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I have now successfully completed the World Watercolor Month challenge of doing some kind of watercolor painting each day of July. I have had a tremendous amount of fun and improved my skills and confidence. Thank you all for your support and encouragement for my painting efforts throughout this month.

If you want to see the first four installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘, ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2 ,’ ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 3,’ and Word Watercolor Month—part 4. This final installment highlights my painting efforts over the past nine days in reverse chronological order.

Day 31 and the prompt was “do-over,” so I had another go at painting a scene that I painted last November while in Paris of a lady with a red umbrella crossing a pedestrian bridge over the Seine that I had photographed. Here is a link to the postingPlaying with watercolor in Paris‘ that shows the November version of the painting, and a link to the post ‘A few more umbrellas in Paris‘ that shows the photo on which the paintings were based.

Day 30 and the prompt was “pose.” I decided to be my own model and painted a version of the photo that has been my profile image for a while. Thanks to my friend, Cindy Dyer, for taking such a good photo of me.

Day 29 and the prompt was “yesterday.” Immediately thinking of the Beatle song by that name, I was flooded with memories of growing up in the 1960’s, so I did a colorful little painting reminiscent of a tie-dyed t-shirt as a kind of homage to that period in my life.

Day 28 and the prompt was “complementary.” Purple and yellow are complementary colors, so I decided to paint a field of imaginary wildflowers in those colors. I made no attempt at realism or nuance in the painting—I just wanted to play with the paint.

Day 27 and the prompt was “shine,” so I painted a little landscape with the moon shining down on a grove of shadowy trees.

Day 26 and the prompt was “favorite song.”  I remembered that one of my parents’ favorite hymns was “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” so I painted a little sparrow. The final line of the wonderful hymn is, “His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.”

Day 25 and the prompt was “sharp.”  I decided to paint a version of a photo I had previously taken of a dragonfly that had chosen a precarious perch on a thorny vine.

Day 24 and the prompt was “abundance,” so I did a tiny painting (3×3 in/76 x 76 mm) of a field full of bright red poppies following a YouTube tutorial by Ellen Crimi-Trent (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUDC7Aojxm4&t=83s). It’s fun to paint something so small, where details are only suggested.

Day 23 and the prompt was “alone,” so I painted a solitary bird perched amidst some blossoms. It kind of looks like a cross between a chickadee and an American Robin. I later learned that the bird looks to be a Varied Tit, a bird found in the Far East. I had loosely followed a YouTube tutorial that did not identify the bird  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtlLzgfnQxw&t=1222s).

I plan to continue with my watercolor painting, having seen that frequent practice really helps, but it will probably be a while before I post any paintings here on the blog. Thanks again for your support and indulgence as I have veered off my normal creative path.

We should be back to my regularly scheduled nature photography, though you have probably noticed that the photography continued without any discernible pause in July.

Paris Umbrella

self portrait

tie dye

wildflowers

shine

sparrow

dragonfly

poppy field

Variable Tit

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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It love it when dragonflies cooperate and choose particularly photogenic perches, as these female Eastern Amberwing dragonflies (Perithemis tenera) did on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia, not far from where I live. The males of this species, whose wings are a solid amber in color, mostly seemed to be hanging out at a pond at the bottom of a hill, while the females were flitting about among the flowers in the gardens at the top—the gender separation reminded me of the awkwardness of junior high dances when I was growing up.

As many of you may recall, dragonflies and damselflies are part of the Odonata order of flying insects. My friend and fellow dragonfly enthusiast Walter Sanford has coined the term “odonart” to refer to artsy-style photos that we manage to capture of our favorite aerial acrobats. I think that both of these images qualify to fit into that self-created category, given the beauty of the dragonflies and their particularly photogenic perches.

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many butterflies are looking a little tattered this late in the season, like this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) that I spotted on Tuesday at Green Spring Gardens, but I still find their beauty to be breathtaking. True beauty, I would argue, is often to be found in imperfection, not in some superficial notion of perfection.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

 

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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How do you capture the beauty of a water lily? Claude Monet chose to paint massive canvases with wide expanses of ponds dotted with water lilies. My normal instinct is to focus on a single flower and to capture images like the first one below.

