Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Details, details, details

I found this leaf in the woods upstate and what I loved about it was how it was in the midst of transformation--turning from green to gold to yellow. I noticed that the lower edge near the stem got yellow before the top.  Leaves change color when days get cooler and shorter and the auxin production ends, so the chlorophyll breaks down, and in the birch leaf (like this one, maybe Betula alleghaniensis or Betula lenta) the carotene shines through as yellow.
    Photographing the actual leaf next to my drawing pointed out my shortcomings in a big way.  I realized that I had made the base of the leaf too narrow.  I had to adjust my drawing.  I made my yellow/gold a little dark, but color depends on light and in some lights, the leaf looked darker than in others.  I adjusted but dark over light can get muddy, so I had to be careful. The paper also started to curl from the water. This simple alternate leaf has a short stem,  toothed edges, and veins that meet and radiate from a central vein.  Here it is in my sketchbook.  I knew I could not get all the details right, but drawing nature is about that—details, details, details.  I draw to learn.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The new New Leaf

White Ash Leaf drawing by Trudy Smoke

Amazing event at Ft. Tryon Park on Sunday night with food from the new New Leaf--a very special restaurant located near the Cloisters.  It has a place in my heart, not only because of the fabulous food and glorious location, but because my leaf drawings were exhibited there for three years.  Then at the end of 2014, the restaurant closed for renovation.  It opened in the late spring with a new owner, Turtle, but not my leaf drawings.  Tonight while filling my plate with delicious food, I met Turtle and he may want to exhibit my leaf drawings again in a month or so.  The drawings, just some of the 50 that are in the Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City, feel good there, almost at home. The leaf in this drawing is the White Ash,  Fruxinus americana, which by no coincidence was the leaf on the postcard at the New Leaf announcing the exhibit.  White ash leaves are compound, 5 to 9 leaflets on one leaf, with a whitish and slightly hairy backside— uh oh, maybe there’s better way to say that? 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Humming hummers

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird drawing by Trudy Smoke 

At a beautiful event honoring Gale Brewer at Ft. Tryon Park tonight, Leslie and I walked through the heather garden discussing praying mantis eggs when we heard a whirr and buzz.  A ruby-throated hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, zipped past us as it made its way to the next nectar-rich flower, filling itself up to prepare for its long trek to Central America for the winter.  Those little flying jewels migrate to our area in the spring to breed and then in the fall leave for warmer climes. They are sexually dimorphic and it is the male that has the iridescent ruby-red throat. The male is polygynous--a male with many female mates--and so he is on to the next female soon after sex.  The female stays with the eggs and does all the parenting.  She’s quite gorgeous too, and I wanted to show both male and female in my drawing for the Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City. Even if they don’t stay together forever, they make quite a pair.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Scary, eerie, but not leery

Turkey Vulture drawing by Trudy Smoke

I know they are weird looking, even scary and eerie, but I am fascinated by turkey vultures, Cathartes aura.  My fascination came from drawing them, reading about them, and then seeing a “venue” (yes, a group of them is called a venue or a volt) of them sitting on an electric line upstate. And when they flew off and became a “kettle” of soaring vultures, I was enthralled.  Here are just a few of the amazing things about turkey vultures: They have no voicebox, so they can’t sing or call but instead hiss and grunt.  They have 6’ wing spans and look like eagles when they fly, but their bills and feet aren’t designed to kill.  They eat what is already dead—they are nature’s clean-up system.  Their heads are entirely bald so they can poke deep into the carrion and the dead flesh won’t stick to any feathers.  If you are wondering how they find their meals, they have a remarkable olfactory sense; they can locate the smell of decaying meat miles off and they circle until they find the dead creature.  When I first looked at them, I said “who could love this ugly thing?”and then I started to draw one. And that was it--I was hooked.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Gull

Herring Gull Drawing by Trudy Smoke

While I sat on the beach in East Hampton, a handsome Herring Gull, Larus argentatus, flew close by and stopped about two feet in front of me.  The gull glanced toward me and maybe hoped for food, but when none was forthcoming stayed put, seemingly without a care in the world.  I stared at his form and thought about the careful looking that went into drawing this bird for the Field Guidethe hooked beak, the webbed feet, the spots on the tail, the yellow eyes, the way the feathers fold into each other to form the wings.  I am in awe looking at the real thing and thinking about the page and the process.    

Friday, September 4, 2015

Who's a Lady?

Painted Lady Drawing by Trudy Smoke - Dorsal View
I read that the Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui, is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world and the most common in North America.  Part of the reason for this is that during its migratory season, which is a long time, the butterflies mate all the time, and the male is polygynous, mating with many females.  The male is known to patrol and perch, and as soon as he observes a Painted Lady, he pursues her.  If she turns out to be a he, he chases away the other male and waits for the female again.  Females produce lots of eggs, especially if there has been a fair amount of rainfall, so soon there are lots of new butterflies.  As I drew this Painted Lady and struggled with its beautiful markings, I wondered if part of the reason for the polygynous behavior was that the male wants to make it clear that he’s no lady.