Tag Archives: Watercolor

Summits and Snowies, part 1: Great Blue Hill

March 2/3, 2017

Blue Hills Trailside Museum, Milton

It’s cold and very windy on the morning I arrive at the Blue Hills Trailside Museum in Milton.   Mass Audubon runs and manages the Trailside Museum, the visitor/interpretive center for the Blue Hills Reservation.   This 7,000 acres public reserve is the largest open space within 35 miles of Boston, and is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

I figured winter would be a good time to visit the Trailside Museum, since it would offer opportunities for both outdoor and indoor work.  The Trailside Museum is only minutes from the Museum of American Bird Art in Canton – the sponsor of my residency.  I’ll stay overnight in MABA’s guest suite and spend two days at Trailside.  Sean Kent, the education director at MABA joins me both days (thanks, Sean for your photos in this blog entry!).

Boston Skyline from Great Blue Hill summit

Today, March 2, Sean and I hike to the top of Great Blue Hill (elev. 635 ft.) and take in the view of Boston and the Harbor Islands.  While at the summit, we visit the Blue Hill Weather Observatory – the oldest continuously operated weather observatory in the United States.

Blue Hill Weather Observatory

We crawl up onto the observation deck at the top of the observatory and hang onto the railings with the wind gusts nearing 60 mph (the anemometer is a spinning blur!)

Descending from the Observation Deck

Below, in the control room, a technician points out a glass case of antique mercury barometers – still working and very accurate!

Antique mercury barometers

Down off the summit, and out of the wind, we set up to do some landscape work featuring the rocky outcrops along the Summit Trail.

The temperatures have been dropping throughout the day, and it’s in the low 40s when I begin drawing. I’ve brought along a few of those chemical hand-warmers, and slip one into the glove of my drawing hand.  I can’t draw with the glove on, but I slip it on and warm up my fingers periodically.

The completed drawing done on location

I complete the drawing on watercolor paper, but am getting seriously chilled by the time I finish, and can’t summon the courage to take out my paints.  I’ll finish this one in the studio…

the work in progress…

Here’s the painting about half finished.   You can see that I laid in the tones of the distant background first – I’ll want them to recede in the finished painting, so deliberately make the colors pale and subdued.  Next, I paint the areas of ground between the rocks with a rusty brown tone, which at the same time organizes the shapes of the rocks.  Then, I paint the shadow pattern of the rocks and lay in the darker tone of the three dominant tree trunks.  The shadows on the foreground rocks are among the darkest notes in the painting, so I’ve now established the full range of values.

Summit Trail, Great Blue Hill, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12.25″

Now, it’s just a matter of laying in the middle value grays of the rocks.  I try to add some interest and variety here, by varying the complements used to mix the grays.   Most of them are mixed from ultramarine blue and cadmium orange, but I also throw in some burnt sienna and cobalt violet here and there.

Back at the Trailside Museum that afternoon, Sean and I make some drawings of the snowy owls in one of the outdoor pens.  The birds are sitting on the ground in the rear corner of the enclosure, but with my telescope, I have “in-your-face” views of the bird’s heads and do several pages of studies.

sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

There are two owls: one almost completely white with only a few scattered markings on the wings and tail, and the other heavily spotted and barred all-over.

stay tuned for Blue Hills Part 2: Creature Feature…

 

Show Time!

Museum of American Bird Art, Canton    May 2017

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that the posts have slowed down abit.  There’s a reason for this.  With the opening of my residency exhibition at the Museum of American Bird Art scheduled for May 21, 2017, I’ve had to put the sanctuary visits aside and spend all of my time on show preparations.

IN A NATURAL STATE: Barry Van Dusen Paints the Nature of Mass Audubon, presents more than 60 original watercolors from the residency project.  On exhibit are watercolors of birds, landscapes, flowers, mammals, fish, insects and more, inspired by my visits to 54 Mass Audubon properties across the state.  The paintings are accompanied by narrative labels that chronicle my experiences and adventures over the course of the two-year project.

