011

NEWSLETTER May 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Here it is, folks, because you asked for it: a new online store, Maine Mountain Art, featuring my Swift River Treasures art on mugs, shirts, tote bags, and other useful items!

Here is where you find it: http://www.printfection.com/mainemountainart

The store is on a website run by Printfection, a company in Colorado that offers print-on-demand apparel and household items. You pick the mug and they print one just for you. I did a lot of research, and chose them because of their good reputation and the quality of their merchandise. Their customer service is stellar, too. I know that personally, because the US Post office lost my first purchase, and Printfection replaced it cheerfully for free. (Note: if you order something, you might want to pay extra for trackable shipping.) They offer a 30-day money-back guarantee on all that they sell, and a well-secured shopping cart.

Why mugs and t-shirts? For one thing, I like to be surrounded by beautiful things. Drinking tea out of a mug with my own painting of a bloodroot blossom on it makes me really happy. For another thing, the whole concept of Swift River Treasures is sharing. I am surrounded by beauties of nature every day, and I want to share them with you. That is at the core of why I am doing this.

I have always said that I would rather have my work printed and out where a hundred different people could see it instead of hanging on just one living room wall for one person to enjoy. And being able to sell inexpensive, good quality mugs and shirts just makes it that much more accessible to people. This is not esoteric, difficult-to-understand art. Just like a kid with a dandelion, I’m saying, “Here, look at this! Isn’t it beautiful?”

I have one request for you all: send me feedback. Look at the site. Tell me what you think of it. Tell me if you encounter any hitches, glitches, typos, or uh-oh’s. Please. And if you ever decide to buy something, tell me how it went. Remember you can get your money back if you are not happy with your purchase.

In return for being my guinea pigs, I have two offers for you. One is that just for the month of June I will let you design your own mug or shirt or whatever. Simply go to my art website:
http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/, pick an image, and tell me what you want it printed on (if it's a shirt, what color you want it, too). I will do the formatting of the image and upload the product to the store just for you, at no extra charge above the regular retail price. I have attached to this newsletter a full list of the merchandise from which you can choose. They offer a LOT of choices that I haven't even explored yet. (If you want an image printed on a dark-colored shirt, it may take me a while, because the image must be digitally reworked first. That is why as of right now most of the garments are on white or light colors only.)

My other offer for you is a coupon that you can use if you order something that is in the store already. Printfection has frequent sales, and this morning I got an email from them offering $5 or more off every purchase made from today, June 3rd through Saturday, June 11. Here are the coupon codes and the information from Printfection about how it works:
Coupon Code: DogDays Discount: $5 off any order!
Coupon Code: Summertime Discount: $10 off subtotal of $50+
Coupon Code: HotSeason Discount: $35 off subtotal of $100+
Please enter coupon code DogDays or Summertime or HotSeason before completing checkout. Discount is applied to the base price subtotal and does not include shipping, taxes, or additional charges. Email us if you have questions. This offer may not be combined with other offers. Coupons valid from 6/3/2011 to 6/11/2011 11:59 pm Mountain Time.

I have been having so much fun with this! I am planning a separate store for my Exploration of Natural Design work, called “Nature’s Mandalas.” The stephanograms will go in there, too. But for now, back to the art-making….

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.
If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the link to it on the Blurb.com booksite: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640 .

It is is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know of wonder and humility. (Rachel Carson)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.

Betsy

Newsletter April 2011

May 25th, 2011

Newsletter April 2011

NEWSLETTER April 2011

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Last year spring came on like a freight train. This year it’s in slow motion, one step forward and one step back into winter, three steps forward and two steps back. The daytime temperatures have been running ten degrees or more below average, and we have had twice as much rain as we usually get in the spring. All of my spring markers are two to three weeks later (for example, when the bloodroot started blooming). I do have a couple of stories for you, anyway.

Saturday night, April 9th, I went out onto the porch after supper to get a book. I heard a strange noise in the dark, a rhythmic sort of scraping, chirping sound, at about five second intervals. Not quite like a cricket, not quite like the call of a nighthawk. I was so puzzled over it that I went back out a few moments later. This time I heard a clear jubilant twittering in the night sky over my head. There was only a thin crescent of a new moon; it was too dark to see anything. But the twittering went on and on, rising and falling. I went back in the house even more puzzled, and grabbed a couple of the bird books.

I looked at the nighthawk entries---nothing. They make a strange booming sound with their wings during courtship flights, which I have heard once, but there was no mention in the book of chirping or twittering. And then I remembered the woodcock that I had seen just last week, rising up from almost under my feet when I was out walking. Sure enough, what I heard was perfectly described in the books: the courtship flight of the male woodcock. Wow!

I went back out one more time, but this time the sky and woods were silent. Apparently a woodcock pair has decided to nest here, for the first time as far as I know. This is a perfect habitat for them: brushy meadow, moist woods. They apparently have found it to their liking.

