Small in stature, but with an exuberant song that makes up for it, the winter wren is more frequently heard than seen. The song always surprises me— warbled and sweet, it goes on and on, ringing through deep, moist northern forests in Maine where I hear it each summer*.
I went to the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven for a reference for the winter wren. On display in its ornithology collection are five species of North American wrens. None is very large, but the winter wren is astoundingly tiny— only about 3-4 inches (8 cm). I much prefer drawing and painting from specimens than photographs, as there is much finer detail to see in the feather pattern and color. I also watched a couple of videos of winter wrens and looked at different images of the bird, so that I had more than a single reference for the final piece.
I did the studies in my Stillman & Birn Beta watercolor journal; the final painting is on Arches 300lb cold pressed paper, which is a superior quality paper that allows you to build up many layers of paint. I took a couple of photos of the painting in progress to give you a sense of how the bird took shape:
*ARTS AND BIRDING, 2016, Registration Open!
Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine
You can hear the beautiful song of the winter wren, along with the calls of puffins, terns, gulls, and the gentle lapping of waves on rocky shore during Arts and Birding, 2016. I’m heading up a 5-day session for artists and photographers July 10-15, 2016. Get details on my Workshop page or on the Hog Island website.
Superb. With the craziness in our world this week, gentleness is appreciated.
Thanks a nice perspective. Yes, sometimes we need to to balance despair with beauty.
Spectacular, Jean! Your diligence and patience is inspirational, and has certainly paid off on this lovely painting. And thanks for the in-progress pix — it’s always interesting to see how different artists develop their work.
Thanks Beth! I wished I had taken a couple more photos in progress. I need to walk away from a painting like this at various points to gain some perspective and figure out next steps.
Stunning – and done with such skillful sensitivity. Thank you for the demo – very helpful.
I’m glad Mary. I’ll have to remember to do more of that.
Hi Jean … another beauty! I checked out the workshop on Hog Island and they have the dates 7/10 – 7/15 rather than June as you noted. Please clarify. I would like to attend this workshop in 2016. Thanks. Carole Jurack Date: Sun, 15 Nov 2015 17:04:53 +0000
You have captured this tiny wonder with amazing detail. I especially appreciate the sketches and paint palette index. As a new comer I enjoy seeing the progression of the work. Thank you Jean.
Great detail. What fun. I need to visit ornithology collections near where I live to do some serious sketching of birds You are inspiring!
Glad to offer some inspiration. The other nice thing about sketching in a collection is that the birds don’t move! Bonus!
I agree. The birds in my neighborhood are in constant motion and it’s difficult to get close to do any real live sketching. But I catch their positions and later fill in from photo references.
This painting is so lovely it takes my breath away. I’m interested that you use Arches. I like that paper for the very same reason as you. I too think it helps to down tools for a while to consider the next step. That approach has certainly paid off in this painting.
Yes Anne! Especially with a very detailed piece, walking away helps me catch my breath and gain perspective on what needs to be done next. These things can’t be rushed, so I often remind myself at the outset that I’m going to spend several sessions before finishing. I only wish with that the wren was a little more lively. The pose is very static. But I may take what I’ve learned and do another one.
You made this wren come alive! I love hearing about your process for developing this wonderful painting, thank you!
Thanks Sarah- I’ll try to post more on process in the future. I appreciate your positive comment!
I second Sarah’s comment – you’ve made this wren come alive! Thanks so much for sharing!
After following your post for a few months now- I always love what you come up with. Im used to seeing your sketchbook style but seeing that little wren shows your true talent- expertise in observation and execution. I too am a watercolor illustrator and see the brilliance in your brush- show more!!!
Karen- what a nice comment! I have been eager to do more finely detailed paintings and was glad to finally have some time for the wren. I hope to do more I the coming weeks. Thanks for your encouragement!
Hi Jean, You might like to have a look at this website. http://www.leilajeffreys.com
It showcases the work of a local photographer who has just this last week published a book of bird portraits. All the birds are living rescued birds. How she got them to “sit” for her is a mystery. The website has a lot of the photos from her book which is available in the USA too.
Wow, these are all wonderful! I can’t choose between them! So lively and seems about to fly away! So wonderful to have a specimen to study. Love your color key at the bottom also!