Fledglings Forever

This weekend’s freezing temperatures sent me packing my sketchbook and paints and seeking shelter in the natural history collection at a nearby museum. Amidst a long wall of bird specimens, I found these four fledgling Eastern screech owls. Most collections typically display adult birds, so it was unusual to find an entire set of young siblings. I was grateful for the chance to study these common, yet elusive owls up close. And yet, they haunt me, too. Their life in the wild was so brief, their time behind glass so long. My goal with this painting was to try to bring a bit of life back to these young owls and to share a glimpse their wild, wary beauty with you.

Tips and Techniques– When you have a lot of detail in your subject, it’s easy to get lost. Start with bigger shapes and values first. Once you have established larger structures, you can work on refining the color, deepening the values, and then adding smaller details. This holds true whether you are painting landscapes or buildings or birds. After sketching the owls, I did a wet-in-wet wash of cobalt blue and burnt sienna. Once that was dry, I began deepening the values and refining the larger feather groupings. I added the detailed barring on the feathers last, paying the most attention to the faces.

Screech owls are common throughout much of North America. Learn more about them at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.

34 Comments on “Fledglings Forever

  1. Love the picture. Reminds me of when we lived in Indiana and one evening looked out our window to a very close big white pine, and there sat four baby screech owls huddling together looking back at us. Still remember after many years! Thanks for the “tips” too.

  2. Oh Jean, this is a beautiful painting! You should teach a class on painting owls. 😉

    • Thanks Marleny. That would be fun, but it would take awhile to get from start to finish. I stalled mid-way through this questioning my decision to take on four birds. But, as you know, you have to push through that stage and keep going. Glad I did.

  3. You definitely brought some life back to these fledglings. I love how you’ve caught their expressions and interactions. So sad that their time was so brief.

    • Thanks– I’m glad they didn’t end up just looking like stuffed mounts. They were surprisingly expressive, and adding the dark background and sense of light makes it seem like you’ve just caught them in the beam of a flashlight.

  4. Amazing, Jean! I’d say you succeeded in reaching your goal. The four unique expressions you gave the fledglings really brought them to life.

  5. Ditto all of the above. It’s wonderful how you managed to give them each their own personality, and gave them enough detail without overworking it. You rock.

    • Hi Melissa– Owls hatching is asynchronistic ; I was trying to figure out which might be the oldest. Maybe the one on the right. They one on the left looks quite shy. Not overworking was definitely part of my game plan!

  6. Thank you for painting these beautiful babies. It moved me to tears to think about how they got into the display…

    • My only hope was that the parents were injured or known to be dead — but they just as easily could have been snatched by an eager collector. Happy for the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

  7. Oh gosh….such a short time here. I’m glad you were so moved to paint all four!! You’ve really brought them to life!

    • Thanks Roxanne. I was really intrigued with them and glad I chose them. It’s not likely that I’ll ever see four fledgling screech owls…but hopefully I’ll hear a few this winter and spring in the back woods.

      • True!! And when you hear them…you’ll think of these four babies!

  8. I really think this story and painting deserves wider audience through the USFWS Mig Bird program and those who appreciate protections for our native owls. Such a compelling piece that shows them in life. Beautiful.

    • I don’t use Indanthrone blue often, but I always like it when I do. It’s such a beautiful, rich dark blue. I mixed it with lamp black to darken it further. The blue paired with with the Siena brown/grays of the birds.

  9. Thank you for sharing! On many a night, we wake to the “whoo, whoos” of the owls hunting on our farm. Hauntingly beautiful.

  10. They’re precious. You’re right! More heard than seen around here. Good pointers too. I do get lost in detail and its tricky to train yourself not to.

  11. You did an excellent job of conveying a variety of expressions on those faces, expressions that are both charming and thought-provoking. One has to wonder how they came to be museum specimens. Are a few of them casting accusatory glances at us? Great work, Jean.

  12. Love these cozy bird paintings! Great idea to sketch at a natural history museum. We’ve been hearing our Western Screech Owls call nightly for the past month! I love listening to them with the background frog chorus, lots of life out there at night right now!

Leave a Reply to Alison R. Hall 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 )

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: