Monday, August 31, 2015


Walking along a country road with my husband Alan and my dog Lana in Gardiner New York one hot summer day in July, I saw a dead butterfly on the side of the road, and I left it there.  I thought maybe it wasn’t really dead, but when I came back, it was still there and quite dead.  I picked it up carefully and took it home.  I put it in a plastic container with a damp paper towel for 24 hours.  Then I was able to manipulate it enough to pin it so I could see its structure.  It was my first time pinning a butterfly myself, and I didn’t do everything right, so I lost some of the scales, but I was careful enough that I could identify it as the Eastern Comma, Polygonia comma from the family Nymphalidae.  I stared at it for a while and realizing how important drawing is to looking and to knowing, I decided to draw it.  It had faded so I needed to check through my butterfly books to get the colors of the tiny butterfly with the 1 ¼” wingspan.  Little did I know then that it would become part of the banner of my blog.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

American Redstart Egg

Redstart Egg Drawing by Trudy Smoke
I fell in love with eggs when I started to draw them.  I couldn’t believe all the variety.  I knew there were more than the eggs I bought in the food store, and I knew the robin’s egg because of the color, but that was about it.  Drawing them opened a new world to me.

Here’s a good example: The American Redstart egg is about .6” or 16 mm, about the diameter of a dime, as compared to the American Robin’s egg that is 1.1” or 28 mm or the Canada goose egg that is 3.3” or 84 mm.  As an artist, I had to be aware that the American Redstart’s eggs range in color from creamy white with brown blotches, mostly at the top, to all brown.  I like to think of how they fit in the 2-3” long and 2-3” high nest that the female builds for her clutch or brood of 1-5 eggs.  I wonder if the brown blotches are turned toward the top of the nest to camouflage and protect the eggs from predators.  

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Female Has Her Day

I was thrilled that the designers chose this illustration for the cover of the Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City. The birds are American Redstarts, warblers that migrate to New York City in the spring and stay through early fall.  They are small birds, about 4-5 inches long and are sexually dimorphic--the males and females have different appearances.
In my drawing, I purposely placed the female American Redstart in the front and turned her face so she's looking right at us.  She catches our eyes and says that she's important too.  In fact, even though he may be the flashy one who picks out the location, she's the one who builds and tends the nest.  

The Composition Game

I included the cover of this book  because I think it is gorgeous.  It feels like a visual dance to me.  I love the way the designers at Johns Hopkins Press put together the various leaves and colors and typefaces.  It actually teaches me something about composition:  Give some space for someone to enter.  Use a strong spatial relationship, a sense of movement.  Use color to direct the eye--the focal point is the red of "Trees" and the different shades of red of some of the leaves.
It also has enough playfulness that it can almost be a game.  How many leaves can you identify?  These leaves come from seven common street trees among the 50 included in the book.  Can you identify them?  Did you find the double? On the cover you also see an acorn (nut of the oak) and a couple of samaras (a fruit of the maples among other trees).  Can you find them?