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And for Dessert: Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

Thursday, January 31, 2008

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I have been waiting for this day. If there is an American bird of paradise, I believe it is the scissor-tailed flycatcher. Perched on a wire or fencepost by a dusty hot Texas road, it may not look all that unusual, until it takes wing. And there is an explosion of carmine and salmon and a fluttering of tail streamers that always takes the breath and the words right out of my mouth. I love this bird.
For one thing, it's gray, and I love working in grays. For another, it's impossibly ectomorphic and graceful and zippy and just perfect in every proportion. Even its wings are tapered and beautiful. I've painted everything. It's time for the carmine pink. Ready?
BOOM! There it is. That's the other reason I decided not to paint a rose-breasted grosbeak. I didn't want them to fight over who had the prettier pink. So here's most of the top half of the painting, and below that is the bottom half.
And I guess it's done. Time to box it up (now there's a project) and send it off to Washington...

Fast forwarding, it's back safely in my studio, having been scanned in record time. I had it up leaning against the wall (can't really afford to frame it) but every stray drop of water seemed to gravitate right to it, so I stuck it in a drawer until I decide what to do with it. That's the thing about working so big: you'll break the bank trying to ship it and frame it, and once it's framed, it practically commands a whole wall. Which is great if your house looks like a Restoration Hardware catalogue shoot, which mine...doesn't.

When the image becomes a trade show booth, I'll post a picture of the finished product. For now, it's got its own page on the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center site, with links back to the blog posts! Coool! SMBC's site is a terrific place to learn about Neotropical migrants, threatened and not. It's got profiles of especially endangered birds, and in-depth discussion about why they're in such trouble. It's got information on shade-grown coffee and all the things you can do to help our vanishing migrants. I'm more than proud, with this painting, to help give the Migratory Bird Center a slightly higher and prettier profile wherever it goes.

The overall view. Please click on it for a big version!

I like it, non-directional lighting and all. But then I am a bird. And I helped!**

**anyone remember those awful Shake-n-Bake TV commercials, where the little girl yelps, "An' Ah Hayulped!"

Here ends the Fantasy Flock painting blog. Next week, we'll take some walks in the woods.

Days Three and Four

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

16 comments
I've started a male bay-breasted warbler, boreal forest breeder and champion long-distance migrant. These little guys may breed in the Yukon and winter in Venezuela. Imagine flying that long and far every spring and fall with only your own two wings to power you. And much of that flight is over open ocean! Egad. We make a big deal about driving for a day or two, and we're just sitting there, burning fossil fuel. These tiny guys are doing it on fat and muscle, and a bay-breasted warbler weighs less than a first-class letter. If you stop and think about it, birds can make you feel like a total slug.

Here's a nice closeup of the paper, to show the quiet but present tooth that it has. I work on Winsor & Newton cold press 140 lb. watercolor paper. Sometimes I stray to other papers but I always come home to it. I've long since shaken my addiction to W&N's overpriced watercolor paints and brushes in favor of Daniel Smith's wonderful paint and synthetic blend brushes. But Winsor & Newton's paper is consistently great and worth the price.

I love working in grays. They're fun to mix and go on smooth as butter. He's a snap to paint, and the best part is tricking in the little black streaks and spots. I chose the bay-breasted warbler as an ambassador from the threatened boreal forests.
The ruddy turnstone was my emblem of a bird with a vulnerable spot in its migratory route--the horseshoe crab beaches of New Jersey and Delaware.
The bobolink stood for vanishing native grasslands, and the hooded warbler for habitat fragmentation and cowbird nest parasitism. (You can see all that in the painting, right?) No? Hmm. You must not be looking at the clouds hard enough.

Once again, the peach is strategically located to pick up this warbler's fabulous designer color scheme.

Whoops, where did that black-headed grosbeak come from? What can I say? It was a day of fast painting. I wanted at least one exclusively Western bird in the painting, so it couldn't be said to have an Eastern bias. I also like their flash. Considered a rose-breasted grosbeak, but decided on a black-headed because it would speak to Western birders. Ooh, it's starting to look like a painting now.

Little Charles is dying to peel the masking film off the nighthawk now. Those mischievous eyes! What if I just...peeled this off...just starting at the corner...dum de dum dum dum, la la la...

Soon enough, dearest tatty bird. But you don't get to do it. You might get carried away.

