Sialia sialis by Uschi Jeffcoat

"The Bluebird carries the sky upon his back."
-Henry David Thoreau

And so do some of the people in our lives. I was asked to paint this piece as a special gift for a favorite friend who truly is someone that makes you strive to be more than you think you can be.

This happened during the same week as a neighbor passed away so both personalities were on my mind as I painted.

Both educators, both mentors (one to me and the other to my husband), both leading by example and both so very gentle and kind.

Just like the eastern bluebird. Possibly my favorite bird to watch.

It was the discovery of these birds in a bird box in my backyard, left by previous home owners -  that began my love of bird watching. One of my best friends from childhood had collected blue birds. That was my extent of bluebird encounters up to this point.

Not only would I think on the simplicity of childhood as I observed them, but also I began to learn from these blue wings. Things like beauty in flight and purpose. Gentle, yet industrious, hard working and protectors of family, Sialia sialis had much to teach me.

Much like these heaven bearing friends of mine whose songs can carry the rest of us.

SB, you have been such an instrumental part in my life! I hope I can have an ounce of the TRUE southern lady grace you have! Thank you for investing in me and teaching me so much! "Lucille" - I am excited about all your future "tractor and engine" adventures!

Sialia sialis watercolor on aquabord 8" x 8"

Sialia sialis
watercolor on aquabord
8" x 8"

Waidmann's Heil: The Hunter's Hail by Uschi Jeffcoat

My Opa was a hunter. But I feel I need to clarify, he was a German hunter, a Jäger,  and to me, hunting has a unique culture in Germany. He would rise early or go out in the evenings in Lederhosen, tall socks and a very German looking hat, not full fledged camouflage but still looking very forest green. He'd hop on his Motorad with his rifle slung over his back. Upon his return, he would tell us about what the animals were doing, where the foxes were, how many boar or deer he saw. Mostly I felt he went to observe and learn. In my eyes, he was a guardian of the forest.

Typically the deer he did shoot, were those that were older or ill, not those who were "prized".  It is serious business to hunt in Germany. You can not just "get" a hunting license. The country has some of the strictest gun laws there. Hunters are respected for their wealth of knowledge and watch over the land.

These antlers, though, of my childhood were so weird to me! Some were unusually gnarly and I imagined eyes where the little holes are in the skull, not where they truly would have been. It bothered my young self they were all twisted and deformed...let alone that they were skulls hanging on a wall. Ewww! or as the Germans would say, Igitt!

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But now, I LOVE them. Perhaps I love their imperfections most as I am learning to embrace my own. I credit my Opa for instilling in me a love for observation of the world around me during my summers.  He taught me that the Magpies are not a friend to the Songbirds, that Kespie pflücken ist wunderschön and so much more.

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And so since last summer I have wanted to paint these antlers. I have almost finished all of them. I love that on the back he's noted the date and location as well.

Ihr glaubt der Jäger sei ein Sünder, weil er selten zur Kirche geht.
Im grünen Wald, ein Blick zum Himmel, ist besser als ein falsch Gebet. - Jäger Spruch
You think the hunter is a sinner because he rarely goes to church.
In the green forest, a glimpse towards heaven, is better than a fake prayer. - Hunter Saying

I think back on some of these phrases that hung in the house. They have taken on a new meaning to me as an adult as well. Now I know his church standing suffered for marrying a non Catholic. And then this one...

Erst wenn man in der Fremde ist weiss man wie schön die Heimat ist.
It's not until you are in a strange land that you realize how beautiful your homeland is.

This image below has my Opa's father and two uncles in it. It is taken in the lands surrounding Lippein (their home prior to WW2). My great grandfather is the second to the right. They lived there for 240 years before being displaced at war's end and the family of farmers and foresters dates back to 1709. 

And while I am not hunter, I appreciate the art of the Jäger in their observation and care for the land. For more on German hunting culture, this older article featured in Montana Outdoors in 2003 describes it better than I can.

Waidmann's Heil!

Marauder by Uschi Jeffcoat

Marauder

"Gentrification is painted alternately as a destroyer of neighborhoods or a savior of cities," says Lance Freeman in a Washington Post Article from 2016.

