Tag Archives: state 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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