Category Archives: News

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.

 

 

 

 

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

Reduction Linocuts with Sherrie York

It’s April, No Foolin. Copyright: Sherrie York

We are extremely excited to be hosting  a workshop on Reduction Linocuts, by Sherrie York, an incredible nature artist and teacher. She also has a fantastic blog called Brush and Baren. Learn more about the workshop and sign up today!

Workshop Overview

Linocuts, or linoleum block prints, can be dynamic, quirky, graphic images when printed in a single color, but they become even more striking with the addition of multiple colors. To learn more about the workshop or sign up today, click here. 

Reduction printing allows the artist to create a multicolor image through successive cutting, inking, and printing of a single block. 

Perhaps the best thing about linocuts is that they can be created with the simplest of tools at your kitchen table, entirely by hand. Workshop participants will take home a small edition of reduction prints and the knowledge and experience to create their own new works at home.

 In this 2-day workshop you will learn:

• How to design an image for reduction printing

• How to transfer your design to the linoleum block

• Block cutting techniques

• Tips for effective inking

• Registration methods (how to line up each color so it prints in the right place!)

• Hand-printing techniques

We’ll also talk about papers, inks, tools, and the wide variety of applications for relief printmaking.

Watching and Waiting. Copyright Sherrie York

Tools and materials will be provided for use at the workshop. Join us! To learn more or sign up today, click here. 

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″

 

 

An Island of Sand, Part 3: An Oily Experiment

November 3 – 6, 2016

Sasachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary, Nantucket

Canvasbacks pencil study, 10″ x 14″

Back in the studio, fresh from my visit to Nantucket, I make a pencil sketch of a group of canvasbacks, based on digital photos taken at Hummock Pond.   I am contemplating various ways that I can convey the robust character of these ducks, when I remember a painting in a book I have about Bruno Liljefors, the noted Swedish animal painter.  It’s an oil painting of Arctic Loons, painted in 1901.

Arctic Loons by Bruno Liljefors, 1901

The color in the painting is rich and dark.  The water, especially, is pitched in deep, saturated tones, so that the edges of the darkly colored loons are lost and found against the background – a very appealing effect!

Several months ago, I had purchased some newly developed paper formulated for use with oil paints.  Called Arches Huile, the paper looks and feels like ordinary 140 lb watercolor paper, but is ready for oil painting without any additional surface preparation.   I thought the canvasbacks might be my opportunity to give this paper a try.

In my first session of painting, I put down a thin “turpy” wash of color, which soaks into the surface, but stays workable for a relatively long period.

STEP 1 – after the first “washes” of thinned oil paints

After an application of wet color, “open time” is that period in which the paint can be freely manipulated BEFORE the passage dries.  Open time in watercolor is measured in minutes or seconds – a brief period due to the rapid drying time of the watercolor washes.  Oil paints are the opposite, with a much longer period of open time.  Hours, even days may pass before a passage of oil paint dries to the touch.  This first session of working on the canvasback painting is like doing a watercolor in slow motion, and I have plenty of time to develop soft edges in the wet washes of color.  After these first washes, I let the piece dry completely (which takes several days).

DETAIL of finished painting

Next, I build up the detail and the modeling of the birds with heavier, opaque passages of color.  I decide to leave those first washes untouched in the background, since adding more layers of paint may destroy the sense of movement and that feeling of the wind riffling the surface of the water.

Canvasbacks at Hummock Pond, oil on Arches Huile paper, 15″ x 22.5″

 

 

An Island of Sand, part 2: Nantucket Birds

November 3 – 6, 2016

Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary, Nantucket

sketchbook studies of scrub oak, pencil and watercolor, 7″ x 9″

I spent the early morning hours of my second day on Nantucket at Hummock Pond, which abuts Mass Audubon’s Lost Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.  As any New England birder will tell you, November is “duck time”, and Hummock Pond is an excellent place to take in the show.  The light is good this morning, and an excellent variety of waterfowl are present, including canvasbacks, wigeon, scaup, bufflehead, gadwall, Canada geese and mute swans.  With a little searching, I also locate a single redhead and a single Eurasian wigeon!

Eurasian Wigeon, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 9″ x 12″

Canvasbacks are the NFL linebackers of the duck world, with necks like Gronkowski!  They exude strength and power.  A flock of two dozen “cans” are present when I first arrive, but most of them take flight within a half hour, and I’m left to study the four or five stragglers that remain.

pencil study of canvasbacks, 11″ x 14″

Most of the ducks at Hummock Pond are quite far off – easy to I.D. with the scope but too distant for sketching.  I try to approach a group of wigeon more closely, but they spook and take off, so I content myself with sketching some nearby mute swans and buffleheads, filling a page in my sketchbook.

sketchbook studies of mute swans, 6.5″ x 12″

As I prepare to leave, some movement catches my eye abit further down the shore.  It’s a smartly patterned juvenile pectoral sandpiper.  It affords me stunning, up-close views with the scope, and the morning light is perfect to bring out every detail.  The bird is actively feeding, and in constant motion, but I make some pencil studies to explore its characteristic shapes and gestures, then take some digital photos.  Back in the studio, I determine to make a more comprehensive study.

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, watercolor on Arches hotpress, 10″ x 13.5″

The challenge with a bird like this is to avoid over-rendering the details – and in the process, destroying any sense of life.   I struggle to maintain a light touch, despite the fact that to do the bird justice, I need to render almost every individual feather.

At Sesachacha Pond, (it’s pronounced SACK-a-ja!, like a sneeze, according to Edie) I find a single Forster’s Tern perched on a small lobster bouy or net float.  It scissors its wings and tail to maintain balance, and hunkers down in the breeze.  I especially enjoy the way the color of the bouy reflects onto the birds’s undersides, giving it a glowing belly!

Forster’s Tern at Sesachacha Pond, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress, 12″ x 15.5″

Although there should still be a few common terns around at this late date, the only tern I saw during my visit to Nantucket was this one.