Dabbling Ducks

Ducks! I have always loved ducks but, they provide such ease of id that I haven’t always focus on them. They are also overwhelming in numbers when you get to see them. The amount of ducks that migrate to the Bay Area and Sacramento Area is incredible. When you drive up to water and it is covered in ducks, you get a different feeling than looking at a tree because you can hear a bird calling and you trying to find the tiny hoping bird amongst the leaves. Also, to find many of the rare ducks you really need a scope for closer looks and I do not have one. Still ducks are beautiful and cool.

As with the sparrows I put together a poster of all the ducks from my month of drawing them. Here is Dabbling Ducks compilation. I am wrapping up a second poster of ducks that are divers. They are just too large and too many to all be on one 11x 14 poster. The split between diver vs dabbler seemed a perfect split. 

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The American Wigeon. I finished this first as just a sepia tone then finished with spot color. These birds are in wintering colors. Their coloring gets brighter once they go into full breeding.

They have been called the Baldpate duck because of the light crest that goes up the male’s forehead. Much like the Bald Eagle is called bald, to early settlers white feathers apparently made them think of a balding head.

Then here is the Eurasian Wigeon which, I have seen twice. They are rare visitors from Europe and Asia where they are plentiful. They tend to hang with American Wigeons. The males stand out with their rufous head different from the greenish grey head of the American. The females are very difficult to tell apart. I only saw this male.

It’s another beautiful duck from the dabbling group.

I haven’t seen this in person but, a Blue-winged Teal has a blue patch of feathers for secondary converts, those feathers that you would imagine to be the upper arm of a human. They are also the second most abundant duck in North America behind the Mallard. I would never think that because I so rarely see them around me. It’s all about perspective and realize yours isn’t the only one.

The Blue-winged Teal. I have only seen this bird once on a chilly rainy day. I was out looking for a Tufted Duck which, apparently hasn’t been in the Bay Area in quite some time. I ran into another local birder who leads bird counts at this location and she helped me see the rest of the amazing ducks on the pond. I am still new to spotting the differences in the pattern of ducks across a body of water. I just don’t know all of the patterns that signify different that I should be looking for. Like all the other ways to identify birds it takes practice. 

The Cinnamon Teal. This is another duck that I haven’t had much time with. For me it is usually a lone duck amongst the crowd. They are beautiful though. Not only are they a gorgeous Cinnamon color, hence their name, they have that patch of periwinkle blue across their secondary coverts, the shoulder part of the wing.

These ducks are only in the new world and more widespread in South America. We have them in North American only west of the Mississippi and they only just get into Canada for summer.

They dabble for food, using their bill to sift out food. They behave much like a Northern Shoveler.

The Northern Shoveler. This duck is all across the northern hemisphere of the world dropping into the top of the southern hemisphere during winter. There are four distinctive species and the other three, probably descendants of this species, are one each to Australia/New Zealand, South Africa, and South America.

Given where I live if I head to the bay during the winter months I will most likely see these foraging along the mud flats. They are so odd looking with their extra long bill. Their bill actually works like a spoonbill’s or flamingo’s, it has lamellae along its edges which, filter food from water drawn into their bills. It’s pretty hard to confuse these ducks for another. Their head and bill shape are so obvious.

Probably the most common duck on the North American continent, the Mallard. We joke when we are birding that we all over look this beautiful bird for the rarer species around it. Only Male Mallards, of all ducks, have that curly tail feather. An American Black Duck X Mallard hybrid could also have it but, to me that is also Mallard.

The lower image is the Female Mallard. Of the Dabblers most of the female ducks, not all but many, have some variation on this kind of feathering and coloring. There are subtle differences that show you they are different species. Usually the fastest way to tell though, look at what duck they are next too. Most ducks are paired up or in a group of their species. It is a good fast tip to sort out the females because, the males are just so different between the species with brown stripy feathered females.

 

Another Teal, the Green-winged Teal, the green spot is so green!

I want to talk about the name of this group of birds first, Teal. Teal does recall a color around the eye and on the wings of a few of these small ducks but, the color Teal gained its name from these birds. The birds were called Teals before people described a color with the name Teal. Therefore, a Teal does not have to have the color present to be a Teal. Teals are a group of birds that are small in size, short necked and dabble specifically for vegetation.

I love seeing these ducks. They are so tiny. I happened upon one running with a group of Avocets. 

Gadwalls, the understated duck. They may not flash bright colors but, when you take a closer look they are beautifully patterned ducks. The lines across their feathers are vermiculated, they kind of look like they are wearing tweed. To spot Gadwalls in the groups of ducks look for a what you may think is a female duck but, is darker in tone. Their heads are also more rounded than most other ducks. 

These two were exhibiting pairing behaviors. Doing head movements to another male to say, we are together back off.

Northern Pintails. These two ducks gave me an easy option for putting the male and female in my picture. These birds breed together for one season then seek out another mate. After the female is incubating the male separates from her to start forming a migrating group.

This Wood Duck I saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count with with Sequoia Audubon Society. There were six of these ducks that day, 3 pairs. I have only drawn the male because their coloring is so striking but, I should draw the female at some point she is also beautiful. They are quite shy ducks. They were mostly hidden in the branches of trees that touched the water. Once it got noisy from human hiking traffic, they totally retreated from view. This was my first time seeing a wood duck for more than a moment. I had seen them in the south twice but, for very brief glances. It was nice to watch them move and behave.

Ducks are part of the group that use wetlands for habitat. Now, wetlands are in decline so this is a complicated balance for them to find habitat. Many ducks use crop fields. There is a system in place in California that is imperfect and many farmers are still frustrated with the birds eating their seed. The system is a series of National Wildlife Refuges around Sacramento to give birds a space to live and be, so they aren’t in the farmer’s fields. However, the birds will usually go to flooded rice fields for the night. For the most part balance is achieved but, perhaps there is more we could do to make space for us and them.

The Bird Project

Since, the beginning of the year I have been drawing a bird a day. This project is to bring awareness to birds and to have fun learning about all the bird species around us.

I have been posting them to instagram but, feel it would be fun to do blog posts for each collection I end up finishing. Or a daily blog post since I write quite a bit about each bird along the way. Let’s catch up, this will be a super long post, compiling each sparrow and what I wrote about them.

I LOVE Sparrows. There are so many and their subtle differences is a puzzle I am very into solving. These are your standard, LBBs, Little Brown Birds. At a fast glance they all look the same. You have to study and look delicately for the differing patterns. It is even the same in their songs. A Song Sparrow vs a Savannah Sparrow sound almost the same except for a small tonal change between them.

I have spent many hours, looking at my photos, books, the web, other people’s photos and listening to audio clips amongst these sources to learn these subtle tell-tale signs.

Here is first collection is Sparrows. These collections will culminate into a limited edition poster print. This one is now available in my shop.

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This Chipping Sparrow can be seen across all of the continental United States and into Canada and Mexico. It lives full time in southern areas and breeds in northern regions. Soon I should be seeing Chipping Sparrows here in California. There has been one reported at a nearby park. They will come to feeders, especially looking for black oil sunflower seeds.

The Chipping Sparrow I have drawn is in its non-breeding colors. Their breeding colors are a gray face and black bill with a distinctive rufous cap.

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The Fox Sparrow. My mom had been wanting me to see one of these. There was a particular birding outing we took with the goal to get me a Fox Sparrow.

Let me clarify getting a bird for a birder. When you bird you create a “Life List”, this list is species of birds you have seen across your whole life. Getting a “Life Bird” means seeing a species you have never seen before. There are around 914 species of birds in North America with over 10,000 across the world with new studies suggesting there could actually be over 18,000 due to better exploration and study. I have a life list that is 228 species long. I have a lot of birding to do!

The Fox Sparrow is one of the birds that has much variation with 4 distinct subspecies, Thick-Billed seen mostly in California, Red mostly across the east coast but crosses the continent to Alaska, Sooty seen along the west coast, and a Slate-Colored inner western states.

