Tag Archives: Pencil

Songs from the Thicket

May 20, 2016

Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary, Nahant

Boston at Dawn from Nahant - at 72 dpi

The sun is just rising out of the sea and lighting up the tops of Boston’s skyscrapers as I drive over the causeway to Nahant.  It is 5 am.

Nahant Thicket is the smallest of the Mass Audubon sanctuaries at only 4 acres.  A walk down the sanctuary trail is over before it begins, so I poke along slowly, looking and listening.

Wilson's Warbler sketchbook page dropout- at 72 dpi

Wilson’s warbler sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

A Wilson’s warbler sings from a willow.  I recognize the song from that little trill at the end that drops in pitch.  I haven’t sketched a Wilson’s in a long while, so I spend some quality time with the bird, following it as it moves from tree to tree. The little black cap on top of its head seems to puff up slightly (my wife thinks it looks like a yarmulke!)

Wilson's Warbler - at 72 dpi

Wilson’s Warbler, watercolor on Fluid 100 coldpress, 9″ x 12″

The thicket is bisected by a ditch or channel of fresh water, and I pause on the wooden bridge to watch a thrush bathing along the water’s edge.

The Ditch at Nahant - at 72 dpi

A northern waterthrush sings nearby, and from deeper in the undergrowth a bird delivers bursts of a rapid staccato song.  A year ago I heard that same song along the Waterthrush Trail at High Ledges Wildlife Sanctuary in Shelburne.  It’s a Canada warbler, which fills another page in my sketchbook…

Canada Warbler sketches - at 72 dpi

Canada Warbler sketches, pencil, 6″ x 11″

The same species of warblers that were abundant at Marblehead Neck yesterday are numerous again today at Nahant Thicket: redstarts, northern parulas, magnolias and black-and-whites.   But I add some new species, too, including a yellow warbler and a black-throated blue.

Blk-Wht Warbler and Shelf Fungus - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, pencil, 8″ x 5″

N Parula in Oaks 2 - at 72 dpi

Northern Parula in Oaks, watercolor on Winsor & Newton cold-press, 9″ x 10.5″

By 9:30 am the neighborhood is waking up and along with it come the myriad sounds of humanity: lawn mowers, a garbage truck making the rounds, leaf blowers, and the general banging and slamming that seems a constant daytime sound in any busy neighborhood.   It’s time for me to migrate home…

Raindrops Keep Fallin’

North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, Duxbury on May 3, 2016

We’re in a protracted stretch of cool, rainy weather, but Spring only happens once a year, so seeing a possible break in the forecast, I head for the South Shore.

It’s still raining as I arrive at the parking area for North Hill Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, puzzled by the lack of Mass Audubon signs.  I double check my directions and determine I’m in the right spot.  North Hill Marsh is part of Duxbury’s “Eastern Greenbelt”, and the portion owned and managed by Mass Audubon is part of a larger reserve – most of it owned by the town of Duxbury.  To access the sanctuary, I follow trails through Duxbury Town forest – thus the lack of Mass Audubon signage.

Osprey at North Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

At the observation deck overlooking the marsh, I immediately hear the high-pitched chirps of an osprey, and locate three birds perched on dead trees along the eastern shore.  One bird displays an odd posture with wings dropped, tail raised and spread.  It looks like an attempt to dry the wings, or more likely to rinse them out in the light rain!  The other birds also look abit unkempt and forlorn in the drizzle.

Osprey Pencil Studies - North Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

Osprey Pencil Studies, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

The perimeter trail to the south is closed, so I hike up along the western shore.  An open pine grove (just north of the observation deck) offers better views of the birds, but little protection from the rain.  I try some sketching anyway – lowering my scope and leaning over my sketchbook to shield the paper with my body.  Even then, I need to blot the page repeatedly with a paper towel to keep it dry enough to take the graphite.  I get a page of sketches done this way, then head up the shore.

Lush patches of skunk cabbage brighten the forest floor, and tree swallows dip and dive over the marsh.  They don’t seem bothered by the rain…

Skunk Cabbage at N Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

Skunk Cabbage

Two palm warblers visit me as I pause to have some lunch along the shore.  I sit for some time, hoping the rain will let up.  Gazing out over the marsh, I become mesmerized by the pattern of raindrops on the water…

Cranberry Bog at N Hill Marsh - at 72 dpi

Cranberry Bog at North Hill Marsh

I hike up to the dam on the north end of the marsh and explore the adjacent cranberry bog.  I hear killdeer and a towhee, and back in the woods, a solitary vireo whistles its sweet slurred notes.  The northern end of the Marsh (more like a pond up on this end), is deeper, with no standing timber in the water.  It’s less “birdy” here than the southern end, so I start back down the shore.  Finally the rain starts to let up, and by the time I’m back at the pine grove, it has stopped altogether.  Yay!  And the ospreys are still there, so I get busy again with my pencils…

Osprey in the Rain - at 72 dpi REVISED

Osprey in the Rain, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress paper, 14″ x 10.25″

Later, in the studio, I paint “Osprey in the Rain”.  I’m not sure how to convey the falling rain, so I experiment with some colored pencils on scrap paper.  A combination of light gray and dark gray pencils seems to work best.

