The Egg Case

Had I lived in the late-1800s, there’s a good chance I would have been a bird egg collector. Backyard collecting, exchanges, and sales were popular during the Victorian era, and I can see easily the appeal of amassing a collection to study and admire. But since collecting became illegal with the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 (thankfully!), I rely on museum collections for an occasional egg fix.

The Egg Case

I sketched this section of a much larger display at the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, NY. I only had about 30 minutes, so I sketched directly in pen and painted later at home, using a photo and reference books for the colors and patterns. If I were doing a careful painting, I would work in pencil first so that I could get the edges of each egg smooth and clean. But in this case, that kind of accuracy didn’t matter to me—I just wanted to have fun collecting on paper.

Celebrating One Year! On another note, it’s been year since I started I this blog and I want to thank you for following it! I began with a couple of posts on bird nests and eggs, so perhaps it’s fitting to come full circle and be back on that theme a year hence. I love hearing your thoughts, so keep on commenting…and share the blog as you see fit to widen its reach.

Salamander Rain

Every year, I wait for the first warm rainy night in April, excited as a kid anticipating Santa Claus. That’s because this is the night of the annual salamander migration. Under the cover of rainy darkness, salamanders come out of the forest en masse and crawl to wetlands and small ponds to breed. It’s the one night of the year when I get to see these ancient creatures doing what they have done for millions of years.

Salamanders 2015

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I recruit a team of hardy souls and go to a spot where a road bisects woods and wetland. Salamanders have no choice but to cross. The traffic is light, but even a few cars can cause a lot of carnage. Flashlights in hand, we patrol the road, look for small waggling objects, and deliver them quickly to the other side. We identify and count the species we see— Jefferson, spotted, four-toed, red-backed, plus spring peepers and wood frogs. On a good night, we may find 20 or more in an hour.

Except this year… the only salamanders I get to see are the ones on this page. That’s because there have been no steady early evening rains, only rain after midnight (and I’m not crazy enough to trade sleep for rain and amphibians). Salamanders have crossed into a new season, and I’ll have to wait a whole year to see them again.

Easter Eggs!

I had a wonderful opportunity to try my hand at decorating eggs using traditional Ukrainian methods last week and have been inspired ever since. It wasn’t just the intricate and beautiful designs that drew me in, but the incredible patience and focus required to make them. I spent 3.5 hours in the company of several friends decorating eggs and produced just two. Back at home, I decided to capture the experience and replicate the intricate egg patterns in my journal. The detailed eggs seemed to beg for a more elaborate border and lettering than I would typically do—but, I’m quite pleased with the end result.

Pysanka 2015

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Pysanka 2015

Here are the eggs I made.

About Pysanka– This ancient art form dates back thousands of years and is steeped in legend and symbolism. Ukrainian eggs are made by writing with beeswax on the egg using a tool called a kistka. The patterns are made by adding successive layers of wax and dye. In the final stage, the egg is held close to a candle and the wax is slowly melted and rubbed off to reveal the beautiful pattern.

About replicating the eggs in watercolor– I started by lightly drawing the egg shape and then building up a couple of layers of watercolor to create a range of light and dark areas. This leaves the final egg with a bit of shine and starts to give the egg a dimensional appearance. I used Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus watercolors for most of these eggs because I wanted an intense background color. Once the egg was fully dry, I added the designs using a fine white gel pen. I tested a number of white inks, pencils, and crayons to see if I could replicate the resist method used on the actual eggs, but none gave satisfactory results. Additional details were added to the orange eggs using paint. The trick is to add the design as if on a dimensional object, so the lines must follow the imaginary curves of the egg.