Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hatching a Plan for a Spring Series

Tulips in my garden

Even though mountain winds are sandblasting northern Colorado this week, spring is slowly making an inroad. Grass is coming up. Crocuses, tulips, daffodils and dandelions are venturing to bloom, and certain bird species are building nests. One thing I like to do to help them is put out a bag of unprocessed cotton fluff so they can peck some out and use it as a soft liner. If it's been especially dry out, I'll also place a pan of pre-mixed mud for the robins. They seem to appreciate it.

 (Technically, goldfinches don't build their nests until late summer. But sometimes they forage for a stray cotton seed.)

Mrs. Robin, picking up some mud in her beak. She gets it all over her tummy, as well.

After nests are built, egg-laying will begin. Eggs are amazing objects, when you really stop and think about them. Unlike mammals, which have to carry their young to term, a mother bird can drop off her eggs as soon as they're fertilized. Everything that a chick needs is in that little self-sufficient compartment -- aside from some warmth and a gentle turning every now and then. So while I've been at work on a few larger paintings these last few weeks, I've also been inspired to create a series of watercolor egg paintings, done in a sort of homage to the ornithological book plates of the Victorian era. They're all done to scale, using books and museum specimens as reference. 

Number One in the series is a house sparrow's egg. I did this one first as it's the most common and widely spread bird on the planet, and perhaps the least appreciated. House sparrows will typically lay 4 to 6 eggs in a clutch, and raise around 2 to 3 broods a year. Their speckled eggs can vary in color, from nearly white to robin's egg blue.

Number Two depicts something familiar, with a twist. Chickens are (perhaps not surprisingly) the most numerous bird in existence, now outnumbering us humans at least 3 to 1. That said, they don't all lay the typical white grade "A" eggs that you might come across in the supermarket. Some, like the Araucana, lay small greenish-blue eggs, while others lay buff, speckled or even a rich chocolate brown. As far as I can make out, these varieties can also taste better overall, as they're specialty breeds coming fresh off a small farm or neighbor's backyard.

Adventures in live chicken painting.

I have a few more ideas about this series.  Come back next Tuesday to find out what they are... :)

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