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What a find! My son and I recently hit the jackpot while exploring the tidal Slocum River on Massachusetts’s southern coast. There in the brackish water, among feeding barnacles and clam siphons protruding from the muddy bottom, we spied them: floating, iridescent, pulsating jellies! At first one, then two, and when our eyes adjusted to deciphering clear bodies in the water column, twenty or more. They ranged from dime-sized to golf-ball sized and we watched them, mesmerized, until hunger sent us in search of lunch.
I later learned that comb jellies are not jellyfish. Though they share some characteristics—like gelatinous bodies made of two major cell layers—these ancient creatures hail from distinct phyla: comb jellies are ctenophores, jellyfish are cnidarians. Comb jellies are propelled through the water not by propulsion, but by the action of thousands of tiny cilia that line their bodies. When light is refracted by the moving cilia it results in a beautiful rainbow of pulsating light.
This journal page is my attempt to capture the experience and also serves as field notes for learning about comb jellies. (Stillman & Birn Beta journal, 5.5×8.5, watercolor, ink, and alcohol to create the textural effect.)
It’s tough to keep up a sketchbook when traveling by bicycle! But here’s the result of my recent 400 mile, 8-day cycling trip along the Erie Canal in New York State. (You can click on the image to enlarge it a bit.) Because I needed to cover 50 to 60 miles a day, I found it impossible to sketch until the riding was done. No matter how tired, I made a point of extending the schematic map eastward each evening, filling in some of the day’s adventures in words or pictures.
Packing light was essential! I brought a black Micron 02 pen, a small watercolor kit, water brush, and 5”x8” Moleskin watercolor sketchbook packed in a ziplock bag. The birds and bicycles page (below)– a record of all the birds I’ve seen while cycling– was completed back at home.
Having creative friends is wonderful thing—especially when they invite you over for an evening of sketching! I’d been eying Camille’s garden for awhile and I was glad for the chance to look at it more closely. Unfortunately, the sun was fading fast, so I chose just a small part of the flower bed to paint. I especially liked the way the hedge bindweed threaded through the lilies and daisies. The wren is nesting in my own garden, but he fit that space quite nicely and so became the final element to the page.
What if you had to draw something every hour all day, but each drawing could take only one to five minutes? That’s the challenge I issued to participants at a recent workshop on Arts and Birding in Maine…and this page is my own result. Starting at 5:40am with the clothes hanging in my closet, I found that sometimes I knew what I wanted to draw (the osprey nest), but more often, I just stopped at some point during each hour and drew whatever was in front of me (flowers on the breakfast table at 7:40am, my half-eaten turkey wrap at 12:59pm).
My aim with the challenge was to encourage participants to work fast to get something down on the page, without worrying so much about how it turned out. I also wanted people to see that it is possible to make time for sketching, even if it’s just a few minutes each day. By getting into a habit of regularly putting pen to paper, drawing skills improve!
Since it’s impossible to convey “a day in the life” on this island in just minutes of sketching, I thought I’d also give you an expanded view. Join us in 2015!
Arts and Birding 2014, Audubon Camp on Hog Island, Maine
I love dead birds.
Don’t get me wrong: I love living birds, too. It’s just that living birds are harder to draw and paint. So when I have a chance to study and sketch specimens, I seize it! Bird “study skins”—as these un-posed, stuffed birds are called—provide a close-up view of anatomy, feather groups, and coloration that is often hard to decipher when birds are alive and moving. By sketching bird skins, I’m better prepared to capture the right placement and shape of a bird’s wings, feet, and bill when sketching birds that are alive and fleeting.
These specimens are part of the collection at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine, where I recently spent a week teaching “Arts and Birding”…and encouraging participants to take a closer look at both living and dead birds.