Tag Archives: plein air

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


 

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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.

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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.

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© 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.

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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.