I have from the sidelines observed this controversial tension in my previous work. Serving artists but also promoting development. I don't have answers.

Only more questions.

Is gentrification the urban version of a food chain?

Producers and consumers: ALL are integral parts of the circle of a city's life. Can one exist without the other?

Transparent by Uschi Jeffcoat

I live in a culture of good manners and southern charm. And sometimes that takes away the freedom transparency has to offer. I think about this as I compare the unspoken societal rules of respect and polite manners of small southern town living to German frankness and stoic silence - I am acquainted with both.

I believe all these behaviors, I have lived and interacted within desire simply to extend respect and kindness to the other person. Yet, still these ways of communicating intrigue me.

Where is the balance within me?  this person of two cultures? Feeling at home in both but yet, also a stranger at times.

In considering this, I have taken on another 100 day project on Instagram. (not 100% sure I'll finish this one... ) But I am taking time to revisit a few basic watercolor exercises and becoming reacquainted with my palette through play.

I do find the play on words immensely intriguing as I consider the meaning of transparency in relation to these parts of the following definition . . .

Definition of transparent

  1. 1a (1) :  having the property of transmitting light without appreciable scattering so that bodies lying beyond are seen clearly : 

  2. 2a :  free from pretense or deceit :  frank b :  easily detected or seen through :  obvious c :  readily understood

from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transparent

Something to think about.

Here are a few images from my first few days as I have explored transparency, layering and how the hues which surround a subject can impact its "personality".

The first being a color study using lemons as the subject matter. 2 layers of hansa yellow medium and then 2 layers of each of the colors explored.

Theses studies are done quickly. Mainly to see and learn what tones and colors are achieved through the layering process.

I don't necessarily like posting such quick, unfinished and messy studies. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that my pride feels something should look just so before putting it out there. But I think I am going to try and get past that.

A book I recently read is challenging me in many ways. It references Leonard Cohen's song Anthem:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

And in order to be transparent, light must get in. Wouldn't you agree?

(The transparent studies in Daniel Smith Sap and Undersea Green are studies in applying pressure to the brush stroke and the impact it has in the width of the line.)

*Ok, so only after day 6, of this project, I realized I would be unable to do the 100 days straight AFTER ALL due to upcoming travel (which may or may not have internet access) and other obligations. So for simplicity's sake, I am continuing on with the exercises as I am able, but not with the Instagram posting for the 100 straight days as I had originally planned* 4/9/17

 

 

Bird Theatre by Uschi Jeffcoat

I'm beginning to feel like a potential character in a Hitchcock film.

People have asked me where I find the subject matter for the birds I paint. And honestly, mostly they come to me! But I do have bird feeders, reside in a neighborhood with old, tall, majestic trees and slow moving creeks nearby, which helps! So Snow White, I am not...

(I also, have a few friends with an eye for artful bird encounters that will call me.)

eggs

This week has been off the charts!

It has been a week of interesting bird architecture, drama and tragedy.

Act I: This is the bluebird nest I have been watching in the box we have at home.

I monitor it daily. They were supposed to hatch on Saturday, Day 12. They didn't.

Nor did they hatch on Monday, Day 14.

Mr. & Mrs. Bluebird began moving the eggs in the nest and covering them in the days past, which I have never seen before. I was getting worried.

And then hello, this morning. This is what I found. An entire new nest built on top of the old.

I wonder if the freak snow we recently had in SC has anything to do with this doubledecker nest we now have.

I am assuming the old eggs are buried beneath? I am leaving it alone for now because both birds seem to be active and perhaps preparing for a new brood. Nevertheless, I am utterly confused by this.

And can I do this in my own world? Just stack a little covering on top and pretend the unfinished matters just stay somewhere hidden beneath all that nesting?

Act II: Most remarkably, a Shakespearean poisoning has taken place. The victims were discovered by a very young and enthusiastic naturalist.

And when I was asked - why, yes of course I want to take a few pictures of those beautiful birds!

A little life lesson here. Things that look amazing and maybe taste good are not always so good. These plants in your yard will hurt the cedar waxwing, which is what happened to these two. The cedar waxwings were simply gorging on those beautiful berries.

