Spring songbird migration is in full swing! Over the weekend, a warm front moved in, bringing flocks of warblers to our yard. The birds spent the better part of two days flitting and feasting in our birch tree, and we spent the better part of a morning and evening craning our necks to watch them. We identified six different species—most of which we had never seen in our yard before and may never see here again.
(The term “fall out” refers to the phenomenon of a frontal system temporarily stalling bird migration. In some places, thousands of birds fall out to rest and feed until air currents are more favorable.)
“Moss thickened every bough and the wood of the limbs looked rotten, but the trees were wild with blossom and a green fire of small new leaves flickered even on the deadest branches.” From The Apple Trees at Olema, Robert Hass, 1941
Ancient, gnarled, and abandoned, two old apples still stand in a neighboring field. I go there in springtime to see them come to life. Solid. Defiant. They send out blossoms and leaves against all odds. Capturing this moment is such a pleasure. I drew directly in pen and then added washes of watercolor, keeping the feel of the sketch to keep it fresh and light.
April showers bring…May showers, or so it seems. We’ve had many days with only a glimpse of sun. But magnolia blossoms are so fleeting that I was determined to try to capture a few blooms before they lay scattered across the lawn. Yet each time I grabbed my sketchbook, sun quickly gave way to clouds. I finally managed a very quick sketch against blue skies, before it turned gray again. I added watercolor and text later inside, using an old fashioned dip pen with waterproof black ink.
I recently made a 5×7” accordion fold journal with high quality watercolor paper (Arches, 140lb, CP) and started it off with continuing studies of nests and eggs. Wow—what a difference paper makes! I loved the subtle effects that can be achieved with this paper, especially for nest materials and delicate egg markings (the white puffin egg was too delicate to scan well; click on it for a larger view). The downside, unfortunately, is that it’s hard for me to imagine doing a quick journal sketch or scrawling notes on a page – the paper just seems, well… too nice. So in the end, this small journal may become more of an “art book” than a “sketchbook.” I won’t know until I turn the page…stay tuned.
With so many shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns, bird eggs make for fascinating painting—and study. Here, I experimented with different techniques for eggs, shadows, and patterns, starting at the bottom left and working my way up the page. The hard outer shell of an egg takes almost 20 hours to complete—layers of calcium and color slowly building. Thankfully, it doesn’t take that long to paint an egg, but it is also a slow process of building up layers of watercolor.
“Traveler, there is no path; paths are made by walking.” – Antonio Machado
This page kicks off a new journal and seems right for a first post.
The red-winged blackbird nest was a great find at a local nature center. I started by studying the nest to figure out how it’s put together, where the lightest strands cross in front, and what materials went into making it. Then I did a really loose drawing in ink using Micron 02 and 005 pens. After that, I started to weave more detailed strands in ink and built volume by laying in washes of color. I extended the nest grass right onto the inside cover and added the quote to convey a sense of the journey and the unknown that this journal will capture.
Materials: watercolor and ink; Stillman & Birn, Zeta, 8.5×11” journal