Beautiful Beginning

When I am drawing a bird’s nest, I am always mindful that the birds who built it have given me a beautiful beginning. The woven strips of bark, grass, pine needles, twigs and finer nesting materials lend themselves to lovely lines. I love rebuilding the nest on paper, strand by strand, picking out patterns and adding darks until the bird’s creation takes shape again in ink. I plan to add watercolor to this, but I thought I’d share it now to give you a sense of this beginning stage.

Winter Wren

Small in stature, but with an exuberant song that makes up for it, the winter wren is more frequently heard than seen. The song always surprises me— warbled and sweet, it goes on and on, ringing through deep, moist northern forests in Maine where I hear it each summer*. I went to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven for a reference for the winter wren. On display in its ornithology collection are five species of North American wrens. None is very large, but the winter wren is astoundingly… Read More

Moods of Autumn

I met Connecticut artist Jan Blencowe last week and we headed to Hammonassett Beach State Park to sketch together. The Connecticut coast is on the Long Island Sound, rather than directly on the Atlantic, so there is no surf. Instead, stretches of quiet beach and boulders dropped by glaciers some 17,000 years ago line the coast. Hammonassett also preserves 460 acres of salt marsh and that’s where we headed to try to capture the color and mood of Autumn. The day was bright, but windy and cool. After sketching the salt marsh for… Read More

Arts and Birding

I’ve just returned from the rocky coast of Maine, where I had the privilege and pleasure of leading a weeklong workshop on Arts and Birding at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. Our group of 25 consisted of artists, photographers, and writers from all over the U.S. (plus one from the Netherlands), who share a passion for birds and the arts. There were many highlights—and I’ll share a few in subsequent posts—but here is one: I’ve seen a good number of ospreys over the years, but never one so close. Hog Island instructor and osprey… Read More

Heard but not seen

I went out with a friend one evening this week to sketch at a beaver pond. The water was dark and still, trees were lay crossways in heaps where beaver had felled them, and a large mud lodge rose on the far shore. But what struck me most about the place was not the pond itself, but the beauty and intensity of bird song in the surrounding woods. Other than a pair of catbirds and the flash of the rose-breasted grosbeak as it darted into the trees, I saw no birds. But… Read More

Moving Through

Spring bird migration is at its peak. Every day new birds are arriving. Carried by countless wing beats and winds from the south they come—some to stay and some just to rest and feed before continuing on their journey north. Among my favorites: a single white-crowned sparrow that spent just a few hours in the yard, a rose-breasted grosbeak that stayed three days, and a small flock of white-throated sparrows that skulked in our gardens and under our feeders for nearly a week. Today, they are gone…replaced by the oriole that will… Read More

The Egg Case

Had I lived in the late-1800s, there’s a good chance I would have been a bird egg collector. Backyard collecting, exchanges, and sales were popular during the Victorian era, and I can see easily the appeal of amassing a collection to study and admire. But since collecting became illegal with the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 (thankfully!), I rely on museum collections for an occasional egg fix. I sketched this section of a much larger display at the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, NY. I only had about 30 minutes, so I… Read More

After Audubon

Wings, skulls, feathers, skeletons, legs, specimens, live birds, bird paintings. I’ve got birds on the brain! To prepare for several upcoming workshops I am teaching on drawing birds, I’ve been brushing up on bird anatomy and biology, drawing skulls and bones, and watching and painting birds. Best of all, I made a trip to the New York Historical Society to see Audubon’s Aviary, John James Audubon’s original watercolors for the print edition of The Birds of America (1827–38), engraved by Robert Havell Jr. Though I’ve seen reproductions of Audubon’s engravings many times, I was thoroughly… Read More

Kiwi

I was initially drawn in by the fruit, but how could I resist the ungainly bird? It’s been 29 years since I went to New Zealand, tasted my first kiwi fruit, saw the national bird, and explored North and South Islands for nearly three months. I thought I’d get back there sooner, but the years and the miles have not allowed it. Isn’t it funny how a simple taste, smell, or touch can transport you to places and release memories from long ago? Is it any wonder that drawing (and eating) a… Read More

Great Blue Heron

A few years ago I found a great blue heron skeleton revealed under melting snow in a ditch near my house.  I don’t know how it met its end, but the bird was almost completely decomposed and I decided to take the skull. As a specimen, it’s fascinating; as reference for painting, it’s quite useful. The colored pencil study here is life sized, based on the 9-inch skull. I’ve also been doing gesture drawings of herons as a precursor to doing a larger painting. Since the ground here in New York is… Read More