Gary Clayton (President of Mass Audubon), Amy Montague (Director of the Museum of American Bird Art) and Barry Van Dusen (Artist)

In the mezzanine, visitors can see a display of my sketchbooks and field kit, and a chronological slideshow on the large mezzanine monitor includes ALL of my residency paintings up to the present time (more than 150!), along with related sketches and photographs.

The installation would not have been possible without the extraordinary efforts of the Museum staff: Amy Montague, Sean Kent, Owen Cunningham, Sarah McClellan, and volunteer Julianne Mehegan.  Their dedication and professionalism continues to fill me with awe!

 

Museum staff Owen Cunningham and Sean Kent talk over details of the installation

There’s plenty of time to take in the exhibition, which will be on display throughout the summer, closing on September 17, 2017.  I hope those of you who have not yet seen the exhibit (or the Museum), will pay a visit!

Getting back to the residency project – I still have a few Mass Audubon properties to visit this summer, so stay tuned for future blog posts from Endicott (Wenham), Blue Hills Trailside Museum (Milton), Felix Neck (Edgartown), Lime Kiln Farm (Sheffield)  and Richardson Brook (Tolland).  With my sanctuary visits coming to an end, I’m feeling a reluctance to finish.  It’s been a wonderful experience exploring the Nature of Mass Audubon!

A Note to Collectors

A selection of my original watercolors has been purchased by the Massachusetts Audubon Society for the Museum’s permanent collection, but many of the originals are available for sale to private individuals.  When you visit the Museum, ask for a price list at the front desk.  Also, feel free to contact me to check on availability of any of the paintings you see on the Taking Flight blog, or on the slideshow in the Museum’s mezzanine.  Write me at vandusen@dslextreme.com.

 

Confessions of a Fish-Watcher

Eagle Lake, Holden (revisited)

I spent my childhood in the Sebago Lakes region of southern Maine.  In summer, my brothers and I spent nearly all of our time IN or ON the water: boating, swimming, snorkeling, fishing – and fish-watching.  Some of my earliest memories are of times spent gazing into watery depths, spying on various piscine forms.

Sketches made at the Sandwich,MA state fish hatchery, May 2012, pencil, 9″ x 12″

In November, we’d go on special fish-watching expeditions to the old fish hatchery on the Jordan River, where we could watch spawning landlocked salmon up the river from Sebago Lake.  More often, we’d simply lurk around the dock at my grandparents place on Panther Pond, watching the bluegills, pumpkinseeds, and an occasional largemouth bass defend their nests in the weedy shallows.

One behavior I find especially attractive is the way pumpkinseeds and bluegills wave their aqua blue fins as they guard their nest sites.  If an intruder draws too near, they give chase, then return to the nest and resume waving those fins.  I’ve come to think of them as “Fan Dancers”.

Fan Dancer II (Pumpkinseed), watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 11″

I watched this same behavior when I visited Eagle Lake Wildlife Sanctuary in Holden, Massachusetts back in May, 2015.  I took some digital photos at that time and made a few quick sketches, but with the press of other subjects, never got around to doing anything more with them.  Winter in the studio is a good time to revisit these “lost opportunities”, and the watercolors you see here are the result.

Fan Dancer I (Pumpkinseed), watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 11″

 

 

Around the Museum

September  1, 2016

Museum of American Bird Art, Canton

maba-gallery-3-at-72-dpi

The Museum of American Bird Art in Canton is the sponsoring sanctuary for this residency, and I’ve been looking forward to spending some time exploring the property.  I’ve visited MABA many times to take in exhibitions or present workshops and lectures, but I’ve never explored the trails!

It’s raining when I arrive at the Museum – which is notable, since less than 4” of rain has fallen throughout ALL of this hot, dry summer.  Massachusetts is experiencing a drought of historic proportions.  So, I don’t mind the rain as I start down the Main Loop Trail behind the Gallery.  The moisture has intensified the color of the pine needles carpeting the forest floor in the Pine Grove, and I pause to take in the scene.

