“Birds have wings; they’re free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy.” – Roger Tory Peterson
I must be one of those people to whom the famed naturalist was alluding. I find that things with wings, especially bird wings, have a special attraction. Real birds fascinate me. How they have evolved, the way they communicate, their behavior. And of course, how they move. This attraction extends to other winged creatures as well – angels, putti, mythological characters. Anything with wings on it seems imbued with magic.
Have you watched the Portlandia “Put A Bird On It” skit? Now, I enjoy the humor in that show as only a true urban Northwesterner can, but since that episode aired, I can no longer indulge my bird love without a twinge of shame. Damn them. Don’t they understand that we just envy birds’ mobility?
So bear with me while I bare my feathered soul.
There is something about birds that I find comfort in. I don’t collect birds like a philatelist collects stamps. Rather, such items accumulate around me like pigeons around a cafe. They inspire me. Why shouldn’t I want bird imagery on things I have around me in my nest, so to speak?
Such as outside my window, on a metalwork piece by artist Deborah Mersky.
Or on the walls of my home, as in one of my favorite paintings by Joe Max Emminger, “Bird Moon.”
And on jewelry.
I also have amassed a large number of bird related postcards.
Along with this page from a Mary Poppins “Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot” coloring book by J. LaGrotta and E. Eringer for Disney Inc.
Of course, the works some of my favorite children’s book illustrators have wings too.
Wood engraving is a beautiful medium for portraying the delicacy of feathers. These are some of my favorite prints in that medium.
This is a wood engraving of the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace by an uncredited illustrator, used as an advertisement for air power. It came from the now defunct scrap file at the Central branch of the Seattle Public Library.
There are wings of inspiration in all sorts of places. I took this photo of some old airline signage from the Boeing Museum of Flight.
I went to Paris recently. Paris has wings everywhere you look.
So by now it shouldn’t surprise anyone that bird imagery shows up often in my work.
It helps to have some good reference materials. I have accumulated a number of bird books, but there are a few that I use often. Birds In Flight, by Carrol L. Henderson, has excellent photos of birds on the wing. Any bird book by Roger Tory Peterson will be good. The World of Birds, by Peterson and James Fisher has good structural information, such as this page on the anatomy of the wing.
The “How To Draw” series from the 40s includes a handy instruction book on drawing and painting birds.
Hunt makes it look so easy.
Audubon’s illustrations are fun to peruse. His birds are placed in the most awkward positions, yet they are graceful in their own torqued way. I guess this is what you get when you are drawing from death, rather than life.
Birds and wings and feathered things. They tell a story of flight, of soaring, and of freedom. May they inspire you to make great art. Or at least put a bird on something.