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Bird Art

When painting birds, my aim is to combine my knowledge of birds, and my fondness for them, with poetic and painterly concerns. The results range from serious to whimsical, with quite a bit of stylistic variation.

As the following examples show, birds inspire me more toward play than consistency. Each piece reflects a unique combination of mood, material, interest and intention.


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Blackburnian Warbler

oil on canvas, 6" x 6"

Geese on Deep Pond is a tiny painting. It was done on a black panel, and the geese were scratched in with a fork. I find it easier to work unselfconsciously and with immediacy when painting on a small scale.
Geese on Deep Pond
oil on panel, 3 " x 6"

This bluebird study was done on a gray panel.

oil on panel, 4" x 5"
Meeting a mixed flock of woodpeckers and nuthatches in a snowy wood can't help but raise one's spirits. This pen sketch was made after one such encounter and then colored in Photoshop.
Woodpecker Suite
ink doodle with digital coloring, 3" x 15"
This vermillion flycatcher canvas is one of the more carefully developed bird paintings I've done. It involved three or four layers, glazing media, and a cold wax finish.
Vermillion Flycatcher
oil on canvas, 6" x 6"
These watercolors of 12 well-known British Birds emerged spontaneously a few summers ago when I realized my wife didn't have a field guide for her upcoming trip to Scotland.
British Birds
watercolour, three 4" x 11" panels
Catbirds are among my favorite birds. Their cautious yet friendly behavior and simple coloring make them very agreeable subjects, too. I made this painting after several days of sketching catbirds in a nearby park. While working on it, I thought I was simplifying shapes and color areas for aesthetic reasons, but in the end the simplification made it easier to see the arrangement of birds as a metaphor for a certian kind of human relationship dynamic. Or maybe it's just a fun little painting!
Catbird Couple
oil on canvas, 10" x 8"
Many years ago, while doodling, I drew a large letter "F" and then a flycatcher perched on the top of it. This sparked the idea that I should come up with a North American bird for every letter of the alphabet and make a little illustrated rhyme for each one. I dropped everything and became deeply absorbed in the project for 4 or 5 days -- some of the most enjoyable days of my life, actually. I had thoughts of turning it into a children's book. The results were more quirky than brilliant, though, so it never got beyond a rough draft.

Here is the entry for the letter "O."
O is for Oriole (from A Bird Alphabet)
colored pencil and ink, 6" x 6"
The hooded warbler and the blackburnian warbler at the top of this page were both inspired by the May migration, which is the one time of year birdwatching threatens to derail my life. Last May I had to promise myself to paint a warbler for every day I skipped out of the studio to go looking for birds.

Hooded Warbler
oil on canvas, 8" x 10"
Whenever I'm in Memphis, I spend a lot of time walking by the Mississippi, looking at the water, the trees, the far shore and the sky. In such a setting it's easy to get absorbed in simple things. I'm not usually birdwatching, but without birds to animate the scene I doubt I would find the riverside walks anywhere near as enjoyable as I do.

This very loose rendition of a tree by the river includes the suggestion of two robins on the grass and a flock of grackles.

oil on panel, 9" x 12"

Another catbird scene, this one in a setting that verges on abstraction.
Catbirds in the Tangle
oil on panel, 9" x 12"


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