Last week I set a challenge for myself - to draw/paint birds only from direct observation and memory, not from photos. This is quite a challenge because, as you know, they don't stay still for long.
I've been watching birds at my feeder for a few years now. With my backyard bird guide I've learned to identify most common birds in our corner of Pennsylvania, I know a few bird songs, and with my new challenge I decided to study bird anatomy, especially their skeletal structure. I felt ready.
Then, a great gift fell from the sky. The day after I set this challenge, my family found a deceased blue jay on the sidewalk near my children's bus stop. I came home as soon as I could to get to work.
I learned so much from my time with this jay. I made this painting from direct observation. When I was done, I gave her a proper burial.
I figured out in the following days that she was one of the regular birds that came to our bird feeders because, sadly, now only one blue jay comes when there used to be two. While I am certainly not glad that this dear bird died, I am grateful for the time I had with her and it just seems so uncanny that she came to me just when I felt ready for her.
The weather threatened just enough for me to set up my easel inside, rather than outside, the studio of Andrew Wyeth during the Philadelphia Watercolor Society’s On Location: Artists at Brandywine event this past June. Of course, I had to take special precautions due to the historical significance of the place. I brought in a 60 gallon unused trash bag as a drop cloth, laid it on the floor, set up, and began to paint.
The feeling was surreal. At once I felt a reverence for the space. It felt very private, a lot like the man who used this former schoolhouse as a studio for nearly 70 years. I also never shook the feeling that I shouldn’t be there. While I may have been sensing a little disturbance from the usual protocol from the museum security personnel, maybe I was also sensing the spirit of Andrew Wyeth himself. The sign on the door does still read, “I AM WORKING SO PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB. I do not sign autographs.”
The light diffusing through the window of the kitchen, whose appliances and accouterment speak of another era, interested me. As I painted I made choices about what to include and what to leave out. In the end, I am happy with the mood that this painting conveys.
Until September 27th you can see this painting in person at Borrelli’s Chestnut Hill Gallery just a few steps from the intersection of Germantown Ave and Gravers Lane.