Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bellevue Botanical Garden

It's been a rather wet and dreary spring here in the Northwest.  Still, a few days of brilliant sunshine have been scattered here and there, and one of them fell on Mother's Day.  Being that it was a Sunday, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to visit the Bellevue Botanical Garden, as making that drive on a weekday morning would be a traffic nightmare.   I left the house around 6:45 a.m., giddy with the excitement of an early morning photo shoot, and I was in the garden shooting by 7:15.  The sun was just coming up, the dew was still heavy on the ground, and there was nary a soul around.  It was amazing!

The garden itself was quite impressive--especially considering that admission is free and the gates are open from dawn to dusk (very important for getting the right light!).  I didn't quite see the whole place, partly because I ran out of time (I only wanted to shoot with the early morning light) and partly because I ran out of room on my camera's memory card.  I had extra cards with me, but it turns out that the D50 only reads cards that are 2G or less.  My extra cards were 4G and thus completely useless to me.  I was disappointed, to say the least, but I still managed to take 450 shots, so I really can't complain.  Besides, now I have an excuse to get back to the Botanical Garden later this summer!

I borrowed my dad's 105 mm lens for this outing and opted to shoot exclusively with that.  I wanted to compare my experience with the 18-200 mm lens and figure out which lens would be optimal for my close-up photography.  Now that I've shot with the 105 mm, I'm pretty much hooked.  I really enjoy using the manual focus on this lens, as it allows me to be more creative in my focus points and I can easily experiment with different ones until I find what I like best for each picture.  It is also a faster lens (2.8), which gives me far more options with lighting and depth of field.  Let's just say I'm saving my pennies for a new lens.

Choosing favorites from this batch feels like an impossible task.  I did enjoy playing around with the aperture a bit, opening it up to an F-stop of 4.0 and, consequently, narrowing down the depth of field to just the petal edges.  Here are a few of those:

I also love this next picture because the green stems in the background seem to glow and give this photo a very abstract feel.  I think it would look great hanging on the wall as an art piece.

This is another one that stands out to me--and it happens to be the 'plant of the month' at the Bellevue Botanical Garden:
It's the Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Gold Rush,' or Dawn Redwood.  One of only a few deciduous conifers, it is a beautiful addition to any garden--and it photographs well, so what more could you ask for?

I can't settle on an overall favorite from this collection--I had a hard enough time just narrowing it down to 75 photos!  You'll have to help me out and tell me which one you would choose.  The slideshow is embedded below, or you can see them larger by going HERE to my Shutterfly site and choosing the 'slideshow' option from the right sidebar.

Here's to hoping there are many more sunny days ahead!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

LA County Arboretum

While I was in California last month, my friend Laura was kind enough to take me to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.  I had originally planned to spend a whole day at the Arboretum while my friend was working.  Unfortunately, when we looked ahead at the forecast we discovered it was supposed to be cloudy and rainy on that particular day, so we decided to go earlier in the week while the weather was still beautiful.  I'm glad we did--it ended up pouring down rain the entire day I would have been at the Arboretum.  Nothing like a little taste of home, right?

We wore ourselves out in just a couple of hours at the Arboretum and managed to see about a third of the 127 acres.  Here is a map of the grounds:

We spent most of our time in the areas surrounding Baldwin Lake, Tule Pond, and the section marked "Asia" on the map.  There was so much to see!  And so many things I missed!  I guess I'll just have to make another trip to California before too long so I can see everything I missed this time around.  I'm only half kidding.

I thoroughly enjoyed getting a taste of the California climate, so very different from ours here in the Northwest.  Lots of palm trees, of course, as well as a myriad of tropical plants I couldn't identify because, well, I've never been to a tropical place before!  It was all quite new and exciting for me and definitely one of the highlights from my vacation.

It's hard for me to pick favorites from this photo set, but here are a few that stand out:

This is what I call "happiness."  Blue skies, abundant sunshine, and branches bursting with blooms.  One of the few things I remember the name for, this is the Chinese Fringtree (Chionanthus retusus).  Isn't it glorious?

