Tag Archives: Landscape

A Skunky Place for Eels

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

Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary, Barnstable on October 11, 2015

When I mentioned to a friend that I was heading to Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary, he reasonably asked if I expected to see any skunks!  Actually “Skunknett” probably comes from an Algonquin Indian word meaning “a place to fish for eels” – which I’m sure it was in pre-colonial times.

West Pond, Skunknett - at 72 dpi

West Pond

As I ready my gear for the trail, I’m serenaded by red-bellied woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. The Bog Cart Path is bordered by oaks and pitch pines draped with old man’s beard lichen. Near the end of the trail, and adjacent to the outflow of West Pond, is one small spot where you can step out onto the shoreline and get an unobstructed view of the pond. I quietly set-up my scope and train it on a dazzling drake wood duck floating among the stumps and lily pads. The bird is in perfect light that brings out the purples and greens of its iridescent head. I take a few quick photos thru the scope then adjust it to start drawing, but in the process, my tripod makes a squeak. Instantly, the bird’s head snaps in my direction, and it flushes and flies off. DARN! I notice that the nearby mallards remain undisturbed. Wild wood ducks are WARY! Later in the studio, I work from my rather poor photos to construct this composition.

Wood Duck Drake (color correc) - at 72 dpi

Wood Duck Drake, watercolor on Arches rough, 9.5″ x 14″

Working in the studio, removed from the actual subject in the field, can be liberating in many ways. I am often more imaginative and inventive in my studio work, and this painting is a case in point. I’ve deliberately pushed the colors and shapes to bring out the graphic patterns suggested by this subject.

Closer to my end of the pond are at least three solitary sandpipers foraging in the grassy margins and on some exposed bars of mud. I enjoy sketching them for a time before proceeding down the West Circuit Trail and around the pond.

Solitary Sandpiper sketchbook studies - at 300 dpi

Solitary Sandpiper sketchbook studies, 9″ x 12″

At the far end of the pond, the trail passes by a modest stand of Atlantic White Cedars. Cedar forests once covered huge tracts in the sandy coastal plains of Massachusetts, but these days only scattered remnants survive. Their desirability as lumber and the rich, peaty soils beneath them (ideal for conversion to commercial cranberry growing operations) led to widespread draining and clearing of these forests starting in the mid eighteenth century.

Set-up at Skunknett River - at 72 dpi

painting in progress at Skunknett

Because of the small size of this grove, it lacks the gloomy aspect of larger cedar stands, and through the tightly packed trunks I can glimpse the brightness of the pond opening beyond. I set up my pack chair and settle in for some landscape work.

Atlantic White Cedar Grove - at 72 dpi

Atlantic White Cedar Grove, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 13.5″ x 10″

With my watercolors, I strive to capture the blue-green lichens coating the lower trunks and flaring roots of the cedars, and the dappled light on the trunks. Bright green moss growing over the roots adds a nice pattern in the foreground.

The Great, GREAT Marsh

Rough Meadows, Rowley on September 19, 2015

Back in August, I visited the Barnstable Great Marsh – the largest salt marsh on Cape Cod. At 3,000 acres, it’s an impressive wetland. But the largest contiguous salt marsh north of Long Island lies along the North Shore of Massachusetts. At 25,000 acres, this system, also known as “the Great Marsh”, sprawls from Gloucester thru Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, and Newburyport before ending in Salisbury on the New Hampshire line. It’s a massive complex of marshes, barrier beaches, tidal rivers, estuaries and mudflats – much of it protected land owned by the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, the Trustees of Reservations, the Essex County Greenbelt and Mass Audubon.

Haying on Rough Meadows - at 72 dpi
Heading down Rte 1A from Newburyport this morning, I pass a haying operation on the upper reaches of the Great Marsh in Rowley. Men and tractors are piling bales into picturesque heaps, as the gathering dawn light creeps across the landscape.
I have nearly arrived at my destination: Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley. When I asked Bill Gette, the director at Joppa Flats, about the “rough meadows” name, he explained that the early settlers called this area “rough meadow” to distinguish it from inland meadows with finer, softer grasses. The predominant grasses at Rough Meadows are the two spartinas – saltmarsh cordgrass and saltmarsh hay, growing in various parts of the marsh. These spartinas are much coarser than the grasses in inland meadows. The settlers DID use the spartinas for hay, however, and it is still prized by gardeners for mulch, since the seeds in the saltmarsh grasses will not germinate in garden situations. Thus, the haying operation in progress…

NEW ENGLAND ASTER - Tower Hill - Sept 2013 - at 72 dpi

New England Aster painted at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, 2013

As I arrive at the parking area for Rough Meadows, a fresh Black Swallowtail butterfly drifts past, and I later see it nectaring on New England Aster. Indeed, mid-September is “aster season” in Massachusetts, and the trails at Rough Meadows are lined with a variety of species, ranging from the large, colorful New England aster to the tiny, delicate calico aster.

