Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Speed of Spring

I drew these little purple flowers (Glechoma hederacea) yesterday during a brief stop at the park below the South Natick dam.  It's common name is "Creeping Charlie" or "Gill-Over-The Ground" (I rather like Creeping Charlie). You can tell it's in the Mint Family (Lamiaceae) of plants because of the square stems and the labiate inflorescence. Creeping Charlie is a successful weed; this plant was springing from a crevice in the stone retaining wall. The river rushes by just a few feet below. You can see the foam and bubbles.

I'm still adjusting to the speed at which this season progresses. I've seen new families of geese and robins on their nests. The birds are very busy. My cat brought home a few reluctant bunnies and the mosquitoes are hungry at all hours.
Let's just call it Summer and get it over with!
Pretty soon it'll all look like the jungle plants I sketches at the greenhouse last weekend!
Have a peaceful Memorial Day weekend everybody and… Don't forget to say a prayer for the safe return of our soldiers.

"Bird of Paradise"

Monday, May 23, 2011

Empty Nest

I'd had a bad day. A couple of family arguments had left a sour taste so, to clear my head, I walked over to the park to see if the robin was still on its nest. It was after dinner sometime and the sun was starting to set.

I was disappointed to discover Saturday evening that the nest was empty. I sketched it anyway in conté pencil which I later touched up with watercolor. Two days before, I had stumbled across it and was fortunate to have my sketchbook with me.

conté, colored pencil and wax crayon
Friday, May 19, 2011
a quick sketch in the rain.
Monday, May 23, 2011
It was raining again this morning but I made a detour to see if the robin was back on the nest. Sure enough! Quiet as can be, she just sat there with just her head poking up.
Imagine sitting for hours and hours with a few short breaks for a snack and maybe a little socializing. Then, back to work!

I'll be back tomorrow.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Exploring & Nesting

Pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
It's daunting in the Spring to sketch what is in front of me in Nature. There's newness everywhere and I want to posses it all. It's a weird desire; however, this is a fact of the artist's life. If I drew a tenth of it, I would be forever rooted in one spot! On this morning's walk I found familiar lovely things that stayed still so I could draw them.
Pink lady slipper orchids are just starting to emerge and bloom. Twenty years ago, I hid an engagement ring beneath this flower's broad scoop-shaped leaves for my then-girlfriend to find. Prior to this signal moment, I found lady slippers in wilderness areas in the Midwest and Canada during unforgettable botanical excursions.
Where to begin? There is something interesting and beautiful EVERYWHERE I look.
Here, sketches of pine branches and barberry
Finally, as I emerged from the forest paths I looked up and my eyes instantly fell on this delightful scene below: a robin sitting in a cramped little nest in a small tree. She stayed still and let me draw her portrait. I'll be back tomorrow to see how she's getting along.

See how she's stuffed into this nest? Bright yellow beak and tail up in the air. Kind of funny.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

They're back!

A Great Blue Heron feeding below the South Natick Dam
17 May, 2011
ball point pen, watercolor

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
You have to imagine that the dominant color here is GREEN.
It is an intense early morning sun-infused yellow-green. And this plant Skunk Cabbage, which is abundant, soaks up that sun and scatters a brilliant emerald color to all fields. Its shaded parts are deep green with a suggestion of blue, purple and sienna. Where the sunlight glances off the broad rolling leaf tops it is a fluorescent lime-jello yellow color with bits of pale blue and yellow from the bits of sky that accompany the errant photons that find a resting place on your green-hungry winter-starved retinas.

Skunk Cabbage IS Spring. It pushes its way out of the cold muddy wetlands while there is still ice and snow. The inconspicuous fetid-smelling flowers actually generate a little heat which must make their flowering structures that much more irresistible to the flies and other insects. The flower is very sexy in a way: a short flower-encrusted club is encased in a mahogany colored hood. The veil is parted, if you're a fly it's probably quite cozy (but not exactly what you were expecting - rotting flesh perhaps). The leaves come later. And they keep coming. The unfurl to their bright green state well before the other vegetation. Skunk Cabbage is easy to spot.

If you do become an aficionado of this plant, it probably means that you have crossed a certain line that separates you from casual naturalists and those who like an occasional stroll. It might only mean that you are desperate for winter to end and will grasp at any indication that Spring is lingering somewhere just out of sight. OR, it may mean that you've decided that dry socks are not a fabulous priority and that flowers that are not fragrant or appealing in a conventional sense, flowers that display the boudoir more than the lace curtains leading to it are rather "to the point". Well, what Skunk Cabbage is about then is as plain as the nose on your face!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Minpin Tree

a beech tree
12 May 2011
china marker
I could probably do many drawings of this subject. It's interesting enough and it's a peaceful spot to spend some time in. Imagine a huge tree that goes up and up. Branches go this way and that out from the main trunk. It's airy and open. Perfect for climbing if my legs were longer or my arms were stronger or if I was a Minpin.

