For Artistic Purposes

I probably shouldn’t have mentioned to the farmer that I was selecting carrots for “artistic purposes” when considering the most colorful and interesting bunch at the farmers market. But I thought it might be a compliment. Instead, I got a thinly veiled, perturbed look that suggested she hadn’t toiled all season long for me to paint her carrots. I dug myself in deeper trouble when I asked for advice on prolonging the freshness of the greens. I saw the eyes roll and quickly agreed to paint soon or refrigerate. Alas, I think this… Read More

Heard but not seen

I went out with a friend one evening this week to sketch at a beaver pond. The water was dark and still, trees were lay crossways in heaps where beaver had felled them, and a large mud lodge rose on the far shore. But what struck me most about the place was not the pond itself, but the beauty and intensity of bird song in the surrounding woods. Other than a pair of catbirds and the flash of the rose-breasted grosbeak as it darted into the trees, I saw no birds. But… Read More

Moving Through

Spring bird migration is at its peak. Every day new birds are arriving. Carried by countless wing beats and winds from the south they come—some to stay and some just to rest and feed before continuing on their journey north. Among my favorites: a single white-crowned sparrow that spent just a few hours in the yard, a rose-breasted grosbeak that stayed three days, and a small flock of white-throated sparrows that skulked in our gardens and under our feeders for nearly a week. Today, they are gone…replaced by the oriole that will… Read More

The Egg Case

Had I lived in the late-1800s, there’s a good chance I would have been a bird egg collector. Backyard collecting, exchanges, and sales were popular during the Victorian era, and I can see easily the appeal of amassing a collection to study and admire. But since collecting became illegal with the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1918 (thankfully!), I rely on museum collections for an occasional egg fix. I sketched this section of a much larger display at the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, NY. I only had about 30 minutes, so I… Read More

Salamander Rain

Every year, I wait for the first warm rainy night in April, excited as a kid anticipating Santa Claus. That’s because this is the night of the annual salamander migration. Under the cover of rainy darkness, salamanders come out of the forest en masse and crawl to wetlands and small ponds to breed. It’s the one night of the year when I get to see these ancient creatures doing what they have done for millions of years. I recruit a team of hardy souls and go to a spot where a road… Read More

Easter Eggs!

I had a wonderful opportunity to try my hand at decorating eggs using traditional Ukrainian methods last week and have been inspired ever since. It wasn’t just the intricate and beautiful designs that drew me in, but the incredible patience and focus required to make them. I spent 3.5 hours in the company of several friends decorating eggs and produced just two. Back at home, I decided to capture the experience and replicate the intricate egg patterns in my journal. The detailed eggs seemed to beg for a more elaborate border and… Read More

March, March, March

Every year it happens. I arrive at March needing so much more than the month can give. After a long winter, I am desperate to explore and draw and BE outside. I am desperate for the fuel of discovery and growth that sparks my creativity. March never delivers. It is too cold and too wet. I am tired of brown. I am tired of gray. The only thing to do is to forgive myself this artistic low point and wait. I went back through my journals from the last few years to… Read More

After Audubon

Wings, skulls, feathers, skeletons, legs, specimens, live birds, bird paintings. I’ve got birds on the brain! To prepare for several upcoming workshops I am teaching on drawing birds, I’ve been brushing up on bird anatomy and biology, drawing skulls and bones, and watching and painting birds. Best of all, I made a trip to the New York Historical Society to see Audubon’s Aviary, John James Audubon’s original watercolors for the print edition of The Birds of America (1827–38), engraved by Robert Havell Jr. Though I’ve seen reproductions of Audubon’s engravings many times, I was thoroughly… Read More

Kiwi

I was initially drawn in by the fruit, but how could I resist the ungainly bird? It’s been 29 years since I went to New Zealand, tasted my first kiwi fruit, saw the national bird, and explored North and South Islands for nearly three months. I thought I’d get back there sooner, but the years and the miles have not allowed it. Isn’t it funny how a simple taste, smell, or touch can transport you to places and release memories from long ago? Is it any wonder that drawing (and eating) a… Read More

10,000 Hours

If the assertion that it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something is correct, I’ve got a long way to go before becoming really adept at painting birds. Still, I’ve spent a good amount of time this winter studying and sketching and painting birds, and it’s good to see some progress. Painting birds well requires watching them a lot, studying anatomy, closely observing specific features like wings, feet, and bills and, of course, practice. After doing a number of quick sketches of red-breasted nuthatches at my feeder, I used my… Read More