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.