My photography mentor Cindy Dyer likes to challenge me to slow down and to look for interesting groupings of flowers. So I lingered longer at the water lilies and tried to compose images in different and more creative ways, resulting in the the second and third images below that contain more than just a single flower.

I took these photos last week during a trip with Cindy to Green Spring Gardens, a local county-run historical garden. In previous postings I have featured the pink water lilies and the lotuses at the small pond there. My goal today was to turn the spotlight on the more “traditional” white water lily.

If you click on these images to examine them more closely, you will see that I captured a number of “bonus bugs” on the leaves of the lily pads. “Bonus bugs” is a term that Cindy coined to refer to insects that show up when you are processing your photos that you never saw when you were taking them.

water lily

water lily

water lilies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first three installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘, ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2 ,’ and World Watercolor Month 2020—part 3.’ This fourth installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 22 July was “valuable.” I decided to depict nature in a landscape done entirely in Payne’s Gray, because during this time of quarantine, nature has been a refuge for me, of inestimable value for my peace of mind. There is no particular significance to the color—I imply liked the idea of using a single color and focusing on values.

The prompt for 21 July was “organic.” When I thought of the word organics, all I could think of was fruits, vegetables, and fertilizer, none of which I wanted to paint. Instead I painted an “organic” landscape with no man-made objects in it. As you can see, all of the objects were stylized as I experimented with a different shape and brush strokes for pine trees.

The prompt for 20 July was “wiggle.”  I decided to do a little painting of a Northern Water Snake that I photographed swimming in the shallow water of the Potomac River earlier this year. The color and pattern is not quite realistic, but I like the way that I captured the snake’s undulation.

The prompt for 19 July was “favorite scent.” I love the smell of pine trees, so I tried to paint a mountain scene with pine trees in the mist after watching a YouTube tutorial by Grant Fuller. My version seems to have an almost Asian feel to it that I really like. This is probably my favorite painting of this little group.

The prompt for 18 July was “soft.” It’s a bit of a stretch, but I like to think the two little sumi-e style birds that I painted have soft feathers on their tummies and are soft-spoken. The birds look a little cartoonish, but I like the way that they seem to be engaged in a conversation.

The prompt for 17 July was “spontaneous.” After watching some YouTube videos about painting loose landscapes, I decided to try an imaginary landscape without any reference photo. I had no idea what my result would look like and used techniques that included applying some of the paint with a palette knife, which explains the brilliant splotch of ultramarine blue in the middle of the painting. I like the colors and the feel of the painting and like to imagine that it is a lake in the crater of an inactive volcano, but you may well see something different.

As I look over these six paintings, I realize that I have used no bright colors at all—it seems that everything is blue, gray, or brown. That definitely was not intentional. Perhaps I will try to brighten things up a bit for the next installment as I push on towards the goal of trying to paint each day in July. Thanks again for your support and indulgence as I veer off my normal creative path.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

valuable

organic

wiggle

scent

soft

spontaneous

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer continues to provide me with an almost inexhaustible supply of subject matter for my photography. Among the flowers currently blooming are some beautiful pink lilies. The first image shows a pair of pink lilies blooming in a container in Cindy’s backyard garden. One of the coolest things about that part of her garden is that there are all kinds of decorative elements scattered everywhere, like the copper-colored butterfly in the background of the image.

The world changes and is often abstractly beautiful when viewed through a macro lens, as you can see in the second photo below featuring an extreme close-up view of a lily. I am utterly entranced as I explore the shapes, colors, and textures in the image, unconstrained by practical considerations like figuring out what it is.

pink lily

pink lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There were only a few water lilies in bloom when I visited Green Spring Gardens last week, one of my favorite local gardens, but I was thrilled to see that a few of them were pink ones. I love all water lilies, but there seems to be something extra special and exotic about the pink ones.

I was using my trusty 180mm macro lens, which meant that if I wanted a closer view, as in the first image, I had to physically move closer to the flowers, which, of course were floating in the water. It was interesting to try to vary the angle of view of the same flower by, shooting from a low angle for the first image and shooting the same flower from a higher angle (and farther back) for the second shot.

I also played around with including and excluding the lily pads. The water lily in the final shot, for example, is almost in the center of the frame, which is generally frowned on when composing a shot, but I liked the arrangement of lily pads so much that I kept it there.

