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

In the Bleak Midwinter

I finally cut down the last of my baptisia pods, which were attractive in the fall, but had become bent over and forlorn since the last snow. Still, I liked the shape of this stem and decided that a stark portrait might be fitting for the first day of winter. Christina Rosetti penned In the Bleak Midwinter as a Christmas poem in England sometime prior to 1872. The entire poem was later set to music and published as a Christmas carol in 1906. The script is based on Italics from the Treatise… Read More

Undesirable Beauties

I was drawn to the golden orbs of the horsenettle while hiking last week in an old field on the edge of an orchard. Bright spots of yellow against faded, brown grasses and dried wildflowers, I decided to take a stem home to paint. Upon identification, I was not surprised to learn that the plant is invasive and unwanted, as are many plants that grow in the weedy margins of fields. Still, I love the way the fruit drapes from the tendrilous vines and there is something ironic, yet masterful in a… Read 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

Drawing Donuts

If donuts don’t immediately strike you as artistic subjects, you’re not alone. I got a few passing glances from the staff of the farm café and bakery when I sat down with my hot cider and bag of donuts and proceeded to paint them. Fortunately, it was an hour from closing time and the café was pretty deserted, so I sat contentedly savoring the quiet moment. This page illustrates what I like best about keeping an artist journal. Freed from the pressure of making a “finished” piece of artwork, my journal is… Read More

Fresh from the Farm

Indian Ladder Farms is a much beloved place in our community. Few people I know haven’t picked the farm’s apples in fall, brought their kids to pet baby animals as a rite of spring, or eaten their share of cider donuts over the years. We’ve watched outdoor community theatre under the backdrop of orchard and escarpment, picked out our Christmas trees in winter, and frequented the farm’s gift shop for birthdays and special occasions. Indian Ladder Farms has been in operation since 1915 and it is treasured by generations. Why I’ve never… Read More

Grief and Glory

The last blaze of autumn’s glory is upon us in upstate New York. Gold, crimson, bronze, and green hang on, even after several days of wind and rain. Among the best places to see the show, I knew, would be in one of my area’s oldest and grandest rural cemeteries – Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York. Established in early 1848, Oakwood’s monuments are dwarfed by towering oaks, maples, beech, and hickories. How fitting, then, to paint there just two days after a longtime family friend died of cancer. In retrospect, I… 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

Grown Wild

I came upon this sugar maple while hiking at a nature preserve and was quickly drawn in by its spreading lower limbs. Consider what a rare thing it is to see a tree like this. In nurseries and residential yards and farm fields alike, lower branches are commonly lobbed off— for aesthetics or safety or ease of mowing underneath. Grown wild, this beauty’s lower limbs stretch improbably far outward and upward. With most of its leaves already lying in a carpet of orange and brown on the ground, it was easier to see… Read More