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Archive for November, 2019

So many creative people are multi-talented and Irish poet Damien Donnelly is no exception. His poetry, which can be found on his blog at deuxiemepeaupoetry.com is both personal and universal and often prompts me to look deeply inside myself. You definitely should check out his website.

He is also a talented photographer. I was thrilled last Sunday to have the chance to spend some time with him as we photographed the inside of the Grand Palais in Paris. Here are some of his wonderful photos from that day.

Deuxiemepeau Poetry by Damien B. Donnelly

Last Sunday, this masterpiece of beaux-arts architecture, le Grand Palais was open to the public for a few hours and I rushed in along with fantastic photographer, and now street sketch artist, Mike Powell, on one of his last days in Paris, in order to snap a little of the light under the glass.

All photographs by Damien B Donnelly

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I was thrilled yesterday to spot almost a dozen Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum) dragonflies at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. These hardy little red dragonflies are always the last ones of the season and they often hang on until December. In some years they have even been spotted in early January.

When I explored the exact same area on Wednesday, I did not see a single one of these dragonflies. Why? Wednesday was heavily overcase, but yesterday the sun was shining brightly. Every single Autumn Meadowhawk that I saw was basking in the sun, perched on fallen leaves or logs. The sun seems to warm them up enough so that they can fly a bit, though I wonder if they manage to find anything to eat, given that there are almost no other insects flying.

So this year’s dragonfly season continues for at least a little while longer. As I search in the trees for birds, I will continue to look down as well, hopeful of spotting one of these beautiful aerial acrobats.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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When it comes to woodpeckers, I often hear them before I see them. Sometimes it is a gentle tapping sound, but at other times it sounds as loud as a jackhammer.

I spotted this little Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) on Wednesday morning at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. He was slowly making his way up the tree in a spiral pattern, stopping periodically to probe for insects. I tried to track him as he moved in and out of view and was happy to capture a few relatively unobstructed shots.

Normally, it is best to capture a subject when its eyes are looking more or less in your direction. I, however, are more attracted to the first photo below in which the little woodpecker is looking away and slightly up. Perhaps he had seen or heard something that caught his attention, but I like to think that he was taking a break in order to daydream. Perhaps he too was longing for Paris.

Woodpeckers are industrious by nature, though, so after his short pause, he was back to work, slamming his head against the unforgiving wood. It is what woodpeckers do—hopefully that does not sound like your job.

Downy woodpecker

downy woodpecker

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This is definitely not Paris. Yesterday, less than 24 hours after my return from my stay in Paris, I was back on the trails at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, one of my favorite places to photograph wildlife.

It was a cloudy, blustery day and there was not a lot of wildlife active, but I did manage to capture this shot of a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). From a distance, I spotted the top of the eagle’s head as it hunkered down in a nest, presumably seeking shelter from the wind. Although I was a pretty far away, it spotted me and quickly took to the air. My vision is really good after my cataract removal surgery a couple of years ago, but when it comes to being “eagle-eyed,” I am no match for the real thing.

Bald Eagle

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am back from Paris now, but very much still under its influence. My final night in Paris, I walked down to the Seine River just before midnight. A light drizzle was falling, but I did not care. If anything, the rain made everything more beautiful, creating additional reflections on the cobblestone streets. As I crossed a bridge over the river,  I could see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, its searchlight piercing in and out of the clouds. It was magical!

I was having a great time trying to capture the scene when suddenly the lights on the tower went out. It was as if the Eiffel Tower had suddenly disappeared. I knew that the tower’s lights were not on all night, but I did not expected them to be extinguished right at midnight. Reality sometime has a way of crashing in on moments of fantasy.

One of my readers, Michael Scandling, challenged me to be out walking the streets at midnight to see if I might end up in the 1920’s having a drink with Hemingway. Obviously he too had seen the 2011 movie Midnight in Paris. The lead character played by Owen WIlson spends a lot of time wandering the streets of Paris and suddenly at midnight he repeatedly ends up in the 1920s, rubbing elbows with famous authors, actors, and artists of that era. Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to talk to icons like Cole Porter, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Salvador Dali? The movie additionally has wonderful footage of many places in Paris that are very familiar to me. It is one of the few DVDs that I have purchased in the past ten years.

Alas, real life does not generally play out as it does in the movies. Instead I quietly continued my walk, watching as waiters stacked up chairs in restaurants and lights began to dim as Paris prepared to sleep. For many in Paris, it was the end to just another day, but for me it was special, it was midnight on my final day in this special city, at least for this trip.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Folks have responded so well to my little art projects that I thought I would show you a few pages from my sketchbook from the last few days, as I get ready to head towards teh airport. The first one is a little more elaborate and was done at my desk on the basis of a photo that I included in a recent posting. It took a lot longer than the others and I had the benefit of having carefully composed the shot with my camera. Composition is a lot harder when you have a scene right in front of you and you try to decide what part of it you want to draw.

The other two sketches were done outdoors as I stood looking at the Pont Saint-Michel across the Seine and then a few minutes later when I was looking at Notre Dame from an overlook point. They were definitely quick sketches, ironically enough because I was on my way to a sketching tour.

It is challenging but fun to learn to feel secure enough to try to draw in public. I am not paranoid in stating that people are watching you—they are.

This will probably be my last posting from Paris, though I have a few more postings that I have conceptualized that I will probably do after my return. Three weeks ago, I remember warning readers that my postings would be different while I was in Paris and they definitely have been. In many ways, I am happy to be ending this trip with a posting with handmade images, images that are deeply personal and reflective of the way that I spent my time here.

Thanks to all of who have stuck with me on this trip and have encouraged me along the way. It has been a weird and wonderful time. As most of you know, the French word for “memories” is “souvenirs.” These little drawings will help to spark my memories in ways that no mass-produced “souvenirs” could ever do.

“Au revoir, Paris.” It doesn’t really mean “good-bye”—it’s more like “Farewell, until we meet again.” I am pretty sure I will be back again before too long.

 

Montmartre sketch

Pont St Michel Bridge sketch

Notre Dame de Paris sketch

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I knew that doing a painting of Notre Dame de Paris is well beyond my current skill level with watercolors, but I decided this evening that I had to give it a try before I leave this beautiful city tomorrow. I just got done with my little painting using DaVinci watercolors on Fabriano Artistico paper and it is 5×7 inches in size (13×18 cm).

I won’t bore you will all of the reasons why this is a tough subject, but I chose the front view, which made things a little easier and I ended up simplifying a lot of details. The paper is not really flat at the moment, which means the photo I took looks a little warped, but I think you can see well enough what I accomplished.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the results. I may give it another go from home, but it is recognizable, I think as Notre Dame—I especially thrilled that I completed this while I was still in Paris.

In case you are curious, I based it roughly on a photo that I took today that is included after the painting.

 

Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame de Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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