I am very much a child of my generation, so I can’t help but think of the video game Pac-Man when I look at the second image. Did anyone else have that same response?

water lily

water lily

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Many of the species that I photograph have names that do not match up that well with their physical appearances. While I was exploring a creek this week with my friend Walter Sanford, it was wonderful, therefore, to spot a dark damselfly with blue at the end of its abdomen that is appropriately called the Blue-tipped Dancer (Argia tibialis). If you click on the images, you will note that this male damselfly has beautiful purple stripes on its thorax (upper body) in addition to that blue tip.

When photographing damselflies like this one that perch on the ground, I try to get as low as I can in order to see eye-to-eye and simplify the background. I managed to do that in the first image and I really like the soft glow in the background from the waters of the creek.

I did not get as close for the second shot, in part because the damselfly was a bit skittish. However, I do like the way that I was able to capture the colors and textures of the rocky environment along the edge of the stream, giving the viewer a better idea of this damselfly’s habitat.

Like most damselflies, Blue-tipped Dancers are tiny, no more than 1.5 inches (38 mm) in length, so it is always a challenge to get detailed shots of them. The largest damselflies that I have ever photographed were the appropriately named Great Spreadwings, that are as much as 2.4 inches (61 mm) in length. If you want to see what one of those beautiful “giants” looks like, check out this posting from October 2015 entitled “Great Spreadwing damselfly (male).”

blue-tipped dancer

blue-tipped dancer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge in which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com. So far, I have managed to paint something every single day, generally following the daily prompt. Thanks to all of you for your support and encouragement as I have taken this little artistic detour on my photography journey.

If you want to see the first two installments of my painting efforts this month, check out my previous postings ‘More fun with watercolor‘ and ‘World Watercolor Month 2020—part 2.’ This third installment highlights my painting efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 16 July was “machine.” I recalled an old mill with a waterwheel that I photographed in July 2012 that hinted at all kinds of machinery inside the mill building and did today’s little painting using one of my photos as inspiration. Here is a link to the original posting called ‘Stepping outside of the box.’ What I had forgotten, though, is that I had converted the images to black and white for the posting and I have no idea of the original colors of the structure, so I just made them up. My sketching skill are pretty weak still, so I printed a copy of the blog photo, rubbed a pencil on the back of it, and transferred a simplified version of it to the watercolor paper.

The prompt for 15 July was “forgotten.” Nothing came to mind, so instead I attempted to paint some Black-eyed Susans like the ones that I had seen while hunting for dragonflies earlier that day.

The prompt for 14 July was “green,” which made me think of flowers. So I painted a little patch of wildflowers, mostly by spattering paint—it turns out that it is a lot of fun to throw paint at paper in a somewhat controlled way.

The prompt for 13 July was “twisted.” Herons have such long necks that they often seem to be twisted, so I painted this little sumi-e style scene with three herons, some cattails, and a disproportionately large dragonfly.

The prompt for 12 July was “favorite place.” It is hard to represent Paris in a single image, so I chose to depict it with this view of the Eiffel Tower looking upwards from one of its “feet,” using one of my photos from last November as the the inspiration for this little painting —about 5″ x 7″ (127mm x 177mm). If you would like to see my original posting, check out ‘Eiffel Tower perspectives.’ I used the same transfer method for the sketch that I described above for 16 July.

The prompt for 11 July was “round,” so I did a little painting of a bicycle, loosely based on an artsy photo I took in Paris last November. If you would like to see my original posting, check out ‘Bicycle in Paris.”

I am experimenting with a number of different styles and subjects as I play with watercolor painting, but a few things are already clear. First, my greatest creative inspiration continues to come from my memories of Paris—three of the sixteen paintings I have completed so far were based on my experiences in the ‘La Ville Lumière’ (‘the city of light’).

