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.
If you love sketching or photographing birds and nature, want to improve your skills, and have a fun week exploring the beautiful rocky coast of Maine, join me for Arts and Birding at the Hog Island Audubon Camp, June 11-16, 2017. Being in on the island as program director for this session is one of the highlights of my year! We still have a few spaces in both the sketching/painting track and the photography track— so please read on and consider being part of this incredible experience. Beginners to advanced participants are welcome!
Photography Track– This session is scheduled at the height of bird nesting season, so you’ll have opportunities to photograph birds and chicks–including osprey, eagles, puffins, terns, and songbirds–at their most active and colorful time of year. In addition to birds on Hog Island, you’ll visit several mainland hot spots and photograph puffins and terns on Eastern Egg Rock while aboard the Snowgoose III. You’ll also be able to take advantage of magical dawn light and evening sunsets to photograph island landscapes. National Geographic Photographer Drew Fulton and former Boston Globe columnist and photographer Derrick Jackson will offer daily skill sessions and share their expertise in the field.
Arts Track– Come prepared to expand your skills in the supportive atmosphere of fellow artists and expert instructors—yours truly and fine artist and print maker Sherrie York. Hog Island’s quiet coves, rocky inlets, and old growth spruce forest provide opportunities for both exploration and art. Daily skill building sessions will cover techniques for drawing and painting, with a focus on nature journaling, birds, and landscapes.
About Hog Island– The island is just a short boat ride from the mainland, but it’s a world apart altogether—no cars, no shopping plazas, no houses, just 300 acres of Maine coastal spruce forest, rocky coves, and fantastic views in all directions. Handsome camp buildings that date to the 1890s, but updated with modern amenities, are concentrated at the tip of the island. This unique sanctuary has been offering education programs to adults and youth under the auspices of the National Audubon Society since 1936.
Visit the Hog Island website for additional details and registration, and don’t hesitate to ask a question in the comments or via email: jeanmackay(dot)art(at)gmail(dot)com.
The woods are falling silent. Save for the call of jays and crows and the occasional chatter of chickadees and nuthatches, our songbirds have all flown to summer in the southern hemisphere. So, while it may seem odd to be painting yellow warblers in November, I am not quite ready to take up brown and blue paint and focus on winter birds just yet. This painting began in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, where I recently sketched yellow warblers perched in display cases. Back at home, I worked from those studies, a variety of photos, and a previous painting of dogwoods to create this piece…a bit of spring to tide us over the long winter ahead until these little beauties return.
Arts & Birding– If you like birds, nature, and art, and are looking for fun workshop to improve your skills in either sketching/painting or photography, join me in Maine next June 11-16 for Arts & Birding. This workshop takes place on a beautiful island on the Maine Coast at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. Registration is open and spaces are filling quickly. This is a wonderful place to invest in yourself and your art!
Many thanks to Discover WordPress for featuring Drawn In this week and thanks to all of you who signed on to follow me! Your enthusiasm, nice comments, and likes are terrific!
This tree once stood on the shoreline of Hog Island in Maine, with a sweeping view of Muscongus Bay— not a bad place to raise successive generations of young birds. According to the US Forest Service, some 85 species of birds, including owls, woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, flycatchers, and swallows, nest in tree cavities. You might catch a glimpse of birds excavating a tree hole, or coming or going from one, but it’s rare, indeed, to see one from the inside. This old woodpecker hole was cut open after the tree fell, revealing the nest cavity inside. The sketch is much reduced from the real thing. The eggs of various birds that use nest cavities are painted actual size.
Click to view larger.
I drew on 15 years of journal entries to make this piece of art for an exhibit marking the 80th anniversary of the Audubon Camp on Hog Island in Muscongus Bay, Maine. I have been exploring the island once a week each summer since 2001, first as a camper, then as program director for Family Camp, and for the past three years as an instructor and program director for a week-long workshop called Arts and Birding. Many of my favorite journal pages capture treasured experiences, memories and discoveries of marine life, birds, spruce forests, and rocky shores.
Since 1936, the Audubon Camp on Hog Island in Maine has offered environmental education programs for adults, teens, families and conservation leaders. Here’s a look at some past journal pages. If you are in Maine this summer, stop by the Project Puffin Visitor Center in Rockland to see the art exhibit inspired by Hog Island.
I’ve just returned from the rocky coast of Maine, where I had the privilege and pleasure of leading a weeklong workshop on Arts and Birding at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. Our group of 25 consisted of artists, photographers, and writers from all over the U.S. (plus one from the Netherlands), who share a passion for birds and the arts. There were many highlights—and I’ll share a few in subsequent posts—but here is one:
I’ve seen a good number of ospreys over the years, but never one so close. Hog Island instructor and osprey expert Dr. Rob Bierregaard and Chris Desorbo, a wildlife biologist at Maine’s Biodiversity Research Institute, banded this juvenile to the delight of camp participants. Ospreys are common on the Maine coast, thanks to the work of dedicated conservationists who brought them back from the brink of population collapse in the 1970s.
As countless cameras zoomed in, I decided to try my hand at sketching the scene. I had been encouraging participants to try quick ink sketches, so it was a perfect opportunity to practice what I preach. I went back in later with watercolor and painted only the osprey to highlight the star of the show. I did the first sketch (top) using a photo that I took after Rob and Chris finished banding the bird and its hood was off. I started with a pencil sketch, then outlined in ink, painted with watercolor, and finished the page with the text.
A bit more about banding birds
- Researchers outfit young osprey with lightweight aluminum bands on their legs. The bands contain identifying information which is later recovered. Banding studies reveal critical information about sources of avian mortality, where birds migrate, how they disperse, and how long they live.
- In 2000, researchers began tagging Ospreys with satellite transmitters that enable them to follow the bird’s movements around their nests and during their migration to South America and back. Learn more >