Out of the Depths

What is it that makes fossilized crinoids so compelling? Is it the artful way these delicate creatures came to rest at the bottom of the sea? Or the amazing transformation from living animal to rock, forever preserved, then heaved and eroded from the depths of time? Or is it the sheer success of this class of echinoderms as a survivor—living, reproducing, and dying over millions and millions of years to this very day in the depths of the oceans?

Click to view larger. Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal

Click to view larger. Watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal

I discovered the fossilized Uintacrinus socialis, a floating crinoid species whose arms could reach three feet long, at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, and at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut. I found the other beautiful specimens (depicted below) at the Beneski Museum at Amherst College in Massachusetts (Platycrinus and Dichocrinus sp.) and the Peabody Museum (Sea Lily).

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Tips & Techniques– Studying the anatomy of creatures you’re interested in painting can make a world of difference. Not only will it help you get the drawing right, it will deepen your understanding and appreciation for the nature of the world. Drawing the anatomy of a crinoid helped me figure out what features to look for in the fossil specimens and to see the similarities between crinoids and their echinoderm relatives– sea stars and urchins.

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.

Sea and Sky

“There is magic in the distance where the sea-line meets the sky.”  Alfred Noyes
While in Maine recently, I had several opportunities to observe that magical place described by Noyes. When the light is just right, sea and sky merge. I’ve been playing with how to capture that on paper ever since.

MaineIslands-Pastel2_500px

Though I typically work in watercolor, I swapped my paints for pastels to try to get a more ethereal effect.


MaineIslands-Pastel1_500px

Gone Coastal

A week on an island in Maine means only one thing: I’ve gone coastal. I shut off e-mail and social media, tune out news, turn off work, and I cram as much hiking, cycling, exploring, and, of course, painting as I can into seven highly cherished days. I live by the tides, stay up too late painting, wake up early to see the first light on the water, poke in tide pools, scour mudflats and rocky ledges for shorebirds, seek out new trails and vistas, dodge mosquitoes, and manage to come away both rejuvenated and exhausted. Here’s a peek inside my sketchbook…I’ll share a few more pieces in the coming days.

Click on any image to view larger in a slideshow.

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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Out of the Blue

Of the 123 million pounds of lobster caught on the Maine coast each year, only one in two million comes up blue. I was among the lucky few to see this genetic mutation, hauled up by lobstermen in Muscongus Bay.
Blue Lobster

The lobstermen were nice enough to hail our boatload of artists and photographers from Hog Island Audubon Camp and share their catch with us. They couldn’t have picked a more enthusiastic audience. All camera’s were immediately focused on the prize before the lobstermen released it back into its watery home.

FYI: Regardless of the color of lobster when caught, all turn red when cooked.

Comb Jellies

Comb Jellies (click image to view larger)

What a find! My son and I recently hit the jackpot while exploring the tidal Slocum River on Massachusetts’s southern coast. There in the brackish water, among feeding barnacles and clam siphons protruding from the muddy bottom, we spied them: floating, iridescent, pulsating jellies! At first one, then two, and when our eyes adjusted to deciphering clear bodies in the water column, twenty or more. They ranged from dime-sized to golf-ball sized and we watched them, mesmerized, until hunger sent us in search of lunch.

I later learned that comb jellies are not jellyfish. Though they share some characteristics—like gelatinous bodies made of two major cell layers—these ancient creatures hail from distinct phyla: comb jellies are ctenophores, jellyfish are cnidarians. Comb jellies are propelled through the water not by propulsion, but by the action of thousands of tiny cilia that line their bodies. When light is refracted by the moving cilia it results in a beautiful rainbow of pulsating light.

This journal page is my attempt to capture the experience and also serves as field notes for learning about comb jellies. (Stillman & Birn Beta journal, 5.5×8.5, watercolor, ink, and alcohol to create the textural effect.)