I have seen the Sooty subspecies. Once ever so briefly as it sang and a second time as it foraged for a morning meal. I got to watch it scatter ground debris find a worm and eat it. I love the chest patterns on Fox Sparrows, it looks like paint brush marks. That is the defining mark of these birds. No other Sparrows’ chest marks look quite like that. The reddish coloring seen across the species is similar to a Fox’s coloring hence naming this the Fox Sparrow.

I think I have seen a juvenile of this species at my feeder but, my yard doesn’t yet have enough shrubs to really draw them in. They need good cover to feel comfortable to visit your yard. Another year of growth, then maybe!

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There are 29 Sparrows in my Western Sibley they all look pretty similar on a first pass view. So, to take away some of this overwhelming feeling, you start with what could you be seeing. This dramatically brings the number of options down. The ones with cool names, Lark, Vesper, Lincoln, Fox, and even Song Sparrows will most likely not be at your feeder. You will see those on walks in nature. Also time of year matters, I have 3 kinds of sparrows at my feeders right now and that will change around April down to maybe 1.

So, you are probably working with 1-3 species of sparrow at your feeder. If you are on a nature walk I will need to make a longer post about that. For the yard Sparrows I see, I have House, White Crowned and Golden-Crowned Sparrows. They all look fairly similar, with mostly gray bodies and faces, similar checking patterns across the wings and white wing bars. The biggest give aways are their beaks and the tops of their heads. Also for House Sparrows, the males have a dark face and throat which gives him away but, the females look pretty similar to female or immature White and Golden Crowned. Golden-Crowned Sparrows have gray or bicolored beaks with also yellow. The breeding adults give you an easy spot with a thick black eyebrow then gold and white feathers for their crown. The immatures are tougher, they have a gray brown face all the way up except for a yellow fore-crown that could be hard to spot unless they are looking right at you. I find I can tell if it’s a Golden-Crowned Sparrow by how wise it looks. To me these birds have a sophisticated air, their face seems to be a bit bigger and their eye more wise looking. Also they are overall just a bit darker.

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Harris’s Sparrow, this is the first rare bird I went out to find on my own. I think my need to go out and see this bird without having my Mom around to take me was the sign, I had become a birder. My son came with me and as luck would have it we ran into the Sequoia Audubon Society President and she helped to point out where this bird was hiding. It was also wonderful to meet such a friendly person and feel welcome to join other local birders. I have now joined them for two birding walks and am looking forward to making any other walk that I can. I am up extra early today for the walk in Pacifica, all part of the Great Backyard Bird Count for this weekend.

This Harris’s Sparrow is in its first winter. If it was a full adult it would have a black feathers fully around its face, over its crown, and down its throat. Although, I think this first winter coloring is quite striking.

These birds don’t live in California almost at all. We can get a rare sighting where one has joined a flock of Golden Crowned Sparrows but, they really live in the middle of the continent. Although, this flock joining happens widely across the rest of the states. So, if you see a flock of Golden Crowned Sparrows look closely, you never know if a Harris’s Sparrow will have joined them.

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This White-Throated Sparrow, I saw in North Carolina when I was visiting my Mom in the first week of September. If you know Sparrows, you know White Throated Sparrows don’t usually make their way to their winter locations especially this far south this early. They arrive closer to November.

When I saw this bird land at her feeder I knew something was different. It didn’t look the same as the other Sparrows I had been seeing so, I made sure I took a photo. With Rare birds unless you can really describe the field marks it is best to have a photo for your observation to be confirmed and accepted in ebird. This was a sighting we needed a photo for. Honestly, when I described what I had seen to my Mom she hadn’t believed me, I was so glad I had taken my photos. It surprised and excited her to see me started to take note like a real birder.

I have yet to see a White Throated Sparrow in California. They do winter here as well. They seem to join groups of other winter Sparrows more than come in a group.

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Here is a winter bird for my yard, the White-crowned Sparrow. They are native birds along the coast here in Northern California. Around October they show up in my yard and stay until April. Then I won’t see them at my feeders again until October.

