Tag Archives: Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary

Solitary Ruminations

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

December 1, 2015

Solitary Sandpiper sketchbook studies - at 72 dpi

solitary sandpiper field sketches, pencil, 9″ x 12″

After every sanctuary visit, my head is filled with images and impressions, especially in the first few days afterwards. But as time passes, certain impressions are more persistent than others, and linger for days, even weeks. The solitary sandpipers foraging on the grassy mudbars at Skunknett River (see “A Skunky Place for Eels”, Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary, Oct 11, 2015) is a case in point. Something about the way the soft round volumes of the birds related to the gentle greens of the grass kept nagging at me, and I knew I needed to explore the impression in paint. (The winter months are a good time for developing these lingering impressions in the studio.)

I keep what I call “studio sketchbooks” on hand for exploring these types of ideas. The drawings in these books are NOT field drawings. They are, instead, explorations of picture ideas. Getting something down on paper focuses my thoughts and intentions.

Solitary Sandpipers picture idea - at 72 dpi

concept sketch of solitary sandpipers, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Using the sketches made at Skunknett, I first tried a scene with two birds, one passive and one active. Somehow, it didn’t match the vision in my mind. Examining some rather poor photos taken through my scope at Skunknett, I realized that what most interested me was the way the soft, round volume of the bird seemed to merge with the grasses, and all the tonal transitions were subtle and soft.

Solitary Sandpiper in the Grass 2 - at 72 dpi

photo taken through scope at Skunknett River Wildlife Sanctuary

Making another pencil sketch with just one bird, I adjusted the tones to get the softer feeling I was after. Now, I seemed to be getting closer to my original impression.

Solitary Sandpipers picture idea 2A - at 72 dpi

Concept sketch of solitary sandpiper, pencil, 7″ x 9″

I started my watercolor with two simple washes on a wet sheet- establishing the tone of the bird’s belly shadow and the green grass, and letting them merge slightly on the wet paper. These two washes established the tone and mood, and all subsequent washes were keyed to them.

Solitary Sandpiper in the Grass - at 72 dpi

Solitary Sandpiper at Skunknett River, watercolor on Arches rough, 9″ x 12.25″





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.