Trinidad: Art Workshop

Feb 23—Mar 01, 2017
CrestedOropendola ASA L1410804eTrinidad: Nature & Wildlife 
Art Workshop

Immerse your senses into the bounty of the tropics and you will find endless inspiration to breathe new life into your artwork. Join me during this wonderful upcoming workshop presented by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT).

Click this link to the VENT website for details, itinerary, pricing and more information about this exciting tour and workshop.

This workshop and tour is geared toward beginner and advanced nature enthusiasts interested in ample opportunities to capture wildlife through art or journaling while being immersed in a tropical setting – the world famous Asa Wright Nature Centre. Whether you are a birdwatcher who has always wanted to draw birds in the field but has not found the right setting, or an avid journal keeper, a blossoming watercolorist or an experienced landscape painter, this workshop will offer a balanced combination of structure and freedom to create art at your own pace. Most important, the abundant tropical birds, stunning rainforests of Trinidad and rustic setting of the estate house will grant you long-lasting inspiration.

CrestedOropendola ASA L1410804h

Detail of a sketch (5.75″ x 12″) done at the Asa Wright Nature Centre veranda, Trinidad. This watercolor was started during June of 2012, and then finished during February of 2016. Crested Oropendolas are colonial breeders, and weave long basket-like nests suspended from the branches of large trees that hang over the Arima Valley.

This workshop will be centered on a six-night stay at Asa Wright’s great estate, lodge and preserve. The historic plantation house has been visited by a number of renowned ornithologists and artists including William Beebe, David Snow, and renowned American painter Don Eckelberry, who depicted a number of Trinidad’s birds and their habitats. As with many other researchers and artists, they were attracted to the wide array of tropical species representative of New World bird families found at the preserve, including trogons, manakins, motmots, parrots and antbirds, and the lush habitats teeming with epiphytes, lianas and blooms.

Asa Wright Nature Centre is the ideal location for a nature art workshop because the ample veranda at the estate is a “living” studio that offers close views of feeders that attract many birds and other wildlife, with vistas of the expansive Arima Valley, and access to trails into tropical forests. Without leaving the veranda, participants will observe hummingbirds of several species including Tufted Coquette, tanagers and honeycreepers such as Blue Dacnis, Bananaquits and many other colorful feathered gems. Ample subject matter is readily available to the nature artist, and the facilities at the preserve offer a variety of settings for those interested in working in close proximity to the outdoors.

CrestedOropendola ASA L1410804i

Detail showing Crested Oropendolas (Psarocolius decumanus) engaged in elaborate nuptial displays that include bowing from their perches and from overhanging nests, and displaying their bright yellow tails and rusty vents.

Participants are invited to immerse their senses into the bountiful nature of Trinidad to find new inspiration for their artwork, and to work in a supportive setting, surrounded by like-minded individuals. The goal is to create work influenced by the field experience with a focus on personal growth. This workshop is ideal for those that have already developed a personal craft, and for those who would like to play with line and color, learn new techniques, and participate in constructive group sessions. Participants are encouraged to work with the materials of their choice and on the subject matter that most interests them. Emphasis will be placed on the depiction of fauna, flora and habitat from direct observation. Sketching or painting while viewing wildlife through a spotting scope or binoculars can be quite effective. Those who wish to work from their own photographs may do so. Each participant is responsible for bringing his/her own optic and photographic equipment and art materials.

Golden-headed Manakin Sketches

Click to enlarge – Various sketchbook studies of Golden-headed Manakin males engaged in lekking behavior, which includes sideways dancing, foot-tapping and sliding along display perches, vowing and chest-puffing, wing-vibrating, and darting up and down branches. Most of the sketches were done on February 2012, with touch-ups during February 2016 at leks within the Asa Wright preserve.

