30 July 2008

New Fuertes exhibit at the Field Museum

The Painted Bird: Louis Agassiz Fuertes is an exciting new exhibit opening at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in a few weeks. It runs from 12 September 2008—Sunday, 4 January 2009. Several of the pieces on display are the renowned Abyssinia paintings, arguably some of the best works he ever painted and certainly notable in that they were his last. These works were completed during the 1926 Field Museum expedition to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). Fuertes died tragically just three months after the expeditions culmination.

17 July 2008

Art Show

After a long hiatus and a ton of work that I will soon hopefully post about, my Lab of Ornithology show opens this afternoon. If you're in the vicinity of Ithaca NY, please stop on by the Fuertes room at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology today, 17 July 2008, 5:30-7:30pm. Thanks to Charles Eldermire for the great announcement with my singing Red-eyed Vireo.

06 April 2008

Fuertes Canvasbacks

A quick update on a Fuertes original which sold at auction at Skinner galleries in Boston a few weeks ago. This large Canvasback piece sold for $10,300.

28 January 2008

Fuertes - Red-headed Woodpecker

I stopped by the Joel Oppenheimer gallery in the Wrigley building on a visit to Chicago over Christmas. This gallery is a must see for anyone interested historical natural history art, especially the work of John James Audubon. There are many Havell edition Audubon originals on the walls in addition to the work of many other esteemed bird artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. When I visit every year it is my custom to stroll the galleries, giving the Audubon Havell's there fair attention, after all it is a real rarity to see so many, and so many of the most sought after prints on dispaly in a single gallery. After this circuit I am inclined to beeline for the small gallery at the center of the tiny library corridor. Here in a secluded space, hidden from the eye of most visitors is the collection I am most intrigued by, a selection of originals by the likes of Jaques, Sutton and often a Fuertes or two. This year, the apple of my eye was a new Fuertes original on the east wall, a classic portrait of a Red-headed Woodpecker. The gallery staff was kind enough to send me a photo of the piece (which like all of the originals here are for sale, the Fuertes for a cool $17,000). The next time you are in Chicago don't miss a chance to visit this gallery and check for some new gems on the library walls.

Fuertes original - Auction complete

A final update of the Kingfisher and Grey Heron Fuertes auction on eBay. The final selling price of $6000 surprises me, mostly because of the lack of any provenance information in the auction posting. I imagine the buyer, and competing bidders were aware of some background information about the piece which led them to bid so high with confidence. I will continue to poke around in the Fuertes resources here at Cornell to try and unearth some more details about this, and some of the other paintings of European birds I have seen attributed to Fuertes .

25 January 2008

Zickefoose - How to build a watercolor

One of the first things which excited me about Julie Zickefoose's blog were her occasional posts chronicling a work in progress. Now and again she takes her readers all the way through her daily painting activities and details a piece from start to finish. Birding magazine picked up on this a few issues back when Julie was asked to provide a cover painting. On the ABA website I found this very nicely laid out expose entitled 'About the cover painting'. Keep an eye out on the Birding Magazine archives in the future for further incarnations of this great column.

Fuertes original - Update

UPDATE: With 2 days to go in the auction, there are four bids bringing the current price up to $409. I have been searching in vain over the past few days for a reproduction of another painting by Fuertes sold at a very reputable gallery a few years ago. It was a painting of Great Tit's, also from England and very similar in style to this Kingfisher. I had hoped to compare the style and signature but I have unfortunately not been able to locate it.
Ahah...I have found it, unfortunately a very poor resolution version. Have a look.

22 January 2008

Fuertes - Purported original on eBay

A scan through the eBay offerings this morning yielded a listing for an advertised Fuertes original. I am not at all convinced that this painting is the real thing. As with a few others from the past there are many elements that just aren't quite right. The overall style, brush work and even subject matter are aberrent and the signature appears to be a crude facsimilie of the cursive signature line used for the bulk of his painting career. The painting depicts two European species, the Common Kingfisher and the Grey Heron. Take a look at these images and the auction on eBay and please feel free to register your own opinions in the comments section.

12 January 2008

Upcoming show

I am working on material for a show in a few months at the Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca. Here is an announcement from the Lab of O calender of upcoming events. I thought this might be a good time to get back to this blog which hasn't had any life for the last several months. Keep posted about new work from my drawing board and try to make the show in Ithaca in July if you can. Take a look at the new Cornell Lab of Ornithology Education page with a highlight on the Auditorium Gallery to see the whole public announcement for my show.

