Category Archives: Artists

FINISH LINE, part 1: first day on the Vineyard

August 22, 2017

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Edgartown

During the record-breaking winter of 2014/15, Amy Montague and I hatched a plan for a special kind of Artist Residency, during which I would travel around Massachusetts to visit and work at Mass Audubon’s wildlife sanctuaries.  The contract we agreed upon specified that I visit at least 45 sanctuaries, but in the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to visit all 57 public properties.  What I didn’t know was how long it would take.  We settled on a two-year timeframe, wrapping up with an exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art in Spring/Summer 2017. By the time my show opened in May 2017, I had worked at 52 sanctuaries, leaving five properties yet to visit.  There was no reason to stop, now!

Flash forward to the morning of August 22, 2017.  I’ve been  stuck in traffic for over an hour on the Bourne Rotary, waiting to make my way across the Bourne Bridge and then on to the Martha’s Vineyard Ferry at Woods Hole.  I thought I had left myself plenty of time to make the ferry, but unbeknownst to me, an accident on the Sagamore Bridge earlier that morning had redirected all traffic over the Bourne – resulting in this horrendous traffic snarl on a Tuesday morning!

As it happens, I did make the ferry that morning – arriving last in line and just in time to get on the boat.

My final sanctuary visit, to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, was underway!

The first thing that caught my eye as I arrived at the Felix Neck parking area, was a large, strangely proportioned birdhouse mounted on poles.

Barn Owl nest box

The structure had been used by Barn Owls for many seasons, but has had no owls in residence for the past three years.  Barns Owls are at the northern edge of their range in Massachusetts, and in recent decades, Martha’s Vineyard has been the most reliable breeding locality for these birds (nine pairs nested on the Island in 1985).  Unfortunately, they are vulnerable to severe winters with heavy snow cover (such as the winter of 2014/15).  One can only hope that they will re-colonize the island in the near future.

The Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is a roughly 200 acre neck of land surrounded on three sides by the protected waters of Sengekontacket Pond.  The Pond itself is separated from the ocean by a narrow barrier beach comprising the Joseph Sylvia State Beach (more on that to come).   Ocean waters pass in and out of Sengekontacket Pond beneath a bridge on the state beach known locally as “The Jaws Bridge”, since it figured prominently in some scenes from the movie JAWS!

sketchbook studies of Great Egrets, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Sharks were far from my mind, however, when I set out on the Marsh Trail to explore the sanctuary.   A green heron skulked along the edge of the waterfowl pond, but flushed when I took out my sketchbook.  Further out on the marsh, some Great Egrets were more cooperative, and I spent some time mapping out the odd angles formed by those impossibly long necks.

Along the Marsh Trail, pitch pine forests border the marsh, with an understory of huckleberry.  Where the forest gives way to the open marsh , “high tide bush” (marsh elder) forms tall, billowy shrubs.  I like the way the waters of the marsh form a bright, level ribbon beyond the pine trunks and branches, and get to work on a watercolor.

I use a small sheet of Arches 300 lb cold-press that is just right for painting the roughly textured pitch pines.  There’s a gracefulness to the curving sweep of some of the branches, but there’s awkwardness, too, in the chaotic angles and weird undulations of the trunks.  I find this intriguing – the graceful and the ungainly mixed together.

Pitch Pines at Felix Neck, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 10″

From a spur trail that leads out to the shore, I have a view of Sarson’s Island across the water.  It’s labeled as a “bird nesting colony” on my trail map, so I scan it slowly with my scope.  I see mostly cormorants and gulls, but mixed in are oystercatchers, plovers, turnstones, dowitchers, willets and peeps.   A small flock of Black Skimmers flies past the island and I follow them out over the waters of Sengekontacket Pond.

I try some sketching of the Oystercatchers on Sarson’s Island, but they are too far away for meaningful drawing, so I instead take a landscape approach.  Four cormorants are perched on a rather odd structure consisting of a cable hanging between two sturdy posts.  Later, I learn from director Suzan Bellincampi that the posts and cable were originally erected to encourage egrets to nest, though we couldn’t quite figure out how this rig might have worked!

Here’s the watercolor after the first layer of washes:

Sarson’s Island, stage one

Working at a distance through a telescope has the effect of reducing contrast and softening colors, due to the intervening atmosphere.  I hope to retain this effect in my painting, and keep the tones close and subdued.

Sarson’s Island, watercolor on Fabriano cold-press, 9″ x 11″

Note that there are three species depicted in this watercolor: double-crested cormorant, black-bellied plover and great black-backed gull.  One of my champions, John Busby of Scotland, often did scenes like this with multiple species, and I was thinking of him as I worked on this painting.  One tricky aspect here is keeping the various species in proper scale to one another.

I continue along the shore on the Marsh Trail, pausing to draw some bayberry twigs heavy with those waxy, silvery gray berries.   The thick, shiny leaves curl at the edges, and have other slight undulations that catch the light – making them challenging to draw and paint.

Bayberry Studies, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10.25″ x 13.75″

Further along the shore, I finally get a close look at an Oystercatcher – a single bird with a crippled (right) leg, which dangles uselessly as it hops along the shore.  The bird is well-known to sanctuary staff, who have been observing it for weeks.  Its plumage is unkempt, probably due to the difficulty of preening while balancing on one leg, but otherwise the bird seems to be getting along.

The views along the shore are alluring, with their lush green tufts of marsh grass interspersed with bright little sand beaches – all surrounded by the sparkling waters of Sengekontacket Pond.  I start a watercolor near the terminus of the Shad Trail, looking up into the protected waters of Majors Cove (I’m now on the westernmost shore of Felix Neck).

Majors Cove, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

I paint until the light starts to fade, then head back to the car.

note: my visit to Martha’s Vineyard has been broken into three  parts – one for each day I spent on the inland.  Please stay tuned for parts 2 and 3…

Down to the Brook

July 6, 2017

Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Tolland

 

From my hotel in Great Barrington I drive east through the pastoral farmland of the Housatonic River Valley and into the Hill Towns: New Marlborough and Sandisfield.  I pass through the little hamlets of Mill River, Montville and New Boston, and then on into Tolland.

The parking for Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary is simply a wide shoulder on the side of Rte 57, with the trails beginning beyond a break in the stonewall.   The trails are all downhill to the brook, in some spots quite steep.  I follow the Charlotte Clark Loop Trail, then the Richardson Brook Trail.

This photo I took of the boulder strewn woods along the Charlotte Clark Loop reminds me of a painting by the Maine artist Neil Welliver.

Here’s one of Neil’s paintings – see if you don’t agree:

Late Light by Neil Welliver

A flicker of movement draws my attention – it’s a blue-headed vireo foraging very LOW.  It’s not typical behavior for this species, and I watch as it actively searches the forest floor – flitting from one low perch to another, but never actually landing on the ground.   The soft, lemony wash on the flanks shows up well in the soft light of the understory, and the contrast of the white spectacles on its slate-blue head is striking!  I make some quick sketches and take some notes.

Sketchbook studies of a Solitary Vireo, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Later, I use these sketches to re-create the scene in my studio:

Solitary Vireo at Richardson Brook, watercolor on Fabriano soft-press watercolor paper, 10.5″ x 15″

Arriving at Richardson Brook (which is also the southern boundary of the sanctuary), I see that the water levels are low, but the stream corridor is shady, moist and cool.  Little pools lined with golden gravel are tucked between moss-covered rocks and fallen logs.

I consider painting the scene but am intimidated by its complexity.  In my mind, I formulate a painting plan. How will I “frame” the composition?  Which washes will I lay down first?  Which areas are lightest and will need to be painted around or “reserved”?  Where will the darkest accents occur?  This mental “rehearsal” is my way of building up the courage to begin…

A Blackburnian Warbler murmurs overhead as I block in the brook with a soft pencil, then “jump in” with my paints (excuse the pun)!

I paint the darkest accents first, which establishes the overall pattern of lights and darks.  Next, I paint the pattern of greens on the mossy rocks, then the pools of water in between.  With these initial washes in place, the picture starts to take on a life of its own.  It starts making its own demands and leads me on to the next step.  All I need to do is “listen” carefully and do what I’m told!

Richardson Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press watercolor paper, 10″ x 13.25″

The hike back to my car is all uphill, and a good cardiovascular workout.  I pause to catch my breath and admire a dense patch of partridgeberry, spangled with those oddly furry white blossoms.

On another “rest stop”, I find a woodpecker wing feather, looking very “graphic” against the confusion of the forest litter.

 

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!

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″

 

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…

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Take Control of your Digital Photos: Adobe Lightroom Workshop with Shawn Carey

Do you have thousands of digital photos and are having trouble organizing them? Do you need help on how to process a digital photo for output to e-mail or web? The Museum of American Bird Art is thrilled to host a workshop with wildlife photographer Shawn Carey of Migration Productions for Adobe Lightroom workshop on Saturday October 14, 2017 from 9 to 4 pm. Click here to learn more or register. 

In this all-day workshop, you will learn how to manage your digital photos and files in a way that makes sense, is easy to learn, plus learn many time saving shortcuts. This is an all day workshop that is broken up in three instructional units:

Section 1:

  • Understanding Lightroom and how it works, organize your photos/files.
  • Library Module
  • Importing files, rating and editing or culling images.
  • Proper backup of files and catalog

Section 2:

  • Keywords and Keyword list, the proper way to apply Keywords
  • Understanding collections and why there are useful.

Section 3:

  • Develop a Module
  • Develop and output for e-mail and web.

Shawn Carey’s Background

Shawn’s photos have been published in the Boston Globe, New York Times, Mass Audubon Sanctuary magazine, Science magazine, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary magazine and many others over the last 20 years. He has been presenting programs and teaching workshops for camera clubs, birding organizations and at birding events since 1994. (Mass Audubon, Maine Audubon, ABA, Manomet, HMANA, Eastern Mass Hawk Watch, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and many local bird and camera clubs). In 1997 he started teaching bird photography workshops (Fundamentals of Bird Photography) for the Mass Audubon and teaches for Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay’s Summer Field School on Cape Cod.

Shawn is a member of:

Mass. Audubon (Advisory Council)
Mass Audubon Museum of American Bird Art, Canton, MA (Advisory Board)
Eastern Mass Hawk Watch (Past President and current Vice President)
Nuttall Ornithological Club (Past Advisory Board)
Goldenrod Foundation (Advisory Board)
Brookline Bird Club (Past council member 7 years)
South Shore Bird Club
South Shore Camera Club
American Birding Assoc.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary

Shawn P. Carey
Migration Productions
cell # 617-799-9984
scarey@avfx.com
www.MigrationProductions.com

Show Time!

Museum of American Bird Art, Canton    May 2017

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that the posts have slowed down abit.  There’s a reason for this.  With the opening of my residency exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art scheduled for May 21, 2017, I’ve had to put the sanctuary visits aside and spend all of my time on show preparations.

IN A NATURAL STATE: Barry Van Dusen Paints the Nature of Mass Audubon, presents more than 60 original watercolors from the residency project.  On exhibit are watercolors of birds, landscapes, flowers, mammals, fish, insects and more, inspired by my visits to 54 Mass Audubon properties across the state.  The paintings are accompanied by narrative labels that chronicle my experiences and adventures over the course of the two-year project.

Gary Clayton (President of Mass Audubon), Amy Montague (Director of the Museum of American Bird Art) and Barry Van Dusen (Artist)

In the mezzanine, visitors can see a display of my sketchbooks and field kit, and a chronological slideshow on the large mezzanine monitor includes ALL of my residency paintings up to the present time (more than 150!), along with related sketches and photographs.

The installation would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of the Museum staff: Amy Montague, Sean Kent, Owen Cunningham, Sarah McClellan, and volunteer Julianne Mehegan.  Their dedication and professionalism continues to fill me with awe!

 

Museum staff Owen Cunningham and Sean Kent talk over details of the installation

There’s plenty of time to take in the exhibition, which will be on display throughout the summer, closing on September 17, 2017.  I hope those of you who have not yet seen the exhibit (or the Museum), will pay a visit!

Getting back to the residency project – I still have a few Mass Audubon properties to visit this summer, so stay tuned for future blog posts from Endicott (Wenham), Blue Hills Trailside Museum (Milton), Felix Neck (Edgartown), Lime Kiln Farm (Sheffield)  and Richardson Brook (Tolland).  With my sanctuary visits coming to an end, I’m feeling a reluctance to finish.  It’s been a wonderful experience exploring the Nature of Mass Audubon!

A Note to Collectors

A selection of my original watercolors has been purchased by the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Museum’s permanent collection, but many of the originals are available for sale to private individuals.  When you visit the Museum, ask for a price list at the front desk.  Also, feel free to contact me to check on availability of any of the paintings you see on the Taking Flight blog, or on the slideshow in the Museum’s mezzanine.  Write me at vandusen@dslextreme.com.

 

Small Miracles, Part 1: Kid’s Stuff

January 29, 2017

Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary, Wenham

These days, Endicott Wildlife Sanctuary is best known as home of the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary Nature Preschool.  The school operates out of the historic estate house once owned by the renowned Endicott family (John Endicott was the first colonial Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony).  The sanctuary, which lies within earshot of Rte 128, is small at just 43 acres, and the half mile of trails can easily be explored in a half day or so.

Upon arrival, I pass through a small but attractive cattail marsh on either side of the entrance drive.  I make a mental note of this, and after parking and studying the visitor’s kiosk, I decide to walk back down the driveway to this marsh.  The cattails are in various stages of going to seed.  Some are nearly falling apart, with gauzy fragments waving in the light breeze.  Others are largely intact, with only small patches turned to cottony fluff.

Sketchbook study of Cattail, pencil and watercolor, 8.5″ x 5″

A small movement catches my eye, and I watch a chickadee working over one of the riper heads, tearing away clumps of fiber.   Several times, the bird drops a wad of fluff, then dives down to retrieve it from the base of the plants.  I’m not sure what the chickadees are after, but later I go on-line and find references to Chickadees gleaning both seeds and insect larvae from cattails.

Chickadees and Cattails, watercolor on Arches rough, 10.25″ x 14.25″

Near the entrance to the Ellice Endicott Trail, I pause where a patch of common polypody is growing atop a large boulder.  I can’t resist turning the fronds over to examine the regularly spaced dots loaded with spores on the undersides.

They remind me of a type of penny candy that we coveted as kids:  colored candy dots arranged in rows on a paper ribbon.   I wonder if you can still buy the stuff, and if the kids in the nature preschool would know what I’m talking about!

The trail passes by a play area where “toys” made from natural materials are spread out on a bench next to a hut built from sticks.

There’s also what looks like a large sieve or sifter, with separate compartments and a cover.  I’m not sure what the kids do with this contraption, but I bet it’s FUN!

I pass through a mixed forest of mature white pine and red oak, interspersed with hemlocks and beeches.  The young beech trees in the understory hang onto their leaves all through the winter.  The pale, papery leaves are curled into tight coils and hang in orderly rows from the delicate twigs.  I decide to do a drawing of a particularly attractive branch, then take out my watercolors and add some soft washes of tan.

Beech Leaf Ballet, watercolor on Lana hot press, 8.5″ x 12″

The dorsal surfaces of the leaves are richer in color, and lend an orange glow to the inside of the coiled leaves.  They remind me of ballet slippers – all up on their toes in a delicate dance – so I decide to title the painting Beech Leaf Ballet.

The trail descends into a moist and mossy hemlock gorge, skirts a swampy stream lined with sphagnum, and then leads to a spur trail offering a vantage into the wet meadow.  There’s a rich variety of wetland plants here: maleberry and winterberry, sweet pepperbush and arching sprays of rushes out in the middle.

Before I leave, I again walk down to the cattail marsh – this time to collect some of the interesting “weeds” growing along the driveway.  Visitors are discouraged from collecting natural materials at any of the Mass Audubon properties, so I discretely gather only a few stems, making sure to avoid any rare or unusual species.  I’ll bring these back to the studio to paint in a warmer, more controlled environment (stay tuned for Part 2: Lost in the Weeds).

 

Confessions of a Fish-Watcher

Eagle Lake, Holden (revisited)

I spent my childhood in the Sebago Lakes region of southern Maine.  In summer, my brothers and I spent nearly all of our time IN or ON the water: boating, swimming, snorkeling, fishing – and fish-watching.  Some of my earliest memories are of times spent gazing into watery depths, spying on various piscine forms.

Sketches made at the Sandwich,MA state fish hatchery, May 2012, pencil, 9″ x 12″

In November, we’d go on special fish-watching expeditions to the old fish hatchery on the Jordan River, where we could watch spawning landlocked salmon up the river from Sebago Lake.  More often, we’d simply lurk around the dock at my grandparents place on Panther Pond, watching the bluegills, pumpkinseeds, and an occasional largemouth bass defend their nests in the weedy shallows.

One behavior I find especially attractive is the way pumpkinseeds and bluegills wave their aqua blue fins as they guard their nest sites.  If an intruder draws too near, they give chase, then return to the nest and resume waving those fins.  I’ve come to think of them as “Fan Dancers”.

Fan Dancer II (Pumpkinseed), watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 11″

I watched this same behavior when I visited Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in Holden, Massachusetts back in May, 2015.  I took some digital photos at that time and made a few quick sketches, but with the press of other subjects, never got around to doing anything more with them.  Winter in the studio is a good time to revisit these “lost opportunities”, and the watercolors you see here are the result.

Fan Dancer I (Pumpkinseed), watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 11″