After 11 days in the Galápagos [see previous story], we arrived back in Quito to head to a very different sort of paradise - the Bella Vista Cloud Forest. This high-altitude region of Ecuador is considered one of the best birding spots in the world. And conveniently, with travel to the Galápagos leaving from Quito it's easy to tack on a side trip.
This region was in danger of having forest converted into farms, but may farmers have now found there is more money to be had from tourism. Although tourism has huge environmental impacts, in this case, it is also having a positive effect of saving this precious and unique ecosystem.
The biggest attraction is of course the hummingbirds! Such an incredible variety from tiny booted rackettails with their little ugg boots to the brilliants with their iridescent colours. And despite being tiny, each had huge ferocious attitude! As we climbed in altitude, the species of hummingbirds changed, each evolved and adapted to that specific height. They were also quite tricky to photograph in the dappled forest, as they zipped around from flower to flower, stretching my novice photography skills.
The area is also famous for birds from the toucan family, including the giant bumble-bee tummied pale-mandibled araçari and paint-box coloured plate-billed mountain toucan. My favourite bird from the entire trip though was the diminutive crimson-rumped toucanet who we found bathing in a bromeliad (see photo-art at top of this story). It is so fascinating to see these improbably birds eat as they have to toss the food up with their giant bills and hopefully catch it in the back of their throats.
We're not twitchers but we did keep count of the number of species we saw in the four days we spent exploring - an incredible 127 (confirmed by our knowledgeable guide)! I much prefer spending extended time with just one species, getting to know them intimately, but on a whistle-stop trip like this, it's just not possible. And we weren't even trying to knock off as many as possible, it's just that there are that many different birds to see! It's really quite overwhelming, which is why here I decided to post about just the hummingbirds and toucans.
Like I did for the Galápagos leg of the trip, I'd like to add some notes about travelling with a chronic illness. I was very anxious before the trip about the effects of altitude and potential altitude sickness. Alongside anxiety about seasickness, I'm surprised Lynn ever convinced me to go! So before the trip, we went through two rounds of "altitude training". This involves breathing a high-nitrogen mix of air through a mask for about an hour a day for three weeks. You can hire a system to do at home or there is a clinic downtown. Breathing this mix helps create new red blood cells which can then carry more oxygen and give a bit more energy. The effects last around 3 weeks or so. Other than huffing and puffing a bit more and having some trouble sleeping, we didn't have any altitude-related issues, so I'm glad we went to the effort.
What I did notice though was "land sickness". For about a week after getting off the boat after 11 days at sea, I felt the world moving as if I was still onboard. It was quite unexpected, but apparently it is a thing, and sometimes people never recover. Fortunately it wore off!
I was shooting with the Panasonic GX7 and 20mm, 100-300mm, and 35-100mm lenses, all bought especially for this trip and I loved how lightweight it all was. I was still learning how to use the gear, so a lot of the photos are sub-par. I'd love to return with my latest kit and better knowledge of how to get the best out of shooting in dappled forests (even with good gear, it's hard).
Do you have a bucket-list birding destination for when we can travel again?
Bathtime in Bella Vista (crimson-rumped toucanet)
A splish and a splash as these tiny toucanets pop in and out of the cloud-forest bromeliads, drinking and bathing. Habitat for toucanets and many other bird species in Ecuador is being saved and restored as farmers change their land use from farming and hunting to eco-tourism, such as at Angel Paz's reserve in Mindo.
Exhibited in: "Birds on a Wire" solo exhibition (April, 2018). Published in: Artists Down Under magazine (Feb, 2018).
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to the American Bird Conservancy to support their conservation efforts in Ecuador.
Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
crimson-rumped toucanet, Aulacorhynchus haematopygus
Hands up who has at least one print waiting to be framed? Yes - my hand went up too! And if you haven't framed art before, you might be feeling a bit uncertain.
Before going to the framers
If your print is rolled, try to resist temptation and don't unroll it for a peek. Leave it rolled until you get to the framer, to minimize damage. If it's in a cellophane sleeve, leave it inside. And if you do peek, be careful to not touch the surface, especially if the print is on a matte paper, which is easily scratched.
