Drawn In

Of Maps and Meaning

Maps convey both a sense of place and the experience and agenda of their maker. This map commemorates my trip to Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine this summer for the Arts and Birding workshop. It’s one thing to have your daily schedule or itinerary on a piece of paper; quite another to illustrate it and imbue it with additional meaning and memory: puffins flying overhead, the sound of the sea gently lapping on shore, moss carpeted forests of spruce and fir, winter wrens trilling their song in the silence. I hope you are enjoying summer and making good memories of your own.

p.s. Registration for 2023 Hog Island programs is expected to open in October. Registration for the final session of Savoring Summer Sketchbook Series at Winslow Art Center on August 23 (virtual session) is open now.

Many thanks for all the kind wishes of good health to my husband last week! He’s doing great!

The Things We Take for Granted

The gallbladder— like so many things— is something you can take for granted and forget about, as long as it is functioning properly. Frankly, I hadn’t given it a moment’s notice since high school biology…until this week, when my husband urgently needed to have his removed. Suddenly, I needed to know where it was, what it does, and what happens when you don’t have one. So, naturally, I drew it. Fortunately, it seems that this little organ is something that many people live without and don’t miss at all. Alas, I am sharing my findings on the gallbladder with you this week. And now you can go back to ignoring it, happily, once again.

Tips and Techniques– 1. Don’t let a crisis go to waste. Making this page was not only an excellent way for me to learn something, but it also gave me some restorative art time amidst many hours in the hospital. 2. If you are experiencing abdominal distress, fever, and extreme fatigue, see your doctor– you may have a problem with your gallbladder. 3. If a surgeon shows you photos of your spouse’s gallbladder taken during surgery, whip out your sketchbook to show that you’ve done your homework and know where the gallbladder is! 

p.s., My husband is doing fine, though his gallbladder most definitely was not. 

Full of Life

My garden is full of life this month! Butterflies, bees, hawkmoths, and hummingbirds are coming daily to feast on July’s main attractions: coneflowers and beebalm. I’ve seen swallowtails and skippers, fritillaries and whites. What a grand display! Mind you, my garden is not perfect. There are gaps here and overcrowding there, some plants didn’t come back this spring and others are looking meager. But it is enough for me to pick out a bouquet or a painting, or to simply enjoy the show.

Tips and Techniques- I always find that adding wildlife to my flower sketches enlivens them in exciting ways. Whether a butterfly or a bee, a snail or a bird, adding even one creature begins to hint at the dynamic relationships between plants and animals. Try it with your next flower painting and see if you agree.

Bits and Pieces

I traveled to Maine last week to direct and teach the Arts & Birding workshop at the Audubon Camp at Hog Island. The workshop is an intensive five-day program that includes bird walks at dawn, a variety of art lessons, hikes, evening programs, and a day-long boat trip to see Atlantic puffins and other seabirds. We welcomed a wonderful group of artists this year who sketched, learned, shared, and produced beautiful artwork. Because my job includes teaching and ensuring that everything is running smoothly, my painting time is limited. Still, I managed smaller sketches while traveling and hiking and participated in our annual Hour-by-Hour challenge. Here are a few bits and pieces of the week.

I captured a few travel highlights while making my way to Hog Island.
Hour-by-Hour Challenge: Complete a one-to-five minute sketch each hour of the day. I added paint later.
We offered short, medium, and long hikes with opportunities to practice field sketching techniques. I led the long hike, which meant time was limited to a few quick sketches.

Tips and Techniques– When time is limited, try doing small sketches on a single page. When connected by a theme—travel, hiking, around the house, etc.—these small pieces can add up to tell a story that is worth recording.

And because I’ve only shown you bits and pieces, here are a few photos so you can see more of Hog Island.

Upcoming Workshops: I have both online and in person workshops coming up, including the Savoring Summer series at Winslow Art Center, Sketching and Painting Birds in Westport, Mass, and Drawn to Nature at the Adirondack Great Camp Santanoni in Newcomb, NY. Check the Workshops page for details.

Beach Chicks

Unless you live near the coast or visit frequently, there may only be a few times in your life that you will get to see hatchling shorebirds scampering at the surf line. I count myself fortunate to have visited the coast of Massachusetts last week at the perfect time to see piping plover chicks. Running around on stilt-legs, the tiny puff balls were foraging at the water’s edge, already managing to avoid getting swamped or stomped on by beachgoers. These birds were at least several days old, though piping plover chicks can walk and feed themselves within hours of hatching. As we walked, a new chick or family group appeared every 20 feet or so, as if they had drawn an invisible line in the sand to mark their territory. Other beachgoers strode right by and never noticed them. To be sure, birds the color of sand are not easily seen. So, if you are heading to the coast, take notice! There’s a lot more than surf to watch.

