Perched On a Page: The Bird Sketches of Debby Kaspari

Join us on Sunday October 1st from 1-5pm for our opening reception for Debby Kaspari’s latest exhibition: “Perched on a Page: The Bird Sketches of Debby Kaspari” at the Museum of American Bird Art. Meet the artist and enjoy light fare.

 

Exhibition Overview:

A field sketch is a visual note from the wild; sometimes it’s a detailed observation but often it’s not much more than a scribble that catches the spark of a bird’s gesture and personality.

Artist Debby Kaspari says, “I try to work fast, keeping my eyes on the bird while getting down the initial shapes. Sketching animals from life takes speed and a little good luck, but capturing that essence makes the challenge worthwhile.”

Armed with binoculars and pencils, she’s chased antbirds in Panama, lapwings in Denmark, fairy wrens in Australia, and toucanets in Peru. Perched on a Page portrays the daily life of birds, captured by the artist in faraway—and not-so-faraway—corners of the world.

This is the first time Kaspari’s sketches will be exhibited as a collection that represents nearly 30 years in the field drawing birds.

Artist‘s Bio

Debby Kaspari is a Signature Member of Society of Animal Artists (SAA). Her paintings have been exhibited in the Woodson Museum’s Birds in Art, SAA’s Art and the Animal, and the Bennington Center’s Art of the Animal Kingdom, among other venues.

As an Eckelberry Fellow she sketched birds in the Peruvian Amazon for Drawing the Motmot, a solo exhibit at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. As Harvard Forest’s first Artist-in-Residence she explored themes of land use history and ecological legacies over eight months of drawing and painting in New England woods. This year she joined Artists for Nature Foundation on a painting trip to Israel and Jordan, raising awareness of the Dead Sea’s ecological plight.

Kaspari’s illustrations for Thoreau’s Animals, edited by Geoff Wisner, were acclaimed in the Wall Street Journal for their “sense of immediacy,” and pencil strokes that “register as boldly as a seismograph’s.” Other books she has illustrated include The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science by Akiko Busch (Yale University Press), Birds of Trinidad and Tobago (Cornell University), and Coyote at the Kitchen Door (Harvard University Press), and many articles and covers for Birdwatcher’s Digest and Oklahoma Today magazines.

Her award-winning blog, Drawing the Motmot, can be visited at drawingthemotmot.com. Debby Kaspari lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Adventures in Limestone Country, part 1: FEEL THE BURN

July  5/6, 2017

Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Sheffield

Sketchbook Study of a Black-and-white Warbler, pencil & watercolor, 4″ x 6″

I plan an overnight excursion to visit two unstaffed sanctuaries in the Southwest corner of the state, and book two nights in a hotel in Great Barrington.  By 8 am, I’m on the Mass Pike heading west.  Driving through Palmer, I’m astonished by the extent of gypsy moth defoliation.  For as far as the eye can see in every direction, the hills are brown and bare.  It’s been reported that 900,000 acres in Massachusetts have been defoliated this summer, and one of the worst hit areas is the one I’m currently driving through…

I arrive at Lime Kiln Farm Wildlife Sanctuary by noon.  It’s a warm, sunny day and butterflies are active around the gravel parking area.  A red admiral, an orange sulfur and a tiger swallowtail flit around the lot, where my car is the only one present.  It’s a pleasant spot, surrounded by meadows that keep the view open to the mountains on the horizon.

Sketchbook Studies of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, pencil, 6″ x 9″

A copse of trees at the edge of the meadow includes some dead spruces, whose lichen-encrusted tops are a favored perch of a ruby-throated hummingbird.  I set up my telescope and break for lunch, but am interrupted by frantic bouts of drawing when the hummingbird appears.  In my final watercolor, I use a pose from my sketchbook that helps to coveys the feisty character of these birds.

detail of finished watercolor

I make one change to my sketchbook pose:  I move the wingtips to BELOW the tail.  It’s something hummers often do when perched, and to me it makes the bird more assertive.   Ruby-throats just don’t seem to comprehend that they are VERY SMALL!

