Birds?…..Here’s Why. The Artist’s Side of the Story

“A . . . Albatross, your turn Howard.” Grandma announces.
“B . . ., Bobolink”, says Grandpa, “You get C Kara.”
I quickly reply, “Cardinal, your turn again Grandma.”
“D is for Dodo Bird,” Grandma laughs, “Now you, Howard.”
My grandparents and I are speeding west on I-84 from Eagle, Idaho to Walla Walla, WA. We have just completed a couple of weeks of sorting through their home of 40 years. Tokens of their life had been sold at a fraction of their sentimental value, cards and pictures of yesteryear reverently revisited, a farewell party with old and young paying their respect and tribute to the contributions they had made to their community and church family the past 50-some years, and now for the last time, it’s time to go.

It has been a privilege to spend these last few days with my grandparents in their home. So many memories run through my head the last night as I try to sleep curled up in the only remaining recliner in the house, the familiar clock chiming in the background as the hours tick by. As I finally drift off to sleep I’m thinking back on trips to Black Canyon and seeing huge jackrabbits. All us kids climbing to the top of the sand dunes and racing grandpa to the bottom, laughing and screaming all the way, rock hounding in the hot Idaho sun then going home and cutting our prizes in the rock saw to see who found the prettiest geode, then tumbling or polishing them to a perfect sheen. These few reflections are joined by the memory of their love of birds and bird watching. There was fierce competition between the two of them as to who would spot and identify the most birds in a year.

Each January 1, a clean white sheet of paper was slipped into the front of their individual bird book. Everywhere they went they were armed with that book, binoculars and writing instruments. Their lists began to grow. Rapidly at first as they saw common birds i.e. Robins, Ravens, Red-tailed hawks and other raptors, House Finches, Sparrows, Quail and more . . . slowing as they came to less common or illusive birds like the Virginia Rail. It didn’t matter where we were going or what we were doing, if a “new” bird, no matter how common, was perched on a branch or flying by, life stood still until it was verified and documented. If one of them happened to miss the bird, especially an uncommon one, the unfortunate party would frantically look around, binoculars held securely in place like an extension of their face, trying to find the dodgy little creature. A proud smirk was worn along with just a little gloating if the bird was not found.

Things have not changed. I’m content in the familiarity of the alphabet game in the car, and the feisty, competitive spirit of Grandma as I get stumped on “Z” and pass it on to her. This is at least the 5th time through the game and the rule is, we can’t use a bird from past games, so it gets harder as we go along. It took a little longer then it used to but she finally comes up with “Zebra Dove”. We all cheer then settle into the quiet solitude of our own thoughts as the last remaining miles of this familiar trip fly by. A new home awaits them and the realization that this may be the last time I get to spend with both my grandparents alone sinks in. It’s been a good ride.

The events of that day are long gone. I hadn’t really given much thought to birds since, other then enjoying painting them periodically. It wasn’t until my husband and I decided to start trying to attract birds to our backyard that I took an interest in them personally as we tried to identify them.

A naturally inquisitive and visual person, I could never get all the answers I wanted from the everyday bird book, like what they ate and where they nested and so on. So I decided to embark on a new way to portray birds in art to tell their story in one picture. One night it came to me that I could combine different genres of painting styles to illustrate a portrait of a birds’ existence.

About this time our bird feeders were alive with Pine Siskin subsequently providing a few dead birds to serve as models (which I kept fresh in the freezer). There’s a frenzy surrounding these little birds (unless they’re frozen) and I needed a way to illustrate their personalities amongst each other and humans. After researching my artist props it became obvious that BW was just the right “dummy” for the job, and thus began our journey…


  1. Janelle says:

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    1. kmcgheeart says:

      Hi Janelle–Thank you. Actually, I just need to be blogging, which is my new goal for this year. I hope you have a wonderful year yourself!

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