A cold rain is falling on the winter beach. A solitary loon, a few surf scoters, and a flock of bufflehead bob in the steely-gray water, disappearing now and again beneath the waves. This is no day for sketching seabirds. I retreat to the car and drive to a windswept spit of land that divides ocean from tidal marsh. A flock of gulls are right where I had hoped they’d be at the edge of the parking area, facing into the wind, occasionally preening or picking at clams or flying up and settling back down. I crack open my sketchbook in the front seat and draw. Gulls are perfect subjects, striking a variety of poses until the page is filled and I go home for tea.
‘Tis the season to spread a little magic! If you’ve ever read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters, you know what a gem they are. Full of beautiful illustrations and humorous stories, the letters Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas spanned 20 years from 1920 to 1942. Those letters inspired me to pick up Santa’s pen when my children were growing up and, years later, to continue the tradition with letters to my neighbor’s children, now ages nine and seven. I often do a little research on the North Pole to put me in the right frame of mind before writing. A photo of colorful fur boots from Lapland caught my eye this year and sparked the story.
Wishing you a wonder-filled holiday and the chance to spread some magic of your own!
Forget shopping. Making and giving holiday gifts is one of the things I like best about the holidays…but the final rush is definitely here. With a week to go before Christmas, creative ideas and good intentions are flowing as fast as the hourglass fills. So…a quick post today of one of my latest projects.
How fun it would be to put all of you in the same room and thank you in person for following this blog. I would need a 15,600-square-foot space to accommodate all 1,300 of you, so a sincere thanks via the Internet will have to do. Your comments, compliments, and questions help fuel my artwork throughout the year.
I did, however, have the pleasure of gathering together 11 Connecticut sketchers last weekend for a holiday sketch party at my home. Most of us knew each other only through an online Facebook group, so it was a treat to break the cyber barrier. Here’s my sketch page from that event.
For the past two weeks I have been sharing my kitchen table with an enormous baldfaced hornet’s nest (a gift). I realize that this is a highly peculiar and unappetizing centerpiece, but there is simply no other place in my house that can accommodate it and a similarly oversized sketch pad. To be honest, I didn’t think we would be dining with it for more than a few days. The night I brought it in, I made two large, quick sketches and started a painting. But I wasn’t satisfied— the nest was more subtle, detailed and complex than I expected. Then one morning at breakfast, I saw more clearly how the nest was constructed, the patterns of the waved paper, how the lilac leaves where cemented in, how subtle shadows helped define each section. I decided to start again. Here’s the finished drawing. My table is now decorated for the holidays and the nest has been relegated to the garage— for later dissection and more art.
Though silent when I brought the nest in, I was still quite relieved to learn that baldfaced hornets live only one season and do not reuse their nests from year to year. Only fertilized queens overwinter (but not in the old nest) and emerge in spring to build a new nest and start a new colony. Baldfaced hornets build their nest by chewing old wood and mixing it with saliva to form a papery substance — which is rather astonishing when you think about such small creatures creating something of this size and complexity.
A Victorian glass and cherry cabinet full of nests and eggs, collected in the late-1800s, stretches 15-feet from end to end at the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, NY. I’ve been going to the museum once a year for the last 10 years and I never tire of that case. The variety of the collection astounds me; I will never exhaust its sketching possibilities. I spent two hours absorbed the details of 125 year old nests before running out of time on my recent visit. If only the birds knew what a legacy they left.
My advice for sketching at a museum: check in upon arrival to introduce yourself and ask whether there are any restrictions. Keep your supplies contained—pencil, pen, and sketchbook with a small set of watercolors or colored pencils work well. Recognize when other museum goers, and especially kids, want to look at what you are observing. If you’re comfortable and people seem interested, invite them to have a look at your artwork. I’ve met a number of aspiring young artists in museums and always enjoy encouraging them.
The Pember Collection- A gallery of sketches dating to 2006 (click to view larger)
If you love sketching or photographing birds and nature, want to improve your skills, and have a fun week exploring the beautiful rocky coast of Maine, check out Arts and Birding, a five-day workshop at the Hog Island Audubon Camp, June 11-16, 2017. I am the program director and one of the instructors and I guarantee a great experience! Beginners to advanced participants are welcome—we work in a very collaborative, positive atmosphere. Register by Dec. 20 using the “EARLYBIRD” discount and save $50. Get Details >