Calico Aster at Rough Meadows - at 72 dpi

Calico Aster

In central Massachusetts, where I live, mosquito season has passed, and days outdoors are thankfully bug-free by this time of year. NOT SO in the North Shore marshes! Whenever I stopped along the trails, I was plagued by the small dark saltmarsh mosquitos. I concluded that they must be attracted to movement, however, because once I settled down to paint in one spot, the mosquitos left me alone!

Set-up at Rough Meadows - at 72 dpi

painting in progress at Rough Meadows (rubber ducky mascot courtesy of Woodson Museum, Wausau, WI!)

Professor Chandler’s Long Walk traverses several wooded hills that rise like islands out of the surrounding marsh, and at various overlooks you can take in the sweep of the marsh and admire the variety of colors and textures. Patches of glasswort create bold swatches of crimson, and seaside goldenrod adds touches of buttery yellow.

Marsh Pickles or Glasswort - at 72 dpi

Glasswort or Marsh Pickles

Out at the end of Appy’s Way, I set-up my painting outfit and start a landscape looking back towards Rte 1A. My finished painting does indeed look like a “rough meadow”, don’t you think?

Rough Meadows, Rowley - at 72 dpi

Rough Meadows, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 12.25″

Back at the parking area, I notice an interesting view of the marsh – looking down between the trees along the Kestrel Trail. In the foreground is a thick patch of Queen Anne’s lace, now gone to seed and forming those ball-like clusters atop each stalk. I make a quick pencil sketch to record the scene.

Rough Meadows from Patmos Road - at 72 dpi

Summer Break

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

Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary, Hopkinton on August 2, 2015

POND at Waseeka (small)

There are distinct rhythms to the natural year – times when everything is happening at once and other times when nature seems to slow down and take a breather. By August, most birds have raised a brood (or several broods). Young birds have left the nest and are learning to make their way in the world.

Young Phoebe at Waseeka - at 72 dpi

Young Phoebe at Waseeka, watercolor on Strathmore Aquarius cold-press, 15″ x 11″

At Waseeka Wildlife Sanctuary, the most common birds at the pond today were eastern phoebes and a good percentage of these were young birds. You could tell them from the adults by a soft lemony wash on the undersides and more clearly defined wing bars. I wondered if phoebe adults customarily bring their broods to places like this after leaving the nest – spots where there’s lots of food (i.e. insects) and many open perches from which to hunt. Or perhaps these are simply wandering youngsters that find these places on their own.

Waseeka Pond 2 - at 72 dpi

Osprey Nest at Waseeka, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 8″ x 11″

The big nest out in the middle of the pond is vacant, too, but I had read that it has been used by a pair of ospreys for a number of years, so I was keeping an ear and an eye out for them. Around 1 pm, I hear some high pitched, chirping notes and observed a large bird land in a big dead pine on the far shore of the pond. Putting my scope on the tree, I noticed not one but TWO adult ospreys – one of them actively devouring a fish!  Even in my scope the birds are tiny, and abit too far off for serious drawing.

POND SHORE at Waseeka (small)
The shorelines at Waseeka are rich and varied. Beaver activity flooded these shores some years ago and drowned many trees, opening up the canopy and encouraging lush undergrowth. When the pond levels were restored, these open shorelines quickly regenerated with a striking variety of plants. Sweet pepperbush and pickerel weed are in full bloom along the shore today.

Many nest boxes have been mounted in the pond, attached to standing dead trees, and I presume some of these are used by breeding wood ducks and hooded mergansers. The boxes create interesting rhythms among the vertical trunks. I do a simple line drawing and add a wash of ivory black to establish the light.

Nest Boxes, Waseeka - at 72 dpi

Nest Boxes, Waseeka, pencil and wash on 80 lb drawing paper, 8″ x 12″

On my way back down the dike, I stop to admire some royal fern growing along the trail, mixed with fronds of sensitive fern – a neat contrast of fern shapes and colors. It’s a quiet, shady spot, so I sit and start a watercolor…

Royal Fern and Sensitive Fern, Waseeka - at 72 dpi

Royal Fern and Sensitive Fern, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x 11.25″

On The Edge

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

Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary, Barre on July 11, 2015
After reading the orientation panel at the Cook’s Canyon Wildlife Sanctuary parking area, I decide to check out the old Town Pound, only a few hundred feet further down South Street. I’ve explored other historic pounds in Massachusetts, but this one strikes me as being particularly well preserved. The high stone walls are still straight and true, and even the old oak gate is in good condition, despite hanging off its hinges.

POUND at Cooks Canyon (small)

Along the first segment of the Cook’s Canyon Trail, I spot an attractive colony of Clintonia, with its small clusters of bright blue berries atop spindly stalks. The bright green, slightly glossy leaves form a strong pattern viewed from above, set off by pine needles and a large piece of pine bark partially hidden by the leaves.  It’s pretty obvious from my painting why this plant is often referred to as “bluebead lily”.   I paint in the berries last – I know they’ll make little explosions of color that will bring the watercolor to life!