They are super cute, traveling in a flock of about 5-10 birds. They feed off the ground and their hopping and running about makes them almost look like mice.

They have beautiful songs, usually my first alert to their presence is their singing.

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Vesper Sparrow, the last of the streaked sparrows that I have seen. Vesper Sparrows while common across the continental United States are not common in the area of California I live. However, there is a small group of them at a recently opened Open Space in the hills along the Bay Area Peninsula.

I was getting rare bird alerts, yes I get a daily email telling me where rare birds are near me, for a few weeks before I could make the trek out to see it. Going to look for a rare bird is odd. You might see it because it is a bird that follows regular patterns and perches in open territory as part of it’s behavior. This Sparrow was just out on the trail right as you begin the hike of this open space. I could see this very white looking bird at the edge of the grass. I got pretty close took some photos then it noticed me. It took off to its resting place and we didn’t see it again. We easily could have not gotten a view of this bird.

When I go out to look for rare birds that is really when I feel like I am playing Pokemon Go in real life.

The complete white eye ring is the big sign that you are seeing a Vesper Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow, I am learning as I go through all of my pictures it is still hard for me to tell the difference between a Song, Lincoln, and Savannah Sparrow. I also realize, the Song Sparrow is busy and therefore, very hard to get a photo of. I found a couple and they are such blurry reference photos. Also, this bird is so wide spread and so common to see, I think we didn’t put as much effort into getting photos of it. In my excitement of learning the sparrows, I think my Mom’s response to “what sparrow is that!”, “oh another song”.

If you are birding especially during the summer and most of the rest of the year and you see a streaked Sparrow, it is most likely a Song Sparrow.

The males will sing often and they are kind enough to perch just at eye level on exposed branches, usually, so you can see and hear them clearly.

Look for rusty streaked birds to identify a Song Sparrow. However, if on the West Coast they will be darker. This is another bird with a lot of variation between regions. There are still markers that give you the clear id. Rounded tail, white throat patch, and central concentration of streaking making a spot on the front of their chest. 

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The Savannah Sparrow another beautiful streaked Sparrow that often has yellow lores (the feathers above and beside the eye near the beak) that give you a fast id. Although, it isn’t on every Savannah Sparrow. When you see a Song, Savannah, or Lincoln Sparrow you have to hope you get a long enough view to tell them apart. Their differences are so subtle and you have to be ready to spot those differences in an instant. Another id mark that sets the Savannah Sparrow apart is the tail, it has a notched tail where the Song Sparrow has a rounded tail.

The Song Sparrow and Savannah Sparrow also have crazy similar songs. They both sound like bugs with high lilting notes then a buzz but, the Song continues with more lilting tones. I haven’t managed to train my ear to hear the difference.

In winter time you are usually going to see Savannah Sparrows in groups in open habitats. They  will almost never come to your feeder. This Sparrow is also smaller and has a shorter tail.

These birds were originally named by Alexander Wilson, not because of the birds loving grassy spaces but, because he first saw this bird in Savannah, Georgia.

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The Lincoln’s Sparrow. Trying to id this on a foggy morning was a special chore, it was also my first time deciding I wanted to know the difference between all of these birds. I had heard there was a rare Vesper Sparrow at a local hotspot the week before and I was desperate to see it. Putting down the idea that I would see a rare bird I starting looking at obvious-sure-to-be-around species which, still gave me a great list of neat birds to see.

Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song and Fox Sparrows were all likely options for Sparrows with streaking down their chests. Lincoln’s stand out from the other limited number of Sparrows with chest streaking (this is how you figure out the id, you narrow your list of possible birds by using categories within categories.) by having very fine streaking that breaks up into separate marks as they descend. When in brighter lighting you can also see the chest feathers amongst the streaking are buffy in color. Those two elements should give you the id. If you want to go deeper, grey eyebrown, gray beak, pink legs, and a buffy eye-ring are also present.

 

It has been awesome to get to know sparrows. I look forward to seeing more and learning each of them as well. I always take a closer look at each sparrow.  There is always the chance there could be a rarity in the mix.