pine-grove-maba-at-72-dpi

The Pequit Brook Trail leads through the center of the reserve, providing the shortest route to the brook.  I’m hoping to find some cardinal flowers still in bloom along the brook – which is classic cardinal flower habitat.  I’m afraid I might be too late, but with some searching I locate one small plant topped with a single blossom.   Encouraged, I make my way up the brook, hopping from rock to rock and pushing past the heavy growth along the banks.  Upstream, I find several tall, mature flower spikes heavy with bloom, and other spikes that have nearly done flowering, with just a few buds remaining at the tip.  The rain has let up, so I take out my sketchbook and make some pencil drawings. To get the right viewpoint, I need to squat or kneel on the rocks as I draw, and the discomfort of these precarious drawing positions urges me to draw faster!

cardinal-flowers-at-maba-pencil-sketch-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook studies of Cardinal Flowers, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Later, in my studio, I use these pencil drawings to develop a finished watercolor.   You’ll see how I’ve re-arranged the pencil studies for a better composition, and used a background wash to tie the individual studies together.  I’ve also transcribed some of the written notes to the painting – they supply another layer of information that adds to the understanding and appreciation of this gorgeous native wildflower.

cardinal-flowers-3-at-maba-at-72-dpi

Cardinal Flowers at Pequit Brook, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11.5″ x 13.5″

Bird activity is best in the meadow below the Gallery building, so I linger here on my return.  A young phoebe hunts from a high, open perch at the edge of the meadow.

young-phoebe-at-maba-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook study of a young phoebe, pencil, 6″ x 6″

The vantage point, looking upwards at the bird, shows the BROAD base of the bill – which is not so evident in a straight side-view.  Catbirds, robins, and cardinals dodge from shrub to shrub searching for berries, while nuthatches, chickadees and a red-bellied woodpecker work over a big, dead snag.

pokeweed-at-maba-at-72-dpi

Pokeweed

Though it’s been an exceptionally dry summer, the ripeness of autumn is everywhere in evidence.   Heavy fronds of goldenrod and curly dock rise above the ripe grasses, and bright, arching spires of pokeweed lend some notes of bright color.

In the grape arbor, the fruits are turning from lime green to pink to deep ultramarine blue…

grapes-at-maba-2-at-72-dpi

Sketchbook studies at the Grape Arbor, pencil and watercolor, 8.5″ x 10″

I walk slowly around the Gallery building, looking for the best angle on this handsome structure, and finally settle in a spot near the bird blind and bird feeders.  It’s not a view of the Gallery that most visitors see, but I like the way the two graceful chimneys bracket the building, and the tudor-style articulation on the south- facing gable makes a good focal point.  I make a careful pencil drawing, paying extra attention to the angles and proportions.

maba-gallery-drawing-at-72-dpi

The pencil drawing, made on location

My father was a good draughtsman, and taught my brothers and I to draw in perspective at a young age, so drawing in perspective is fairly natural to me.  Still, I need to observe closely and draw slowly to capture the unique character of the structure.   As I’m finishing the drawing, the rain starts up again, and I’m forced to put the drawing away…

You’ll notice that there are no BIRDS in the picture.  Instead, I’ve made an oblique reference to them by including the bird feeder in the foreground.  There are lots of wonderful birds, of course, INSIDE the building!

maba-gallery-3-at-72-dpi

The Museum of American Bird Art, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

The Exhibition Gallery was built in 1938 as a studio where the previous owner, Mildred Morse Allen, could practice her art.   The building was extensively renovated and updated after Mass Audubon acquired the property in 1992.  The lower level was converted to a conservators office and a fire-proof, climate controlled storage vault.   The south gable you see here encloses a small exhibition space, while the spacious main gallery occupies the bulk of the upper level.  If you haven’t visited the Museum, and perused one of its beautifully presented exhibitions, you’re in for a treat!

 

 

White-eyed Wonder

May 28, 2016

Allens Pond, Dartmouth – Part 1: Stone Barn Farm and Reuben’s Point

Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is a big, sprawling property with seven miles of trails and three separate entry points.  Most visitors park at the Field Station entrance, with its proximity to Little Beach, and previous to my current residency project, this was the only section I had explored.

Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Desiring to see these other areas, I started my visit at Stone Barn Farm.  The historic barn has been beautifully restored and renovated, and this will be the site of the future Mass Audubon Allens Pond Visitor Center.   It’s a handsome structure, and the architects have been careful to retain the original lines and proportions.