The plant is called Nandina or heavenly bamboo. I find the second name ironic, given the death it has caused. Nonetheless, it has promptly been removed from my own yard.

 Act III: My goal for the this week was to actually complete a watercolor,  but a small and swift little home intrusion has occurred.

This little wren decided to fly in the home when the door was open. The dog lost its mind and the bird flew ALL over, ALL the rooms and ALL through the hall, a few times.

Gracious.

 

Needless to say, not as much painting as intended has been completed this week, but quite a bit of study, drama and bird chasing has.

 

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out." -Alfred Hitchcock
 

Window Dressing by Uschi Jeffcoat

Window Dressing 22" x 30" watercolor

Window Dressing
22" x 30"
watercolor

This juvenile European Blackbird was spied outside a Birkenstock outlet store in Germany. My sister and I were on a mission to reclaim for our closets the footwear trend of Birks. I'm old enough now to realize that trends do come and go.

It makes me think of all the labels/trends we spend more money on than we should because of what we feel that thing represents. We believe we are buying quality items that we need. When I was younger,  I needed Guess Jeans, Liz Clairborne bags and Clinique make-up.

And I recognize a pattern. I'm calling it window dressing.

Window dressing obviously refers to the beauty and mindfulness that goes into a window or store front display.

But it can also allude to the misrepresentation of something in order to give a more favorable view.

During a TED talk, cyborg anthropologist, Amber Case, describes that for many of us a second version of ourselves exists in these screens we hold. For example, when we are sleeping, others are interacting with our second "virtual" self such as perhaps our Facebook profiles. Two selves doing opposite things.

And that second self of ours also requires care / time / maintenance.

I'm thankful my adolescent "window dressing" was so much simpler then. There was only one me that needed to appear better than maybe I felt on the inside. 

And so I am asking. How and when does one project an authentic self?

And in another facet, this article from the Wall Street Journal provides a look at the cost of a little physical window dressing in 4 women. (Please note: I am not pointing fingers or judging here . . . I spend my fair share on the lotions and potions.)

But is aging and imperfection considered such a flaw? Or can it be viewed as something unique and individual? How do I as a person define and share beauty?

These are big questions for me. The culture I live in influences me. But so have the women in my life.

The "wall paper" behind this painting is inspired by patterns seen in my German great grandmother's home. It is hand drawn and painted, requiring dedicated time and embracing imperfections. 

Sadly this bird tells a moral of sorts. The young European Blackbird flew into the window of the Birkenstock store. The allure of the false reflection ultimatley harming her.

What Colour's a Blackbird? by Uschi Jeffcoat

“Drawing makes you look at the world more closely. It helps you to see what you're looking at more clearly. Did you know that?"  

I said nothing. 

"What colour's a blackbird?" she said.

"Black" 

"Typical!” 


― David Almond, Skellig
 

This painting process is of a young European Blackbird.

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I've learned that sometimes the pale unseen tender layers beneath the surface are the most beautiful ones. 

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My 41 year old eyes needed to do the hard work to see. See what is truly there, not what my mind wanted to tell me was there. And let me say, this bird is so much much more than simply "black". 

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Later today I will take on painting the background on this 22" x 30" full watercolor sheet. It's daunting at the moment but I know doing the work IS good.

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So wherever your eyes are being challenged to see more clearly today, please do the work. It is good.

Art & Play by Uschi Jeffcoat

"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play." -Heraclitus

The past week my time in the studio has been playful and fun. I haven't been working on commission or competition pieces. It has simply been a time for painting, cutting, glue, gold leaf and mess making.

I've also learned a little more about these Glanzbilder.  I've so enjoyed placing them in these mini-paintings. They are small colorful images on paper printed originally as Chromolithographs. Historically used for decorative purposes such as in Autograph books (Poesiealbums), letters or as collectables. The illustrations tend to be romantic in nature, sometimes allegorical or oppositional in nature. The collection of these reached the height of their popularity in Germany and Austria between 1880 and 1910. The Glanzbilder used in these creations are all made in Germany. Few printers today still use original designs and the market for collecting has severely declined.

Anyway, I still think they are incredibly fun. Hope you enjoy them!