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

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


I have no formal education in art and I really don’t know much about the technical side of colored pencils but I do know that I get really frustrated when I break a pencil point or worse when the pencil lead breaks somewhere down inside the pencil. I can’t tell you how mad I get when I sharpen a pencil and then notice that the led is wobbling from a crack 1-2cm inside the pencil. This seems to always happen to me with Prismacolor pencils and since I often sketch in the woods it can be aggravating especially when I don’t have a sharpener besides a pocket knife. At some point I found that Crayola pencils were much more durable in the field and inexpensive, a basic set can be picked up at any Walgreens or CVS, so I have used Crayola for quite some time. Recently I had more than one suggestion to try Faber-Castell Polychromos, so I did. The local art store had a bunch of the 25th Anniversary Polychromos sets on sale so I picked one up. I was pretty disappointed with the colors in the set but really liked drawing with them, so I ordered a bunch of greens, browns and grays. So far they are great and I have not had a single broken lead.

Here are some sketches I made in the field with my Polychromos.

An old eastern hemlock snag.

My field set-up for a quick sketch with the new greens, browns and grays.

Some of the stuff in the fen that day.

A dead twig with what I think is common green shield lichen

The bright orange twig and buds of black willow stood out against the grays of the day

Skunk cabbage starting to flower and stink

Delicate Thuidium moss as green as it is in June

Bright red twigs of red-osier dogwood
Sensitive fern AKA bead fern fertile fronds (these are the beads)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Northern Red Oak

Looking up into a nice northern red oak on a sunny clear blue February day. Watercolor and sharpie pen.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Forest Floor in June

Another still-life with Solomons plume, some oak leaves, bloodroot and oak apple gall.  This is a glimpse of the forest floor on a Sangamon River bluff in east central Illinois.  Colored pencil - Prints Available.  Not familiar with oak apple gall, take a look at this page from my field journal.

Friday, February 10, 2012

February Shed

A nature still-life of a shed deer antler.  Colored pencil - Prints Available.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Walking the Chagrin

A sketch I made while taking a break from fly fishing.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fecundity of Cattail

When attempting to control an invasive species it is important to know the potential of a particular species to reproduce by seed or by vegetative means. It is also helpful to know how long seed of that species is viable in the soil, for example if seed is viable for 3 years then I can feel pretty good in 2016 if I stop seed production in 2012. Narrow-leaf cattail (Typha angustifolia) is one of the nastiest invasive species out there. It has destroyed and is destroying native wetlands all over the eastern U.S. T. angustifolia has an amazing ability to reproduce: an individual cattail head (hotdog) can have as many as 700,000 seeds and under ideal conditions seeds can remain viable in the soil for more than 100 years. Furthermore vegetative reproduction has been reported to be very high; as many as 98 vegetative buds per mature plant. Let 1 single narrow-leaf cattail into your wetland and your in big trouble.

These pages from my notebook were done while I was working at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes (NCSL). You can follow NCSL’s attempt to restore an urban wetland choked with T. angustifolia right here.

Canada Geese: When they can successfully breed in WalMart parking lots by the thousands there are too many; I have heard them referred to as ‘sky carp” which might be a better common name…

Monday, February 6, 2012

Post Deer Season Depression

Yesterday was the last day of bow hunting season in Ohio, a day that can cause anxiety and even depression for deer hunters.  Here is a poster I made back in my days of working with deer hunters.  Cheer-up fellas there’s always next year!


I have added a lot of sketches of fruit and twigs of the hickories - here is a field journal sketch of shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) bark.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Today I planted some pawpaw (Asimina triloba) seeds that will be used in a future floodplain restoration project.  It is a great little native tree with a unique tropical tasting fruit.  Here are some sketches of the spring flowers.  The flowers are unusual in that they are the color of raw meat and have a foul odor this is because they are pollinated by carrion flies and beetles.  Pawpaw patches are often clones of each other and since the plant is self sterile these isolated clones will never produce fruit.  So if your pawpaws are barren introduce some new genes to the patch and if that doesn’t work try throwing some road kill under the trees or try tying rotten meat to the branches to attract the proper pollinators.  Once you get the trees to fruit you will have to work hard to beat the raccoons and opossums to the fruit…