A tangle in the brush. Strips of woven grape vine and grass. A downy mass of cattails bound with sedges and reeds. No matter where I find them or what they’re made of, I simply find bird nests irresistible. I have been drawing and painting bird nests weekly since November, in part because I’ve been teaching a class on The Art of the Bird, but also because I love the challenge and the beauty of painting nests. So, today, you get a gallery of nests…enjoy! (Click any image to view larger.)
1. Collecting on Paper- These nests are in the collection of the Pember Museum of Natural History, which recently reopened after months of pandemic closure. I spent two hours in front a single glass case, pen in hand, and could easily have gone another two.
2. Vireo- Using ink and watercolor is my favorite approach to rendering a nest. It gives me the satisfaction of drawing and a solid roadmap for adding color.
3. Marsh wren- I did the all watercolor nest as part of a class demonstration. Afterward, I decided to do it again using ink first. Which do you prefer?
4. Black chinned hummingbird- This was another class demonstration with a simpler nest to help participants work on making nests dimensional with light and shadow.
5. Red-winged blackbird- The larger strands of a blackbird’s nest make it easier to weave with paint.
6. A single egg- When my cousin asked me to paint a nest with a single blue egg to celebrate the birth of her first grandchild, I gladly accepted. I did two versions– one with ink and one without– to offer her a choice of styles. And while the due date has come and gone, I’m happy to say that the nest was delivered on time.
New online workshop: The Artist Sketchbook, February 23 through March 16, Tuesdays 6-8pm EST/ 3-5 pm PST. Class limited to 12 participants. Get details >
What a treat to find on a rather gloomy start to the day. These nests are wonderful to behold. Because you asked, I prefer the nests using INK and watercolor. Your drawings and paintings of nests and eggs have caused me to not only search during my walks, but to try and see of what they are made. Last spring I watched a Robin trying in vain to place a long strip of plastic in it’s nest. From what I understand, birds use this or a snakeskin to keep predators away.
Thanks Dawn. I’m glad to know you’ve been taking a closer look at nests around you. After a recent storm, I found several more- topped with a dome of snow– in the wet grasses near my house. It always surprises me how easy it is to walk right by and not see them.
Looking at the nests side by side in comparison, loving both, I prefer the watercolor version.
The request for a single blue egg…is so precious. It is such a gorgeous gift for a new grandchild!
I’ve never drawn or painted a birds nest. There is a natures center nearby. Inspired by your post, I will check to see if they have reopened. Many museums and libraries too have reopened recently so there’s a good possibility the one near our home is open! I will try this.
Thanks for this inspiring post. Your work is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Give it a try! I was pleased to see the Pember Museum reopened, even with limited hours. It’s 1.5 hours from me and has become my February tradition to sketch there. I was the only one there (except for the museum cat) and it felt great to be out in a different setting.
These are just beautiful to see all together Jean. I thought I preferred the ink and watercolor nest, but looking more closely I find the watercolor one to have a more tactile feel.
Love the reeds and cattail stems too!
Love love the page from your journal!
Thanks Michele! I had fun with all of them, but struggled to bring that 84 year old marsh wren nest back to life. It needs some reeds woven in and in front, which I didn’t plan for until late in the game on the all watercolor version. I was glad to have the cattail and marsh grass on my desk to refer to for the stems.
In this instance I like the all watercolor best the best of the 2, but then in the grandma’s nest I like the watercolor and ink one better.
Thanks Shannon. I like seeing them side by side and knowing that there’s no one way to approach a nest. It’s part style, part preference, part ability. My cousin chose the ink/watercolor nest too.
Oh wow! I’m so loving your posts, Jean. I’ve also been wanting to do a series of bird nests, and am in awe of your paintings. Pure watercolor or ink then watercolor? I love both styles and couldn’t possibly choose. I’m so curious to know …… was the “delivered” nest the watercolor or ink/watercolor version?! I’m delighted to have discovered your posts! Thank you so much for inspiring! Barb Masinton
Sent from my iPad
Hi Barb- My cousin chose the ink and watercolor version. In addition to framing the original, we’ll turn it into a birth announcement card. Good luck with your bird nest series. There are so many ways to approach this and lots of color combinations to choose. Enjoy!
Absolutely beautiful…I am often transfixed by the variety and artistry of birds’ nests. And I find to my surprise as a nearly lifelong lover of watercolor, I do love the crispness of your ink and watercolor best.
Thanks Kate. My goal is always to bring out the artistry that the bird created. I like nests that have strong strands to follow and a bit of color or interesting nesting materials. Every nest is its own challenge and beautiful creation.
These are all so gorgeous and inspiring, Jean! I particularly love the vireo nest, as I find them such beautiful art in themselves. I’ve found (and painted) some near home — white eyed vireo around here — and love that they hang from a Y like that, attached with spider webs (how cool is that?!?!), then decorated/disguised with moss. You’ve done a lovely rendition. It makes me so happy to look at your art; you make Sunday mornings a treat!
Thanks Cathy! I agree– what’s not to love about a vireo nest. I find them one of the most enjoyable to draw and paint for all of the reasons you state. They are interesting to paint from different angles as well. I appreciate you taking the time to comment!
What a stunning collection of drawings. I too share your love of bird nests (as do most people, judging by the comments 🙂 and have a collection of nests that have fallen from the trees and shrubs around my home. Thank you for the reminded of what a great sketching subject that can be.
RE: the marsh wren nest and the single egg — I find both approaches equally beautiful and equally appropriate for the subject matter.