Hummingbird on Spruce Top, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 13.5″ x 10.25″

As I’m drawing, I can hear the calls of an alder flycatcher coming from a shrub swamp below the meadow, so I follow the Lime Kiln Loop Trail hoping to get closer to the bird.

The old Lime Kiln is an impressive structure, towering forty feet into the forest canopy.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, the lime industry was a prominent part of the New England economy.  Lime was a key ingredient in plaster and mortar.

When limestone is burned, it produces lime (calcium oxide).  Lime kilns in New England used wood or coal to burn the limestone.  The kiln was loaded with a cord of wood at the bottom, and then piled with limestone broken into basketball sized chunks.   After the burn, the lime was loaded into casks for transport.  By 1900 the lime kilns in New England were shutting down due to competition from newer building materials and cheaper lime from other sources.

I crawl about the relic kiln, shooting it from various angles, and imagine the roar of a cord of wood blazing in the belly of the old kiln.  FEEL THE BURN!

I follow the Quarry Trail, then the Taconic Vista Trail to the “Scenic Vista”.   And, it is indeed SCENIC – with the Taconic Mountains to the west and the nearer Berkshire Hills to the north, all viewed across a wide meadow.  A yellow-throated vireo sings it’s “three-eights” from a big oak while I set up to paint.

painting in progress at the Scenic Vista

I’ve written previously about the artistic challenges posed by the unbroken greens of summer in New England, and here again I’m faced with the challenge:  how to deal with all that GREEN!

View of the Taconics I, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10″ x 13.25″

My first attempt at painting the scene disappoints me – it feels heavy-handed and overworked, so I immediately start another version.

View of the Taconics II, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

On my second attempt, I scale back to a smaller sheet and deliberately compress the landscape from left to right.  I make the mountains more prominent and paint them with a purer, brighter blue.  I pay special attention to the zone that links the distant mountains with the nearer trees (i.e. where the greens shift from cool to warm).  I simplify the foreground and bring more light into the closest trees on the left.

I’ll leave it to YOU to decide which painting YOU prefer!

Nature and Art Discovery Program for Young Children and their Families on Tuesday and Sunday

We are excited to announce the return of our Nature and Art Discovery program offered to young children and their parents.  We will have a week day program that if offered on Tuesday from 10-11am and a weekend program that is offered on Sunday from 10-11am. 

Our Nature and Art Discovery program is the place to be if you love having fun, exploring and discovering nature, listening to engaging stories, and creating art.

We offer two separate programs, one that runs on Tuesday and one that runs on Sunday.
The Nature and Art Discovery program is a drop-in program for ages 2.5 to 5.5 with an adult (siblings welcome) from 10-11am. Each week is a different nature theme and will include a story, playing and hiking in nature (weather dependent), and creating art. When the weather is nice we will spend time outside and there will be plenty of time for free play in our nature play area at the end of the program. We also have picnic tables, benches, and other great spots to have a snack, play, and chat. This will be a weekly program.
The Sunday program begins on and Sunday September 10 and ends of Sunday December 10.
The Tuesday program begins on Tuesday September 12  and ends on Tuesday December 12. No program on Tuesday September 26.

Subscription for the entire series (13 programs) is $60 for members ($75 for non-members), a savings of $64 ($124 is the cost of all 13 weeks at $8 per week).

The following is a list of the different art mediums we will use for the first six weeks of the program:

–      September 12: Pottery

–      September 19: Painting

–      October 3: Making puppets

–      October 10: Pottery

–      October 17: Painting

–      October 24: Making hats and masks

 

New homeschool pottery classes at the Museum of American Bird Art

We are extremely excited to announce a wonderful new suite of programs that infuse pottery, nature, and science into our homeschool classes at the Museum of American Bird Art. This fall we will be offering two 9 week homeschool class called Pottery, ceramics, and sculpture for 7-9 year old children and 10-15 year old children. Class sizes are small so sign up early to reserve your spot. If you have any questions, would like to register, or qualify for a multiple child discount please call Sean Kent at 781-821-8853 or email skent@massaudubon.org.

