BOOK LAUNCH VIDEO with Barry Van Dusen, Julie Zickefoose, David Sibley and Lars Jonsson

Over four and a half years, internationally recognized nature artist Barry Van Dusen visited all of Mass Audubon’s 61 wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers and museums, creating drawings and paintings at each location.  The new book, Finding Sanctuary, celebrates the richness, beauty and ecological diversity of Massachusetts and the Mass Audubon sanctuary system and provides fascinating insights into his artistic process. 

Enjoy the recorded virtual book launch featuring an interview between Barry Van Dusen and acclaimed artist and author Julie Zickefoose, a video greeting from Swedish bird artist and author, Lars Jonsson and bird artist and author, David Sibley, and a lively question and answer segment with Barry Van Dusen.

Finding Sanctuary: An Artist Explores the Nature of Mass Audubon
Virtual Book Launch, Recorded on June 24, 2020

The Vernal Pool: Part 3 by Maris Van Vlack (MABA Intern and RISD Student)

This summer the Museum of American Bird Art is thrilled that Maris Van Vlack, a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, will be interning at MABA. She will be sketching and painting in the wildlife sanctuary. She will be blogging about her experience. Enjoy her post about a week spent at the vernal pool. –Sean Kent

I have noticed the vernal pool has changed a lot over the past few weeks. The water level has gone down 2 or 3 feet since the beginning of June, the weather has gotten hotter, and the humidity has gone up. I tried to capture the feeling of moisture in the air by painting the trees in the early morning fog. 

Differentiation of value is what gives this painting depth of field. The trees in the foreground are darker and more saturated than the trees in the background. When water is brushed over dry paint, the pigment can then be lifted up with a paper towel, which is how I achieved the light foggy effect in the background. 

I tried to show the change in weather with the two paintings below by focusing on the reflections on the vernal pool’s surface. The one on the left was painted in the direct sunlight. The reflection of the trees in the water was strong and bright. The painting on the right was done a week later, when it was cloudy.  A lot of pollen had washed down from the trees onto the vernal pool’s surface. There was a gray film over the surface of the water, with lots of tiny pieces of orange pollen floating in it. I tried to show these differences by focusing on the abstract shapes and colors of the constantly changing water reflections.

Sunlight reflection vs. cloudy reflection with pollen

I wanted to make sure that this blog series didn’t forget an important member of the vernal pool ecosystem: the frogs! They can be spotted peeking their heads up out of the water or sitting on nearby logs. (NOTE: In my sketch, I wrote that the frogs were green frogs, but I later decided that they were probably pickerel frogs because of the black stripe by the eye.) 

The last drawing for today is a bit of an artistic experiment where the vernal pool plays a more active role in the drawing. For this piece, I used some mud and leaves from the edge of the vernal pool to make a drawing.

Drawing tools

The mark making tools I used for this drawing were a pinecone, a piece of wood, and some muddy leaves. The end of the pinecone was good for making scratchy lines. The wood was so wet that I could physically squeeze water out of it, so I used that like a watercolor paint. The leaves were the most useful to draw with because they were caked in mud and provided most of the “pigment” that I used in this drawing. 

The subject of drawing is some of the maple leaves on the trees above. I thought this was fitting because decomposed leaves were the medium for the work. It is hard to get dark tones from the mud, but I like the light abstract quality that the piece has. 

This week, go out and be creative with the materials around you! Remember how nature is always changing and use that as the motivation for your drawing, painting, sculpting, music, or whatever else you decide to create!

My name is Maris Van Vlack, and I will be blogging for the summer of 2020! I am a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a major in Textiles and a concentration in Drawing. I am especially interested in working with unusual materials in my work, and am inspired by plants, animals, and the patterns found in nature. This summer, I will be creating a guide for the MABA trails with sketches and paintings. I will be recording and writing about my observations, and sharing them through these blog posts. Hopefully this will be an educational and inspiring resource, and will motivate you to sketch what you see when you visit MABA this summer!