A barn swallow pair has built a nest on a ledge over the big sliding door of the barn, and while I’m there the bird sits quietly – a good model for sketching!

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm - at 72 dpi

Barn Swallow at Stone Barn Farm, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8.5″ x 11.25″

The Quansett Trail leads through open fields, then coastal woods before intersecting with the Reuben’s Point Trail.

Wetland on Quansett Trail, Allens Pond - at 72 dpi

Closer to the Point, a simple boardwalk passes through a rich coastal wetland.  I linger here to examine the interesting wildflowers and sedges.

Bladder Sedge - at 72 dpi

One species of sedge is particularly striking, with flower clusters that look like medieval battlefield weapons!  Joe Choiniere helps me to identify it as Bladder Sedge (Carex intumescens).

The trail rises onto a rocky outcrop as you near Reuben’s Point, affording a splendid view of the upper reaches of Allens Pond and Barney’s Joy.   It’s a good place to set up for some landscape painting.

View from Reuben's Point - at 72 dpi

View from Reuben’s Point, watercolor on Lanaquarelle hot-press, 6.5″ x 10.5″

The pastel hues of Spring still predominate in the distant woods, and the marsh displays a rich mosaic of color.

I’m surrounded on three sides by coastal scrub: dense thickets of shrubs and low trees that are home to a variety of birds.  Catbirds and yellow warblers are abundant, but an unfamiliar song captures my attention.  It’s a loud, persistent song starting and ending with a sharp chip.  I jot it down in my sketchbook thus: “chip-che-wheeyou-chip!”  For forty-five minutes I stare intently into the thickets, trying to pinpoint just where that song is coming from.  Persistence finally pays off when the bird moves to a higher perch in a small cherry tree, and I have a clear view of a white-eyed vireo.  Only later do I read that these birds usually sing from a low, concealed perch!

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page - at 72 dpi

White-eyed Vireo sketchbook page, pencil and watercolor, 9″ x 12″

I make careful notes on color and plumage and map out with my pencil the characteristic shapes and proportions of the bird.  I have seen white-eyed vireos a few times before in Massachusetts, but never in a breeding situation.

White-eyed Vireo in Cherry - at 72 dpi

My observations at Reuben’s Point fill in the gaps of my mental picture of this lovely vireo, and afford me a better understanding and appreciation of its life history and biology.

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…

“Build It and They Will Come”

May 4, 2016

North River Wildlife Sanctuary, Marshfield

Purple Martins and Gourds DETAIL - at 72 dpi, retouched

I spend the night at the South Shore home of Julianne and David Mehegan.   Gracious and generous hosts – thank you both for opening your home to me!

Fortunately, the day starts out DRY, with a forecast promising no further rain until the afternoon.  I say my good byes to David and Julianne and get an early start to North River Wildlife Sanctuary in Marshfield.   This is a bustling sanctuary with a well-appointed visitor center.  As I arrive, visitors are gathering for guided walks and the staff is preparing for the day ahead.

I meet David Ludlow, who is full of advice and helpful tips on birds, wildflowers and other current points of interest on the sanctuary.  I want to see the North River first, so head out on the River Loop.  A field sparrow sounds off in the brush of the upper meadow as I cross Summer Street, and a bluebird chortles from the woods.

A “colony” of purple martin gourds (actually plastic facsimiles that are easy to maintain) has been erected in the upper meadow, and I spot a dark bird perched on one of the supporting cables, but assume it’s probably a tree swallow.  My binoculars tell otherwise – it’s a purple martin!  I start to draw and within a half hour another martin arrives.  They check out the gourds and sit on the cables, squabbling occasionally – these are two males.

Purple Martin pencil studies - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook Page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

I learn later from David that some of the North River martins had moved to a neighbor’s set-up, who even used sound recordings to attract them.  But, more recently, I’ve had news that the martin colony at North River is doing well, with four or five pairs nesting in the gourds.   I DO hope there are enough martins to go around!