Thanks for this great post, much appreciated on an overcast winter day.
Yes– they are a great sketching subject. I like the idea of having my collection on paper. During the 1600s, the Roman patron and collector Cassiano dal Pozzo and his younger brother Carlo Antonio assembled a ‘Paper Museum’ of c.10,000 watercolors, drawings and prints– many of nature subjects. I’ve always liked that concept. Check it out: https://www.rct.uk/collection/themes/trails/highlights-from-the-print-collection/the-paper-museum-of-cassiano-dal-pozzo
That’s so interesting! Thank you for the link.
I LOVE to see the inked and not-inked versions side by side!! I truly love them both! As always, I am fascinated with your work. 🙂
It’s an interesting exercise, Teresa, and one I don’t do often. But it is worthwhile. I tested different color triads for each one, which also affected the results. Glad you enjoyed seeing them this way.
These are all beautiful, Jean! I immensely enjoyed your class. These give me further inspiration. Thank you!
Thanks Mary- I’m glad you were able to take the class in lieu of Hog Island. Hopefully, we’ll meet there in person some day. Will you post your marsh wren nest to the group chat?
Love all of your nests, Jean! I see them each as their own even if they’re from the same subject but if I really had to choose which wren nest I guess I’d have to say the ink with watercolor one. You must teach another nest/egg class soon. 🙂
Hi Marleny- Since the ink and watercolor one was my second attempt, I was able to take advantage of what I learned doing the first. But it was refreshing to do that one– it came much more quickly and easily, which I think makes it fresher. I was thinking about whether I might skip the feathers part of the Art of the Bird and just concentrate on the eggs and nests. There’s a lot of material right there.
Wow they are all fantastic! On #3, it is hard to pick as they are both beautiful – if I HAVE to pick one, I think it would be the one on the right, but I like the vegetation from the one on the left, and the nest on the left looks more “camouflaged”? Without seeing the nest, I have to pick based on looks alone, which is wicked hard, as I like both sketches!
Yvonne- would you believe that this nest came from a museum collection and was collected in the 1930s. So part of the challenge was bringing a nest to life and trying to place it back in the marsh setting. I thought a couple of strands would do it, but realized that the one on the left needed more to tuck it in. Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts!
I love when you use ink and watercolor. The colors seem brighter, more contrast. Both are gorgeous of course but since you asked. Congratulations on all your work.
Thanks Lorraine– I like the ink, too. In part it’s because I love the detail of the woven nest and it’s easier to bring out with some ink.
Hi Jean, I have always Loved your paintings of nests and eggs….I do believe that was how our relationship and your relationship with the nature center got started….
And I love my print…..it sits on the wall just above my desk where I do all my native plant & gardens planning! It’s the perfect image for a space devoted to the support of biodiversity. Much love to you.
Hi Laurel- Some of my favorite sketches are from the TNC collection. I look forward to returning! — Jean
I love these! Any thing birds is my fancy. And tho I’ve been following your ‘tutorials’ I’m still working hard to achieve a better nest sketch. I’ve only gotten as far as I’ve gotten because of them. Always helpful. I do prefer the ink and watercolor. Beautiful.
Thanks Erica! Keep at it!
What a treat your posts are. I do like the ink for that extra little bit of definition.
I tend to like the ink nests too, though every now and then the all painted nest works, especially for nests that don’t have a lot of complicated woven strands.
Your nests are wonderful and I can see how much better you get with each nest you draw. I am particularly impressed with your dark shading.
Thanks. Getting a range of values is important to helping the nest to be dimensional.
Hi Jean, I’ve been following your posts for some time now. I’m very far away from you (currently in Bangladesh!) and in a highly polluted urban noisy city with little nature near me. Your exquisite sketches really give me such comfort and joy! (I love the inked version of the nest, though all are beautiful.) All the best.
Thanks for writing–I’m glad to bring you some nature from a far. I haven’t been to Bangladesh, so only get my impressions from news and movies. It seems like a place where you have to find joy in the messy, mass of human nature.
What a fun collection, Jean. I like the Marsh wren (love those guys!) nest on the left better, but I think it’s because it feels more “nest-ish” to me. Then I prefer the inked nest with the blue egg, so go figure! 😉 I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day. 🙂
Wonderful work. Made my day discovering your site. All the best!
Welcome! Glad you enjoyed having a look. Do feel free to comment or ask a question any time.
These are so beautiful! They make my heart happy. Pen and watercolor must be one of the most lovely mediums. Thank you for sharing!
Thanks Maggie! I’m glad you’re now following. I love pen and watercolor- the combination is both versatile and portable. Just what I need!
Pingback: Friday Updates: Switching Gears and Checking-In – Maggie Slater
I’m late in commenting—not sure how I missed this post, but I’m glad I found it eventually. Your nests always make me happy. I’m so glad the Pember Museum has reopened and you were able to spend some quality time there. Your paper collection is beautiful. Since you asked, I prefer your ink and watercolor marsh wren nest. Yet, I prefer your just-watercolor “single egg” nest over the ink and watercolor version. I wonder why that is? The rainbow of colors on the just-watercolor nest is so yummy!
Glad you found your way to the nest collection. It was a treat to spend a few hours sketching at the Pember.
Pingback: Open Air Sketching: Spring Nests — March 13, 2021 | Urban Sketchers Waupaca Wisconsin, An Open Air Sketch Group
So sensitively done, Jean.