The Things We Take for Granted

I take the beauty of fall for granted. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate it or that I am not awed by its glory. Only that I take for granted that it will be so, year after year. For those of us who live in the Northeast, it is a given that winters will be cold and long, that spring will burst forth in birdsong and flowers, that summer will be prized for its heat and fullness, and that autumn will complete the year with a cloak of gold. I… Read More

Sketchbook and a Pen

There is something really satisfying about going out with the most basic of sketch tools: paper and pen. I love the flow of lines, of ink on the page, of forms taking shape. These magnificent old beech trees were perfect subjects. I found the first one late Sunday afternoon on the banks of a river and the second two days later in a cemetery. It took me about an hour working on site to make each drawing. Back at home, I couldn’t resist adding a touch of color to to the page. What… 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:

November Birches

Like many artists, I want my paintings to turn out well. But that typically means that I sacrifice experimentation for tried and true techniques. Risk vs. Return. At some point, though, I start to feel stale and uninspired, and then I know that it’s time to change the line up and go for risk. Such was the case with painting these birches. Here, I cast off my usual careful drawing and painting style and tested a variety of watercolor techniques. To achieve background depth, I built up layers of color behind the… Read More

Well Protected

Sharp spines, thick shells, noxious odors — the lengths a tree will go to protect its seed! I found these while exploring a local cemetery in my new hometown. Alive among the dead, the American chestnut really caught my attention. Once the predominant tree of Eastern forests, they are a rare find today. A fungus nearly killed off the entire species by 1940. In contrast, the ginkgo is an ancient survivor. Native to China, but planted widely in cities, ginkgoes have been on Earth since the days of the dinosaurs. I had 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

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

Resilient

I love the sheer mass of this old cottonwood, towering above younger trees in my neighbor’s abandoned field. Less than a year ago, its hollow trunk still supported most of its aging, weighty limbs. But summer storms recently brought a good portion of the giant to the ground. At first sight, I was struck by its brokenness in the late day sunlight. Only later, I realized my shortsightedness. Trees, like people, can weather many storms—their character often enhanced by years and trials. Sending greenery skyward, they go on living—aged and scarred, but… Read More

Unwanted Sprouts

I’ve been weeding around the house and gardens this week, and discovering some unwanted beauties in the process. I pulled the shagbark hickory first – complete with half its outer shell – and started this page with that. Next came the sugar maple, which I found spouting beneath the peonies. I liked the curve of the stem reaching for light, but I liked it better in my journal than in the ground. The page seemed a little spare, so I went looking for something small and discovered the silver maple, just getting… Read More

Locust Buzz

Turns out I wasn’t the only one drawn in by the burst of blossoms in a nearby locust grove. Once I got up close to sketch, I could hear the drone of hundreds of bees buzzing in the profusion of flowers draping the trees. These were especially large bumble bees—and I’ll have to go back to make a more accurate identification. Though they were flying about as I sketched, they were too focused on the task at hand to bother with me. Bees are an important pollinator of locusts and beekeepers often… Read More