I’m laptopping you from a beachside rental near Playa Potrero in Costa Rica. It’s early morning and the Grackles are whistling from atop the palms above the pounding surf. Already today there have been Groove-billed Ani, Thicket Tinamou, and Motmots. Right now a Rufous-naped Wren is working the amaryllis in front of me. I feel like Charles Darwin when he first came to the Galapagos. It was there he found further evidence for his ideas of natural selection. So much variety, so much adaptation, so much specificity.
Our world has turned out to be a far more interesting place than originally thought. In Medieval times a church-bound scribe wrote: “There be 30 kindes of fowles in the worlde.” From where I sit there are thirty in this garden. So far, ornithologists have named 840 bird species in Costa Rica.
Our natural world and its diversity invites recording by artists. Every oil painting, every anatomical drawing, every bird-book illustration is an honouring. It’s been my persistent thought that when you sit down to paint or draw you form yourself into a posture of praise. Surrounded by creation as we are, the creative person can’t resist the temptation to re-create. Remarkable evidence invites the making of remarkable evidence.
Watching these birds, some of them new to me, I’m not missing their style and design. Some are flamboyant, as if their designer was just having fun–outrageous colour, arbitrary breakup, goofy add-ons. There’s a Long-tailed Manakin here. It has a black body, bright blue back, red topknot, and a couple of long, thin tail-feathers (called rectrices) that dangle down and seem to get in the way. In other, more understated designs, minor differences help to determine specificity. You have to look closely, pay attention, and be patient. Some birds are so hard to see in the thick foliage that you have to identify them by their song.
Nearby, at the river estuary, a man and a woman kneel on the sand. He has earphones, a side-strapped recording device and a directional microphone dish. He’s aiming at a flock of manakins as they move between the mangroves. “When we’re finished,” she says, “it will be music.”
PS: “The world is so full of a number of things, that I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)
Esoterica: With variety comes the custom of specifying genres. It seems to me that there could be as many as there are artists. Spanish speakers have a name for a type of painting called “Contraluz.” It can be late or early in the day, often at magic hour, and against the light. At the end of today another blood-red sun will sink into the sea. Between the distinctive rocks of the offshore bird-islet, it will be different than the last and an honour to record.
Birds of Costa Rica
Inspired by Costa Rica
by Julie Wiegand, St. Louis, MO, USA
I have just returned from almost three weeks in Costa Rica. My husband and I visited the Arenal area, Puerto Jimenez of the Osa Peninsula and Nosaraon of the Nicoya peninsula. I did 10 plein air works in oil using vegetable oil as my medium and brush cleanser for the easy access. It was challenging and tremendous. There were so many amazing sights: Scarlet Macaws squawking as brilliantly as their color as they flew by daily in pairs, funny and beautiful toucans, Halloween crabs in numbers large enough to make me jump, sunrises and sunsets over misty layers of land. It was truly an amazing and challenging trip.
Creation out of thought
by Todd Plough, Napoli, NY, USA
It’s funny you mention Darwin in regard to being observant. He himself said that according to evolution the eye itself is impossible. Curious that evolution flies in the face of entropy, or creation out of nothingness. It is like saying a painting masterpiece created itself without intelligent design or effort. Artists must be thinkers, as art is only the residue of thought. As thinkers, the logical conclusion can only be that this Creation, this wonderful place we get to live, was created by The Artist. In that respect, when we make art we are the children of God.
Sound of bird watching
by Peter Shulman, Richmondville, NY, USA
I feed the birds here on the farm every winter. Looking out my studio window and watching the dozen or so kinds of birds, in flocks or singles, play at the feeders during the frigid days warms my heart in a way I cannot adequately describe. Though I very rarely put a bird in my work, their being there sure helps me work at my craft with more energy than the cold dark dreary days of winter deserve. It’s also one of the main reasons I chose Cosumel to buy my winter home. The vibrant splashes of color from the tropical birds gives me such joy each day that I am energized to put brush to canvas happily.
Passing on the richness
by Christine Taylor, Barbados
As you sit on the beach in Costa Rica and absorb all that surrounds you, I am enjoying the fresh eyes with which you view your world. I also see the world full of visual jewels that we have awaiting our discovery. I have tried to pass this special way of walking through life onto my kids and as a result I think that they have much richer lives for it. They are the ones who now point out living gems to me as we drive along. The world needs to have more artistic hearts beating in it.
A bit of fresh blood
by Andrew Wielawski, Italy
Students, seeing from the perspective of inexperience, have a sense of what they do that communicates wonder through the work they produce — not slick at all, not refined, but with a purity that professionals rarely, if ever, obtain. I’m not a painter, but a sculptor. I will therefore use the work of Michelangelo to demonstrate this point. If one looks at the unfinished work, there’s a very perceptible feeling of excitement, of not knowing what the end product is going to look like, and of taking joy in its discovery. That’s different from the calculated, finished quality that we get from the work of most other renaissance sculptors. The reason is a process, which pretty much everyone except Michelangelo used. First, a model was made in clay, then refined to death, and finally cast in plaster. Points of reference were measured and transferred to a marble block, being careful to see that the block was slightly larger in every dimension than the plaster, in case a defect forced a minor correction. While decisions were spontaneous in most of Michelangelo’s work, most of the others, using assistants for the roughing, knew exactly what was coming out of a block before they started carving.