Throughout this workshop, you will be guided by experienced naturalists and artists. The leaders have extensive experience in the visual arts when it relates to nature, particularly the depiction of birds in their habitats, and have acquired significant experience by working in the field. The workshops, hikes and presentations offered during this tour are designed to give nature artists enough structure and support when needed, and the freedom and flexibility for those seeking independence. During our morning hikes, we will have an opportunity to study the birds, butterflies and plants of the preserve, and become acquainted with the trails that lead to the leks of manakins and the haunts of bellbirds. Your guides will be field sketching, painting or journaling right alongside participants, demonstrating techniques, leading group exercises, and working with those needing individual help. You will have the option of taking part in structured exploratory workshops for the strengthening of drawing and composition skills, or follow your own pace. More importance will be placed on process rather than product. Participants have the liberty to focus on simple projects like creating a series of loose sketches throughout the tour, or dedicating their entire time to a sketchbook, or developing as ambitious a series of works as desired. There will be plenty of free time to explore the grounds on your own and find subject matter of your liking, to study the birds and plants at your own leisure, or to spend most of the time participating in structured workshops.

Field trips away from the lodge should produce encounters with a number of particularly spectacular tropical birds and landscapes. Throughout the tour we will be keeping a detailed list of all our observations, as is done in traditional birding tours. Each evening we will have recap sessions during which we will share our progress, give feedback to those who desire it, and learn about other artists. Trinidad is a wonderful entrée to the natural history of the American tropics and its marvelous biodiversity. Birders, naturalists, sketchers and painters alike will find the Asa Wright Nature Centre inspiring, and this workshop will offer a broad range of options for both beginners and advanced artists.

TRINIDAD: NATURE & WILDLIFE ART WORKSHOP
FEBRUARY 23 – MARCH 1, 2017

More blog entries about sketching in Trinidad & Tobago:

VENT2_kicsi

To find our more about tours led by Rafael Galvez visit the
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours website.

Great White Heron

It could be due to my local boyhood pride, but few North American birds continually capture my attention like the Great White Heron. When I watch this imposing hunter make its presence at the shallows of Florida Bay, and take its rightful place at the head of the massive flocks of waders and shorebirds, its hierarchy at the very top of the pecking order seems indisputable.

When John James Audubon wrote about it, soon after discovering the bird off Indian Key in April of 1832, he introduced it to the world as the “largest species of the Heron tribe” in North America. He immediately understood that the science community would find this all-white heron startling, and cautioned that “our endeavours to discover the natural arrangement of things cannot be uniformly successful.” Ever since, ornithologists have argued and disagreed about the provenance and status of this saltwater wader.

Whether the Great White Heron (currently Ardea herodias) is a species, a subspecies or simply a color morph is an age-old argument that exemplifies the problems inherent to taxonomic categorization. It might even be argued that all manifestations of the “Great Ardea Heron” in North America are part of a single widespread species that includes the Great Blue Heron, the Cocoi Heron in South America and the Grey Heron in Europe.

What should not be argued is that a unique and significant variation of the Ardea heron – coined occidentalis – limits its North American presence almost entirely to Florida Bay and the Keys. The case of the Great White Heron isn’t simply that of a white plumaged Great Blue as it’s sometimes suggested. Aside from its overall color, the Great White exhibits a number of structural differences that make its careful study rewarding.

Ardea Heron Comparative GALVEZ

During years of observing these magnificent birds, I have carefully drafted portraits of distinct individuals throughout the region to compare them for bill size and facial bare parts. I’ve documented dozens of Great White and so-called “intermediate” Würdemann’s Herons, and have noticed some interesting tendencies. Aside from the apparently larger bills, South Florida Great Whites show a greater amount of bare skin around the bill and loral region, and particularly surrounding the “mouth” [a1], compared to other A. herodias.

The “straight” culmen of the Great Blue is often mentioned, and by proxy this is assumed of the Great White Heron. “Northern” Great Blues often show a mostly-straight culmen [c5] with a very subtle “flattened” dip halfway to the down-curved tip, yet the occidentalis herons consistently show a slight and relatively continuous outward curvature to the culmen [a5]. After studying a small sample of Great White skulls from Florida Bay with those of mainland Great Blues, I have found similar differences.

A Great White Heron foraging through Red Mangrove roots along the shallows of Little Torch Key, Florida.
A Great White Heron foraging through Red Mangrove roots along the shallows of Little Torch Key, Florida.

Perhaps the feature that gives Great White Herons that particular commanding expression is the “grimace” formed by a greater amount of bare skin around the corner of the mouth, fully exposing the upper edge of the lower mandible at its base [a1]. This exposure is weak or absent in “Ward’s” herons, and limited to the upper mandible in A. h. herodias. Additionally, these exposed “lips” tend to be pale in Great Whites only, and may be bright yellow during breeding season.

