For a few years, I have been watching the nest cameras mounted on San Jose City Hall, tracking the progress of the nesting peregrine falcons there. I love the opportunity to watch the lives of these birds in such intimate detail. Oh the joys of technology!
This year, I’ve decided to track the progress of the nesting season a bit more closely. Here are my first sketches from the archived video footage of the nest cameras.
A family wedding took me to Maui last week. After a couple of days of festivities, I was free to explore the island a bit. One morning, I went to the top of Haleakala volcano to watch the sun rise and also search for the endangered Nene goose, the state bird of Hawai’i. I was not disappointed. There were also silversword plants in bloom at the peak but the cold temperatures and crush of tourists made it hard to draw them.
When we got back from Haleakala, there was an old sea turtle pulled up on the beach right where we were staying. It was kind enough to lay still while I painted. One of the first things I noticed were the large, knobby growths on it’s head and neck. A local told me that these are common in older turtles and are caused by chemical pollution in the sea water. The run-off from both agriculture and landscaping have been an ongoing issue that Hawai’i is working to address. The situation is improving by these old turtles still bear the evidence of the severity of the problem.
The next day, I hiked up the Iao Valley, where several rivers converge above the town of Wailuku. The wild guavas were hanging heavy on the branches and littered the ground. The whole park smelled like ripe guavas and I just couldn’t resist sitting down to paint the bright pink flesh inside the lemon yellow skin.
I’ve been lax on uploading my sketches from this spring and early summer. But I was inspired this weekend by going to draw in a friend’s garden. We had so many options to choose from: abundant chard, flowering onion, new squash blossoms, green tomatoes, fresh leaves on pepper and potato plants, lush lavender plants filled with bees. Her parents live next door and have a tree swallow family in residence so I also got to sketch them. Take a look.
As a scientific illustrator, the maintenance and development of my skills has two very different aspects. One skill set is artistic: drawing, painting, knowing my materials, understanding color and composition. The other skill set is scientific: researching my subjects, keeping up with current knowledge, developing and maintaining relationships with organizations and institutions. They are both equally important to my work as an illustrator and I have to work at both of them with equal attention and passion.
One way I work on developing my scientific skill set is by participating in the Fall migration counts for the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory (GGRO). Every August through December, we head up to Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands and count the raptors that come through the Headlands during the Fall migration season. There are 19 species of raptors that are recorded regularly in the Headlands and as hawkwatchers, we must be able to correctly identify them.
Correct identification of a raptor in flight is no easy task and it takes regular practice and continued study to maintain and strengthen this skill. The 2012 season will be my third with the GGRO and I still have a lot to learn. So this year, when GGRO Director Allen Fish offered classes on Advanced Raptor Identification, I jumped at the chance to explore some of the nuances of accurate identification. I am confident that I can distinguish a Turkey Vulture from a Red-tailed Hawk or an American Kestrel from a White-tailed Kite. But an adult male Cooper’s Hawk from an adult female Sharp-shinned Hawk at a distance of 500 yards? That is a trickier business and Allen’s classes promised great entertainment as well as some tips for developing this skill.
So for two consecutive Thursday evenings, a group of us gathered at Fort Mason to explore the variations that birds in the field present to us and the details we might look for to assist with an accurate identification. I took notes and made drawings in an attempt to commit some of these to memory, hoping that it will make me both a better hawkwatcher and artist. I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the scribblings of a developing and unabashed bird-nerd.
I’ve been doing so many signs and other projects lately, I haven’t had a lot of time to just sketch. But the last couple of weeks, I have returned to my old stomping grounds in Santa Cruz. I am always so inspired when I am there and so, sketches! I visited my friend Cecelia at the Monterey Bay Aquarium last Friday, which always yields some drawings. I also witnessed a Herring Gull eating a pigeon. I also made some quick sketches before a hike at Wilder Ranch this Sunday. As frustrating as it can be to draw live animals, it is good practice for capturing general shapes quickly.
I had the good fortune of being in Santa Cruz for the “super moon” earlier this month. I knew that no photograph I could take would do it justice so I sat in the wind near the lighthouse and waited with about 60 other people for the moon to rise in the east so that I could draw it. Santa Cruz is at the north end of Monterey Bay and many of the vantage points along the coast face east over the water, which provides the unusual experience (for West Coasters) of seeing the sun and moon rise over the ocean.
I wasn’t sure exactly where the moon would rise in early May so I scanned the horizon for about an hour trying to catch the first glimpse. It was a little hazy around the Salinas River valley so we saw the moon rise a little later than expected. But when it did, it was a lovely shade of pink coming up through the haze. Gorgeous! As it rose, it turned orange, then yellow, and finally the familiar pale blue of a bright, full moon.
A couple of weeks ago, Diane Sands and I were at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History for a demo as part of the First Friday Art Tour. I love doing demos because it gives me a chance to interact with visitors in an informal setting and is a great opportunity to educate people about how scientific illustrators work. I also really enjoy the opportunity to answer questions about my work, materials, and techniques.
Because my work in the current exhibition at the Museum focuses on birds, I wanted what I was doing at the demo to relate in some way. I chose nestcams at Cornell, in Decorah, Iowa, and at City Hall in San Jose as sources of sketching subjects and as a tool for educating visitors about the birds I was drawing.
The light at the Cornell Red-tailed Hawk nestcam faded too quickly for me to make much progress on those drawings so I quickly switched over to the Decorah, IA Bald Eagle nestcam. I made some quick sketches before the camera switched to night-time mode and the birds settled in for the night. Then I moved to the nestcam at San Jose City Hall, where the eyases were about three weeks old. They were fairly cooperative so I had time to make decent sketches of them as well as the adults. Having spent some time watching this cam a few weeks before, I have a good idea which adult is which so I can tell them apart pretty well and made note of that in my sketches.
I spent a lot of time at the demo drawing from the San Jose nestcam and also talking to people about both the birds themselves, the nestcam resources across the country, and also the incredible work that the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group is doing on behalf of birds of prey. The nestcams are such a powerful educational tool and I am so grateful to be able to use them as a tool in my work as both an artist and an educator.