Think about where you'll hang it and make some measurements. Take a photo on your phone too, so the framer can see the colour of your wall. If you have other art hanging nearby, take photos of them too so the framer gets a sense of your style.
Have at least a rough idea of your budget range, and do give the framer an indication of whether you're looking for a low cost frame, mid-range, or something a bit special.
It's the thing you can't see that's most important - the glass
The most important decision is the glass, not the frame. You want to see the art in all its glory.
Plain glass is the cheapest, but is reflective. I don't know about you but reflections drive me crazy! It makes it so much harder to fully appreciate the print and the texture of the paper. Plain glass doesn't protect against UV light either, so your print will fade faster. Some people do like the shiny finish though - if that's you, then you've saved yourself some bucks!
I recommend the next step up, which is UV70 glass. It is anti-reflective and has 70% UV protection. It makes a HUGE difference in reducing (most, but not all) reflections, especially if you've bought a dark tūī print like the one above.
If you've bought an expensive print or original art, protect your investment and consider Museum grade glass, which is also anti-reflective and provides 99% UV protection. There are some other glasses out there, but those are the three key ones.
The fancier glass is of course more expensive. But I'd rather you chose a simpler frame and got the nice glass, rather than vice-versa. So a neat trick to reduce the cost is to reduce the area the glass has to cover. And that may mean using a narrower mat or no mat at all (the mat is the the cardboard frame between the print and the outer frame).
Less area = less glass = lower cost.
A simple 8cm wide mat on a 20x20cm print doubles your glass cost because the area goes from 400 to nearly 800 square cm.
If you choose to just use a frame with no mat, ask the framer to use "spacers". Spacers are plastic risers that sit between the frame (hidden just under the edge) and the print so the print isn't resting directly against the glass.
How to choose a frame and a mat
Nothing beats trying out lots of options. Your framer will have a huge range of possibilities, which can seem overwhelming, but they also have the experience to help you narrow them down. Don't immediately consider plain black or white frames with a white mat - have a play with some other options too.
There are also online framing configurators to experiment with, though the exact colours can be hard to reproduce on regular computer monitors. Pioneer Framing and Van Uffelen are both ones to try. Although they are designed for you to upload digital images, I believe you can also play with the configurators to work out what you like, then send them your print to frame. (I have some open edition prints from the "Flights of Fancy" series on Pioneer where you can choose my preferred framing or design your own.)
Why does framing cost so much?
It's a common refrain - the framing was more expensive than the print! Maybe one day I'll be rich enough to buy art that is more expensive than the frame, but if you're anything like me, that's a long way off! The reality is, the cost of producing a print is the cost of some fancy fine-art paper - expensive, but it's still only paper. But with a frame, there is the wooden moldings, the glass, the mat or spacers, the backing board, and all the hardware and tools needed to put it together, along with the labour costs. It simply costs more in materials and labour to make, compared to the print. I can't help but note too, that many artists, unlike framers, undervalue their work and price their prints too low!
Have fun with your framing
(Hover or click on the photos in this gallery to find out more about the framing used).
The frame is an integral part of the art - the right frame can transform an artwork from nice to magnficent. Even the simplest frames can be magical with the right picture and a well-matched mat.
When I first started getting art framed, I was so scared of making a bad decision and I was also reluctant to invest in getting quality framing. But after making hundreds of TinyArt pieces, I've tried so many weird and wonderful frames that I'm far more adventurous. I love trying new frames and fancy extras. A number of the framed prints I have in galleries have these extra touches because I love seeing my art beautifully presented and I know that it can be hard for customers to visualize how a print might look.
Some interesting things to try, once you've got your confidence up, include:
Can't I just buy a frame at Briscoes?
Of course! And if it gets the print out of its packaging and on the wall, then that's great! I don't need to tell you that you'll get the quality you'd expect. That's means over time, your print may fade because the glass or plastic is not UV resistent, or the print may react to the products used to build it (e.g., if the mat isn't acid-free). If your print isn't a standard size, you might find it hard to find a frame off-the-shelf. But do know there are no "frame police" that will come and tell you off.
You can also buy pre-made frames online. They're usually a bit better quality and the mats are usually acid-free, but in my experience, the frames tend to chip easily. They're actually expensive for the quality of the materials used. It can be a bit of a faff to mount the print too.
If you do decide to frame yourself, find or borrow an air puffer (every photographer has one) and a brand new microfibre glass cleaning cloth to help you remove dust.
Expect to wait 3-8 weeks to get your framed piece back. Framing is not a quick process.
Do get in touch with the artist and ask what type of framing and which framers they recommend. Some artists (me included) will even arrange the framing for you. I don't have that as an option in my shop as framing costs vary so much, so I prefer to have a chat with you first.
If you buy a print as a gift, consider getting a framing gift-certificate to go with it! (Or consider a TinyArt piece, which I created especially for gifts, where the recipient doesn't need to worry about framing.)
If you're an artist looking for help with framing, check out this other blog on exhibition and gallery framing hints.
My favourite project for Zealandia EcoSanctuary is creating the annual fund-raising calendar! And it takes around 18 months to create if you account for the effort required to obtain a seasonal range of photos. Many of us aim to get that calendar-worthy shot on every visit to Zealandia, and we visit year-round, often weekly.
Planning starts in December, and sometime in the New Year a call goes out to the volunteer Sanctuary Storyteller photographers and to regulars on the ZEALANDIA Visitor Art & Photography Facebook page to start submitting their photos. We aim to include at least three photos per month, with each month having a theme. It's a 13-month calendar, because it's created from folder A3 paper (to make an A4 calendar). This gives 4 pages for every piece of paper. A 12-month calendar plus cover only fills 26 of 28 pages.
Around March, the selections are made and photos edited and approved by the contributing photographers and staff. This year, preparations coincided with lock-down giving me a most-welcome distraction.
The coveted spot is of course the cover - that image needs to be compelling, have some negative space for branding, and be recognizable from a distance. Congratulations to Jason Plaisted for his wonderful kākāriki photo that graces the 2021 cover.
Once the photos are set, over autumn, the Storyteller writers conjure up inspiring stories to match the theme and images. Some keen contributors aim for the complete sweep with a set of themed photos and a matching story. But most months are a mix of many contributors.
As we head into winter, the fact-checkers and researchers dig in and confirm all the species are identified correctly, that the dates and moon-phases are correct, the Te Reo Māori is correct (including macrons), as are the holidays and observations. The pedants among us relish this task, and many lively discussions can ensue. I'm sure some of you are also pedants and are interested in some of the behind-the-scenes decisions (if not, skim down to the end to find out how to get hold of a calendar!)
I always fear the dates will somehow be wrong, but I use this amazing plug-in for InDesign (Calendar Wizard) that is a pig to use but when you conquer it, it automatically generates all the spreads. It's a life- and time-saver.
We set the moon phase as it is in Wellington - anywhere else in the country (or world) can be off by a day as the phase often changes in the middle of the night. There is often confusion as one of the definitive guides online has the correct phases, but uses the wrong Northern-hemisphere icons (yes, the moon is upside down in the Southern hemisphere - a fun fact that has confused many of my Northern-hemisphere friends).
Scientific names can be quite fluid for NZ species, with researchers actively updating taxonomies, but with scientific consensus and adoption of new names taking some time. For instance, you may have noticed that our gecko names have transitioned back and forth over recent years, and it's still not settled. Te Reo names are also fluid as old knowledge is reclaimed by local iwi, or new names are needed. Of great debate is whether transliterations for months and other European concepts should be used or maramataka months (from the Māori lunar calendar, which is based on moon phases). These decisions and recommendations are made with such care and much consultation. In recent years we have decided on the transliterations. I would love to some day help with a maramataka calendar too.
