Discovering Birds

Last spring, I spent a few days with Linda in Highlands, NC, where it was fun to see how fascinated she and her husband were with the Dark-eyed Juncos that had built a nest on their back porch. I had never heard of that type of bird before and thought it was an intriguing name, and I also watched mama Dark-eyed Junco feed the baby Dark-eyed Juncos. The birds were not afraid of us while we sat on the porch, and they went about their business quite confidently.

When I returned home from that visit, I wanted to thank my friends for their hospitality in putting me up for the weekend. I had been especially busy that spring with 3 solo exhibitions, and being at their house was a well-needed retreat.

In between working on other projects, I began looking up photographs and descriptions of the Dark-eyed Juncos and found them to be just as cute in the photographs as they had been on the porch. In Linda’s kitchen, I had noticed a deep green ceramic rooster tile, and I used that as a jumping off point as a design inspiration for a gift for her. I started making 5”x5” birds and discovered that at that size, the bird needed to be an easy-to-read design. I knew that deep red was Linda’s favorite color, so after many tests of the color red, and trying different size birds within the 5”x5” parameters, and simplifying the drawing of the bird while trying to keep it recognizable as a Dark-eyed Junco, this is what I came up with and presented to Linda this spring:


As a result of this project, I began noticing more the birds around me - the ones that come to the bird feeder, the ones in the woods, and the ones in town. I started paying attention to their songs and their daily activities. About that time, I needed to borrow some of my architectural silk paintings from Krista G. for a new exhibit. While talking to her, Krista introduced me to some excellent bird web sites, including All About Birds and she told me how she had been recognized as ‘the person reporting sighting the most species of birds in Georgia’ this past year for a total of 322 bird species! I had a lot to learn from her -  see an article about her experiences in Georgia Magazine

I looked at the websites, took down the bird identification books from my bookshelves, and started experimenting and drawing other birds than Juncos - paying attention to the shapes, the feathers, the heads, and the different beaks that make each bird unique.

I found that this testing of a new idea, working on simplifying a design, and  choosing pleasing colors all brought much pleasure and fun to my studio work. I imagined the most brightly contasting color combinations, looked at opposites on the color wheel, and tried to think of colors that would create designs that would seem to pop off the silk and attract people’s attention to my artwork, and hopefully, make them happy, too. 

After all this background work and with all these bird inspirations, I got busy and painted 10 birds-on-silk. They will be hanging in Jittery Joe’s 5 Points coffeeshop and can be seen there. Here is a sample of what I came up with:

I also found it fascinating to learn about the nesting hawk outside the office of the President of New York University that is being watched on a webcam by people all over the world! The hawks hatched their baby birds on May 5, but you can still see some activity in the nest.

I feel so lucky that I can watch wildlife, including birds, so easily where I live. We have our own set of Phoebes that have been nesting every summer with us for 30 years. But really, for all of us, birds are so prevalent that all we need to do, wherever we are, is open up our eyes and ears and pay attention to them to take delight in what they offer us.

I can see these new painted silk birds sharing their lives in bedrooms, living rooms, on the walls, or displayed as pillows - what do you think? Do you have any ideas to share about the bird designs that I have not thought of?

Hope you enjoy watching your own birds this week!