10 September 2007

Fitz's Wood-Wren

A very qick post with a new painting pulled from the archives of the Auk on
SORA, the Searchable Ornithological Research Archive. This plate painted by John W. Fitzpatrick accompanied the description of this new species from Peru, the Bar-winged Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucoptera) in 1977, in the Auk 94: 2, 195-201.

05 September 2007

Fuertes Originals for sale

A meander through the google search returns for "Fuertes painting" last night yielded a new discovery from a gallery called 'W. Graham Arader'. This painting of Townsend's Solitaire and Mountain Bluebird is the real gem of the bunch. The others available for sale include a few pieces from the Arm and Hammer baking soda card series, (the Flicker and Brown Thrasher*), two originals from Fuertes' first major commission, 'Citizen Bird', (the Northern Mockingbird and Blue Jay) and a few other works that are likely from very early in his career. Take a look at W. Graham Arader III's 'Fuertes Gallery'*Note: a few of the paintings are mis-identified on the website.
The thing I like the most about the Solitaire and Bluebird piece is the variety of postures. The Solitaire is perched in a very interesting, atypical posture. Birds are very subtley animated creatures, especially songbirds, often twisting their heads, craning necks, erecting or smoothing particular feather groups or perhaps fanning the tail as in this Solitaire. Capturing these nuances was perhaps Fuertes's greatest skill. He seemed to portray these attributes with such ease and so naturally that the depictions speak a profound elegance, just like looking at the birds themselves. He translates onto paper, even in gray tones a breath of life, unlike any other artist has. This is quintessential Fuertes.

30 August 2007

Painting of Today - Debby Kaspari

I have an upcoming post in the works featuring the work of Debby Kaspari, for now here is a great painting of Scissor-tailed Flyctachers. Check out this post , and read about the great story behind this work.
Or her whole excellent blog 'Drawing the Motmot'

29 August 2007

Painting of the Day - Jon Fjeldså

Anyone recognize this beautiful image? If you own a copy of the great book 'Birds of the High Andes' by Fjeldså and Krabbe, you might have recognized this watercolor by the Norwegian artist, ornithologist, biogeographer extraordinaire Jon Fjeldså (it is in the inside liner of the book). If you haven't spent any time with this book, you should check it out at the library and take a look. The entire volume is illustrated beautifully by Fjeldså with intricate plates in watercolor and the text is supplemented by his loose, somewhat stylistic ink drawings. Some of Fjeldså's other work can be seen in his Oxford University Press monograph on Grebes of the world and on the occassional cover of the Auk like this one below from 2004.

26 August 2007

Art Auction at Coeur d'Alene

I came across an interesting natural history art auction which took place a few weeks ago at a house called Coeur d'Alene. Take a look at the catalog. A few paintings which caught my eye are this amazing Great horned Owl piece by Guy Coheleach (pronounced Co-lee-ack), and this impressive Moose by Carl Rungius. In upcoming posts, I plan to update you on a few auctions of notable paintings that I have spotted and followed, including a past Fuertes auction which I have not yet written on.

24 August 2007

Featured Artist - Carel Brest van Kempen

Flipping through my blog lists a few nights ago, I visited Carel Brest van Kempen's blog Rigor Vitae . Check out his extremely imaginative, exquisitely detailed work on his blog as well as on his webpage . The painting which struck a chord with me on this visit to his blog is this fanastic image of a Ferruginous Hawk. The detail in the rock face, lichens, twigs, grasses as well as in the bird itself is stunning. This piece in particular reminds me very much of the work of Raymond Harris Ching . I can only imagine the hours and hours of work it must take to render even the smallest patch of vegetation or scratch of earth. For a bit of insight into the artist, there is an interesting video touching on his goals as conservation minded artist linked from a recent post on Rigor Vitae.

10 August 2007

When the painting tells a story

While breezing through the stacks on a trip up to the library today I randomly spotted Johnsgard's monograph on the Quetzals and Trogons
of the world and had to pull it down to quickly leaf through the plates. The artwork used in this book is quite ecclectic running from contemporary to classical. Several of the plates are beautiful, historically signifigant pieces from John Gould's 1858–1875 Monograph of the Trogonidae. The rest are a mix of a handful of contemporary artists, including Dan Lane, John P. O'Neill and Dana Gardner. One plate in particular caught my eye specifically regarding a goal I have been cultivating for my own work of late. Here is Dan Lane's painting of a Bar-tailed Trogon family group. This is an excellent composition communicating a simple story about the lives of these birds at the nest, the male on sentinel, the female visiting the nest to feed a green caterpillar and of course the chick greeting its parent at the nest mouth. This kind of story telling is both visually interesting and intellectually stimulating.

