Tag Archives: field sketching

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

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

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

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

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

Sunlight reflection vs. cloudy reflection with pollen

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

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

Drawing tools

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

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

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

My name is Maris Van Vlack, and I will be blogging for the summer of 2020! I am a rising sophomore at the Rhode Island School of Design, with a major in Textiles and a concentration in Drawing. I used to take homeschool classes at the Museum of American Bird Art and have had my artwork exhibiting in their Taking Flight Exhibit for young bird artists.

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!

White-eyed Wonder

May 28, 2016

Allens Pond, Dartmouth – Part 1: Stone Barn Farm and Reuben’s Point

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is a big, sprawling property with seven miles of trails and three separate entry points.  Most visitors park at the Field Station entrance, with its proximity to Little Beach, and previous to my current residency project, this was the only section I had explored.

Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Desiring to see these other areas, I started my visit at Stone Barn Farm.  The historic barn has been beautifully restored and renovated, and this will be the site of the future Mass Audubon Allens Pond Visitor Center.   It’s a handsome structure, and the architects have been careful to retain the original lines and proportions.

A barn swallow pair has built a nest on a ledge over the big sliding door of the barn, and while I’m there the bird sits quietly – a good model for sketching!

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8.5″ x 11.25″

The Quansett Trail leads through open fields, then coastal woods before intersecting with the Reuben’s Point Trail.

Wetland on Quansett Trail, Allens Pond - at 72 dpi

Closer to the Point, a simple boardwalk passes through a rich coastal wetland.  I linger here to examine the interesting wildflowers and sedges.

Bladder Sedge - at 72 dpi

One species of sedge is particularly striking, with flower clusters that look like medieval battlefield weapons!  Joe Choiniere helps me to identify it as Bladder Sedge (Carex intumescens).

The trail rises onto a rocky outcrop as you near Reuben’s Point, affording a splendid view of the upper reaches of Allens Pond and Barney’s Joy.   It’s a good place to set up for some landscape painting.

View from Reuben's Point - at 72 dpi

View from Reuben’s Point, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 6.5″ x 10.5″

The pastel hues of Spring still predominate in the distant woods, and the marsh displays a rich mosaic of color.

I’m surrounded on three sides by coastal scrub: dense thickets of shrubs and low trees that are home to a variety of birds.  Catbirds and yellow warblers are abundant, but an unfamiliar song captures my attention.  It’s a loud, persistent song starting and ending with a sharp chip.  I jot it down in my sketchbook thus: “chip-che-wheeyou-chip!”  For forty-five minutes I stare intently into the thickets, trying to pinpoint just where that song is coming from.  Persistence finally pays off when the bird moves to a higher perch in a small cherry tree, and I have a clear view of a white-eyed vireo.  Only later do I read that these birds usually sing from a low, concealed perch!

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

I make careful notes on color and plumage and map out with my pencil the characteristic shapes and proportions of the bird.  I have seen white-eyed vireos a few times before in Massachusetts, but never in a breeding situation.

White-eyed Vireo in Cherry - at 72 dpi

My observations at Reuben’s Point fill in the gaps of my mental picture of this lovely vireo, and afford me a better understanding and appreciation of its life history and biology.