Sunday, December 17, 2006
Regular readers of this blog know that I have surrounded myself with a lot of living things who depend on me, ranging in height from 6'4" to 4'8" to 18" and down to (how tall is a turtle? A tetra? A mealworm?) I love it that way. I love to take care of living things of all stripes and hues. It feeds my soul. But it does keep me hopping, and it makes it hard to get everything done in a 17-hour day. I'm experiencing a crunch right now, with a deadline for having 200 drawings done that passed today. I'm still 47 drawings short of finishing the job. In 30 years of freelancing, I haven't missed a deadline like that before. But neither have I had a book published, nor have I set up a fulfillment house in my studio, or embarked on a book tour. All new ventures, all very satisfying, all just added on to all the stuff that already filled a crowded life. Life has gotten bigger and more overwhelming, and I'm under it now, looking up at it, like that gigantic spaceship in Independence Day.
I know that the only way to get this job done is to chip away at it, and I do, every day. Is it hard to sit down at the drawing table when there's so much else needing to be done? You bet. Charlie helps. Having a bird on my shoulder calms me, and makes me want to stay put. He loves it when I'm snowed in with work--more shoulder time. I blog to the sound of him sorting through his feathers and breathing in my ear. Twenty years of shoulder perching, and we both still enjoy it. The Chet and Charlie games are a welcome diversion. Ol' Chuck is stealing Chet's Nyla-Ribs as I write...they're running circles around the flat file, AWK! Woof! ticka ticka ticka AWWWP!
To keep myself hacking away at work, I set up a system of rewards. The ultimate reward for a hard day's work (two to three drawings done from concept to finished product) is a walk. Lately those walks have only been half-hour sorties, jammed in between finishing a drawing and picking the kids up at the bus stop, but they help.
Making the walks ever so sweet is my new little buddy, the Canon Rebel XTi. Its compact, 28-135 mm image-stabilized Canon EF lens arrived today, but I didn't have time to take more than a couple of shots. I could focus from as little as 15" away, which will open the door to a lot of nice, intimate pictures.
Roger Tory Peterson painted field guide plates for most of his working life. He told me, "It's the most stultifying work I know. I sweat blood to do those paintings. I literally have to force myself to sit down at the drawing table every day. But if I get a good day's work in, I let myself go out and take some photographs."
At the time, I hadn't discovered photography. I remember thinking, "Whatever floats your boat." But RTP was right--it's the perfect antidote to hunching over a drawing table all day. To me, it feels like catching lightning in a bottle--like magic. Instead of laboriously making pictures, you're taking them. You're capturing something ephemeral and unself-conscious, and then moving on to the next thing that catches your eye.
Artists, I think, have a heightened sense of what is beautiful, and we fall in love easily--with an empty vireo nestor the impossibility, the importunity, of a solid-red grosbeak (with a pointed hat no less!)
or the sudden glance of a bluebird through birch twigs.
These are not perfect pictures; they're not even very good, but this is how birds present themselves, and I am honored to be able to show them to you.
Speaking of presenting himself:
Chet is as thrilled about the new camera as I am. When he's in the mood, there's no better model. I believe we're developing a synergy that approaches the one William Wegman has with his marvelous Weimeraners. (Minus the talent, the props, and several thousand dollars' worth of camera equipment). Chet poses, there's no doubt in my mind. He will hold a pose until he hears the camera fire, and then he'll relax and go about his business. I talk to him, the way a fashion photographer talks to Christy Brinkley, and he gets it. It must be nice to be adored. And now for the clumsiest segue possible: Monday, December 18 is my one-year blogaversary. Last week, this blog took its 100,000th hit. Which makes me feel like The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: publishing his own music, the record companies be damned.
It's been an interesting ride. I sat down last night and composed this long, sort of tortured post about blogging, but it's not fully formed yet, and I don't want to dump a fetal post at your feet.
I first want to thank Birdchick for asking me to blog-sit for a couple of weeks last December, while she froze her toes in rubber boots in an Arkansas swamp. She told I should be doing it; told me I'd be good at it. I answered something like: "Uh, what's blogging?" I truly had no idea. Clearly, Birdchick was onto something, and she opened the door for me, with a ready-made audience, and for that I'll be forever grateful.
And now I have this community of friends and ardent supporters out there who time their morning coffee or midnight snack around my efforts. For that I am thankful. For all of you who've risen up, hackles ruffled, when somebody blunders into my Comments section with a stinkbomb, thank you. For your wise words and deep caring when I'm struggling, thank you. Thank you telling your friends and co-workers to look here, and thank you for buying my book. I feel I owe you something worth reading and looking at.
I thank Phoebe, Liam, and Bill for letting me post pictures of them. I hope I haven't embarrassed you too much. I want most of all not to embarrass anyone, and that is trickier to accomplish than it might seem. (Which is why I do so durn many dog posts. He's the only family member who I haven't yet been able to embarrass). Thank you, Chet Baker, doggie extraordinaire.
I'm glad to have a place to celebrate the love that permeates our house, and the love I feel for the natural world. I feel blessed, humbled, and lucky to be here, lucky to have my family and sweet Phoebe, Liam, and Bill of the Birds to share life with. It only seems fair to try to share it with you.
Posted by Julie Zickefoose at 3:10 PM