Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Gross...

...beak. 


The rose-breasted grosbeak looks like a pinwheel when it flies. The black, white and red combination is so striking.



This one is enjoying some suet. That's not their usual preference, but it's great energy for migration flights. 



My brother is lucky enough to get these birds nesting in his area. In my yard, I just get them passing through (sometimes) in the spring and fall and usually for just a day or two.  I will occasionally see a glimpse of one in a tree when Baloo and I are out in the woods, though. 


This was taken earlier in the season - the dead giveaway is the evil cowbird in the background, looking for hapless songbirds to trick into raising her young by laying an egg in an established nest and tossing out one of the eggs already there.  The cowbird baby will push everybody else out of the nest as soon as it hatches, so it has no competition. Often, the foster parents are much smaller than the cowbird, so they're hard pressed to keep the little parasite fed. Can you tell I'm not a big fan? 



Monday, August 13, 2018

Plate-sized Pasties

I know - these are huge, but I just wanted to put so much stuff inside them. They've got potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, carrots, onions and venison inside. 


A little salt and pepper for seasoning and a salad (on another plate, of course, because there's no room on the pastie plate), and it's quite a feast. I only make these once or twice a year, but I love them every time (and the rest of my family doesn't seem to mind them, either)! Yum!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Oh, Sweet Canada!

That's what this little white-throated sparrow sings so enthusiastically. The song sounds like, "Oh, sweet Canada, Canada, Canada". 


I think he's a terribly handsome fellow, with the yellow patches in front of his eyes and the bold white stripes, not to mention the bright white throat patch.


These birds pass through in the spring and fall, and if I'm lucky, a few of them will decide to stick around and build a nest in the summer or spend the winter enjoying the chicken scratch I throw under the feeders. 


They're welcome whenever they decide to stop by, though. 


Thursday, August 9, 2018

Wile E. Coyote

This set of photos is actually from a couple months ago and I hadn't gotten them sorted and posted yet.  As a result, we're jumping in the time capsule and traveling back to earlier in the season, since I thought these were worth sharing. 


I had a coyote come within about 20 feet of me as it zig-zagged back and forth across the field looking for something to eat. 



It looked straight at me, and I thought I might get busted. My camera isn't perfectly silent, so the breeze must have been in my favor both for sound and scent detection. 



It never discovered that I was there (or didn't care!). Baloo wasn't with me that morning, or there would have been a ruckus. He isn't fond of coyotes and always lets them know it when he sees them or hears them howling. 


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sitting in the Catbird Seat

I have always heard the saying, "sitting in the catbird seat",  referring to someone who was "sitting pretty". Since I belong to the ranks of the terminally curious, I had to look up the origin of the phrase. 


From what I could discover, the saying has its origins in the American South. Apparently, since the catbird likes to sit high in the tree canopy, the catbird seat is a lofty and coveted position. It's fitting for this talented bird. 


Not only does the catbird sing its own song (resembling the meow of a cat, hence its name), but it's a very gifted mimic, belonging to the family of mimic thrushes, along with the brown thrasher and the mockingbird. So, it's a copy cat, too. 


It has another little secret, which you can only see if you manage to get a good look under its tail feathers (sadly, I couldn't get that angle in any of these pictures, so you'll have to imagine this). The catbird has a distinctive red rump. Very striking in an otherwise conservatively dressed gray bird.

If you sing "meow" to a catbird, you can often entice it closer to have a look at the odd wingless bird that seems to be trying to invade its territory. I've always liked these birds - they captured my imagination when I was a youngster. 

You never know, this rascal may have to end up in a carving just as that nuthatch did. (Grin.)







Saturday, August 4, 2018

Tansy vs Tan-Z

Yes, indeed. 

There's tansy the flower and there's Tan-Z, the brand new carving material at Stampeaz.com. 



This is the flower. Tansy is frequently used as a natural insect repellent (ants don't care for it, from what I understand) and it's also a natural dye plant used in coloring textiles. It has had a number of medicinal uses in the past, but there are far more safe and effective remedies for the ailments it used to treat, so I won't enumerate them here.


This, on the other hand, is a garage full of Tan-Z. Complete with a very attentive watchdog supervising the unloading process as the skids come off the truck and line up in the garage. 

I have unwrapped one of the skids and the material looks exactly as it should. It's been cut and stacked just as I asked and now the fun begins. I get to haul a sheet to the basement for cutting every time I walk through the garage or head downstairs.  Baloo gets to continue in his official watchdog capacity as he observes the whole production, from hauling down the stairs and cutting to packaging and taking out for the mail carrier to collect. He already thinks I'm a little odd and this will reinforce his assessment. I make his meals, though, so he's tolerant of my many eccentricities. 

