Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity knocked this week in the form of a pileated woodpecker that died on the roof outside my office window. Cause unknown. The chance to study and paint it lay before me – literally. How could I pass it up? Would you? There was only one thing to do: climb out the window, retrieve it and get sketching.

It’s quite a privilege to hold a bird like this in your hands, and just a bit grim. Keeping it without a permit would be a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so I worked on the page, took a few reference photos, and laid it to rest in some nearby woods.

Pileated Woodpecker

Click to view larger. Sketches and text done with Micron pen 02 and 005 pens and watercolor in Stillman & Birn Beta journal.

What’s in a name? I was curious about the name “pileated,” so I did a little research and learned that it means having a crest covering the pileum, which is the top of a bird’s head from bill to nape. The word comes from the Latin word pileus, which was a brimless felt cap worn in ancient Greece.

Welcome and thanks to all the new followers of Drawn In who found me through Turning the Pages: A Look at the Sketchbooks of Artists. Sorry to start you out with a dead bird—I promise to mix it up in the coming weeks!

30 Comments on “Opportunity Knocks

  1. I can understand Jean your interest and at the same time your distress – As you say a wonderful opportunity though to thoroughly study a bird who here in the Carolinas we hear more than we see. We so love our birds and are always distressed when we find a dead one….thankfully not often – makes one wonder where do the dead ones actually die…….? Love your posts and your work – one day will have to save up and take one of your workshops !

    • Thanks Judy. This did seem like a once in a lifetime opportunity. I suspect most birds like this die in the woods and are consumed by something else within two days. Hope we do get to meet in person someday!

  2. Jean,

    I can so picture you climbing out a window and on a roof…. please never change! Only you!!!

    🙂 Michele

  3. Tragic, but so extraordinary, too. A glorious bird. Are you in the “PIE-lee-ated” or “PILL-e-ated” school of pronunciation? (I opt for the latter.)

    Working with a bird in hand is why I am so drawn (no pun intended) to ornithology ‘study skins’.

    • After my look at the origins and pronunceation of the word, I am definitely in the pie-lee-ated camp. And yes, a bird in hand in a beautiful thing– alive or dead.

  4. I bit grim, maybe, but I believe you also honored this bird by studying, memorializing, and then laying him/her to rest in the woods. This is a beautiful sketch.

    Do you take any special precautions when handling birds or their nests for sketching, like wearing gloves or a mask? I’m never sure if it’s fact or fiction that bird diseases can be transmitted to humans through touch or breath alone.

    • Hi Susan- I don’t take special precautions, but I’ve never handled a bird for very long and never come into contact with any body fluids. I don’t really handle a bird much when drawing it…I just lay it down. If there was a concern or open wounds, I would wear gloves. As for nests, I’ve handled quite a few and I don’t think any avian diseases could be transmitted that way. Bird rehabilitaters and falconers handle birds without protective gear all the time.

  5. Stunning work. Your journal pages are each a work of art on their own. From here, it appears that you don’t just throw images onto the page and wish for the best. I so appreciate that and I’m working to do that in my own journal – to be mindful of the space at the very least before I start drawing/painting. Your depiction of the Pileated is just gorgeous. I love that you climbed out onto the roof! and that you returned the bird to the woods when you were done.

    • Hi Mary- Thanks for your nice note! I am fairly mindful of creating a complete page…which is something I’ve grown into with my artist journal. I don’t plan a layout in advance, but I know what elements will work and build the page as I go. In this case, I started with the large sketch of the head as the main focus. It really was such a privilege to work with this bird!

  6. Your journal spread is beautiful–you are an inspiration to me! How fortunate for you to be able to study this fantastic bird!

    • Thanks Linda- I was VERY fortunate….and very fortunate to have supportive colleagues who gave me space and time to paint. It’s been a good week in the office!

  7. First, congrats on the WordPress article!!
    This is a beautiful study, a once-in-a-lifetime bird find. I learned a thing a few years ago when a thrush hit my window – I felt sad for it and didn’t want to throw it away, so I tucked it carefully under a thick piece of lawn turf. Curious as to how it fared, I peeled up the grass about 6 months later and a perfect, clean skull was waiting for me – I still have it. I think it is such a lovely thing…

    • Wow. I wouldn’t have thought to do what you did with the thrush. Good thinking! These are rare opportunities, and there is so much to learn from them.

  8. I learned something: pileum – how cool. Thank you for mentioning the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and modeling the very best response. I love these creatures…. and their strength. Your capture of this one is wonderful.

    • Thanks Karene! I loved doing this page and though hard, knew the bird could not cross state lines and come back with me to CT!

  9. Few years ago a bird died instantly in front of me, hitting his head against the living room window. It was a sad event.
    I am very sorry for this woodpecker, but certanly you kept his soul in this wonderful drawing.

    • Thanks for writing. As you probably know, bird strikes against windows are fairly common, especially in spring when birds are chasing each other around to establish territories and woo mates. It is sad when it happens at your own window! I suspect this wp hit something, too. His head feathers were a little roughed up.

  10. I came from your Doodlewash post. Yours is the style I strive for. A beautiful watercolor/pen art journal that tells a tale in brilliant colors. Ah but the path to success can be a long one. I’ve been in science all my life so intuition and creativity were stifled. Its just been the last two years I’ve picked up a brush and pen with a different direction. I LOVE watercolors. I love your style of realism and forgiveness. Thanks for adding so much information… Your posts are very inspiring.

    • Hi Lauri! Thanks for writing! I suspect your background in science will serve you well as a painter. It does take time to develop as an artist– a lifetime, really, of always looking, practicing, and growing. I guess that’s what I like about keeping an artist journal. It’s a record of that journey. Glad you found some inspiration here! — Jean

  11. I found the speckled feathers of a dead wood pecker one time. It was such an amazing find – a treasure of nature. I really like your drawings and journal. You are very talented! 😃

    • Thanks Jill! Woodpecker feathers are especially interesting. I suppose I was lucky with the pileated that I didn’t have a complex black and white pattern to draw!

  12. You haven’t been showing up in my reader…I just checked and you’re still on the list. Just to let you know. Glad to get the connection back through Charlie. (K)

    • Hmmm…I wonder why. Do you think it has to do with your settings for when and how you want to see posts? I’ll look at the backend here, too…thanks for looping back!

      • Sometimes it’s just funky I guess. One time a technician fixed my problems, but I’ve also seen people complaining that their posts aren’t showing up on anyone’s readers. I haven’t noticed missing anyone else’s posts. But I’ll keep an eye on it too.

      • I just checked my Reader and “manage” my followed sites. I hit the down arrow near the site name and that gave me the option to receive posts by email and decide how often to see them. I was able to update a number of blogs I follow to track them better. Hope it works…you might check it out.

  13. Looking at your Ireland posts, this one about the Pileated Woodpecker popped up, and I found it just fascinating! Thanks for sharing your research into the meaning of ‘pileated’!

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