Some people wonder why we don't include specific observations and holidays. We strive to include many conservation-related observances, but the sponsoring organizations often don't advertise their dates (or haven't decided on them) for the coming year in time to include in the calendar (I won't name and shame). We also don't tend to include religious holidays unless they're an official public holiday.
Not including the Matariki period (the Māori New Year) seems like an oversight to many, and we do hope to include it next year. But there are many variations across different iwi in how the period is defined. This makes a lot of sense when you consider its all about observational astronomy: the appearance of the constellation Matariki on the horizon. And this of course depends on where you are in the country and barriers like hills. Some iwi use other constellations. It is a fascinating subject and there are some amazing Māori astronomers working on it. With talk of Matariki becoming an official public holiday, it will be interesting to see how consensus is reached because the aim is to have one date for the entire country (but which will at least vary each year), so by definition, some of what the Matariki period means will be lost to convenience.
Back to the Zealandia calendar, once the dust has settled and the facts established the best we can, it's then down to multiple rounds of proofing and sign-off from every part of the organization. We strive for no errors, but is that ever possible? By the end of the process, once the calendar comes off the production line, I'm too afraid to look! People tell me that it's absolutely gorgeous, so I'm going to trust their judgment...
If you're keen to participate, do join the Facebook group and start working on your photography. You're more likely to be successful if you've taken a fabulous photo featuring a subject we haven't previously had in the calendar (e.g., kākā, tūī, kākāriki, and takahē have had more than enough exposure). We also love photos that show wildlife interacting with its environment or showing an interesting behaviour.
In addition, do join my Art of Birding Wildlife and Nature photography challenge. Many of the successful contributors are doing the challenge, which is designed to upskill photographers for wildlife advocacy, and with outcomes like the calendar in mind.
If you want to lay your hands on a calendar for yourself, your friends, and your family, pick them up at the Visitor Centre or check out the offer above.
[Update 3 Nov 2020: You can now buy them directly from Zealandia through their new online gift shop!]
Finally, such huge thanks to the contributors for 2021:
Photography: Brendon Doran, Andrew Hawke, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Bianca Maddox, Amanda Main, Janice McKenna, Linton Miller, Jason Plaisted, Karen Rankin, Alison Valentine, Rory Wilsher.
Stories: Leon Berard, Vanya Bootham, Rosemary Cole, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Katherine Miller, Louise Slocombe.
Design: Judi Lapsley Miller.
Research & editing: Vanya Bootham, Libby Clark, Rosemary Cole, Chris Gee, Loralee Hyde, Judi Lapsley Miller, Linton Miller, Louise Slocombe, Rory Wilsher.
This fella cracks me up! I can just imagine him out for a moonlit stroll chortling away to himself. I don't know what the joke is, but it's a good one. Listen out, if you're in kiwi territory, for their distinctive snuffling and snorting as they go about their business.
It's not easy to get good kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) photos - they are nocturnal after all. But I was fortunate to get the opportunity to photograph this chap during the day as he foraged for grass grubs. Conservation staff thought he was likely in a territory dispute, so rather than take on his foe, he decided to take the peaceful option and forage in the daytime instead. It was such a rare opportunity that I shot a couple of thousand photos! And I couldn't resist reimagining him in a more familiar night-time scene.
More typically, photo opportunities are at night and lit by red torchlight (converting to black and white is the only option). Shutter-speeds are slow and ISO is high, making for a grainy photo with motion blur. Despite these limitations, I do love the above photo with the oversized shadow in the iconic kiwi shape.
I've been fortunate to be involved with some of the kiwi research at Zealandia EcoSanctuary, helping out Andrew Digby (before he became a kākāpō and takahē guru) and Helen Taylor. I never did get to see a kiwi chick, but I did get to see many adults. A highlight was watching a fight late one night, with the two kiwi "beak-fighting" like they rapiers.
We (literally!) dug kiwi out of their burrows during the day for health checks. This provided some unique opportunities to get close-up photos of their tiny wings and their huge eggs.
