Keep a green tree in your heart, and perhaps a singing bird will come.
Spring is synonymous with the twitter and trills of birds, aflutter with life. Birds provide the glorious music to remind us of the sweetness of renewal. There’s a mockingbird which daily perches to sing atop a tree just outside my office window, as though it is a good will messenger sent by the universe to assure me I am special, that the earth is a very special place. It is joyful.
Artists through out the ages have captured the likeness of these seemingly delicate creatures who soar aloft and bring cheer when they alight. There are 8,600 different species, each varying from 1,000 to 25,000 feathers of every imaginable color combination.
The ancient Egyptians believed birds embodied the power of human souls. Several of their gods had the heads of a bird, alert and unblinking. Egyptian culture was rife with birds, among them, Nekhbet, e.g., was a vulture goddess and protectress of Upper Egypt.
Etruscan birds were viewed as messengers from the gods, omens whose flight and song were mystical. As such, they were integral to art.
Etruscan artists clearly delighted in the shapes and colors of birds aloft. On this pot, for instance, the hunter is almost peripheral to the scene. The artist was clearly captivated by the birds, as though underscoring that while earthbound humans are commonplace and ordinary, it’s the birds that mesmerize.
Fowls are also abundant in ancient Roman art.
Depicted in this old mosaic, the rooster’s shape captured the artist’s eye, the balance between the head and the tail.
Romans continued the Etruscan tradition of believing birds, even roosters, carried mystical messages, provided omens by which the future could be foretold.
Taoists believe a three legged red crow lives in the sun and represents Man, Heaven and Earth. Native Americans believe a Raven guides the dead on their journey to the next world. Christians believe birds represent souls in paradise.
While not a believer in avian mysticism, John J. Audubon was yet clearly spellbound both by birds in flight and in their natural habitats. This ruffled grouse is typical of the skill and affection with which Audubon combined his remarkable sense of detail, precision and artistic composition.
His paintings became the obsessive focus of his entire life. American birds are fortunate to have had someone with his affection to portray and catalogue them.
Happily, he was appreciated and acclaimed in his lifetime, albeit Europeans were the first to revere his work. They perhaps found exotic what Americans initially took for granted.
How could anyone take birds for granted?
Birds are basically easy to draw. Think: ping pong ball adjacent to a very large egg.
Balanced on two sticks.
Of course, it’s the 1,000 to 25,000 feathers that are the challenge.
And, the glint in a bird’s eye, the crook in its wing.
These ladies seem clearly pleased with themselves that they captured the basic outline of a robin.
They alas unwittingly underscore how much more skill is required to render a bird’s vitality and essence.
Emily Dickinson put it best. “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”