Style-wise I continue to be drawn to the minimalist East Asian brush painting style known more commonly as sumi-e and have used this approach in three paintings already. Technically this is the freestyle version of sumi-e (xieyi) that tries to capture the essence of a subject in a minimum number of strokes rather than striving for a realistic representation of it. There is another more detailed sumi-e style called gongbi that I would not even attempt to imitate.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

watermill

black-eyed susan

spattered flowers

sumi-e heron

eiffel tower

bicycle in Paris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It is early Sunday morning, almost two hours before sunrise, still dark and silent outdoors. What shall I post? Some bloggers prepare their postings well in advance, but I tend to select photos and decide on an approach only when I am ready to begin composing the actual posting. I do keep a mental catalogue of candidate images that I have shot recently, but my final selection is frequently influenced by my mood and feelings.

This morning I am thinking of color and composition, a consequence perhaps of my recent efforts with watercolor. As many of you know, watercolor painting often forces you to mix your own colors, a critical factor if you want to create a mood or match something in real life. So, for example, to paint the flesh of a watermelon recently, I had to combine two different shades of red and to paint some gray stormy clouds, I had to mix a blue and a reddish brown.

I was thinking of colors when I spotted these beautiful daylilies on Thursday in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer. I was struck by the deep red of the flowers and the yellow-tipped stamens that reminded me of flickering matches. I also really liked the triangular arrangement of the three flowers that presented itself. It is so much harder to compose an image with multiple subjects than one with a single subject, which is why you will rarely see me photograph groups of anything.

I hope that you enjoyed this little burst of color as you start (or continue) your Sunday activities. Have a blessed day and be sure to keep an eye out for the wonderful colors in your life.

daylilies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Some of you may recall that I periodically dabble in watercolor painting. July is World Watercolor Month, a month-long challenge is which watercolor painters of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to paint daily and post their work on-line. I have joined this challenge and am trying to paint something every day using the daily prompts at worldwatercolormonth.com.

Last Sunday I posted photos of my first four little paintings in a posting called “More fun with watercolor.” The response to that posting was so overwhelmingly positive and encouraging that I feel emboldened to post a second installment, showing my efforts of the past six days in reverse chronological order.

The prompt for 10 July was “Fast” and I quickly attempted to paint this stormy beach scene using only two colors, Ultramarine Blue and BurntSienna. My inspiration came from a YouTube video lesson called Watercolor Postcard Paint-Along: Beach with Rocks and Stormy Sky. The wonderful instructor, Lynne Baur, runs a channel called Dragonfly Spirit Studio. How could I not be attracted to a channel with that name? Lynne has a PhD in mathematics, but abandoned that career track to pursue art and now is “an active participant in the “healing arts” movement, in which original artwork is used to help create a welcoming, soothing and uplifting environment in hospitals, medical clinics, wellness or fitness centers, nursing homes, and other places of health and healing.” You can learn more about her and her work at dragonflyspiritstudio.com.

The prompt for 9 July was “Fruit” and I painted some watermelon slices. The shapes are a little wonky, but I like the different colors that I was able to mix for the painting.

The prompt for 8 July was “Fall.” I did not feel inspired to paint something autumn-themed, so I went in an entirely different direction. It is a bit of a stretch, but the three downward-facing petals of an iris are called “falls,” so I struggled to paint an iris.

The prompt for 7 July was “Free” and I decided to free my inner child by using really bold color colors to create a hummingbird-like critter and stylized flowers in shapes and colors that I don’t think exist in the real world. My bird was not totally from my imagination, though, but was very loosely based on a bookmark that I had received in the mail from a wildlife conservation organization.

The prompt for 6 July was “Flow” and I decided to try to paint some Chinese goldfish in a style borrowed from sumi-e ink painting. I had watched several videos on this subject and was most inspired by a YouTube video by Henry Li of blueheronarts.com entitled “How to Paint Goldfish Step by Step with Henry Li.” I really am attracted to the idea of capturing the essence of a subject using a minimum number of strokes, but some of the brushstrokes demonstrated in the video seem to work more effectively on the thin rice paper used in Chinese painting than on my thicker watercolor paper. I may return to this subject in the future

The prompt for 5 July was “Favorite Color” and I chose Ultramarine Blue and completed my painting with only that color. My little scene with the cyclist was inspired by the design on a dishtowel that hanging from my oven door. I was feeling a bit bold that evening and began to paint the central figure without any kind of preparatory sketching. I like the overall feel of the little painting and the blue and white color combination reminds me of the designs on some of the china and pottery that I have seen during my travels in the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere.

