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!