27 May 2010

Free Bird (Well, Almost)

A jewelry post, finally! As I mentioned a few days ago my Jewelry Mojo has wandered back home, and I've finally finished a bunch of projects that have been hanging around my workbench since last winter. I got these wonderful handmade ceramic pendants from Etsy seller Beadfreaky and handwrapped them in antiqued brass wire (from PatinaQueen, another favorite; she does the gorgeous patina birds I've often posted here). To keep them simple I just put them on hand-knotted leather cords that are entirely adjustable. I've made a bunch of these (I love the frog, of course!) along with some Kumihimo necklaces that I'll show off tomorrow.

Not much is going on this week; I really miss the kids and won't see them till Tuesday because of the holiday weekend, but I'll try to use the time to catch up in school, file paperwork, and do some photo trips. One destination will be the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is about 45 minutes away and is always a great place to hang out. Other possibilities include Water Canyon, the Kelly cemetery, and some old Pueblo ruins about an hour northeast. I will keep busy so I don't think too much about what absolutely MUST be the final hearing in my divorce case on Tuesday, where I will sign the final settlement decree with my ex (who had better not have anything up his sleeve but I wouldn't be surprised if he did). We've been officially divorced since April 2008, but that has been just about the only thing actually done in this 2.7-year quagmire, which is why I am letting go. Open hands, open heart.

24 May 2010

Hello, Jeremiah. Yes, I'm angry about Deepwater Horizon, too.

Bullfrog, May 2010

This beefy, belligerent, booming bullfrog lives at the duck pond on the New Mexico Tech campus, along with at least one or two others I heard today. I was quite surprised when, despite my best effort to sneak up on him to grab a shot, he noticed me but, rather than diving deep, turned around to face me full on. Thank you, Mr. Bullfrog, for the serenade that led me to you and for this perfect shot. I spent at least an hour at the pond this afternoon, mostly just watching the ducks and geese socialize and the hummingbirds dive for bugs above the pond's surface, and I left feeling far more serene than when I'd arrived.

Later on I might post another image or two from what turned out to be a lovely photo shoot; for now I have to try to regain my footing in school and push forward exploring internship opportunies for next fall. A "trial run" today proved to be a great confidence-builder, and I have another one tomorrow; I'm shadowing a social worker/counselor who does home visits with home health and hospice clients so that I can volunteer with her for the next few months and then perhaps do my first internship there. We'll see; it does, surprisingly, seem to be a good fit.

23 May 2010


Columbine (Aquilegia hybrida), May 2010

A funny thing happened while I was happily, almost obsessively snapping and processing images of flowers: my Jewelry Mojo came back home. Today I finished four pairs of bird earrings, three Kumihimo necklaces, and oxidized brass bails for five ceramic pendants, and will finish a few more Kumihimo necklaces this evening. I've been wondering whether I was so far gone with the photography (ya think??) that I'd never get back to jewelry, either on this blog or at my workbench. But this afternoon I realized that creative expression in any form fills the well, so to speak, and sure enough my inspiration to create some new pieces is back.

This columbine is from the church garden I wrote of yesterday; I love the tangle of stamens and pistils, which became the obvious focus of the shot as I processed it in Photoshop. Looking at this and other shots I realize I need to learn more about how to work aperture and shutter speed on my camera so I can play more with depth of field. This image, which I do like a lot, is cropped from a larger one that shows the whole flower, including the characteristic "wings" extending from the flower's base, but has a very shallow depth of field and thus is less representative of the flower than I'd like. So, more learning... gee, I think I need to take a photo trip soon. I already have an offer to visit a friend in Santa Fe; if I can scare up some camping gear I also want to go up the the Jemez Mountains -- which, now that I think about it, is where my whole photography obsession began back in 1993.

22 May 2010

Grey, and Then...

Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina), May 2010

On Friday I found myself in a church garden (safely outside; I recently decided I don't want to "do church" anymore) and among the many beautiful flowers was this Lamb's Ear, a lovely soft plant that is also tough enough for our dry climate and terrible soils. These are just coming into bloom, and since they're mostly grey the emerging blooms really stand out. As I composed this shot I couldn't help but think of how even the longest grey winter does finally yield to spring, and that first taste is always the sweetest.

My daily photo meditations this week have saved me; much of this week has been what one sage friend wryly calls a "learning time" with lots of emotional stuff coming up that I'd been fighting down for a while but finally realize I just need to sit with and work through. Life is short -- too often shorter than we realize -- to only be living halfway because I'm using so much of my energy just keeping my head above water and all my feelings "safely" underwater.

So, how exactly to deal with it? So far today I've completely cleaned out and reorganized my closet, dusted the house, washed and hung out three full loads of laundry, watered all plants inside and out, tested the drip irrigation system and marked where I need to make repairs, continued digging the garden beds where I will plant green bean, radish, spinach, and other seeds, run another batch of jewelry over to the local gallery, and painted my toenails for an outing tonight. Yes, I am Going Out, and I will let my hair down and wear a pretty skirt and strappy sandals because it really is spring, after all, and as the world around me comes back into bloom, how can I help but hope? If nothing else I'll have fun, which is very long overdue.