When I first looked at these columbine pictures, it seemed to me that their shapes and the angles of the photos made the blooms look as if they were dancing.  And that thought made me smile.  Because flowers do dance, if you will only stop to watch them.

I think I love this picture because there are no flowers.  Yes, I love flowers; that's a well-known fact.  But I also love to find beauty in places where people forget to look, in the ordinary, in the quieter things.  This branch caught my attention immediately but I only took one picture of it because I didn't think the camera was capturing it well.  I was wrong.  I'm glad I listened to my instinct and took that photo.  Perhaps next time I'll trust myself and take more of them.

This, I've decided, is my favorite photo from the set.  Everything about it seems "just right," but what I appreciate most is the sense of mystery and quiet beauty.  The flower itself is rather loud in color, but it is small, hidden amongst leaves, weaving in and out of the light.  You will miss it if you don't look carefully.  And that, I think, can be said about many things in life.  So look carefully, my friends.  You don't want to miss the beauty.

You can view the rest of my pictures in the slide show embedded below (again, if you're using a feed reader you'll need to come directly to the blog to see the slide show) or you can go straight to my Shutterfly site here and then select the slide show option from the right sidebar.  Enjoy!

(All pictures from this set were taken with the Nikon D50 and the 18-200 mm VR lens)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Head in the Clouds

When I traveled to California last month, it was only my second time flying.  I was fortunate enough to have a window seat both directions and the views were amazing!  In spite of all the headaches involved in packing for air travel (not to mention the near strip-search to get through security), I have officially decided that I love flying.  I suppose if I were to ride in a plane often enough, it would eventually get old--but that isn't likely to happen in my lifetime!

Here are my favorite views from the trip, all taken with my "pocket camera," the Cannon PowerShot SD990 IS (click on any picture to see it larger):

Can't wait for my next flight, whenever that happens to be!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Too Late for Tulips?

It's been a month since Dad and I visited the Skagit Valley to photograph tulips at RoozenGaarde Gardens.  Tulip season is now long gone.  Still, I promised you more pictures and finally I am making good on my word.  You can view the slideshow embedded below (if you're using a feed reader, you'll probably need to click over to my blog to see the slideshow) or you can view the pictures much larger by clicking here to visit my Shutterfly site and then select the slideshow option from the right sidebar.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Spring Is Now: A Collage

My friend Amanda celebrated her birthday this month and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to continue working on my collage skills. While my previous collages (Love At First Sail and Heritage of Hope) turned out well enough, they had an almost scrapbook-type feel to them. Not being a scrapbook kind of girl, those pieces didn't seem to reflect the real "me" as an artist.

This time around, I decided to do a few things differently. Instead of relying heavily on photographs, I wanted the piece to be primarily an acrylic painting with words and phrases incorporated into it. I also opted to go back to my original idea of using words cut out from magazines rather than selecting from the vast array of scrapbooking words I acquired for my previous collages—the former being a little more raw and random than the latter.

Now I just had to figure out what this collage was going to be about. I wanted the theme to be meaningful to Amanda, so I considered things such as motherhood, writing, art in general, doubt versus faith, etc. But none of these struck me as being the right one. So I laid out all the words I had cut out for my still-unfinished Growing Is Beautiful collage, hoping something would jump out at me. It didn't take long for words such as "seeds," "bloom," "scented," and "fresh" to catch my eye, and I quickly settled on the theme of "Spring" for my collage. Amanda's birthday falls in the midst of spring, she is an aspiring gardener, and the metaphors of spring apply beautifully to all the other topics I had considered—what could be more perfect?

With this in mind, I continued selecting words and joining them into short, interesting phrases. Once satisfied with the amount, I had to make them acid free so they would not deteriorate in the painting. This I accomplished by gluing the words onto a piece of cardstock, scanning the cardstock into my computer, and then ordering a full-size (8 x 10) photograph of the scanned image. This worked remarkably well, maintaining good color and print quality.

Next I moved on to color selection. I wanted colors that were bright but still clear and cool, reflecting not just the actual colors we see in spring but also the light and temperature of the season. Here are the practice swatches I painted:
The one on the right was done first, and although I liked it, there wasn't enough diversity or coolness. Thus I painted the second, on the left, adding in the bright blue and swapping one of the murky pinks with the clearer and sharper magenta. This combo seemed about right to me.