Do you know what a minpin is? You should! They are tiny tree-dwelling people in "The Minpins" a short story by Roald Dahl. The version I'm most familiar with has been illustrated by Patrick Benson and was published in 1991.

If you read this book (or just look at the pictures) you will know what a minpin is and why this tree is a "minpin tree". For some reason, I have this tendency to imagine myself as very small when I an drawing in nature. Specifically, when I'm drawing intimate things like trees, roots, ferns and herbs.
Here are two more images from "The Minpins". The illustrations are by one of my favorite illustrators, Patrick Benson.

The birds are happy to take the minpins anywhere they need to go.

The main character, a small boy, escapes the forest on the back of a swan.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The View Downriver

pencil, 5/8/2011
On Sunday mornings, Pleasant Street is very quiet. This allows me to draw from the bridge. This view shows the Charles as it makes its way to Boston and the Atlantic Ocean.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sketching at the farm

A few moments in the sun brought these few treasures to me this weekend. This, the fruit of mindful observation of what I see and the process of drawing and the process of making a good drawing. Nothing more. Bon lundi! Happy Monday!
a happy goat from the Natick Community Organic Farm (pencil 5/7/11)

an alert rooster (pencil 5/7/11)

The Charles River looking downstream from the Pleasant St. Bridge, South Natick
Mother's Day (pencil 5/7/11)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Seeing Deer

A whitetail deer at Broadmoor

"[Stewart Edward] White was an excellent observer, and devoted an entire chapter of The Mountains to the subject of seeing deer: “As soon as you can forget the naturally obvious and construct an artificial obvious, then you too will see deer.”
But the artificial obvious is hard to see. My eyes account for less than one percent of the weight of my head; I’m bony and dense; I see what I expect. I once spent a full three minutes looking at a bullfrog that was so unexpectedly large I couldn’t see it even though a dozen enthusiastic campers were shouting directions. Finally I asked, “What color am I looking for?” and a fellow said, “Green.” When at last I picked out the frog, I saw what painters are up against: the thing wasn’t green at all, but the color of wet hickory bark.
The lover can see, and the knowledgeable."
–Annie Dillard "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek", 1994
I was walking under the spell of the early morning light yesterday. It was damp and cold from the previous day's rain as I followed the trail around the head of the marsh. I surprised strange ducks, numerous chipmunks and several whitetail deer. This fellow stopped and stood and allowed me to sketch the basics of his aspect. After it ambled away I stood there for another twenty minutes trying to render the vegetation and general visual static of the new growth in the open forest. But there was so much that I didn't draw!

Walking in the woods as an artist requires the delicate management of one's patience, one's knowledge about what is or should be there, and, as Dillard says: "the artificially obvious",  the imagination that anticipates things we are seeking. Things like deer or even things that are not visible.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Keeping Turtles

two painted turtles
I had a lot of wild animals as pets when I was a boy. Turtles came from the pet store though. They were Eastern Red Eared Sliders and were often about the size of a quarter. Their shells were about as flexible as a fingernail. They ate different things that were usually slimy: worms, meal worms, lettuce, and scraps of bologna.

I don't know how my parents put up with it. It was our responsibility to keep the aquariums clean but like most children, this was accomplished only with some duress. But the love of unconventional pets persisted up through college. My twin brother and I kept other types of turtles, a gopher tortoise who loved strawberries, two boa constrictors (and a colony of mice and rats to keep them happy). We also had gerbils and ground squirrels. I've raised injured birds and orphaned raccoons.

One winter, my stepmother returned from a Florida vacation with two small iguanas. Why? Simply because we had asked and she wanted us to be happy. Now there's a lesson in that act of giving that I carry with me to this day: childhood is a greedy little train and it has to be fed and stoked so it can get over the mountains to where the child will make eventually his place in the world as an adult. We are always growing and at some point one of those seeds planted in the heart of a child bears a unique, marvelous and wild fruit.

We weren't the best zookeepers but our hearts were in it and we were curious about all living things. This fascination transformed into an appreciation for the places where animals lived and, by natural extension, the whole of Creation --as far as we could imagine it. My pets today are more conventional (two cats) but I still never tire of imagining the emotional life of animals as I watch them. Animals and Nature are never very far away from me and my Art now.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Some Birds

a North American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
I walked around Lake Waban early yesterday morning and I found some birds to draw. Here's a Robin. Don't you love its Latin name? I just did a quick sketch before he flew off but I was able to finish the drawing a few minutes later at the Starbucks in Wellesley.

The Double-Crested Cormorant (Phalocrocorax auritus)
two cormorants at Lake Waban
Cormorants hold still for long periods of time and are easy to draw. This submerged tree trunk is a favorite perch as they wait for their feathers to dry. Here's a bit more info on this fascinating bird.

These drawings were made in a hard bound sketchbook with a Derwent carbon pencil and a soft ivory colored paper. This paper likes soft pencils and the books fold open and stay flat. Interesting. I alternate books; some are very sympathetic, others are cold and resistant. Since I often depend on my materials to "tell me what to do" this diversity is artistically stimulating.

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