21 May 2010

Moving Forward

Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa lucida), May 2010

I love these flowers because they're hardy enough for both our cold winters and our dry climate and because they bring in lots of bees to pollinate my garden (which I finally got planted yesterday). I also love the pale bluish lavender... and until I took this photo I had no idea this flower packed so many colors into its tiny unfurling buds and stamens. Best of all, the two plants just outside my studio are packed with new buds that will continue blooming all summer and well into the fall.

Why so much photography these days? First, I love it, and finally have decent "tools." Second, I feel an almost desperate compulsion to be outside, away from phones and the computer and papers and files and all of it. I finished some business with my ex this week (I hope he doesn't decide to get ornery about it, but whatever) and am "feeling the feelings" as a dear friend puts it so I can finally, really let them go and move on in my life. It is time. I am giving up a lot, materially, to settle with him in order to bypass our horror show of a rural kangaroo court (yes, I'm writing that on my public blog, and I get to let go of all that anger now, too) and to avoid further disrupting my family life at this critical time, and the "loss" is well worth it to finally gain some true peace and freedom.

Life is beautiful. I make a choice every day to believe this, and even on a not-good day I can find some bit of beauty to rest my eyes on. (It seems a whole lot easier in spring, though...) ;-)

20 May 2010

More Life, Still

Bottle Gourds Curing on Fence, May 2010
My garden last year produced more than a dozen huge, gorgeous bottle gourds that are just about done curing. I hung them to dry in the sun on what was the chicken coop (the chickens flew away last year, thank goodness; I have determined that they are noisy, messy, and destructive to gardens and thus not my cuppa tea). Now it's time to clean them so we can do crafts with them. Everyone gets hand-painted gourd birdhouses for Christmas this year....

It's another not-good day, except that it's my boy's birthday and he asked for a chocolate cake "that Mama can eat, too." So after school the kids will help me make a flourless chocolate cake, bless their hearts, and whatever else happens today it will be a good day.

19 May 2010

Life, Still

I joined the Digital Photography School Forums to learn from others and to use their assignments and challenges to help myself see things I might not have considered photographing before. The still life is a vaunted tradition in many media, but I've never had the slightest interest in it till I saw some in the DPS Still Life Challenge. So many different ideas about and perspectives on objects ranging from fruit in bowls to a fork reflected in a spoon...

So I wanted to try it, and composed a few this morning but didn't get around to photographing them; it was not a good day, and creativity fell by the wayside as I tended to more immediate matters. Then, this evening as I was sitting in the kitchen trying to regroup, I looked up to check the time and saw the most perfect, quiet beauty right in front of me: some old dime-store bottles on my kitchen windowsill illuminated by the setting sun. I forgot to turn off the autoflash on my camera, hence the unnecessary blue backflash on both bottles, but I got the essence of that moment, and so here's my first Still Life, reminding me that... life still is, here and now. And also reminding me that a creative moment is no luxury but is sometimes as essential as breath itself.

18 May 2010

Portraits and Such

I have no formal photography training except for a half-semester in 1995; I left midway through the course to move to California, got a great job, and didn't pick up my camera for almost six months. When I did, I went back to nature photography (it's a great excuse for a scenic road trip) but also spent a lot of time casually photographing my stepdaughter, then 5, so my now-ex-husband could have some nice pictures of her. I don't have these pictures anymore but remember how surprised I was to find how well the images caught not just her likeness but also her wonderful personality. The photo at right, which I took last year of two similarly sparkling personalities, is of two "bestest friends ever"; I was lucky they were by a window so the light was good, but really the picture works because it was totally unposed and spontaneous, and totally captures these girls' personalities and friendship.

I've found that a similar thing happens when photographing animals; there's a moment when you can almost see the creature's soul, and even if you don't believe animals have "souls" many of them definitely have something compelling about them. And they do all kinds of cute things. The giraffes above are both "zoo babies" at the Albuquerque Zoo, one a yearling and the other (believe it or not) just a few weeks old. I suppose "cuteness" depends on the species; the baby alligators at the zoo were not exactly cute...

They say to just do what you love and you'll learn to do it well, but I've also benefited over the years from books and, now, the Internet. One site I like is Digital Photography School; on the "Photographing Children" page the author offers a suggestion we could all live by, whatever our passion:

The key to good kid shots is to rediscover your own inner child. Kids love to have fun, they do the unexpected, they love to experiment and test things out and they love to play. Approach photographing them in this spirit and you’ll find your pictures take on a wonderful childlike quality.