09 August 2007

Dan Lane's new Cnipodectes in the Auk

I spotted the new issue of the Auk this morning with a beautiful painting by Dan Lane on the cover. This is an example of perhaps one of the most exciting types of frontispiece images to behold... an image of a newly described species. Take a look at BioOne if you have access, or try to get it through a library online collection from the same link another time to read the species description.
For the intrepid, here are some hints for finding this new species in Peru.
Here is another great piece by Dan, a plate from the forthcoming Birds of Peru. Dan also has a website highlighting some of his work in watercolor as well as black and white ink drawings you may have seen in the rotating bird art on Birding on the net .

02 August 2007

Fuertes sold on eBay live auction

A few days ago a beautiful Bald Eagle painting sold on an eBay live auction. Originally estimated to sell for $3-$5,000, the final sale was for $6,750. I have not had a chance to research a place where this piece may have been published. Anyone out there recognize this piece? Take a look.

26 July 2007

Return from Alaska

Back home at last. After 7 great weeks on the road, I have returned to my Ithaca, NY home. Alaska is a fabulous place with unbelievable opportunities for exploration. I will be posting in the upcoming weeks about some of my best birding experiences, especially as they translate onto a canvas. For now though, take a look at my 'travelogue'from the journey. I am working now on a series of backdated posts from the trip south so it will hopefully be more interesting as I add more. On the adjacent pages you can also read about the travels of my audio archive colleagues.

18 June 2007

On the Road

At long last, I have found the tiny smidge of time and energy to post to my poor blog, which has received so little attention from me since the early spring. I am in Deadhorse Alaska on the north slope working on the last leg of my last journey of the year. I have had nice success of late with digi-binned photos of the birds that we are here in Alaska filming. Upon returning home, I hope to turn several of my shots into paintings. Here is one I snapped through my bins yesterday of a pair of beautiful Spectacled Eider.

16 March 2007

More hybrid warblers

I've completed a flurry of painting along with the with the general squall of activities in my life of late. I am on the road right now in south Florida on the road recording and filming for work at Macaulay Library. We're seeking footage of some of the real specialties of Florida like Limpkin, White-crowned Pigeon and later on in the spring Gray Kingbird. Right now I am contentedly working on filming the abundant exotics around lovely sprawling Miami. This morning we worked on Common Myna, Muscovy Duck and some fabulous Monk Parakeets.
My posts will be even more sporadic than normal in the next few weeks, but I will be sketching, so hopefully upon my return in mid April, I'll have new work to share.
Here is my most recent piece, a plate of Lawrence's, Sutton's and Brewster's Warblers. This piece will acompany the Junkin's Warbler painting in Living Bird Magazine. Later I'll work on a post about the process of painting these birds.

04 March 2007

Tinkering on the Junkin's Warbler

Click on the image to enlarge and read the comments.

Last weekend with some extra time before the painting needed to be shipped, I was able to tinker with some areas in the piece that had been nagging at me. Here is a bit of description of the changes and additions I made to the final piece, with a side by side view, a larger look at the pre-tinkering view, followed by a larger look at the final tinkered version.

Side by Side (sorry for the major light difference)


Final piece

The biggest and most effective change I think comes from the alteration of the highlights in the belly and flank and where the wing meets the flank. I wanted to see the shadow below the wing, where the primaries lay down over the body, but I think I was a bit overzealous in the first effort. The flank highlight and reworked belly shadow really gives the body of the bird more depth. Previously, there was a flatness to this are that I was really dissatisfied with.
This experience shed some light on another issue with my painting as well. I completed the painting at night, under a good incandescent light on my drawing table but came to realize just how different the highlights and shadows were reading in natural light the next morning. For certain aspects of these paintings, I am realizing how much of an imperative it is to be able to work by daylight. Unfortunately this is a real challenge while trying to complete this work with mostly evening hours to spend.