Purple Martins and Gourds - at 72 dpi - retouched

Purple Martins and Gourds, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

This painting, which I produced later in the studio, plays on the stark contrast between the angular shapes of the birds and the regular, rounded shapes of the artificial gourds.  Very dark birds with shiny, iridescent plumage can be challenging to paint.  In an instant, any part of the bird might go from bright blue to jet black as the angle of light striking the plumage changes.   The glossy plumage makes for lots of abrupt shifts in value as various parts of the bird catch the light.  I may have gotten the blue highlights abit bright here, but I didn’t want to lose any more of the modeling of the bird’s forms by making the highlights darker.

In the lower end of the meadow, closer to the river, a big platform has been erected to attract nesting ospreys, and sure enough, a bird sits on the nest, likely incubating eggs.

Osprey Pencil Studies - North River - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook page, pencil, 9″ x 12″

The platform was erected in 2009, but this is the first year ospreys have used it to established a nest.  Needless to say, David and the staff are excited!  (Addendum:  I spoke with sanctuary director Sue MacCallum on June 21, and learned that the parents are bringing some surprisingly large fish to at least one chick!)

With my scope, I have superb close-up views of the incubating bird, and get to work with my sketchbook, attempting to capture the angular shapes of the head and that intense, angry look on the bird’s face.  I start another drawing on watercolor paper that I finish later in the studio…

Osprey on Nest - at 72 dpi

Osprey on Nest, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10.25″ x 14.25″

From the upper end of the meadow, I like the elevated view of the North River. I had left my watercolor easel in the car, but found that I could use my telescope as an easel by splaying the legs wide and propping my watercolor pad crosswise on the barrel of the scope.  Necessity is the mother…

Scope Used as Easel - North River 2 - at 72 dpi

The cloudy day brings out the subtle spring colors on the distant hills.  It’s currently high tide and the channels in the marsh make interesting patterns.  Also appealing are the cedars on the upper marsh, which march across the scene in a series of dark accents.

North River View 3 - at 72 dpi

North River, Marshfield, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 8″ x 13.25″

To finish the day, I explore the trails to the south of the visitor center.  Ferns, still in the form of fiddleheads, are poking up everywhere along the Woodland Loop.  A new trail on the Sanctuary leads to Hannah Eames Brook.

Hannah Eames Brook - at 72 dpi

It’s a delightful, clearwater stream that tumbles between moss-covered banks spangled with wildflowers.  I pause to admire the delicate, lacy blossoms of dwarf ginseng.

Dwarf Ginseng 2 - at 72 dpi

Dwarf Ginseng

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…

 

Painting the Gutter

April 27, 2016

Rutland Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, Petersham

Connor Pond - at 72 dpi

After a balmy March, April has been colder than normal, with many frosty nights and brisk mornings.  Rutland Brook is the last of the Mass Audubon properties I’ll be visiting that is within easy driving distance of my home, and I’m quite familiar with the territory.  I’ve done drawings and paintings here before.  Here’s a drawing of Connor Pond made in August of 2008, while I was waiting for an artist friend to join me.  It was early morning after a wet night, and patches of ground fog were lifting away from the hills as the weather cleared.

Connors Pond - at 72 dpi, grayscale

I hike up along the brook, through the beautiful hemlock forest, and find a spot where some big fallen trees have formed an interesting arrangement of diagonals over the brook.   Old timers called places like these “hemlock gutters”, and it’s an apt name.  Narrow, steep little valleys strewn with boulders and fallen timber, they are cool, shady spots at any time of year.

Rutland Brook - at 72 dpi

With an intimate scene like this, the difference between the view standing and the view sitting can be the difference between a GREAT composition and a mediocre one.   I draw the scene first from a sitting position and establish the design.  Then, I clamp my watercolor book onto my field easel and work from a standing position to do the actual painting.  I prefer standing at an easel to paint landscapes.  It frees up the arm for more gestural brushwork, and encourages a loose, open painting style.

Set-up at Rutland Brook - at 72 dpi

The sound of rushing water plays tricks with my ears as I paint. Several times I think I hear someone approaching up the trail, and once even calling my name – but when I look up from my work, I am alone.  In fact, I meet no other person on the sanctuary today.  I’m a solitary wanderer in the forest.

