Sunday, December 30, 2012


I have been meaning to illustrate a pecan (Carya illinoinensis) fruit to ad to my previous post on hickory fruit.  Today I finally illustrated a pecan nut (without husk) and with a nice weevil hole.

Christmas Present

In October I switched from using Crayola to Faber Castell Polychromos colored pencils - you can see that post here.  I first bought the 25th Anniversary set and then added as many greens and browns to my collection.  I was very happy with these pencils and asked for the rest of the colors for Christmas.  I received a bunch from my mother a bunch from my sister-in-law and some from my wife and now have 117 of the 120.  I am very excited to start the new year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Barred Owl

A barred owl on a snowy blustery day, and some in-progress snapshots.  Watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Red Oak

I don't get to paint with oil very often, but I enjoy it when I can.  This is a red oak leaf painted a few falls ago.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

White Oak Leaves

The fall color is just about peak here and one of my favorite trees, white oak (Quercus alba), is displaying a wide variety of colors right now. Yesterday on a walk with my son I grabbed a variety of white oak leaves representing a wide range of shapes and colors. I cant be sure these all came from the same tree, but they did all come from three or four individuals in a small area.

Friday, October 12, 2012

An Unusual Epiphyte

September was a busy month - my wife, son and I moved from Cleveland, Ohio to a small town in Central, IL and attended family weddings in Chicago and New Orleans.  In a three week stretch I went from Cleveland to Cent IL to Chicago to Cleveland to Cent IL to St. Louis to New Orleans to Cent IL so I have had almost no time to sketch or post to my blog.
Anyway, while in the New Orleans Garden District I loved seeing the old live oaks (Quercus virginiana) almost all of them were hosting the epiphytes resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides) and Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides). Normally I would be bothered by a bunch of garbage or non organic junk hanging from such beautiful trees, but the Marti Gras beads hanging from oak limbs along the parade routes did not look out of place at all and were actually attractive. 
When I finally got some of my art stuff unpacked this was the first thing that I decided to sketch (colored pencil) and paint (watercolor).  If it looks funny in the middle it is because it is a poor splicing job by me - I need a larger scanner or a better computer program.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Summer Notes

Our family is in the process of moving back to the prairie of Illinois so I have been without my scanner and much of my drawing supplies so I have nothing new to share.  However, here are a few pages from my field notebook from past summers spent in the Ohio forest!


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

River Clean Up

When the summer is dry and the rivers reach low levels it becomes all to clear how much garbage pollutes our rivers and streams; even the most pristine stretches of water.  It is a great time of year to cool off in your local stream and pick up some garbage while your at it.  Here is a sketch that I made for a local river clean up a few years back; beer cans and tires....

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


This is a handsome little freshwater mussel called a deertoe (Truncilla truncata) they range in color from this aqua blue to green to almost red-orange.  This is my first attempt to illustrate one of these beautiful creatures but I am sure it wont be my last.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Anyone who owns a “Flora of …” field guide has surely noticed that the Genus Carex can easily chew-up 50 plus pages of dichotomous key without the help of pictures or line drawings. It is intimidating. Ohio is home to more than 160 different species of sedges easily making it the largest genera in the flora. One of the primary characteristics used to identify sedges to species are the perigynia, an inflated sac containing the achene (seed). Usually a 20X hand lens is needed to observe the characteristics of these structures as most of them are around 3-4mm long. I have only been interested in sedges for a few years, but from my first look through the hand lens I was struck by the beauty of sedges especially when magnified.
Here is a banner of 11 different perigynia all from sedges native to northeast Ohio – can you identify any of them?

Here is a close up look at the staminate (male) spike on top and a pistillate (female) spike below.  This is Carex plantaginea (plantain leaved sedge).  A little more about plantain leaved sedge right here 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

First Morel 2012

Yesterday I found my first morel of 2012.  It was a tiny grey morel that measured less than 2cm tall.  Here is a sketch of one of the last morels I saw in 2011 a great big yellow that measured nearly 20cm tall on May 5th.

Morels can be terribly hard to find.  I didn't find this nice yellow until after I got home and took a closer look at my snapshot of this handsome Jack-in-the-pulpit.  Can you find it?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Cerulean Warbler

Cerulean warbler (Setophaga cerulean) is a small warbler that often forages and nests high in the forest canopy especially on the edges of canopy gaps.  Some of our tallest trees in the eastern forests are tulip-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) – so here is a sketch of what you might see if you look up to the tree tops in a high quality forest this time of year.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Two sketches from last April – this is about the stage we are at right now – still running 2-3 weeks early.  However, the weather has cooled off quite a bit and a lot of the plants have slowed down or stopped in their tracks. 

