Linda's Birthday

Stephen Quinn
December 10, 2010 share
Artists for Conservation

Dec 5th - Today is December 5th, my wife, Linda's, birthday! It was bad enough missing Thanksgiving with my family, but missing my wife's birthday was too much. I wish this trip did not fall on her day. I had to come up with a way to send a birthday greeting that would clearly show I was thinking of her and how much I cared. So before I left, I arranged for her to receive a gorilla-gram birthday greeting at her workplace. A gorilla-gram is a guy dressed in a full gorilla costume that arrives with a bunch of bananas, balloons , a dozen red roses and sings happy birthday to the mortified receiver. Considering the expedition I was on, it seemed like the perfect way to tell her how much she means to me.  The guy in the gorilla suite was instructed to arrive at her office, act like a real gorilla, and then sing happy birthday from Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo while Linda's colleagues joined in. When I call tonight on my satellite phone to wish Linda a happy birthday I hope to learn if my gorilla messenger from Africa was punctual. I may want to extend my stay in Africa depending on how well he was received. I hope he wasn't darted with a tranquilizer and trucked off to the Bronx Zoo!!

Sadly, Will Richardson left us for home today. He had a conflicting photography assignment and had to leave us early. We will miss him and his companionship, not to mention his sense of humor. We will need to limp by as best we can without his expert direction and filming.

After we bid Will farewell we spent the rest of the day on Soysambu, where Jeff and I were treated to visits to the most remote areas of the Conservancy, In spite of the pace of our trip I have been able to get quite a bit of sketching done. Some of the sketches are simply quick gesture lines before the animal moves or the light changes, but there is something truely exciting about drawing and painting directly from nature rather than working from photographs in the studio. Often the eye, in the flash of a wild encounter, doesn't catch the fine detail that a photograph does and so, I feel like I am recording what my eyes are seeing rather than duplicating the fine detail that a camera records when I work in my studio. Also, I found that the out-of-doors is full of light, both direct and reflected. A photo is often unbalanced in terms of  it's values and is often too dark in the shadows or overexposed in the highlights, as the camera is exposing as best it can in it's given single setting for a given condition of shadow and light in nature. In contrast, the human eye adjusts instantly to allow the artist to peer into the colors present in deep shadows or the textures and brilliant color of dazzling sunlit highlights. All in all, I found working direct very exciting and a direction I want to go in the future with my work. During the AFC Flag Expedition I made a conscious effort not to take photos but sketch and paint directly instead. It's tough to do, as you are so tempted to fire away with your camera to gather as much photo reference as you can. But after sitting a few yards away from a big male silverback and sketching his portrait (as quick, gestural and fundamental a sketch as it is) I came away from the experience feeling high as a kite. What I came away with was a personal and unique drawing by comparison to a volley of reference shots, had I used a camera. Plus, I never would have looked as closely and studied shape and form as closely as I did, had I been taking photographs. I so enjoy that challenge and feeling of  personal encounter and direct interpretation, that, by comparison, manipulating photo references in the studio holds no thrill.

In the evening we visited a site called Mawe Imbli that overlooks a beautiful volcanic formation called the sleeping warrior as, from a distance, this volcanic cone looks like a Maisi warriors face looking up from the surrounding landscape. It was a favorite spot of Guy's father, Simon Combes, and sadly, in 2004, where Simon was attacked and killed by a Cape Buffalo. Simon was out hiking with Kat, his wife, and a friend when they were charged. Simon was badly gored and , as they were quite a distance from help, he died from his wounds. Guy was constantly warning us about Cape Buffalo when we were in the bush because of this, as they, along with elephants, are the most dangerous and unpredictable animal in Africa. Though it happened a while back, Kat and Guy still have trouble discussing it and it only comes up when the very real dangers of buffalo to visitors are discussed. Now, both Kat and Guy are carrying on Simon's legacy in wildlife conservation. Kat, by working hard to develop and protect Soysambu as a wildlife preserve and Guy, by emerging as an extraordinary artist as was his father before him. It is amazing to me how Guy's work is so much like his Dad's.

On the way back to the ranch that evening, we saw a Bat-eared Fox! A beautiful animal with giant ears to assist them in hunting insects, lizards and rodents in the darkness. It was the first one I had ever seen. Truly a beautiful little creature with enormous ears and large eyes set in a dark face! It did not linger in the headlights but paused briefly then dashed beyond the reach of the light into the tall grasses and surrounding darkness.


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