On my recent boat excursion to Eastern Egg Rock in Maine, both luck and good timing were on my side. There, on this small, rocky island where puffins and terns nest, several razorbills sat on shore in full view. I have always wanted to see these sleek black and white puffin relatives, but because they breed on rocky cliffs in northeastern Canada, they are mostly spotted in winter or when migrating. The razorbill sighting alone would have made for a great day on the water, when we spied a common murre—another bird in the auk family that I had never seen—swimming nearby. Moments later, a fantastic northern gannet careened overhead, circled twice, and flew off out of view. The triple header made watching puffins seem almost ordinary. And, as you can see from my sketch, the poor black guillemot, the most common auk species in Maine, didn’t even make the page.
Downeast Maine is known its rocky coast line, cold waters, abundant lobsters, and maritime heritage. Enter any tourist shop and you’ll also see key chains, mugs, and bags decorated with the colorful Atlantic puffin, which breeds on a handful of offshore islands. The fact that puffins are so well associated with the Maine coast is thanks to the dreams and persistence of ornithologist Dr. Steven Kress. With backing from the National Audubon Society and help from a cadre of student interns, Kress has been restoring puffins to the Maine coast since the 1980s. Absent for more than a century due to extensive hunting and predation, puffins are once again breeding in Maine. (Visit Project Puffin to learn more.)
The Hog Island Audubon Camp is home base for Project Puffin. During Arts and Birding, the week long workshop that I direct at Hog Island, we take participants to see the puffin nesting colony on Eastern Egg Rock, a small island at the outer edge of Muscongus Bay. From the boat, we photograph, sketch, and delight in watching these “clowns of the sea,” along with a host of other seabirds. Though I made some quick sketches from the boat (a first—thanks to extremely calm seas), I did this page back on land. Three cheers for puffins, seabird restoration, and a week in Maine!
Tips & Techniques– Throw out the black paint in your watercolor set. Instead, try combinations of blue and brown to mix a more interesting dark. Ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, or indigo (which contains some black pigment) and burnt umber produce rich results.
How do you draw something when it is in constant motion? How do you get the shapes and colors and patterns right when you only get a fleeting look at your subject? That’s the challenge of sketching birds—which requires good field identification skills, some study of bird anatomy, and solid drawing and painting skills.
I like to study and sketch specimens and use photographs for reference materials before going into the field. By working out shapes, identifying details, and making notes about a bird’s habits, I’m more prepared to sketch quickly when in the field.
That’s what I’ve done here, in preparation for a weeklong program on Arts and Birding at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine at the end of June. I’m on the teaching team, which also includes experts in field ornithology, photography, videography, and writing.
During the week, we’ll explore coastal islands and habitats, and we’ll have a chance to see Atlantic Puffins, Black Guillemots, and other seabirds. I’ll be leading a journal making workshop on the first day, helping people make a simple accordion fold journal that they can use during the week. This is my mock up, which I’ll continue to work in before heading to Maine, but hope to finish when I’m there.