The buds of the understory beech trees are swelling but not yet popped and the winter wrens are singing. 

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is in flower and the foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is almost flowering.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Winter Wren

The sugar maples (Acer saccharum) are leafing out and the winter wrens are singing!  Colored pencil.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Two of my favorite spring images - leatherwood (Dirca palustris) in flower and a magnolia warbler!  Colored pencil.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Spring Sketches

Yesterday while spraying invasive lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) I saw my first jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) breaking through the leaves.  Here is a sketch of a jack from April 18th 2010 – almost a month later than the one I saw yesterday. 

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) was in flower here last week saw my first one on March 23 – here is a sketchbook painting of one from last year on April 26 – more than a month difference.

I was in Illinois a few weeks ago and on March 15th I saw Dutchman’s britches (Dicentra cucullaria) and toadshade trillium (Trillium recurvatum) in flower – this sketch was done on April 8th 2010 a solid 3 weeks later compared to this year.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Early Spring

Spring is upon us and based on the flowers of leatherwood it is 26 days earlier than last year and 11 days earlier than 2010. I was back in Illinois again this past weekend and the vast majority of spring ephemeral plants were up and flowering. Here is a drawing of some of the action this time of year and a few snapshots of the drawing in progress.  I still plan to add some more dark leaves around the bases of the plants.  Colored pencil.

Pin Oak

The pin oak (Quercus palustris) in our front yard is breaking bud!

Monday, March 12, 2012


I was back in Illinois this past weekend and took a bit of time to walk down to the local heron rookery.  One year I counted around 120 nests in this location – on Friday there were fewer but I counted at least 50 active nests.  I didn’t sketch on Friday but here is a sketch from last month when I saw my first northeastern Ohio great blue heron of 2012.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Ransacked by a Rafter of Turkeys

Last week on February 27th I noticed that almost all of the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in the fen had been ransacked by a rafter of wild turkeys. In all cases the tops of the cabbage flowers were simply ripped off or ripped open but all parts and pieces appeared to be present – the turkeys were not eating the skunk cabbage – so what were they up to?

It is well documented that the inside of a skunk cabbage flower is stinky and can be as much as 36 degrees warmer than the outside temperature, often melting the snow around it. The temperature difference creates a nice toasty sauna-like atmosphere for potential pollinators. I imagine a bunch of early emerging insects crowding in to the warm and stinky skunk cabbage saloon to get a bite to eat and stay dry on cold February and March nights not realizing that the local turkeys know right where they are. Tired of a winter diet of nuts and soft body insects the turkeys probably have a hankering for something warm and crunchy.

I can’t find anything online about turkey destroying skunk cabbage in search of insects, but I have to think that is what they are up to – I hope it is not just a bunch of young Jakes being teenagers.

Leaf Scars of Mockernut Hickory

One thing that I find interesting about winter twigs are leaf scars; in some species they are incredibly consistant while in others such as mockernut hickory (Carya abla) they are extrememly variable.  Here I illustrated 3 lateral buds and their associated leaf scars as well as outlines showing the variety of shapes of leaf scars that were on this one twig.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Alternate Leaf Dogwood in Winter

Alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is a less than common native shrub or small tree in this area of Ohio.  I see C.alternifolia in both floodplains and along headwater streams and 9 times out of 10 my first impression is that it is a young sassafras tree.  On older twigs it can be hard to see that the leaf scars are alternate - they appear bunched even whorled sometimes however if you find a young fast growing twig it is clear that the tree is alternate.  You will almost always notice that one of the lower branches will be dead or will have dead twigs - they will stand out as a bright orange branch.

young twig

old twig and dead twig

Two Common Invasive Species

Unfortunately there are a bunch of non-native invasive plant species that are impacting our natural areas – two of the more common ones are garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus).  I recently gave a talk about invasives management at the Ohio Invasive Plant Council Annual Meeting – here are a few pages from my notebook that I scanned for the presentation and the take home message for each.

This is a sketch of garlic mustard that has been cut off near the ground and left in the woods (a technique that is approved for management of large nasty monocultures of garlic mustard).  I think of this as a reduction not a control – the cut plants will often times have enough stored energy to re-flower and produce seed.  Similarly the cut stalks have enough energy to mature the young seed pods (seliques) and produce seed.  Take home message is that it is always best to pull these plants by their roods and get them out of your woods!