 

Octo-Puss in Boots Catch up!

Octo-Puss in Boots still lives on. I have only gotten a few in the past couple of years.

At DesignerCon 2015 I was able to ask Leslie Levings of Beastlies and Shing Yin Kor of Sawdust Bear to each create one. They are such inspiring ladies. They have even created a inspirational away workshop, Wayward Ladies, for creative, full-time artist, women to participate in. They have already passed their time frame for accepting submissions for attendees; look for it next year.

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In earlier fall of 2015 my husband and I were able to sneak away to a Ben Hatke night in conversation with Gene Luen Yang about Ben’s book Little Robot. They were incredibly inspiring and kind in their discussion about their process and creativity. At the signing we were able to ask them to create Octo—Puss in Boots for us. I don’t think they planned on making almost the same face. (So sorry the Gene photo is so blurry! we were rushing to return to the sitter.)

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Then just last week I went to see Kwame Alexander at Kepler’s my teacher from Storyteller Academy, Arree Chung joined me for the event. We were able to chat afterwards and he contributed an Octo-Puss in Boots.

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I am always awed at the creativity and uniqueness of each individual Octo-puss in Boots. Thank you all for being willing to contribute.

Birding and Leaf Painting

I have always collected leaves. Every year as the leaves turn I find myself picking up my favorites. In past years I did this without much plan; I would pick them up and shove them between book pages (books I clearly didn’t care about because leaf pressing in books wicks all the moisture from the leaf into the book, warping the pages). While this was fairly successful in pressing the leaves, they languished. I didn’t have a plan and the plans I thought I had wouldn’t work with the paper like dried leaf I ended up with.

This time I got a real plant press and prepared a set up to submerge the leaves in glycerin. I wanted to have two options, leaves dried like paper and leaves that were preserved maintaining their flexible state.

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A lettuce leave after soaking in glycerin. It looks like kelp!

The glycerin leaves are still in my processing space. Sometimes I have to sit and look at something day after day before the idea fully forms and I know what I will do with it. The dried leaves I immediately started painting birds on them.

Two separate things brought this idea together. I have always liked painting on none white surfaces. When I went hiking in 2010 and picked up birch bark off the trail, it looked so much like paper, I decided to paint on it. I left these paintings on the trail knowing they were watercolor and would wash off if no one picked them up (I found out the hut kids found them and enjoyed them). Then in the summer of 2016 I got a button maker and realized you could easily put leaves in the press. The jump to painting on the leaf first was a short distance away.

I decided on birds because I look at birds all the time. I have feeders all around my yard. My mother and her sister, Karen & Teresa are birders and they constantly teach us what birds we are looking at. Also, many family vacations now have large swaths of time devoted to birding. We all enjoy it including my son. It’s very similar to collecting Pokemon but, real animals and instead of taking them home we make a list of what we saw and/or heard.

I took the close up photos with my phone using a scope and binoculars for zoom, technology can be ridiculous.

I wanted to paint birds that came from the same locations as the leaves. Representing native species on both fronts, flora and fauna. However, even though the leaves I have collected are living locally, they are native to other countries. The Ginkgo specifically which, is a favorite to paint on. However, the birch and sweet gum trees are fine, as well as the blackberry, strawberry, saltbush, holly cherry, and other natives I have purposefully replanted in our yard. This follows my overall goals of native flora for the paintings and a native garden for the yard.

The leaves all react differently to being pressed and dried, sorted and held until I paint on them, and after they have been enclosed in a button. If the leaf isn’t fully dried it tends to mold within the button. These possibilities cause me to charge not much more than a fancy cup of coffee which, is also a short lived life enjoyment. However, there is the possibility the properly pressed leaves will survive for quite sometime. This is the moment where we say, ‘only time will tell’.

Photos of the buttons finished or pre-pressed. The penny is for size. These end up being 1 inch buttons.

