Noticing

Sometimes, painting is about the obvious things: the beauty that’s right in front of you, bold colors, compelling light, big picture views. But more often for me, it’s about the things you might pass by: the subtle, the small, the imperfect. Learning to notice is more important than pencil, paper, or paint. I had ample opportunities to sketch both bigger views and subtleties when in Maine recently. Which is more compelling to you?

Not the Last Afterall

Whatever happened to posts about birds or flowers or trees? There will be more of those to come, I promise. But first, just a few more mushrooms which, as you will see, were worthy of paint. First, the pear-shaped puffball, whose smoky spores release when gently squeezed. And then the inconspicuous tannish-brown clitocybe. Who would have thought lavender gills would be hiding underneath that unassuming cap? Tips and Techniques– Use your sketchbook to try a variety of artistic approaches. Part of what’s keeping me going on mushrooms week after week is not… Read More

By the Numbers

Quick quiz: How many species of birds are regularly seen in the U.S.? Butterflies? Moths? How many can you name? Answer: There are about 800 regularly occurring species of birds, 575 species of butterflies, and a whopping 11,000 species of moths! While I can identify hundreds of birds, I can name fewer than 15 species of moths, a paltry showing considering the amazing diversity of night and day flying species. Assuming you may be as unfamiliar with moths as I am, let me share these three with you and, hopefully, spark an… Read More

Fledglings Forever

This weekend’s freezing temperatures sent me packing my sketchbook and paints and seeking shelter in the natural history collection at a nearby museum. Amidst a long wall of bird specimens, I found these four fledgling Eastern screech owls. Most collections typically display adult birds, so it was unusual to find an entire set of young siblings. I was grateful for the chance to study these common, yet elusive owls up close. And yet, they haunt me, too. Their life in the wild was so brief, their time behind glass so long. My… Read More

Painting Natural History Collections

I had an opportunity to teach Painting Natural History Collections, a 1.5 hour online workshop during Winslow Art Center’s free Winter Bash last week. To my surprise and delight, more than 200 people from six countries joined in. How inspiring to find so many people interested in this subject! I’ve been poking around old museums specimens for many years and they have provided me hours of fascination, a wealth of painting subjects, and outstanding opportunities to expand my knowledge of natural history. I hope those who attended the session will now enjoy… Read More

Gone. Forever.

Though the news this week that the Ivory-billed woodpecker, Bachman’s warbler and 21 other species were classified as “extinct” may not have come as a surprise, it was nonetheless disheartening. I pulled several old field guides from my shelf and found these prescient passages: “When man appears, the Ivory-bill disappears. This is not alone due to the destruction of the bird’s haunts but the bird’s shy, retiring nature. Its days are numbered even more surely than are those of the forests it inhabits” (What Bird is That? by Frank Chapman, 1941). “Many… Read More

Seals Hauled Out

If seeing harbor seals lazing on seaweed draped rocks isn’t awesome enough, hearing them growling at each other and splashing at rivals in a full-on water fight ranks high on my list of Maine vacation experiences. This group of about 40 seals hauls out to rest on the same rocky ledges at low tide each day. I sketched them on two separate days; first, from a place on shore where I used binoculars to view them, and the second time from a closer rocky outcrop that we reached by canoe. Tucked in… Read More

Enough Already!

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the near daily rain we’d been experiencing in Upstate New York, which had been a boon to mushroom growth but not much else. Since then, it’s been more of the same: rain, humidity, and mushrooms. I want to stop sketching them, I really do. But with more colors and varieties sprouting by the day, I just can’t seem to stop. When opportunity arises, I find myself wandering the grove of oaks on our property, looking for the latest species to emerge, and adding them to my… Read More

Feathers

Bird feathers- wow! Form, function, and beauty in one perfect package. And so much variety and complexity of patterns that my head is spinning. I’ve been preparing for my upcoming class on The Art of the Bird by gathering resources and reference material and working out painting exercises. Painting these feathers gave me a whole new appreciation for the simplicity of the form and the challenge of rendering them well. Tips and Techniques– If you’d like to make your head spin with a dizzying array of bird feathers, check out The Feather… Read More

Close Inspection

The first mowing of the season gave me a close look at our lawn, which any agronomer would tell you has issues. Fortunately, we live in the country where no one cares whether you are growing a monoculture of turf or a diverse mixture of grass and weeds. From a distance, it all looks green. The more I mowed the more curious I became. How many different plants could I find? Hence, this Field Guide to Things in the Lawn That Aren’t Grass. Tips and Techniques– Follow your curiosity. You may not… Read More