Technical note for Artists:  a reader asked about the watercolor easel I was using in my last post (“Painting the Gutter”, Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Petersham, April 27, 2016).  It’s a “steel folding easel” made by Napoli, and widely available through mail-order art supply catalogs.  It weighs 5 lbs and is easy to carry, set-up and break down.  The water cup hanging off the front of the easel is my own jury-rigged addition. I cannot give this product my 100% endorsement, since the first one I bought broke down after a few years of use, but they are inexpensive enough that I decided to buy another one, which so far has given me no problems.  Of course, this item is just one more thing to carry along with the rest of my field kit, so I take it along only when I’m sure I’ll be doing some landscape work…


December Birds

December 7, 2015
Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, Attleboro
Early December is one of those in-between times for birders. The migrations of autumn are mostly past, and the winter visitors have yet to arrive. A walk in the woods at this season can seem devoid of avian creatures, but this morning at Attleboro Springs Wildlife Sanctuary, I manage to be in the right place at the right time.

Cardinal at Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

Cardinal at Attleboro Springs, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 12″x 9″

Birds tend to gather into mixed flocks at this time of year, roaming together in their search for food. Most of the birds in these “guilds” are year-round residents, but some are late migrants (e.g. white-throated sparrows), and some are winter residents – birds from the north who spend the winter in our area (e.g. juncos and tree sparrows). The path to the Meadow passes through a brushy thicket, where I encounter one of these winter flocks. The thicket is catching the rays of the morning sun and forming a warm, protected pocket. There are lots of juncos and white-throats, along with chickadees, blue jays and robins. A Carolina wren, a downy woodpecker, a nuthatch and a male cardinal round out the group.

White-throat at Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

White-throat at Attleboro Springs, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress, 9″ x 10.5″

The white-throats and cardinal are especially cooperative, so I take some photos and start some drawings that I later finish in the studio. I depict the white-throat deep in the thicket, surrounded by bramble canes; while the cardinal is in a higher perch above the tangle.

Alder Twigs, Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study of alder twigs, pencil, 5.5″ x 9″

At Brother’s Pond, I’m engrossed with drawing the alder catkins and twigs, when another group of birds moves through. Most are juncos, but there’s also some flashes of cobalt blue – a family group of bluebirds! The adults and youngsters are scouting out cavities in the red maple snags along the canal below the pond. Bluebirds, being cavity nesters, are instinctively drawn to holes in trees, and these birds flit from snag to snag, peering into holes and crevices.

Young Bluebirds, Attleboro Springs - at 72 dpi

Young Bluebirds at Attleboro Springs, sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

Puddingstone looms large in local lore and legend, and figures prominently on the sanctuary maps of both Oak Knoll and Attleboro Springs. Puddingstone is a conglomerate that consists of rounded stones embedded in a “cement” or matrix of contrasting-colored rock, giving the appearance of a raisin pudding. The Attleboro variety of puddingstone features purplish cobbles embedded in a greenish matrix. I find the most attractive examples of these distinctive rocks in an outcropping along the Reflection Trail.

Puddingstone - at 72 dpi


Getting Started: Barry Van Dusen Residency

The first in a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary, Princeton on March 11, 2015

After a long, cold winter (February the coldest and snowiest ever recorded in Eastern Massachusetts!), this mild day in the 60s was my chance to get outdoors and start my Museum of American Bird Art residency, visiting Mass Audubon sanctuaries across the state!  I started close to home at Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary in Princeton.  The trails at the Sanctuary were still deep in snow – impassable by anyone without snowshoes or skis, so I wandered the cleared paths around the barns, and checked out the new work being done on the foundation of the horse barn.

I knew the sheep would be good models to draw, as I had worked with them before.  Most of the sheep in the Wachusett Meadow flock are of Merino and Coopworth lineage, but I found the petit Shetlands, which are a recent addition, especially attractive.

Coopworth Sheep - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, 3″ x 4″

Shetland Sheep studies - at 72 dpi

Shetland Sheep, sketchbook study, 6″ x 7″

Shearing time is still a few weeks away, and the animals are heavy with wool. When the Shetland ram “Hickory” and the ewe “Willow” struck a pose side by side in the strong late-winter sunlight, I recognized the opportunity for a good watercolor!

Sheep at Wachusett Meadow - 3.11.15 - at 72 dpi

Hickory and Willow at Wachusett Meadow, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14″