Homeschool Program: Pottery, ceramics, and sculpture

The pottery, ceramics, and sculpture homeschool program is designed to introduce and excite children working with clay. Each student will learn and use different hand-building techniques and the pottery wheel to create unique animal sculptures, vessels, and functional pieces such as plates, bowls, and mugs. While in this class, students will learn basic ceramics terminology, techiques, and processes. In addition to art making students will be able to explore the sanctuary’s trails, meadow, and museum to use as inspiration. During the pottery class, families not attending the program will have a comfortable space to sit, relax, use free wifi, or hike on our 121 acre wildlife sanctuary.

The class begins on Wednesday September 20th for children ages 10-15 from 9:15 to 11:15 and will run for 9 weeks. 

The class for 7-9 year old children begins on Thursday September 21st from 9:15 to 11:15 and will run for 9 weeks. 

 

 

Summits and Snowies, part 2: Creature Feature

March 2/3, 2017

Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton

My second day at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum is colder, with temperatures remaining in the 30s all day.  It’s sunny, however, so I do some more drawing at the snowy owl enclosure.  The two birds are again huddled on the ground in the rear corner of the pen.

Snowy Owl sketchbook studies, pencil, 9″ x 12″

drawing at the snowy owl enclosure

It’s early in the day, and I’m the only one in the little zoo behind the visitor center.   Suddenly, I hear a great flap of wings and turn to see a wild turkey vulture alighting on the nearby turkey vulture enclosure.    It hops around atop the cage and peers down at the “prisoner” within.  I wonder what has attracted the wild bird: curiosity? food? sex?   It’s a handsome specimen – much more colorful and sleek than the captive bird – and I turn my attention to it.  I take some photos and start a drawing, but another (human) visitor arrives and scares off the wild bird.

Turkey Vulture Head Study, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

We go inside to warm up, and meet director Norm Smith.  He is busy getting ready to host an important international meeting of scientist and researchers focused on snowy owls.  Norm has been conducting his own research on these birds for nearly twenty years.  He was the first to put satellite transmitters on wintering snowy owls in an attempt to better understand their seasonal movements in New England.    His research has called into question many long-held assumptions about the owls that move south into Massachusetts in winter.  Needless to say, the snowy owl is a bird of special significance at the Trailside Museum!

Norm introduces us to staff members in charge of the live animals at Trailside, and we get a tour of the lower level.  Some of the animals are recovering from injuries and will eventually be released, while others are permanent residents who, for various reasons cannot be returned to the wild.

A raven and a box turtle have the run of the place, and follow us around as we take our tour.  The box turtle develops a special fondness for my shoe!

The staff generously offers to set up any of the animals for us to work with, so I select a gray phase screech-owl, which is taken from its cage and placed on a padded perch in the center of a low table.

Sean and I get to work, and the owl proves a good model, sitting quietly and studying US!  The owl seems especially fascinated when I take out my paints and brushes!  (Thanks, Sean, for your photos in this post!)

Gray Phase Screech-Owl, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 11″ x 9″

Upstairs in the museum, a variety of live animals are on display.  One enclosure holds two timber rattlesnakes: one very dark and the other predominantly golden brown.

Timber rattlesnakes are endangered in Massachusetts and persist at only a handful of widely scattered sites in the state – mostly in mountainous areas.  There is a small population in the Blue Hills Reservation, but they are reclusive animals and seldom encountered.  They pose virtually no danger to the public, in fact, only one person has ever died of snakebite in Massachusetts, and that was over 200 years ago!

I have not yet painted a snake for this residency, so this is a good opportunity, and the snake is a very cooperative model – I don’t believe it moved once during the time I worked on my picture!  I decide to indicate a natural setting for the snake and substitute a suggestion of leaves, rocks and twigs in place of the wood shavings in its enclosure.

Timber Rattlesnake, wartercolor on Arches cold-press, 14.25″ x 10.25″

Before leaving Trailside, I go back outside and check the snowy owls one more time.  To my delight, the paler bird is sitting atop a natural perch in the center of the enclosure.

Snowy Owl sketchbook study, pencil, 9″ x 12″

It’s a much more dynamic pose than the birds made on the ground, so I make a careful drawing that I use later to develop this watercolor.