This watercolor sketch is of glossy buckthorn in a wetland – once these things grow too large to hand-pull the best management becomes cut and treat (with herbicide).  I tried to illustrate that once the plant is cut only a small window (5 minutes or so) exists in which an herbicide treatment is effective.  Oftentimes people call and want to know how to kill buckthorn and/or other woody invasive species on their own property – the vast majority of them are doing everything right except that they are treating with herbicide beyond the 5 minute window.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sketching in Nature

Earlier in the week Kate from the Sketching in Nature blog invited me to become one of their “correspondents” – I was very excited and gladly accepted the invitation. The Sketching in Nature group is composed of nature artists and sketchers from all over the world – it is a great place to spend some time looking at natural history from around the globe and you can start right here.
If you came from Sketching in Nature - thanks for visiting, but you have already seen this and can skip to the next post.

Here is a page from my notebook from earlier in the week - a little look at some of the botanical activity where I stopped for lunch on Tuesday. Lunch was adjacent to a slip above the East Branch of the Chagrin River and the first thing to catch my eye were the undersides of hundreds of round-leaved ragwort (Packera obovata), a brilliant violet anytime of year but especially striking in February. Next I noticed some young sedges their exposed roots barely clinging to the eroding slope. Carex (sedges) is a difficult genus to master, but in this part of the world there are only a few sedges with leaves this wide and the pale bases of the leaves give this one away as C. platyphylla. Much more common here, and abundant to my right on the wooded hillside, is C. plantaginea it is given away by the red/maroon bases of leaves.  By the way, C. plantaginea has some very striking flowers for a sedge - check them out in the top right corner of this journal post. And making their 2012 debut all over the hillside is wild leak aka ramps (Allium tricoccum) a solid two weeks ahead of schedule based on my notes. As always a great day to be in the woods!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Beech Roots

American beech (Fagus grandifolia) has a relatively shallow root system and often has quite a bit of exposed roots especially on the down slope sides of the tree.  I ran into this gnarly fellow the other day while surveying some property lines at work – with no time to sketch I snapped a smart phone picture for later.  The sketch is done with a Sharpie Pen and then washed with a little watercolor.  The only green on the hillside came from Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) so I threw one in.


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dark-eyed junco

A dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) in winterberry (Ilex verticillata).  Polychromos Colored Pencil on Bristol Board.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Charley Harper

One of my favorite artists of all time is Charley Harper – his style was incredibly simple and clean while at the same time impressively precise at portraying birds and wildlife accurately. The famous quote by Charley Harper is “I don’t count the feathers in the wings; I just count the number of wings”. He might not have counted feathers, but he obviously paid close attention to detail. His bird depictions were good enough to now represent one of the most famous bird institutions in the World. If you are familiar with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology their relatively new logo depicts one of Charley’s birds, a yellow-bellied sapsucker.

When my wife and I first started talking about how we were going to decorate our nursery she showed me a picture of a nursery wall mural she liked. The design she showed me was of a tree painted in white on a number of pink canvases that were then fitted together like a puzzle on the wall. I agreed to attempt such a project as long as I could make use of the theme “Eastern Deciduous Forest” – she agreed. From the start I knew that I wanted to attempt this project in the style of Charley Harper.

I started by going to the art store and noting all of the different sizes of pre-stretched canvases that they had and then I made a bunch of note cards to scale and measured my son’s room to determine how much space I had to work with. I laid out a bunch of options and quickly picked one that included 10 different canvases. At this point I was excited about the start of the project and did not think about how long it was going to take. I bought my first canvas primed it with the paint we used to paint the room and started at the bottom.

Once the bottom was done I jumped to the top only because I was excited to do the great blue heron – the fawn at the base of the tree and the heron at the top are still my favorite two pieces of the project.

Next I bought all of the rest of the canvases, painted them blue and then put all of them on the wall so I could sketch the tree on the rest of the pieces.

Then one by one I painted them. I left a blue “frame” around each one because I knew I would never get the tree lines perfectly lined up and wanted to set each apart from each other. I started this project in March before my son was born – he was born in July and I finished in February – so it took almost a year to complete.

After attempting to recreate Charley Harper’s style and even more or less copy some of his birds onto my tree – I don’t know how he did it. As hard as I tried I could not get as clean of lines as he did. His work is amazing! He was an incredible artist and I will not attempt another project like this any time soon. Here is my tribute to Charley Harper.

Friday, February 17, 2012


Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) - Colored pencil - Prints Available.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Snowy Day

Here is my best attempt to capture one of those days in the woods where snow clings to every possible surface and is falling at the same time.  Watercolor