These subtle distinctions, however, become blurred when the “Würdemann’s” Heron is taken into consideration. I have found that intermediate herons often lack the bare lower “lip” of Great Whites despite the pale heads of most individuals. Does this tell us anything of importance about the relationship between this taxonomic form and its congeners? Due to the limited scope of my study, I only intend to pose simple questions to further the discussion.

CLICK ON AN IMAGE BELOW TO INITIATE THE CAROUSEL

The myth of a classic “Würdemann’s” with a Great White head and a Great Blue body is shattered after spending plenty of time surveying Florida Bay for waders. It would seem that any dark Ardea heron breeding in Florida Bay and the Keys is some kind of an “intermediate”. Their plumage varies from birds with pale heads and necks to those indistinguishable from a typical dark Ardea herodias.

I do not propose that my observations contribute something valuable to the argument of Great White Heron classification – they are perhaps too mired in the zone of art – but I do propose that we should pay closer attention to this unique taxon, for we still have much to learn of it.

Recent research (Zachow 1983, McGuire 2002) suggests significant structural and genetic differences between the overall larger occidentalis herons and the peninsular Great Blues. “Würdemann’s” Herons have been shown to have closer genetic and structural affinities to Great Whites (McGuire). There is no evidence of substantial genetic flow between Ardea herodias – white, blue or intermediate – breeding in Florida Bay or the Keys, and birds breeding in the Florida mainland.

This article was originally published in the Fall of 2010 issue of the Tropical Audubon Society print publication.

Sketching through a Scope: Basics

The practice of sketching animals in the field while observing them through a spotting scope has been in use for quite some time, and many wildlife artists employ it.  For commentary on the benefits of using sport optics for field sketching, read my article – Why Use Sport Optics to Sketch Wildlife?

In a nutshell, a spotting scope  gives us detailed images of animals that allow us to create drawings and paintings of great complexity and precision. These days, spotting scopes and tripods are light and compact enough, that they allow for easy portability when we are pursuing fleeting subjects – such as birds – even when we are carrying additional gear and supplies.

With a stable tripod, your hands are free to hold your sketch pad while you observe your subject through the scope. It helps to be familiar with the functions of your scope and tripod before setting out to sketch with them.

TRY THIS:

Rafael Galvez SKETCHING SCOPE

  • Find your subject through the scope and zoom to the desired view.
  • Position yourself in a comfortable location.
  • Adjust the height of the tripod so that you don’t have to move your head much to look down at your pad and look through the scope.

Above, I am sitting at the edge of the boardwalk at Magee Marsh in NW Ohio, looking at a Long-eared Owl through my scope. I’ve tilted the tripod so that both my sketchbook and the eyepiece are in view without having to move my head. This last point would not be possible without an angled eyepiece, which I’d recommend over a straight scope for this purpose.

RafaelGalvez sketchingSCOPE

For this owl, I am using an angled Leica Televid APO 65 scope, a pocket pad and a #2 pencil. Sketching through a scope works well for both standing positions, and lengthier sitting efforts. In this case, the boardwalk made for a great impromptu seat.

GALVEZPainting at Snake Bight

Above is a watercolor of many wading birds done from Florida Bay over several visits. In this instance, I am working from the boardwalk at the end of Snake Bight trail, in the Everglades. There is a bench out there where I can place my watercolors, brushes, water and stretched paper while affording expansive views of the salt flats, which are often filled with birds to work from.  Considering the lengthy session this painting has demanded, I also make good use of the bench as a seat. The swiveling capacity of many scopes to rotate on their axis is a tremendous advantage. In this case I’ve swiveled my Leica Televid APO 77 scope 45 degrees clockwise for ease of viewing over the banister.

The photos from Magee Marsh were first included in a post about the Biggest Week on the Traveling Trinovid Blog. You may also be interested in the following articles:

Red-necked Nightjar: ANDALUCÍA

When I visited Andalucía during the spring of 2002, the Red-necked Nightjar (Chotacabras Pardo o Cuellirojo – Caprimulgus ruficollis) had for long been a fascination of mine.  It was a bird I had not yet experienced in the Western Palearctic, and my love of Caprimulgiformes had me searching for the species with increased enthusiasm.

