Perching Birds

After a successful experiment with perching birds on words, I decided to develop a series of paintings pairing birds with their names. These may make good prints or cards, which I will pursue once I’ve done four to six pieces. Here’s the first two.


Tips and Techniques– If you are going to spend a lot of time creating a finished piece of art, spend time upfront on thumbnail sketches and color choices to work out potential issues before you begin. I mocked up different bird poses and lettering styles before starting these and it was well worth it. Though I had already painted a wren piece in my journal, I switched the posture of the bird on the E several times before settling on the down-facing pose. My first mockup of the swallow with capital letters proved that the word itself was too long. Switching to cursive, tightened the space. I also tinkered with the variations on the letter S and where the bird should perch before figuring out a placement that seemed balanced.

65 Comments on “Perching Birds

  1. Love the birds. Don’t let me miss your Robin.
    My grand daughter is Robin.
    Robin Lucinda to be exact.😍

    • Ah…lovely name. I was thinking about doing a robin, so maybe that will be next. Short word, and a nice, common bird. I also have a design in my head for a great blue heron.

  2. If you are going to turn these into note cards for purchase, your name will need to be smaller (but still readable of course) or it detracts and distracts from the art itself. I love the idea of finding just the right font or print/script style that fits each of your subjects. Your compositions, technique, and use of color is very lovely!

  3. Delightful, as always, Jean, and I appreciate the reminder to ‘audition’ with thumbnails.

  4. So creative. Thanx for the thumbnail suggestions. I always forget and charge headlong. Then correct til I’m crazy frustrated. These are beautiful.

  5. These are beautiful. -a thought on words tho’:: we tend to read from left to right and front to back so; while Carolina Wren worked well Tree Swallow was initially confusing because of the reversed placement of the words. I wonder if other people stumbled or if it is just me?

  6. I love both of these and immediately saw what you were doing with the placement of the lettering and the species name. I think it’s brilliant…the common more familiar ‘name’ standing out. I can’t wait to see what’s next. I’m especially excited to see the heron. How about a kingfisher?

  7. Absolutely beautiful! They make me smile.
    Thanks for sharing both the finished “bird on words” and the thought process that led to the finished design. Too often I rush into a subject….hoping it will work out. Planning is so important but for me often neglected.

    • I suppose there is a balance between planning and spontaneity. But working out some of the bigger structure/shapes and design ideas typically pays off. I think the mock ups can help get you in the groove for drawing/painting too. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  8. The decision to put the type of bird front and center and the adjective smaller is brilliant, as are the whole layouts, and of course, the painting. That wren perched on the “E” is as sassy as they come, making me miss Carolina wrens so much! And the cursive “Swallow” in a slightly ethereal blue could almost take to the sky, just like a Tree swallow. This is going to be a fabulous series. 🙂

  9. Gorgeous birds and lettering, Jean. I love the colours and floofiness of the swallow and the position of the little wren looking down (oo, that tail!!!). And I liked reading about your design process too. 🙂

    • Thanks Myriam- I start pretty loose when painting the birds, letting loose washes do some of the work for me. Then I tighten up to get the details. I’m finding that combination works pretty well.

  10. Gorgeous, as always. Thanks for the reminder to do value sketches and mock-ups. Important first steps.

    • It’s worth it if you’re going to invest a lot of time in a piece. Sometimes your first idea is not your best, but a spark of something better comes to you when you do a mock-up. Your painting is really advancing by leaps and bounds! You must be pleased by how far you’ve come in such a short time.

  11. Beautiful and inspiring! Do you work from photos? Or do you know birds so well you can just draw them? Or do you have some other tool/resource? Also, I love your lettering styles, do you use a style sheet for these? Thanks for all your tips.

    • Hi– Let me try to answer your questions: I’ve observed and studied birds for many years and I’ve sketched live birds and dead birds from museum skins and specimens so that I am familiar with anatomy and feather groups. I also work from photos, but it’s the combination of all of these that help me when I sit down to paint a bird. As for lettering, I have studied and practiced many letter styles and calligraphy over the years. The fonts here are my own variations on basic italic script and Roman capitals. Pick up a copy of the Speedball Textbook– its a great basic resource. Best wishes!

      • Jean, Wonderful pieces. As a photographer, I was especially interested in the question above, “Do you work from photos?”– and your answer above, which certainly explains why you have the “feel for the organism” that is so evident in your work.

      • Thanks Dave. It’s pretty easy to “kill a bird” when painting it. Getting the right combination of specifics and suggestion, loose and tight are important. There’s no substitute for observation, which is why I don’t paint birds (or other animals) I haven’t seen in the field.

      • Jean, Small world. Am a huge Mary Oliver fan who quickly teared up when I learned of her passing. Then I went and read and reread “Goldfinches” from her “New and Selected Poems.” I may provide a link to your tribute in an upcoming blog.

      • Hi Dave- Thanks for asking, and Yes, others have reposted and included a link. That’s fine. I’ve been rereading Mary Oliver poems lately– there’s so much clarity in her words.

      • Jean, I wonder if you ever read the ‘reblog’ and my comment. I’ve had many visitors, and some have visited your site as well. Dave

  12. Pingback: American Robin | Drawn In

    • Hi Bird Brain Sisters- Thanks for stopping by. I LOVE your bird art on your blog. It’s so fun, so zany. I didn’t see a way to sign up for your posts, though. What’s the secret?

Leave a Reply to Erica Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: