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.

Gone, but not forgotten

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”

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!

discover-badge-rectangleMany 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!

Ancient Seas

Sketching at a museum is a pretty fun thing to do—especially when the collection is as rich as the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The place is a treasure trove: birds, gems, butterflies, objects from native cultures, and fossils of all kinds—from giant dinosaurs to tiny ancient plants. I decided to try two very different approaches to painting on a recent visit. See what you think…FossilFish_Peabody_750bInspired by museum sketches of Canadian artists Marc Taro Holmes and Shari Blaukopf, I jumped in with watercolor to sketch the ancient fish Xiphactinus audax. I used burnt sienna and ultramarine blue to float color from head to tail. It was important to keep the paint wet to facilitate the flow and enable the colors to bleed into each other. I added the text back at home to complete the page.sealily_Peabody_750

For the Sea Lily, I made a very detailed sketch directly in ink before painting. The arms and cirri are made of many small plates of calcium carbonate so I had to decide whether the draw them all or just suggest them. The museum specimen was bleached white, but living crinoids are quite varied, so I took some liberty with color. In the end, I wish I had kept it simpler, using only earth tones, to give it a more ancient look, though the blue is fitting for a creature of the sea.

Winter Wren

Small in stature, but with an exuberant song that makes up for it, the winter wren is more frequently heard than seen. The song always surprises me— warbled and sweet, it goes on and on, ringing through deep, moist northern forests in Maine where I hear it each summer*.
I went to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven for a reference for the winter wren. On display in its ornithology collection are five species of North American wrens. None is very large, but the winter wren is astoundingly tiny— only about 3-4 inches (8 cm). I much prefer drawing and painting from specimens than photographs, as there is much finer detail to see in the feather pattern and color. I also watched a couple of videos of winter wrens and looked at different images of the bird, so that I had more than a single reference for the final piece.Winter Wren_Journal
I did the studies in my Stillman & Birn Beta watercolor journal; the final painting is on Arches 300lb cold pressed paper, which is a superior quality paper that allows you to build up many layers of paint. I took a couple of photos of the painting in progress to give you a sense of how the bird took shape:

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*ARTS AND BIRDING, 2016, Registration Open!
Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine
You can hear the beautiful song of the winter wren, along with the calls of puffins, terns, gulls, and the gentle lapping of waves on rocky shore during Arts and Birding, 2016. I’m heading up a 5-day session for artists and photographers July 10-15, 2016. Get details on my Workshop page or on the Hog Island website.