Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Pair of Pears for the Ides

Red and Green D'Anjou Pears
March 15th, which is best-known as the Ides of March an ominous day for Caesar in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is also on a more pleasurable note National Pears Hélène Day—not a holiday that runs trippingly off our tongues, but a day when we can celebrate a fruit that many of us love to look at, draw, and eat.  Originally from Asia, pears, have been around a long time.  Homer in the Odyssey referred to them as “a gift of the gods.”  The thousands of varieties of pears that we know today in the United States come to us largely from Washington, Oregon, and California.  These pears are the progeny of those brought along the Lewis and Clark Trail to Oregon and Washington in the 1800s. While early attempts to grow pears in the Northeast did not fare well, the combination of light, of rich volcanic soils, and of the more European-like weather of the Northwest turned out to be an ideal environment for pears. We are thankful for this confluence of factors to produce the juicy, delectable, flavorful fruit so many of us enjoy.  Not only that but they are healthy eating: pears are a good source of Vitamins A and C as well as antioxidants, fiber and potassium. The green and red D’Anjou pears, Pyrus communis, in my drawing not only inspired my drawing, but they also ended up as part of a salad (the green one) and as a delicious dessert (the red one)—not quite as sweet and tasty as Pears Helene, but good anyway.

But since I mentioned it, you will have guessed that National Pears Hélène Day comes with a recipe and it is quite decadent—warm poached pears, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate sauce.  It was created by the famous chef Auguste Escoffier and was named after the Offenbach opera, “La belle Hélène.”  I’m not sure if you have to listen to the music while you eat it, but it might add a nice touch.  I’m including Nigella Lawson’s delicious take on this very special dish:  Pears Belle Helene recipe.

My drawing is a combination watercolor of the fruit and a salt painting for the bottom half of the drawing.  To do that, I watered down the paper (covering the area where I was going to paint the pears) and dropped in a dark greyish blue that I had mixed from my watercolors.  Then when it was wet, I sprinkled table salt and rock salt on the paper and let it dry.  Next, I rubbed off the salt and added a few more splotches of color to even out the page.  I got this idea from Mindy Lighthipe’s online watercolor class, which is filled with wonderful tips on color and ways to create background interest. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Happy Daylight Savings Time 2018!

Black-capped Chickadee

Here comes the sun. After 10 months, I am happy to be back drawing and blogging on the natural world.  The first day of Daylight Savings Time is always special to me because we are moving closer to spring. Today through our tired haze, we begin to notice changes not only in the length of day but in the creatures in our environment. Spring brings the excitement of migrating birds, but in this period of transition, it’s also good to think about those steadfast birds that stayed with us through snow and sleet and brought us a bit of feathered magic. 

The Audubon Society has named 2018 the Year of the Bird—a year to look more closely at the birds in our neighborhoods and even to go looking for more birds in parks, botanical gardens, woods, and forests. When you do this, you are likely to see the bird that I have drawn here: the Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile atricapillus.  It is one of the 10 most-reported birds from the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) that takes place every February and one of the 13 most-common backyard feeder species.  The black-capped chickadees typically eat suet, seeds, peanuts, and insects.  Researchers have found that the birds cache seeds to eat later and they remember thousands of hiding places.  You may need binoculars and cameras to get a good look at shyer birds, but the black-capped chickadee is pretty easy to spot and fun to watch and draw. 

The black-capped chickadee, the state bird of Massachusetts and Maine, is a songbird whose song in most of North America is “fee-bee” or “hey sweetie.”  When alarmed the call changes to “chickadee-dee-dee” and according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All about Birds website:, the more alarmed they are, the more “dee” notes are added to the call. And when things get really bad they make a high-pitched “see” call and the birds know to freeze in position until they hear the “chick-a-dee” signifying “all clear.”  Pretty impressive defense strategy for birds tinier than sparrows.
 I did this watercolor as part of a class on bird illustration that I took last year at the NYBG with Katie Lee,, a wonderful botanical and wild life illustrator.   She teaches classes in Maine and occasionally comes down to NY to teach at the Botanical Gardens.  She is an exceptional teacher, and I was fortunate to take her class.