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'In any land what is there more glorious than sunlight! Even here in the desert where it falls fierce and hot like a rain of meteors, it is the one supreme beauty to which all things pay allegiance ... The chief glory of the desert is its broad blaze of omnipresent light.'
-John Van Dyke

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Toads all around - the monsoon is coming

Here in Arizona we are anxiously waiting for the beginning of the monsoon. We already have high humidity, dust storms, dramatic clouds and black skies at times. But no real measurable rain yet, at least not on the west side of the Tucson Mountains. Of course, the wildlife around us is waiting more eagerly than we humans with our access to CAP water and ground water delivered from every faucet. Amphibians like toads, frogs, and spadefoots are hidden under ground during the dry season and emerge when water might be available. They need to keep their bodies moist because their skin is quite permeable - they breath through it and can absorb, but also loose, water. Even more than the adults the eggs and larvae of amphibians (tadpoles) depend on water. Some of our desert species are masters in utilizing very temporary puddles that only lat for a few days for their offspring. Those species, like red-spotted toads and spadefoots have produced quite a lot of offspring last year. But the big Colorado River Toads, or better now Sonoran Desert Toads (after their western most populations are disappearing) need more than just a puddle, they need at least a small pond to mate, lay their strings of eggs and for their tadpoles to reach maturity. Nevertheless, we have at least half a dozen of those prehistoric looking giants between our and our neighbors property. The probably have not bred in decades. But the individuals survive and eat  bugs nightly under all our porch lights and my black light. (read more about them in my nature blog)

Sonoran Desert Toad step by step.  The subject seemed to be great for some wet-in-wet but then I had to fuss around too much to make it recognizable (flash photos don't make good references!). Next time I'll find something with more light/shadow contrast range and side lighting.

Below, another study of our big, often vilified Sonoran Desert Toads. They can be several decades old and put on a lot of character over time. I like painting realistic wildlife, but I don't like painting cute images. The toads allow me to practice portrait skills without having to strive for conventional beauty. I kind of enjoy that...

First a fluid, warm under-painting where I'd like a little glow. The background was inspired by the dark monsoon skies that were so promising (no measurable rain yet). layered washes to flesh out the body, preparing some of the texture of the warty skin, last, adding some calligraphic detail. Not finished yet, though.

Last touches: softening the calligraphy to model the form of the face. Loosing some edge on the left. Hoping that the face will push forward that way and the line of the back retreat.

I hope you enjoy my ugly friend.