So, the new material is finally available. Check it out!  At this point, the pictures of the Tan-Z are terrible, but I had to take a the pictures last night so I could get them on the site today. I'll fix them in a day or so, when I've caught my breath a bit. 



Friday, August 3, 2018

The Quest Continues

If you've been hanging around long enough reading these ramblings about my wanderings, you may recall that last year I was trying to get a good picture of an indigo bunting that had a nest along a trail I frequently take with little Baloo. 


Well, this year, there seems to be a nest in the same area and I was treated to this fellow singing his territorial aria 


I managed to get a couple shots, though they still aren't very good. I had to use the maximum zoom function on the camera and they're a bit grainy, just like the redstart a few days ago. The quest will continue....



Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Beauty and Imperfection


As Baloo and I wander through the woods, we're seeing lots of butterflies (most of which won't stay still long enough for me to take a photo. It's interesting to me that even though the butterflies often have chunks of wing missing, they sail through the air without a hitch. Can you imagine us trying to navigate a plane with a piece missing from a wing? Yeah, I'd rather not, either. 


This is a cabbage white butterfly - a female cabbage white butterfly. I learned this morning that if it has one black spot on its forewing, it's a male and if it has two black spots on its forewing, it's female. 


This one has a bird beak sized bite taken out of its right  hindwing, but it still floated with grace and apparent ease.


This monarch had a big piece out of one wing as well. I had no idea until I downloaded the picture and took a good look at it. I watched it fly around for a long time while trying to get close enough to get a decent photo and its aerial acrobatics were lovely. 

So, even with their imperfections, I thought these were absolute beauties to watch and enjoy. How often this is true in life... 



Sunday, July 29, 2018

Morning Minstrelsy

I took Baloo out for a longer than usual walk on a cooler than usual morning and as we were coming down the big hill on the last leg of our journey we heard sort of a sweet trilling song from high in a tree just a little way off the road. 


I had to zero in on this tiny minstrel by waiting for another verse of his distinctive melody, but I finally spotted him. He's an American redstart. 


I apologize for the grainy pictures - I had to use every bit of zoom my little camera had to offer to get a decent and recognizable picture of this shy songster. 


Friday, July 27, 2018

Up a Tree

This little charmer was way too cute to keep to myself. 

There's a serviceberry tree growing in my yard, sort of in a sheltered corner near the house. It blooms beautifully every spring and the birds always enjoy the ripening fruit.


One morning I looked out the window and spied a chipmunk fairly high in the tree, packing serviceberries into its cheeks just as fast as it could go. Since chipmunks are usually much more comfortable on the ground, it was a surprising and delightful departure from the usual winged visitors to the banquet. 

It looks pretty sweet and innocent for such a little pig, don't you think? 

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Iris Really Busy!

I know - it's terribly corny. Forgive me, if you can. But the good news is that I survived the art fair again this year and now I have a few minutes to post something. 

A little while ago, Baloo and I took one of our favorite hot day walks in a wetlands conservation area and we enjoyed hearing frogs plopping and chipmunks chirping in alarm at the large, black dog and his person. 


We also saw some lovely wild iris growing right in the water and blooming amid the cattails and marsh grasses.  


They were very delicate, with long, thin petals that flared out at the ends. 


And they had  fine, purple veining in the flared part of the petals that I thought was a beautiful contrast with the pale lavender and yellow background. 



Saturday, June 23, 2018

In the Meantime...

I did say to stay tuned, didn't I?


If you're running out of carving material and feeling a little bit anxious about it, I may have a short term solution for you. I had not planned to sell the second, larger gray test sheet I was sent along with the tan one (most of which went out to my intrepid testers).  I thought it would be better to wait until the actual tan material arrived, since some people had trouble with the gray color and image contrast and some people had a little trouble with the thinness of the test material. 

That being said, I just sliced it up and am making it available. Since I'm feeling a bit nutty, I called it Crazy Gray-Z and I don't expect it will be around for long, as there isn't very much of it. But, it may rescue a few of you from carving withdrawal syndrome! I sliced it into two different sizes: 10 x 6 and 4 x 6. 




Wednesday, June 20, 2018

They Say Patience is a Virtue.




I don't have a picture that adequately portrays the level of frustration I'm feeling at the moment. Baloo's look of eye-rolling, you've-got-to-be-kidding disbelief comes as close as I could find.

Delays. 