Today’s marble carvers, many untrained in the use of chisels, almost always use artisans to do every part of the job, since otherwise they wouldn’t have the time to produce numerous works. The joy of inexperience and of discovery, of optimism and of freshness, just isn’t there… and I speak of painting as well as sculpture. I use apprentices to keep myself in contact with a first impact sensation that I desperately try to keep awake for use in my own work. An old vampire like me needs a bit of fresh blood every once in a while.
No shortage of wonders
by Bev Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
Wonder is where the beach is! Seeing the picture of you comfortably seated on the beach painting reminded me of a picture in a magazine, a coverlet that stated in embroidery, “Home is where the beach is.” When you said, “So much variety, so much adaptation, so much specificity” it made me think of what you wrote about keeping the wonder alive. I am still wondering how one can keep the “wonder” in so many wonders. I will never run out of wonders to wonder about.
I was just reading about Jacques Cousteau in a 1998 National Geographic magazine and the wonder he helped to bring to the world many years ago now. The wonders of all the creatures, plants, rock, etc. under the sea is mind boggling.
by Marney Ward, Victoria, BC, Canada
After 30 years of daily meditation, I have come to realize that a sense of wonder and gratitude for the incredible beauty and harmony of this world is at the core of my happiness and my creativity. I can spend half an hour in my garden and come away feeling waves of profound and irresistible joy. It is this joy and wonder and gratitude I try to express in my paintings. I let my hands be the conduit for the bliss, which I firmly believe is not my bliss but the bliss of all of creation. It’s something we feel more clearly as children, and risk losing as the cares of the world structure us to pay attention to things that “matter,” things that make money or further our reputation, not things that bring us joy and contentment. Artists are more able than most to perceive the world in all its wonder and glory, and more willing than most to give themselves over to the experience. Artists and poets try to recapture and recreate the wonder that we all remember feeling as children. Maybe that’s why we are called visionary.
“There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,
The earth and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.” (William Wordsworth)
Fresh en plein air
by Paula Washburn, Folsom, CA, USA
I recommend plein air painting just for the benefits an artist can get from it. It’s a great way to keep a fresh, spontaneous look and feel in your paintings. For the abstract lovers, try painting abstracts en plein air. It’s a beautiful way of looking at nature and how colors look side by side at this raw stage. Painting in a limited amount of time does build confidence in each stroke when there is no time to doodle with the paint.
by Suzanne Ste. Therese, Norwalk, CT, USA
I was presenting my solution for a campus plan’s parking problems (I am in training to be a landscape architect). I was determined to make a beautiful parking lot. Well, I went “down the rabbit hole” and pretty much got off track in finding a solution.
A world-renowned landscape architect was one of my reviewers for this finals project. When he saw my presentation, he jumped up and said, “You have missed the point completely! You’ve got it all wrong!” and proceeded to tell me where I had gone in a completely incorrect direction. Now, I suppose this could have been upsetting but what marveled me most was this man’s energy. He has been practising for years, one of the “old guard,” and yet, here he was looking at a student beginner’s work with the same enthusiasm and freshness I imagined a young, impassioned person just beginning the profession would have.
A paradise on earth
by D. A. Jelke, The Netherlands
It is a great gift if an artist sees every detail how beautiful nature is around him no matter what he paints or tries to create — to let other people become one with his visual snapshot. If you have the time and like to go, I recommend a place on earth, a paradise with the name God Island. The German owner his name is Frits. He is an art collector and you can work and pay your holiday with your work.
Travel with oils
by Jane Fisher, Gloucestershire, UK
I’m an oil painter and when I travel to paint in the countryside here or in France I always seem to have so much stuff. I realise I could do with investing in smaller tubes of paint but then there is the problem of trying to travel with canvases or boards that are not quite dry. Any tips would be gratefully received.
Artist, Dealer relationship
by Graham Forsythe, Victoria, BC, Canada
I recently asked the proprietor of a gallery where I used to show my work for a list of the collectors who have purchased my art over the years. Since I was no longer represented in this gallery and the kind of collector purchasing my art would have been different than the ones pursuing the dealer’s other artists, I felt there would be no conflict of interest. The dealer refused to give me this list feeling it would put them in a precarious situation if I chose to publish my buyers list. I assured them the list would be used for the sole purpose of updating my collectors on new pieces of art or possibly inviting them to a home show. I pointed out that it seemed odd to me that when they put a show on they felt they had more rights to a buyers list by mailing out hundreds of invitations than I, who was the actual person creating the art. I put the question to them, ‘Why should an art dealer have the exclusive rights over the names of the people purchasing an artist’s art?’ I found it very odd that they wouldn’t tell me who was buying my art. In the past I’ve seen countless artists’ bios listing corporations etc. who have bought their art. In art biographies of historical paintings they often cite where a particular painting resides. All this begs the question, does an artist have any legal rights when it comes to knowing who purchases their art?
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Matamoros who wrote, “Thanks for the note, Robert. I was born in Costa Rica and you’ve painted a beautiful picture of it for me. A great way to start my day!”
And also Thelma Smith who wrote, “I don’t quite know where my art is going. The idea of intuitive, inadvertent praise is something I have to put in the back of my head and let it ferment and grow into whatever it is supposed to mean to me.”
And also Rosalie Hein who wrote, “Variety is the spice of life. In this world, there is a place of importance for every artist. We all donate to the variety of creation in the world.”