17 May 2010

Visual Meditation: Sunset

Just Another Neon Sunset, May 2010
Virgas, May 2010
The landscape out here in New Mexico's high country may be sparse,  but the sunsets are luscious. Some are muted, most are lovely, and a few just go overboard in a moment when everything aligns perfectly and an already beautiful sky goes neon, horizon to horizon.

The other night, on my wildflower expedition, was just such a night. As if the flaming clouds and sky weren't enough, the virgas dancing in front of the higher clouds changed from light to dark to light again as the sun slipped toward the horizon. (Virgas are cloud fragments that don't reach the ground; I never saw these back east and find them endlessly fascinating.) On autofocus the camera didn't know what to do, so I switched to manual (oh how I've missed this capability!!) and, although I didn't totally nail the focus in the second shot, it's good enough to show the frilly virgas that hint of summer rains to come. This second shot could have also used a horizon line at the bottom; I did get one shot that included the horizon but it wasn't focused enough, so this is my best for now. Just to be able to do this much, and to learn from it, is exhilarating.

15 May 2010

Photo Trip

Happy Dog (Canis felicis), May 2010

A beautiful evening and a restless dog created ideal conditions for my first digital SLR expedition beyond my backyard; I was soon to discover that our long wet winter and "spring" (we got frost again last night; good thing my veggie plants are still in the garage) created ideal conditions for a wildflower pageant. My favorites (so far; I have only just begun to Photoshop) are this Indian Paintbrush, which the sun nicely illuminated just as I was composing the shot:
Desert Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa), May 2010
...and the budding Yucca stalk below -- I had no idea yucca buds were so pink. This one will likely become 5 to 8 feet tall and have a dozen or more blooms; I'll try to get more shots of the stalk as it grows and the parts begin to unfurl. I know the yucca isn't entirely in focus in the center; I'd need a real macro lens to do that... or I could get a tree stump or other "stool" to elevate myself so I could get a greater depth of field.

Yucca (Yucca elata, I think) flower stalk/bud, May 2010
I know, I can't seem to just take "normal" pictures. I prefer macro/close-up photography probably because my landscapes are actually quite inept, despite much reading and practice on the topic. I guess I see something interesting and want to examine it up close, from lots of different angles. The yucca bud is actually the top of a stalk that is currently about a foot tall; the sideways pic I got was pretty cool, but this... well, it's different, and I like it.

14 May 2010

More Backyard Flowers

Blue flax (Linum perenne) and visitor, 2010
Once again, a visitor I didn't see while shooting this picture emerges during Photoshopping. These blue flax blooms are tiny -- 3/4 inch across at most -- and don't look so striped or swirly at first glance; although they are lovely en masse, they are quite amazing close up, too.

Today is a gardening day, so off I go. I'll be headed to a native trees arboretum tomorrow and hope to get good pictures there... now every trip can be a photo trip! *Happy dance*

13 May 2010

Just a Common Backyard Flower

Petunia and Visitor, 2010
Okay, so I already love photography, but to have the creative freedom that Photoshop gives me for cropping, so I can home in on details like this bug I didn't even notice? Oh. My. God. There's much more to come, you can count on that...

07 May 2010

My First Love

Sunflowers, 2006
This blog started out as a jewelry blog and will (probably) remain mostly focused on that for the time being... once my jewelry mojo comes back home from a-wanderin'... But I've been thinking about my artistic pursuits a lot lately and have realized that I have long been yearning for my first artistic love: photography.

I've always enjoyed "taking pictures" and made some beautiful shots during my travels even with cheap point-and-shoot cameras, but when my dad gave me his sturdy old Nikon FG in 1993, just after I moved to New Mexico, I discovered a whole new world. To see a good picture is one thing, to refine it and make it great quite another, and I found myself entranced with the process of framing a shot, deciding what the real focus should be, and then discovering something entirely different than what I'd thought I was taking a picture of.

The shot above, taken in my previous garden, started out as a picture of the bright yellow sunflower up in the right-hand corner, but as I played with the focus I suddenly saw the amazing tendrils of the sunflower bud right under my nose, and so I got down on one knee and made that the picture. It's one of my favorites, out of more than 16 years of pictures.

I have missed my photography road trips, my backyard experiments, my moments of deep reverie as I really looked at a rock with lichens or a tree with moss or the skeleton of a dead tree against a flaming sunset. I have missed being outside, period, which is where I do most if not all of my photography. When I moved to the hinterlands of western New Mexico I lost access to decent film processing, making the fun part -- seeing the pictures -- nearly impossible; and my ex still won't give me back the FG and my lenses (he claims he can't find them; I'm pretty sure he pawned them right after I left him). I'd been making do with a decent digital point-and-shoot but a deep scratch on the lens has ended its usefulness, so I am sans camera and feel... bereft, like I am missing the huge part of my life that my visual meditations had become. This will change soon, and I cannot wait. Well, I can; I've waited for several years... So, unless Jewelry Mojo comes home soon, expect a lot of photo blog posts soon.