A watercolor study of a Red-necked Nightjar wing, done soon after the bird was found, killed by the roadside.
A watercolor study of a Red-necked Nightjar’s wing, done soon after a bird was found, killed by the roadside.

Red-necked Nightjar searchesDuring the last two weeks of May, I crisscrossed the Costa del Sol several times from Ronda through Málaga, spending some time along the Río Guadalhorce, stopping at Macharaviaya (ancestral home from my father’s side), and eventually passing Almería to the east.

By the time I reached Cabo de Gata – the region’s largest coastal protected natural park – I had seen several excellent species including hundreds of Greater Flamingos, ducks and shorebirds in the salinas (salt flats) of the region, but no Red-necked Nightjars.

A pair of quick sketches on the gessoed rough side of a masonite board. These are relatively underdeveloped, so I hesitated in including them here, but they tell part of the story. Left is Macharaviaya - a whitewashed town near Málaga. Right is a view of the Mediterranean from the coastal cliffs of Cabo de Gata.
A pair of quick sketches on the gessoed rough side of a masonite board. These are relatively underdeveloped, so I hesitated in including them here, but they tell part of the story. Left is Macharaviaya – a whitewashed town near Málaga. Right is a view of the Mediterranean from the coastal cliffs of Cabo de Gata.

During my first night at Cabo de Gata, I camped out near coastal crags that dropped steeply into the Mediterranean, taking drives and hikes up the arid roads and rocky cliffs north of the cape. I had heard an Eagle Owl from this location, so was intent in pushing my investigation well into the night. However, it was when I unexpectedly flushed nightjars from a sandy path that I was truly captivated.

I stopped the car at the sight of a Red-necked Nightjar on the ground, perfectly lit by my headlights, and managed to step out with my watercolor and paper to sketch the bird under the harsh artificial lights.

Red-necked Nightjar in headlamps GALVEZ

Unfortunately, several minutes into my sketch a police vehicle drove up and the bird flew off. I was immediately put under scrutiny and suspicion. The two officers were pleasant gentlemen not much older than me, and were very curious as to what I was doing. I showed them my sketches and they listened to my description of the nocturnal bird with interest. After an awkward moment of silence during which I continued painting under my headlamp, the officers simply excused themselves and drove away.

About a week later, while coiling down mountainous highways from Grazalema towards Málaga late at night,  I saw a vehicle in front of me hit a nightjar. I pulled over to inspect the victim, and found a perfectly intact and fresh C. ruficollis specimen. Arriving at Tarifa – the southernmost coast of southern Spain – I spent it sleepless, doing the sketches included in this post.

The Process

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1. I typically start most field sketches with a pencil drawing. If the shapes, posture and placement of body parts are not generally accurate in the pencil gesture, then the painting runs the risk of turning out awkward. If the bird flies before I can start applying watercolor, then I’m left with a sketch I can use for future field paintings or as reference for a longer study.

2. In this case, I had the time to put down a substantial amount of watercolor before the bird was flushed. Unfortunately, the nightjar was left half-painted, and I was without a life reference to confidently finish the rendering.

3. However, when I found a dead Red-necked Nightjar days after, and created detailed studies of its plumage, I was able to use my specimen renderings to bring the field sketch to a more complete place.

4. Over the years, I often wondered if I could add just a few strokes to further develop this sketch without ruining it. I kept the hope of returning to Andalucía during spring, and re-encountering a Red-necked Nightjar under similar circumstances, but this has not happened yet. As time went by, the more I looked at the watercolor studies of the deceased bird, the more I felt I should add dabs of color to the field sketch, to give it the desired density. One summer night, as I drove through the Everglades and came upon a Chuck-will’s Widow with my lights, I immediately thought of the nightjar. Both the Red-necked Nightjar and the “Chuck” were until recently classified in the same genus – Caprimulgus (the latter has been recently changed to Antrostomus). Both species are roughly the same size, and both tend to exhibit overall rustier plumages than their congeners. As I carefully observed the Chuck-will’s-widow through my binoculars, it occurred to me that I was gaining useful information to help me develop the field sketch from Andalucía – not in the detail of the plumage or in the shape of the bird, but in the way a nightjar appears under the contrasting lights of car, and how this affects its volume and color.

