Thursday, 22 March 2012


   Behind these windowpanes that look out onto the rooftop world of birds, there has been a blizzard of tiny brush strokes, despite the warm and early spring outdoors.  

Miniature strokes, best calculated in fictitious units of measurement, have traced their way over a tiny wooden board and then over each other until layers of paint stood on layers of paint which stood on layers of paint.

Some days I painted feathers all day long, and then went to bed only to continue painting them in my dreams.

I only have a small table-top easel that I carried home from Istanbul a few years ago, rather than a big, fine one that adjusts to different heights, so sometimes it becomes painful to paint.  But even when straining in low corners, back bent, shoulders locked, and lip bitten, I took pleasure in the making of this.  Though, of course, it is very nice to step back, straighten my spine, and see it finished.

I have always liked sparrows, enjoyed watching little groups of them hopping about and taking dust baths only an arm's length away.  One of my earliest memories is of sitting outside on a sunny morning watching them while I waited for someone to take me to school.  It must have been when I was only about three because I was at my grandparents' house. 

I have read somewhere or other that for medieval artists, sparrows symbolized the baser, coarser aspects of human existence.  Because their little flocks lived in such close proximity to people, they were seen as a mirror of society and used as a tool for criticism of lewd behaviour.  I'm no longer sure where I read that, but I do tend to feel a bit more for them than that.  In Japan, someone once told me than they carry the souls of the dead to the other world.

I did try to give each one of these birds painted here a sense of individuality and purpose, a little glimmer of something different in each face in the group.  A choice, maybe.

Another thing I tried to accomplish was to move the viewer's eyes through the painting, snaking back and forth across it all the way down to the bottom, to where the line of sparrows ends, so that each bird would be examined in turn as the eyes travelled past them.

Perhaps this post has repeated that sort of snaking motion through the painting.  So, at the end of this side-stepping procession of words and images, let me put together these details and share the whole painting...

Feathers, oil on wood, 24.5 x 30 cm


  1. I like your post, I like your birds as well. I have 'something' with birds too: unconsciously I paint /draw them in my work, sometimes however consciously :)
    Interesting painting of interesting birds. I have them regularly in my backyard and I do often observe them. I read the population of sparrows decline in Holland, but luckily I did not noticed yet....

    Yes , good work.

  2. Beautifully achieved. This is a thing of wonder. I love the reduced palette, the complex composition, the sense of truly entering another world. You absolutely nailed what you wrote of, the luring of the eye as though through a maze, every part of which must be negotiated before the journey is done. And yes, there are distinct characters among the gathering, and so you've fulfilled everything you set out to achieve.

    I winced at your description of discomfort at the table easel. I have a massive beast of a thing. It looks more like a guillotine than an easel. But my attic studio hasn't the headroom to raise it as high as I need, and the downside is that when working on the lower quarter of any large-scale painting, I have to do so on my knees. There are times when they crack like pistol shots!

  3. The painting is beautiful!! And the blog post, too. It's like a journey through the painting. And a great chance to see all the wonderful, tiny feathers.

  4. oh, wow!!! i am totally overwhelmed! this is so amazing--each little character, the motion, the life. and those feathers!! this is your most beautiful work, i think.
    and the one with the little piece of mirror, and the ones surrounding the scissors--they are my favorites. so much character!! i am in love!!!

  5. art is jok(k)e(n),
    It's funny how birds can slip into paintings and things isn't it? I was getting teased about such high proportion of my paintings and prints having birds in them the other day. Oh well!
    I've heard that sparrows are having a lot of trouble in the UK too. Actually, since moving here I haven't see them very often. I thought it was just normal for this place, I guess not though.

    Thank you! Such truly heartening comments!
    But, oh, that does not sound nice, painting on your knees. I think I remember you mentioning that in one of your posts and wincing a bit myself. I can really empathize with you though, my back was cracking like that every time I stopped and straightened up. Perhaps, after all, craziness and art do go together, eh?

    Thank you! I'm so very glad you had the sense of journeying through the painting and post!

    Thank you, it means a lot to hear you like it!

  6. It's hard to believe the chirpy sparrows are in trouble in the UK there seemed to be so many of them when I was a child, my parents a few years ago, told me they had noticed sparrows and other smaller birds were not visiting their patch of garden in the same numbers as usual, they put it down to people taking up their little hedges and shrubs and replacing them with concrete "lawns" in order to park their cars. It's sad really, they are such little characters, full of happy chirps. They were introduced into Australia sometime in the 1800's and have made themselves at home on the eastern side of the country, I don't have any in my garden - probably too many bigger wilder birds to worry them, or perhaps they don't like too tall a tree? But I've noticed where new housing estates are being established there are signs of them about.

    I'm marveling at all the individualism of your beautiful little flock Jodie, you've captured their spirit of cheekiness - as for the mirror preening one in the corner I've had to cover a mirror on my verandah after recent visits from one of the birds here - not sure if it was lovelorn or itching for a scrap with the "bird in the mirror" or just too vain for it's own good :)

  7. Such a complex little world, although they are sparrows they could be Renaissance gallants preening and posing.
    Like Clive I admire the reduced palette, with the clear blue sky , a very satisfying composition.
    perhaps a bit perversely I took comfort in the physical pain of creation you experienced ;painting for me can be quite physically grueling , I felt at least I had company in the suffering (-:
    I hope you pick up a more accommodating easel in the very near future, take care,

  8. I have no words for this, only feathers and love !

  9. Annie,
    It is awful isn't it? I've read that their population has declined by more than half in the less than fifty years that their populations have been monitored.
    In Canada they were introduced too... in school we were taught that someone had the idea of bringing every bird mentioned in Shakespeare over to North America. I don't think the house sparrow was too much of a problem though, and they seem to do well.
    I'm so glad you liked the painting, and that's too funny about having to cover up your mirror!

    I am really pleased to hear that the sparrows brought preening Renaissance gallants to mind! Also, your comment about taking pleasure in the "pain of creation" is completely understandable. I suppose if there is to be pain, I am quite pleased to be suffering in solidarity with artists such as yourself and Clive. One day, I will get a better easel though. We have just been in a state of limbo for the past 6 or 7 years, never knowing when we will be moving countries again. Once that settles down I plan to start saving up for a nicer easel.

    Thank you, you're sweet!