Tag Archives: Maris Van Vlack

The Mulberry Tree at MABA by Maris Van Vlack – RISD Student and MABA Intern

The mulberry tree at MABA (located in front of the Education Building) is always full of life because so many animals come to eat its fruit. An astounding variety of different birds have been perched in the tree, it is amazing to watch (and hear!). 

View of the tree from the Camp Building

Here are all the birds that I saw in the mulberry tree in one morning:

American Robin

Black-capped Chickadee

Goldfinch

Gray Catbird

Common Grackle

White-Breasted Nuthatch

House Finch

Cedar Waxwing

Blue Jay

I wanted to point out two species in particular, because the mulberry tree is the only location at MABA where I have seen them. The first of these is the House Finch. The males can be recognized by their red head and shoulders. It is a muted red, not a bright red like a cardinal. The females are completely brown.

The second bird is the Cedar Waxwing. They are not as common as House Finches. Their bodies are mostly brown, but their most prominent feature is the distinctive black patterning on their faces. 

These birds come to eat mulberries, shown in the drawing below. Right now, the fruits are greenish white. 

Pen drawing of mulberry branch, showing the fruit and leaves

 The purpose of this illustration is to show a more scientific version of a mulberry branch. This drawing shows what the fruits look like for identification purposes. My second mulberry branch drawing (below) is more expressive. Instead of exactly replicating the individual parts of the branch, this drawing shows what the whole silhouette looks like, with leaves in the foreground and background, blowing in the wind. I think that the two drawings are equally realistic, but both show elements of the branch that the other does not. 

Watercolor painting of mulberry branch

When doing a series of sketches on a location, I try to use a number of different drawing and painting methods so as to give an accurate depiction of the whole location. Which of the branch drawings do you prefer? I encourage you, when making art, to think about the many ways that something can be represented. 

View of the mulberry tree and the back of the Education Building

Flower Hunt on the Main Loop by Maris Van Vlack (RISD Student and MABA Intern)

Wildflowers catch the eye during a walk in the woods; most have a pop of color that stands out against the background of green leaves. Below is a collection of wildflowers that grow along the sides of the Main Loop Trail at MABA. This post is a wildflower timeline, starting at the beginning of June and ending with the flowers that are just beginning to blossom now. 

Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

June 10, 2020

6-8” tall

These striking flowers are in the orchid family and are invasive to North America. Unfortunately, they bloom in May and June, so you are unlikely to see them for the rest of this year. 

Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense)

June 11, 2020

3-6” tall

These small white flowers are also out of bloom, but you can still spot the wilting blossoms by the edge of the path in many places along the Main Loop Trail. The leaves are still growing all over the ground (pictured above.)

Multiflora rose (Rosa Multiflora) – Invasive Plant

June 22, 2020

2-4’ off the ground

These flowering shrubs grow along the brook; the white flowers grow in clusters. In the painting above, I filled up a sketchbook page by painting the blossoms and leaves from many different angles. 

Hawkweed (Hieracium)

June 25, 2020

12-30” tall

Not only do these flowers grow on the main loop path by the brook, they are also some of the first flowers you see when you pull into the parking lot, growing along the stone wall! Their bright color contrasts beautifully against the stone.

Swamp Dewberry (Rubus hispidus)

June 25, 2020

4-8” tall

These small white flowers grow all along the Main Loop Trail. I normally see only one or two plants in one place. They often grow amongst lots of other plants. 

Common Selfheal (Prunella Vulgaris)

June 29, 2020

4-6” tall

These are the only purple flowers I have seen so far. They grow very low to the ground.

Whorled Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia)

July 1, 2020

12-24” tall

These yellow flowers with red centers are just beginning to bloom in large patches by the trail edges. These plants can be found by the brook and actually produce oil that is collected by some bees (Macropis) that collect oil. Look for their tall stalks, like the one pictured above. 

Round-leaved Wintergreen (Pyrola Rotundifolia)

July 1, 2020

5-9” tall

I saw the first of these flowers recently. It was growing by the edge of the path, hidden in some grass. They can be identified by their downward-facing blossoms.

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!

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!

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 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!