You may notice robins in the yard or the first buds on the elms or daffodils ready to pop. But one of the best signs of the turning season for me is when the salamanders migrate. It happens on the first warm rainy night in spring. Sometimes it’s March, sometimes April. But when it rains all day and into the night, that’s the time when several species of salamanders come out from underground in the woods, where they spend most of their adult lives, and head to wetlands where they breed. If you happen to live someplace where roads intersect their habitat, you may see them in your headlight beams, or squished and stinking on an early morning jog. Or, if you’re like me, you pull on your rain gear and head out with a flashlight and help them cross the road.
I used to round up friends and kids to go out for the annual migration. One year I paid my sons a dime for every salamander and frog they found and I had to pony up two bucks each at the end of an hour. My kids are grown now, but when they see a rainy forecast they still text me to ask, Is this the night? Some new kids put up these fantastic signs — I hope they were out there during this week’s rains, soaking up one of the greatest rituals of spring.
Tips & Techniques- Don’t try to draw in the dark in the rain. Take a photo. I began this page with a pencil drawing compiled from two photos. I painted the yellow spots and used masking fluid to save them and some of the highlights. I then did a wet in wet wash of ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, and yellow ochre over the whole thing (the entire painting is just those three colors, with a touch of sap green and quin gold at the end). I used negative painting techniques for most of this, pulling out bits of leaves on the ground and the shapes of the salamanders.
We caught a glimpse of the full moon last night before it disappeared behind clouds of snow. A simple circle, so much depth. I’ve always loved the constancy of the moon, the way it connects eons and continents and people in its perfect radiance.
Handmade journal; click to view larger
I kept this page simple to echo the subject and to emphasize the beauty and mystery of the night. The haiku is written with a Micron 02 pen and the larger text is painted in watercolor with a size 1 brush, combining yellow ochre and indathrone blue. I kept the paint fairly dry, because these colors make a greenish gray when mixed. In cases where I do want the colors to merge in the letter I use wetter paint. Try it with your favorite color combinations to see how it works.
Forget shopping. Making and giving holiday gifts is one of the things I like best about the holidays…but the final rush is definitely here. With a week to go before Christmas, creative ideas and good intentions are flowing as fast as the hourglass fills. So…a quick post today of one of my latest projects.
Poinsettia; watercolor on Arches 140lb cold pressed paper
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.
Yellow Warbler (female), watercolor on Fabriano soft press 140lb paper, 6”x8”; click to view larger
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!
In autumn, I like to watch for birds that are migrating south, but I also enjoy the rear-round regulars that visit our yard. With mating out of the way and young fledged, songbirds focus on the singular task of eating to prepare for the long, lean winter. A harvest of flowers gone to seed and fruit on wild vines, supplemented by bird feeders set a welcome table.
Drawing birds takes some practice and a bit of study to familiarize yourself with anatomy, feather groups, and the correct placement of legs and eyes. I spend time drawing birds from mounted museum specimens, study skins, and photographs, as well as from life. For a piece like this, all of those things combine to inform the finished artwork.
I typically start with a light pencil sketch so that I can refine the lines, and then add ink. I like a Micron 005 so that the lines are very fine and I can suggest feathers here and there. Then I paint a loose wash to map out major areas, followed by increasingly detailed layers of color and value. I go from a size 5 or 6 brush at the start and finish with a size 1.
When I was a kid, my grandmother used to play “hide the thimble” with my sisters and me. A variant of hide and seek, she’d hide a thimble or other small object in plain sight and we’d try to find it. The thrill of discovery fueled many rounds of play, until my grandmother’s hiding places (and likely her patience) were exhausted. Lately, I’m playing a similar game with birds. They hide their nests—often in plain sight— in ways that defy detection. Camouflaged eggs and nests and stealth behavior are critical to their strategy. A sharp eye and keen awareness are keys to mine. Still, I walked by this song sparrow nest many times before noticing it, tucked into grass and clover. As you can see, it was a beautiful find.
Song Sparrow Nest, 8×8”, watercolor, 2016. Click to view larger.
The painting was made from a photo, quickly snapped when I found the nest. I prefer painting from life, but leaving the nest undisturbed was critical in this case.
Opportunity knocked this week in the form of a pileated woodpecker that died on the roof outside my office window. Cause unknown. The chance to study and paint it lay before me – literally. How could I pass it up? Would you? There was only one thing to do: climb out the window, retrieve it and get sketching.
It’s quite a privilege to hold a bird like this in your hands, and just a bit grim. Keeping it without a permit would be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so I worked on the page, took a few reference photos, and laid it to rest in some nearby woods.
Click to view larger. Sketches and text done with Micron pen 02 and 005 pens and watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal.
What’s in a name? I was curious about the name “pileated,” so I did a little research and learned that it means having a crest covering the pileum, which is the top of a bird’s head from bill to nape. The word comes from the Latin word pileus, which was a brimless felt cap worn in ancient Greece.
Welcome and thanks to all the new followers of Drawn In who found me through Turning the Pages: A Look at the Sketchbooks of Artists. Sorry to start you out with a dead bird—I promise to mix it up in the coming weeks!