Nest Demonstration

Song Sparrow Nest (final)“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure…”

I love finding bird nests – in spring and summer when birds are actively nesting, in fall and winter when once-hidden nests appear, and in nature centers and museums, where nests are as likely to be on display as they are hidden in cabinets or backroom storage.

I recently borrowed several nests from a local nature center to use for a demonstration I was invited to give at the Bethlehem Art Association (Delmar, NY). This is the painting that resulted, but I thought I’d also share my progression from early stages to completion so you can see how I built the nest on paper.

Stage 1: Nest

Stage 1: I very loosely sketched the nest with a Micron 02 black pen and then added a wash of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and cobalt blue. My aim at this stage was to get some structure on the page and begin to establish some color and a sense of where lights and darks would be. It’s important to know where lighter strands will cross in front of dark ones, so they can be left light as darker shades are added.

Stage 2: Nest

Stage 2: I’ve added more detail to the nest, weaving more grasses and twigs in both pen (Micron 005) and watercolor. I’ve darkened the inner cup and the outer right side to build dimension and left the left side of the nest very loosely defined.

Stage 3: Nest

Stage 3: More detail, more darks, a bit of spatter, and a strand of grass coming out at the lower right to bring a piece of nesting materials into the space where I’ll incorporate text.

Song Sparrow Nest (final)

Stage 4: Though I don’t always add a shadow, I especially liked the way this one echoed the loose strands of grass. I wrote the text first on tracing paper to figure out the spacing and line breaks, and then penned them directly on the page.

Einstein’s words seemed especially fitting for this piece. There are several other magnificent structures in a box by my desk—you may be seeing more of them in the coming weeks.

17 Comments on “Nest Demonstration

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your process with the nest, Jean. 🙂 Do you know what bird constructed the nest you drew here? It looks quite like a couple nests that I recently found beneath some large cottonwood trees after record rains made them heavy enough to fall during a thunderstorm. They had leaves tucked into the bowl, just as your painting shows. 🙂

    • Thanks Katie- The tag on this nest said “song sparrow/field sparrow” so the collector wasn’t sure. The nests of these two species are pretty similar. I’m not sure whether you have field sparrows where you are, and they nest close to the ground (as do song sparrows)…so I would rule them out if the nest you found blew down from higher branches of a cottonwood.

      • We do have several song sparrows here (Phoenix AZ), but these definitely fell from high in the Cottonwoods and the nests seem large for sparrows (8″ to 9″ across). I think I can rule out sparrow. Perhaps they are grackle nests. I will be watching these cottonwoods next spring to see who is nesting up there. 😉 Thank you Jean.

  2. This is just wonderful and makes me want to try painting one too. I’ve caught a few on film, and I use to pick them up. I too love birds nests and the birds too.
    peace n abundance,

  3. I would love to have seen your demonstration. The result is just wonderful (actually full of wonder)!

  4. Thanks for sharing your process. It’s always interesting to see how each artist approaches a given subject. To keep from getting lost in all those strains, I would have thought the darks would have gone down first. Beautifully rendered!

    • Thanks Laure. I think there is probably no one way to approach it. I’m working on another nest now and I did put a lot of darks in first.

  5. Thank you for sharing your process. I have attempted painting a bird’s nest and after seeing your process I will definitely give it another try. Your colors are beautiful and your shadow adds just the right touch!!! Your work is quite lovely!

  6. Pingback: Open Air Sketching: Spring Nests — March 13, 2021 | Urban Sketchers Waupaca Wisconsin, An Open Air Sketch Group

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