My hikes never cease to provide surprises, even some half buried in the snow. On this cold winter day I found amber jelly rolls. Amber jelly roll (Exidia recisa), is a fungus that grows on downed twigs and limbs. Beautiful blobs of jelly they are, chilling on frozen branches on the ground.
An interesting fact about these jelly rolls: they can dehydrate and re-hydrate. The dehydrated jelly fungi looks dark black and flat. As soon as the atmosphere provides moisture they will plump back up.
Here is another fungus I found on my hike. I do not know the species. It is flat with slightly ruffled edges. Perhaps it’s a type of parchment fungus?
Sometimes, winter takes my breath away. At this moment in time, ice encapsulated every twig. Winter never looked so elegant. It’s easy to love spring. It’s easy to love summer. Their flashy blooms of all things petaled, makes it so. But winter? Her allure is quiet, in the most refined way.
A Red-breasted nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) came by to say, “Hello.” In return I fed him suet. I quietly sat contemplating his woes. They are many, for while he ate his breakfast it was a mere 8°F.
He ate alone and used the pine tree in my backyard for cover several times: grabbing suet, flying to the pine, returning to grab more, then taking cover in the pine, repeat. While he was at the suet feeder, he paused to look around. He knows he’s prey. He needs to be careful. Not scanning your surroundings can be costly.
While he braves the predators, he must brave this cold too. Some strategies this cleaver little nuthatch has is to use his tiny little muscles to puff up feathers, creating a warm pocket of air from the warmth of his body which can be 102-107°F (Lawlor 1998). Another strategy is shivering, but this comes at an enormous energy cost. The high fat content in the suet can provide such energy but only for so long. Another reserve he has is to drop his body temperature way down when he is inactive. This allows him to conserve his energy.
In all his struggles he is provided for, in this moment. So am I, I must remember. And very blessed to have this visit with him.
Lawlor EP. 1998. Chapter 8: Birds. Page 150 in Discovering Nature in Winter. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA.
Are you one to despair on a gloomy day? Does the weather hold you as a prisoner in your own home? Please, let me charm you on the joys of a rainy day. Yes, joy.
The forest is alive, even without leaves on the trees, with the deafening sound of pelting rain. It vibrates and echos all around me. The icy rain pelts the frozen ground but is warm enough to melt the last remaining snow.
I am alone with the wet trees. I feel like a child again. Is it a good idea to be walking in the cold rain after recently recovering from a cold? Probably not, but that’s what children do… throw caution to the wind in favor of fun. And I’m having it. I feel alive. As alive as this forest.
I play in the rain and I paint with the rain. The above watercolor painting was done with the rain. After my walk, half soaked, for my raincoat did not cover my legs, I sat in my car and painted one layer, then held the painting outside the window…. let dry, painted another layer, then held the painting outside the window, painted the final layer, and again asked the rain for help. The rain obliged and created lovely drips and blooms. I am so grateful.
Let the rain entertain you and play a soothing sound…
Then look around and see every limb dressed with strings of diamond rain drops. Take your hood off for a second and feel a cold wet kiss on your cheeks. Feel alive.
Happy New Year to all my art and nature friends out there! May 2019 bring you peace, creativity, and definitely moments to make you feel alive again. GO get them!
Winter isn’t deprived of beauty.
Yes, color is a little more drab but really, beauty is still all around us… you must look a little closer. Where winter is weak in color, it makes up for it in texture. There is texture to be seen in every inch of every step you take in the woods. Winter weeds can be found on the edge of the trial, in a prairie, or even along side of the road.
There is a certain irresistible allure to solemn winter weeds. They stand as attractive architectural pieces once beaming with activity: growth and pollinators. Attractive like dilapidated barns you find near old country roads, once beaming with activity: production and purpose. You cannot help but stare and imagine what they looked like in their heyday.
Some of these attractive weeds still hold fruits and seeds at this very moment in the depths of winter. They wait. They wait for winter to loosen its bite… for seed to have hope.