Tips and Techniques– I don’t always bring my sketchbook to the beach, but I had it along with me in hopes of seeing nesting least terns. I was lucky to see those too, but it was the piping plover chicks that really captivated me. I sketched the birds very quickly in pencil, making light lines to mark their posture and gestures. Back home, I fleshed out the bodies, refined the shapes, and filled in the details, using videos for reference. When I was satisfied with the pencil sketch, I inked the lines with a fine Micron 005 pen and then added watercolor. I didn’t actually see piping plover eggs, so I used a reference photo for a single egg and created the four eggs pointing inward as they typically are in a piping plover nest.

If you build it…

Since we moved to our house five years ago, we’ve been converting several areas that were formerly maintained as mown lawn to meadow. This is the first year that wildflowers and milkweed from seeds sown and scattered are blooming and it’s a delight to see butterflies, bees, and dragonflies take notice. A monarch caterpillar was our best resident to date, and I’m glad I sketched it before it either became a juicy meal for a lucky bird or crawled off and hid itself to begin its transformation. Alas, it has been a lovely June in the meadow. What will July bring?

Coming up in July: Sketching Garden Flowers, Tuesday, July 19, 3-5pm Pacific/6-8pm Eastern, online at Winslow Art Center >

The Promise of Summer

With the solstice officially marking summer this week, the season of plenty is here to celebrate. Many birds have already fledged one brood and are now sitting on a second clutch. Depending on where you live, songbirds may even have a chance to raise three broods. I say, thank goodness for second chances. Let the wrens try again after their first nest was disturbed by a bear. Let the robins lay perfect blue eggs and hope the jays leave them alone. Let all this new life surround and fill us during the brightest and darkest of days.

Slow Painting

There’s a bias in urban and nature sketching for working quickly. The idea is to get the subject down while on location and to capture the moment, place, or experience. It’s a worthy practice and many people do it well, completing sketchbook pages with lovely drawings and paintings in an hour or two. But there’s also a lot to be said for working slowly. Careful observation and allowing time for a subject to resonate gives you time to figure out how best to approach it on paper. Sometimes I build a painting over days, weeks, or even months. This was one of those slow paintings. Though relatively simple, it took me the better part of last week to complete it.

Before beginning, I mixed every combination of green from the yellow and blue paints in my palette, filling a large sheet to figure out which ones I liked best. Then it took me several sessions to create the depth I was l was looking for in the leaves. When I got stuck or lost a sense of direction, getting up and walking away helped me to return and see what I needed to do next. While working slow or fast is a matter of preference, consider setting your own pace and taking as long as you need to bring your vision to life.

I’m excited to kick off my Savoring Summer Sketchbook Series at Winslow Arts Center on the summer solstice, June 21. Learn more on the Workshops page or at the Winslow website.

Showstopper

The color of poppies is outrageous—so bright and red you can scarcely believe it. But there it is, once a year, a showstopper in the early June garden. When other flowers are just contemplating what kind of tune they might sing, the poppies belt out their solo. Confidently, they command center stage—knowing, perhaps, that a good rain will soon end their performance.

Tips and Techniques– Because I work during the day, I am often snatching time for sketching and painting in the evenings. I made several trips to the garden this week, fighting biting insects and fading sunlight each time, and that’s why this page looks as it does. I worked very quickly in the drawing stages, adding a few flowers, seed capsules, buds, and leaves over several evenings. I also added some of the values in ink and then I painted inside. This approach is quite different from setting up a single composition or completing an entire painting in one sitting. Doing a little at a time gives me a chance to watch how my subject changes, while building the composition. But it can be a bit of a race against the clock too, especially this week when I was one storm or windy day away from losing my subject altogether.

Registration is open for SAVORING SUMMER SKETCHBOOK SERIES, Tuesdays: June 21, July 19, August 2, August 23, 3-5pm Pacific/6-8pm Eastern at Winslow Art Center – OnlineYou can sign up for one or take all four of these watercolor workshops to capture the beauty and bounty of summer in your sketchbook. Class size is not be limited for this series. Hope to see you there!

Catch it while you can

Today, the allium. Tomorrow poppies. Coming and going, a garden is ever evolving, never static. A bee, a swallowtail, if I’m lucky, a hummingbird. Even now, one moment makes way for the next. Catching it while you can makes all the difference.

Tips and Techniques– Because I was away for much of May, I missed the flowering spring trees, many of the ephemeral wildflowers and bulbs, and the unfurling of ferns here in New York. When I got home the allium were in bloom but starting to fade; I knew I had to get painting before they too were gone. Sometimes it is hard to find time for sketching, but I’m always glad when I do. So, my tip today is to make time. Make time to look; make time to focus; make time to sketch while the subject is fresh. Resist the urge to snap a photo “for later.” When later comes, there will be a whole new world out there that you won’t want to miss.

New workshops coming up! SAVORING SUMMER SKETCHBOOK SERIES– Capture the beauty and bounty of summer in your sketchbook in this series of four online watercolor workshops. Choose one or sign up for all four. Tuesdays: June 21, July 19, August 2, August 23, 3-5pm Pacific/6-8pm Eastern. Details on the WORKSHOPS page.