Saturday, May 8, 2010

Barnacle Goose

Stately bird on a pink background. I'm not sure if the roundness of his body translated with the ink. But I like the openness of the background.

I am pondering if I should roll out another length of rag paper and abuse it with watercolors to make backgrounds for more birds... BUT I have all this nice white cardstock that I rescued from the recycling bins at work (with the rebranding, we are changing all our paperstock, and huge boxes were up for being tossed. A bunch of us artist types grabbed the nice invites and divvied them up). So I really don't need more paper!

Belted Kingfisher

Dive-bombing bird. I am pleased with the stripey pattern on the tail section, and the overall outline is nice, too. I am less sure about how it fit into this odd paper/background image choice. I was trying to use some of the more complicated chunks of torn paper... squares with big printed images on them are tough. Do you acknowledge the image and tie it in, treat it like a background element, or do you try incorporating it into the body of the bird, thereby partially hiding it from view? I have tried all three, with mixed success. I'm not sure about this one.

Toco Toucan Chicks

This drawing is a bit of an experiment. It's the first time this year that I drew unfeathered chicks (rather than a juvenile or adult). It's also the first time that I drew more than one bird in a composition.  It seems like I've been drawing "portraits" of individual birds.

I was drawn to this image because the chicks form such a nice little celtic knot of naked bird-y pinkness. I love the way their necks are intertwined over one another in their sleep. Also, the outline is an almost perfect triangle (which, according to my art history learning, is the most stable of all compositions).

It also tickles me that these guys are toco toucans, the same bird as that obnoxious Toucan Sam in all the Froot Loops commercials. And yes, it is spelled "froot," lest anyone get the notion that there is actual FRUIT contained in those tiny sugar bombs. So I'm very happy that these toco toucans look absolutely nothing like the Kellogs spokesbird. yay.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Juvenile Ruby Throated Hummingbird

So, I was saying that color scares me. And this is the perfect example. I chose to draw a hummingbird - a RUBY-THROATED, no less. And what do I do? I chose a close up of a juvenile's head. A juvenile who is too young to have developed that famous ruby throat. He is still a hum drum grey, with only a few tiny flashes of yellow-green to show off. But oh, those tiny flashes took me forever! I agonized on how to get that shiny shiny glow of those eight little feathers. Unfortunately, the scan doesn't quite capture how successful this effort turned out. You'll just have to come visit me (or my show, if these ever get shown anywhere?)

One thing that tickles me about this drawing: I did such a super close up on the hummingbird, that the drawing of just his head is far larger than the actual bird! I see these in my front yard all the time, and they are so tiny and quick. Zooom!

Clay Colored Robin

When I saw the words "clay-colored" I was expecting a very plain bird. And mostly, it is rather plain looking by all accounts. But even with a plain coat, I was entranced by that copper-colored eye. And the more I looked, the more color I found: green and orange flashes in the bill.

Color is dangerous for me, because I don't really understand it. My crap art school education at UC Berkeley taught me nothing of color theory, and I've worn only black for nearly two of my three decades. Color is scary. But the more I look for it, the more I find it in these wonderful little birds.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Black-Breasted Puffbird

I drew another Puffbird in February. This one is in the same family. I was drawn to this photo because of the perspective, which is different from the other photos I've been using. Also, this is probably a more realistic angle to see any of these birds!

Groove Billed Ani

The groove billed ani is a member of the cuckoo family. Cuckoos are distinct because they have two toes that point forward and two that point back (unlike the more common bird foot, three forward and one back.)

I didn't know it was a type of cuckoo when I drew it. But I thought that big hooked bill made it look kind of menacing, like a raven or other scavenger. So I picked this background to go with that mood. Ominous.

Common Shelduck

Neat bright red bills on the shelduck. I had fun with this one, using my watercolor pencils. I don't usually use the watercolor-ness of them to the full advantage, but it seems to work really well when doing both the shiny beak texture and a mass of evenly smooth feathers.

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

He looks sleepy. He also looks fake. But I swear to you that this is what this bird looks like. They are kind of weird and plasticy and bizarrely textured. I wonder what they would feel like...

Crowned Eagle


I didn't spend as much time on the details with this one. I was more interested in capturing his energy and the strong emotions I read in his face. I could just be anthropomorphizing. But I like how urgently he appears to be yelling.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

White-tailed Tropicbird

I like the tails on these birds. They have a few long feathers that extend down the middle of the tail. For a black and white bird, it's quite a nice touch of flair.

I once made the point of mentioning that I am lazy at backgrounds. Here is a perfect example. In the photo, this bird has his butt nestled against a pile of rocks. So it makes sense that both his tail and his shadow climb the rock face. However, I hate drawing rocks. So I just left them out. And both tail and shadow hover in a bizarre white world. Oh well. At least now you know why the shadow does that weird thing.

Blue-crowned Motmot

This bird has a beautifully colored head. But I should really do a full figure drawing of this one. Check out its neat tail on wikipedia.

I recently visited the library and checked out the gigantic book Birds of the World by Lee Beletsky. Most of the huge encyclopedic books with full color pictures are secured in the reference section, so I can't take them home and draw birds from them. Sad. But Birds of the World was amazingly available. It's full of full color illustrations. While I'm not about to draw a copy of another artist's drawing, I am getting lots of great ideas for birds to look up on-line.

And I have renewed respect for natural science illustrators. Who knew that there were so many different types of albatrosses? And each one has only the tiniest difference. It's amazing the details these artists and scientists can observe and classify.

Eurasian Dotterel

This doe-eyed little guy is nature's sucker. He has no natural fear of humans. Trusting and even tempered, the dotterel has a reputation for naivete to the point of absolute stupidity. Poor thing.

Parasitic Jaeger

The photo for this drawing came from the "Wildlife Fact File." I am tickled by the description of this bird as "a bold pirate that harasses other birds in breathtaking aerial chases." He gets his name because he steals almost all of his food. He forces other birds to drop their prey, which he then catches midair. He doesn't do any of his own hunting. yar.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Burrowing Owl

This has to be one of the cutest owls on the planet. They are little and round like fat toads. And they live in the ground, in the abandoned holes of other burrowing creatures.

Seasonally, burrowing owls make their homes in the Bay Area. They are a protected species, so when they come to the Berkeley marina, the groundspeople put up fences to keep visitors from disturbing them. I've never seen one in person, because they are very shy. But I'd like to see them. Aren't they cute?

Vermilion Flycatcher

Shiny little feathers on a bright little bird.

I haven't done many birds in color. But I really like this one.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Great White Egret

Egrets are one of my favorite birds. Their too-long necks and legs make them simultaneously graceful and awkward.

I mean, look at that neck, coiled like a snake - it's ridiculous. It reminds me of that moment in Alice in Wonderland where Alice eats a bit of mushroom, and, instead of growing all at once (like she did with the bottle), only her neck grows. Long and snakey, she winds up with her head in the trees scaring a family of birds.

That's two Alice in Wonderland posts in a row. I sense a thread.

Common Eider

I give you the Common Eider duck, from which we get eider down, the softest, most highly-praised feather-bed and pillow-making material in the world. 

In my early years, our family had an Apple IIC (with the glowing green screen and 4-inch floppy disks...), on which we played the Alice in Wonderland Adventure Game. I loved that game. It was the only game I played from start to finish multiple times. And in those early years, we played computer games as a family, taking turns operating the controls. The game included this riddle:

How do you get down off a train? You don't. You get down off a ----.

For the longest time, we got stuck at this stupid riddle. We tried every family friendly four letter word we could think of... until, in frustration, we put in "fuck." Almost instantly, we realized that the correct answer was only one letter off.

You don't get down off a train. You get down off a duck.

Greylag Goose

The weekend of February 19th, Rick and I drove down to LA to visit his Grandma Polly. She was very weak from a series of infections, and we wanted to give her our love. Luckily, by the time we got there, she was feeling well enough to be her fiesty old self again. So we were relieved.

I drew this bird at Mom and Mark's house. Mom (Laura) tried her hand with my marker set, too. She drew a carrion crow that I wish I had scanned before she threw it away. That lady has natural talent, and I'd love to see more out of her.

Grandma Polly, like my Grandma Claire, is a landscape painter. Talented parentage all around.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Drawing Exchange

OK, so I have a story to tell.
When I was in 6th grade, I had a really really good friend named Rebecca. We bonded over a love of all things crafty and girly - especially a share obsession with unicorns. For Christmas, we decided to exchange gifts. And to make it extra special, we would make each other gifts. We were both crafty, right? Clearly, these gifts would be awesome.

I poured my little heart into this gift. I made her a ten inch tall stuffed unicorn with a spiraled horn. The hair was silky rainbow yarn (remembering not only the mane and tail, but oh yes, those little tufts behind each hoof). I embroidered on eyes and nostrils and horsey smile. I even made fully articulated joints for the top of each leg, to recreate full galloping action.... And in exchange? She gave me a legless ball of colored cloth with a sharpie drawn-on face, unfinished arms, and a dress made of the exact same flowered print as the doll's face. I was so sad to give up my unicorn to her, but way too nice to complain.

Cut to February, 2010. I am talking to a co-worker about my bird-a-day project, when another co-worker guy interrupts to demand I give him one of my drawings. Um... why exactly do you deserve a drawing - for free?

I put my foot down. I am absolutely NOT giving him a bird from my bird-a-day project. I have lofty dreams of getting them shown together in a gallery or made into a book or... you know, SOLD to people, for actual money.

This guy pleads with me. He wants to do an exchange, "C'mon a quick drawing, drawing for a drawing, a one-minute bird." First of all, my birds usually take anywhere from 20 minutes to ONE HOUR, so no, you're not getting any of those. But I hate whining, and I am too god-damned nice to say "You don't deserve one" to his face.

Plus, there's something you need to know about this guy: he is so infectuously upbeat, so brimming with positive energy that it is impossible for me to say "no" to him without feeling like a complete asshole. I know, this is my problem, not his... But I cave anyways, and feel the first traces of bitterness seep in: I will draw a three minute bird, in exchange for one of his drawings...

Here are the results. My three minute Great Indian Hornbill...

For his drawing:

Ok, I know that I am to blame for my own bitterness here. I should have said "no" up front. I should have made it clear that my birds were too precious to me. And yet, I feel pretty justified in feeling cheated in this exchange.

Yes, that is an envelope: torn, stapled, taped back together and then scribbled on with pen and marker. The final clincher? When I came to do the exchange, he said, "Oh, I uh, just have to get it out of my bag... I'll come get you at your desk." I am guessing after all that earnest cajoling he completely forgot.

Um, thanks?

For Christmas, this same guy gave me a hand-drawn card with Santa stuck in a chimney. It was cute, and funny, and obviously took time and forethought. And I love it. I treasure it. It's going to make me a mint when he becomes a famous artist (or children's book illustrator) one day. Why couldn't the drawing exchange item be of the same caliber? And why was I too chicken shit to mention it to him? sigh.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Black Woodpecker

Black woodpecker on a pink tree. hrm.

I must confess, I suck at backgrounds. It's not that I can't do them. I just don't. I lose interest. I don't care. It can't hold my attention once the star is in place. Using old drawings as a base for this project solves that problem for the most part. But when you're drawing a bird on a tree, it is really hard to get around that whole "tree" thing. I just gave up and let it be pink.

oh well. He's a bird in a land made of candy. mmmm.... candy....

Black-necked Aracari

This is a type of toucan with a black and white beak.

I didn't want to draw the side view of the toco toucan because that bird is so well known - I mean, the toco is the Fruit Loops bird. It is a bizarre looking bird, and it would be hard to draw without reverting to just drawing a cartoon (and singing the stupid jingle. Yes, TV has me that well trained. Argh). That's why I chose this toucan relative instead. I have no preconceived notions about Aracaris.

And I like the inquisitive look on this guy's face.

Raggiana Bird of Paradise

There are 43 different types of birds in the "Bird of Paradise" family. They are all crazy colorful and most have funny decorative feathers. I am so coming back to these birds later in the year.

Also, I really like the white highlights on this one.


Of the birds I have done so far, this one is the most like a classic naturalist illustration or bird guide. In some ways that's good, and in some ways that's bad.

I think it comes down to that distinction between pure art and purposeful art. Scientific art is purposeful. It becomes illustrative because it's trying to teach someone something. Therefore, it loses the honor of being "art for art's sake." In many circles, purposeful art is a thing to be disdained. I disagree.

I make these birds so that I can learn about them. I'm not trying to be the next Audobon. I'm just selfishly learning everything I can about bird structure. So that's my excuse. 

Double-wattled Cassowary

Pretty much anything with a wattle is going to be fun to draw, and this guy did not disappoint. He has bumps on the side of his head, wrinkly blue skin, a lumpy red throat, and a big ol' casque on his crown. So many fun lines to draw.

I worry sometimes that the scale of these drawings is forcing me to edit or condense detail to fit within a 5x6 in box. But I can't imagine putting up 365 pages of letter-sized paper on my walls - I'd run out of room in one month.

Black- Legged Kittiwake


This guy is having an argument with his friends. I like the little bump of the far eye, the one we can't see. Sometimes the tiniest part of a picture makes me so happy.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oh the shame...

I missed a day. Three months into the bird-a-day project and I missed a day.

It's my own damned fault. I spent all of yesterday with my new obsession: knitting. And somewhere at the end of the day, while getting ready for a party, I realized that nowhere in that time did I draw a bird.

AND I have been so stressed at work that I partied hearty. I drank three yummy lemon things in a row, and then danced like crazy. I came home well past midnight and passed out. This morning I woke up, woozy, at 9 a.m. with the private shame of knowing that I let a day go by without making time for my art project.

Now I am drawing two birds. Which is technically cheating. BUT to mark this mistake, I will draw the same bird twice - a head portrait and a full body image. so at the very least, it will be a purposeful adjustment to the mistake.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Common Swift

Success! Ever since the Canary, I have been hoping to duplicate my success with the Puffbird. This bird provided the perfect opportunity: black, even feathers tipped with a fringe of white, and a sharp profile.

Swifts are somewhat similar to swallows, it seems, in their ability to hang out in narrow house eaves and little cracks in cliff walls.

Crested Tinamou

I had fun making the texture of his feathers.

The one weird thing about working with charcoal: it kicks up dust everywhere. After doing this bird, I blew my nose and it was a very wrong color mixture of the black, brown and white charcoal I used in this drawing. I know, really sexy, right?


Ugh. I'm so ashamed of this bird. He is hurried and deflated and nowhere near as refined and elegant as the model. He should look more like an aristocrat looking down his long nose at us peasant viewers.

The ruff is a strange bird. Apparently, the male birds start growing extra large head and neck feathers right around mating time. And the ruff can vary greatly in color and shape, so no two birds look the same. After the spring is over, and baby birds are everywhere, the male ruffs lose their namesake ruffs, and they look just as plain and boring as the females.

Black Headed Gull

I think the guys who named this bird needed a color wheel. These birds mostly do not have black heads. They mostly have brown or even reddish heads. But apparently, the name stuck, despite being totally inaccurate. Science. Go figure.

California Sage Grouse

This is one of my new favorite weird birds. And it's a California native! (Yes, CA is the home of the freaks - and proud of it!)

I was inspired to draw this bird from a visit to the Natural Sciences Gallery at my very own Oakland Museum of California. They were trying out new video displays to accompany some static dioramas. The video of the sage grouse's mating ritual in action is not to be missed. They have two featherless air sacs which they inflate like giant moobs (man boobs). The inflating process makes little popping noises, and while they're working up to inflating, the dudes make little whooping noises (technically frequency modulated intonations.) The whole thing looks just so bizarre, but apparently, the lady grouses love it.

I chose a male grouse in full inflated moob mode. But they look pretty silly at every point in the dance.


I had so much fun using the brush tipped markers on this bird. Ostriches have the most bizarre faces. With those huge eyes and tiny hair-like feathers sticking out everywhere, they manage to be moth awkward yet beautiful at the same time.

I visited my grandparents in Kansas two years ago, and one day I just needed to stretch my legs, so I took a walk down to the main street. I found a junk shop, and in addition to some vintage 80s era knock-off Strawberry Shortcake dolls (wish I had gotten those, too!) I found two ostrich eggs. I thought it was so random and funny that I bought one. And the whole plane ride home, I was nervous that it would get crushed, even though I had it in my carry-on. I shouldn't have worried. Apparently, ostrich eggs are fairly hardy, for eggs.

I have it on display in my curiosity cabinet, next to some porcupine quills and a fairy I sculpted out of clay in 1998.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Weird looking bird, little v-shaped crowns, bright red bodies and striped wings. On any other type of creature (insect, amphibian, or plant) such bold colors would say "Eating me will make you sick, for I am poison." But I don't think it works like that for birds. For birds, it says, "Hey, ladies..."

Northern Mockingbird

So here's a question: If mockingbirds imitate other bird calls... then what do their own calls sound like? Or do they just not have a language of their own?

Good wings, but the tail is hard to see. He looks more like a ghost of a bird.

Snowy Owl

I'm proud of this little guy. Like the snowy egret, I created this bird by using white chalk on a black charcoal background. But I'm more proud of his eyes than his feathers.

Isn't he charming?

Owls always make me think of the "give a hoot, don't pollute" slogan. But this guy has a far more inquisitive look on his face. He might be saying something like, "Were you going to eat that mouse?"

California Condor

What a beautiful hideous bird. Who knew that such lovely colors as purple, red and orange could look so ugly if you just paint them next to each other and throw in lots of skin wrinkles?

The California Condor is an amazing bird, with a six foot wing span. Endangered for many years, this species is one of our state's conservation success stories. Thanks to hard work of scientists and naturalists across the state, the condors numbers are up. Yay, more ugly birds to eat carcasses!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

White Stork

"Oh father stork, father stork, fly to your nest;
Three featherless fledglings await your return.
The first of your chicks shall be stuck through the breast,
The second shall hang, and the third shall burn."
-Hans Christian Anderson

I was raised on Hans Christian Anderson because I'm of Danish heritage. And to this day, I contend that the Little Mermaid dies and turns into foam. FOAM, I say. 

Not that that has anything to do with storks.

Eurasian Nutcracker

I am particularly pleased with this one. The angle of his head, the composition... He's one of the few birds that's not in profile.

California Tern

He says "This is my rock! Get away!" In the full picture, there were three other terns surrounding this guy. I can only imagine what they were saying.

Black Necked Stilt

A little wading bird with the eyes of a Japanese cartoon. Also, a California native.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


California version of the Great Cormorant. Dignified birds with black, black feathers.

Common Tern

The curving wing, the moving feathers. Joy.

Sandhill Crane

This is my least favorite bird. I am not happy with his butt region. Apparently, you can't rush butt feathers.

I might like to surgically remove his head and put it on a cuter butt. I think that might be dishonest, though.

Crested Caracara

Watercolor over scans of bird wing bones. I have heard rumors that white is technically a "cheat" in the world of watercolors. Oh well. Cheating sure makes a pretty bird.

Great White Egret

White chalk on black/grey background. High drama. Little bird posed like a flasher. Floating towards you like a ghost.

I <3 this bird.

Great Cormorant

Pen and ink. His perch is a xerox of the bones of a human hand.

The original drawing (that I tore up to make these drawings) contained scans of the human hand, bird wings, and bat wings. At the time, I was fascinated by anatomy and the sheer brilliance of evolution and all its permutations.

Cattle Egret

I like that I found a bird to match this background so well. He's an odd shaped bird.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Love this creature. So funny looking he belongs in a Dr. Suess book. I especially like the details I was able to get in the bill itself. My life goal might be to see this bird in real life. Eurasian zoos, here I come.


I tried to duplicate my technique with the Puffbird here. Although I think the tail worked out, I got lost somewhere in the shoulder area. The Puffbird can kick the Canary's ass anyday.