Thursday, 13 March 2014


Sometimes inspiration is hard to find, and other times it literally lands on your doorstep.
Such was the case a few weeks ago, when I found a little female chaffinch lying outside my back door. I think she must have crashed into the windowpane for there were no visible signs of injury, but she was definitely lifeless.  I looked at her little wings and thought “I want to paint them.”

I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.
 Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing:

This would be the perfect subject. This month I have Ida Mitrani’s sketchbook for the Nature Trails 2014- a natural sketchbook exchange, in which she has made some exquisite drawings of Birds of Paradise. You can read about that here.
Ida's beautiful Bird of Paradise

Of course, artists have been painting dead birds for many centuries. I have always loved Albrecht Durer’s painting of the “Wing of a Blue Roller”, and Edward Burne Jones’ study of a wing is sensitively observed.

Albrecht Durer's "Wing of a Blue Roller" from wikipaintings

Although my little bird was not as bright and colourful as Durer’s, each wing is a fascinating and incredible thing to behold, so light and yet so powerful. I put the wings into a ziplock bag and placed them into the freezer first to kill off any feather mites. If you are tempted to paint or draw a dead animal, I would recommend reading this good advice about how to handle it safely given by Tim Wootton in his blog. 

Having carefully pinned out my wing onto foamcore, the studies could at last begin. I used my Earth colour chart to work out which colours would work best, and decided that Van Dyke brown (Talens) was the nearest match. I also used Talens permanent blue violet and winsor and newton’s cerulean, cobalt violet, burnt sienna, indanthrene and new gamboge.

A colour chart and a tiny painting of a chaffinch (1.5 x 1.5 cm)
I finished by painting a few of the feathers from the rump of the bird which are a delicate shade of olive green. They were fun to paint, although I had to hold my breath as the slightly puff would gently lift them off the page.

I think there is so much to be gained by doing studies like this. Through careful observation of nature comes a greater understanding and a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. 

My completed spread in Ida's sketchbook


  1. Love so much the idea of painting the two wings on two opposite pages !

  2. Exquisite. The quotes are great too. Love the composition.

  3. What a great reading. So interesting Shevaun!