Old Birds

The lifespan of most small birds is short—just a few years and then they’re gone to predation, disease, or hazards. These birds were given a second life, of sorts, after being “collected” in the 1800s and placed on display at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.  During a recent visit I got to see about 500 birds on display—a minute fraction of the 640,000 specimens housed and maintained by the museum, which has the third largest bird collection in the world. How I would love to look behind the scenes! But I was happy enough to sketch these old favorites.DC_Chickadees-Nuthatch


29 Comments on “Old Birds

  1. Lovely work yet again! Nothing like bringing “old” birds to life once more! A touch of spring in OH this week so many birds are singing in the branches and dining at the feeders. Have a good weekend.

  2. What a wonderful way to spend a day! I really love your page layout and your ability to render the birds realistically while still adding your own charm to them.

  3. Your artwork is exquisite and always brightens me day and my perspectives!! I KNOW it takes time and much effort, not only to do the art, but to post your art also!!

  4. I find your work so inspiring. Everything from the layout of your page to the lettering but especially the painting from the tiny birds ‘on a wire’ to the wee nest to the different positions of all the birds — it’s all amazing! Wow….

    • Geez…thanks, Lisa! I wanted to try some different positions, and also capture in a simple way the swallows on the wire– such a common sight and one that would be nice to do quickly when out and about in the summer.

  5. I love these sketches. Were you allowed to paint onsite or did you have to add the watercolor later? Cincinnati, not far from where I live, has a natural history museum, but I can’t find that they have any similar collections on display. It would be great to be able to study and sketch details I can’t see in real life, since live birds don’t seem to want to sit still for me.

    • I painted right on site. The bird collection is in a basement hallway that is not popular with most visitors. I did add some additional color and the text later to finish the page. And, yes– it’s great to see the details so that you can learn them for when the birds don’t sit still. You might ask whether your museum has a bird collection you can access for study/art.

  6. Exquisite and lovely, your paintings and presentations always brings out a sigh of joy…thought these were taken from live observation, they appear to have a spark, but for what you wrote, would not have guessed they were ‘collected’. Thank you for sharing these gems.

    • That’s part of the trick– These were pretty old and some of the color was faded, so I had to embellish a bit to bring them back from the dead. Thanks for your nice comment!

  7. Oh…I’m going to have to check out that link. I suspect you’ll find good things close to home, too. What about that big cultural museum in Vancouver? They must have some good old collections!

    • Yes, the Museum of Anthropology is fantastic – in fact I have a trip planned for this spring! I live a short ferry ride away from Vancouver, so I make a good long day of it. 🙂

  8. Love the blue halos around each bird! Their colors stand out so well against them. Lovely sketches, enjoy getting your Drawn In e-mail alerts.

    • Thanks Elizabeth! Nice to hear from you. It’s always a decision whether to add a background color. Sometimes I like a stark white, but when the subject has a lot of white, a darker color behind helps to pop it out. There’s no going back, so if I choose a background its a done deal. I’m glad I chose the blue for this.

  9. Jean these birds are beautiful. Do you sketch and take photos in the museum, then later paint in colors? One could spend months in the Smithsonian. That would be a fun place to have a painting party!

    • I sketch in the museum and sometimes paint (it depends on the museum rules and how much space there is and time I have. Otherwise I paint back home (or in this case, in the hotel). A painting party is in our future!

  10. These sketches are simply wonderful! I adore the use of colors and how you colored it, wonderful 👌🏻 you DERSEVE a follow!

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