Tag Archives: birds

Birds, flowers, and list-keepers.

list of the worlds birds coverOnce upon a time, in 1979 to be exact, there was a list-loving bird-watcher who kept an in-depth check list of which birds s/he spied, and where.  Thirty-five years later, I found this avid ornithophile’s documentation in a slim, orange, hard-bound list of the world’s bird species.  I love this kind of memory-keeping; it smacks of my Grandfather’s daily calendar jots—just the essentials.  I love that there is no key to the underlining, the red pen versus blue or black, the pencil check marks.  I love the location notations, the mysterious asterisks, the editing of the author’s list with question marks.  And equally fantastic is the 1979 tally right inside the front page.  Can we just agree that the bird world is broad and diverse?  Truth be told, I initially bought this book at the SFPL Big Book Sale with the full intention of dismantling it (in some beautiful, honorable way—I swear)!  But now, I cannot.  It’s a treat to browse, even in its crypticism.  Now, I’m so fresh to this whole World of Birds, so bear with me when I share this nugget: when I hopped onto Amazon to see if this book had value (outside of its sheer aesthetic and divertissement), I discovered there are modern versions of birder lists!  Hundreds of lists by state, by country and continent, and of course, a global list.

inside page lists

Back to my little watercolor birds of these United States…

Today I’m sharing Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Idaho.

FL mockingbird

Here is my second attempt (of five total) of the Mockingbird.  I can’t wait to compare all five at the conclusion of this project.  I watched some mockingbird videos so that I could learn to identify their calls.  The orange blossoms appear to have thick, luscious petals—is that true, orange tree-keepers?  I imagine they smell as heavily perfumed as the lemon blossoms, which are a little more common here in San Francisco.  And as I drew Florida—a state I’ve never visited—I was confounded by all the barrier islands protecting the peninsula on all fronts.  I’d never noticed that before, so you see, my geography is improving! (wink).

GA

brown thrasher

I was impressed by the variety of calls from the mockingbird, then I learned about the Brown Thrasher.  This bird boasts an average of one thousand songs.  Some have been documented with a three thousand song repertoire.  Nature is amazing.  The Cherokee Rose presented the usual white flower on white paper water coloring challenge.  But a little kernel of an idea is percolating in my brain about all these birds and flowers, and I think I’ll be glad that I can isolate the imagery down the road—maybe for pattern-making or collage art.

HI nene goose

Aloha.  Hawaii marks my eleventh bird and flower page, and this Nene Goose was asking for a little change in format.  I loved drawing this big bird, and her detailed eye and beak.  On a whim, I tried incorporating the lei with the Hawaiian Hibiscus, and I’m so happy I did.  I think it gives this bird even more personality.  And while I initially regretted where the islands landed, it does have the appearance of leaves blowing off the lei in a windward direction.

ID bluebird Here’s a Mountain Bluebird in mid-song!  My Idaho story starts five years ago, when I participated in a Brave Girls Club art retreat hosted by Melody Ross and Kathy Wilkins.  I relished a journey and an art-centric retreat.  But it was so much more than art.  The Brave Girls Club iconography features all different birds.  It’s completely fitting to have this Bluebird chirping the message that art saves us, and the act of creation is wholly therapeutic.

Right now, I’ve drawn and painted a female Cardinal that is a lovely bird in real life, but is sort of a fail on paper.  It will remain in the book and I’ll share it here soon, as I’m deciding whether to remake the page for Illinois or work on the bird.  I haven’t yet had an unsalvageable piece, but I’m okay with a do-over.

As always, I’m posting regular images of my progress on Instagram; follow along there if you like. Otherwise, I’ll be back soon with: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas & Kentucky—which means a few more Cardinals.

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Birds, flowers, and book-binding.

