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An artist palette and little blue heron

June 11, 2011

I was down at the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in 1970, and I suddenly spotted a little blue heron in flight. The flight took it to the top of a low bush where it landed. I remember thinking how graceful and beautiful this bird becomes in both flight and in landing. I especially wanted to capture this moment on my canvas as well as to portray this scene differently. I looked at its long neck and body. I looked down at my palette and suddenly thought, “This scene belongs on my wooden palette as part of the background. The bird’s neck and body looked just like the shape of my palette itself.
What is a palette? It is a thin oval board or slab with a hole for the artist’s thumb on which an artist lays out and mixes her colors. For example, I might arrange all of my blues together so that I can quickly dip my brushes into a certain color of blue that I am searching for as I quickly make decisions about the shades that I want to use. It makes it much easier if I arrange all my colors together on my palette to save me time and energy when I make a quick decision of the color of paint I desperately need to place on my canvas.
“The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds” became my guide to exactly know what I had painted so many years ago. The blue heron in its adulthood is slate blue with a maroon neck. In nature, it is white, usually with dusky tips to its primaries. The bill is grayish with black tips, and the legs are greenish. Its voice is silent, but it squawks when alarmed with various croaks. It screams at nesting colonies. They live in freshwater swamps and lagoons in the South. Its eggs are identified by three to five pale blue-green eggs in a nest of sticks in a small tree or bush. They nest in colonies. This is one of the most numerous herons in the South and may be observed in large mixed concentrations of herons and egrets. It eats more insects than the large heron, and it is sometimes seen following a plow to pick up exposed insects larvae. Unlike egrets it has no fancy plumes and was spared by plume hunters.
Let’s look at the two portraits on a 16X20” piece of stretched canvas of the same bird both in flight and in landing. Left to right you’ll see my little blue heron with its wings stretched out in full flight as it is checking out and thinking about landing in the tip top of this tree high up in the sky. It is swooping down close to the top and near its possible landing spot. Look at its beautiful cloor of its opened two wings. To me that day its slate gray body against the dark blue sky turned into a deeper purple. Look at its slim long neck and see the determined look in its eyes and its handsome bill. Look at its long legs in flight and its gorgeous wings all spread out just in time for its landing. How graceful. It looks like a ballet in flight.
The second portrait shows that it has landed, and you can almost feel the top of the tree as it bends slightly and curves to the right of the palette which is my canvas itself. Its very body bends the tip top of the tree with is already heavy foliage. It is facing its first portrait, but this time its head is slightly above it first head painted on the left palette. Look once again at the bird’s determined eyes and its long neck which definitely is almost an exact feeling of an artist’s palette turned this time upside down in this second portrait of its body nestled in what may become a next for a new family. Could this “it” be a “she”? Is “she” going to begin to design, create, and build “her” new home for “her” new family right up here in this clump of leaves high up in the tip top of this brush type of tree? Maybe so?
I especially love the color combination that I looked down on my wooden palette and chose that day. I used dark blue colors mixed in with light and almost turquoise at the bottom of my wooden palettes that I chose that day. To give a contrast and to make the painting interesting, I put the dark blues on the left side of the portrait number 1 (left), and I switched the dark blues to the opposite side of portrait number 2 (right). I turned both palettes upside down and opposite from each other to give you, my viewer an eye appealing feeling as it the two paintings flowed together with a more pleasant feeling as if they truly did flow together on my canvas itself.
I dipped down into my lime greens, bright greens, and bright yellows to fill in the entire background blending in and completing the full canvas to become one painting of these two portraits of one little blue heron. Look how pretty the dark blue/purple birds now look against the ultramarine blue blended in with the cobalt blue and light blue sky. “She” is flying over and gently landing within the tree top or bush part of the tree slightly bending forward the tree with “her’ very weight of “her’ body itself.
I wanted to share with each one of you a totally different and creative idea that suddenly came into my own mind that day of a unique way to portray one of nature’s beautiful creatures. A simple bird flying right over us and then landing and contemplating the building of “her” nest. We spend to much of our time looking down as we walk along in this life, and we often forget to look upwards into the sky above us and see what is right above our eyes. It we take time to merely glance upwards to the blue sky and the lime green sky beyond the blue, we suddenly appreciate another world. If you try to do this sometimes, you might just see two palettes with two gorgeous birds right up in the sky above.
We are so lucky to have within a short distance from our homes in Starkville the greatest treasure, the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge. The lake is Bluff Lake, which is oh so peaceful and lovely. Some days become hectic and busy for all of us, and we forget to take time to find a refuge for ourselves. We forget to simply take time to reflect on what is really important in our lives. A road trip to find a refuge down the country side of Oktoc Road up and down the hills as we glance at the farmland with its pastoral feeling calms us down and makes us realize that living each day can be calm and peaceful. This road curves and takes on to our treasured refuge. Just the word refuge offers us suddenly along the wildlife that has truly found its own refuge at Noxubee and Bluff Lake. Look and see deeply into this painting at this one peaceful moment or two portraits of one bird found “her” own moment of silence for “her’ brain and soul. We should all be most grateful to our federal government for establishing wildlife refuges across America for each one of us to share with nature the very beauty that a refuge offers to each one of us.

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