Bamboo Forests

Hidden up in the mountains of central China, surrounded by thick forests of bamboo, Giant Pandas spend up to twelve hours of their day eating. Their diet consists almost entirely of bamboo. When winter comes around, they don’t hibernate. Pandas simply move lower down the mountain and continue their daily routine of eating, eating, and eating bamboo. Nearly eighty pounds of it a day.

Panda 11x17

The giant panda’s scientific name is Ailuropoda melanoleuca which means “black and white cat-foot”. This unusual bear is born pink and blind. Its eyes don’t open until it is at least six weeks old. The cubs also eat the feces of their mothers who can poop up to forty times a day. Perhaps that is why a group of giant pandas is called an “embarrassment”.

Red pandas, on the other hand, were once thought to be in the raccoon family because of their ringed tails and shape of their head and teeth. They were reclassified as a bear after DNA testing showed more similarities with the larger carnivores.

Red Panda

Though they are smaller, red pandas also consume large amounts of bamboo in the temperate forests of central China. They occasionally eat eggs and small mammals but mostly, they stick to bamboo. Be sure to never sneak up on one because the unleash a stench like a skunk does if they are frightened.

Both the red panda and the giant panda are considered endangered. Their numbers have declined steadily, especially the red panda who hasn’t had the benefits of being at the forefront of the conservation movement as the giant panda has. Deforestation is a major threat to both of these cuddly bears. Bamboo is the primary source of food, after all.

Giant Panda

I’ve drawn both of these animals many times. The different colors of their fur make it enjoyable and challenging. I mix colored pencil and watercolor to get the colors to stand out.

Part of why I am drawn to them is because I want to help save these species from extinction. I donate a portion of the profits of my animal drawing series to the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF works to protect habitats and animal species as well as fights the effects of climate change. This non-profit organization is one I am proud to support.

If you would like more information or would like to donate to the WWF, please visit their website. There’s hardly a better way to celebrate Earth Day. It’s April 22nd in case you don’t have a calendar handy.

Feel free to visit my Etsy page if you would like to know more about my animal drawings.

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The Winter Blues

As the snow storm passes overhead and a cool breeze comes in through my open window, I find myself researching this year’s Earth Day drawing. The tradition of doing the drawing started several years ago. It usually takes me a few weeks so I start it at the beginning of April. What better way to get inspired than to edit the flower photos I took over the weekend.

cymbidium orchid

Here in Minneapolis, Bachman’s would put up an immersive spring flower show on the seventh floor of Macy’s downtown. When Macy’s closed last winter the show needed a new home. Fortunately, The Galleria shopping center in Edina stepped in and accepted the challenge.

Calla Lily

It may not be the same as the floor to ceiling show that Macy’s would have, but the hallways in the Galleria smelled wonderful and the flora brought a lightness to my soul. I had battled a Saturday morning snowstorm to get there which made the Ranunculus smell even sweeter.

Ranunculus

To my surprise, there were light purple chrysanthemums (my favorite fall flower). They called my name even before I found them.

Chrysanthemum

Blue Hydrangea’s mimicked the shadows of the snow outside, but their scent provided much-needed warmth. Or maybe it was the caramel macchiato I was drinking. Either way, I was thrilled that for the moment it felt like spring.

Hydrangea

Now that I have my inspiration I think it’s time to start sketching. Earth Day drawing – and GO!

If you would like prints of my photos, a few of them are available on my Etsy page.

Luck o’ the Irish Horror

Staying in this St. Patrick’s Day? You’re not alone. I usually stay in on March 17th as well. The drunken crowds are too much for my introverted side to deal with. Today, however, I went to a local Minneapolis brewery with a friend. We had long discussions about many subjects, and horror movies were among them. Now that I am safely back home and tipsy on Utepils dry Irish stout, I find myself at the beginning of a night of Irish horror movies. Here are a few of my favorites.

Isolation (2005)
This gem starring Essie Davis (The Babadook) and John Lynch (The Fall) is easily in my top 10 all-time favorite horror movies. A struggling Irish farmer allows a local veterinarian to experiment on his cows for extra money. What could possibly go wrong, right? Well acted and great atmosphere. Worth seeing for any horror fan.

Grabbers
A small Irish island community is invaded by sea-dwelling aliens. The townspeople soon discover that the aliens can’t take high alcohol levels, so why not spend the night getting drunk? If you like horror comedies, this one is for you.