Dried arrangements are beautiful and no watering required!
If we look close, we can see that the Queen Anne’s Lace has some fruits on the inside of the umbels. Up close, the fruits look like Venus fly trap plants. Fascinating!
And if we look closely at the foxtail grass, they still have a few seeds attached.
Winter can still be an exciting season for nature/art adventures. Try to find the textures all around you and see what you come up with. And don’t forget to record what you find in your journals.
The setting sun beckoned my company for one last moment. The clouds declared a mood, consecrating these last seconds. I was ordained a devotee. Such was my walk at dusk.
This painting was inspired by a gorgeous sunset just the other day. You would not believe how easy it is to paint this scene. You can do it yourself in just a few steps. Let me show you!
Step 1: Draw 3 birch trees in pencil starting almost at the bottom of the watercolor paper and all the way to the right side. Next, take a .05 black micron pen and outline the trunk, some branches, and the lenticels (black horizontal marks on trunk) of the birch trees. Or you can use any permanent black tip marker.
Step 2: Take a wax resist stick or white crayon and color over the birch trunks. Why are we doing this? Because our paper is white and we are going to paint over the trees and we want our trees to remain white. The paper I used is hot press, so it is smooth and works well with the wax resist stick. Using a wax resist on cold press paper (textured) may not cover the entire trunk. To know the difference between hot press and cold press paper click here.
Step 3: Using cerulean blue, paint the clouds in the sky in a big “S” pattern.
Step 4: Paint a few cad yellow patches. This is actually the sunset sky peaking through the opening in the clouds.
Step 5: Take some cad orange and apply it near the horizon. I also took a small amount of that orange and added it to the middle yellow patch. While both are still wet touch the very bottom of the orange and yellow patches with very little alizarin crimson. Let them blend together.
Step 6: Using cerulean blue again, paint the bottom of the page under the trees (snow) and paint under the middle sky opening.
Step 7: Using iridescent watercolor medium, paint over the snow. You can only see this if the paper is tilted… you can clearly see it in this picture though.
Step 8: When everything is dry, take a smaller Micron pen, .03 or .01 and draw in some fine twigs.
Final Step 9: After taking the masking tape off, continued the twigs right off the paper with the Micron pen.
Here is the reference photo. The moment that inspired me on that dusk, evening walk.
This painting is so quick and easy, that I made several more. It was fun to change the sky and add different colors to see which I liked best. I cannot decide, I like them all!
I hope you enjoyed this free step by step demonstration on how to paint winter birch trees at sunset. To see more step by steps click on this page.
Today this tree is covered in white. It looks nothing like this painting. Perhaps there are a few less leaves as well after a gusty winter storm arrived in Chicago yesterday. It is perceived differently today than it was when it was not dressed in white, sporting gorgeous colors. But it is the same tree.
Why do I paint so many trees? Because they’re all so different. Each one, unique. Even when I view the same tree in a different manor, a whole new world opens up.
For this tree I used traditional watercolors and watercolor pencils. The background sky is watercolor pencil and also the fiery crimson color in the tree. The crimson gave it just enough punch to make the whole tree stand out.
Here is the full painting. Another perspective, looking totally different than the first but the same tree. How can we look at nature differently? Can we get a different perspective?
The bottom of this tree had a fresh cut in its trunk. There was water near by, so perhaps this was the beginning of a beaver chew. Interesting fact about beavers… the reason why their front teeth are orange is because they have a layer of iron, giving them the strength they need to chew through trees. Fascinating!
Back to perspective. If you’re are artist hiking in the woods on these gray winter days, in a creative slump, try to look at things differently. Zoom onto something and inspect it. Take a small chunk of a big picture. You’ll see things differently and have your inspiration in no time.
The works of the LORD are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them.
I have the most amazing job ever. I’m a naturalist who has the privilege of teaching people (mostly children) about nature in my area. I give presentations on wildlife, hiking, host nature themed birthday parties, etc.