I started my U.S. State Bird & Flower project on a whim, and for a moment, it crossed my mind that perhaps I should begin the project in a fresh sketchbook.  My existing sketchbook was built for the Sketchbookery class I took with Mary Ann Moss over at Dispatch from LA.  It’s a great, serviceable sketchbook. The downfall is that I used a mix of paper for pages: watercolor paper and illustration paper.  Regular illustration paper is not equal to the watercolor task.  So when I first painted the bird and flower for Alabama, and saw the prospect of 49 more pages, I did a quick tally (I had only 5 watercolor spreads left) and starting the making of a new sketchbook with exclusively watercolor paper pages.  I like to use old book covers for my sketchbook covers, but with the imaginary deadline of finite pages, I ended up making a book from scratch.  I covered two pieces of thick book board with a remnant of book cloth, and stitch-bound the folios to the soft binding.

sketchBOOK

sketchBOOK innards

Then, for fun, I used metal stamps and hammered “sketchBOOK” into the sun-bleached cover.  I lined the inner covers with a bit of marbled paper that I had been hoarding.  It’s really simple, as far as covers go, but it is up and running, and that was my ultimate goal.  This new book measures slightly larger than my first.  My only regret was binding it with RED waxed linen thread.  It is very loud on a blank page.  Next week is SFPL’s Spring Book Sale over at Ft. Mason, so I’m hoping to find suitable covers for sketchbooks #3, #4, and maybe #5.

As you might recall, I’m working alphabetically through the states.  This week I’m sharing California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Delaware.

CA

Oh how I fretted over this quail; I really tried to do it justice.  California quails have an iridescent breast.  I used some silver watercolor paint mixed in with the grey, and it does catch the light.  His eye and beak were challenging, and his body even more so.  But success with the poppies!  This cluster is based on a group that popped up along our front walk.  I placed a sheet of white paper behind it and took several photos—but did not pick or cut it.  The map’s coastline: challenging.  It’s easy to get involved around the Bay Area, with which I am most familiar.  I lost a bit of perspective down around San Diego, and may have missed many little islands.

CO

I like how the Lark Bunting’s eye came out, but am unhappy with his beak.  It looks more duck-like than a real Lark Bunting beak.  I thought a nearly-black bird would be easy, but black paint loses dimension, and he looks rather flat as a result.  The Colorado Columbine is meant to be the purple and yellow variety.  And as I searched, I saw some gorgeous specimens in an array of shades.  I would have benefited from seeing how this flower grows as well.  The map: easy.

CT

My native state!  The American Robin’s eye is my favorite thus far.  The photo I used was very high resolution so I zoomed right in, and paid close attention.  It totally makes the bird so much more lifelike.  I should have done the same level of detail on his feet.  (Next chance for a robin: Wisconsin).  The mountain laurel brought back a flood of memories that any Northwest Corner kid will conjure.  The map: the coastline is a challenge, much like California.  And I may have elongated that thumb which includes Fairfield County.

DE

First, there are not enough photos of Blue Hen Chickens on the internet!  Delawareans, take note!  But I found a few good images and aimed to render the plumage properly.  I found many great peach blossom photos, and oh how I wish we had a pair in our yard (I love peaches).  I don’t know if they are as fragrant as the citrus blossoms, but they are lovely in color, and remind me of cherry blossoms, which bloom very early here in San Francisco. The map: I’m pretty sure that Delaware has a bit of a tilt, thought this version may be exaggerated.  The jagged edge follows the Delaware River, and I was interested to find it smoother than an ocean coastline.

bird books

Books: borrowed & beloved.  This is the book stack that is keeping me informed and inspired.

Thus far, I’m learning to look closely at bird eyes, and the tiny feathers that neighbor it.  I’m looking at how buds burst from a tree branch.  I’m paying attention to the shape of states, and what happens when their edges meet the sea.  I’m also delighting in the Latin names of the birds and flowers.  Mimus polyglottos, Gallus gallus, and Callipepla californica.  I do not speak nor read Latin, but I appreciate specificity, and being able to search for imagery using both common and Latin names.  Perhaps I’m getting way ahead of myself, but I love this project so much that I cannot wait to expand upon it. There is a WORLD of birds and flowers out there…

As always, I’m posting regular images of my progress on Instagram; follow along there if you like.  Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with: Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, and Idaho.