I had a lot of fun producing these little paintings, mostly in a sketchbook. I am starting to feel slightly more comfortable with my materials and a little less self-conscious about what I am doing. I think that all of us need some kind of creative outlet. Even though I am comfortable expressing myself with my words and photography, it is good, I think, for me to deliberately make myself uncomfortable by trying something new from time to time, which may allow me to stretch and grow. As I stated in my previous painting posting, “There is no shame in being a beginner.”

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

Fast

Fruit

Fall

Free

Flow

Favorite Color

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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A little over a month ago I did a posting entitled ‘Flower wall’ that featured a hanging panel of flowers and plants on the interior portion of the fence that encloses the back yard of my friend Cindy Dyer. At that time the plants were just getting established and one of my viewers asked me to do a follow-up post when they all fill in.

As I went into Cindy’s backyard garden this morning to take an update photo of the hanging garden, I decided to try to capture the atmosphere that she has created in this small space. We live in a townhouse community and each of us has a tiny space behind our houses that is enclosed with a privacy fence. Cindy lives in an end unit (as do I) and her yard is slightly larger than the inner units, with a neighbor on only one side.

The first image shows the current state of the hanging garden. Some of the plants have grown more quickly than others, giving the wall a slightly wild look that I really like. I deliberately framed this shot wider than necessary to show you part of the rest of the garden that Cindy has decorated with statues, figurines, and all kinds of plants and flowers. It feels like a secret refuge, a world apart from one of the main streets in our neighborhood that is barely visible through the slats of the fence.

The second image shows a portion of the fence that separates her yard from that of her neighbor. Here she has created an almost meditative space featuring a wall hanging and a spectacular bird bath that rises up out of a bed of hostas. If you click on the image and examine the details, you will see that Cindy had decorated the blue grid with dozens of colorful dragonflies.

As you can readily see from these two images, Cindy is amazingly creative and is an incredible gardener and designer. You might have thought that I was a little over the top in yesterday’s blog anniversary posting in which I expressed my admiration and gratitude for all that she does to inspire me—here is visual evidence of why those words were well-deserved.

cindy's garden

cindy's garden

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I was happy on Tuesday to spot this male Lancet Clubtail dragonfly (Phanogomphus exilis) perched in the vegetation overhanging the small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I would like to have gotten a closer shot, but the bank was steep and the water in the pond appears to be deep at that spot. Staying dry, I was content to capture this environmental portrait of the handsome little dragonfly with such striking blue eyes.

lancet clubtail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Eight years ago yesterday my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer sat me down and told me that I was going to start a blog. She is a professional photographer and graphic designer and already had a well-established blog. I had gone shooting with her multiple times and we had spent countless hours together reviewing my photos to improve my skills in capturing images and processing them. She had decided it was time to broaden my audience beyond that of Facebook.

Cindy showed me the basics of WordPress editing and navigation and helped me to set up my initial pages. I do not think that either of us anticipated the degree to which I would grow to love the process of blogging, a process that has allowed me daily to express myself creatively in both words and images.

WordPress data show that I have published 3628 posts, which probably includes the occasional re-blog of a post written by someone else, and have had almost 249 thousand views. Those posts have included over 580 thousand words (about 160 words per posting) and well over 4000 photos.

Although I look at the numbers from time to time, they are not that important to me. It is personally more important to me that the blog has helped me to develop relationships with a lot of different viewers, to share with so many of you my sometimes faltering  steps on my meandering journey into photography.

Thanks to all of you for helping me along the way and sharing your comments, suggestions, and recommendations. I especially owe a debt of gratitude to Cindy Dyer for motivating me throughout this entire period, for pushing me at times when I was hesitant, and for serving as my muse. Many of you probably feel that you already know Cindy, given that I have featured flowers from her garden repeatedly during this year as I have been forced to stay close to home. Thanks, Cindy.

To celebrate this anniversary, I thought I would reprise two of my favorite photos. These are not necessarily my most popular images or my “best” images, but they are ones that are particularly memorable to me. I am also including links to the original postings so you can read the accompanying text and additional commentary about the circumstances under which they were captured. Links to original postings: Visible Song (8 March 2016) and Fox on a frozen pond (31 January 2016).