Snowy Owl at Trailside, watercolor on Arches rough, 16.25″ x 12.25″

 

Highlights from Week 5 of the Wild at Art Camp: Butterfly Safari, Caterpillar Lab, and Nature CSI

It has been such a wonderful summer so far and I am so grateful for all the families that have sent their children to the Wild at Art camp this summer. We have been having a wonderful week at the end of July. On Monday, we talked about going on journey this week looking for spectacular “things.” Here are a few highlights from the week with all our spectacular findings.

Highlight #1: A visit from the amazing Caterpillar Lab!

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Highlight #2: Making spectacular wildlife discoveries with friends

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Highlight #3: Exploring in the brook for aquatic critters

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Highlight #4: Creating art and making friends

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Highlight #5: Exploring in the meadow

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Summits and Snowies, part 1: Great Blue Hill

March 2/3, 2017

Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton

It’s cold and very windy on the morning I arrive at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.   Mass Audubon runs and manages the Trailside Museum, the visitor/interpretive center for the Blue Hills Reservation.   This 7,000 acres public reserve is the largest open space within 35 miles of Boston, and is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

I figured winter would be a good time to visit the Trailside Museum, since it would offer opportunities for both outdoor and indoor work.  The Trailside Museum is only minutes from the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton – the sponsor of my residency.  I’ll stay overnight in MABA’s guest suite and spend two days at Trailside.  Sean Kent, the education director at MABA joins me both days (thanks, Sean for your photos in this blog entry!).

Boston Skyline from Great Blue Hill summit

Today, March 2, Sean and I hike to the top of Great Blue Hill (elev. 635 ft.) and take in the view of Boston and the Harbor Islands.  While at the summit, we visit the Blue Hill Weather Observatory – the oldest continuously operated weather observatory in the United States.

Blue Hill Weather Observatory

We crawl up onto the observation deck at the top of the observatory and hang onto the railings with the wind gusts nearing 60 mph (the anemometer is a spinning blur!)

Descending from the Observation Deck

Below, in the control room, a technician points out a glass case of antique mercury barometers – still working and very accurate!

Antique mercury barometers

Down off the summit, and out of the wind, we set up to do some landscape work featuring the rocky outcrops along the Summit Trail.

The temperatures have been dropping throughout the day, and it’s in the low 40s when I begin drawing. I’ve brought along a few of those chemical hand-warmers, and slip one into the glove of my drawing hand.  I can’t draw with the glove on, but I slip it on and warm up my fingers periodically.

The completed drawing done on location

I complete the drawing on watercolor paper, but am getting seriously chilled by the time I finish, and can’t summon the courage to take out my paints.  I’ll finish this one in the studio…

the work in progress…

Here’s the painting about half finished.   You can see that I laid in the tones of the distant background first – I’ll want them to recede in the finished painting, so deliberately make the colors pale and subdued.  Next, I paint the areas of ground between the rocks with a rusty brown tone, which at the same time organizes the shapes of the rocks.  Then, I paint the shadow pattern of the rocks and lay in the darker tone of the three dominant tree trunks.  The shadows on the foreground rocks are among the darkest notes in the painting, so I’ve now established the full range of values.

Summit Trail, Great Blue Hill, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

Now, it’s just a matter of laying in the middle value grays of the rocks.  I try to add some interest and variety here, by varying the complements used to mix the grays.   Most of them are mixed from ultramarine blue and cadmium orange, but I also throw in some burnt sienna and cobalt violet here and there.

Back at the Trailside Museum that afternoon, Sean and I make some drawings of the snowy owls in one of the outdoor pens.  The birds are sitting on the ground in the rear corner of the enclosure, but with my telescope, I have “in-your-face” views of the bird’s heads and do several pages of studies.

sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

There are two owls: one almost completely white with only a few scattered markings on the wings and tail, and the other heavily spotted and barred all-over.

stay tuned for Blue Hills Part 2: Creature Feature…

 

Soaring Owls, Field Biology, and more: Highlights from Week 3 of our Wild at Art Summer Camp

We have been having a wonderful week of camp with the campers enjoying owls, art, and nature. The campers have been able to see live owls up close, with a barn owl and great horned owl visiting this week. In addition, each group has been finding exciting wildlife and plants in our wildlife sanctuary – discovering froglets and salamanders in our vernal pool, finding caterpillars in our meadow, and exploring in our pine grove. All the groups have been enjoying creating art with their groups and our fantastic art educator Lindsey Caputo. Here are a few highlights from the week.

