Mystery Nest

Tangled in a thicket at the edge of a wooded wetland, the nest stood out like the prize it was for hiking on a cold winter day. As readers of this blog know by now, finding and painting nests is a recurring theme and a true pleasure for me. In fact, the subject of my first post was a nest. But this one is quite unique—almost two nests combined, it seems to me. It’s possible that a nest begun by one pair of birds was co-opted by another species, as sometimes happens;… Read More

The Centerpiece

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… Read More

The Pember Collection

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… Read More

Nest Cavity

This tree once stood on the shoreline of Hog Island in Maine, with a sweeping view of Muscongus Bay— not a bad place to raise successive generations of young birds. According to the US Forest Service, some 85 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, and swallows, nest in tree cavities. You might catch a glimpse of birds excavating a tree hole, or coming or going from one, but it’s rare, indeed, to see one from the inside. This old woodpecker hole was cut open after the tree fell, revealing the nest cavity inside…. Read More

Starting Over

People often ask me, “What happens if you make a mistake in your journal?” Sometimes I live with it, sometimes I work through it until I can correct it, and sometimes, it’s best to start over. That was the case with this page, which started out as a watercolor sketch of mountain laurel trees in a dappled afternoon woodland. I jumped into it without any drawing and never recovered. So I glued an old dictionary page over the laurel to experiment with painting on book paper– something I’ve long wanted to try. This… Read More

Spring Unfurls…Fast

I anticipate spring’s arrival for most of February, March and April, eager for its fresh greens, new life, and abundant sketching opportunities. It arrives slowly at first, with skunk cabbage, red-winged blackbirds, and daffodils. But by mid-May, it takes off like a rocket and I can’t keep up. I’ve been sketching and painting in snatches of time—10 minutes here, half hour there—due to an especially hectic work and family schedule this month. Here are a few of those snatches:

Beautiful Ending

There is a point when I am midway through a painting that I have to hold my breath and hope I don’t wreck it. That’s especially true when I’ve invested in a careful drawing as a base for the watercolor. So I’m especially pleased to come out the other side of this piece with a beautiful ending. (See last week’s post for the beginning.)

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.

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

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