Dementia 13 (1963)
A greedy widow wants to get her hands on her dead husband’s inheritance. Little does she know that there is an ax murderer on their estate. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola who later won an Academy Award for The Godfather. It’s b-movie black and white horror at it’s finest. They don’t make them like this anymore.

The Hallow
In the Irish countryside, things are never as they seem. A family who recently moved there discovers this quickly when creatures from the woods start attacking them. Like you didn’t see that coming. This one is currently streaming on Netflix. wink wink.

Wake Wood
When a couple tragically loses their child, they relocate to a small Irish town. They soon find that this town has a Pagan ritual that can bring the dead back to life for three days. Convenient for the couple…. and for the plot of a horror movie. A must see for an Irish horror marathon.

If you are really looking for bad St. Paddy’s Day horror but don’t want to stick to the Irish horror movies, you could always watch “Leprechaun”. Jennifer Aniston’s early work is badly written and cheesy but is a good movie to have on in the background of your giddy drunkenness with your friends. Have fun!

Handmade Easter Ornaments

I had some extra Sculpey lying around that was slowly hardening into an unusable pile of clay. Not wanting to waste some perfectly good art supplies, I decided to make some Easter ornaments. Here’s how I made them:

Creative Process 2

I use a Pampered Chef silicone mat as a clean flat surface when working with Sculpey (a clay that when baked becomes hard ceramic). To get uniform shapes for the ornaments I use cookie cutters. I’m not much of a baker but the baking supplies come in handy. Sculpey also sells a plastic roller for flattening out the Sculpey.

Creative process 4

After flattening the clay to 1/4 of an inch thickness, I use the cookie cutters to cut out the shapes. I found some easter egg, chick, and bunny shaped cookie cutters on Amazon that are small and also have detail stamps to put details into the clay (or cookie if you are baking). For this, I didn’t want the stamp details because I wanted to hand paint the designs on so I just use the cookie cutter for the shape.

creative process 5

Six sounded like a good round number. Once I had six egg shapes, I moved on to the chick and the bunny. I used a pointed clay tool to get the holes into the clay for the hanging ribbon to fit into once we are ready to hang them. Baking Sculpey is simple. Set your oven to 275 and back for 15 minutes per 1/4 inch thickness. A regular cookie sheet works well.

creative process 6

Once the ornaments are baked and cooled I can begin painting them. Target sells cheap acrylic paint that works well with Sculpey in their school supplies. I chose pastel pink, purple, blue, salmon, yellow, and green for my paint colors.  When I painted the details, I used white paint and a detailing paint brush. Sculpey also makes a satin glaze that will make your ornaments nice and shiny. No baking needed for the glaze. It dries in about an hour.

easter bunny ornaments

When I made Halloween ornaments a while back, I had bought some green ribbon at JoAnn Fabrics. I used what was left for the Easter ornaments. If you have trouble getting the ribbon through the hanging holes, use a needle to feed it through. I cut 10-inch strips of ribbon, but I didn’t tie them in a bow. If you want a full bow, 12 – 14 inches is a better length. To keep the ribbon from fraying at the ends that you cut, use a lighter to burn the ends.

DSC_0728

When you are done you will have six eggs, six bunnies, and six chicks.  They look good hanging in a window (use suction cup hooks and paint the design on both sides so they can be enjoyed inside and out) or on an Easter tree if you have one.

Supplies:
Pamper Chef Silicone Baking Mat:  Amazon.com $34
Sculpey Polymer Clay:  JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, or Dick Blick $8
Sculpey Roller Pin:  JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, or Dick Blick $8
Sculpey Satin Glaze:  JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, or Dick Blick $5
Assorted Paint Brushes:  JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, or Dick Blick
Acrylic Paint, Assorted Colors:  Target $1.99 per bottle
AKOAK Cookie Cutters:  Amazon.com $6

If you are feeling lazy or you aren’t creatively inclined, you can buy the ornaments I made on my Etsy page.

The Rhinoceros

They look like ancient beasts. Something that could have lived with dinosaurs. With wrinkled hides and horns, the rhinoceros has always been a fascinating animal to me, which is why the news that the last living male northern black rhinoceros falling ill this week strikes such a chord. If he dies, any hope of saving his subspecies of rhino dies with him. A sad day indeed.

In case you didn’t know, there are five subspecies of rhinoceros. Both the black and white rhino live in Africa and have been hunted within an inch of extinction. The Sumatran, Javan, and Indian rhinos live in the jungles of Asia. Their status is less critically threatened but they are still vulnerable due to habitat loss.

