Drawing and painting the birds involves close scrutiny of detail, and I’ve become much more aware of the leg colour of the wee birds than I was before I started painting this set or garden bird portraits for the RSPB
#BigGardenBirdWatch. Six birds so far, more to come. Not to scale when viewed as a set! And they all began as pencil sketches on wood.
With an audience:
When I’m stuck indoors, like just now, I watch these birds for most of each day. I’ve noticed that when I’m too ill for visitors or for talking on the phone, the company of these birds is more significant than ever. Folk wonder why I keep the bedroom wide open in the icy depths of winter, well I have a fever and a duvet so I’m sorted for warmth, but it means I’m not completely walled-up, and nature is not completely Out There, Away from me. Drawing, painting, photographing them is a form of engagement in itself, and then I can share my work here…
The great tits, robin and blue tits often potter on the windowsill, eating the squirrel peanuts. They peer in at me with what seems like great curiosity. Raspberry squirrel scatters monkey nut shell over the duvet, squirrels I don’t know peering in wondering what’s going on. Instead of every day being the same indoors, or the same pain, there is a different sky fragment, changes in the trees, recognisable silhouettes in the trees, squirrel acrobatics, even the bird plumage changes. One of the dunnock has a slight limp, and the robin has some wayward white underarm feathers.
The detail of these birds is fascinating. I’m currently obsessed with bird feet. They look like tiny dinosaur feet.
The sounds of nature also keep my thoughts outdoors instead of inside my body: the constant sparrow chatter (or the unsettling sparrow silence…) bickering goldfinches on the nearest feeder, virtuoso blackbird and robin arias, crows and magpies calling causing surprisingly loud wing flaps of startled wood pigeons. This and more keeps me part of the outdoors. I am part of something bigger and better, something vast and timeless, something I don’t need an invitation to belong to, I just need access to it, or at times like this, a window onto it.
Obviously I’d prefer the wall was entirely window, French windows so they could all be open, floor-to-ceiling, with a smooth path from my bed right down to the low tide line so the sea swans could waddle up to me when I wasn’t able to, er, waddle down to them… It sounds like luxury but being able to see the sky and be immersed in nature is a vital and irreplaceable component of health, wellbeing and sanity.
And of course, even at the smallest window there’s always something unexpected to stare back at. Last time, it was a certain limping crow. Now she had amazing dinosaur feet. And a dinosaur beak. You don’t have to paint the details, you can paint the feral feathered energy.
This crow, in fact: