Island Inspiration, Part 1

The rocky coast of Maine is a place shaped by granite and water. It is a landscape of quiet salt marshes, tidal bays, dark spruce forests, and hundreds of islands. It’s a place where the cries of seabirds overhead meet the ethereal songs of forest birds hidden in deep shade; and where people have made a living fishing for cod, haddock, lobsters, and shellfish for thousands of years. I have had the privilege of spending the last two weeks there at the Hog Island Audubon Camp, located on a 330-acre island nature preserve near Bremen. I spent the first week teaching and directing a five-day workshop called Arts & Birding; and stayed a second week for an art sabbatical.

“Use what talents you have, the woods would have little music if no birds sang their song except those who sang best.” – Oliver Wilson

It was a pleasure to have such enthusiastic and talented participants for Arts and Birding. Every day brought new adventures: island hikes, boat cruises to see puffins and other seabirds, intertidal exploration, studies of bird anatomy, osprey banding, and sessions focused on drawing, painting and photography skills. A daily salon gave everyone a chance to share their artwork and photographs in a relaxed and supportive setting.

What follows are my sketch-journal pages from Arts and Birding, with brief comments in the captions (click any image to view larger). Watch for subsequent posts from my arts retreat week.

If this tempts you to attend Arts & Birding or other workshops at Hog Island in 2020, mark your calendar now! Arts & Birding is tentatively scheduled for July 19-24 (registration opens October 21, 2019).

Barnacles!

It’s not every day an editor needs illustrations of barnacles. It’s not every artist who could say, “Yes, I’ve drawn lots of barnacles.” So when an editor from PassageMaker Magazine contacted me so see if I might like to illustrate an article on barnacles and boats, how could I refuse? All those days I spent poking in low tide pools at the edge of the sea and sketching its inhabitants prepared me well for just such an assignment. It’s not every day that natural history, art, exploration, and financial reward come together for me in such a satisfying way. I’m really pleased that this turned out so well.


Barnacle study, 2011

Tips and Techniques– “Day after day, never fail to draw something which, however little it may be, will yet in the end be much,” advised Italian painter Cennino Cennini in 1390. Don’t wait for a grand subject for sketching practice. Look at the things around you and jump in. Even a lowly barnacle — small, ordinary, and ubiquitous — may prove more fascinating and beautiful than you realized.

Essentials

Imagine a week on an island off the coast of Maine. No cars, no stores, no streetlights…just good company, good food, starry skies, blue horizons, and long days spent almost entirely outside. These are the essentials for Arts and Birding, a week-long program I facilitate each year at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. Because I’m teaching, I don’t have time to complete much artwork of my own, but I did manage a few pages. And as always, I came away inspired to keep observing, sketching, and sharing my work with the wider world.

Notes: (Clockwise from top) It’s not all birds! We also explore and sketch coastal scenes, plants, and life in the watery realm between high and low tide; Hog Island has a great collection of bird specimens, including a drawer of bird eggs; Young osprey nesting on the island are banded by wildlife biologists each year. It makes for fast sketching, but it’s a thrill to see these birds up close; Just the essentials for a week of Arts and Birding.

Arts and Birding is open for both sketchers/painters and photographers. Here’s a few photos from the week taken by photography staff and participants.

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Registration for Arts and Birding 2019 opens in October; the session often fills quickly. Stay tuned here.

Simple Beauties

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” – Rachel Carson

I love the way small creatures find refuge in and on one another in the sea. Kelp, bryozoans, barnacles, mussels– life upon life, tangled and cemented together. Tossed up from the depths, it’s a pleasure to find these beauties within reach.

140lb Fabriano soft pressed paper; hand-made journal

140lb Fabriano soft pressed paper; hand-made journal

Upcoming Program:
Drawn In
Sunday, October 23, 2016, 3pm, Free
North Chatham Library, 4287 Rte. 203, North Chatham, New York

tuftedtitmouse-2014_800I will be giving a presentation of my artwork as part of the library’s Arts & Literature lecture series. Take a look inside my sketchbooks and at my natural history illustrations and discover a world of color, inspiration, and a few surprises.

Gone West

I’ve just returned from a week in the Pacific Northwest—land of big trees, mountains, skies, water, and wilderness. I had the privilege of teaching a four day watercolor sketching workshop with an enthusiastic and talented group of artists from Anacortes, Washington. I’ll share a few lessons from the workshop here soon…but first, let’s start where so many of my travels begin: with a map. It has been 30 years since my last trip to the Northwest, so this painting helped me to get a good sense of the lay of the land.

click to view larger

click to view larger

I had hoped to see some western bird species and was delighted that Anna’s hummingbirds were near daily visitors to the backyard where I stayed. I mainly saw the female, which is less colorful than the male, but no less interesting.

octopus_800

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eggyokejellyfish

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Before the workshop began, I took two days to explore and hike. I painted this octopus from a video in anticipation (i.e. wishful thinking) of seeing one in a west coast tide pool.  No luck; but I did see nearly a dozen egg yolk jellyfish, a fairly common west coast species, as well as other fascinating denizens of rocky tide pools in the Puget Sound.

Hog Island Journal

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.

Hog Island-2016

click to view larger; watercolor and ink on Fluid 100 cold press paper

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.

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Never Weary

“Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.”  – Rachel Carson

Thanks for joining me in the art of exploration throughout the year. Here’s to finding great places to explore, mysteries to probe, beauty to behold, and the company of others to share it with in 2016!Whelk_750

In Between

At Slocum’s River Reserve near Dartmouth, Mass, I found myself drawn to the quiet beauty of the salt marsh on an overcast day— all gold and green, tinged with red. In between land and sea. In between one place and another. There is a silent ebb and flow; life in flux each hour, each day, each season. My time here is a gift at the end of a hectic summer, made possible because I too am in between. This place, painting it, is my own calm between seasons, between moving out and moving in.
Slocum River
Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook

The Edge of the Sea

For many years now, I’ve clamored over granite ledges, slippery seaweeds, and sharp barnacle-laden rocks to explore the watery realm of Maine’s tide pools. When the sea retreats at low tide, a world of strange and tenacious creatures is revealed. I go in search of spiny urchins, orange and green sea stars, feathery anemone, scampering hermit crabs and slow moving snails, tunicates, blue muscles, dog whelks, sponges, lurking crabs and, always, the unexpected. I bring my sketchbook and a pen and draw until the tide turns.
2015 Low Tide, Hog Island, Maine

After this year’s adventure, I went back through my sketchbooks over the last 10 years to compare the drawings and the treasures found. Enjoy!

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Lighten up!

Though I work outdoors using a portable set of watercolors all the time, I realize that many people work almost exclusively indoors from photographs and a much larger set up. People often ask me how to get started working outside. Figuring out how to lighten the load is key; and once done, it opens all sorts of great possibilities for painting.
JeanMackay_TidePoolSketching

Sunset-Rocks, Maine

Immersed in drawing the tide pools of Maine’s rocky coast.

In preparation for my upcoming workshop, Arts and Birding, in Maine, I have been making a few small watercolor boxes for people to try. Here are a variety I’ve put together or revamped using standard half and full pans:
watercolor boxes
Clockwise from left:
Windsor and Newton Cotman box, small mint tins in various stages of transformation (inside spray painted white and outside spray painted red), Prang watercolor tin revamped with full and half pans (this is my current box).

Do it yourself:
I ordered the plastic pans online for about .69 cents.They’re held in place with Scotch restickable strips for mounting. Figure about $10 to configure a box of 12, plus paint. I use Windsor and Newton and Daniel Smith tube paints to fill them. To really travel light, I bring just a waterproof pen, a waterbrush, and a couple of paper towels or a bandana to clean the tray and wipe the brush between colors.

Let’s go!