Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Count on me to exhaust every possible "bird" pun over the next few weeks. 

Or months.

Because I've taken on a spectacular and challenging commission: to create a series of 15 oil paintings, each 24" x 36," and each depicting a bird native to Jamaica. 

I've never even drawn a bird before, let alone made a 2 foot by 3 foot painting of a bird. Or, um, 15 birds.

And my fresh, stretched canvases arrived this week -- 

so I must get started. Pronto.

I was given a list of 15 birds and began to search online for references.  

I have to confess, I'm no birder. That is either a gene that skipped my generation OR is one that is simply lying dormant until I reach a Certain Age, whereupon I will suddenly find all things ornithological completely captivating. And that has not happened yet.

But I digress.

So my bird reference search continued. I won't be painting a copy of someone's photograph but I needed to know what all of these birds look like -- their size, coloring, posture. I've downloaded dozens of images and printed out those that would be helpful to catch a pose, or color samples or even an environment in which to place each bird.

Infinite possibilities.

The must frustrating thing I've learned along the way, albeit not the most surprising, is that the name Jamaicans have given to a local bird is not necessarily the same name that the rest of the planet has adopted. 

Surprise, surprise.

But to be fair, the Jamaican nomenclature typically outshines all other options. To wit:

In Jamaica:  Cling Cling       Elsewhere: Greater Antillean Grackle

In Jamaica:  John Chewit      Elsewhere: Black-whiskered vireo  

The local flayvah has more flayvah.

And who knew that an Aunty Katy and a BananaQuit are one in the same? But of course!

So I decided to jump in with a familiar friend, the Parrot. Just about everybody calls a parrot a parrot.  I grabbed a pose from one photo and incorporated the thatchy-palm leaves from another to work up a sketch on paper. I drew a grid on my pad so I could scale my sketch up to the canvas.

Here's the light grid, in the same scale, drawn on the blank canvas:

This made it so much easier to re-draw my sketch on the canvas:

Now, the hard part -- painting these birdies. Time to crank up the music in the studio and get them flying...................


dinahmow said...

Oh! The pitfalls of common names (also in horticulture)!
At least the Latin is universal.
I'm off to London on Saturday-expect a postcard!

Anonymous said...

I love birds!!Can't wait to see them.

Marie Marfia said...

Congratulations on your commission. Happy birding!