It seems that the extrusion machine at the Tan-Z Kut factory broke down and all production ceased - they neglected to communicate this little difficulty to me, so I didn't learn of it until I called to find out what in the world had happened to the shipment I was anxiously awaiting. 

What this means is that the shiny, new, tan material we've all been anticipating so enthusiastically will not be arriving until sometime around the middle of July. 


Yes, I know. 

I've said that.... 

.....and that, too. 

So, in the meantime, I'm going to try and get a little bit creative for those of you who are running out of material to carve with. 

Stay tuned.

I'm really sorry about the delays to the previously scheduled programming!

Besides, I always thought that Patience was a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.
(Hmmmm.... maybe that's why Baloo is rolling his eyes.)

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Tan Material Sample Results Round #4


Unless the two extra folks I sent samples to (who weren't in the official Merry Band of Testers) send back information and/or images, I think this is the last sample post you'll be subjected to for a while. 

Once again, thanks to nosox, Wise Wanderer and Open Space for their very helpful suggestions with respect to questions to help all the testers in their analysis and evaluation of this new material. It created a perfect springboard for thinking about material qualities and getting similar pieces of information from a wide variety of carvers. 

Also, even if you aren't interested in the actual results of the sample test, the carves are definitely worth an admiring look. 

What, if anything, did you to do prep the block before transferring your image?

One treated one side with acetone and left the other untreated on one of her carves (noted in the scans), one lightly sanded her text carving and did not prep the other, one did a very helpful side-by-side comparison of how sanding or not sanding the material affected the transfer outcome. 

What type of transfer did you use?

There was a wide variety: heat, wintergreen oil, acetone/laser jet print, and wax paper.

Did it take a transfer well?
Is the transfer clear and high contrast, showing detail well?
Does the transfer stay on the material without smearing or sliding?

All transfer methods worked reasonably well to very well, except for the wintergreen oil transfer onto one of the blocks that was not sanded. 


Many thanks to BaliWho for doing a test of prep and transfer methods. From the left, sanded with heat transfer, not sanded with heat transfer, sanded with wintergreen transfer and not sanded with wintergreen transfer. It's pretty obvious that the sanding really helps the transfer process with this side-by-side comparison. 



What tool(s) did you use?

Staedtler #1 V - modified and unmodified gouges, x-acto knives, unmodified Speedball #1, #2, #3 and #5 cutters, and a pinched .25 Speedball #1 cutter. 


Using properly sharpened tools, does the cut path have clean edges?
Is the consistency of the block smooth or grainy?


Edges were clean and the material was smooth for all three testers. 
Many thanks to Baliwho for some very helpful side-by-side comparisons. She carved what she calls the "Vampire Zombie Clown Molly", even though the transfer was problematic for her, just to test the inking qualities after the carve (above and beyond the call!). Clearly, sanded worked way better. And, by the way, I loved the Euchre carving - I used to play that game with my family when I was a child. Lots of memories there. The largest carving in this group is Rachael Ray at about 1.5 x 2 inches. 


Does the gouge or knife slip during shallow cuts or when ending cuts?

One said she slipped a little using extra pressure on cleanup cuts and thought that it was a matter of adjusting to the fact that it doesn't take as much pressure as the material she's been using, one slipped a few times, but also felt it could be adjusted to, one had some trouble with slipping as she felt her tools got duller and she needed to use more pressure on her cuts.

Does the material release easily from the block as you finish each cut?

One had a few straggling pieces, but thought it was more her carving style than the material, one thought it released easily, one had a lot of trouble at the end of cuts, especially with her x-acto knife. 

How would you rate the level of pressure it takes to move the tool through the material? 


One said it was soft and easy to carve, requiring very little pressure to move the tool through the block, noting it was much easier on the hands when working on a large, detailed image or doing a lot of carves in a row. One thought that pressure was not an issue and that the material was firmer than Speedy Carve and about the same as OZ. One said it feels just as firm as OZ but takes far less pressure to carve. 

Many thanks to The V's who carved with Staedtler modified and unmodified #1 V gouges, an x-acto knife and Speedball unmodified #2 and #3 gouges and thought this material dulled her tools more rapidly than OZ or PZ Kut. (I think it's very cool her new signature is carved on this stuff!) The larger "Insomnia" image had acetone preparation on the left of the block. "Insomnia" is about 2.5 x 3.5 inches and the new signature carve is about 1.25 x 2 inches.

Rate the ability to make fine straight lines.


One said it was a "dream" compared to Speedy Carve and easy to shave along the second side of a line to get nice, thin detail. One said it was easy to get fine lines and details. One said "very good". 

