Tag Archives: John Michael Cook

Seagulls of Canal Park, or 5 things you might not know about seagulls!


 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These silly sea gulls provide both charm and agitation to the life of a plein air painter. After many days (years) of painting in the presence of Gulls, I learned at least 5 interesting things about them.

1. They know who is friend or foe. If you feed them they don’t dive bomb your floppy hat and leave you a present. If you ignore them they do! They learn to get close if you let them alone. They have a very good memory.

2. Young gulls start out brown not white. They are taught in a school by older birds and protected until they are almost grown.

3. Seagulls go very far inland and search for food in “dry” places too. They dwell around very small ponds too if there is food. Most like to live and nest on high bluffs or buildings.

4. Seagulls are very good swimmers and divers, and float just as well as a duck. They are a very smart bird, sometimes using bread crumbs to “fish”, attracting small fish to the surface to then dive on and grab for supper.

5. Seagulls can be found very late in the fall in Duluth, then one day they just vanish. I do know they are considered a migratory bird, and fly south for the winter. Although they live in flocks they migrate more haphazardly than ducks or geese and forage along shorter flights paths in steps until they find enough warmth and food. They are habitual and return to many same locations yearly.

Advertisements
© John Michael Cook

Oh Duluth


Oh, Duluth 
Acrylic on illustration board 15″x40″ 
An evening view of the city of Duluth, Minnesota.  

Can we really see?  All of us artists know (or should) that good painting is good seeing!  Looking at a moment framed in nature and also in man- made constructs.  That includes events and conditions and scenarios. We get taken away by our own thoughts in this and often overlook just what we are seeing and instead start thinking.  We see the inside of our own memories; interpretations of things, and that changes what is actually perceived out there.  Not that thinking is a bad thing, but not while seeing; just look, feel, then think.  After that, respond and remark on it in a painting, say something and think something and do something, share something, but look first.

Almost a decade ago I decided to do a series of paintings in and around Duluth, Minnesota.  I am still doing that.  It is worth mentioning how much one can experience walking around a city toting an easel, camera and paint box.  I did not expect to enjoy painting in front of people, and am much a recluse in such things, always thinking of myself as a “studio artist.”  I needed to try this, perhaps I am missing something, I thought. So I found my “floppy” hat and …

lakewalk-red-bldgs_web Boardwalk
Sepia Ink 8″x10″ on illustration board

What came as a first big surprise was that no one seemed to care, or notice very much.  The world is really busy with itself, or I was too busy with myself to realize that what I was doing really was only important to me.  I had been busy with my own personal fears and doubts about being out in public and having painting failures exposed with no studio to hide in.  At first, I found spots back out of the way or not well populated, but soon found myself drawn to places others wanted to be in also.  So, it soon became mostly comfortable to just set up and sketch, paint and write anywhere the muse struck.  When I became comfortable, the walk around world seemed to just vanish.  It seemed to send out a friendship signal that had not been there before.  Maybe body language, maybe the paint I get all over me, maybe just relaxing. And soon, friendly folks would stop and chat a bit, and all of a sudden the city looked different because of comments they might make. I was not sure if this new influence was a good or bad thing, but it was definitely a thing!

When this blog became more than just an Idea or a task off in the future, my whole intention was to get the Duluth collection posted. However, just like when I went out into the public to paint, I found fears in exposing my art online, and decided to learn how to post, make my mistakes and then slowly move into the building of an online gallery.

steeples-in-recession_webSteeples in Recession
Sepia Ink on 8″x10″ illustration board

Weather is a real challenge, more than self. (Of course, one must always have safety in mind, but that will be a different posting).

Then there was materials and techniques, of which are much easier in the studio.  But in the field, the choices to start with are the pencil, ink, water color, or colored pencils, and always if one can stand the mess, oils.  My favorite studio medium is oil, but my now favorite field medium is watercolor.  I started with graphite, does that say anything?

walk-bridge-fish_webBlue Walking Bridge
Graphite 8″x10″ on Illustration board

So now that I am developing the Duluth image section.  I will be making a place for it in the Gallery section, and post the images there.  Postings in general, art, fashion will continue here on the front page. Gallery updates as well!

jmc/emc

Eagles Above Bluffs


Cliff-Side-Eagles_web Eagles hunting from the bluff; Dip pen and ink. 7″x9″ on bond paper.