 

Highlight #1: Visit from a Great Horned Owl

On Tuesday, all the campers looked closely, with some sketching, at a Great Horned Owl brought over from Mass Audubon’s Trailside Museum. Perry Ellis, a teacher naturalist from Trailside, provided a fantastic program teaching all the campers about how owls see  the world. It was a wonderful experience for all.

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Highlight #2: Finding salamanders, frogs, and other wildlife at our vernal pool

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Highlight #3: Learning about dragonflies

Campers in our field biology, nature journaling, and watercolor painting group learned about different species of dragonflies and learned how to collect them and handle them safely. Check out these amazing pictures of campers with dragonflies.

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Highlight #4: Having fun and making friends

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Highlight #5: Creating Art

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Highlight #6: Watercolor painting and sketching by the brook

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Highlight #7: Visit from a Barn Owl

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Wild at Art Summer Camp – Highlights from Week 1

The first week of our 2017 summer camp season is off and running to a fantastic start. During the first week, the campers are learning about the ways birds and other animals fly, swim, and move. Here are a few of the highlights:

Highlight #1: Seeing larval salamanders and wood frog tadpoles at the vernal pool

Highlight #2: Creating Amazing Art with Lindsey Caputo (Art Educator)

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Highlight #3: Making Animal Themed Hats

Highlight #4: Hiking to the pine forest to see our “eagle’s nest”

 

SMALL MIRACLES, part 2: Lost in the Weeds

January 29, 2017

Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary, Wenham

Back in the studio, I spread out the winter stems I collected along the entrance drive at Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary.  I arrange the stems on a big sheet of Arches hot-pressed watercolor paper, moving them around and trying out various arrangements until I have a nicely balanced composition.   You might notice that the pepperbush in the center arches outward to the left and right, while the two outermost stems curve gently inward, bracketing and containing the stems in the center.

Seeds of Promise, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 21″ x 22.5″

I have a pretty good idea what the various species are.  I’ve got goldenrod, Queen Anne’s lace, an aster, sweet pepperbush and meadowsweet.   Only one of the specimens has me puzzled: a tall, narrow spire with densely packed cylindrical seed capsules.   I check my Newcomb’s and realize – of course! – it’s purple loosestrife.  This is one species I’m sure the Audubon Society would have NO objection to my collecting!  In fact, I had read on the visitor’s kiosk that the Society had successfully introduced a beetle into the wet meadow to control the spread of this invasive, non-native plant.

the drawing phase (purple loosetrife)…

After settling on an arrangement, I make a careful drawing of each specimen with a 2B pencil, working from the specimen itself.  I call this approach “indoor field sketching”, since even though I’m not outside, I am working directly from life.  I’m aiming for an accurate botanical portrait of each species, so draw carefully and slowly using a modified contour drawing technique.

detail: goldenrod and pepperbush

It’s amazing how much you can learn about botanical structure by working directly from specimens like this.  For example, I noticed how the twigs of the pepperbush branched smoothly off the main stem without any obvious scars or marks at the junctions.  Doing some research, I read that the new woody growth of pepperbush is forked or branched, and the side twigs do not always originate from a bud, as in most woody shrubs.

painting in progress…

I work from left to right in both the drawing and painting stages, so as to minimize smudging (I’m right-handed).   I strive for accuracy but also a light touch, and I mix the subtle grays and browns with care, slightly emphasizing the color shifts.  The attraction of this painting is really in the details, so here are some more close-ups:

calico aster

Queen Anne’s lace and pepperbush

meadowsweet

This is the largest watercolor that I’ve painted for the residency so far, at 21” x 22 ½”.

Seeds of Promise, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 21″ x 22.5″

I’ve probably spent more hours on this watercolor than any of the others, too.  The painting and drawing took more than four full days of work.  The original watercolor is currently on display at the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton, Massachusetts.