Experimenting with Tufted Titmice

My journal proved a good place to experiment this week with tufted titmice, dark backgrounds, and text. These birds often visit my feeders in winter, providing good opportunities for study. I thought I would sketch a few birds in different poses as time allowed, but after painting the bird on the left, I decided to take a different approach. I wanted to add big text and see whether I could get a bird to perch on the letters. It’s a little tricky to substitute letters for branches, but the bird on the… Read More

Collecting on Paper

I’m like a kid in a candy store when I step into the Pember Museum of Natural History in Granville, New York. Thirteen cherry and glass cases house more than 1,200 specimens of birds, 500 mounted mammals, and row upon row of insects, bird eggs, and nests.  The collection is life’s work of a single man: entrepreneur and naturalist Franklin Pember (1841-1924). I love capturing pieces of this collection in my journal—but where to begin is always a challenge. As I wander from case to case, I look for things that strike… Read More

Unexpected Inspiration

I went to my local nature center yesterday seeking inspiration for something to study and paint. I was hoping there might be something new in the collection—moths, butterflies, birds, nests. So when the staff said they had a hoary bat in the freezer, I had to admit it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Though I appreciate that bats play a crucial role in pollination and insect control, the only bats I’ve ever seen have been the little brown bats I’ve wanted out of my house. Still, how often does the… Read More

Winter Birding at Gooseberry

I had to great fortune to visit family in Westport, Massachusetts, over New Years— which gave me the rare opportunity to visit the ocean in winter. On two consecutive mornings, I headed for Gooseberry Neck Island, a small spit of land jutting out into Buzzards Bay. Wind roiled waves crashed over the jetty at high tide, sending a spray of surf over the road. Fooled by the low arc of winter light brightening the day, I left the protection of the car to scope the beach for shorebirds. Gulls and sandpipers foraged… Read More

Ode to Joy

I have many fond memories of sledding as a kid: steep hills, thrilling descents, and inevitable wipeouts were all part of the fun. Sledding is great, in large part, because it packs so much emotion: anticipation, fear, exhilaration, wild abandon. I felt especially challenged to capture some of that experience in this small painting, which I did as part of a Christmas book commissioned by my cousin for his daughter. Sledding is one of the things they like to do together– so although I don’t typically paint people or snow, I resolved… Read More

In the Bleak Midwinter

I finally cut down the last of my baptisia pods, which were attractive in the fall, but had become bent over and forlorn since the last snow. Still, I liked the shape of this stem and decided that a stark portrait might be fitting for the first day of winter. Christina Rosetti penned In the Bleak Midwinter as a Christmas poem in England sometime prior to 1872. The entire poem was later set to music and published as a Christmas carol in 1906. The script is based on Italics from the Treatise… Read More

Nest & Eggs

Yes, this is a completely unseasonal piece given the temperature outside (36F), the snow and barren branches, and the fact that the wood thrush that made this nest is far gone to Central America for the winter. Still, it’s good to remind myself in the year’s darkest days that we are riding on a fantastic, revolving planet– which, after a little more travel around the sun, will bring us to spring once more.

Appreciating Craftsmanship

New Hampshire craftsman Peter Sabin has been making pottery for more than 40 years. His exquisite stoneware is simple, elegant, functional, and flawless. I consider myself fortunate to own several pieces. But after a recent visit to a shop where he sells his work, it occurred to me that he isn’t getting any younger. The day will come when he is no longer making pottery. I’ve never met Peter, but it seemed high time to say thank you. After all, I take pleasure in using the result of his labors and craftsmanship… Read More

Undesirable Beauties

I was drawn to the golden orbs of the horsenettle while hiking last week in an old field on the edge of an orchard. Bright spots of yellow against faded, brown grasses and dried wildflowers, I decided to take a stem home to paint. Upon identification, I was not surprised to learn that the plant is invasive and unwanted, as are many plants that grow in the weedy margins of fields. Still, I love the way the fruit drapes from the tendrilous vines and there is something ironic, yet masterful in a… Read More

Sage Advice

“Day after day never fail to draw something which, however little it may be, will yet in the end be much.”  — Cennino Cennini  c. 1390 It’s comforting to know that people have been struggling to draw and paint well for centuries. Cennini’s advice is just as true today as it was 600 years ago. I’ve spent the last week watching, drawing and painting chickadees, trying to capture the shape, color, and spirit of this little songster. It isn’t easy. Chickadees are not very cooperative subjects. Unlike finches, which will perch at… Read More