Here is a study of a woodcock that I did in colored pencil a few years ago, from a bird that a friend of mine shot when he was out hunting with his dogs. A woodcock is a very strange little bird, but exquisitely marked. I am not in the habit of finding dead birds to draw, but if the opportunity presents itself, I will do it.

Actually I spent a lot of the month studying tree twigs and buds, and drawing them, since the spring flowers were nowhere to be seen. I learned a lot about recognizing trees as they appear in the winter.

I learned to recognize the difference between the gray birches and the white birches. I did not know that we even had gray birches on our property. But I was reading about birches in my tree book, and realized that a lot of the trees that I thought were white paper birches here are actually gray birches. Then I walked the woods, looking more carefully, and saying to myself, “white…gray…white…gray” as I spotted them.

They both have chalk-white bark, but the white birch bark peels in wide strips, revealing the orange inner bark, and the gray birch has close-fitting bark that does not peel except in tiny narrow strips. The black scars on the trunk where the branches come out are eye-shaped on the white birches and more sharply triangular on the gray birches. As they grow older, the gray birches take on a more decidedly gray color at the base of the tree. The twigs are very similar.

Thankfully, as I am finishing this newsletter (even my April newsletter was late this spring!) the leaves are beginning to emerge and the whole landscape has that soft green film over it that it gets just this week of the year. I appreciate it all the more for its having been so long in coming. And the new developments in websites and online stores? Stay tuned, because they are still in the works….

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at http://betsy-bell.artistwebsites.com/. Here you can order prints of my work, and have them matted and framed if you choose, courtesy of Fine Art America’s great print-on-demand service. They also offer greeting cards, either single or in packages.

If you want to look at the Moments of Transcendence book, here is the new link to it on the Blurb.com booksite (a different link than last month):
http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2034640 .

SLOW SPRING
O year, grow slowly. Exquisite, holy,
The days go on
With almonds showing the pink stars blowing
And birds in the dawn.
Grow slowly, year, like a child that is dear,
Or a lamb that is mild,
By little steps, and by little skips,
Like a lamb or a child.
(by Katharine Tynan)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.


Betsy



A Spring Walk in the Woods

April 7th, 2011

A Spring Walk in the Woods

April 7, 2011

I walked the whole loop today, for the first time this spring. The snow is not all gone yet, but what is left is crusty enough that I could walk on it without sinking in much. The chickadees were singing their spring song as I set out today to collect more twigs for my spring twig drawings.

The animals are starting to be out and about. I saw the first chipmunk yesterday, hightailing it from the garage to the stone wall by the porch. And I saw raccoon tracks in the snow at the far end of the meadow.

I watched a nuthatch investigating a tree, and heard a fragment of wht sounded like a cardinal song in the distance once. I saw a small brown bird on the ground near the house, but it flew before I got a good look at it. It was sparrow sized, but without characteristic sparrow markings. I am not sure what it was. The turkey vultures have continued to be in evidence, soaring about the valley. Yesterday when I was out, a woodcock flew up from almost beneath my feet.

I am starting to recognize the difference between the gray birches and the white birches. I did not know that we even had gray birches on our property. But I was reading about birches in my tree book this week, and realized that a lot of the trees that I thought were white paper birches are actually gray birches. I walked the woods today, looking carefully and saying to myself, “white…gray…white…gray” as I spotted them.

They both have chalk-white bark, but the white birch bark peels in wide strips, revealing the orange inner bark, and the gray birch has close-fitting bark that does not peel except in tiny narrow strips. The black scars on the trunk where the branches come out are eye-shaped on the white birches and more sharply triangular on the gray birches. As they grow older, the gray birches take on a more decidedly gray color at the base of the tree. The image shown with this entry is of a white birch and a gray birch side by side. (Can you tell from my description which is which?)

Signs of Spring

April 7th, 2011

Signs of Spring

April 5, 2011

Last year spring came on like a freight train. This year it’s in slow motion, one step forward and one step back into winter, three steps forward and two steps back. Today is a step-forward day; it is raining instead of snowing. This time last year I was planting seeds in my sunbox. This year it is still frozen and snow-covered.

The birds are beginning to stir. I saw two turkey vultures overhead yesterday, headed north. I startled a woodcock up from under my feet when I was out for a walk. Today when I went out for the mail I heard a red-winged blackbird singing up the valley somewhere, and blue jays calling in the pines. I saw the a pair of nuthatches this week, too. They have not been around all winter. And of course the chickadees are everywhere, and now they are singing their spring song in earnest.

The greatest news of all is that the pussy willows are blooming. That really makes it feel like spring. Here is a photo of pussy willows and some forsythia on my work desk. The forsythia is not blooming in the yard yet. This was a branch that I brought in and put in water for a few days, and it finally bloomed.

 

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