Nature in a Minute: Bracken Fern

Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) is easy to identify. It has one main stem with three triangular leaves branching from the stem. The leaves (fronds) radiate horizontally from the main stem.

Bracken fern grows to three feet in height.  It’s one of the earliest ferns to come up in the spring.  It grows in large colonies along roadsides and trails in dry woodlands.  The Latin name refers to the shape of the fronds that look like wings. Pteridium for pteron,  meaning wing. Aguilinum for aquila meaning eagle.  

Bracken fern grows in the drier, upland part of MABA’s main loop trail.

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

Nature in a Minute: New York Fern

New York ferns (Thelypteris noveboracensis) are one of the smallest ferns. They are only 18 inches in height. The frond of New York fern is tapered at both ends. Notice how the leaflets are very tiny at the bottom, get wider in the middle, then are smaller at the top.  

New York ferns grow in small clusters. They prefer a sunny spot in the woods or edges of moist meadows.  

Julianne Mehegan at Arches NP

Our guest blogger, Julianne Mehegan, is a wonderful friend of MABA, a birder and a naturalist.

The Vernal Pool: Part 2 by Maris Van Vlack (MABA Intern and RISD Student)

This summer the Museum of American Bird Art is thrilled that Maris Van Vlack, a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, will be interning at MABA. She will be sketching and painting in the wildlife sanctuary. She will be blogging about her experience. Enjoy her post about a week spent at the vernal pool. –Sean Kent

Many different kinds of birds live in the vernal pool area, making it a great bird watching spot! Below is a list of some of the most common species that I have seen there:

Baltimore Oriole– They are black and orange, so are easily seen in the trees above the vernal pool.

Northern Cardinal– the males are bright red, but the females are dull brown and camouflage well in the trees. I typically see them perched on branches that are low to the ground.

Mourning Dove– They are usually seen hopping about on the fallen tree near the back of the vernal pool (pictured below). I’m guessing that they have a nest in that area.

Black Capped Chickadee– They don’t have any bright colors, so they are harder to see. They are found anywhere in the trees or brush by the vernal pool.

Common Grackle– They appear to be completely black, but the feathers on their heads have a bluish iridescent quality. They are often in the mud by the edge of the water.

Grackles at the vernal pool foraging for food, watercolor

Of the birds that spend their time around the vernal pool, grackles are the most prominent because they make quite a lot of noise. They are omnivorous and hop around the vernal pool, looking for insects to eat. I decided that grackles were a good bird to draw because they are willing to get pretty close to me, unlike other birds who keep their distance and are obscured branches.

Drawing from life is a useful habit to form because it will help your drawings capture the movement and 3-dimensionality of your subject. When working on a painting of an animal like the grackle, which holds a position for just a few seconds at a time, I started by observing the bird and doing many quick sketches.

These drawings are all done from the observation of one grackle, which was hopping from branch to branch in the middle of the vernal pool. Each sketch took three to six seconds because I wanted to capture each position in the moment. I kept my eyes on the grackle, not on the paper, so I could draw the lines and shapes that I actually saw, and not the shapes that I remembered when I looked away. The goal of an exercise like this is not to create a beautiful finished drawing, but to quickly sketch as many gestures as I could. Some of my sketches don’t even look like birds! What they are meant to do is capture the shapes of a bird in motion. Here are a few things I learned while doing this exercise:

-You don’t just have to draw birds in profile, like so many drawings do. You can draw them straight-on, upside-down, from below, from above, sideways, flying, and more!

-There is a lot of movement in a bird’s tail. Sometimes it points up, other times it points down. When the grackle was turned sideways, the tail looked like a thin line, but when he turned backwards or was flying, it was fanned out.

-It is useful to draw a line representing the direction of the bird’s spine. It will help show the kind of movement that the bird is making, and will also help you draw the rest of the bird proportionally. This line is usually going to be curved like an S or a C, not a straight line.