But wait, there’s more. As a bonus, I am including an image that I captured last week of a spectacular male Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina). Most of you know that I am somewhat obsessed with dragonflies and they have been an almost constant focus of my photography during the warm months over the last eight years. In fact, my very first blog posting featured a dragonfly. So, I feel it is only appropriate to include a dragonfly as I look back at where I have been.

Thanks again for all of your support and encouragement over these past eight years. The journey continues onward. I hope to continue to walk side-by-side with so many of you as we support and encourage one another. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.” (Gal. 6:10)

Visible song

fox on frozen pond

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Wishing you all a sense of inner peace as you begin a new week, something that we all need during these troubled times. That was definitely the feeling that enveloped me as I contemplated this beautiful water lily last Thursday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens during a short photography expedition there with my friend Cindy Dyer.

water lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this mating pair of Halloween Pennant dragonflies (Celithemis eponina) last Thursday during a brief visit to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia with my dear friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. The wing patterns and coloration of Halloween Pennants have always attracted me, making them one of my favorites. As most of you know, however, I tend to have lots of favorites when it comes to dragonflies.

I was in stealth mode as I slowly moved closer to this couple and attempted to frame the image in a way that was interesting and creative, while trying not to feel too much like a voyeur. Yes, I will boldly assert that this is art, and not insect porn.

Halloween Pennant

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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July is World Watercolor Month. I was inspired by that celebration two years ago and, after gathering a bunch of supplies, I finally put brush to paper and made my first little watercolor paintings. They were not very good, but the experience was a lot of fun and I documented it in a posting called Jumping into Watercolor. I produced a few more small paintings during the summer of 2018, but somehow my interest waned.

I spent three weeks last November in Paris and brought along some art materials. Paris reignited my desire to play with watercolor and I was inspired enough to produce some more little paintings that you can see in the posting Playing with watercolor in Paris. My skill level had improved marginally and I eventually painted a few more times before I left Paris.

Alas, I did not continue with watercolors, although I kept buying supplies and watching lots of YouTube videos. A few days ago, I downloaded the list of daily prompts for World Watercolor Month and decided I would try to paint something on as many days as I could this July. I chose to paint in a relatively small watercolor journal that is 5.5 x 8 inches (14 X 20 cm) so I would not feel intimidated by a big sheet of blank paper.

So here are my paintings for the first four days of July in reverse order. The prompt for 4 July was “Quiet” and as I though about it, my mind transported me back to an early morning last November when I watched the sun rise slowly over the Seine River.

The prompt for 3 July was “Playful” and I chose to reprise a painting style and subject that I had used once before. I used a style based on Chinese ink painting (sumi-e) that emphasizes using a minimum number of strokes to capture the essence of the subject, in this cases some frogs and dragonflies.

The prompt for 2 July was “Texture” and I decided to try to paint a wart-covered toad that I had photographed earlier this year. The prompt for 1 July was “Rejoice” and I painted a chubby little bird that was singing.

It is both rewarding and humbling to post these paintings. I feel like a little kid who is excited about producing something with his own hands and this posting serves as a virtual refrigerator door on which I can display my art. Of course I realize that my current skill level is pretty low, but was one video that I watched recently emphasized, “there is no shame in being a beginner.”

I am confident that if I can carve out some time each day to paint this month, I am sure to improve. Most importantly, I am having fun. I was chatting recently with a friend who is an accomplished watercolor artist. She confessed it is a little tougher for her to have fun, because she is a perfectionist. As our skill levels increase in any area, I think there is a danger that we may lose our initial sense of joy and wonder. I consciously try to remain on guard against that danger when it comes to my photography.

If you want to learn more about World Watercolor Month, click on this link or go directly to doodlewash.com. In addition to raising awareness and interest about watercolor painting, World Watercolor Month raises support for The Dreaming Zebra Foundation, a charity providing support so that children and young adults are given an equal opportunity to explore and develop their creativity in the arts.

 

Quiet

Playful

Texture

Rejoice

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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There were only a few lotuses in bloom on Thursday at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, but they were more than sufficient to sate my senses. How much beauty is “enough?”