The other day I hosted an animal encounter with the theme of rabbits. During this presentation I gave facts about rabbits, introduced the attendees to our resident rabbit, and gave a step by step demonstration on how to draw your own rabbit. It was a great success.
Most of the LPN audience on this site are adults, but I thought it would be helpful to pass this demonstration on so that you may use this with your children, your homeschool class, or maybe you’re just a really cool adult who wants to have fun! So let’s go!!
This drawing is easy peasy, anyone can do this!
Step 1: This is a 9″ x 6″ piece of watercolor paper. Using a pencil, draw an oval the size of an egg on the left side of the paper.
Step 2: Draw a larger oval the size of a cell phone connected to the first oval.
Step 3: Draw a circle the size of a quarter and place it at the end of the body.
Step 4: Now draw another oval on the back of the head.
Step 5: His ear needs a buddy, so draw another half oval connected to the first. This ear is on the other side so you cannot see the whole ear.
Step 6: Now let’s draw an eye the size and shape of an almond.
Step 7: For the nose, draw an upside down triangle.
Step 8: Draw three dots for whisker holes.
Step 9: Draw the back leg. Start at the top and make a weird S shape and connect the end to the bottom of the body near the tail. This is the most difficult part of the whole drawing. So look! The hardest part is behind you. Great job!
Step 10: Pretend you’re drawing the base of a tree trunk and draw a leg near the front of the body.
Step 11: He needs another one on the other side, so draw a partial leg connected to the one you just drew.
Step 12: Draw an inner oval on the large ear.
Step 13: In this step you’re going to erase some lines: his neck, on his two facing legs, his tail, and part of the large ear at its base.
Step 14: With a waterproof marker (I used a black Sharpie) outline your rabbit profile.
Step 15 FINAL: In this step color your rabbit with watercolor pencils. After you are done coloring, take a clean wet brush and move around a color. Each time you want to go to the next color, first clean off your brush, dab it on a paper towel to get the excess water off, and touch another color moving around the pigment. In this step I also made a circle around the eye and left it white and I drew in some whiskers with a .05 black Micron pen. Make your rabbit whatever color you want! Be creative!
Those are just some really fun facts about the rabbit. I hope you enjoyed this free demonstration on how to draw a rabbit!
I couldn’t time this if I had tried…just days before Halloween.
My son and I went for a hike at a local forest preserve. He found this species trying to cross the path, a female marbled orb-weaver (aka pumpkin spider).
I wont lie. Spiders scare me….but isn’t she a beauty?!?
Right now in October, marbled orbweavers are on a very important mission: laying eggs in a silken cocoon. A cocoon can contain hundreds of eggs. Next spring, the immature spiders will emerge. Good luck little guys, sleep well this winter.
Notice this female is missing a leg on her right side.
Profile view and photo I made the sketch from.
Happy hunting on your hikes! May you find all things big and small.
It’s so much fun to hike in the woods and find mushroom treasures! You never know when you’ll find them or what types you’ll find…that makes it exciting!! When you do find them, why not paint them? Spend a few minutes with me as I show you how to make a quick watercolor sketch of a flat top mushroom on the forest floor.
Mushrooms are extremely important to our ecosystem. They decompose matter (dead trees, leaf litter, etc.), breaking it down so that said matter eventually becomes soil. In doing so, valuable nutrients are released and reused. Not only do mushrooms help organic matter become soil, but their tiny roots help aerate the soil creating pores, allowing oxygen and water access to the soil.
I hope you enjoy this free step by step demo on how to paint a flat top mushroom using watercolors.
The way loss of autumn leaves is not a reason to fret.
The way nakedness of tree is no cause for alarm.
The way color drains from grass is not a concern.
The way summer birds disappear is not anguish.
For hope in things unseen is faith.
And the tiniest of faith shifts barriers.
When I can’t feel You, I know You are there.
When I free fall, I know Your net is near.
For Your promise is a reason for confidence.
Your love is cause for security.
Your guidance is steadfastness.
And Your strength is unfailing hope.