Part of the reason I started working at the bottom of the sheet is that it gets harder and harder to reach my work as I paint up. I know, I should use an easel so I can stand in front of it. But old habits die hard. I like to work flat, and wreck my back as I crouch over my work, sometimes on my elbows and knees. Maybe I'll try an easel for the next big painting. I can hear Debby Kaspari, who built an easel on her dining room wall for crying out loud, groaning. Zick! Just do it!

Instead, I turn the thing sideways and twist my body around so I can see what I'm doing. I have reference photos torn from magazines all over the painting, and my laptop, with reference photos cued up, is on the drawing table along with the palette and HUGE painting and patter-footed macaw. Note that I have my painting water (normally in a big plastic jar) in a small, heavy tumbler to reduce the chance that I'll tip it on the painting or laptop.
The nighthawk's wings. When painting a bird with lots of bars and stripes, I try to make them a bit messy so the bird doesn't look fake. Too messy, and you lose the sense of the pattern. Too neat, and the bird looks like a carving or paint-by-number model.
And he's done. A bit of an all-day sucker, that one, between the contortions and the size of the image, and all those little stars and bars. I chose a nighthawk because they are just about my favorite fall migrants. I always drop everything and stare at them until they're dots on the horizon. They're so vulnerable, too, because the gravel-topped flat roofs they prefer to nest on are being replaced by cheaper asphalt, which isn't a suitable nesting substrate at all. And it appears they are quite susceptible to West Nile virus, how awful. It seems that everything beautiful is in peril in some way.

But I'm still having loads of fun painting, even as I mull over why each bird has earned its place in my flock, and looking forward to my dessert. Hint: It'll be strawberry gelato. Definitely saving the best for last.
So glad you're enjoying this. It's really fun for me, too. Sometimes I sit back and think about how much more fun life is with a camera. I still can't think of myself as a photographer, but I take a whole lot of pictures, and my camera makes it possible to share moments in time with you. Anybody see the lady in the clouds?
Happy birthday, R, wherever you may be.

Three Birds Done, Macaw Supervising

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

21 comments
With the turnstone done, it's time to peel off some masking compound. I just roll it off with a clean finger, like rubber cement. Ideally, I've sealed the edges of the lightly tacky masking film well enough so no paint has crept under the edge. It's Day Two of painting now. I forget how many days I put into composing the thing before I could start painting. Let's just say many. That's the most time-consuming part, because that's where all the heavy thinking has to happen. Painting is something that either goes well or doesn't, but either way, it goes fast. Not to worry: this painting went well. So well, in fact, that I had up and painted the whole darn hooded warbler before remembering that I was supposed to be taking progress pictures. Well, heck, who wants to stop painting a hooded warbler to take pictures? I have to say, hooded warblers are pretty fast paints. I did his wings and tail first, then painted his yellow. The black hood went on right over the yellow and boom! he was done. I made it sound like the cloud painting went really fast, and it did, but the whole time I was thinking about where the lightest parts of the birds would be, and I was toning the clouds so the darkest parts of the clouds would be where the lightest parts of the birds were. This makes them pop out against the background. See how the warbler's white tail spots stand out against the dark blue cloud top? Elsewhere, I let the bird kind of fade in, as on the upraised wing. You don't want it to look like a cutout. As you can see in the photo above, I had already started on a male bobolink before I stopped to shoot a photo. I'm painting all his pale parts first; his silvery back and cornsilk-yellow nape. That's the proper order in watercolor. Paint light to dark.The black is blocked in, but the bird's far from done. Most of the magic in painting watercolor happens in the last few minutes, when you put little highlights of Chinese white on cheeks and bill and eye, and stroke a thin wash of it over the back to show light falling on it.

A word about light: When I showed this to my group of artist friends (in jpegs, via email), Mike asked about the light source. Where's it coming from? I scratched my head. Good question. The birds are evenly lit overall, and there is no strong directional source of light. The overall effect of the painting is of diffuse light, a kind of weird, pre-storm light. And to be truthful, I wasn't really thinking that much about where the light was coming from. I had a lot of balls to juggle with this piece. I was most concerned with the local colors of the birds, with making a graphic statement with their markings. I wanted to show their colors as vividly as I could, without worrying too much about cast shadows or the direction of the light source.

So I said, "Well, it's kind of a fantasy flock, and I'm thinking about the lighting as being sort of like the lighting in a Celestial Seasonings tea box picture. Too good to be true. You know, pretty...OK, I didn't really think about the lighting very much."