Increasingly I am finding that I enjoy beauty in small doses. So many voices in our society try to convince us that we need “more,” when perhaps “less” is even better, especially when we slow down and take the time to explore and appreciate that beauty.

I love the layers of  petals of the lotus flower; the details of the center of the lotus, revealed when the petals open up and begin to shrivel; and the promise of future beauty in the lotus bud on which the Slaty Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula incesta) had chosen to perch.

Sometimes when searching for beauty, it is more beneficial to search deeply, focusing on a few things, than to search widely, always looking for something newer and better.

lotus

lotus

slaty skimmer on lotus bud

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Some folks are a bit shocked when I post photos of mating insects, so here is a more discreet look at a damselfly couple in tandem that I encountered last week at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. Somehow I can’t help but think of the old doo wop song “Silhouettes,” which recounts the story of a man who sees two silhouettes on a shade. He thinks his girlfriend is kissing another guy, only to find out that he is at the wrong house.

I may have heard the original version by The Rays that came out in 1957, but suspect I actually recall the cover version done by Herman’s Hermits that came out in 1965. In case you have never heard the song or are simply feeling nostalgic, here is a link to YouTube for the original version and a link to the cover by Herman’s Hermits.

damselflies

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The lilies blooming in the garden of my friend and neighbor Cindy Dyer are so lush and the colors so vivid that they seem almost tropical.

lily

lily

lily

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The alien-looking plant in the first photo is a seedpod of ‘Love in a mist’ (Nigella damascena), one of my favorite flowers, that I spotted during a short visit last Monday to Green Spring Gardens with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. It was a little late in the season, but I managed to spot a few flowers still in bloom, as shown in the second image. This flower is typically blue, but love-in-a-mist also comes in shades of white, pink, and lavender.

When I did a little research on-line, I learned that the striped, balloon-shaped object that I call a seedpod, is actually an inflated capsule composed of five fused true seedpods, according to an article by Wisconsin Horticulture. I also learned that the thorny-looking spikes that make up the “mist,” which are not sharp, despite their appearance, are technically bracts, a specialized kind of leaves.

This is one of the few local places where I know I can find this exotically beautiful flower. If you want to see love-in-a-mist yourself, you should probably go to a large garden. Otherwise you could waste a lot of your time looking for love in all the wrong places.

 

love in a mist

Love in a mist

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The shape of the silhouette is familiar and if the lighting is bad, you might be able to convince yourself that a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is standing in the corner of a small pond at Green Spring Gardens. I have visited the pond dozens of times, so I know that the heron is not real, but it still makes for a fun subject to photograph.

I love the heron’s distorted reflection in the first photo and the touches of green provided by a small tree to the side and the duckweed floating on the surface of the water. I was equally thrilled when a male Blue Dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) perched on the heron’s head after I had moved in closer. I doubt that a real heron would have been quite as accommodating in permitting the dragonfly to perch and seem to recall having seen a Great Blue Heron attempt to snatch a dragonfly out of the air as it flew by.

Great Blue Heron

Blue Dasher

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There was only a single water lily in bloom at a pond at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge last week, but its beauty brightened the entire area and brought a smile to my face. Water lilies are one of the reasons why Claude Monet is one of my favorite painters.

Monet did some 250 oil paintings of water lilies (“Nymphéas” in French), many depicting the garden at his home in Giverny, and they were the main focus of his artistic production during the last thirty years of his like, according to Wikipedia.

 

water lily

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It is lily season now in the garden of my neighbor and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. Here are a few photos that I took yesterday morning of some of the lilies blooming in her beautiful garden. It is always reassuring to know that I do not have to travel far to find colorful subjects to photograph—as a photographer and graphic designer, Cindy chooses flowers to plant that she know are photogenic.

lily

lily

lily

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Every year I enjoy taking photos of dragonflies perching on a piece of rusted rebar that sticks a few inches out of the water of a small pond at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I have seen dragonflies of several species use this particular perch, but photographically speaking my favorite is probably a male Eastern Amberwing dragonfly (Perithemis tenera) like the one in this photo from last Friday—the orange-rust colors of the dragonfly and its perch are complementary and soften what might otherwise be a jarring juxtaposition of the natural and man-made worlds.

