For years I’ve been fascinated by the work of artists who traveled with the great natural history expeditions of the 17-and-1800s. Those artists worked in the most extreme conditions and with the most exciting of assignments: to catalog the flora and fauna of newly discovered continents. Among my favorites are Maria Sibylla Merian, who exquisitely captured flowers and insects of Surinam (1699-1701), Sydney Parkinson, who crossed the Pacific with the Endeavor and left behind nearly 1,000 finished and unfinished botanical paintings and sketches upon his death at sea (1768-1771), and the prolific Henry Walter Bates, who filled notebook after notebook with insects of the Amazon (1848-1862).
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I’ve always wanted to do a page like this. I started during modest travels of my own, sketching in the cramped quarters of an airplane. I finished back at home, using specimens I had photographed at a natural history museum. No comparison to the working conditions of the masters, but a nod to those artists just the same. And if you’ve ever wondered how much variety you can get from different combinations of browns and blues, paint moths.
Henry Walter Bates, Insects of the Amazon
Henry Walter Bates, 1862
The last garden vegetables left to harvest include a few scarlet runner beans that I’ve had my eye on since their red flowers bloomed in August. I didn’t make time to paint them then, but didn’t want to miss them altogether.
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I sketched directly in ink and then added watercolor to the foreground layer. I went back in and painted an additional layer of light watercolor vines and beans to add more depth. The shadows are really important to making this work because they create the illusion of light and depth. Done in Stillman and Birn Zeta journal, 8.5 x 11.
“Don’t go over to the dark side!” warned a fellow watercolor artist when I mentioned wanting to try acrylics. But here I am, wading in. A familiar subject, a new approach. Using acrylics made me appreciate the lightness and delicacy of watercolor and the beauty of drawing that goes with it. But it also made me envious of the ease with which you can rework the paint and blend color on canvas.
Acrylic on gessobord, 8×8″, click to view larger
This painting is dedicated to the Artist Nest Group in Anacortes, Washington, who took risks, experimented, and pushed themselves repeatedly throughout the four-day workshop I taught last month. Rest assured, I won’t be trading my watercolors any time soon, but it’s good to try new things every now and then.
I went on a “sketch crawl” at the Connecticut College Arboretum last weekend expecting to draw trees. Instead, the “crawl” felt more like a race, as we were given 15 minutes to draw in a particular location before moving to the next site. Between hiking, settling in and packing up, there was precious little time for more than a very loose sketch and a hasty wash of color at each location. It was a good exercise, but I quickly abandoned the idea of doing a detailed tree study in favor of focusing on simpler plants.
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Back at home,the warm-toned fall fruits and foliage just seemed too stark on white paper. I finished the page by adding the background wash of yellow ochre, which set off the baneberry’s white fruit nicely and helped to pull together the separate elements.
“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” – Rachel Carson
I love the way small creatures find refuge in and on one another in the sea. Kelp, bryozoans, barnacles, mussels– life upon life, tangled and cemented together. Tossed up from the depths, it’s a pleasure to find these beauties within reach.
140lb Fabriano soft pressed paper; hand-made journal
Sunday, October 23, 2016, 3pm, Free
North Chatham Library, 4287 Rte. 203, North Chatham, New York
I will be giving a presentation of my artwork as part of the library’s Arts & Literature lecture series. Take a look inside my sketchbooks and at my natural history illustrations and discover a world of color, inspiration, and a few surprises.
In autumn, I like to watch for birds that are migrating south, but I also enjoy the rear-round regulars that visit our yard. With mating out of the way and young fledged, songbirds focus on the singular task of eating to prepare for the long, lean winter. A harvest of flowers gone to seed and fruit on wild vines, supplemented by bird feeders set a welcome table.
Drawing birds takes some practice and a bit of study to familiarize yourself with anatomy, feather groups, and the correct placement of legs and eyes. I spend time drawing birds from mounted museum specimens, study skins, and photographs, as well as from life. For a piece like this, all of those things combine to inform the finished artwork.
I typically start with a light pencil sketch so that I can refine the lines, and then add ink. I like a Micron 005 so that the lines are very fine and I can suggest feathers here and there. Then I paint a loose wash to map out major areas, followed by increasingly detailed layers of color and value. I go from a size 5 or 6 brush at the start and finish with a size 1.