This finished piece was painted with gouache. Gouache (it rhymes with squash) comes in small tubes and is very similar to watercolor. The main difference is that it is more opaque, so light colors can be painted over top of dark colors. As I was working on this painting, I was thinking about a dark color scheme that reminded me of the shadowy areas around the vernal pool. I reserved light colors for the highlights on the beak, eye, and parts of the branch. Even though the trees in the background contained a lot of bright yellow where the sun comes through the leaves, I chose to exclude those bright colors to keep the painting moody and dark. Adding little bits of red to the green paint keeps those shades from becoming too vibrant.

Birds are everywhere, so I encourage you to go outside and sketch one this week! Start with a practice exercise to capture basic shapes, and take a photo or two if you need help remembering the colors. Birds occur so often in art, and there is good reason! They have such a variety of colors, sizes, patterning, and shapes that they provide an endless list of possibilities for drawings and paintings.

The Vernal Pool – Part 1 by Maris Van Vlack (MABA Intern and RISD Student)

This summer the Museum of American Bird Art is thrilled that Maris Van Vlack, a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, will be interning at MABA. She will be sketching and painting in the wildlife sanctuary. She will be blogging about her experience. Enjoy her post about a week spent at the vernal pool. –Sean Kent

MABA’s vernal pool is a gathering place for lots of wildlife, and is a great place to watch the comings and goings of woodland wildlife. The pool is located very close to the trailhead, and is easy to find on your trail map. The word “vernal” means spring, so a vernal pool is a body of water that forms when snow is melting in the late winter, and it slowly disappears when the weather gets hot in the summer. Even though it isn’t there all year round, the vernal pool is the home to a variety of animals and is a great place to sit and sketch! Here is a list of wildlife I observed when sitting by the pool for only about 15 minutes:

Green Frog
Baltimore Oriole
American Robin
Damselfly
Mourning Dove

The marker sketch above was drawn from the vernal pool overlook right on the trail. Natural bodies of water don’t have a clear outline, so they can be tricky to sketch. I find that it is best to first draw the things around the water that define its boundaries (like trees or patches of grass) and then draw the reflections you can see on the water’s surface. The vernal pool has a lot of big branches resting in it which create reflections, as well as the sun, sky, and surrounding trees.

An interesting branch and reflection

a sketch of a tree on the bank of the vernal pool, split open and full of shelf fungi

The light by the vernal pool is very captivating because it comes through the leaves overhead and then bounces off of the water’s surface. One day, when I was beginning to sketch, I noticed an interesting pattern of shadows on my paper:

As a drawing experiment, I tried to trace the shapes of the shadows on the paper. This was difficult because the wind kept blowing the leaves back and forth. This was the result:

I find the lines of the drawing interesting, and I think they capture the feeling of the wind blowing leaves back and forth.

The sketch above is drawn from the vernal pool overlook on the main loop path. This view is not as close up as the other place directly on the bank of the pool, but you won’t scare away the wildlife and can watch all the birds fly about! There are often common grackles that hop around the edge of the pool, making quite a racket. I have also seen cardinals, black-capped chickadees, mourning doves, and orioles from this view.

Remember, the vernal pool is quickly shrinking! Even just a week later, I noticed that the water level had gone down about a foot. Go visit! It is a great place to sit, draw, and observe nature.

My name is Maris Van Vlack, and I will be blogging for the summer of 2020! I am a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a major in Textiles and a concentration in Drawing. I am especially interested in working with unusual materials in my work, and am inspired by plants, animals, and the patterns found in nature. This summer, I will be creating a guide for the MABA trails with sketches and paintings. I will be recording and writing about my observations, and sharing them through these blog posts. Hopefully this will be an educational and inspiring resource, and will motivate you to sketch what you see when you visit MABA this summer!

Nature in a Minute: Callahan State Park, Framingham, June 12, 2020 by Deborah Stone

This post is by Deborah Stone, a good friend of MABA.