Helen's research suggests that all is not well for kiwi pukupuku. Despite their breeding success at Zealandia, Kāpiti, and other places around New Zealand, they are descended from only a handful of birds. This genetic bottlenecking decreases the fertility of each generation and lowers their genetic diversity. Helen's research has been instrumental in helping conservation organizations get a handle on how many individuals are needed to successfully translocate a species to a new home.
If you found this page because you're after kiwi photos, I've donated a number to Wikimedia Commons with a CC-BY-4.0 licence which means they're free to use with attribution. Links to my fine-art prints featuring the kiwi are below, with sales supporting conservation at Zealandia.
Fine art prints featuring kiwi pukupuku
A real kiwi joker (kiwi pukupuku)
Out for an early evening stroll under a rising moon, our kiwi friend is chuckling to himself - I wonder what the joke is?
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
Also available as an 80cm print, on enquiry.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
After midnight (kiwi pukupuku)
A snuffle, a rustle, then a ghostly image appears, silvery light dappling over his fluffy feathers - this is the rare and endangered kiwi pukupuku (little-spotted kiwi) out for a moonlit stroll. Long cat-like whiskers and a heightened sense of smell ensures this kiwi will find a tasty dinner.
10% of the artist's proceeds goes to Zealandia EcoSanctuary to support their conservation efforts.
Price includes 15% GST for New Zealand sales.
kiwi pukupuku, little-spotted kiwi, Apteryx owenii
Some people dislike the holey nature of kawakawa (Piper excelsum), but I think it gives this under-rated native shrub some personality. Each leaf is uniquely carved out by the every-hungry kawakawa looper moth caterpillar. The birds adore the fruit and I adore a nice cup of peppery Kawakawa Fire tea.
It's week 2 in the 2020 Art of Birding challenge, and it was a simple one - to get inspired by leafy greens. Though my apologies to our snowed-in Northern Hemisphere participants who had much more of a challenge on their hands. I'm so glad so many of you were able to uncover some evergreen leaves.
400mm, f2.8, 160s, ISO 400, 0EV
I love taking photos of leaves, and often use them in my art by overlaying them with textures and collaging them to make leaf arrangements. Some examples are:
Do you have a favourite leaf?
Creativity ebbs and flows and after a busy patch doing something else it can be hard to get back into it. Sometimes the business side of art, other work, and life has to come first for a bit. I've been reflecting on what's helped me in the past and I thought I would share my thoughts with you - I know I'm not alone in needing some inspiration (and a kick in the pants)! I'd love to know what works for you - feel free to add ideas in the comments...
1. a reward for getting going
Photo-art teacher Sebastian Michaels taught me that you have to turn up, and keep turning up, for your muse to arrive. She won't take you seriously unless you take yourself seriously too. I like to hook in a reward for turning up - something as simple as a cup of coffee or tea in a special mug first thing in the morning can get me out of bed and ready for action. For a long time I was starting every morning with art, but somehow I got out of the habit. This is probably the number one thing I need to remedy in my quest to get creative again. Sebastian's 21-days to creative abundance is a good kick-starter. I also love Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big magic: creative living beyond fear". Might be time for a re-read...
2. The time is now
There's no point waiting for the perfect time to get creative - there is no better time than now, even if just for a few minutes. Waiting for the perfect time means so many lost opportunities. I find when the perfectionism/procrastination ramps up so that I find I'm waiting for the perfect time, when it arrives I'm out of practice and risk squandering the opportunity. A little bit more often, even if not ideal, means I'm more likely to have days when I find my muse and get into the zone.
3. Message a trusted friend
It makes a big difference touching base with artist friends regularly to inspire each other with plans and schemes and to bounce ideas around. I'm blessed to have a couple of artist friends that regularly check in and are quick with positive encouragement. We all need people in our lives that believe in what we're doing, especially for those times when we don't believe in ourselves.