Can you imagine this block at about .25 inches thick? If so, do you think it would be firm enough to hold fine details, or squishy such that stray background marks would show if the stamp were not mounted?


This group had no concern about the squish factor.

Did you try tools with different levels of sharpness and did it make a difference if you did? 

One said the material seemed to dull her tools and it became harder to carve as they lost their edge. One didn't try different levels of sharpness. One said her tools were at all different levels of sharpness and she noticed no difference. 


What type of ink(s) did you try?


All three of these testers tried lots of different inks. 

Many thanks to kudichan who tested the limits on fine lines and text with a modified Staedtler #1 V gouge, modified Speedball #1 and a pinched (.25) Speedball cutter. She thought the material was smooth and easy to carve and that ink transferred better if the image was thoroughly sanded before carving. The reclining woman is about 1.75 x 3 inches and the text carving is about 1 x 2.5 inches.  


Does the carving hold the ink smoothly and evenly?
Do large positive spaces hold and transfer ink well?

One was very pleased with inking results, saying that it was the best she'd experienced since PZ Kut, especially if the carving was cold - she even froze one of her images and it worked well with all inks except one that was frozen, itself. One said that inking went pretty well on both sanded and unsanded material, with dye ink being a little less evenly distributed and that sanding made more of a difference in image transfer than in inking and printing. One had some issues with printing partly due to the slight curvature of the sample block and she also thought that sanding really helped for good coverage. 

Other observations and comments: 

One noted that black StazOn ink didn't seem to dry as quickly on this material after printing. 

One said that the surface was smooth - like butter, but that it needed more pressure to carve deeply. She rated it as, "Just like OZ, without the pain", saying that she got quickly fatigued while carving OZ and didn't experience that at all with this new material. 

One held high hopes of this becoming her new and everlasting favorite material, but wondered a little about the drier consistency holding up in the wild. 

One really liked the material overall and would use it over Speedball pink, with some concern with respect to blade carving and the dulling of tools. 

Finally, I just really want to thank all the intrepid testers for the amazing work they did, the fast turnaround times and the willingness to answer any other questions I had about their experiences with this material. It's been great to get such excellent feedback and have so much helpful information to move this quest for the perfect carving medium a little further down the road. 

Well, okay, maybe not finally. I do have one more thing to say. I pulled the trigger today and ordered a great big pile of this stuff and will be spending the next few weeks reorganizing and cleaning out my garage. I've got to find someplace for all the pallets to land, once it gets here. Yikes!


Monday, April 2, 2018

Ice Islands

As the spring thaw continues along the shore, large, angular chunks of ice break off (this gives a pretty good idea of how those big blocks of ice get piled up on the shore - all we'd need now is a good wind and some waves). 


Currents pull these free-floating ice slabs out into the bay, where they float in long lines, like nomadic archipelagoes. 


Depending on the wind direction and water currents, groups of ice chunks can be on the east shore one day and on the west the next, once they're free from the main mass of ice. 


Along the way, ducks and seagulls take advantage of the moving islands as roosting and resting places.


In the center right of the picture above, you can see a gull taking off from the ice island. 


Here, on the far left of the picture, another is coming in for a landing on a different, and still well populated isle. 

So, the gulls are back, the ducks are migrating, I saw the first meadowlark in the field and the goldfinches are getting their patchy harlequin look. It may not feel much like spring has arrived to the human contingent, but nature's denizens know the changing of the seasons, in spite of what the thermometer says. Take heart! Warmth is on the way. 



Saturday, March 31, 2018

Tan Material Sample Results - Round #3


Are you ready? It's time for another round of sample results. As with every other batch of these I've compiled, I'm really impressed with the creativity, thoughtfulness, thoroughness and talent of the Merry Band of Testers. You guys are awesome! 

Once again, thanks to nosox, Wise Wanderer and Open Space for their very helpful suggestions with respect to questions to help all the testers in their analysis and evaluation of this new material (while helping everybody else to get an idea of what's going on behind the curtain, in the bargain).

And even if you aren't interested in reading through the answers I've compiled in all these posts, the tester carves are fabulous, so that's worth the price of admission right there!! So, with no further ado...

What, if anything, did you to do prep the block before transferring your image?

One sanded half the block, one sanded the whole block, one did an acetone wipe. 

What type of transfer did you use?

One parchment transfer, one pencil transfer, one acetone transfer.

Did it take a transfer well?
Is the transfer clear and high contrast, showing detail well?
Does the transfer stay on the material without smearing or sliding?

