The Catbird Seat

I set out to trim the lilac, so tall and thick that its few blossoms are unreachable. But tucked deep in the greenery I found a catbird quietly perched in its bulky nest. I was not sorry to trade loppers and pruning shears for pen and paint.

Tips and Techniques– It’s much easier to sketch nests after birds have finished using them. But it’s exciting to find them in season and capture a glimpse of nesting activity. The key is not to disturb the birds or call attention to the nest. I began this sketch from about 20 feet out, using a step ladder and binoculars to get a close-up view. I spent about 5 minutes blocking in the nest placement among the lilac branches and the position of the catbird. Later, when the bird was off the nest, I took a photo of the nest itself to use as a reference for the leaf shadows and nesting material. The young hatched a few days ago, so I will add dates for hatching and fledging (hopefully) in the bottom corner in the days to come.

24 thoughts on “The Catbird Seat

  1. What a pretty thing to see on this foggy morning. The catbird is so elegant and sleek. Plus I love their “singing?” How fortunate you were to find this and thanks for sharing with us a lovely painting.

      • I think Thurber is too funny for words, and his line drawings are hilarious. Whenever I see child-proofing plugs in walls I always think of his short story where an aunt was afraid the electricity was leaking out of the walls.

  2. Jean, this is so perfect! I have been surrounded by catbirds all morning. I am pruning overgrowth and thought there might be a nest nearby so stepped back to watch them catch little moths. They are the most unafraid birds in our yard. I enjoy your nests so much – and the image of you up on a ladder drawing made me smile.

  3. Just gorgeous work with color, shade, and so loose…do you ever use resists or just sketch in darks as you go? How long did this take?

    • Hi Sarah- I don’t use resists, though you certainly could. One less thing to carry in my art kit. I use negative painting techniques to build up the layers of nesting material. I’m not sure how long this took since I started it and set it aside for a couple of days before finishing. Couple of hours?

  4. Beautiful. You captured it! Love the soft colors you chose. I’m sure momma knew you were there all along. Funny how sometimes they just know when there is no danger. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I like the technique you used for the negative spaces, making them like stained glass pieces. What a great story this is! But it’s funny to think of you balancing on a step ladder, binocs in hand….

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