Tag Archives: goldenrod

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


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.





Urban Oasis

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Worcester on July 2, 2015
I meet Deb Cary in the parking lot off Massasoit Road when I arrived at the sanctuary around opening time. She suggests that my first destination should be the Wilson Meadow at the southeast corner of the property. Broad Meadow Brook is the largest urban wildlife sanctuary in New England, and both of these attributes – LARGE and URBAN – will be evident at various times during my visit.
The education center is bustling with day campers and visiting families, but the trails at this early hour are quiet. The Wilson Meadow Link Trail follows a raised berm alongside a red maple swamp, affording nice, open views of standing dead timber in the swamp. It’s a good place for drawing birds with a scope, and I do a page of red-winged blackbird studies in my field sketchbook. Waxwings, robins, tree swallows and both green and great blue herons are also in attendance.

Redwing studies, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Red-winged Blackbird Studies, sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Rounding the backside of the Wilson Meadow, I’m struck by the view of the handsome old barn at the Wilson-Rice Homestead, and decide to do a watercolor. Two majestic white pines frame the scene on the left. Sunlight dapples the roof and sidewall of the barn, while the backside is bathed in shadow. It’s an unexpectedly pastoral scene, right here in the heart of New England’s second largest city!

Wilson-Rice Homestead, Broad Meadown Brook - at 72 dpi

Wilson-Rice Barn at Broad Meadow Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9.5″ x 10″

After lunch, I hike out along the Cardinal Trail to the powerlines – a hotspot for butterflies (Broad Meadow Brook boasts the largest butterfly list of any of the Mass Audubon properties!) The open meadows below the transmission lines are managed for wildlife through a cooperative partnership with the power company, and I notice (by sight or sound), all of the avian powerline “regulars” here: towhee, field sparrow, prairie warbler and indigo bunting.
Setting up near the decorated bench dedicated to Barbara Walker, I find coral hairstreaks, great spangled fritillaries, a monarch, an American lady and a snowberry clearwing moth flitting among the milkweed and goldenrod.

American Ladies, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

American Ladies, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 12″

Heading back along the Blue Well Trail, where it becomes a short section of boardwalk, I find a single ebony jewelwing.  It perches briefly on the lush vegetation growing along the brook, and I admire its paddle shaped all-black wings and jewel-like body with turquoise and ultramarine highlights.

Ebony Jewelwing - Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Ebony Jewelwings, watercolor on Whatman paper, 6.5″ x 10.5″

Along many of the woodland trails, thick growths of sassafras seedlings carpet the forest floor. The leaf shapes of the seedlings are quite variable, but they all have a cartoonish aspect. All those in-and-out curves look like something drawn by a child, or maybe a Disney animator!

Sassafras Seedlings at Broad Meadow Brook

On the Sprague Trail, I hear the “chick-burr” notes of a scarlet tanager and soon thereafter notice two birds moving through the mid-story of the forest. It’s an adult scarlet tanager being shadowed by one of its offspring – full grown, but in juvenile plumage.  The adult appears abit annoyed and harried by the youngster, who follows the parent closely, fluttering its wings and begging loudly! I take some notes on this seldom-seen juvenile plumage, and make some quick studies of the adult.

Scarlet Tanager studies 2, Broad Meadow Brook - at 72 dpi

Scarlet Tanager Studies, watercolor and pencil sketchbook page, 9″ x12″