After all this prep work, the actual creation of the collage took about 2 hours. Even with the use of a gel medium to extend the paint's drying time, I had to work quickly in order to blend the colors together a little and then apply the words while the paint was still wet. (I used the same PVC/methylcellulose mixture for an adhesive as I used in my previous collages.) All things considered, the process went quite smoothly.

Here are close-up pictures of some of the phrases in my finished collage:

And here is the entire finished piece (click to enlarge):

You might notice that the final painting includes red, a color not on either of my practice swatches. This was a last-minute addition because something just seemed "not right" when I was painting the chosen color palette. Indeed, adding the red finished off the piece wonderfully and I am glad I included it.

I love the final product. In fact, now that I've given it away, I find myself missing it. This is a good thing, I think. And considering that Amanda and I are good friends, I only need to get myself invited to her house if I want to see it again!

PS—I'd love to hear thoughts on whether you like this representation of Spring or what you would do differently for your own take on this beautiful season.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lessons In Poetry

I'm going to point out the obvious here and say that I haven't been blogging much of late. Okay, okay. I haven't been blogging at all lately. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but certainly the primary culprit has been the devotion of my writing energies to something else.

Against my better judgment, I decided to ignore my fear of failure and participate in the April Poem-A-Day Challenge with Robert Lee Brewer over at Poetic Asides. For the past two years, I've watched in amazement as my good friend Amanda Caldwell has powered through the month of April and come away with 30 new poems, all the while thinking how I could never ever do such a thing.

You see, I don't like pressure. In fact, it kind of makes me crazy. And the idea of writing poetry under pressure is, well, not my idea of a good time. At all.

But then again, I did make a resolution to write more poetry this year, didn't I? In keeping with that goal, I decided I would write down all the daily poetry prompts during the PAD Challenge and then try to write one poem a week for the rest of the year. That amount of pressure seemed reasonable to me. And you should know by now that I am a very reasonable person.

Of course, you should also know by now that I am frequently undone by my own reasoning.

Things started off well enough. On the morning of April 1, I wrote prompt #1 down in my journal and proceeded to go back to work. This is going to be great, I thought. But within the hour, something started happening. Words and phrases pertaining to the poetry prompt kept coming to mind and before I knew it, I'd written a poem.

Wait, what?

Yes, that's right. The girl who could never ever write poetry under pressure did exactly that—and of her own free will. Amazing, isn't it? Well, I think so.

It was an intense month, to say the least, but I am pleased to tell you that I wrote 37 poems during the 30 days of April. I haven't quite gotten over the shock of it. And I don't expect to anytime soon.

I've learned a lot in this process, namely that I need to stop counting myself out before I even begin. I have a hard habit of underestimating my strength, exaggerating my inability, and convincing myself of all the things I can't do. It's true—there are a lot of things I can't do. Whistling, for instance, is completely and inexplicably beyond my abilities. And cutting in a straight line—well, actually, doing anything in a straight line.

But apparently there are a lot of things I can do. Like writing under pressure. Like writing based on someone else's choice of topic and still making it personal and meaningful. Like writing 5 years' worth of poetry in a single month.

I won't say this was easy. It wasn't. Especially when I spent 20% of the month out of state on a trip. Especially when my newly bankrupt employer was sold at auction to the highest bidder. Especially when my doctor told me, yet again, that we've hit a wall and it's time for more tests, more doctors, more hard decisions.

Yes, it was a crazy month in more ways than one. But it was also pretty incredible.

I will spare you the agony of having to read all 37 poems—partly because they are not all edited yet and partly because I don't want all my non-poetry readers to completely abandon my blog. But don't worry. For all my poetry-loving readers, I will be sharing a few here and there in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, there is so much to blog about—photos, art projects, and life in general! I can make no promises as to how quickly I shall catch up with all these things, but I will do my best to at least keep you informed of the important happenings.

Ahhh…it's good to be back.