Illustrations displayed at Connecticut Audubon Society Center

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Pomfret - posted Mon., Oct. 7, 2013
Virge Kask's 'Great Blue Heron' was done in Prismacolor pencils on Cronaflex. Photos by D. Coffey.
Virge Kask's 'Great Blue Heron' was done in Prismacolor pencils on Cronaflex. Photos by D. Coffey.

An exhibit by members of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators is on view at the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Pomfret until Nov. 11. The works showcase the artistic skills, attention to detail, and science-based knowledge required of artists whose work graces the pages of scientific and popular publications, websites and textbooks.

The show includes work by 14 artists who are members of the Guild’s New England chapter. That work includes pen and ink drawings, watercolors, oils, colored pencils, acrylic, and prints of digital work, according to Amy Bartlett Wright, the show's curator. They range from 6-inch by 4-inch pieces to paintings 3 feet tall.

What separates this show from a host of others is the purpose of the work. Detail is more important than “poetic license.” Erica Beade’s “Wild Turkey” is rendered in specific detail. The eye, beak, wattle and feathers that come off its neck are reproduced with painstaking precision. The fine hairs that issue from its bare head, the fold of its ear, the place on its nape where bare skin turns to feathers, the gradations in shading around its nostril. There is nothing left to the imagination, which is the point. Artists who are members of the Guild mean to be clear about what they are representing, whether that is a bird, a frog, a plant or something else. And the beauty of that mission is the detail in the work.

“One of the priorities is making images readable and understandable,” said Wright. “Its purpose is education, such as in a field guide. Often illustrations can convey things a photograph cannot.”

Julia Carlson, an avid bird photographer, agreed. She and her husband, Bob, are bird watchers who’ve traveled as far as Ecuador and Costa Rica for the pleasure of seeing different species. But both of them prefer the Peterson and Sibley field guides for their detailed bird sketches. The drawings can capture gradations in plumage. The birds can be shown in poses that highlight primary and secondary feathers and any other distinguishing markings. That’s something a photograph can’t always convey.

“Not all birds look alike,” Carlson said. Plumage can vary between mating and migration season. “Peterson even has a 'confusing fall warbler' section,” she said.

Some of those plumage differences are noted in Sarah Saltus’ “Scarlet Tanagers” watercolor. A male, female and immature male are rendered in their various plumages. The immature male’s speckled feathers are vastly different from the bright red of the mature male and the dull yellow of the female.

Tony Gerardi’s “Frogs and Toads of Rhode Island” is another case in point. Ten species are rendered in profile, their colors and shapes side by side for easy comparison of the differences that separate them.

Dorie Petrochko’s “Life cycle of the spadefoot toad” shows the gradual changes that occur in the life of the toad. The artist has rendered egg cases, tadpole changes, stages of its life and details of its feet.

Virge Kask’s “Scything in Avocet chicks” shows the changes in chick size, stature and beak length and form as it grows to adulthood. The birds feed by sweeping their bills from side to side along the surface of the water. The pen and ink illustration shows those bill changes in profile. 

An opening reception will be held on Oct. 13, from 2 to 4 p.m., at the Connecticut Audubon Society Center at Pomfret.

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