PS: I’m excited to tell you that I have an indoor hibiscus in bloom! Perfect timing for Hawaii.  And I noticed that a lilac is blooming at a nearby church; the Lilac is the state flower of New Hampshire which is a ways off in the line-up, but I plan to skip ahead and draw it since drawing from life is much more fun.

hibiscus

President Hibiscus. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘President’

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State Birds

Here in California, the fifth graders learn about U.S. States.  And back in December, our household was steeped in all things Massachusetts (my son’s state of choice).  Each kid in his grade chose a state, and presented a full oral report, plus written and illustrated work about their state.  The Massachusetts triptych was also presented to the family on Christmas night, and still sits in my living room.  I’m sure all 60 kids were fatigued of their state project work by the end of it, but we needed an auction project.

Auction projects are my wheel house.  At our school, each classroom cooperatively creates a unified piece of art to auction off at our spring fundraiser.  I genuinely love to help orchestrate these art pieces.  I’ve helped: kindergarteners construct fabric collages; first graders publish their favorite sing-a-long songs; second graders vote on favorite animals and color their facets; third graders cut and fold paper houses that clustered into a chandelier; and painted leaves with cursive adjectives; string art state, and anchor.

And this year, for fifth grade, I asked them to draw their state birds.  I was inspired by a piece of art by Chris Waind, and I cannot resist an ampersand.

bird ampersand

I collected all the student’s birds (drawn on the same paper stock with colored pencil), and I arranged them on a watercolored ampersand.  A friend and classmate bought the piece, so we can still visit it!

So, I have state birds on my mind…

And I was smitten with the state bird of Alabama, the Yellow Hammer or Northern Flicker.  None of the fifth graders had chosen Alabama.  (Sorry, Alabama!)  However, the anniversary of my grandfather’s death (who lived in Alabama for several years) was approaching, so I thought I’d draw the Yellow Hammer in tribute.  It wears polka dots and a bib—irresistible.

AL

So many things came together on this page: the text box for common & Latin names, the color palette across the top, the little shape of Alabama, and the journalling—exactly nothing specific about Alabama, per se, but all the thoughts and memories and delights that occurred to me as I made my way through this process.  Plus, my backyard camellia is in bloom, so I had a real-life floral model.  And as I drew, and painted, and wrote, it occurred to me that this would be a fun project.  I love to draw birds and flowers.  I love to draw maps. I like to write my own personal associations.  And I want to improve all these skills. So thanks to California fifth grade curriculum, a project is born.

AK

It is sheer coincidence that I started with Alabama, and when I realized I could simply carry along alphabetically, I happily did!

I made a seasonal error on the Alaska page since the flowers don’t bloom until mid-summer, and by then, the ptarmigan would likely be sporting full, deep brown camouflage.  But I am okay with this mistake!  I would never have even known about the camouflage had I not embarked on a bit of research.

AZ

When I started Arizona, the doubt crept in.  I’ve never been to half the US states, and only driven through Arizona—who am I to write anything about it!?  But, the Seguaro cactus bloom challenged and enchanted me.  I truly wanted to attempt it.  White flowers are tricky with watercolors, and demand either masking or fierce control.  (I have neither).  But shadowing helps, and I made rough attempts at it.

AR

Arkansas, another state that I’ve only seen from the highway, is one of five states to claim the Mockingbird.  Am I going to tire of drawing mockingbirds? Especially since the male and female look similar?  I like this first attempt even though I cheated.  I used ink for the white feathers, and a big bold brush marker to darken the space between the white ink.

Now that I’m underway, here’s a sense of my process:

1) research the state bird and flower, including Latin names (which always interest me), noting any interesting facts.  I also jot down any associations that I have with the bird, flower, or state.