The word rhinoceros literally means “nose horn” for obvious reasons. Javan and Indian rhinos have one horn whereas their rhinoceros cousins have two. I think they just like standing out from the crowd because diversity is awesome.

Rhino mom and child

These horned beasts are herbivores and are more gentle giants than beasts, although they will charge at anything that spooks them. They prefer to feed at dawn, dusk, and during the cooler hours of the night.  Rhinos, like myself, are solitary creatures. Occasionally they live in groups, especially the white rhinoceros. A group of rhinos is called a CRASH (my second favorite group name right after a murder of crows).

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 500,000 rhinos on earth. Today there are less than 29,000. The black rhinoceros will most likely be extinct in our lifetime. If this saddens you as much as it does me and you would like to help the rhino survive, please visit the World Wildlife Fund’s website. The WWF works around the world to protect animal species and habitats and helps fight the effects of climate change.

Since the rhinoceros has been such a big inspiration to my artwork, I donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of my artwork to the WWF. If you would like to know more please visit my Etsy page.

From the Shadows

The sun rose this morning with a smile on its face. It mocked my decaffeinated mind as if to say “its almost March and you still haven’t accomplished any of your goals this year.” Too much guilt for me to be thinking of at seven in the morning. That was when coffee entered the equation.

snow collage

Winter usually doesn’t affect me until mid-February but in a strange twist of events, I was done dealing with the blustery cold in mid-December. My photography and drawing art projects had come to a halt. On 2017’s shortest, darkest day, I found myself void of creative thought. The 21st of December leached me of all creative intuition. That day I realized that something drastic needed to be done. I had to fix the creative side of my brain. Winter, with all of its hard shadows, had broken it.

Poinsettia collage

I made a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish in 2018. It had 22 items on it. Some were small deals, like wanting to finish 52 original drawings. One a week for the year doesn’t seem like too much work, right? In December that seemed doable. In almost March, with no drawings completed fully, it seems an insurmountable task. Plans for three different drawing series are knocking around inside my head, including a unicorn drawing series where I will refuse to use the color pink because I like to make things difficult.

Also on the list is finishing a movie script that I started writing in college. I can finally say after over fifteen years that it is complete. Slaving over it this month allowed me to exorcize some demons from last year that I didn’t realize existed. With the script done and on its way to getting judged in a film festival, the creative side of me has finally reawakened, and two of my 2018 goals were finally complete.

orchid collage

I found the energy within my introverted self to brave the Super Bowl crowds that had invaded my city to visit the Winter Carnival Orchid Show. There were cattleya orchids everywhere and I could feel the inspiration coming. They whispered sweet encouragement in my ears even after I had retreated into the quiet of my art studio. Spring will be here soon, those orchids promised.  Soon. March is only a couple days away. The shadows are lifting.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Elizabeth Taylor, who would have been 86 today: “You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot before the other, and god damn it, you refuse to let it get you.”

Prints of my photos are available on my Etsy page: Becky Tyler Art and Photography

Ten Years Later…

Many years ago in the year 2007, before Barack Obama was president and social media was a college dorm room pipe dream, I was living a half-life. I wasn’t aware of it at the time. My weight was 215 pounds, 30 pounds heavier than I had been in college only five years before. I would hang with friends, occasionally unsuccessfully dated, and had no idea how I was going to use that $90,000 private school art degree.

kakadu

Then, on a blustery Monday that happened to fall after Thanksgiving, a rusty green minivan was under the control of a cell phone user who was too busy texting to see little old me crossing the street. In the five seconds that I was aware of the impending doom, everything that I hadn’t done with my life was suddenly urgently important. Those five seconds felt like an hour as the green beast rolled into the crosswalk. It hit my hip and left a livid bruise that went to the bone. I tore several muscles in my right leg that left me with a severe limp for almost a year. Because I view myself as Wonder Woman, I put out my hand as if that would stop the minivan from hitting me and my shoulder still twinges when I lift something too heavy. In five seconds my life was flipped upside down and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wasn’t aware of that at the time either.

DSC_0218

In the years that followed, I got my weight down to 150, opened an Etsy page that keeps my art degree diploma happy, and have traveled the world. I’ve completed 14 of my top 15 bucket list items, although seeing a Packer game at Lambeau Field still needs to be done. My body feels fit, with my right hip giving me the occasional reminder of how quickly things can change. That pain keeps me honest. It appears just when I find myself getting lazy or complacent. Even Wonder Woman has her bad days.

bellagio

Ten years ago my life really started. Once, while traveling southern Australia, I was chased by an emu. I laughed while I ran for my life while also hoping that the six-foot-tall bird didn’t peck me to death. The Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas almost had me as a clumsy fully clothed swimmer. Twice. I wore a sombrero while enjoying margaritas and fajitas on my thirty-seventh birthday and I enjoyed every minute of it. I discovered a couple years ago that Arches National Park should really be named Big Giant Cock National Park. This year I tried cannoli for the first time. Why did no one tell me it was so delicious?

arches

I could write you some clichés about living life to its fullest and life is short but I won’t. I will, however, tell you that if you have the opportunity to take a plane ride over Kakadu National Park in northern Australia you should without hesitation. If your brother asks you to be in his wedding and wear a bridesmaid dress even though you would rather wear combat boots and yoga pants, you should wear that dress with Wonder Woman type strength and class. When the day comes that you might fail, you shouldn’t fear it. You are stronger than you know.

The Source of My Crazy

When I was in high school I was a socially awkward, chubby, volleyball playing artist in a new school where I knew very few people.  During my sophomore year, I entered the art room second period thinking that I was going to spend the rest of my life being a veterinarian or zoologist. Then I met Mrs. Prince.  She was a kind hearted educator with a love for gardening and art history.  This past week she passed away after battling a long illness.  It’s only now that I realize how much she affected my life.

Over three years in that large third-floor art room, Ruth Prince and I became friends.  When we were alone, we were on a first name basis and laughed daily. She suggested what classes I should be taking, not only the drawing class that she thought I would do well in, but also the sculpture and painting classes that I wasn’t as comfortable in.  She pushed me to get better.  Because of her, I know about negative space and that some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings were….. not flowers.

Gardening was more than just a hobby for her.  Her garden was famous in Western Michigan, and people came from miles around to see it.  I looked forward to spring every year because I knew she would bring in flowers from this garden for us to draw and paint. She would take us on a field trip in the spring to see this amazing garden. My love of botany and flowers started in that garden, and in the art room while drawing gardenias and listening to Enya.

During my senior year, when I spent three of my seven class hours in the art room, she gave me pamphlets for Minneapolis College of Art and Design.  I instantly fell in love with the concept of going to art school.  She supported me wholeheartedly even though my parents (a CFO for a law firm and a postman) were not on board.  They didn’t understand how someone could make a living as an artist.  It was a foreign concept to my parents, to say the least.  Ruth Prince persisted though in her quiet way.  MCAD was the only college I applied to and I got in.  I received my acceptance letter the day that Titanic opened in theatres, and I showed the letter off to my girlfriends over popcorn and Leonardo Dicaprio.

For her departing seniors, Mrs. Prince always bought an art poster of their choosing.  I chose Van Gogh’s Starry Night.  It still hangs framed in my living room, a constant reminder of who sent me along the less traveled path.  I’ve struggled through at times but knew that I had made the right decision. Ruth’s guidance was on point and true.  Because of her, I live the awesome, artistic, adventurous life that I do.  She accepted my chaotic personality and taught me to be proud of who I was. I hope that her soul has found a beautiful garden to rest in and though she and I lost contact in recent years, I also hope that she knows the positive influence she had on my life.

Thank you, Ruth Prince, for believing in my talent and showing me how to follow my dreams.  I am forever grateful for your kindness, your knowledge, and your acceptence.  Rest in Peace.

Sleep is for Toddlers.

Four states in four days. That was the plan for my annual adventure. It was shorter than usual by a few days so I had to cram as much as possible into a short amount of time. Sleep was never part of the equation.

I arrived in Las Vegas late, well after midnight, and all the regular hotel rooms at Treasure Island were taken. That left me with an upgraded corner room with a panoramic view of the strip. Awesome, right? Mostly, except during your two hours of allotted sleep are interrupted by the Treasure Island hotel’s large plasma screen sign changing advertisements every thirty seconds. No black out curtains will keep that out.  My love/hate relationship with Las Vegas started then.

