Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Normally I aim for extreme realism when taking photos. Sometimes, however, I like to try an “artsy” approach, like in this image of a flower (a zinnia, I believe) from this past weekend at Meadlowlark Botanical Gardens.

In this case, I deliberately tried to distort perceptions and make it look like the grass and the sky had switched places. In reality, the blue is not from the sky, but is a gravel path.

I like to try to vary the angle at which I am shooting and the results can often be fun and different. I never know when I will find myself sprawled on the ground or standing in the mud, so I tend to wear clothes that are rugged and often ragged.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I’m a real beginner in watercolors and probably should stick to exercises and simple subjects, but that is not what I want to paint. I’ll look at some of my wildlife photos and think, “I’d like to try to paint that,” knowing full well that I don’t really have the skills to do so. I figure, though, that I’ll learn as I go along, seeing what works and doesn’t work. So yesterday evening I decided to have a go at painting an immature Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) that I photographed recently.

I figured the best chance I had at making something recognizable was to simplify things, especially smaller, less important elements, like the leaves in the branches surrounding the hawk. I decided that I was not going to worry about making them realistic. I also realized that it would be tough for me to capture the fine details of the feathers, so I went for a more stylized approach. I decided to simplify my color palette too and used only three colors—lemon yellow, ultramarine blue, and burnt sienna.

So what happened? You can see and judge the results yourself. Some parts of the painting came out pretty well and other parts could use a lot of improvement.

I learned a lot in the process of doing this painting, most notably that I really enjoy mixing colors. It was rare that I used one of the three colors straight out of the pan, with one exception being the yellow eye. I paid a lot of attention to trying to vary my colors, especially in areas like the feathers.

I realize now that painting details is really tough—I’m hoping that practice will help me improve my control of the brushes. The biggest thing, perhaps, that I need to work on is controlling the amount of water that is on the brush and on the paper. I was blindsided a couple of times when the result I was expecting did not happen, most often when I had too much water in my brush. (I also need a whole lot of practice with sketching.)

I didn’t really try to copy my photo, but thought you might enjoy seeing the photograph that served as a general reference for me as I painted.

Thanks to the many readers who have encouraged me to keep painting. It is a little humbling to see how crude my initial efforts are, but it really is a lot of fun creating something from scratch—there is definitely something therapeutic about playing with paints.

watercolor hawk

Cooper's Hawk

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.


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I spotted this beautiful butterfly this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I am pretty sure that it is a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis), judging from the pattern of its wing spots.

While I may not be absolutely certain that it is a Question Mark butterfly, its beauty is unquestionable.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This Prince Baskettail dragonfly (Epitheca princeps) almost looks like it was flying at an airplane’s cruising altitude and was looking down at a landscape with rivers, mountains, and lakes. I spotted this dragonfly last weekend at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge and spent quite a while trying to get a shot of it in flight.

The dragonfly, however, never ventured close enough to shore for me to get a detailed shot of it. I was a little disappointed until I opened up the image on my computer and discovered that I had managed to capture a wonderful, fanciful background. Sometimes I try to document the reality that I see and other times it seems like it is just my imagination running away with me.

Prince Baskettail

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I love photographing the nondescript butterflies that are so common that they fly by virtually unnoticed, like this beautiful little sulphur butterfly that I spotted last week at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. I believe it is an Orange Sulphur butterfly (Colias eurytheme), though it is often hard to distinguish that species from the Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice), so I am a little uncertain of the identification.

What I am certain of, however, is the delicate beauty of this butterfly and I am happy that I was able to capture some of that beauty in this image. As I gaze at this photo, I am reminded of the moment when I took it, a moment when I was enveloped by a sense of deep tranquility as the gorgeous sunlight illuminated the wings of the butterfly. Quite often when I am pursuing a subject, I can feel my heart racing a little as adrenaline kicks in.  This was one of the rare circumstances when I had the opposite physical reaction.

It is hard to describe in words what I was feeling, though it was definitely cool to experience. I hope that some of you will get a sense of that tranquility from this image. Iam becoming more and more convinced of the value of taking life a little more slowly, of opening myself up to experiencing the beauty that surrounds us every day.

sulphur butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Do you consider yourself to be artistic? All of my life I have been in awe of people who can draw and paint and create art, but have never considered myself to be artistic. Increasingly, though, my photography has opened up a creative side that I am trying to nurture.

As some of you know, I decided that I want to try my hand at watercolor painting and did a posting not long ago on my first efforts at doing a landscape. I don’t usually shoot landscapes with my camera, so I thought that I would try a more familiar subject for my second project—I decided to try to paint a dragonfly. In retrospect, I probably should have chosen an easier subject, but I am so inexperienced in art that I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into.

For inspiration, I used a recent photo that I took of a female Eastern Amberwing (Perithemis tenera). I have already included it in a blog posting, but am reprising it as the final photo, so you’ll know what my artistic efforts were supposed to look like.

I tried a couple of different approaches to my subject. First I tried sketching the dragonfly. I didn’t have a pencil handy, so I used a Bic ballpoint pen. My observation skills and sense of proportion are definitely lacking, but it was surprisingly fun to try. Without an eraser to correct my errors, I felt a bit like I was walking on a tightrope without a net.

Then I tried to draw with Crayola crayons? Why? I happened to be at Walmart yesterday and picked up a pack of 24 for only 50 cents at a back-to-school sale. My drawing looks a bit like a cartoon to me.

Finally I was ready to try watercolor. I decided that I would do the painting without bothering to sketch it out. Oops. I was using some inexpensive paper and it started to buckle a bit when I tried to cover the entire area with an overly wet wash of light green. I think I then attempted to put on the next layer before the first one was fully dry. I still feel like a second-grader in my watercolor skills, but it still was enjoyable trying to see what worked and what didn’t.

I did my final attempt in a sketchbook that is not intended for watercolor. I sketched out the dragonfly with a mechanical pencil and then colored the sketch with my watercolor paints. Out of all of my attempts, this is the one that I like the most. I felt a bit more confident in using the paints and in some of my strokes.

So what did I learn? Most significantly I learned that it’s worth taking a risk of feeling embarrassed; that it’s ok to try something new and achieve only a limited amount of success;, and that the amount of enjoyment that I can derive from a creative pursuit is not directly tied to any specific outcome.

dragonfly sketch

dragonfly crayon drawing



Eastern Amberwing

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.





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I love the dark, slate-blue tones of the male Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta), one of the most common dragonflies in our area.  The beauty of this handsome Slaty Skimmer was further enhanced by the colorful backdrop that I managed to capture this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

It is hard to come up with a composition that is more basic—beauty can often be found in simplicity.

Slaty Skimmer

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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