And my friends all said, "That's OK. It works for us."

They're nice that way. But the funny thing is, I think in the end it did work out OK.

And the male bobolink joins his friends in the fantasy flock. I'm so happy with the way the peach flush in the cloud is working with the bobolink's colors.

Charlie moves in to preen the bobolink's wing feathers. He loves to watch me paint, and seems to know that the image depicts a bird. And he gets a huge kick out of climbing down off my shoulder and walking around on the art, checking out each new bird as it's painted.

He's always most curious about the eyes. A macaw's tongue is very dry and rubbery, so there's little chance he'll smear anything once the paint dries, and it dries almost instantly in the dry air of winter. I have to spray down my palette every few minutes to keep the paint from hardening as I work.More birds tomorrow!

A Thunderhead in Watercolor

Monday, January 28, 2008

14 comments
Although I took these pictures a couple of months ago and stored them in my ant-ry, I'm writing the commentary now, which should be interesting. So I can give you a grasshopper update. Bill got back from Florida today. Yay. About time. He's completely exhausted and horizontal at the moment. He has a lot of nice Florida pictures, but needs to sleep for about 12 hours before anything much can happen. Hang in there.

I hung in all week, single-momming it. Both kids had fever, sore throat and coughing for most of the last ten days. Once the fever and gurgly cough subsided, the upchucking started. Liam woke me on Saturday in the wee hours with a couple of strangled "Mommy?'s" Never something you want to hear at 1:30 AM. But what you really don't want to hear is the sound of his dinner hitting the Berber carpet right outside your bedroom door. In my struggling-to-awaken mode, I imagined he had just dropped a box of crayons outside my door. No such luck.
Poor little guy was so sick, he didn't think to go, oh, about six inches to his left into the bathroom, which has nice receptacles for catching one's dinner. Sink, toilet, tub, please, any one will do. No, the carpet caught it. He must have taken lessons from his little black-and-white brother, who likes to urp on absorbent, soft surfaces.

By the time Phoebe got to that stage, we were READY and had done a couple of upchuck drills. OK, kids. Look at me. If you feel queasy, head for the bathroom. Got that? Mommy doesn't like using a spatula for anything other than cooking in the kitchen.

All right. We're done with that. Both kids were able to go to school today and they're eating like horses again, no sore throat, no fever, no nausea, no coughing. Life is good. Daddy's home (well, his corporeal body is here.) Down to painting!

The first thing I did, after transferring the drawing onto the full sheet of watercolor paper, was to stretch the paper. I sprayed the back of the paper with water, and put it on a rigid sheet of white foamcore (Miracle Board). It's super lightweight but strong enough to hold against buckling paper. I stuck the paper to the board with white gummed paper tape around the edges and waited for it to stop buckling and stretch taut before doing anything else.

Now it was time to mask the birds. I use a combination of masking film and liquid masking compound. I cut the bird's shape out of film, and use liquid compound to mask all around the edge of the masking film so paint can't creep under the film and ruin the nice white spot I've left for the bird. In this picture, you can see the ghostly shapes of the masked birds. I've started painting my thunderhead at the bottom. I can paint right over the masked birds and not worry about leaving a space for them. When I peel the masking film off, I'll have clean paper to work with.Everything happens really fast now, because the clouds are all painted wet on wet. I move up the page. I'm trying for that peachy glow some thunderheads get when they look as if they're lit from within. I also want that hard-edged look they get when they stack up against a blue sky. So I lay in the blue sky, making random cloud edge shapes as I go. Yikes, this is a big piece of paper. I decide as I'm manipulating this enormous blue wash--remember, the nighthawk is almost life-size, a foot across--that I don't want the whole cloud edge to look hard. So I decide to drop a load of clear water on the white cloud shape, and streak it into the blue, and I scrub out a bit of the blue to suggest filmy high clouds behind the thunderhead. That's better. I like the smeary edges that wind makes when it blows over the top of big clouds. Now the cloud looks like it's communicating with the sky, instead of just standing in front of it.

I have to leave the blue sky alone now, and let it dry. I step back and study the painting. I think I've gone too far on the dark clouds at the bottom. They're too dark to look believable. So I take a wash of Chinese white and cobalt violet over the darkest ones, underneath the turnstone's wing. Yeah, that's better.

