29 March 2006

A Celebration of Birds-The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes

I am really enjoying reading this book on Fuertes. Years ago I passed over this volume, thinking it was largely an image dominated picture book, not realizing that this is really a fantastic and relatively complete biography. Right now I am at the point where Fuertes is coming into adulthood and really coming in to his own as a successful and highly sought after illustrator. So far it has been very interesting. Robert McCracken Peck from the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia skillfully prepared this book as a companion volume to a traveling Fuertes exhibit that toured the US in the mid 1980's. A great exhibition I am sure.

28 March 2006

Favorite Bird artist series - Don Eckelberry

This painting is a plate from Brown & Amadon's Eagles, Hawks and Falcons of the World. Eckelberry painted a series of beautiful portraits for this two volume series, along with several other artists including Albert Earl Gilbert, Guy Coheleach and a few others whose plates are not as notable. Eckelberry's style is quite a bit different than the work I normally gravitate towards, being that most of his work is opaque. I have very strong connection to translucent media like watercolor. By no means would I ever downplay Eckelberry's incredible talent as a painter, however, I think his true strengths were in his abilities to so skillfully render his birds in acurate anatomical detail, always in realistic, often diagnostic and usually intensely interesting poses and postures. Eckelberry drew what he saw in nature, he developed a composition from field sketches and tranferred those to canvas. Some of the most impressive renderings of his I have seen are those directly from his field sketches. A bird portrait by Eckelberry always conveyed the uniqueness of the species but more importantly, the nuances of an individual at a moment in time, just as it had perched before him in life.

27 March 2006

Favorite Bird artist series - Barry Van Dusen

I am beginning a new set of posts where I'll talk about bird artists from my long list of favorites. I'll write these up a bit whimsically, not in any hierarchical order. Barry Van Dusen is an artist from Massachusetts working mostly on birds of North America, but also on various projects all over the world, including a series of plates for the forthcoming Birds of Peru project. His website has several examples of his work and is kept up to date with information on current and upcoming shows in the northeast. Here is Barry's website.
Barry has a very loose painting style. His works strike a wonderful balance between underpainting and overpainting. A key element in the success of his paintings I think is his excellent economy of brush stroke. He conveys such exquisite detail with so few strokes. I strive for this kind of economy of brush stroke in my own work but at the same time go for a bit more detail and less of a sketch-like quality. Barry's field guide plates show much more refined detail. There are a few examples of his Peru guide plates on his website. Overall Barry's work is very fresh, vibrant and alive, capturing bird subjects and their environment beautifully.

23 March 2006

Eckelberry field sketches

One of the consumate field artists of the 20th century, Don Eckelberry was a big proponent of natural history artists spending time in the field actually seeing their subjects behaving. More comments later on this front, but for now, here is a great scan of some of Eckelberry's beautiful work.
This is an image from the book 'Masterpieces of Bird Art' by Pasquier and Farrand

Pursuit of the Screaming Piha

On a good day, with about three good hours per night to work with after getting home from work, cooking and eating I feel reasonably motivated to do some artwork. There haven't been too many of those this week so far. More often, I get home later, frayed and frazzled from work and don't even feel like cooking. This weekend I hope to get back into the Screaming Piha piece. I did visit the Cornell Museum of vertebrates where I sketched the beak from equivalent angles, although it was a challenge to approximate the upper and lower mandible positions from the closed-beaked round skin. I also photographed wing and tail details that will help immensely with the painting. Here's a view of the specimen, Lipaugis vociferans, collected in Guiana in 1884. Still in very good shape and proving useful 122 years later.

20 March 2006

Screaming Piha

Spurned on by a desire to create content for this new blog, I worked on the first sketches for my new painting, a Screaming Piha in full 'scream'. Here is the initial sketch of my bird. I still need to work out some details on the rectrices and try to find a resource for looking at the tongue morphology in cotingids. I will have to try and find a fluid preserved specimen and rope someone into photographing it for me. Next step though will be to work out the overall composition.

Fuertes at Johnson Museum

Recently I visited the Johnson Art Museum on the Cornell University campus. I had arranged to view the Fuertes collection housed there. Louis Agassiz Fuertes, an Ithaca native was the best bird artist who ever attempted the craft. Many share this opinion and his name is very commonly listed as a major influence on the work of most contemporary bird artists. Here is one of the Johnson Museum pieces I enjoyed the most.

16 March 2006

Here is my most recent painting of Carola's Parotia (Parotia carolae) a Bird of Paradise from Papua New Guinea. In this painting, the male bird (below) is displaying on a lek to the visiting female (above). The male is performing the "Ballerina Dance", with elaborate modified contour feathers shaped like a skirt, waggling head wires and irridescent head and throat ornaments. This painting is a frontispiece for a manuscript by Ed Scholes on the display behavior of the species.

New Natural History art blog

In this blog I plan to share general thoughts about the subject of natural history painting, especially bird painting. I will post works in progress, sketches, technique tips and thoughts on my own work as well as work from my favorite artists.
Benjamin M. Clock
Ithaca, NY