This was an onsite rendering in Duluth, Minnesota.  Plein air ink work is tricky but fun, and usually requires both touch up and clean up back in the studio.  I seldom do very large or complicated pieces in the field, not because of the complexity of dealing with wind, sun, rain and the tools, but because the time spent drawing in ink could have been used to sketch two or three ideas that could be rendered better, later.  Little time was spent on the eagles, but on forming a good likeness of the rocks.  I render as I go, so it is a little slower.  The spontaneous outcomes cannot be recreated later though, nor can the lighting conditions.  With a little research on the eagles, this will become a more refined work in color.  Looking up past pines on the bluffs, the sky can be a very striking blue behind the tree green and gray-black bedrock outcroppings.

jmc/emc

HOME

© John Michael Cook

Duluth from Canal Park


Cityscape-from-canal-park_web India Ink with quill pen 8″x10″ on illustration board.

View from Canal Park looking at Duluth downtown. This is a plein air (on-site) ala-prima rendering.  Open pen ink drawing is difficult enough in the studio, and usually out in the field a technical pen is more expedient, but the pen personality of an open pen is so distinctive and yields such a different outcome, that sometimes I just grab it and go. There is little room for error in this style because the vertical lines betray any slip of the hand.  In the trees and even flags, some margin for error exists.  Yes, I did use a straight edge for the flag poles, so?

Wind and shifting conditions, along with sunlight eye glare on white paper can make it even tougher.  When you are done, the results are not as smooth as a studio piece, but a freshness exists that makes the rendering more . . . well, you say it.

jmc/emc

HOME

Blue Walking Bridge


walk-bridge-fish_webBlue Walking Bridge located in Canal Park in Duluth, MN and spanning the Minnesota Slip. 8″x9″ graphite on illustration board with “Iron Fish” insert 5″x5,” also graphite on illustration board. I have sketched and illustrated several versions of this bridge and its “fish.” The Iron Fish sculptures are a pale green, mounted on concrete pedestals. The walkway is made of heavy timbers.

This bridge is known locally as the Blue Bridge in Canal Park because, well, it’s blue. Local folks and tourists love it and the local government wants it replaced (to say they dislike it is understating it). It is aging and becoming unreliable and costly to maintain. I am enchanted with it on several levels. First, it has artistic charm, and then it has artistic un-necessary embellishments (the iron fish). It is cool to watch it open and close by going up in two halves. The bridge connects two sections of Canal Park that both have visit worthiness. It is functional and adds greatly to the ambiance of the area in which it “resides.”  At night, which few stay around to see, it is a grand view of reflections of both light and buildings. Sometimes glassy reflections of returning small sailboats and fishing boats. This is where the harbor tours dock and depart, creating tens of thousands of bridge users to come and enjoy.

jmc/emc

HOME

Seagull In Joyful Flight


Pen and Ink on illustration board 8″x10″ Rapidograph Tech Pen.

Graceful seagull in flight; they are a joy to watch and both fun and funny characters to sit and observe. Catching them with a pencil sketch and later converting to pen and ink works best. Grabbing photo research helps, but there is nothing like watching and sketching to get the feeling of how much they enjoy flying. Makes you want to stretch your arms out and try. If you watch the children watching the birds, they mimic their flight with out stretched arms and share their popcorn to encourage the joy. Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota – one of the best places to see both children at play and birds at work.

HOME

Seagulls Swarm


Seagulls Swarm – Watercolor on W/C paper 8″x10″ (2005)

Seagulls swarm over a popcorn-tossing audience, a common occurance in Canal Park, Duluth, Minnesota and probably everywhere else there are seagulls.

Capturing these birds in plein air style is very tough. It takes several boxes of popcorn to keep them near enough to sketch; first one bird, then another to represent the flock in action.

I paid a kid to keep feeding them while I sketched for about 30 minutes. Later, I just started photographing them and trying to illustrate them in the studio. On site is more “real,” but studio illustrating from reference photos makes more accurate bird images.

If you wear a hat and keep feeding them, they don’t drop things from the sky on you. I have watched them try to get popcorn from some people who ignore them and they will send their own special message to them. Yep! They know who is going to feed them, and who needs a lesson.