May 28, 2013

Brown's Birds

        I've been enjoying my local birds this spring, especially the chickadees that are nesting in the little birdhouse I put up under the eave of the front porch.  I've also been enjoying the comments of the song sparrows who must be nesting somewhere very near my studio window and are always perched nearby, making their presence know.  Then yesterday I noticed two new birds, a lovely little yellow-breasted warbler in the bushes (Nashville warbler, I think), and a sudden swoop of barn swallows skimming past my window.  That made me think of the series of lovely wood engravings by Peter Brown.
        Peter Brown has been illustrating British birds for about fifteen years, in meticulous little wood engravings.  I like them very much and thought today would be a good day to share them with you, starting, of course, with the swallow.  Swallows embody the joy of flight the way dolphins swim.  They have such a magnificent combination of power and effortlessness, and Brown's swallow captures the wonderful curve of the swoosh.
        This little warbler is shaded all with long lines and I really admire how Brown has shown the dark and light areas with differing widths of black and white.  He's made the warbler look sleek while still giving it a pattern.  I love the tangle of leaves, too.  If you look closely you can see that the smaller sprigs in the background have been pressed with less pressure than the bird and foreground so that they are a little greyer and less distinct.  This keeps the focus on the bird.
        And for a third example I've picked this hobby, a small falcon we don't get in the Americas.  Brown's bird is eyeing the dragonflies hungrily.  I like the way the background has been suggested without outlines, but simply with areas of
different amounts of criss-crossing texture.  (I think of it as criss-crossed texture because that's the pattern that was carved.  In fact the black texture is more like a pattern of small squares or rectangles.  It's the white that makes the lines.)  I also really like the pattern on the falcon's wings and body, and I like the composition with the grass and dragonfly in the foreground.
        What birds do you enjoy where you are, and how would you capture their special qualities in art?

[Pictures: Swallow, wood engraving by Peter Brown;
Garden Warbler, wood engraving by P. Brown;
Hobby, wood engraving by P. Brown (All images from Little Brown Birds).]

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