Category Archives: Education

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!

Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt #3

We’re back with some more trail cam videos for some scavenger hunting fun! This time, the action is all in the meadows. Look closely, because there’s one or two animals hiding in the darkness! If you want to go back and check out the old videos or find the scavenger hunt list, here’s Post #1 (with the list) and Post #2.  

I’m ready for my close up!!!

Look who’s found a home!

Searching for a meal!

Look for the Glowing Eyes

Who’s that walking by???

Nature Notes: Thinking Like a Scientist

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This blog post corresponds with a program for children and their caregivers by the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon about Thinking Like a Scientist, Bird Nesting, Searching for Signs of Spring, and making art by creating a bluebird and nest box out of household and common art materials.

Nature Story Time: Have You Heard the Nesting Bird

Eastern Bluebird Singing

What are Nests Made of?
From Nature on PBS


NATURE NUGGETS brings science and animals from NATURE on PBS to kids and their caregivers. Use the activities below to create active learning and engagement opportunities with your child.

Art Project: Create a Bluebird and Nesting Box

Build your own bird nest!

Use Mass Audubon’s Nature at Home resources and build your own bird nest!

Eastern Bluebird

Hooded Merganser Nest from Nature Nuggets on PBS

Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt

Check out our fun Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt on the Taking Flight Blog.

Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Series

Learn more about your neighborhood birds from Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Series.

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Mass Audubon Bird Nest Resources

Become a Citizen Scientist
NestWatch

Using Citizen Science volunteers, Cornell’s NestWatch is a nationwide nest monitoring program. The Museum of American Bird Art participated in NestWatch, monitoring our nest boxes that usually have nesting Tree Swallows, House Wrens, Chickadees, and occasionally an Eastern Bluebird.
Click here to learn more about common nesting birds from NestWatch.

Nature Notes: Butterflies

Monarch Butterfly overwintering grounds in Mexico

Nature is a production of THIRTEEN for PBS. Throughout its history, Nature has brought the natural world to millions of viewers.

This blog post complements a nature-based STEAM programming about butterflies and their life cycle.

Monarch Butterfly laying an egg on Common Milkweed

Monarch butterfly laying eggs on common milkweed, © Sean Kent

Monarch Caterpillar on it’s host plant Common Milkweed

Monarch caterpillar eating common milkweed, © Sean Kent
Monarch Caterpillar

Engineer a Butterfly Habitat

To engineer a butterfly habitat, you need to think about and create a list of what a butterfly needs to survive during it’s entire life cycle as an (i) egg, (ii) caterpillar, (iii) chrysalis, and (iv) butterfly. The following are a few things to think about when engineering a butterfly habitat.

  • Food 
    • Host plants for caterpillars
    • Nectar 
  • Water
  • Places to shelter or hide

After thinking about how to create a butterfly habitat, design your habitat to contain everything a butterfly needs and draw it on a piece of paper. After drawing your butterfly habitat, if you have a couple of pots for plants, a garden, or another area you could modify, you could engineer your own butterfly habitat.

To attract black swallowtail butterflies, you can plant parsley in your garden.

My Parsley Is Attracting Butterflies - Learn About Attracting ...
File:Black swallowtail caterpillar.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

How to Create a Nature Journal

Get outdoors and record your nature observations in your very own nature journal. You can make one with materials you have at home!

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Painted Lady Butterfly

If you’d like to learn about nature drawing, including drawing butterflies, enjoy this wonderful blog post by acclaimed artist Barry Van Dusen about Getting Started with Nature Journaling. Below is a sketch of painted lady butterflies.

Barry Van Dusen’s Sketchbook Page of a Monarch Butterfly

During his artist in residence, Barry Van Dusen visit …. and closely observed Monarch Butterflies. Here is an image of his sketchbook page from that day.

“On one liatris plant, I count eight Monarch butterflies – a phenomenal concentration of these handsome migratory insects, whose populations have been down in recent years.  There’s just time enough to do some sketches before I leave to catch the ferry at Vineyard Haven.”

~ Barry Van Dusen in Martha’s Vineyard

Acting Like a Scientist: Rachel Carson and Creating a Nature Journal

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This blog post corresponds with a program for children and their caregivers by the Museum of American Bird Art at Mass Audubon about Rachel Carson, searching for the signs of Spring, and creating a nature journal to record your observations, questions, drawings, and thoughts.

Nature Story Time: Spring after Spring

How can you observe spring like Rachel Carson? 

  • Create a nature journal and explore your neighborhood
    • Draw leaves, seedlings, flowers, insects, landscapes, branches, and anything that you like in nature
    • Write down or draw how certain things in nature make you feel 
    • Write down other observations, questions, and other notes

Create Your Own Nature Journal and
Observe the Natural World like Rachel Carson

Enjoy the following video created and produced by Dan Boudreau, a Terracorp member serving at MABA as a youth education coordinator.


Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt

Check out our fun Trail Camera Scavenger Hunt on the Taking Flight Blog.

Trail Camera Video from a vernal pool at the Museum of American Bird Art

Rachel Carson and Silent Spring

Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, was instrumental with saving many species of animals, especially birds. Here is a blog post about one of the birds that was saved from extinction, the Osprey.

Who doesn’t love dancing birds!!!
This Bird of Paradise also cleans his room too!

Mass Audubon’s Bird of the Day Videos

Discover a different bird species each day in this video series with Joan Walsh from our Conservation Science team!

American Robin

Northern Cardinal

Hear and learn more about a Cardinal Singing

Macaulay Library Curator, Greg Budney, talks about the brilliant song of the Northern Cardinal.
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Learn more at: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/built-to-sing-the-syrinx-of-the-northern-cardinal/

SUPPORT OUR WORK and Donate to the Museum of American Bird Art

Taking Flight: An International Youth Bird Art ONLINE EXHIBITION featuring Eleanor Smith

We are so inspired by the amazingly talented young bird artists that are exhibiting in this year’s Taking Flight exhibition. Since we all have to be isolated to stay safe, we wanted to bring you a virtual exhibit and a little background about the artists. We still hope to have a physical exhibition of the original art, but we want to share this wonderful work now.

Today, we feature Eleanor Smith and her artwork, Northern Harrier. She is 16 and lives in Utah.

Artist’s Message

“Without a doubt, there are relatively few animals more majestic than birds of prey. Whenever I watch Northern Harriers fly overhead, I am captivated by their graceful beauty. I wanted to convey this power and gracefulness in my piece, ‘Northern Harrier’.” ~ Eleanor Smith

Eleanor Smith (Age, 16)

I’ve been making art since I was just little, but I didn’t really get serious about it until middle school. One of my favorite things about art is exploring new media.

I love to experiment with new and unconventional art forms like paperclay sculpture or block printing. 

Growing up in Utah has given me access to a unique natural environment. I love being outdoors, and most of my art is influenced by the nature around me. I especially love drawing birds; when I was in elementary school, I would spend hours walking around the lake near our house and looking for sandhill cranes and pheasants. My dad, an avid birder, would help me identify different birds, and I would use field guides to draw the birds I saw. Even today, I’m fascinated by the diversity and beauty of wildlife.

Bird and Nature Drawing Resources for Young Artists

Secretary Bird, Noah Chan (Age 8)

The Museum might be closed, but we’re still accepting submissions for Taking Flight, our youth bird art exhibition. Not sure where to get started with drawing birds? We’ve got you covered!

The goal of the Taking Flight exhibition is to create a greater awareness, conservation, and appreciation for birds while fostering the development of young artists and sharing their work with the public. Submissions will be accepted until June 15, 2020. Click here for more information.

Sandpiper, Maris Van Vlack (Age 16)

Getting Started With Nature Drawing

Advice for Young Bird Artists from Barry Van Dusen

Barry Van Dusen at Felix Neck, Martha’s Vineyard (Photograph by Sean Murtha)

As part of our annual Taking Flight youth bird art exhibition, Barry Van Dusen – an international acclaimed wildlife artist and a former artist in residence at MABA – has a wonderful blog post offer advice on how to get started for budding young artists.

Advice and guidance for artists from John Muir Laws

John Muir Laws has written several books on nature drawing. Here’s his introduction to drawing birds, from his blog. This is a great place to learn about drawing realistic, detailed birds.

Let’s Draw Birds with John Muir Laws

How to Draw a Bird with Oil Pastels for Kids

It’s springtime, so we’re always on the lookout for bluebirds. Here’s a video that’ll show you how to draw one with oil pastels.

How to Draw Birds for Beginners with Watercolors

Itching to pick up a paintbrush? This video has some beginner-friendly ideas for how to get started painting simple birds with watercolors.

A Curious Garden: Nature Story Time from the Museum of American Bird Art

We are excited for our second installment of our Nature Story Time video series, so even in times where we need to be isolated, we can still be together. We hope to bring you a few nature story times each week along with a little art project or nature exploration that you can do at home. Please comment and let us know what stories you’d like to hear, what you like about the program, and most importantly how we can improve. If you missed it, our first nature story time was Little Bird.

A Curious Garden, By Peter Brown

Our second story is The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Just like in Liam, these days it is restoring to look for the little treasures in nature and discover spring come alive right outside your door, on the sidewalk, little gardens, and in your neighborhood. Enjoy the story.

Nature Journaling Art Project

Blanketflower, photography by Sean Kent

Enjoy this wonderful art project created by Dan Boudreau, MABA’s incredible TerraCorp service member.

As we move further into spring, more and more plants will bloom. More and more wildflowers will blossom! If you look closely, you’ll see wild gardens growing all around you. To keep track of all the new flowers blossoming, you can keep a Spring Journal. Here’s how to make one. We’ll make a flower stamp out of cardboard to decorate the cover.

Materials

You’ll need:

  • A paper grocery bag
  • White paper for your journal pages (regular printer paper works great)
  • Paint, a paintbrush, and a palette knife (optional)
  • Twine or yarn
  • A hole punch
  • A black marker
  • Scissors
  • Cardboard from a cereal box

Step 1: Making the stamp

Draw a flower onto the piece of cereal box and cut it out. I made mine in the shape of violet wood sorrel, a wildflower that grows here in Massachusetts. What’s your favorite wildflower?

Step 2: Make the cover of the journal

Take the grocery bag and cut out a large rectangle. You’re going to fold it in half, so make it big! It should be a little larger than the pieces of paper that you’ll use for your pages. Once you’ve cut it, fold it in half hamburger-style. Then punch holes for your twine.

Step 3: Stamp the cover

Take the flower you cut from the cardboard and load up one side with paint. You’ll need more paint than if you were just painting the flower itself, so put it on thick. I used a palette knife, but a popsicle stick would work well too. Press the stamp paint-side-down onto your journal cover, making sure to press down every part of the flower. Stamp as many flowers on the cover as you want. I added more paint to my stamp after the second flower.

Step 4: Put the finishing touches on your flowers

Use a paintbrush to fill in any blank spots on your flowers. I mixed two shades of purple, and used a paintbrush to dab on a few spots of the darker purple to really make them pop! Now put your cover aside to dry.

Step 5: Put your journal together

Is your cover dry? Great! Fold your white paper in half and hole punch it. Put it inside your cover and use the twine to tie it all together. You’re all done! Now you have a place to draw all the wild and curious gardens that you’ll see this spring!

Thanks for joining us and hope you enjoyed the art project and nature story time.

Nature Story Time from the Museum of American Bird Art

We are excited to announce our Nature Story Time video series, so even in times where we need to be isolated, we can still be together. We hope to bring you a few nature story times each week along with a little art project or nature exploration that you can do at home. Please comment and let us know what stories you’d like to hear, what you like about the program, and most importantly how we can improve.

“There are no greater treasures than the little things… ~ Little Bird”

Learning to Fly, From “Little Bird” by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine.

Our first story is Little Bird, by Germano Zullo and illustrated by Albertine. Just like in Little Bird, these days it is restoring to look for the little treasures in nature and discover spring come alive right outside your door, on the sidewalk, little gardens, and in your neighborhood. Enjoy the story.

Enjoy Nature Story Time

“May my heart always be open to little birds
who are the secrets of living…”

~ E.E. Cummings

Eastern Bluebird Art Project

Enjoy this wonderful art project created by Dan Boudreau, MABA’s incredible TerraCorp service member.

It’s spring and that means that Eastern bluebirds are headed back our way to make their nests and raise their young! The meadow behind the Museum has several bird boxes that bluebirds sometimes build their nests in. Want to make your own bird box scene with a brightly colored bluebird? 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paints, a brush, and clean water
  • A paper grocery bag (or brown construction paper)
  • Oil pastels, crayons, or colored pencils
  • Glue
  • A sturdy piece of paper or cardstock for your background
  • A small piece of cardstock or an index card for your bird
  • Black marker

Step 1:

Draw your bird shape onto the small piece of cardstock (I used an index card), then cut it out.

Step 2: Watercolor the bird!

First, wet the paper enough that it shines in the light. Be careful not to overwet it, though, or the paper will start to fall apart. Then, paint on blue for the back and orange for the chest. We’ll do the eye later. Put the bird aside to dry while you work on the box.

Step 3: Making the bird box

Cut a rectangle out of the grocery bag and use a black marker to draw a hole for the bluebird to get in and out of.

Step 4: Draw your background

Using pastels, crayons, or colored pencils, draw the sky and meadow onto your large piece of paper. Make sure to leave a blank spot to glue your bird box onto, since glue won’t stick well to crayon or pastel. I used pastels because I love being able to smudge and blend them to make a cool texture for the sky. 

Step 5: Assemble!

Now’s the time to glue it all together! To make a perch for the bluebird, I just cut a piece of the handle from the grocery bag and glued it right on. I did the same to make the post for the box. Now that your watercolors have dried, it’s also a good time to draw an eye on the bluebird. I used a black marker.

And voila! You’ve made an eastern bluebird in its spring habitat! The bird box provides important shelter for the bluebird and the chicks that will come soon. Can you think of anything else that bluebirds might need to live? Draw them in to your own art project!