Just as I came down a trail to the edge of Beebe Pond, a Great Blue Heron landed about 20 feet ahead of me. It froze in classic heron statue pose—until I spooked it by lifting my binoculars. Then it alighted for safer territory. Perfect timing. Whenever I see a heron, I can’t resist stopping to watch it catch dinner, and I was beyond ready for a break and lunch. I leaned my butt on a rock with an indent that felt custom made and found the heron farther out in the pond

Holding half a PB&J in my right hand and binocs in my left, I watched the heron stalk— slowly, deliberately, intently. I didn’t have its patience and took a large bite of my sandwich. It felt rude to eat before everyone had their dinner, so I willed my chewing to reach the heron as a kind of telepathic aid to success. Karma didn’t take long to work. The heron thrust its head down and came up with a large fish. Quite the morsel but how to get it down the gullet? The fish was crosswise in the heron’s beak, flapping its tail wildly, trying to escape. 

Five times the heron lowered its head behind some grasses, presumably to maneuver the fish into a better position. After the second, third and fourth time, when the heron lifted its head again, the fish was still crosswise, but after the fourth time, I could see that it was lifeless. After the fifth time, the beak came up with the fish still crosswise. The heron gave a little head toss and Bingo! Straight on, down the hatch. I thought I saw a bulge in the heron’s neck, something like the snake that swallowed a mouse in Le Petit Prince. I estimated it took a full minute from the time of capture to the time dinner was ready. 

I couldn’t see what culinary tricks the heron performed while it had its head down, but I can guess. At Hall’s Pond Sanctuary in Brookline, I once saw a heron make a catch far too large to fit down its throat. It flew to the pond’s edge and dropped the fish on the ground. There, it pecked at the fish to subdue it, then picked it up and carried it to another spot where there was a large flat rock. I watched the heron stab away at the fish, ripping a bite here and there. Eventually, the remaining piece of fish was down to a manageable size. 

Here at Beebe Pond, the water was shallow. I couldn’t see whether there was a hummock or a rock to serve as a butcher block, but I’m guessing the heron found a way to disable the fish without letting it loose in the water. Perhaps the heron held part of the fish on the pond bottom with one foot while using its beak as a pincers. I could try to find answers in a book or on YouTube, but I prefer trying to solve nature’s mysteries with wonder instead of science. 

I was only part way through my half sandwich when the heron caught its next fish. This one was somewhat smaller. This time, too, the heron had caught the fish crosswise in its beak. This time, though, the heron flipped the fish parallel to its beak and swallowed, all in about three seconds. Dessert always goes down easier, doesn’t it?

Note: Photos were not taken during these observations, but are illustrative of the events.

Celebration of Finding Sanctuary with author and artist Barry Van Dusen: Virtual Book Launch

Join internationally recognized nature artist Barry Van Dusen and Amy Montague, Director of the Museum of American Bird Art, for a virtual gathering to celebrate Barry’s new book:  Finding Sanctuary: An Artist Explores the Nature of Mass Audubon.  This lively online celebration will feature an interview of Barry by author and artist Julie Zickefoose, live discussion and viewing of Barry’s work, and time for audience participation. The book launch will be on June 24 at 7 pm.

Sign up for the virtual book launch by clicking here.

Finding Sanctuary: An Artist Explores the Nature of Mass Audubon 

Over four and a half years, internationally recognized nature artist Barry Van Dusen visited all of Mass Audubon’s 61 wildlife sanctuaries, nature centers and museums, creating drawings and paintings at each location.  This beautiful book celebrates the richness, beauty and ecological diversity of Massachusetts and the Mass Audubon sanctuary system and provides fascinating insights into his artistic process. 

After you register you’ll receive an email invitation with a link and information on how to join the gathering.

Barry Van Dusen – Finding Sanctuary

Join Barry Van Dusen for a virtual live book launch of his new book Finding Sanctuary on June 24, 2020 at 7 pm. This is a free event.