Clintonia, Cook's Canyon  - at 72 dpi

Clintonia at Cook’s Canyon, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 10.25″ x 8″

Further along the trail I read an interpretive panel about dam removals. A small dam across Galloway Brook was removed here about 8 years ago, restoring the brook to it’s free-flowing state. Ebony jewelwings flit around the brook, perching on swamp milkweed in full bloom. From what I can see, I’d say the dam removal was a complete success!
The second, larger dam on the brook is the main destination for most visitors, since it becomes the site of an impressive waterfall when there’s enough water in the brook. And it was flowing strongly today, due to the heavy rains of yesterday!

WATERFALL at Cooks Canyon (small)

Below the waterfall, the brook tumbles down a narrow gorge – the “Canyon”. I’m impressed with the way the trees cling to the steep slope, and set-up to paint a view of the north wall of the canyon from a narrow trail that skirts along the top edge. There’s barely room to set up my pack chair, with a steep drop-off immediately to my right. I feel a little guilty to be blocking this little section of trail, and apologize to a couple who graciously agree to detour.

Canyon Wall, Cook's Canyon - at 72 dpi

The Canyon Wall, watercolor on Arches cold-press. 12.25″ x 9″

I usually do a lot of editing to a forest scene like this. There’s a lot more detail than I could possibly paint in on location, and much of the detail would clutter the scene anyway. If you want to see just how much I leave out, take a look at this photo of the scene and compare it with my finished watercolor.

CANYON WALL at Cooks Canyon (small)
Returning on the Galloway Brook Trail, I hear at least three ravens yelling back and forth and circling above the trees. It appears to be a family group, and I pondered whether they might have nested somewhere on the canyon walls.
Growing right along the brook is a delicate, airy vine with leaflets of three and thread-like stems curving and twisting up onto the tops of other streamside plants. This is hog peanut, a relative of the more common ground nut. I enjoy doing a study in my sketchbook, letting the lines wander (like the plant tendrils) around the page in a spontaneous manner.

Hog Peanut sketchbook study, Cook's Canyon - at 72 dpi -

Hog Peanut sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

Embracing the Greens

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

Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary, Lincoln on June 10, 2015
This is certainly the busiest sanctuary I’ve visited so far on my residency. At 9:30 a.m. the parking lots are nearly full and the place is hopping, with buses full of school children arriving for the morning programs and tours. I soon find, however, that most of the visitors are headed for the Farm Yard with all its animal exhibits, working farm, wildlife sanctuary and more. The trails up onto the drumlin are quiet and peaceful!

From the drumlin’s summit (270 ft.), I’m captivated by the wonderful view down into the fields that dominate the southern end of the sanctuary. This is where the produce for the Drumlin Farm CSA is grown, and where other fields are set aside for wildlife. I get right to work on a watercolor, and as I’m painting I watch several groups of visitors touring the CSA operation. You can see one of these groups in the center right of my watercolor.

CSA Fields, Drumlin Farm - at 72 dpi

The CSA Fields, Drumlin Farm, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 7.5″ x 12.25″

A watercolor like this is a study in greens – I think I’ve used nearly every green that it is possible to mix from the yellows and blues on my palette – which intentionally does not include any green pigments!  I’ve found most commercially available green pigments to be too artificial and raw, and I much prefer to mix all of my greens. Note the shift in temperature of these various greens – some very cool and bluish and others very warm and yellowish. These contrasts in color temperature are what make the painting come alive!

Set-up at Drumlin Farm - at 72 dpi
After lunch I’m back out on the trails, this time in search of birds. I linger by the big dead trees that stand in the middle of the WHIP Field. They are a magnet for birds, so I set up my scope and watch the parade. A kingbird, an oriole, tree swallows and a bluebird come and go, but the best models are a pair of red-winged blackbirds. They linger long enough for me to sketch and paint them.

Redwing studies, Drumlin Farm - at 72 dpi
Back near the overflow parking area I notice movement in an unmowed area near the split rail fence, and find two females, and one male bobolink. The meadow here is a verdant tangle of vetch, milkweed, and a yellow-blossomed flower I can’t identify. This mix of vegetation adds color and variety, and I take some digital photos of the plants to supplement my drawings of the birds. Back in the studio, I put together this larger watercolor using my field references.

Bobolink Pair, Drumlin Farm - at 72 dpi

Bobolink Pair at Drumlin Farm, watercolor on Arches rough, 16.25″ x 12.25″

Unstuck in Time

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

Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, Princeton on June 5, 2015
As I’m working on this small landscape painting of the Crocker house and horse barn at Wachusett Meadow, my mind drifts back in time to when this was a working farm.

The Crocker Farm, Wachusett Meadow - at 72 dpi

The Crocker Farm, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 7.5″ x 11″

I notice that most of the structures I can see from this viewpoint date back to the 1830s or earlier. The new day camp building is hidden by the copse of trees, so the new picnic pavilion is the only modern structure visible from where I’m sitting (the new solar panels are further to the right and out of my view). My apologies to the hard-working Wachusett Meadow staff – I decide to leave out the pavilion and include only the old farm buildings. So, this scene is part fact and part imagination – harking back to an earlier time before a wildlife sanctuary existed here…