Why Use Sport Optics to Sketch Wildlife?

In the same way that binoculars and telescopes have revolutionized the way we observe nature, they have revolutionized the way we approach wildlife sketching and painting in the field. The advantages are particularly felt when rendering birds; their fleeting nature and small size make it often difficult to get close looks without flushing them. Sport optics allow us to see great detail, even at a distance.

The key to good field sketches is plenty of time observing. By holding a sketch pad in one hand, I can use the binoculars with the other.
The key to good field sketches is to spend as much time observing your subject as possible. By holding a sketch pad in one hand, I can use the binoculars with the other. This way, I can go back and forth quickly between views and drawing to give my thumbnails the necessary character.

Binoculars give you the portability to do sketches on-the-go while using a small sketch pad. This is a great way of loosening up and doing quick gestures. You’d be surprised how much of a bird’s posture and behavior you can capture in this manner. It is an excellent way of quickly retaining information about your observations while you are birding and will help you better understand birds in the long run.

With their greater magnification, spotting scopes are excellent for observing extreme detail on birds. Once upon a time, only a bird in the hand could have given us such information to complete our drawings and paintings. With practice, it is possible to create accurate renderings of birds and other wildlife based entirely on observation through a scope, without the need for additional source material. With the stability of the tripod, you may spend lengthy periods of observation while developing complex drawing and paintings.

The stability of a scope and tripod frees your hands for lengthier sketches.
The stability of a scope and tripod frees your hands for lengthier sketches.

But why use binoculars or a scope to draw wildlife, when one could just take multiple photographs and video, and paint from the comfort of the studio?

While some like to work exclusively from photographs, I like to base my work as much as possible on the field experience. My position on the use of photographs is that it would be a big loss of a tremendous opportunity not to take advantage of their ready availability as reference material. Where many err in the use of photos is when they copy ONE image, and inevitably turn out a lifeless drawing.

But at the end of the day, it is all about what you want to get from a sketch or a painting. If all you are interested in is the pure enjoyment of expressing animals through an unrestricted use of form and color, then field sketching with optics may not be the challenge for you.

As I observed a Snail Kite on its perch, I took advantage of its head constantly turning to understand its complex bill from different perspectives.
As I observed a Snail Kite on its perch, I took advantage of its head constantly turning to learn more about its complex bill and head by sketching it from different perspectives.

The great advantage of working from a living subject is the opportunity to observe and understand its form “in the round.” Copying one photograph will never give you that advantage, since you can only see the “shape” of the bird as dictated by its particular frozen posture at the time the picture was taken, and not its “form” and volume.

Illustrations of Snail Kites from "A Field Guide to Hawks, North America" by Clark and Wheeler (1987). The depictions of birds in field guides have traditionally been rendered with a graphic flatness conducive of their use as comparative images.
Illustrations of Snail Kites from “A Field Guide to Hawks, North America” by Clark and Wheeler (1987). The depictions of birds in field guides have traditionally been rendered with a graphic flatness conducive of their use as comparative images.

For many of us with a long history of ingesting bird paintings primarily through the use of field guides, it is as if we’ve conditioned ourselves to the depiction of birds as flat icons.

In reality, birds – and most animals – are all but flat. Many bird species are quite sculptural, and the forms of some may change quite radically depending on their posture, behavior, and on the angle from which we are viewing them. Light and the use of feathers also play a tremendous role on how we perceive birds. Binoculars and scopes are great tool that will help you study birds though your sketches with more intimacy and precision, allowing you access to information that will strengthen your drawings and give you a deeper understanding of your subject matter.

Like most challenging endeavors, practice and patience are important. Below are links to a series of articles covering topics related to sketching in the field through binoculars and spotting scopes:

Lesser Nighthawks: EVERGLADES

Several Lesser Nighthawks (Chordeiles acutipennis) were observed from November 19 through November 22, 2012, foraging over C-111 Canal and the agricultural area outside of Everglades National Park, at the intersection with 9336, Ingraham Highway. The sketch above was done from those observations during that period.

