Experimenting with Tufted Titmice

My journal proved a good place to experiment this week with tufted titmice, dark backgrounds, and text. These birds often visit my feeders in winter, providing good opportunities for study. I thought I would sketch a few birds in different poses as time allowed, but after painting the bird on the left, I decided to take a different approach. I wanted to add big text and see whether I could get a bird to perch on the letters. It’s a little tricky to substitute letters for branches, but the bird on the… Read More

Collecting on Paper

I’m like a kid in a candy store when I step into the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, New York. Thirteen cherry and glass cases house more than 1,200 specimens of birds, 500 mounted mammals, and row upon row of insects, bird eggs, and nests.  The collection is life’s work of a single man: entrepreneur and naturalist Franklin Pember (1841-1924). I love capturing pieces of this collection in my journal—but where to begin is always a challenge. As I wander from case to case, I look for things that strike… Read More

Winter Birding at Gooseberry

I had to great fortune to visit family in Westport, Massachusetts, over New Years— which gave me the rare opportunity to visit the ocean in winter. On two consecutive mornings, I headed for Gooseberry Neck Island, a small spit of land jutting out into Buzzards Bay. Wind roiled waves crashed over the jetty at high tide, sending a spray of surf over the road. Fooled by the low arc of winter light brightening the day, I left the protection of the car to scope the beach for shorebirds. Gulls and sandpipers foraged… Read More

Nest & Eggs

Yes, this is a completely unseasonal piece given the temperature outside (36F), the snow and barren branches, and the fact that the wood thrush that made this nest is far gone to Central America for the winter. Still, it’s good to remind myself in the year’s darkest days that we are riding on a fantastic, revolving planet– which, after a little more travel around the sun, will bring us to spring once more.

Sage Advice

“Day after day never fail to draw something which, however little it may be, will yet in the end be much.”  — Cennino Cennini  c. 1390 It’s comforting to know that people have been struggling to draw and paint well for centuries. Cennini’s advice is just as true today as it was 600 years ago. I’ve spent the last week watching, drawing and painting chickadees, trying to capture the shape, color, and spirit of this little songster. It isn’t easy. Chickadees are not very cooperative subjects. Unlike finches, which will perch at… Read More

The Best Intentions

Gray. Damp. Cold. It’s been a jolt to go from the brilliant warmth of autumn to chill snow-in-the-air November. Still, I was determined to get out and sketch birds today. I filled the bird feeders. Nothing came. I went to the nature center and walked the trails. Few birds appeared. Cold and defeated, I returned home and took consolation in cinnamon buns and coffee. But I couldn’t resist adding this chickadee to the page. I sketched him from an old photo, which made it a bit challenging to get him to sit… Read More

Pulling Light from Dark

I recently went to a demonstration by an artist who specializes in charcoal drawings of figures and drapery. Totally not my interest, truth be told, but the elegance of light on dark paper inspired me to try using toned paper. The results surprised me. I liked the simple, back-to-basic quality of working with just dark (in this case, dark umber) and white to render the Eastern phoebe. Pulling light out of the toned paper felt like such a magical thing. I wanted to see how it would be to bring a mostly… Read More

Coming Full Circle

1969. Forty-five years ago, an enthusiastic young birder named Scott Stoner found and kept watch over a red-winged blackbird nest in a field near his home. When eggs and parent birds disappeared one mid-June day, he took it. Scott mounted the nest to a piece of cardboard, signed his name, dated it, and put it on display in a nature museum in his basement. He was 12 years old. Three weeks ago, I found Scott’s nest. It was still mounted to that piece of now-yellowed cardboard, tucked away in a long-forgotten cabinet… Read More

Nest Demonstration

“What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure…” I love finding bird nests – in spring and summer when birds are actively nesting, in fall and winter when once-hidden nests appear, and in nature centers and museums, where nests are as likely to be on display as they are hidden in cabinets or backroom storage. I recently borrowed several nests from a local nature center to use for a demonstration I was invited to give at the Bethlehem Art Association (Delmar, NY). This is the painting that resulted, but I thought… Read More

Arts and Birding

How do you draw something when it is in constant motion? How do you get the shapes and colors and patterns right when you only get a fleeting look at your subject? That’s the challenge of sketching birds—which requires good field identification skills, some study of bird anatomy, and solid drawing and painting skills. I like to study and sketch specimens and use photographs for reference materials before going into the field. By working out shapes, identifying details, and making notes about a bird’s habits, I’m more prepared to sketch quickly when… Read More