I discovered this American redstart nest back in May. The birds laid four chestnut speckled eggs and by July they were gone. Now, with leaves falling and foliage dying back, I returned to the nest for another view. Still protected by thorns and a tangle of leaves, and a bit weather worn, the nest remains a thing of beauty: perfectly woven with bark and pine needles and threaded with strips of birch and spider webs. What better treasure could there be in the brambles?
Tips and Techniques: In the spirit of Inktober, I sketched this nest directly in ink using a dip pen and Calli jet black India waterproof ink. I added a lot of detail to the drawing before adding watercolor. To create a fully saturated variety of gold, green, and russet leaves, I painted four or five (or more) transparent layers of color, going from light to dark and finally to shadow tones. The moral of the story is not to stop too soon. You don’t want to overwork it, but if your layers are transparent, you can really build up rich and subtle color.
What began as a simple search for interesting props for my upcoming Sketching Nature workshop, led to a great illustration of how much there is to discover if we only look more closely. Among the things I collected were the dried stems of goldenrod, many of which had classic round goldenrod galls. But I soon discovered other deformities that I hadn’t noticed before: stunted stems with tufts of leaves at the tops, and elliptical-shaped growths on stems.
It turns out that more than 50 species of insects—mostly flies, midges, and wasps– lay their eggs on goldenrod stems. When the larvae hatch, they borrow into the stem, causing the plant to form a protective chamber around the growing grub. When the larvae transforms into an adult, it emerges from its hideaway and flies off. Sometimes woodpeckers drill into the gall for a meal, in which case, you’ll find a small hole in the gall. For the most part, the insects don’t harm the plant; though in the case of the bunch gall, they do stunt the growth of the stem, causing leaves to sprout at the top and curtailing the growth of flowers.
So, there you have it…a bit of natural history for your day and an invitation to go out and see what you can discover.
Tips & Techniques– Keep it simple! I wanted this page to illustrate how much you can do with a few simple things on a page and a limited amount of time. I drew everything directly in pen and shaded only the darkest areas. I added watercolor in three loose layers, using combinations of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. A bit of spatter near the dried flowers and the “goldenrod galls” text were my finishing touches.
I walked out and found the nest in the gravel driveway, not by the step as the poem says, but close enough.
Nest by Marianne Boruch
I walked out, and the nest
was already there by the step. Woven basket
of a saint
sent back to life as a bird
who proceeded to make
a mess of things. Wind
right through it, and any eggs
long vanished. But in my hand it was
intricate pleasure, even the thorny reeds
softened in the weave. And the fading
leaf mold, hardly
itself anymore, merely a trick
of light, if light
can be tricked. Deep in a life
is another life. I walked out, the nest
already by the step.
Poem copyright © 1996 by Marianne Boruch, whose most recent book of poetry is “Poems: New and Selected,” Oberlin College Press, 2004.
Here’s a quick sketch I should have made years ago. No attempt at beauty or precision, just a down-n-dirty guide so that I can finally watch a movie without assistance.
I wanted to do this page quickly and without fuss, so I used a Uniball gel pen instead of my usual Micron 02. The ink isn’t water soluble, but it sure smudged easily.
(My apologies for such a mundane post. I’m working on a large, precise drawing this week and needed to counter the care of that piece with something really fast. I’m still a good number of hours from finishing the former, so my regular journaling is taking a backseat.)
‘Tis the season to spread a little magic! If you’ve ever read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Father Christmas Letters, you know what a gem they are. Full of beautiful illustrations and humorous stories, the letters Tolkien wrote to his children from Father Christmas spanned 20 years from 1920 to 1942. Those letters inspired me to pick up Santa’s pen when my children were growing up and, years later, to continue the tradition with letters to my neighbor’s children, now ages nine and seven. I often do a little research on the North Pole to put me in the right frame of mind before writing. A photo of colorful fur boots from Lapland caught my eye this year and sparked the story.
Wishing you a wonder-filled holiday and the chance to spread some magic of your own!
click to view larger
See previous letters here.
Today, I don’t know how to assuage grief; stem loss; draw hope. What color do you use when a new day dawns gray and stark and you no longer know your country?
So I walk streets littered with leaves, and wander through the graveyard looking for answers among stones. Here– a veteran, there– a mother, a child. Lives engraved in names and dates. On one of my favorites, these words: Change upon change, the sun is rising yet.
And then I come home to begin again, and start with the simple act of filling the bird feeders.