You can’t see it really well, but there is a spider, probably a long-jawed spider, visible onthe lower portion of the rebar. I don’t know for sure if that spider could capture the dragonfly, but it is a potentially dangerous situation for the dragonfly and in the past I have photographed several dragonflies that had fallen prey to spiders.

Eastern Amberwing

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How do you grow a lot of plants in a small space? My amazingly creative friend, neighbor, and photography mentor Cindy Dyer decided to take advantage of vertical space and created this incredible wall of flowers and plants on the interior portion of the fence that encloses her back yard. Wow!

I do not know all of the details about how she set it up, but I think that the material, which Cindy describes as “felt-like,” has sewn-in pouches into which she inserted all of the plants and flowers. She mentioned to me that she had mixed some water-storing crystals in with the potting soil to reduce water stress and plans to water the wall regularly.

flower wall

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The irises in the garden of my neighbor Cindy Dyer have mostly faded, but her lilies are starting to flower. I believe that this beauty is an Asiatic lily, the second lily bloom of the season in her garden with many more to follow.

I captured this image late one morning this week as the rain was beginning to taper off and the colors were wonderfully saturated. I also love the multiple raindrops on the flowers—these are a few of my favorite things.

Asiatic lily

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A week ago I did a posting called Studio-like irises that featured photos of bearded irises shot against a background of a white foamcore board. This week on Thursday my photography mentor Cindy Dyer and I photographed some more of the irises in her garden, this time against a black background. Cindy had obtained some black velvet-like material with an adhesive backing that she affixed to the back of the white foamcore board. Normally this material is used for jewelry displays, but it worked perfectly to highlight the forms and colors of these beautiful flowers.

Here are a few selected shots from our little photoshoot. Although we had a consistent background, we were moving in and out of the sunlight and shadows and I had to constantly change mycamera settings—we even had a few raindrops fall on us while we were taking photos. Cindy and her husband have three cats and when I opened up my images in Photoshop I learned that velvet serves as a magnet for cat hair.

If you like the look of these shots, you should check out the posting that Cindy did on her blog that features seven fabulous photos, including several colorful iris species not shown below.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Columbines are one of my favorite spring flowers and I was excited to have the chance to capture images of some different varieties during a short visit to Green Spring Gardens, a county-run historical garden, this past Tuesday with my friend and photography mentor Cindy Dyer. When I started working with Cindy almost eight years ago, flowers were often our target subjects and this garden was our favorite location to photograph them.

columbine

columbine

columbine

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I was really excited yesterday to spot some Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule), a type of wild orchid, while exploring in Prince William County, Virginia. I was hunting for dragonflies adjacent to a hiking trail when two young ladies with a large dog came walking in my direction. I moved further back into the vegetation to increase our distance. One of the young ladies, noticing my camera, asked me if I was interested in photographing some “rare kind of orchids” and gave me some rather general directions for a place a couple of miles down the trail.

I have been to orchid shows before, so I had a general idea that the hikers were talking about lady’s slippers when they described the flowers, but I did not really know what they looked like in the wild. So I set off down the trail and eventually found three small clusters of Pink Lady’s Slippers. The midday sunlight was harsh, but I managed to find some angles from which the light was mostly diffused. I included the final shot to give you an idea of what the whole flower looks like when it is growing.

After doing some research, I learned that the Pink Lady’s Slippers, also known as “moccasin flowers,” are actually not “rare.” This flower is found in many places in the eastern third of the United States and in all Canadian provinces except for British Columbia. Whether the lady’s slipper is rare or not, I was happy to have the chance to see and photograph this fascinating flower, which somehow reminds me of a human heart.

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

Pink Lady's Slipper

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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You do not need to be in a studio to get a studio portrait look—all you need to do is to hold a piece of white cardboard or foamcore board behind the blooming flowers, such as these beautiful bearded irises in the garden of my friend Cindy Dyer. Cindy was gracious enough to hold the board for me and I returned the favor a few minutes later. Several viewers on my Facebook page commented that the style of these shots reminded them of botanical prints.

One of the challenges of shooting outdoors for shots like this was trying to get even lighting. I tweaked my settings in post-processing a bit to make the background as white as I dared, but did not go to the trouble of making the flowers and removing any slight shadows or color casts from the background.

bearded iris

bearded iris

bearded iris

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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