Pelicans, egrets and osprey: sketching the birds of Sanibel

Today’s long bike excursion was to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a repeat of something we did last year, except this time with sketchbook in hand (or in my bike basket).

The website says that at different times of the year there are up to 275 different types of birds, but of course we only saw the more common ones like the pelicans, egrets and herons as we rode the 4-mile path. With the help of a docent we also had the privilege of looking through a high-powered lens to see a roseate spoonbill and a yellow crowned night heron.

I knew it might be hard to paint along the way so I drew the birds on site, and painted them when I returned home. These are the ones that were quite close to the path — the egrets in a marsh by the side of the road and the osprey in a nest above us.

Sketching the page was so much fun that I decided to make it into a double-page spread, so I walked around our condo and saw a group of ibis feeding on the grass, a pelican near the water and my friend the little blue heron.

On site, I also did a pencil drawing of a bigger scene of great white pelicans out on a marsh, and painted that one when I got home. Saving the whites is hard in a scene like this so I used Titanium White watercolour when the water washes were dry.

Yikes, I was already in the new year!

If you just received today’s post, you can see I am in vacation mode. The title “Last sketches of 2019” should have read “Last sketches of 2018”! And I haven’t even had any champagne yet. But I’m sure you knew what I meant anyway.

Last sketches of 2018

Every year urban sketching brings me so much to be thankful for. Not only for the opportunities to sketch in beautiful places, some quite far from home, but also for the chance to meet incredible people — in workshops, at symposia, on the street as I sketch — who enrich my life in so many ways.

Yesterday I sketched in Naples, Florida, with my friend John who I met for the first time at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Santo Domingo in 2012. He took me sketching in beautiful Old Naples where many of the historic cottages are hidden behind tangled gardens. This house was really special. Have a look at John’s sketches of Naples here.

This morning I sketched on the canal again, and just as I was nearing the end of the sketch the sun came out, casting all of those beautiful diagonal shadows across the scene.

Hope you have a happy new year and lots of happy sketching moments in 2019!

When it cleared

I woke up this morning to a dense fog that descended over Sanibel during the night. It took a few hours until it cleared but then we had this — beautiful, clear light. I found a spot at the end of the dock where I could rest my sketchbook and palette, which allowed me to paint standing up. Saturday seems to be pretty busy on this channel, with boats going in and out, but it was quiet enough for a mother and baby dolphin to venture into the canal just below where I was standing. Another bit of magic for today.

Small Sanibel sketches

When I travel for extended periods of time my sketchbook is the keeper of all the memories, not only of big scenes that I see but also lots of small things like flowers and food. I took a little tour around the complex where our rental unit is and found all of these beautiful blooms. Drawing these is easiest when standing, and when it’s time to add colour, I clip my palette to my sketchbook and dip into my water bottles that are in my bag. It makes quick sketching really easy but you need a bag that has a flat bottomed pocket to hold the bottles.

I also did some people sketching on Bowman’s Beach today. I like to capture these poses quickly, either directly with a brush (on the left) or with a quick pencil drawing first (on the right).

The Littoral Zone

The littoral zone is shallow area along the shoreline of a lake or pond that supports a diverse community of plants. These plants serve as habitat, food and protective shelter for native wildlife. I read all of that on a sign.

It’s pretty windy for sketching in open areas today, so I found a sheltered spot while riding my bike along the Pond Apple Trail. The pond I sketched is a habitat for alligators, and there are warnings all over the place, although not one appeared while I was there. There was an otter that popped its head out of the pond though, which was pretty exciting, and made me think that this will be a good week for wildlife spotting.

When I’m moving around on my bike I take a very small kit with me: my small Cocotte bag filled with two water bottles, a few pens, several travel brushes and my small Fome palette with 23 colours. On this trip I forgot to bring my folding stool so I’m always looking for somewhere to sit which is why this spot was ideal. The picnic table was perfect for sketching and I knew I would be able to quickly leap on top of it if an alligator showed up.

Canal scene

Sometimes what you experience while sketching is more meaningful than the sketch itself. This has happened to me again and again.

Today I drew this complex canal scene (boat on a lift, palms trees and house, all compressed together) but what I will remember about the day has nothing to do with what is on the page. What I will never forget about today are the sounds of the three dolphins that leapt simultaneously out of the water just inches from my feet, and then played nearby for a good thirty minutes. At times I could hear them swimming slowly just under the surface, their dorsal fins breaking the water here and there, sprays of water shooting from their blow holes. Other times I could hear the gentle lapping of waves nearby and realize that they were chasing each other right below me, weaving in and out of the pilings of the dock I was sitting on. Truly a magical moment. And in every way more memorable than my sketch, which turned out to be a difficult composition to resolve because of the compressed space, back lighting and distractions.