Monthly Archives: November 2009

Lichen from the Woods Sketch

Do you remember our hiking trip on Thanksgiving Day? Well, I found the most beautiful piece of lichen growing on a section of branch. This little piece of branch was laying in the middle of the trail.

Ohhhh, ahhhh! I looks like an alien formation! I love it!

I am fascinated with lichen.
What is lichen? What is the difference between lichen and moss?

Let’s learn about lichen:

  • Lichen is a result of a fungi feeding off of algae or cyanobacteria. Together they make a whole new organism called lichen (fungi + algae= lichen) or (fungi + cyanobacteria= lichen). The algae contains chlorophyll produced during photosynthesis feeding the lichen. The lichen in return can protect the algae and also give back some nutrients by leaching the minerals out of what ever structure it is on (rocks, plants, bark).
  • Lichens can survive extreme conditions and are found almost everywhere. They can withstand freezing, heat, and no water. Once completely dried out, it can rejuvenate itself when in contact with rain or moisture.
  • May be the oldest living thing on earth.
  • Lichen is not moss. Even though moss can be tiny, moss is a plant consisting of small leaf-like structures and stems, favoring dark moist areas. Lichen does not have a stem and leaf structure.

Here is my sketch. The lichen measured 3.175 cm long on the branch. It was a beautiful green/blue color when moist. The flat vegetative tissue of the lichen is called thallus. The tiny “horn” structures are called apothecia. Apothecia is the spore producing body. This is where the spores are released for reproduction. Fascinating!

Oh there is nothing better in the whole world than to go hiking, discover something amazing, sketch it out, and learn! If every class was hands-on like this I would never leave school.

By the way, try to paint your subject immediately. My lichen is now dried out and is a light gray color, not green at all anymore.


Country Lane Woods on Thanksgiving Day

I took a 2 hour hike at Country Lane Woods on Thanksgiving morning and was very thankful I did (get it, get it), because the wildlife was out in droves! I’m not sure why. Was it because the woods were empty of humans? Did the wildlife feel secure to venture out? Maybe.

Here is part of the trail. It was cloudy and windy. The strong wind made it feel colder than the actual temperature of 41°F. I had to bundle up. When I arrived I immediately heard sandhill cranes flying above. Not only one wave of cranes but wave after wave of sandhill cranes! They were so loud! Some flew in a V formation and some were moving about in their group repositioning themselves.

Next, I found a flock of cedar wax wings eating berries. Tons of wax wings all around flew from branch to branch, even hanging upside down to get at the hard to reach berries. With this group I also saw several blue jays and chickadees.

Further down the road I spotted two red-bellied woodpeckers. My photo isn’t the greatest, but he has a zebra-pattern black and white back. Why is this woodpecker names red-bellied? Well, on his belly there is a light patch of red. We cannot see it. I’m guessing this is a male because the female has a much smaller patch of red on her head.

Just a few feet away I caught a glimpse of the red-headed woodpecker. I know this picture is bad, but you can see his black body, the large white section of featherson his wing, and just barely a whole red head. In fact, my “Birds of Illinois” book by Stan Tekiela states that this is the only woodpecker in Illinois that has an entirely red head. It also states that this is a summer bird in my area, but clearly it is not summer.

Birds were not the only stars of the show at Country Lane Woods, I came across two white tail deer as well. They didn’t let me get too close however, true to their name, those white tails shot up and they quickly darted away.

I also found the most interesting piece of lichen on a small branch. I think I will save that prize for next time when we can learn more about it and make a little sketch.

I was very thankful to see so many different kinds of wildlife, I almost felt like Snow White!

Birds at My Feeder Sketch

Last Saturday, this was the scene from my window. Oh how happy I was! You may be thinking, “So what? You have birds that visit your feeder.” This scene however, with a chickadee, a white-breasted nuthatch, and a male downy woodpecker happened at the same time!

99% of the time when I look out the window I either see a sparrow at the feeder or a big stupid squirrel stealing seeds from me. It is excitement when I witness a “non-regular”. To have 3 non-regulars at the same time is big time happiness for me.

