Tag Archives: Sketchbook

An Island of Sand, part 2: Nantucket Birds

November 3 – 6, 2016

Sesachacha Heathlands Wildlife Sanctuary, Nantucket

sketchbook studies of scrub oak, pencil and watercolor, 7″ x 9″

I spent the early morning hours of my second day on Nantucket at Hummock Pond, which abuts Mass Audubon’s Lost Farm Wildlife Sanctuary.  As any New England birder will tell you, November is “duck time”, and Hummock Pond is an excellent place to take in the show.  The light is good this morning, and an excellent variety of waterfowl are present, including canvasbacks, wigeon, scaup, bufflehead, gadwall, Canada geese and mute swans.  With a little searching, I also locate a single redhead and a single Eurasian wigeon!

Eurasian Wigeon, watercolor on Arches coldpress, 9″ x 12″

Canvasbacks are the NFL linebackers of the duck world, with necks like Gronkowski!  They exude strength and power.  A flock of two dozen “cans” are present when I first arrive, but most of them take flight within a half hour, and I’m left to study the four or five stragglers that remain.

pencil study of canvasbacks, 11″ x 14″

Most of the ducks at Hummock Pond are quite far off – easy to I.D. with the scope but too distant for sketching.  I try to approach a group of wigeon more closely, but they spook and take off, so I content myself with sketching some nearby mute swans and buffleheads, filling a page in my sketchbook.

sketchbook studies of mute swans, 6.5″ x 12″

As I prepare to leave, some movement catches my eye abit further down the shore.  It’s a smartly patterned juvenile pectoral sandpiper.  It affords me stunning, up-close views with the scope, and the morning light is perfect to bring out every detail.  The bird is actively feeding, and in constant motion, but I make some pencil studies to explore its characteristic shapes and gestures, then take some digital photos.  Back in the studio, I determine to make a more comprehensive study.

Juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, watercolor on Arches hotpress, 10″ x 13.5″

The challenge with a bird like this is to avoid over-rendering the details – and in the process, destroying any sense of life.   I struggle to maintain a light touch, despite the fact that to do the bird justice, I need to render almost every individual feather.

At Sesachacha Pond, (it’s pronounced SACK-a-ja!, like a sneeze, according to Edie) I find a single Forster’s Tern perched on a small lobster bouy or net float.  It scissors its wings and tail to maintain balance, and hunkers down in the breeze.  I especially enjoy the way the color of the bouy reflects onto the birds’s undersides, giving it a glowing belly!

Forster’s Tern at Sesachacha Pond, watercolor on Winsor & Newton coldpress, 12″ x 15.5″

Although there should still be a few common terns around at this late date, the only tern I saw during my visit to Nantucket was this one.


Unsettled Weather

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

Conway Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Conway on July 19, 2015
I experience some difficulty finding the trailhead at Conway Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, and drive back and forth several times along Rte. 116. It’s a busy road on this Sunday afternoon, with lots of motorcycles and day-trippers. Finally, with the help of a local woman that I meet at a convenience store, I find the Mass Audubon sign and the trailhead (which is nearly hidden from the road by the thick summer foliage). The day is hot and VERY humid, now, and I’m listening to storm warnings on the car radio.
There’s a beaver swamp just west of the trailhead, and I walk back along the edge of Rte. 116 to get a better look.

Young Herons, Conway Hills - at 72 dpi

Young Herons, Conway Hills, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

There are two great blue heron nests visible from the road and one of them holds two young birds, panting in the heat and waiting for mom or dad to return. I retrieve my scope to do some sketching. They’re at an awkward age – all weird angles and odd proportions. From the look of them, it won’t be long before they’re off on their own!

Wolf Tree at Conway Hills (small)
I walk the Wolf Tree Trail, stopping to admire the big sugar maple for which the trail is named. That’s my one-foot-tall sketchbook leaning against the base of the tree for scale!

There’s also many interesting mushrooms and fungi along the trail, today – all shapes, sizes and colors.  Here’s a sampling:

Mushroom at Conway Hills 1 (small)

Indian Pipes at Conway Hills (small)

Mushroom at Conway Hills 2 (small)
Late in the afternoon, I start a landscape of the rolling hills south of 116. But gathering storm clouds and thunder cut my painting short.  I’m forced to abandon the effort and hurry back to the car, but later, in the studio, I repaint the scene, adding those dark storm clouds from memory.

 72 dpi

Storm Clouds over Conway Hills, watercolor on Arches rough, 7″ x 10″


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″