Charlie approves. Yes, he walks on my big paintings. And no, I'm not worried that he'll poop on them, because parrots like to poop into space, and only poop on a surface they're standing on if they can't hold it any longer. Budgies, on the other hand, will poop anywhere, so when I had a free-flying budgie, I had to put paper down over my paintings as I worked. I do make sure that he hasn't recently eaten pomegranate or cherries, and sometimes I wash his feet before I let him stomp across my paintings. But that's one awfully nice thing about watercolor--it isn't messy or toxic and it dries fast.
Time to paint the turnstone. Oh, now the fun starts. Painting the clouds is fun, but it's also kind of nervewracking because I had to do it so fast--within an hour or two. I want the cloudscape to look like watercolor, and I don't want to noodle away at it making it perfect. I want this to look like a painting in the end.

In transparent watercolor, you leave white paper for the whites. I shade them a bit to model the form, but there's no white paint on this turnstone. So I tint the white shadows, and move on to the rusty back. Black is the last color to go in. I chose a turnstone for the bottom of the page because his bold colors and black wings will help add weight to the bottom of the painting.Within about an hour, the turnstone is finished. Well, it's been a good first day; sky and clouds done, and the first bird in my fantasy flock done. See that violet wash on the too-dark cloud? I wanted a color that would complement the turnstone's red. That and the slate-blue seem to work well with his colors.
I take it outside, prop it against the house, and shoot it. What fun to see it evolve! With one bird in, I can imagine what it will look like with each bird I add.
Mo' birdies tomorrow, and, I hope, no mo' Technicolor mommybloggin'.

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

Sunday, January 27, 2008

21 comments
I've been saying for awhile that I wouldn't do any more illustration work. That I'd just work on my next book. But a statement like that needs to be qualified. Is it still illustration when you're given completely free rein to do whatever you want? Or is that a commissioned painting? I don't know. I just know that that's my kind of illustration job, baby!

Russ Greenberg is Director (and founder) of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, whose mission is to help imperiled migratory birds through study, education and activism. At least that's how I'd describe their mission. From their web site:

The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center bridges the academic, policy-making, and public worlds to coordinate efforts to protect migratory birds and their habitats. We bring public and policy issues to bear on our research--looking both at the way human-made changes affect bird populations and the way bird habitat preservation will affect human populations--and we translate our research findings into recommendations for public and policy action.


From the start, Russ has asked me to illustrate SMBC materials, from pamphlets to books to posters to Auk covers to booth displays. I've done pencil drawings, scratchboards, and paintings, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Russ is ridiculously easy to work with and very appreciative of my efforts.

Here's how some of my watercolors were used for a booth display promoting shade-grown coffee:
The original oriole painting is a half-sheet of watercolor paper, maybe 11 x 16". I couldn't have imagined that, blown up to 8 FEET tall, it would look this good. I have to give due credit to designer Clayton Tompkins here. It's an inspired design. I would like Clayton to design my next kitchen, or house. I love everything about this booth. Russ says people just flock to it, because it's so visually appealing. And what a good cause--promoting shade-grown fair-trade coffee, which is good for coffee workers, coffee drinkers, and migratory birds, who love the habitat shade-grown plantations provide.

So when Russ e-mailed to ask if I'd be interested in doing a painting for SMBC's trade show booth, I listened. Here were the guidelines he laid out:

SMBC is doing a fancy new booth for all of the events and festivals we perform at. I know this is a total long shot. But is there any chance we can commission you for a painting for this? We want something that is face-melting in its beauty and captures the essence of what we are about. You are the one to do this, if you aren't totally booked...

He had me from "face-melting." Wait. Is this really work? To be asked to create something beautiful depicting birds, with no strictures on which birds or what the setting will be?

So I started thinking about migratory birds. It seemed only natural that the birds would be in flight. Up in the sky. So, having been completely enthralled with the skyscapes this autumn, I decided to put the birds against some really cool-looking clouds--my favorite--thunderheads against a blue sky. Yaaahh! Watercolor is just the medium to do that. Nothing like it for cirrus and billowing cloudbits, active sky washes and crisp edges.

I started taking pictures of every arresting cloudscape I saw. There were some doozies on the way to Ashland in September 07. You just can't get clouds like that in the winter. What a treat, to be able to paint something I love looking at so much.What birds to paint? It was wide open. I decided on a suite of birds which are imperiled, for many different reasons. Whether it be habitat loss on the wintering ground, habitat loss on the breeding ground, pesticide spraying in the boreal forests, clearcutting, destruction of food base, or loss of nesting sites, these birds are all in some kind of trouble. Bobolink seemed an emblematic grassland species, losing habitat faster than almost any species. Bay-breasted warblers are being hammered on the breeding grounds by pesticide spraying of spruce forests. Ruddy turnstones are having their migration food base (the eggs of horseshoe crabs) "harvested" right out from under them. And so it goes.

