“Indian Paintbrush & Bluebird Feather”

Indian Paintbrush & Bluebird Feather, SE Utah (c) Mike Utley

F25–Indian Paintbrush & Bluebird Feather, SE Utah
I came across this Indian paintbrush one late-summer afternoon at the farm. It was surrounded by dry cheatgrass, and a long-dead pinyon pine stood nearby. At the base of the flower were several bluebird feathers, the remnants of a recent meal left by some small predator (perhaps one of the farm cats). Immediately, I was struck by the three primary colors–red, yellow, blue–and how the neutral tones of the cheatgrass provided the perfect background to amplify the colors. I rarely ever manipulate a scene (aside from perhaps clearing away dead sticks or debris to unclutter an image), but this image demanded a bit of artistic license, so I placed a feather in the flower and was pleased with the resultant image. (Canon gear, Kodak Royal Gold 100)

30 thoughts on ““Indian Paintbrush & Bluebird Feather”

  1. Oh cuteness, what a lovely sight to behold. I didn’t even want to stop watching. The little manipulation of placing that blue feather across the flowers is just perfect and gives an amazing contrast. Thanks for sharing with us this beautiful picture, Mike. I’m utterly amazed. βœ…πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸ€—

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    1. Thanks, Xenia. I love the delicate translucency of feathers. They possess such ethereal beauty. I remember finding hawk feathers on the farm as a kid and thinking what an amazing treasure I’d stumbled upon! The feather in this image was from a pinyon jay, or what we called a pinyon squawker, which is a relative of the crow. Now and then, we’d see western bluebirds, and on rare occasions, the majestic Stellar’s Jay. πŸ™‚

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  2. What a beauty, Mike. At first, I thought it was some exotic plant with the perfect color combination. But then I noticed the feather. You have a knack for making the pretty look even prettier. Glad you’re sharing these lovely images with us. They deserve to be admired. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, Jeff. Much appreciated. I think this is the first time I’ve actually had a reason to admire cheatgrass! It makes a perfectly neutral background to set off the colors of the flower and feather. Other than that, it’s just a highly annoying weed that fills your socks up with stickers (and can be dangerous to dogs if their spikelets are inhaled). πŸ™‚

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    1. Thank you, Kirsten. I suppose the bluebird has sort of been memorialized in this photo. The natural world can be beautiful but also cruel. I’d have much rather preferred photographing the living bird with the flower. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks, David. Your kind words mean a lot to me. I spent a long time trying to figure out this same dilemma. My area is replete with amazing natural beauty to photograph, but it is so incredibly rural that there’s no market to sell art for hundreds of miles in all directions. People here are more concerned with putting food on their tables and clothes on their backs and paying the bills to ever consider purchasing art. Artists really need to have connections in big cities where there are patrons of the arts who are able and willing to support artists by purchasing their work. That means living in a city or having an agent in a city representing the artist. In order to land an agent, you must already have a name for yourself. It’s a bit of a Catch-22–you need an agent to make a name for yourself, but you can’t make a name for yourself without an agent. The nearest city of any size is Albuquerque, NM (250 miles). Salt Lake City, UT is 347 miles away. Denver, CO is 381 miles away. Phoenix, AZ is 409 miles distant. A notable artisan city–Santa Fe, NM–is 278 miles away. So, there’s nothing within a few hundred miles that offers any sort of opportunities for artists. My area consists of farm land, deserts, canyons, and mountains sprinkled with a few tiny towns here and there. While there are art galleries in many of these small towns, many of them are more like “hobby galleries” for their owners since they don’t bring in much money. Now and then you’ll find a small gallery that has some famous names in it. It’s just the wrong part of the country to live in if you want to make a living in any form of graphic arts and depend on selling your work locally. I submitted images to magazines and stock agencies, to no avail (very similar results to my writing submissions). In the end, it became too expensive to continue shooting–I was using film at the time (1995-2004) and could no longer afford all the expenses involved, and didn’t want it to just be a “hobby,” so I had to stop. It was like losing a friend, and the memories of turning my back on photography are bitter. I wish I could have made it work, but I wasn’t able to. So, all these images have been languishing in darkness all these years until I decided to share them here. I’m grateful for the positive comments and it makes me want to try again if I can get some other life problems sorted out first. Anyway, thanks as always for your constant support, good sir. I appreciate it. πŸ™‚

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      1. If you can’t get these photographs and your words around them to attain the recognition that they deserve them there’s something wrong with the world. You’re a light in a dark place. Keep on keeping on.

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  3. this is a very artistic photographic work depicting a vivid memory (the vibrant red) of the ancient era (the feather) when the only means of writing was by using a feather dipping into ink….It instantly takes me far back into that period of history, and it brings the scenes of writing with a feather in ancient-themed movies into my visualization…. love this!

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    1. This is a marvelous interpretation of this image! The feather quills of antiquity certainly evoke thoughts of a much more romanticized era. I remember as a kid on the farm when I tried writing with a chicken feather. It didn’t work. πŸ˜€ But you’re correct: this image inspires thoughts of memories recorded long ago using ink and quill. Your comments are always thought-provoking and unique, and very much welcome. By the way, when I think of ancient writings, my mind goes to the calligraphers of Asia and their masterful command of their craft. Stunningly gorgeous. πŸ™‚

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    1. Thanks so much, Jeanna. That’s such a kind thing to say. I’m glad to know you found this one pleasing to you. Every time I went out shooting, it was an adventure–I never knew what I’d find, and I was pleasantly surprised so many times. Thanks again for the nice comment! πŸ™‚

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  4. Beautiful coloring. The feather cheat really works.

    Not that you should ever listen to me because my ideas are hair-brained on the best of days, but, if I were you, I’d carry that feather with me in a protective case and strategically place it in every one of my photos, like a calling card, or even a “Can you spot the feather?” challenge.

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    1. Hey, brilliant minds think alike, right? I don’t have that particular feather anymore, but this brings to mind a time many years ago when I visited Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. While hiking around the tower, I found a wild turkey feather. I’d never seen a wild turkey before, so I kept the feather in my truck for years after that, tucked securely atop the passenger seat visor. It was my lucky charm (well, not really–I never won Powerball, and I still can’t dunk a basketball); it was a constant reminder of my adventure at Devil’s Tower and an inspiration to continue my nature photography. Then one day (what, you thought this tale had a happy ending?), while out for a drive in the desert, my young nephew decided to lower the visor while the passenger window was down. Good-bye lucky feather… Oh well. When the evening sun dips toward the horizon and a fire is roaring in the hearth, I like to t think back on that feather as it flew out the window…and imagine some lost soul stumbling upon it years later in the desert…and then promptly winning Powerball and dunking a basketball. It coulda been me… πŸ˜€ Next feather I find, I’m a-keepin’ it in a protective case per your instructions! Thanks for the kind words, Rhyan. πŸ™‚

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      1. Al Hirschfeld used to hide his daughter’s name, “Nina”, in his line drawings, Playboy Magazine (that I only ever read for the articles) used to discreetly place their logo on the person of each issue’s cover model, so why shouldn’t you let everyone know they’re looking at an Utley original?

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    1. Thanks, Diana! Sometimes a scene presents itself as-is, ready to memorialize on film; other times, a scene gives you different tools and pieces to work with to craft a different interpretation. It’s much like writing in that sense. This scene gave me several different elements and virtually begged me to see how I could assemble them to make an image that was truly personal to me. Since the feather was already there at the base of the flower, it made sense to use it to make a more unique statement. I’m happy you like this one. πŸ™‚

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