Nest Trio

I get up early to make the 1.5 hour drive to the small town of Granville, New York, not far from Vermont’s Green Mountains. Arriving just before 10am gives me just enough time to buy a coffee before the doors open at one of my favorite places to sketch: the Pember Museum of Natural History. I make this pilgrimage once a year and I’ve already decided where I’ll spend the next four hours: hovering over the glass and cherry cases of Victorian-era bird nests and eggs. The selection is fantastic: eggs of every size and pattern, from tiny cream-colored hummingbird eggs to the huge streaked egg of the extinct great auk, and rows of woven nests decorated with leaves, lichen, and moss. I’ve drawn a good number of them over the years, so I choose ones I’ve passed over previously, put pen to paper, and begin. Hours later at closing time, it’s just me and the lone curator left in the museum and I’m satisfied…though I already look forward to my return next year.

I sketched this trio of nests in detail using a Micron pen on Fabriano hot press watercolor paper and painted them later at home. I did a fourth in my journal— the nest of the sedge wren, posted last week.

Tips and Techniques: When drawing a nest, spend a few minutes really looking at how it’s made before beginning. There are often interesting bits of materials that you’ll want to highlight. Usually the weave gets tighter in the inner cup, which may also be lined with downy material or feathers. Consider that the bird has already created the masterpiece. Your job is to translate it onto paper. Keep your lines very loose as you start, following the weave of twigs, grasses, or pine needles around the cup-like shape. Once the basic structure and strands of material are roughed in, I typically use negative painting (or drawing) techniques to weave darker shapes and strands underneath lighter ones to develop the complex weave. Pay attention to values! Getting darks and shadows in place will really make your nest take shape.

I will be ordering prints of this painting for sale for $30 (includes mailing). If you would like to order a copy, please e-mail me at jeanmackay.art@gmail.com. Prints are made on archival quality Hahnemuhle Museum Etching paper, 8”x10” and suitable for easy matting and framing.

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19 thoughts on “Nest Trio

  1. Beautiful drawing. 👏👏👏 nests have always been a challenge for me to draw. You make it appear easy. I’m going to put your tips to work.

  2. Jean, beautiful rendering. Nice to know about a small, tucked away museum. From Granville looking east toward Vermont, one is viewing the Taconic Mtn. Range, which originates in NY. The Greens are farther east. Oh well. Jfb

  3. The description of your day, the drive, coffee, the cases, the anticipation, the drawing – it’s quite delicious! There should be many more small, local natural history museums.

    • Yes, some purple. The pigments that make the color and markings on bird eggs come from just two pigments– a reddish brown and a blue-green. Mix those together (or not) and you get an amazing array of colors and patterns. Many eggs have pale purple marks overlaid with stronger browns and nearly black marks. I use a fairly limited palette when mixing egg colors and its always a challenge to get them to take shape.

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