Sage Advice

Chickadee-Study web_jmackay

“Day after day never fail to draw something which, however little it may be, will yet in the end be much.”  — Cennino Cennini  c. 1390

It’s comforting to know that people have been struggling to draw and paint well for centuries. Cennini’s advice is just as true today as it was 600 years ago. I’ve spent the last week watching, drawing and painting chickadees, trying to capture the shape, color, and spirit of this little songster. It isn’t easy.

Chickadees are not very cooperative subjects. Unlike finches, which will perch at a bird feeder and eat, chickadees never stick around. At my feeders, they flit to a nearby branch, survey the feeder, swoop in–pause for a second—grab a seed, look up and fly off to eat elsewhere. The whole maneuver takes about six seconds. But to their credit, chickadees are bold. When I stood three feet from the feeder to photograph them, chickadees were among the few birds that continued to feed.

I did these sketches and the small painting below from life and from photos. I have more to do to really capture the bird to my satisfaction, but I am taking Cennini’s advice to heart, hoping that yet in the end, all this practice will amount to much.
Black-capped Chickadee

15 Comments on “Sage Advice

  1. Jean, I love your chickadees.

    I’ve been thinking about you, and your work, a lot recently. Specifically, while I have been reading a book which you might find intriguing….

    The Great Work of Your Life, by Stephen Cope. I think you might really enjoy it. If you do read it – let me know what you think. Have a great Thanksgiving. And, thank you for sharing your work. I look forward to it. Laurel

  2. I love your work Jean – wonderful calligraphy too! Chickadees are one of my favorite birds. You have captured them beautifully! I am struggling to get into the habit of drawing daily so I appreciate your quote and any tips you may have would be great:) best, deborah

    • My main tip is to just keep at it Deborah. It’s hard to find time to sketch or paint every day– especially if you are working, raising a family, engaged in community activities, etc. etc. But carving out some time is important– and helps me feel like I’m doing what I need to do. Thanks for your kind words!

  3. Love this page and the advice! One of my favorite birds too. I liked the 3 color palette idea and will give it a go. Thanks for posting.

    • I like a limited palette, Carole. It is always surprising how much of a range you can get with just a few colors! Burnt sienna and ultramarine blue are a nice combination.

  4. Wonderful sketches! I appreciate how difficult it must be with such fast moving subject! Your lettering is beautiful too. Do you use a nib or brush? What size?

    • Hi Susan- For this I used a micron pen and built up the letters. I like using nibs, but sometimes don’t trust the ink on watercolor paper…or the paper isn’t quite smooth enough to get a good line. I really like dip pens with a flex nib- the results are always more expressive. Your work is quite stunning!

      • Thats very kind of you, thanks. OH how I love Micron pens! What sketchbook do you use? Is it a watercolor book? I just discovered Stillman Birn Zeta series books. smooth yet takes watercolor washes beautifully.

      • I am using Stillman and Birn, too. I like the Beta paper for watercolor, but like the Zeta for the smoothness with pen. As long as I keep in mind what the paper can and can’t do well, I’m good. The chickadee sketch is on Beta, but I’m about to start a new Zeta journal, 5.5×8.5.

  5. Oh, Jean they are all lovely! i can hear them peeping. Thanks too for your color palette.
    As a new comer to watercolors, I saw many more colors in your painting. Your work is so fresh and alive. Happy Thanksgiving Jean.

  6. Oh my goodness I LOVE these chickadees! Wow and three colors only. Very inspirational and beautiful work, Jean! I so love your lettering, almost as much as the paintings themselves!

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