Tag Archives: Orchids

Wet Feet in Bear Country, Part 2

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

West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary, Plainfield on July 19, 2015

After finishing up with the orchids, I head back to the car and dry out my feet as best I can before heading over to the West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary trail head on Prospect Street. As I’m assembling my gear to hike the trails, I hear a commotion in the woods across the street, and a young bear pokes its head out of the thick roadside vegetation and looks straight at me! I must look threatening because the animal makes a hasty retreat back into the woods, only to circle around and do the same routine again! The bear clearly wants to cross the road, but after its second retreat it must have decided to cross elsewhere. The bear was not a cub, but about the size of a German shepherd, and I paused to consider whether its mother might still be attending it. The fact that it made so much noise in the woods was re-assuring, since it would be unlikely to take me by surprise if I encounter it again.
Hiking the East Slope Loop Trail I notice that many of the beech trees are suffering from beech bark disease, and I later read on the orientation panel that this disease is contributing to the decline of beeches in the area.

Beech Bark Disease - West Mountain (small)

Attractive lady ferns line the trail, and in some places the forest floor is covered with a thick growth of hobblebush shoots. I stop to make a watercolor study of the hobblebush, since I love the soft orangey-tan buds, which rise like candle flames from the tip of each twig.  I’m also intrigued by the way the color of the new wood is distinctly different from the old.

Hobblebush, West Mountain - at 72 dpi

Hobblebush Study, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 9″ x 11.25″

The trail follows alongside two lovely, tumbling brooks and through a hemlock forest – where I’m serenaded by black-throated green warblers and hermit thrushes.

Mountain Brook at West Mountain (small)

BTG Warbler study - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 4″ x 5″


Wet Feet In Bear Country, Part 1

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

I receive a tip from Ron Wolanin on Thursday that smaller purple fringed orchids are blooming at West Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary in Plainfield. Ron travels to many of the unstaffed central Massachusetts sanctuaries on a weekly basis, and his insider knowledge has been invaluable for my project. I leave Princeton early on the following Sunday, arriving at West Mountain by 8:15 am – already a warm and very humid day. I have no trouble locating the spot Ron has directed me to. Ron had warned me that the meadow was wet, so I’ve brought along an inexpensive pair of rubber wellies.

Purple-fringed Orchis sketchbook page - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

The orchids are SPECTACULAR! I note about two dozen plants in various stages of blooming.  The small, delicate blossoms take close scrutiny to understand their form and structure, and I get to work with my sketchbook. The flower cluster is a true spike (not a raceme), with blossoms attached directly to the straight, trunk-like stem.  The colors of the blossoms vary from a pale pink to a deep magenta purple, and I record these variations with color swatches in my sketchbook. I want to record these colors accurately (since they are often distorted in photos) and at the same time, figure out which pigments in my watercolor box will best match the blossoms.

Purple-fringed Orchis 2 (purple) - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis I, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 9″

Purple-fringed Orchis 1 (pink) - West Mtn - at 72 dpi

Smaller Purple-fringed Orchis II, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 9″

I’m standing (or rather squatting) ankle deep in water, and have propped my pack chair in a nearby woody shrub to keep paper and materials dry. A water cup seems beside-the-point, and I simply dip my brush in the water at my feet. After painting for a while in this squatting position, I feel my left boot starting to leak and by the time I finish, my foot and sock are soaking wet. NOTE TO SELF: buy a better pair of wellies and bring extra socks next time!

Swamp sparrows are sounding off all around me, and tee-ing up occasionally on low snags. At one point a willow flycatcher moves through, giving me fine, eye-level views, and I take some notes and make a quick sketch of it.

Willow Flycatcher sketchbook study - West Mtn- at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, 5″ x 6.5″


Slippers in the Forest

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

High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary, Shelburne on May 21, 2015

Ron Wolanin calls me on May 20 from High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary in Shelburne. The yellow lady’s slippers are in full bloom, and Ron warns me not to wait too long if I want to work with them. I decide to make the trip out to Shelburne the next day, and arrive at High Ledges by 9 a.m.
Patten Road is bucolic and scenic, with pastures and farms tucked between the leafy woodlots. With Ron’s directions jotted on a scrap of paper tucked in my pocket, I head up to the ledges to find the flowers. At the ledges and the old Barnard homesite (i.e. “the chimney”), I can look down on Shelburne Falls and the Deerfield River. Overhead a blackburnian warbler sings from one of the red pines.
Proceeding down the trail, I locate the flowers, right where Ron said they would be. Eight blossoms are scattered across a small area of the forest floor, in little groups of two or three plants.

High Ledge painting set-up - 72 dpi

Although I have seen these flowers in botanic and private gardens, this is the first time I’ve seen them in the wild, and they take my breath away! To see them in their native forest haunts brings out their true character. First, I get right to work on a straight-forward depiction of a pair of plants. I decide to paint the plants without a background –more like a botanical illustration.

Yellow Lady's Slipper at High Ledges - at 72 dpi

Yellow Lady’s Slippers at High Ledges, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 10″ x 14″

The only change I decide to make is to show the two blossoms facing each other, and I do this by substituting a blossom from a nearby plant for the left-hand blossom in my picture.  While I work a raven croaks overhead and I’m serenaded by a hermit thrush and a yellow-throated vireo.

This is truly a special place for wildflowers – growing nearby are miterwort, hepatica, pink lady’s slipper, azaleas, columbine, star flower and others.  As I near completion of my watercolor, I decide to start another focusing on just the blossoms. I start a drawing from a different cluster of plants, showing one blossom from the back and one from the front.

Yellow Lady's Slipper at High Ledges 2 - at 72 dpi

“Slipper Talk”, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 9″ x12″

The structure of the blossoms is intricate, and the drawing must be done with great care to capture the right shapes and proportions. I put this drawing in my pack to finish in the studio, since I want time to explore more of the sanctuary.  (Later, after I’d finished this watercolor, my wife Lisa said it looks like two ladies having a conversation, so I name it “Slipper Talk”).

stay tuned for High Ledges part 2…