When I’m pressed for art time, I like to come up with a subject that I can work on in short takes over several days. Such has been the case lately, so I decided to revisit a sketchbook page that I did several years ago. In 2014, I painted a number of chickadees on a single journal page using pencil and watercolor. I’ve always liked that page, so I decided repeat it— this time on toned paper using only a pen and a bit of white colored pencil for highlights. This exercise is a good one for trying to capture different poses and for getting the basics of the bird down without too much fuss.
2014 Chickadee Study
Tips and Techniques– Chickadees are common songsters, but they don’t sit still for long. Practice drawing them quickly from photos and you’ll be better prepared for sketching them from life. Give yourself a time limit; see what you can do in 3 to 5 minutes per bird. Add a few more minutes for shading or finer details if needed. I used toned paper, but you could use drawing paper or watercolor paper with a touch of color for shading and dimension.
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 in the wrack line, unearthing mole crabs and bickering over the scraps. Two resting sandpipers caught my attention, heads turned backward and bills tucked under feathers; they stood motionless for several minutes before returning to the waves. I soon retreated to the car, where it was easier to scan for birds while protected from frigid wind and blowing sand.
It’s hard to fathom how seabirds manage in winter. But there they are: gulls perched on windswept piers; tiny sandpipers dashing at the edge of each retreating wave; bufflehead, eiders, common goldeneyes, and grebes diving into heavy surf.
Though I sketched a bit on site, my down jacket, alas, proved no match for winter birds. So I finished drawing, painting, and research indoors. The map text is copied from a 1707 map and survey of the island.