I counted 20 Lesser Nighthawks on November 19, immediately after sundown, between 5:40 and 5:55 pm at the above location. On November 21, I counted 12 birds from 5:45 to 6:10 pm. On November 22, I only observed 2 nighthawks in the vicinity. I’ve also visited other locations recently, where Lesser Nighthawks have been observed during this time of the year, including the Hole-in-the-Donut sector west of  the Research Center (ENP) and Dump Marsh, but observed none.

Lesser Nighthawks - November 19, 2012 Field Sketch

Lesser Nighthawks wintering in Florida have been reported since the 1970s, but are rarely documented. Reports typically include few individuals, most of them in and around the vicinity of Everglades National Park, Florida Bay and Cutler along Biscayne Bay. In the Everglades, the species was first found at Eco Pond on December 28, 1980 by Paul Sykes and Sonny Bass, and has been observed from Snake Bight to Cape Sable at sunrise or sunset in recent years. This area, as part of the Coot Bay Christmas Bird Count usually furnishes the highest number of Lesser Nighthawks for the U.S. during winter. The all-time highest count for the species during a CBC in the U.S. was 10 (Coot Bay, 11oth CBC). However, “15 to 20″ were reported on December 10, 2000 from Flamingo.

Thumnail sketches of Lesser Nighthawks

However, as Dick Cunningham once wrote, “It is suspected that several dozen Lesser Nighthawks may winter in the pinelands area south of the [Everglades National] park headquarters and can be seen at twilight in the adjacent farmlands to the east.” The species is often seen during the Long Pine Key Christmas Bird Count in Everglades National Park, which covers the area from Royal Palm west through the pinelands. Maybe this December of 2012, several Lesser Nighthawks will be observed during the Long Pine Key CBC.

Identification

The Common (C. minor) and Lesser Nighthawks are very similar, and best differentiated by voice where their ranges overlap. However, the Lesser is typically silent during winter. Individual Common Nighthawks have been documented during winter in South Florida, so one must be cautious in identifying a Chordeiles nightjar during this season in the region.

With careful observation and experience, details in the plumage and structure of the Lesser can be differentiated from Common Nighthawk on birds in flight. The wings of Lesser Nighthawks appear more rounded, due to the outermost primary feather being noticeably shorter than the second. In the case of Common Nighthawks, the outermost primary is perceived as longer or equal to the second, giving the bird a more pointed-wing appearance. Additionally, the Lesser may appear overall darker than the Common in flight; this is primarily because females of the species do not have contrasting white markings on their wings, as in Common. The paler “bar” on the wings of the female Lesser is buff, and blends with the overall brown coloration of the bird, giving the impression of an all-dark nighthawk in low light.  On the male Lesser Nighthawks, the more-visible white wing markings are closer to the wing tip and smaller in size compared to Common Nighthawks.

Lesser Nighthawks during winter in our area seem to be active almost entirely during sundown. The short period of time during which they are visible may present the greatest challenge in identifying and documenting them. I’ve had the fortune of finding roosting birds on the ground during late afternoon at Hole-in-the-Donut, but have had a hard time replicating the experience.

The recent C-111 nighthawks exhibited several of the behavioral traits associated with the Lesser, including more erratic flight at low altitudes, and individuals foraging in groups. During winter, the species is typically associated with water, and in my experience having seen the  species from Cutler to Cape Sable, the birds often fly low over canals, bays, lakes and marshes. From Nov 19 – 21, the birds were observed flying low over C-111 Canal moving S to N in small associated groups, at times circling very close to me and low over the Ingraham Highway overpass. Several of the individuals in the feeding group were clearly females, exhibiting no white wing markings.

Sketches

I was able to do several sketches of these nighthawks, keying-in on their wing shapes, the placement and color of the wing markings, and the overall form of the birds. Above, is a compilation of thumbnail sketches (averaging 3cm) done in the field with graphite on off-white 20 lb paper.

The watercolor above was done from the hood of my Jeep, parked next to C-111 using Yarka St. Petersburg Watercolor 24 set pans on 140 lb, cold-pressed Arches paper (25 cm width). All field observations were done through my trusty Leica Ultravid 8×32 HD binoculars.