I sketched this scene so that at a later time I can thumb through my sketchbook and reminisce on the day when I saw these birds together at the same time. Notice that I make sure to document the date, time and weather conditions. I want to know if there is a connection. My hypothesis right now: The 3 different types of birds are following each other to team up, attacking the same feeder, because it is colder out and insects are less common than free available seed/suet. The birds are going to use a lot of energy keeping themselves alive in the winter. Food/energy source is crucial to survival. I know that the chickadee is known to travel and follow the downy woodpecker, but do they do that in the summer time as well, when food is abundant everywhere? If I witness the same scene in the summertime and document the time, date, and weather conditions in my sketchbook, then I know my hypothesis is incorrect.

My sketchbook helps me learn. You can start a sketchbook too. It is rather inexpensive. The sketchbook may cost you $10 and you can buy a watercolor travel kit for $20. No experience necessary! Why not document what you see and we can learn together.

Let’s Paint the Chickadee!

Oh BOY! Do you remember the other day when I had a tiny little chickadee visitor at my feeder? I love him so much that I want to try to capture his uplifting acrobatic personality right on watercolor paper! Here we go, let’s make a watercolor painting of the black-capped chickadee on cold press watercolor paper…

Step 1: I am going to make a chickadee montage painting. A montage is when you take several photos and put them together in one scene. I think displaying the chickadee’s playful poses will help convey his high spirited personality. When doing a montage, make sure you practice your layout on a separate piece of scratch paper. For a good compositional flow, I only chose the poses that would work well. Remember, your composition goal is to keep the viewer’s eye in the painting.

Step 2: I’m just going to concentrate on the big guy. I wet his belly with clean water. Then I loaded my brush with burnt sienna and touched the paper in several spots. I didn’t rub it in. I just lightly touched the paper and let the watercolor paint do its own thing. It’s fun to watch it run.

Step 3: Next, I made a gray mixture by mixing burnt sienna, indigo blue and a touch of sap green. Dilute the paint with water to get a lighter gray. Paint his back and tail, and a little bit under his “chin”. Don’t go crazy, let some paper show through, we don’t want to suffocate the poor thing.

Step 4: With a much less water diluted mixture of burnt sienna, indigo blue, and sap green, paint his black cap and black bib. Do not pre-wet the paper. Lay it down wet on dry (your paint is wet/your paper is dry). We want a strong concentration of paint and this time we do not want it to run all over the place.

Step 5: Taking that same dark mixture of paint, go around his wing and tail.

Step 6: The chickadee has a blue-gray color. First make sure everything is dry, then make a mixture of cobalt blue and a touch of burnt sienna and paint his back, tail, under his chin, and belly.

Step 7 Final: After everything is dry, make another dark “black” mixture and paint his head, beak, rim of wing, part of the tail and his claws. Can you see that I did not paint his whole head but left some of the original “black” showing? I also made a half circle suggesting his eye.

“Chickadee at My Feeder Montage”
I got you, you quick tiny happy thing! This chickadee grabs a seed, flies away, takes some suet, flies away, grabs another seed, flies away…over and over and over again!

image: 6.5×4.5
off white mat outside dimensions: 10×8
no frame

Click here to purchase, it will take you to the available watercolor page.

I hope you enjoyed this step-by-step watercolor demonstration on how to paint the black-capped chickadee.

Chickadee Love

If there ever was a pleasant birdie, that can instantly uplift your mood, it is most definitely the black-capped chickadee. This tiny little creature (only 5″ at the most) is a bundle of pure energy. If you ever have the privilege of one visiting your feeder, it will not visit for long. Not because you are a bad host, but because its trait is fidgety. A black-capped chickadee will arrive at your feeder, grab a seed, and take off…eating it elsewhere. This will take place in a matter of seconds making you ask yourself…”What’s wrong? Where is it going?” 

No matter…we have him on camera…


Isn’t he the cutest??!!?? He is looking right at us! You might be asking yourself, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a chickadee?”

Well, for some reason I use to have many chickadee visitors on a regular basis, then several years ago they all dissapeared from my area. I don’t know why. I still saw them in the forest preserves near my house, but at my feeder they were missing. When they do visit, I make a big deal about it.

Where is your neck Mr. Chickadee? What did you do with it?

I still think you are handsome.

Don’t go…I want to learn from you.

I think we must make a few watercolor sketches from our friend. Yes! This weekend, we will paint our friend. I cannot wait.