Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity knocked this week in the form of a pileated woodpecker that died on the roof outside my office window. Cause unknown. The chance to study and paint it lay before me – literally. How could I pass it up? Would you? There was only one thing to do: climb out the window, retrieve it and get sketching.

It’s quite a privilege to hold a bird like this in your hands, and just a bit grim. Keeping it without a permit would be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so I worked on the page, took a few reference photos, and laid it to rest in some nearby woods.

Pileated Woodpecker

Click to view larger. Sketches and text done with Micron pen 02 and 005 pens and watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal.

What’s in a name? I was curious about the name “pileated,” so I did a little research and learned that it means having a crest covering the pileum, which is the top of a bird’s head from bill to nape. The word comes from the Latin word pileus, which was a brimless felt cap worn in ancient Greece.

Welcome and thanks to all the new followers of Drawn In who found me through Turning the Pages: A Look at the Sketchbooks of Artists. Sorry to start you out with a dead bird—I promise to mix it up in the coming weeks!


Let’s just say, it’s going to be hard to go back to beets after painting orchids. My recent trip to Washington included a visit to the US Botanic Garden—a lush and beautiful oasis amidst a busy city. More than 5,000 specimens of orchids are included in its collection and a special exhibit featured many of them—to the awe and delight of a steady stream of visitors. I found a few quieter corners in which to paint, using just a simple set of watercolors and a waterbrush (Pental large size, with a surprisingly pointed tip for finer lines). What a delight to spend a few hours with such exotic and beautiful plants!Orchids

Orchids in Focus is on display through April 17, 2016. If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss it. 

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Old Birds

The lifespan of most small birds is short—just a few years and then they’re gone to predation, disease, or hazards. These birds were given a second life, of sorts, after being “collected” in the 1800s and placed on display at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  During a recent visit I got to see about 500 birds on display—a minute fraction of the 640,000 specimens housed and maintained by the museum, which has the third largest bird collection in the world. How I would love to look behind the scenes! But I was happy enough to sketch these old favorites.DC_Chickadees-Nuthatch


Beautiful Ending

There is a point when I am midway through a painting that I have to hold my breath and hope I don’t wreck it. That’s especially true when I’ve invested in a careful drawing as a base for the watercolor. So I’m especially pleased to come out the other side of this piece with a beautiful ending. (See last week’s post for the beginning.)Nest_catbird