The Arizona monsoon season can be violent, destructive and frightening. But the humungous thunderheads that push miles-high and wide walls of dust before them as they barrel across the Valley of the Sun bring much needed rain.
In their wake the flash flood waters soak into the baked earth with amazing and awe-inspiring results. The desert plants have adapted themselves to long dry spells and wait for the monsoon rains to burst into deeply-colored gem-toned blossoms.
One such plant is the Poppy. With large, brilliant orange blossoms composed of 4 to 5 broad petals, I am reminded of Dorothy’s field of poppies in The Wizard of Oz. Such saturated colors seem to be a characteristic of the Southwest in response to the harsh climate.
Several weeks ago I was visiting a cactus garden on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale. As I walked along the trail I took advantage of the deepest, coolest pools of shade provided by the mature mesquite tree canopies overhead. In one such spot, I stopped to catch my breath, have a drink of water and listen.
My eye was caught by the distinct sound of rustling nearby. At the base of a boulder, a lizard took shape out of the desert landscape. I watched fascinated as she frantically scratched around in the dust. Suddenly a larger, darker version appeared somewhere near my feet in a distinctly defensive posture, making me uncomfortably aware of my bare ankles. (Have I told you we have poisonous snakes here?) They were both approximately 8 – 9 inches long, with a wide midsection, flat head, and a fat tail. I snapped several photos and moved on up the trail, delighted by the encounter and wondering what the heck I’d run into.
I had met a pair of female Chuckwallas, one of many lizard varieties native to Arizona. They will be appearing with more detail in my drawing E-Tutorial, How to Draw the American Southwest, Animals & Cacti of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert. Here’s a sneak peak!
I have also started a new blog: www.makeartbehappy.wordpress.com…and will be posting inspirational and motivational thoughts and suggestions for increasing creativity and improving life.
I’ve been undercover the last few weeks, and devoting blog time to writing and illustrating my first e-book, a tutorial entitled How to Draw the American Southwest, Animals & Cacti of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert. I plan to complete a chapter a week, and will be sharing studies of my illustrations here.
Chapter One: Hummingbirds
Next week, Chapter Two: Chuckwalla (I love this word!)
Posted in Fine Art
Tagged art, beach, summer
The Darth Vader of the Sonoran Desert small animal kingdom streaked into my happy little urban landscape this morning.
I noticed her (yes, I believe it was a female) because of her sudden movement. With her small pointy head down and in line with her stretched neck and long tail, she suddenly ran towards a half dozen tumbling, wrestling, playful young ground squirrels – all of whom immediately disappeared down conveniently placed holes in the earth.
Enter, stage left, the Roadrunner.
I’d heard this sometimes clownish (beep-beep) but predatory bird ate baby quail ‘like candy,’ and upon further research learned she consumed anything small and slow enough to fit into her cruel beak.
As she zipped (they can run up to 15 mph) across the dusty track toward my backyard oasis, I stepped from my backdoor – pajama-clad – to defend my tiny domain. Up close she measured about 18” from beak to tail tip. Unfazed by my defensive stance and flapping arms, she turned and zipped away down the track. Neither of us was inclined to attempt to make friends.
Ten minutes later she streaked back up the track and past my backyard, a hapless lizard dangling from her beak. I thought she might have babies of her own to feed.
I had recently wondered how the city would control what seemed to be an explosion of baby ground squirrels and hoped they wouldn’t call in an exterminator with poison. Now I know they won’t need to. Ms. Roadrunner fills her niche in the desert ecosystem just fine. I can respect that, but I still don’t find her easy to like.
Yes, indeed we do. Henrietta, our tiny nesting hummingbird, has been tending her fortress-like, golf ball-sized nest in one of our backyard trees. I wasn’t sure she was actually as attentive as she should be because it seemed she was absent most of the time.
Two days ago I glanced up and there were two tiny bills sticking straight up out of the nest! The babies had taken about two weeks to hatch and now their mama was dashing back and forth from the nest to wherever, stopping only long enough to feed her brand-new offspring.
How tiny are they? First of all, both babies fit into their nest (think ‘golf ball’ here) with Henrietta sitting on top. Second of all, their bills are only 1/2″ long – tiny miniatures of their mother.
I know I’ll be checking on them everyday. I thought perhaps all the attention we were lavishing on her would scare the new mama away, but Nature seems to be much more resilient than that. I’m pleased she’s allowed us to be a part of her world.
In past summers we used to vacation away from the Arizona heat and travel to the beach. I’m sure we won’t be the only ones not able to go this year, but that doesn’t prevent this beach baby from dreaming about it!
I was recently asked to create artwork for my High School reunion, which is to be held in 2013…you guessed it…at the beach. With Arizona temperatures already reaching into the 100’s, my mind exploded with a wealth of suppressed visions of beach umbrellas and towels in the sand, the smell of sun block and the steady, soft rhythm of waves.
The mind is a powerful tool and believe it or not, calling up memories of sand and surf actually helps me through the summer Southwest heat!
I have never seen such a squabbley, awkward, demanding and adorable offspring! Junior seems to have outgrown his mother’s tiny fortress nest while we weren’t looking, and taken to following her everywhere…at least during these last few days.
Unfortunately I cannot tell one hummer from another except through their daily habits, so I’m not at all sure this is Henrietta.
It seems she can change the appearance of her size and shape at will depending on the circumstances. When she’s relaxed she appears to be no longer from the tip of her beak to the tip of her tail than 2″. Her feathers are smooth and she looks very slender. When she’s flustered, defending her nest or feeding source or zipping about, she fluffs up into ball of pure energy and appears to be larger.
And Junior (right) seems to have her (left) at her wits end!
In previous posts I introduced you to Henri, our small but super-hyper backyard visitor. It turns out Henri has spread the word, and we now have several different hummingbirds visiting daily. Of course, hanging a brightly colored feeder with sticky liquid on tap helps tremendously.
For several weeks I couldn’t tell the difference between the tiny zippers, until we recently discovered a golfball-sized nest tucked into one of our trees just off the patio. It seems Henri has a friend/mate whom we’ve named Henrietta. This diminutive version has a solid black head and is about half the size of Henri.
We’ve seen her guarding her nest, angrily fussing at birds many more times her size, if they dare land too close. But we’ve also noticed her missing…leaving the nest unoccupied for hours at a time. Is this the lack of an egg, as yet to be deposited into this cement-like fortress of a nest? We’re hoping she’s not a gad-about, and will demonstrate her proficiency in motherhood by raising her baby in our backyard. Of course Junior might be too small to find….it makes me feel like an expectant grandmother all over again!
One of the easiest ways to learn how to draw is to doodle. I’ve always equated Doodling to essentially using a loose sketching technique called ‘gesture drawing’ to create the rough shape and mass of a subject.
One of my favorite subjects to use this approach on are trees. In Arizona I was introduced to the mesquite tree. They come in all shapes and sizes and are wonderfully twisted by the harsh desert environment. In spite of their struggle to remain upright, they retain a grace and fluidity that is fascinating to draw.
I’ve posted a quick gesture drawing below, done in ink without pencil layout. Ink drawings have always been a daunting task for me, so I’ve decided to practice them.