All transfer methods worked well, showing good detail and contrast. The pencil transfer stayed on pretty well but did smear after a while, though it could easily be traced over again. The carver who used parchment transfer said it smudged a little on the image that took her more than several hours to carve (the one with the pixie and text), but she did not use StazOn yellow ink to fix the transfer and usually does).


Many thanks to FORAYCH who carved the penny with his unsharpened Staedtler #1 reversed and the dime with a new, sharp Staedtler #1 reversed. Yes, he carved them actual size and the scanned image here doesn't really do them justice. He thought that with a little less elasticity, more crisp detail would be possible. 


What tool(s) did you use?

Old and new Staedtler #1 reversed, sharp and dull x-acto, Speedball modified #1, Speedball #5, Staedtler mini #1 and dissecting pin. 


Using properly sharpened tools, does the cut path have clean edges?
Is the consistency of the block smooth or grainy?


Edges were clean for two of these testers, and mostly clean for one who had to go back and clean up minor residual pieces with small details.


Does the gouge or knife slip during shallow cuts or when ending cuts?

Two had no slipping, one had a little slipping. 

Does the material release easily from the block as you finish each cut?
One said yes, even in corners. One said yes and thought it was much less elastic than OZ Kut. One said pretty well, though it was a little tougher with tiny details.

How would you rate the level of pressure it takes to move the tool through the material? 


One said good, that it was firm, but not as firm as OZ Kut and firmer than SQL. One described it as medium hard. One thought it was easy to move through the material.

Many thanks to Porras Posse who carved this delightful frog (a perfect springtime image!). She sanded the left side of the block and left the right side alone before doing a pencil transfer. Her prints show best coverage with StazOn, but not much difference between the sanded and unsanded sides of the block and the material was firm enough that she had no stray carve marks in her print. She used gouges only. 


Rate the ability to make fine straight lines.


This came in with one 'excellent', one 'very good' and one 'really well'. 

Can you imagine this block at about .25 inches thick? If so, do you think it would be firm enough to hold fine details, or squishy such that stray background marks would show if the stamp were not mounted?


This was not a concern for anyone. All thought it would hold fine details and not squish when printing, even unmounted.

Did you try tools with different levels of sharpness and did it make a difference if you did? 

One thought maybe a little more slipping with the sharper gouge. One said her sharp x-acto worked more smoothly than the less sharp tool and her duller #5 gouge didn't cut as well as a sharp gouge. One said that tiny pieces in small detail areas worked slightly better with a fresh, sharp reversed gouge.


Many thanks to dancing pecan who also tested the detail limits with her magical, fairyland carves. She found the transfer smudged a little after several hours with the book pixie, but noted she hadn't used her usual StazOn yellow ink as a fixative. She liked the material and found it gave her no hand or wrist fatigue. She used the widest range of tools, listing sharp and dull x-acto knives, a Speedball #5 gouge, miniaturized Staedtler #1 and a dissecting pin. Oh, and I know someone will want to know. The pixie with the book is about 2 x 2.75 inches and the mushroom faerie is about 2.5 x 2.25 inches.


What type of ink(s) did you try?


All three of these testers tried lots of different inks. 

Does the carving hold the ink smoothly and evenly?
Do large positive spaces hold and transfer ink well?


On the whole ink held and transferred pretty well, with one noticing some beading and the one who sanded only half the block didn't feel it made any difference in the final print. 


Other observations and comments: 

One noted that black StazOn ink didn't seem to dry as quickly on this material after printing. 

One said that with slightly less elasticity, both sides smooth (the back has a pebble grain to it) and more thickness it would be about perfect for his gouge carving. 

One said the lighter color was a big improvement, release was excellent and elasticity much less than OZ Kut. She also said she could go back and cut closer to a line to get finer detail and she had no problem with hand or wrist fatigue. She liked it 'a great deal'.


If it Looks Like a Duck...


Here are a few closeups of our cast of characters.


First up is a male redhead with a female goldeneye. 


Here's the male goldeneye. 


Two female and one male scaup. 


Another male redhead and a better look at the male scaup. 




And finally, I know this is another redhead, but look closely. I couldn't resist including the fellow that's just surfacing almost directly underneath his friend. See the red head and bill emerging from the water? 

You can tell I had fun watching the antics of these migrating visitors. Baloo and I went back again and I couldn't resist taking more pictures in a slightly different area just a couple days ago. I'll see if any of them come out well enough to share. You may have to put up with more duck pictures (not to mention the bad post titles).