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'

17 January 2007

Painting of the Day - McQueen

To splash a bit of color up on the page, I am posting this beautiful piece by Larry McQueen. The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum 'Birds in Art' series is a great series of simple inspirations to peruse now and again. The annual competition selects pieces from artists who submit an entry or two per year and honors those chosen by publishing the selections in a beautiful book each year, as well as honoring a single master artist per year. The library here at the CLO has ALL of them, going back to the early 1980's. Occasionally I steal away up to the window seat in the library and leaf through the pages, gleaning insights or simply for pure entertainment. This McQueen piece satisfies the goal of the artist as printed in the caption...the essence of the Indigo Bunting is captured beautifully.

15 January 2007

Bird Feet

Many posts ago I mentioned the topic the rendering of bird feet. I was working on the feet of the Screaming Piha and thought about opening up a blog discussion purely on feet...pitfalls and triumphs, techniques and schools of thought. Feet are an interesting part of the bird and are often a challenge to represent. First of all lets look at feet...Passerine feet to start, from a scientific perspective. The tarsi and toes of a bird can tell you a lot. Patterns are taxon specific, starting with toe arrangement of course, but even the actual scute morphology, size, arrangement and number are diagnostic. Here is a diagram from my old ornithology notebook with a few scutellation patterns.
The quality isn't great and the text is difficult to read. The scutellation types shown here are:
PYCNASPIDEAN: Phytotomidae, the Plantcutters, a small neotropical group
EXASPIDEAN: Tyrannidae, the Tyrant flycatchers
ENDASPIDEAN: Dendrocolaptidae, the Woodcreepers, a large neotropical group
HOLASPIDEAN: Alaudidae, the Larks, (note the long back claw)
TAXASPIDEAN: Rhinocryptidae, the Tapaculos
BOOTED: Turdidae, the Thrushes (and many others I believe)
LAMNIPLANTAR: Fringillidae, finches (and also many others I believe)
Toe length and claw curvature is another aspect that needs to be paid close attention. Take a look at this page out of Fuertes's Citizen Bird illustrations to see a wide array very nicely rendered foot types.
To be continued.

Today, Tuesday 16 January 2007, I tracked down the figure from VanTyne and Berger's Fundamentals of Ornithology. Here is a much better resolution scan, with the facing page infor for those interested.