under Manitou bridge

I’m posting this painting largely because I wanted to share something about the experience of painting it.

Manitou Island lies in the middle of White Bear Lake, MN, and is connected by an old wooden bridge. When I was there with a painting class last week, I set up under the bridge partly to avoid the bright afternoon sunlight, and partly because I was drawn to the way that light cast a glow on the bridge’s foundation.

As I painted, I heard many kinds of bird calls. There were swallows flying about, but I also heard an unusual clacking sound I didn’t recognize. As the afternoon went on, the source of the sound became visible. A small bird I’d never seen before picked its way toward me through the grasses, and hopped from rock to rock in front of me. Her body was upright, with little in the way of wing or tail feathers – kind of like a partridge. As she moved about I soon saw that she was not alone – at least five fuzzy black chicks were hovering in the thicker reeds and grasses and following her down concealed trails. One bold chick came out into the open with his mom, right in front of me, following in her footsteps.

I was mystified as to what this bird could be, but after several days of searching, identified it as a Virginia rail – elusive birds that frequent marshes.

One of the reasons to paint outdoors is to experience things we wouldn’t otherwise. Standing in one place for hours at a time, Nature is always making itself known, and has a way of coming out to meet us. Most often this is through the intensity of the elements, or through insects that must be fended off. Or the evolution of clouds in the sky. Or sometimes it’s times  like this – animals never before seen. I love being surprised by what appears.
under Manitou Br


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