5. Try a new art medium
Seeing a favourite subject in a new way can help, and what better way to feel enthused than a visit to the art store for new and interesting art supplies. My life was forever enriched when pastel artist Karen Rankin Neal put me onto shimmery Pan Pastels and Dahler Rowney pearlescent inks! It's what took me from a purely digital world into experimenting with Giclee print embellishment, mixed media, and big messes.
6. Do a creative course
I love getting creative and crafty with weekend workshops and online courses. Even if not directly related to my main artform, they can lead to creative connections. The weekend picture framing course I did last year at The Learning Connexion unleashed an entire product line (TinyArt), produced a rewarding collaboration with friend and framer Chris Helliwell, and enabled me to get bolder and more creative with my framing choices. There are so many free online courses and tutorials on literally every creative endeavour - start with YouTube and you'll soon be on an adventure. Did you know all the classic Bob Ross "Joy of Painting" courses are online and free? All 403 of them! What a resource! I've not been taking advantage of my subscriptions to the online KAIZEN (enrollments currently closed) and Shift Art photo-artistry communities, both of which have an incredible wealth of creative tutorials, and I will get back into them tomorrow... or even today... I promise.
7. Schedule social media
Being active on social media is an essential part of most modern artist's lives, but it so easy to go down unrelated rabbit holes and never return. Make time for social media, but not at the expense of the most productive hours of the day. I have to relearn this lesson again and again and again… how about you?
8. Join a regular creative challenge
daily, weekly, or monthly creative challenge can be a fun way to keep trying new things and to build a habit of creating regularly. I created the weekly Art of Birding Wildlife & Nature Photography Challenge in 2018 to push myself to try new things, and then invited the world to join me. There are now hundreds of people also doing the challenge and we're all set to go for 2020 - check back in early December for the new challenges. Next year's challenges will emphasize creativity and composition, won't rely on having special gear, will have extra credit challenges, and will work for both photographers and other artists. I'm excited!
9. Create something just for fun and just for you
It can be too easy to get caught up in the mindset that everything created needs to count. But sometimes it's best to relax and take the time to create something just for ourselves. It's especially important if you're having an "attack of the shoulds" (when you hear yourself saying "I should be doing this" and "I should be doing that"). It took two days to make this crazy-complicated secret Belgian binding notebook, but I loved every moment. Especially fossicking through my decades of interesting paper scraps. Want to make one too? There's lots of tutorials out there and I referred to many, but the lovely Jennifer aka Sea Lemon tutorial was the clearest.
10. Fill your world with inspiration
Enrich your surroundings by subscribing to art magazines (check out Artists Down Under), collecting art, following artists on social media, and going to exhibitions. Try the Excio app that puts art and photography on your phone's wallpaper. Put on some of your favourite music, grab your tools, and get creating!
Do any of these suggestions resonate with you? What works for you? What else would you recommend I try? Let me know in the comments below...
[An article for budding artists who are taking the plunge to exhibit their work, though art buyers might also be interested in what goes on behind-the-scenes of an exhibition]
So you've taken the plunge and agreed to do an exhibition - congratulations! One of the first major decisions is framing. If you've not done it before, it can be quite intimidating. Hopefully this blog will take some of the uncertainty out of it, or at least will help you know which questions to ask.
My key take home message? It is important to see the frame not merely as a vehicle for the print but as an extension of the art itself.
So what's going on here? We have a super-intelligent parrot - Polly to her friends, but Professor to her students - at home and trying to relax but the kids are testing out their camera skills. We've all been there...
There's something about the aesthetic of old family photographs that I perversely love - the retro wallpapers, the jaunty angles and lack of focus, the look of terror on the poor victims, the fashion faux pas - and of course the memories - they're a delight to relive. And I found some wonderfully cringing examples in my old family photo archive to share so you can perhaps see where I'm coming from with lovely Polly.
Access Octomono Masonry Settings
Judi Lapsley Miller
Fine art inspired by the stories of birds and the natural world. Starting with photographs, I let my imagination take me on flights of fancy. What is real and what is imagined is blurred. What is physical and what is virtual is disrupted. Bursting with colour and life.
Art, birds, photography, wildlife - be the first to find out what's happening...