And then there was beauty. And the thrill of painting a hooded warbler next to a ruddy turnstone, a bobolink next to a scissor-tailed flycatcher. It didn't have to make any real sense; it's an allegory for beauty and courage in the face of peril. Such a delight to compose. I spent several days in the composition phase, always the most time-consuming. I had to draw the birds, make sure they were in scale to each other, and arrange them in a pleasing composition. Here's the first draft, just a bunch of paper birds taped together, shot on my sidewalk.One of the problems that arises when you're painting birds of widely disparate sizes next to each other is that of scale. If you've got a warbler next to a nighthawk, you've got to make sure the nighthawk isn't too big to paint comfortably, and the warbler isn't too small to paint comfortably. So, to get the warbler big enough so that I can see the detail, I've got to paint it about life size. And the nighthawk gets proportionately bigger. And before you know it, I've got a painting that's 21 x 30", a full sheet of watercolor paper, and that's a BIG watercolor.

Watercolors tend to be small because it's hard to control runny washes. Painting a full-sheet watercolor is like climbing atop an Irish thoroughbred, 17 hands tall, and taking it over a six-foot jump. It's not for the faint of heart.

I had the whole thing laid out before I left for my New England trip in October. I transferred the birds onto the blank paper, and left it to fly to Boston. There, I saw my family and my artist friends, for a whole delightful weekend. And there, I got the courage and inspiration to come home and paint this big old painting.


Chet's Party

Thursday, January 24, 2008

20 comments
Chet Baker does not usually have a place at the kitchen table. Well, not a place with a dinner setting. He does like to sit in an empty chair and watch us eat. On his birthday, however, he gets to eat with us. These pictures are from his birthday party. Our friend Jeff Gordon was visiting from Delaware, so it was extra festive. It was a modest birthday party, with a nice meal and presents wrapped in newsprint. It was a dog birthday party. Chet Baker turned three on December 12, 2007.Are you sure it is all right for me to get up in this chair? There is some turkey burger on that plate there.
Oh, thank you, Sister. Turkey burger, squash and lima beans is quite a nice meal for me.Mmm, mmm.
I am saving the butternut squash for last. I love it when Mether makes it with vanilla, cinnamon and almond extract, with a touch of fresh ground nutmeg. And I appreciate the Portmeirion.

I still cannot believe nobody has told me to get down. I had better finish this off quickly before Daddeh comes to his senses and says something in that big voice. I do not like his big voice.

I love this kitteh they gave me. And I got all its guts out in less than an hour.

Note from Mether: The stuffed toy with the beady eye is Orangefeet, a mallard duckling puppet, Phoebe's familiar since she was two. Chet would no more chew Orangefeet than he would growl at Oona. He knows all the rules, and understands. Interestingly, he likes to use my Ugly Doll "Big Toe" as a pillow, but has never once chewed it. I do keep my alpaca teddy bears out of reach. Even the best doggeh can be tempted, and even Chet Baker falls from grace now and then. If you need a laugh about now, and who doesn't? please click here for Chet being Bad.

Happeh birthday to me, Chet Baker, luckiest dog in the world.

Oona Returns

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

14 comments
Oona came back to stay for a day not long ago, a gray rainy yucky day when I had been planning to hole up in the tower with a warm laptop. It's nice to have fluid plans. It means you get to spend time with little people, among other things. So I changed my agenda to include picking up around the house (something that always needs to be done) and cleaning bathrooms, both activities which are compatible with following a toddler around.

Oona is now an Official Toddler. A Kid. Not a Baby Anymore. She is walking. She walks like a sailor on a shifting deck; she walks as if she's straddling two circus horses, a foot on each back. But she walks, and she gets where she wants to go. So I walk behind her. Luckily, Oona likes to be with me because there's not a whole lot else going on in the house, so sometimes I get to walk in front of her.

The weather was rainy and dark, so my shots are ugly and flash-lit, but the subject matter is as appealing as ever. Oona likes to sit on beds and couches because she can get down by herself now. Chet Baker doesn't believe this, though, and it makes him nervous that she'll fall. Here, Oo gently strokes her protector.