I hope that this project will bring happiness to anyone who buys a button or other final finishing choices I am exploring (pressed in glass making it wall art or made into a pendant). I also hope it brings awareness to the many amazing species of birds that continue to thrive or struggle to live on this planet. I believe our coexistence holds more importance than we are fully aware of.

Hippo for Christmas

Thank you to those that came out to SF Bazaar and Cal Academy’s NightLife and shopped with all of us crafters and artists. We really appreciate the support!

Shop news, the closing down has begun. My shop Biology Class is going to close as of January 1, 2017. It is time for me to move on from making specimens in such a focused way. I am going to pair my art down to having one shop.

I am going to extend my holiday sale through December 15th still HOLIDAY2016, this works in both shops.

So come get goodies! Everyone wants a Hippopotamus for Christmas. My Hippo and Crocodile ornaments will be posted to my soon to be only shop Sunday at 10am.

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Hippopotamus for Christmas

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Crocodile Bring the Ham

The Crocodile carries the Christmas Ham because, what else would a Crocodile politely bring to the holiday dinner?

I am also going to post at least two new prints of work I made this year. Red Riding Hood and Tadpole. Maybe Peacock?

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Shadow Boxes

After years of building with clay and painting with watercolors I believe I have finally found the place where they meet, shadow boxes.

Our school community hosted a show for the women that make art. This ranged from a group of teachers, alumni, and moms. Everyone helped to build the event, it was a very special night. This was the first time it was hosted so, the event was just for community members. Perhaps in years to come we will be able to open the venue up to more folks.

When I was asked to be a part of the show, I had just created my Red Riding Hood piece. It wasn’t completed and it was my first attempt at building a wood panel painting with a sculpted figure. The creator of the Women of Art event loved it and asked that I put her in the show. I decided to then look at two other fairy tales and put my own twist on them.

Beauty and the Beast has been getting a lot of negative coverage in my mind of late. There is an outcry that it teaches girls to believe that whatever man they find they will need to fix him to be a good person. My main exposure to this story was from Disney and I never got that message. I saw it that only his appearance that made him beastly and he should not be judged based on that(maybe because I myself have a facial/neck birthmark?). True there was some needed growth for him to do as a person, he did that during the story, and yes Belle was an incentive for him to change. There I also did not see that as a problem, we all have to grow as couples. I think most couples feel their partner helps them to be a better person. Is that unhealthy, I don’t believe so.

I wanted my piece of Beauty and Beast to be her finding the kindness and beauty within him and loving him just as he is. I am much more a reptilian monster maker, especially since I think they are sweet misunderstood animals. It fit perfectly for me to make him a lizard man. For Beauty and Beast I looked into French fashions to build their clothing. Making lace out of sculpey was a blast, I want to do more.

Sleeping Beauty, sadly was not completed. I put everything together and showed it as a work in progress. The shadow box had to lay down for the show because the glue that kept Sleeping Beauty in place was not fully cured. (This is my third shadow box, I have a lot to learn. In the past month, I learned how to build the outer box frame and attach everything in a way that allows for the art to come back out of the frame so it can be cleaned in the future.) For some viewers this actually had an added element. Sleeping Beauty is known as the princess who is found laying down but, in this image I have her running through the woods. Sometimes failures are exactly what your piece needed.

I have a photo of the Sleeping Beauty on my instagram as it was setting but, upon further examination I want to remake the figure because her head didn’t cure in the correct position. It makes her body off per her movement through the piece. I look forward to finishing this image up. I loved making the background, adding all the leaves, painting the trees and adding the tiny animals!

My hope for my next step is that I will be able to make some smaller shadow boxes of amphibians and reptiles in woodsy habitats. Then, some open square boxes with a section of scales. This way they are a tactile art piece that you can walk by and touch whenever you want. I am very excited about getting to all of these pieces. I am continuing to balance my work time. I do actually get work time on a regular basis now which, is wonderful! Now to get all the things done within the still limited time I have. Trying to figure out what I can really get done.

Also is there any interest in purchase of these images as prints? Comment if you want one! The pieces are for sale too if you want the full shebang. Just email me.