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Days Three and Four

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've started a male bay-breasted warbler, boreal forest breeder and champion long-distance migrant. These little guys may breed in the Yukon and winter in Venezuela. Imagine flying that long and far every spring and fall with only your own two wings to power you. And much of that flight is over open ocean! Egad. We make a big deal about driving for a day or two, and we're just sitting there, burning fossil fuel. These tiny guys are doing it on fat and muscle, and a bay-breasted warbler weighs less than a first-class letter. If you stop and think about it, birds can make you feel like a total slug.

Here's a nice closeup of the paper, to show the quiet but present tooth that it has. I work on Winsor & Newton cold press 140 lb. watercolor paper. Sometimes I stray to other papers but I always come home to it. I've long since shaken my addiction to W&N's overpriced watercolor paints and brushes in favor of Daniel Smith's wonderful paint and synthetic blend brushes. But Winsor & Newton's paper is consistently great and worth the price.

I love working in grays. They're fun to mix and go on smooth as butter. He's a snap to paint, and the best part is tricking in the little black streaks and spots. I chose the bay-breasted warbler as an ambassador from the threatened boreal forests.
The ruddy turnstone was my emblem of a bird with a vulnerable spot in its migratory route--the horseshoe crab beaches of New Jersey and Delaware.
The bobolink stood for vanishing native grasslands, and the hooded warbler for habitat fragmentation and cowbird nest parasitism. (You can see all that in the painting, right?) No? Hmm. You must not be looking at the clouds hard enough.

Once again, the peach is strategically located to pick up this warbler's fabulous designer color scheme.

Whoops, where did that black-headed grosbeak come from? What can I say? It was a day of fast painting. I wanted at least one exclusively Western bird in the painting, so it couldn't be said to have an Eastern bias. I also like their flash. Considered a rose-breasted grosbeak, but decided on a black-headed because it would speak to Western birders. Ooh, it's starting to look like a painting now.

Little Charles is dying to peel the masking film off the nighthawk now. Those mischievous eyes! What if I just...peeled this off...just starting at the corner...dum de dum dum dum, la la la...

Soon enough, dearest tatty bird. But you don't get to do it. You might get carried away.

Part of the reason I started working at the bottom of the sheet is that it gets harder and harder to reach my work as I paint up. I know, I should use an easel so I can stand in front of it. But old habits die hard. I like to work flat, and wreck my back as I crouch over my work, sometimes on my elbows and knees. Maybe I'll try an easel for the next big painting. I can hear Debby Kaspari, who built an easel on her dining room wall for crying out loud, groaning. Zick! Just do it!

Instead, I turn the thing sideways and twist my body around so I can see what I'm doing. I have reference photos torn from magazines all over the painting, and my laptop, with reference photos cued up, is on the drawing table along with the palette and HUGE painting and patter-footed macaw. Note that I have my painting water (normally in a big plastic jar) in a small, heavy tumbler to reduce the chance that I'll tip it on the painting or laptop.
The nighthawk's wings. When painting a bird with lots of bars and stripes, I try to make them a bit messy so the bird doesn't look fake. Too messy, and you lose the sense of the pattern. Too neat, and the bird looks like a carving or paint-by-number model.
And he's done. A bit of an all-day sucker, that one, between the contortions and the size of the image, and all those little stars and bars. I chose a nighthawk because they are just about my favorite fall migrants. I always drop everything and stare at them until they're dots on the horizon. They're so vulnerable, too, because the gravel-topped flat roofs they prefer to nest on are being replaced by cheaper asphalt, which isn't a suitable nesting substrate at all. And it appears they are quite susceptible to West Nile virus, how awful. It seems that everything beautiful is in peril in some way.

But I'm still having loads of fun painting, even as I mull over why each bird has earned its place in my flock, and looking forward to my dessert. Hint: It'll be strawberry gelato. Definitely saving the best for last.
So glad you're enjoying this. It's really fun for me, too. Sometimes I sit back and think about how much more fun life is with a camera. I still can't think of myself as a photographer, but I take a whole lot of pictures, and my camera makes it possible to share moments in time with you. Anybody see the lady in the clouds?
Happy birthday, R, wherever you may be.


To quote Christopher Walken from an old SNL skit, I believe entitled, The Continental:

"Wow! Wowee-wow-wow-wow!"

I saw you talkin'
To Christopher Walken
On my TV screen.

Fountains of Wayne

such a wonderful mix of bird species; must be difficult to decide who to leave out.

and re: your previous alpaca posts -- has everyone seen the latest edition of 'The Onion' with their story on alpaca-raising to boost the economy:

it's not one of their funniest efforts ever but still, who knew JZ had such political clout???

Yeah, I'm amazed..."birds can make you feel like a total slug." So true. Burning body fat by the hour.

After the nighthawk task, will you consider an easel, please?!

Charlie and your narrative just delights me so much. I wonder how you find time to do so much and tend to so many projects.

Will you have prints for sale?

Can't wait for more.

Your painting is beautiful and the description "face-melting" certainly applies.

I always learn new ways to look at the world here! Most commercial buildings here in Massachusetts have flat roofs (rooves?) that now get covered with rubber. It never occurred to me that that change would be tough on a bird.

Your painting is beautiful, and I propose a toast with "cham-PAHN-yah"!

Life IS so much more fun with a camera. I find myself going back and browsing pictures, just to tease myself for coming warmer days.
This year is the year of the Nighthawk--(or, that's the plan)

My husband is learning how to do water color so I call him in to read your posts ... he is really enjoying them! Thanks for showing us your work in progress.

If I could paint like that, I would put my camera away. Such beautiful artistry in every stroke. Purposeful and poetic.

Julie, so so loving this! This painting is turning out amazing!

Cyberthrush--stranger things have happened. The article mentions the communal dungpile, which does give one to wonder if they picked up just enough alpaca lore here to write the spoof. Hmmmmm (long alpaca hum).
Thanks for the heads up!

I like Bay-breasted Warblers myself since I live so close to the boreal woods in my neck of Minnesota but another good ambassador would of been a Evening Grosbeak or a Boreal Owl(threaten in Minnesota )but by looking at your painting the owl would of been to big but the grosbeak would of looked cool.

Mike H.
Duluth Mn

I feel like I'm tuning into a favorite show each time I check your blog. American Idol has nothing on you girlie! Finishing my popcorn... ready for tomorrow's show! ;c)

I too saw that Onion headline and thought of your alpaca posts! Everyone reads your blog, Zick!

If I could paint (or even write my name neatly) I probably wouldn't have a camera--or an easel (seems weird to work vertically)--but for us artistically challenged folk, a camera will have to do.

It's been a pleasure watching this whole process play out. I can't wait to see the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher in all its beauty. Keep it coming!

I think this is my favorite part of your blog. I admire anyone who can work with watercolors and I love reading and seeing how you break your work down step by step.

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