19 December 2006

Art of the Field Guide Plate

I guess its that time of year...I have been under the weather for the last few days and haven't been able to muster a post.
I have been thinking for a while about the field guide plate as an art form. Not typically regarded as a form of natural history art worthy of it's own designation, the field guide plate is certainly ubiquitous, and recognizable. I have a real nostalgic connection with the first generation Golden Guides, with plates by Arthur Singer. This was my first field guide and it will always be a classic in my mind. If you have the chance though, check out the second generation, written and illustrated by James Coe a few years ago. Coe's plates in this reinvigoration of the Golden Guide are some of the best I have seen. Take a look at this Warbler plate. These plates combine spot-on species portraits, habitat characters and natural history elements seamlessly in attractive compositions. This type of plate combining birds and their habitat, juxtaposing the understory with the middlestory, transitioning to a different habitat in a different quadrant of the plate has a really nice effect. Contrast this with a more prototypical plate by Larry McQueen. The second plate here is one of McQueen's efforts for the forthcoming Birds of Peru. Just a hint of habitat shown on the perches with more birds per plate are the biggest differences. Look closely at the variability of perch angles, supremely accurate posture representation and interesting depictions of differing, yet diagnostic facial guises. McQueen is truly one of the best painters working today, and I can't wait for a chance to be able to study all of the plates in Birds of Peru when it comes off the presses.

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