Bringing Hummingbirds to Life

The bird lay dead in my hand, a small and precious jewel given to me by a friend. Fully intact and still dressed in glittering green, it was a rare gift. I’d never held a hummingbird; never studied one so closely. An opportunity like this meant one thing: break out the magnifying glass, ruler, and pencil and get to work.

As an artist, I find observing dead birds enormously helpful when trying to bring them to life on paper. I love the ability to look closely at various features, to study proportions, and to look at feather patterns and feet. A bird in hand lets you see details that a photo and even live birds cannot— like the iridescent feathers on a hummingbird’s throat that appear black unless reflecting light or the length of the primary feathers. As you can see, I didn’t try to enliven my first sketches— these are strictly studies. The birds on the right take flight thanks to the motionless birds on the left (click to view larger).

The Hummingbird Gallery

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About Hummingbirds– Hummingbirds are pretty incredible creatures— they can fly forward, backward, and straight up and down, and buzz around at speeds up to 30 mph. Weighing in at just 3-4 grams, they never-the-less manage to fly more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico each year on their annual migrations from the US and Canada to Central America. There are more than 300 species in the world, twelve in the US, and only one, the ruby-throated hummingbird, in the eastern US. Journey North tracks its annual trek (as well as monarch butterflies and other creatures)…check out the journey.

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Drawn to the Coast

It’s thrilling to see my artwork in print this week in an article I wrote and illustrated for Passagemaker Magazine (a magazine for boaters). Drawn to the Coast is an illustrated essay about being inspired by the Maine Coast. Going from concept sketches to full size watercolors to seeing how the magazine’s designer put it all together was one of the most exciting aspects of this assignment.

Let me take you behind the scenes to share some of that process. Click on the artwork to see the sequence full size.

An assignment like this stretches you as an artist and working through challenges definitely advances your skills. Some of you may remember my struggle a few months ago to paint clouds for the title spread, which was perhaps my greatest challenge. I drew upon years of journal sketches to do this piece, but painted everything in my studio over the course of about a month. Now, I can’t wait to get back to the real thing!

In the Clouds

Sometimes being an artist isn’t fun or enlightening or satisfying. It’s just hard work. It’s hard to figure out how to capture a scene or idea on paper; hard to get paint to do what you want, what you see, what you want to convey. Sometimes being an artist is fraught with doubt and anguish. That’s the kind of week I’ve had. I have a big painting assignment that requires big skies and working at a much larger size than I typically do. Scaling up has been a challenge—one which will no doubt prove worthwhile in the end, but which feels overwhelming in the moment. My head is full of clouds…and I’m only beginning to see a glimmer of blue sky emerging.

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Power Cruising in Alaska

Ever wonder what it’s like to go power cruising in southeastern Alaska—snaking your way through miles of evergreen coastline dotted with remote fishing villages? To be honest, I never have. I don’t even own a boat. So when I got an email asking whether I would illustrate an article on cruising and salmon fishing for PassageMaker magazine, I took a deep breath and enthusiastically accepted. Mind you, I didn’t get to actually go to Alaska. I just got to bring someone else’s travels to life in journal style illustrations for the article. The April issue hit the stands this week, and while I can’t show it to you in detail, I can give you a sneak preview.

Creating the illustrations was a fun challenge that involved sifting through lots of images of salmon, boats, and Alaskan coastline, thinking about what I might have put in my sketchbook had I actually gone to Alaska, and then creating paintings that would give a flavor of the region and what the author describes in the article. The designers pulled the paintings into Photoshop and merged them to suit the text and layout. I painted the image above to run across the bottom of the title page. What you’re seeing below are layout proofs.


Marvelously Elusive

The marvel of bird eggs never escapes me. But painting them to perfection almost always proves elusive. I’ve been at it for years. I found these paintings done over the last 10 years in the back of my art file drawer this week and was reminded of the value of practice. Over and over, year after year, I learn, make mistakes, improve, try again. The trick with eggs is getting the edges clean and precise, while adding multiple layers of paint so that the egg takes shape. You can see that some of these made it and others didn’t. And the challenge of doing many eggs on a single page is that they all have to be right for the piece to work. So, I am curious– what’s your “egg?” What marvelous subject do you return to again and again in spite of difficulties and disappointments?

Eggs- variety

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Hummingbird and Murre Eggs. watercolor. 8x10

Holiday Rush

Forget shopping. Making and giving holiday gifts is one of the things I like best about the holidays…but the final rush is definitely here. With a week to go before Christmas, creative ideas and good intentions are flowing as fast as the hourglass fills. So…a quick post today of one of my latest projects.

poinsettia

Poinsettia; watercolor on Arches 140lb cold pressed paper

Gone, but not forgotten

The woods are falling silent. Save for the call of jays and crows and the occasional chatter of chickadees and nuthatches, our songbirds have all flown to summer in the southern hemisphere. So, while it may seem odd to be painting yellow warblers in November, I am not quite ready to take up brown and blue paint and focus on winter birds just yet. This painting began in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, where I recently sketched yellow warblers perched in display cases. Back at home, I worked from those studies, a variety of photos, and a previous painting of dogwoods to create this piece…a bit of spring to tide us over the long winter ahead until these little beauties return.

Yellow Warbler (female), watercolor on Fabriano soft press 140lb paper, 6”x8”

Yellow Warbler (female), watercolor on Fabriano soft press 140lb paper, 6”x8”; click to view larger

Arts & Birding– If you like birds, nature, and art, and are looking for fun workshop to improve your skills in either sketching/painting or photography, join me in Maine next June 11-16 for Arts & Birding. This workshop takes place on a beautiful island on the Maine Coast at the Hog Island Audubon Camp. Registration is open and spaces are filling quickly. This is a wonderful place to invest in yourself and your art!

discover-badge-rectangleMany thanks to Discover WordPress for featuring Drawn In this week and thanks to all of you who signed on to follow me! Your enthusiasm, nice comments, and likes are terrific!