2) find photographs of the birds and flowers.  I like at least five or six photos, especially of the bird in a variety of portraiture.  And anything that details the plumage.  I always work from photos, and am thankful for all the nature photographers who post their work on the internet.

3) sketch out the bird/floral arrangement.  Hand-draw the text box, and state abbreviation.

4) I usually outline with ink the bird and flower before I paint them.  I have been alternating between a light grey pen and a black pen.  I haven’t settled into a rhythm for this part yet.

5) find a map of the state, and free-hand draw it on the facing page.  No scale or anything, just paying attention to the general shape, and placing a star at the approximate capital.  (Alaska was WILDLY difficult to draw!!)  Then I use a pattern marking tool that was my grandmother’s to ink in journalling lines.  It’s faint, and fast.

6) watercolor!  I play with palette on scrap watercolor paper, and once I settle on a color, I dive in.  I try to work from lightest to dark, but the bird feathers do not make this easy.  Lately, it’s been very dry, which makes watercolor painting a step more challenging—it dries within a minute or two!

What’s next?  The California Quail and Poppy are in pencil form, and being that this is my home state, I want to get it right. I started a Pinterest board for collecting.  And I need to make another sketchbook to continue this project along since I’ll run out of pages before Delaware!  My intention is to post the photos here after every four or five states.  (The A’s are all done!)  I hope you’ll follow along.

CA in progress

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Fabric Sculpture.

Having grown up in the woods of Connecticut, bird stories in my family abound.  There was once a woodpecker that confused my grandparent’s aluminum siding with wood, and hammered away at it (loudly) every morning at dawn for weeks.  There was a saw whet owl that, one winter, perched in an evergreen outside my mother’s bathroom window, hooting for his mate.  We all hoped he’d return.  And my grandmother, lover of hummingbirds, did everything in her power to lull them into her yard.  She planted gladiolas and electric begonias.  She filled red feeders with nectar.  She carved out small spaces for them to hover and drink.

Glassenberg, Abigail Patner.The Artful Bird cover
The Artful Bird:
Feathered Friends to Make and Sew.
Illustrated. 159pp. Interweave Press, 2010, $24.99.
ISBN: 1596682388
ISBN 13: 978-1596682382
745.592-G464a

For years I’ve been meaning to try fabric sculpture, so I was thrilled to see that The Artful Bird featured a perched woodpecker, and an expressive owl.  I was hoping to find a hummingbird pattern as well, but as I fast discovered, sewing tiny pieces of fabric together isn’t easy, and sewing a hummingbird would require magnifying glasses and immeasurable patience.

Abby’s book covers the depth of materials, tools, and instructions needed to create the birds in her book, as well as any bird pattern that you wish to create yourself.  There are 40 bird projects and patterns, plus a gallery of guest artists, a stitch guide, and a resources section for finding specialty tools, stuffing, tapes, and wire.

Even though I have a queue of bird project possibilities, I spotted Abby’s penguin pattern and knew that it would be my first art bird.  I appreciate starting with the penguin for two main reasons: 1). The color palette was simple.  2). I know someone who loves and collects penguins, and I pour everything into a project when I know it has a recipient.  I went to my local crafter’s reuse facility, SCRAP, and dug around for black, white, grey, and yellow fabric.  For this project, I enjoy relying on the spontaneity of what might be found at SCRAP instead of purchasing new materials.

IMG_2629 copy

one of two aisles of fabric at SCRAP.

The pattern pieces for all the birds in the book aren’t large, so many small scraps will do, and—bonus—you needn’t worry about fabric grain because Abby promises that grain variety only adds to the individuality and character of each bird.

I washed and pressed all my chosen fabrics.  I traced the photocopy pattern onto freezer paper with a sheet of blue carbon paper in between; this wasn’t the best idea since the carbon tends to smudge a bit, and rubbed off onto the white fabric I had found.  I had a small hiccup when I realized one part of the bird needed to be enlarged–my own oversight.  I used Photoshop to enlarge to the proper proportion, and re-cut my piece.  This wasn’t difficult, but it would have been easier while I was standing at a copy machine.

Cutting, pinning, and sewing the body was straightforward, and I followed Abby’s directions throughout.  I referred back to the Basic Birdmaking Techniques, especially with the neck, where I struggled to get my seams smooth.

IMG_2681 copy

I thought I had selected thick white fabric for the penguin’s belly, but the inside edges are somewhat visible once the bird was fully stuffed.  Speaking of stuffing, next time I will certainly source Abby’s recommended wool stuffing.  I used the polyfill that you can find nearly everywhere, but it is slippery, hard to pack in, and its micro-threads popped through the fabric of the bird.  I have gone over it several times with a lint roller, and a pill remover with only passable results.  It’s also really easy to puncture through your stitches when stuffing the bird. I reinforced a couple spots along the way, and I did have to close a gap at the top of the head to smooth out a buckle.

DSC_4814 copy

The feet were my big challenge.  In my stubborn, use-what-I-have mentality, I made the whole bending-of-feet part very difficult on myself.  Abby’s instructions are clear, easy to follow, and make sense.  She recommends 16-gauge brass wire.  Well, I had 22-gauge silver wire, which was too light weight, and I had 12-gauge wire that is made for rewiring your “wireless” cable system, or something.  What can I say?  It was in the garage, and it was GO TIME for penguin feet!  Lesson learned.  Bending 12-gauge insulated wire with petite jewelry-making tools is like mixing chocolate chip cookie dough with a fork—doable, but irritating.  As a result, my bird has out of proportion ankles.  But nonetheless, they work!  The armature of the feet is genius: the feet are essentially a giant bobby-pin and the bend extends up into the bird’s neck area.  This design allows for great balance of the bird, and I suspect if I’d used Abby’s recommended stuffing, the bird would perch even more easily, due to solidly packed wool stuffing and the overall weight of the wool.

The only real divergence I made in this penguin was a bit of fun fabric on the inside of the wings.  I’ve had this Route 66 road sign fabric for a while, and it wasn’t until I cut it out that I spied the “I Love Lucy” ® heart that was scattered into the pattern. (“Lucy’s Hollywood at Last” by Quilting Treasures).  This penguin is headed to a new home soon, where she’ll be greeted by a host of smaller penguins that protect a stretch of woodwork in our Auntie’s home.  I’ve been promised that all penguins are welcome in Sacramento, and I’ll get to visit Lucy on occasion.

DSC_4820 copy

I think The Artful Bird is for an intermediate sewist who has experience with following patterns, a sewist who has patience for smaller pieces, a bird lover who can commit to a detailed craft, or anyone who wants the tools to craft their own favorite bird.  Trying one of Abby’s patterns will dramatically increase your confidence in making a fabric sculpture of any kind, especially one that requires an armature for support.  All that said, Abby’s chapter on Birdmaking Techniques is really superb, and will surely guide an intrepid beginning sewist through to bird completion.

DSC_4825 copy

Abby writes regularly at whileshenaps.com.  Every Wednesday she releases a podcast about crafting, sewing, and the business of a creative life.  My favorite is her chat with Ann Wood, who makes sculptural fabric owls and ships and other woodland curiosities.   Abby is very transparent about her craft business, which is refreshing and unbelievably helpful in these competitive waters.  And she is honest about the joy and pain of writing, creating, and publishing a book.

Thank you, Abby Glassenberg, for sharing the tools to help me create my own artful aviary, to encourage ignorance of fabric grain, and to be so willing to discuss the business of crafting in a intelligent, exciting, and transparent way.

 

PS: It’s midsummer, and I’m going to press pause on artcraftnarrative.com until my kids are back in school.  Please come back in August for my report from ALA Las Vegas (upcoming craft & creativity books!), more craft projects (grey denim owls!), and book reviews.

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Art & Craft Merger

Last week I was on a terrific bird hunt to make the Faux Taxidermy project from Blair Stocker’s Wisecraft.

IMG_2272

There were birds to be had on Etsy and Ebay, but I’m impatient sometimes, and the crafting cannot wait.  I went to my local Beverly’s, and happily birds were 30% off, which is great because I had big plans to dissect her.

fake bird

This is an example of the same brand/different bird on Amazon.  I might have actually bought and used this finch had it been in stock.  Instead, I bought a really weird looking canvas bird, and I am remiss for not photographing it for you.  But again, I am sometimes impatient when crafting.  The plan for this bird was to make a shadow box, featuring the bird, and a simple calligraphy label.  I love when crafty plans go awry.

Concurrently, I was reading and creating from Randel Plowman’s Collage Workbook.  I was making 5-minute collages and bird-themed collages and map-based collages.  While the collages were drying under a weighty American Heritage Dictionary, I dismantled the bird.  I also rummaged around for the sturdiest box to house my faux bird.  I have a collection of small, strong, hinge-lidded boxes from my Studio Calico Project Life® subscription*.  They are very good quality boxes that arrive monthly, and I knew that I would find a project for them at some point.

Happily, the bird fit into the box!  So I continued with my bird re-feathering, and since it had a metal clip instead of feet, I fashioned some legs and feet from a small piece of floral wire which—all of a sudden—magnetically stuck to the top of the box!  These strong magnets on either side easily hold a small bird upright.

bird foot meets magnet

And while I was delighted to have discovered that a bird could sit on top of the shadow box, I was foiled about what would go IN the box.  Another bird?  (I had several bird-making books on hold at the library, plus an old issue of Somerset Studios with a bird-maker interview).  And all the while, those collages dried flat under the dictionary behind me.  You know where this is going.

Back to the bird:

bird pattern making

After I had carefully taken all the canvas off the foam core, I laid each piece down and traced out the pattern.  Her tail was sort of over the top for her size, so I didn’t build that into her remake.  I kept the same beak, eyes, and wing shape, but simplified the tail, and added some vintage feather bits to her wings.  I cut new pieces of fabric from a vintage linen remnant, and glued them all back together onto the foam core.  I bent two small feet from floral wire, and left them green—she’s already a fabric bird, no need to force the faux issue.

Then I sanded the box.  It had a smooth surface, and the paint wouldn’t stick without deglossing; in hindsight, I probably should have primed it too.  But, as it was in the middle of dinner preparations, and I was throwing together pasta and sautéing vegetables in the kitchen while painting a second coat on my bird-box in the garage.  A juggling act.  Forget priming.  I used a small tester pot from Benjamin Moore called Deep in Thought.  (I have many of these tester pots, and I vow to find other small paint projects to use them up!)

Once the bird and box were fully dried, I set them on my desk, and thought maybe a bird poem would go inside—Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers?”  Lyrics from a song— Jolie Holland’s “The Littlest Bird?”

bird complete

I think this is the point that I pulled out the collages, some of which were portrait in orientation, and wouldn’t fit. But were four horizontal, and fit nicely.  And that made for one happy maker.  A tilt on Blair Stocker’s lovely bird shadow-box-turned-evolving-display for collages!  And that, good people of the internet, is how I got sidetracked from Blair’s project idea, but I don’t think she’ll mind.  I still love Blair’s bird boxes, and will likely make a set as soon as I have the right birds.

The box is light-weight, and I plan to affix it to the wall with a piece of Command Strip, though I haven’t decided where to hang it.  I think a series is in order.

bird and collage

 

*Project Life® is a system of memory-keeping designed by Becky Higgins meant to stream-line photos and scrapbooking.  Studio Calico is a design company who builds fun papery kits in addition to Becky’s line.  I happen to love these monthly small boxes of supplies, and use the contents for all sorts of crafting.  I also maintain a Family Book—my own version of Project Life, and perhaps I’ll share my process for that project here.

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