Birds in Paintings, part 2

In a recent post, I posed the questions of why I don’t put birds into my paintings. Today, I answer that question.

I was a bird watcher long before I took up painting. I take my binoculars and camera with me when I paint outdoors, though birds can be a big distraction. So why not include them in the paintings?

In a word: verisimilitude. I’m not a wildlife painter. If I’m going to put birds into my landscape paintings, I want them to look like they belong there. I don’t mean the perspective of getting the foreshortening of the wings correct, though that’s important too. No, I mean getting the bird the right size in the scene. A friend suggested just putting in a dash for a flying bird. Well, ok, but I want the dash to be correct. Too big and the bird is too close. Too small and it’s just a dot. I want you, the viewer, to be able to tell turkey vulture from red-tailed hawk from great blue heron.

Here’s what I mean. These three birds are not the same:

Three raptors, a sketch by Stephanie Benedict
Three raptors. From top to bottom: turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk (more or less), golden eagle

Birds can tell a person a lot about the landscape, the ecosystem, the season. Birds move all the time. The presence if an osprey says something different about the territory than does the presence of a golden eagle. I want to be able to be accurate in my representations.

But all of that is just an excuse. So I guess my answer is: I’m workin’ in it.