Birds and Books

The pages of Birds Worth Knowing, written by Neltje Blanchan and published in 1917 are yellowed and worn. With a classic old book feel and scent, they remind me of cheap paper tablets used by elementary students learning to write. As a scientific historian and nature writer, Blanchan’s work is descriptive and thorough. Still, it sits on my shelf, year after year, untouched. Giving renewed purpose to a page or two seemed fitting.

colored pencil; click to view larger

colored pencil; click to view larger

Tips & Techniques– I like to keep much of my day-to-day work in my artist journal. So when experimenting with different kinds of papers, I typically cut and paste them in. I sliced the pages cleanly out of the bird book with an Exacto knife and trimmed them slightly to fit my Stillman & Birn journal. I used permanent adhesive roller tape to bind the pages—it’s easy to use, clean, and flexible. Archival PVA adhesive also works well and might be best if you’re going to use gouache or acrylic paint on the page. Book pages are not well suited to watercolor.

The hardest thing about drawing on book pages is seeing your initial lines, which get lost in the type and toned paper. I needed to go over a few pencil lines in ink to better define and see them. Subjects that have strong values from white to black work especially well and the possibilities for marrying book text and images are endless. I intentionally left the jay and nest unfinished, as I wanted the page to have a sketchbook quality.

42 Comments on “Birds and Books

  1. Lovely! I love this idea of drawing on book pages, and have used it too. Colored ink works quite well, too. I’ve just done a painting of ravens where I partially primed the bookmpages with white gesso. 🌺

  2. It’s gorgeous, in my eye. Especially the transparent text appearing behind parts of the drawing. Such harmonious colors, too, with the yellowed pages, and soft greens and blues.

  3. beautiful Jean. And so much in my style. I have not yet removed the pages from any books I have drawn in . I find that gesso and any sort of primer inhibits my drawing on the page. I hope that this paper is easy to paint/draw on . Do you cut them as close as possible to the spine ? and do you plan to frame the pages afterwards in future sketches? There are so many possibilities! You have all of the other pages to draw on now. I am looking forward to what else you do.

    • Hi Alissa- This is page from your playbook for sure. I cut the book right at the spine. I don’t have any plans to frame any pages– though I suppose I could. I found this particular paper was not so easy to draw on– the top layers tore a little with pressure from the colored pencils. Interesting to hear your experience with gesso– I wouldn’t use it unless I planned to paint the page, it doesn’t make sense for colored pencil. I like using colored pencils because it they are easy to control and let the page come through. But mostly, I like doing watercolor sketches, so working on book pages will just be an occasional thing.

    • Yes…I had a twinge of guilt, especially because this book is old. But I think it is serving a better purpose. Thanks for sharing your experience– I really appreciate your comment!

  4. Your experiment with the bird sketches painted onto pages from an old book is exciting and well done. . I like the ochre background on both pages plus paintings are so appropriate with the text about birds.

    • Yes, it was a good experiment. The book pages are pretty much equivalent to working on toned paper. They do lend a nice warmth and added depth to the sketches.

      • Old books with hand drawn sketches or lovely photos of wildlife are charming and I have collected a few for my small art library. I found your mentioned book through searching Amazon giving me the opportunity to browse through the text. The photos of the birds inside the book are very nice. Thanks for sharing your previous post.

  5. What beautiful renderings, Jean. I love the Blue Jay paired with the Blue Jay page.
    Yes…books and birds…..a great combination.

    • Hi Laurel- Thanks! I was glad for the match. I’ve been watching jays at our feeder and wanting to paint one for a while. This gave me the perfect motivation.

    • I can well imagine that a lover of books would not normally endorse marking one up! But…every now and then…we have to break our rules. Thanks for leaving a note!

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