MOOD is an elusive quality in a painting, and I never know if I’ve expressed a strong mood until after a piece is finished.   Even then, I’m not always sure just how I did it!  One thing I love about watercolor is the wide range of effects and moods that can be achieved.  Watercolors can be soft and ethereal or bold and crisp.  I urge my workshop students to think about their intentions before lifting a brush – consider what you love about the subject, how it makes you feel, and what you want to express about it. 

One way to refine your intentions is to consider the key that will best suit what you wish to convey about the subject.  Key is a term artists use to describe the predominant value scheme of a painting, i.e. the overall lightness or darkness.  You may decide on deep, jewel-like tones that will add a sense of mystery, or, you may prefer to use a predominance of light tones that will supply a bright, airy feeling.  The mood I get on a sun-drenched beach at noon is very different from how I feel in a shadowy hemlock grove at dusk.

high-key painting is one that has a predominance of light values, with a lesser amount of darks.  A low-key painting may have some lights, but will feature mostly dark values.  Note that each type of painting can have a full range of light and dark tones, but the proportions are what matter. 

Let me show you some paintings that explore this aspect of painting.  These are all watercolors from my new book FINDING SANCTUARY.

Piping Plover and Shore Flies

Sub-adult Iceland Gull

These are both high-key paintings and they are both coastal subjects.  There’s usually lots of light at the seashore, and if the surroundings are light colored (e.g. beach sand), the overall effect can be very bright.  In the plover painting notice that the seaside goldenrod leaves are quite dark.  By supplying contrast, they enhance the overall well-lit effect.  In the Iceland Gull painting, the dark notes are minimal – confined to the bird’s eye and the tip of its bill. 

Here are some low-key examples from the book:

Rutland Brook

Rutland Brook – now I’m in that hemlock forest I mentioned earlier.  It’s cool and dark and shadowy, and the only light notes are highlights in the running water.   Dark tones are more challenging to handle in watercolor than light tones.  Watercolor passages always dry considerably lighter than when they are wet, so the artist must compensate and paint boldly with a brush carrying lots of pigment.  

Barn Swallow on Nest

Barn Swallow on Nest – these birds always nest in shadowy places: on interior barn rafters or under overhangs.  The brightest notes here are the areas of whitewash below the bird’s nest.  The majority of tones are dark to convey the shadowy environs of the nest.  

Contrast can play a related role in creating mood.  Foggy, humid or snowy conditions reduce the contrast in a scene, while dry, clear days accentuate contrasts and call for crisp, clearly defined shapes.  You can choose to enhance contrasts in your painting or suppress them.

Summer on the Concord River

Summer on the Concord River – this was a warm, humid day in summer, and the moisture-laden air over the river suppressed contrasts and supplied an inviting softness. 

The Horse Barn in a Spring Snowsquall

The Horse Barn in a Spring Snowsquall – likewise, the moist, dense air on this snowy day created soft edges and close tonalities.  

Rough Meadows

Rough Meadows – a clear, dry day in autumn makes for strong shadows and crisp edges. On a day like this, even the distant tree line is quite dark, and stands out in relief.

In all of these examples I have deliberately used artistic concepts to help me arrive at a specific mood or feeling, or to express a particular hour, season or weather condition.  As an artist, YOU are in command of your picture, and you should take full advantage of these tools to get your message across.  By thinking ahead about what type of mood you wish to convey, and using these artistic concepts to support your intentions, you may find the mood of a painting not so elusive! 

Nature in a Minute: Royal Fern

Royal Ferns (Osmunda regalis) are the largest ferns, growing to a height of 4-6 feet. The leaves are erect and branch-like. Because of its imposing size it’s Latin species name is regalis, royal.

These ferns love to have their roots wet. They grow along streams and in boggy areas all over New England.  This Royal Fern is growing right in Pequit Brook on the MABA sanctuary trail.

The fertile leaves of Royal Ferns are clustered in a dense bunch, taller than the other leaves. Millions of microscopic spores are released from these fertile leaves. The spores are green when they first appear and turn brown as they ripen.