I will not let you fall, small baby. Chet Baker is here, and you will be safe.

Casting a hurried glance at Oona, and judging that she would stay put for a moment, Chet leapt off the bed and grabbed a NylaBone, so he'd have something to chew while watching her.This all makes me nervous. I need something to chew. This small baby might topple off the bed, and whose fault would that be? Yours. I do not think you are a trustworthy caretaker of this small baby, always behind that camera.

Oona caught sight of herself in Phoebe's bureau mirror, and flashed her ample tummy. That is the best belly bread since Phoebe was 1 1/2.Because you (Sylvan, Margaret and Zane), cannot have too much baby tummy, a living Kewpie:Chet Baker decided to check the driveway for delivery trucks, and the yard for winter bunnehs.In a perfect example of nonverbal interspecies communication, Oona followed his lead.
Soon enough, Baker returned to his post at the corner of the bed. This picture taken in natural light.I wonder what Margaret and Zane would think if they knew you left the care of this sweet small baby entirely up to me, Chet Baker. They would probably be relieved that Oona is in such capable paws. No thanks to you.

Alpacas: Sweetly Aloof

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

13 comments
It was a surprise to this inveterate goat-hugger that alpacas don't like to be touched. At all. They don't even touch each other. I watched an alpaca bunch up and leap forward when a herd mate brushed against her. I'd describe them as sweetly aloof. Whenever I turned my back, they'd crowd in on me, trying to get a better look at my camera and sniff at my hair. But when I turned around, they'd back off, looking embarrassed and apologetic. Approached, they'd gracefully exit stage right or left. No thanks, their demeanor said. I didn't see any spitting, though alpacas will spit like llamas. It's not actually spit, but a foul-smelling grass-and-bile mixture that's regurgitated, bleh. They spit mostly at each other, and very seldom at people, though they're highly individualistic on that and every other score. I noticed that many of the males had protruding lower incisors (they have no uppers), and drooping lips, and apparently that's from spitting a lot--the bile tastes bad to them so they make that face. It's called "sour mouth." The man alpacas made this face more than the girls.Not everything you read is true, Missy. We're just trying to look tuff.

Combined with all the fiber on their topknots, which looks a bit like a bad Beatle wig, the males had a rougueish look to my eye. Annie told me they're quite...ehm...avid, and young or gelded animals need to be kept away from them. In fact, all the males were together in a separate "bullpen." But I felt perfectly safe walking amongst them as Annie and Charlie fed them.
At first I was a bit put off when my visions of hugging alpacas had to vanish in a poof, but the more I watched them, the more fascinated I became, and I began to understand their great allure. Purely from a collection aspect, they come in beautiful colors and textures, and they're quiet and gentle and odorless and graceful and funny. Here's MAROON. Ever seen a maroon animal? Maybe a deep chestnut horse. But oh, my. And she's got what breeders call a "greasy luster." They have their own way of showing affection, sometimes as simple as approaching close to a person they favor.While I talked with Annie and photographed some alpacas in front of me, this trio was quietly approaching from behind. "Look, Charlie. Look what they're doing," Annie said, her voice warm with affection. She was as tickled as I was when I slowly turned around to see this:If an alpaca can look sheepish, they did. Oh, sorry. We were just creeping up on you, but now you've busted us. How embarrassing. Again, sorry.

They're very responsive and intelligent and idiosyncratic. They're cool camelids.
So I bought three Peruvian huacaya teddies as gifts, and brought them home for a photo shoot with Baker, who would love nothing better than an alpaca teddy to "parent." Nothing doing, Bacon. Nope. In your dreams. I drooled over a gray and tan alpaca blanket, and a white one made from cria fiber that was so incredibly soft and fine and light and warm that it felt like sunlight on my arm. Alpaca fiber is up to 4 times warmer than wool. It's a luxury fiber, and alpacas are a luxury animal. I'm glad the coyotes stay away, that Riverboat's animals are housed out of sight of any roadway, and that there are apparently no alpaca rustlers in southern Ohio. You can be sure I'll be back with pictures of new crias come July!Here ends the Alpaca Adventure. For now. Thank you so much, Annie and Charlie and Riverboat Alpacas, for your patience and grace. Good luck with the cria rush.

Niche farming: what a way to go. I'll be looking for more cool assignments from my favorite little nonprofit magazine.
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