Rutland Brook REVISED 2 - at 72 dpi

Rutland Brook, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 13.5″ x 10″

On my way back down along the brook, I pass areas where a worker has cleared fallen trees from the trail, lopping up the big boles with a chainsaw.  I like the strong volumes of these logs and do a quick pencil study.

Trail Clearing at Rutland Brook - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, pencil, 9″ x 12″

Keeping the trails open in an old forest like this must be a never-ending chore, and I bet this is property manager Ron Wolanin’s handiwork.

 

Gone ta Camp

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

Wildwood Camp, Rindge, NH on April 14, 2016

Palm Warbler sketch - at 72 dpi

Palm Warbler sketchbook study, pencil and watercolor, 6″ x 9″

Wildwood is a quiet, peaceful place in April.  The small, year-round staff is busy preparing for the arrival of campers in June, and things are looking ship-shape.   The floating docks are installed on the waterfront and in the empty cabins, the floors are swept clean and sleeping pads are turned up against the walls.  Almost 700 campers are already enrolled for the 2016 season – Wildwood will be a busy place this summer!

Hubbard Pond - at 72 dpi

The first thing I do is head for the waterfront and beach on Hubbard Pond.  The Wildwood camp is the only development on the entire pond.  Mass Audubon owns 159 acres and a good stretch of waterfront, but the remaining shores are all state owned parkland.  Needless to say, the view from the beach is scenic and unspoiled!

I watch an osprey make lazy circles over the pond before visiting the Nature Center cabin behind the Dining Hall.  Inside are intriguing objects like bird nests and mammal skulls!

Skulls, Wildwood - at 72 dpi

I make a drawing of an attractive little plant growing at the edge of the brook just east of the parking area.  I’m puzzled by its identity, so once again enlist Joe Choiniere for help.  He quickly identifies it as Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus) and explains that some plants can be tricky to identify early in the year before they have put on their full growth.  Later in the year, this plant may be up to 30” high with showy yellow flowers on tall stalks!

Golden Ragwort study - at 72 dpi

sketchbook study, pencil, 3″ x 5″

Along the main entrance road I spy a tiny speck of powder blue flitting along the gravel roadside.  It’s a Spring Azure, my first of the season!  Azures are tiny butterflies (each wing about ½”long), and to draw or paint such a tiny creature with “naked eye” is more than my aging eyes can manage.  After chasing this azure up and down the roadside, it finally settles down and I approach cautiously on my knees, then my belly, to get some shots with my digital camera.  Digital cameras are excellent magnifying tools, granting me the opportunity to study the intricate detail of this tiny butterfly.

Spring Azure 2 - at 72 dpi

Spring Azure, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 8″ x 11″

The Azure group of butterflies continues to puzzle taxonomists, and most agree that what we call Spring Azure is actually a complex of three or more species.  The true “Spring Azure” that emerges in early spring has three distinct forms, and the one I’m watching is the palest and most lightly marked form “violacea”.  Spring Azures have an endearing habit of rubbing their hind wings together, alternately up and down.  In my painting, this action reveals just a glimpse of that azure blue upper surface of the wing, for which the species is named.

On the trail to First Point, I follow a palm warbler along the edge of the water.  It flits just ahead of me all down the shore, then gives up the game and flies up to perch on a hemlock bough.  I get my scope on it right away, and can’t believe my luck when it continues to sit quietly for almost ten minutes while I sketch and take pictures.   It’s not often you get this much “scope time” on a wood warbler!

Palm Warbler in Hemlock - at 72 dpi

Palm Warbler in Hemlock, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 9″ x 12″

While eating lunch out on First Point, I gaze up at a big red spruce heavy with cones against a deep blue sky.   Red Spruce is not a common tree in central and eastern Massachusetts, and this tree carries with it a strong flavor of the Northwoods.  Picking out a section of boughs with my scope, I decide to do a quick and rather crude study that nonetheless captures the impression of the moment.

Spruce Branches and Cones 2 - at 72 dpi

Spruce Branches and Cones, watercolor on Arches hot-press, 11″ x 9″