03 March 2007

Keulemans and the Shrike-like Cotinga

Browsing in the library a few days ago I found a small book called Bird Illustrators by C. E. Jackson. The book wasn't striking upon initial inspection (lacking a full compliment of color reproductions). Where it excels though is in the wealth of biographical information on many of the pioneers of the 16th and 17th century natural history illustration. As I leafed through, spotting a few notable names like John Gould, Edward Lear and Archibald Thorburn, I found a chapter on an artist that really caught my attention, John Gerard Keulemans. I first spotted the work of Keulemans a few years ago in a short paper from 1880 in the proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. When I sought out the paper I was on a quest to find out as much as I could about a particular species of Cotinga. I'm occasionally caught by the bug of a particular bird which I can't seem to get out of my system until I've tracked down as many resources as I can. Trekking down the literature trail, collecting as you go can be a really fun excercise, especially these days when so many ornithological resources are available for free from places like SORA and OWL.
In this case the bird under my spotlight was the Shrike-like Cotinga (Laniisoma elegans). Intrigued by the bird itself, a beautiful and striking species, (check out this specimen in the American Museum of Natural History that I photographed last year). I was further spurned on by listening to Ted Parker's recording of the bird from the 1980's. The bird has a fantastic, ethereal voice, is hard to find and relatively poorly known.
Poking into the literature, I located that early reference for the 1880 paper by Sclater and Salvin titled 'On new Birds collected by Mr. C. Buckley in Eastern Ecuador'. In it, I found this fantastic plate by Keulemans (at the very top of the post). In the paper, details of Buckley's experience with this species are scant, but perhaps the most intriguing piece involves the discovery and collection of two nestlings with the female adult. Of the nestlings he writes, "The plumage is most remarkable: the upper surface including the whole of the head is of a cinnamon color spotted with black, each black spot on the head being tipped with white; the under surface is black, banded with narrow white bars. From the top of the head proceed fine black filaments more than an inch long, each tipped with white." All of this excellently depicted in the lithograph. The coolest part of the story is that the nest and nestlings of this species have never again been found for reexamination and the specific purpose of the extremely long natal plumes in nestlings are still unknown.
Lastly here is a great plate from David Snow's monograph 'The Cotingas' showing the same view of a chick and adults.

23 February 2007

David Sibley original paintings available

On David Sibley's homepage, he has occasionally had original paintings available for sale. I happened upon it today and found a nice selection of pieces from his “Sibley on Birds” syndicated column from between 2002-2005. Take a look at the paintings available on the Sibley gallery, all for sale for $1800. This Yellow-breasted Chat is a real standout with a simple, elegant depiction, highlighted by loose habitat elements.

18 February 2007

Painting the Junkin's Warbler

A few weeks ago, I began tracking down resources and planning for a painting to appear in the Living Bird magazine. This painting is to accompany an article on the discovery last spring of a hybrid Parulid which was netted in western New York by David Junkin. You can check out some photos of this species and read the details about the capture at David's mystery warbler site.
With it's mosaic of characters, this bird was NOT identifiable to species. Photos were taken to attempt later ID and feathers were collected for genetic analysis. The photos were sent out to the ID Frontiers listserve where various accomplished birders from around the country tossed in their two cents about the identity of this bird. It was very quickly determined that the bird was most likely a hybrid, but of which two species? Dr. Irby Lovette at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and his lab set out to make this determination leaning heavily on their labs extensive work on Parulid genetics from the past. In the Living Bird article, the Junkin's Warbler will be presented just as it has been to me... unidentified. Readers will be given their own opportunity to make a determination in the form of a contest. Take a look! Which two species does it look like to you? In the spring issue of Living Bird, and I presume on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology home page, you'll find an opportunity to share your opinion.
The image below is a composite of various stages of the painting in progress. One of the interesting things about this piece was working from just a handful of photos of a bird in the hand with various characteristics clear in some and blurry in others. I began with a sketch of a generic Parulid, purposely choosing a posture that was not meant in any way to be diagnostic. Once the posture was finalized, I transferred the sketch to watercolor paper using tracing paper by darkening the back side with graphite and retracing over the outline, rubbing a ghost image to the thicker watercolor paper. In this case, I used 300lb Arches cold press. Next I painted the outline of the bird in very light neutral tint watercolor and then moved on to the wing. To get the proper highlights in the wing I employed many, many layers, beginning with light yellow and slowly adding the darker olive greens of each feather group, slowly blending as I went. The head, beak, body tarsus and foot and tail, all progressed very quickly finishing with the birds eye as I always seem to insist on. There is something very satisfying about bringing the bird 'to life' at the end of the painting process by painting the eye.
One last detail. As I alluded to earlier, I am not privy to the 'answer' to the puzzle of which two Parulid species are the parents of Junkin's Warbler. The authors wished for my eye to remain unbiased so that the true identity would not unconciously shine through influencing the painting one way or another. I remain very intrigued by the mystery and look forward to the upcoming contest and unveiling in a few months.

07 February 2007

Ewoud de Groot website

I received a nice email from Ewoud de Groot in the Netherlands in response to my post about his Oystercatcher piece in the traveling 'Birds in Art'. He sent the address for his website. Check out EWOUDBIRDS where I was excited to find a whole series of fantastic Oystercatcher pieces and many more like the Little Tern piece above.

Update: 16 February 2007. Ewoud de Groot's website appears to be down at the moment...hopefully to return soon.

05 February 2007

Birds In Art - Arnot Museum

This past weekend a few friends and I took a trip down to Elmira, New York to visit the Arnot Art Museum. The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum 'Birds In Art' special exhibit is showing there through the 18 February 2007. This is the final stop of the 2005 traveling tour. There are around 60 pieces in all with a few highlights like the spectacular "Resting Oystercatchers" by Ewoud de Groot from the Netherlands. This Oil on Linen piece was a real eyecatcher in the exhibit entrance hallway and turned out to be the real favorite of the whole show.

Another favorite was the malaysian Rhinoceros Hornbill acrylic by the Utah based artist Carel Brest Van Kempen. Carel has a great blog called 'Rigor Vitae A view through the eyes of a nature artist'

Please take the time to head down to the 'Arnot Museum' in Elmira if you have the chance. The admission is free on Saturday and Sunday and there are only two more weekends left to catch this show before it closes forever. Thanks very much to 'The Contemplative Nuthatch' for the photo above...as my camera is truly on its last legs.

29 January 2007

The evolution of an artists signature - Fuertes

Perusing the early published paintings of Louis Agassiz Fuertes from the pages of Birdlore not too long ago, I noticed an interesting progression in the form of the artists signature. The first of Fuertes's works I can find in Birdlore were in volume 6 in 1904. These first paintings are signed with 'traditional' script. The bulk of Fuertes's work, through the years are signed in this manner, almost always with a characteristic, neat, compact cursive style, most often in watercolor and occasionally in pencil. This warbler plate represents that commonly seen signature, in this case simply the initials LAF, in others, like the Wilson's Warbler plate from a few posts ago, his entire name is signed. After a few years and publication of all the the Fuertes and Horsfall warbler plates, a new, but short lived series of signatures is seen in Fuertes's work. The development of and rational for the use of this monogram-type signature is a mystery to me. I can surmise that Fuertes was simply experimenting different manners of signing his work. The signature on the Thrush plate below is somewhat reminiscent of the early, 15th century natural history artist Albrecht Dürer....and I'm sure like many other artists. It seems, the development of a signature monogram is a common practice for many artists.
Lastly, in this Robin plate, published in the very next issue after the monogrammed Thrush plate, Fuertes has again changed the signature to simpler monogram.
From this point forward, in the later pages of Birdlore, Fuertes seems to go back to the traditional script signature. This signature seems to have prevailed as he proceeds to use it most frequently for the rest of his career.

24 January 2007

Potoos - one stump next to another

Here's another Birds in Art post... an interesting comparison this time. Flipping through the 1994 catalog, I came across this first piece by John P. O'Neill, Long-tailed Potoo. It is reminiscent of a Fuertes painting of the Common Potoo from the Mexico expedition of 1910. I am curious whether O'Neill's piece was influenced at all by Fuertes. O'Neill paints the Potoo in a more typical, deeply restful state with the eye mostly closed. Fuertes chose the more alarming - open-eyed look, more often seen near dusk when the species is readying to head out in search of nocturnal prey. The Potoo's - Family Nyctibiidae are a curious group of birds. I've sometimes described them as a cross between a hawk and an owl. Very secretive and cryptic by day, Potoo's often roost on a broken snag, adopting a distictive head-up resting posture which renders the bird nearly invisible.

19 January 2007

Featured Artist - John Sill

John Sill from North Carolina was one the first bird atists whose work I really scrutinized as a kid. I received slews of bird related gifts once my family got wind of my adolescent love of birdwatching. One of those gifts was often the Mass Audubon Bird ID calendar, which John Sill illustrated for many years. This beautiful composition of Black-throated Blue Warbler framed in a rhododendron grove caught my eye in the Birds in Art catalog. This piece epitomizes for me the reason watercolor is such a fantastic medium for bird art, with the beautiful clear washes of the rhode leaves, in sunlight and shade, the hinting of leaves further back behind and above the bird and the general soft clarity of the transparent washes.
An aside...If the 'BIRDS IN ART show'....the awesome traveling exhibit of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson BIRD Art museum sounds interesting and you are any where near central NY, I recently discovered that it is showing RIGHT NOW, through 18 February at the Arnot Museum in Elmira, NY. Look here at the 'Arnot Museum page'