If you have ever been to Las Vegas, then you know that the quietest time of day is between four and eleven in the morning. The strip is quiet, except for the occasional runner and the last few drunk stragglers in stilettos. After I procured a $7 soy chai latte (yes, $7), I began my walk toward the Bellagio. The conservatory is my favorite location on the strip and I couldn’t wait to view their Japanese-themed spring flower show. It didn’t disappoint. Fremont Street, on the other sunburnt hand, left me feeling like old Vegas should offer more than streetside lap dances and bad cover bands playing the same tired rock songs.

vegas

After a couple hours of sleep, I awoke the next morning ready for a trip over to California in a pink jeep.  Death Valley National Park was residing at number seven on my bucket list. I was so giddy that I didn’t mind handing over $7 for another soy chai latte. By eleven, it was 102 degrees. Walking on the salt flats should have worked up a sweat, but it evaporated quickly so I hardly noticed. What really struck me, though, was Artist’s Palette. There, the minerals in the soil and rock turn the landscape green, purple, yellow, and red. Truly a sight to behold.

death valley

The following day, which happened to be my birthday, lead me to Antelope Canyon in Arizona. It was a long ride at over four hours one way, but the route took us through Utah so I didn’t mind. We drove by Zion National Park and it brought back memories from a previous Utah adventure.  With Antelope Canyon being such a narrow slot canyon, the sun needs to be right overhead for good lighting. At noon, the sun shone through cracks and crevices in the rock and warmed my spirits. It made rising from my beauty sleep at four that morning worth it. Suddenly the long drive in an aging tour bus that smelled slightly of dirty feet and onions was forgotten.  The sun cutting through shadow warmed my soul.

antelope canyon

One last full day in the desert and I had to make it count. I woke early once again took a tour with Pink Jeep Tours (they also took me to Death Valley). The group tours are small and the tour guides fun and knowledgeable.  The south rim of the Grand Canyon would be our destination, me and a family of four from New Zealand. After the long drive, it felt good to take a short hike down Bright Angel Trail and stretch the legs a bit.  The scent of ponderosa pine trees and sage kept my mind at ease while I put my camera aside and took in the sights. Here, where I was hoping to see a rattlesnake, I ended up seeing a dozen elk instead. I couldn’t have asked for a better last day in the desert.

grand canyon.jpg

Back in Las Vegas, I packed up my possessions which never seem to fit back in the suitcase even though I had room to spare when I left home. When I landed in Minneapolis the next day, I was thrilled that I no longer had to pay $7 for a soy chai latte but could have done without the forty degree temperature difference. Maybe it will be warm when the fourth of July arrives. Maybe. Until then, the desert warmth calls to me while I dream.

In the End, They Always Find Me

Normally I plan my projects well in advance. As I draw one subject, the back of my mind is already hunting for the next.  My brain is always on the prowl. Forever searching for inspiration in any place it can find it. My hands greedily take it and draw, knowing where I would like a drawing to go.

Snow Leopards

Like the food snow leopards search for in a stark mountain landscape, inspiration is often elusive.  It is blown off course by the wind of a strong storm. Whiteout conditions blind your vision.  All you can see is a polar bear in a snowstorm because life steps in and hurls an obstacle into your path.

 

Black Phillip GoatDark, inspirationless days turn into sleepless nights. Drawings that want nothing more than to be realized haunt your dreams relentlessly.  One dream, in particular, left the inside of my skull hurting as a temperamental black goat tried to poison my mind.

In the end, it seemed all he wanted was to be put on paper. Colored pencil layered over watercolor on a dark sheet of paper was all it took to banish him from my mind, him and that not so innocent smile he wears.

 

ViperIn depths of winter, I find myself thinking of warmer climates. The desert often comes to mind but the occasional foray into the jungle is equally tempting. I am reminded of many hikes through such places without a single encounter with a snake.  Warnings about the dangers of those that slither met my ears, but I’ve never come across one on an adventure.  Maybe next time.

 

Earth Day 2017This winter, an unusually mild one, also brought thoughts of those in the arctic.  The large herd of Canadian caribou, whose numbers are on a slow decline, have stayed with me throughout the spring.  I worry about them, as I do all the animals I draw.  One caribou (and a hummingbird) became the centerpiece of the 2017 Earth Day drawing.

Even as I write this I know many are so tired of politics that hearing about Earth Day in our current political environment makes eyes roll.  I do understand. I’m tired of it all too.  That won’t stop me from trying to save our planet in what might already be a losing battle.  I donate part of the proceeds of my animal drawing series to the World Wildlife Fund.  The WWF works to fight the effects of climate change, protects endangered species, and works to keep less vulnerable animals from the same fate. If you would like to know more about the drawings I donate, visit my Etsy page.  If you would like to read more about the WWF or donate to them directly, please visit their website.