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If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you know I’m a Northern girl. So when it comes to birds, I do see a good variety of breeds, but nothing too exotic.

The last Gallery Feature in my Feathered Fauna bird series was the Baltimore Oriole. They’re a beautiful, flashy bird, but alas, there are none in Northern Ontario.

So for my next painting, I decided to look a bit closer to home.

Enter the pint-size, pretentious pontiff of the Northern forest: The red-breasted nuthatch.

There are many different kinds of nuthatch in the wild. The two most common in the North are the red-breasted and the white-breasted.

I have seen white-breasted nuthatches on occasion while walking through the bush, but they seem much more shy than their red counterparts. They’re also a little larger in size.

A nuthatch is an entertaining bird to watch. They’re full of attitude. It seems like they’re always hunkered down and in strut-stance. They turn every which way as they maneuver up and down tree trunks and out across branches. It’s quite comical to see them when they turn upside down and let out their tell-tale “myeh, myeh, myeh” sound.

They don’t like to share, often bossing other birds, like chickadees and woodpeckers, out of their way. That’s when they get mouthy, making a different, more impatient buzzing noise deep in their throats — similar to what Snoopy sounds like on Peanuts when he gets mad.

Brimming with confidence, the black cap and bandit stripe across their eyes often gives them a look of perpetual gruffness, further bolstering their tough-guy demeanour.

And they’re absolutely adorable.

I strive to capture or suggest movement in my bird portraits, so I like to choose a dynamic pose to create added visual interest. Every time I see a nuthatch doing his crazy contortions, it makes me smile.

I previewed this new Feathered Fauna piece in my previous Gallery Feature from August, “The Northern Leopard Frog“. At the time, it had already been sitting unfinished in my studio for a number of months (I began designing this nuthatch painting back in May). A wedding, a commission, and winter wood cutting delayed its progress significantly, but a few days ago, when my new commission was finally nailed down, I knew I had to get this in the “done” pile.

It’s surprising how quickly a painting’s completion can happen… when you have the right motivation. Because in addition to this new commission that I’m finally ready to begin — here’s a little preview of an exciting upcoming project (just in time for Halloween!) — I recently learned about an amazing contest: The opportunity to have an illustration included in a newly designed layout of the original 1818 text of Mary Shelley’s classic monster manuscript, “Frankenstein”.

Typically I avoid art contests, especially if they involve an entry fee. But this contest is to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel that almost single-handedly gave birth to the horror genre as we know it now, and you all know how I feel about horror and art, so…

I need to enter this contest.

And that’s all I’ll say about that for now. To be continued.

There aren’t many progress photos with the nuthatch painting simply because the bird and final details were done in three 2-5 hour sessions, and I usually only take pictures when I’m done working for the day.

May 28, 2017 ~ The final bird sketch. I’m using my ivy plant as a visual aid to create the composition for my maple leaves.

May 29, 2017 ~ The leaves are finished and the image is ready to be transferred to the canvas paper.

June 4, 2017 ~ There was never any debate about what type of flora I would pair with the nuthatch. Nothing screams Northern Canada more than maples. For this piece, I decided not to make all the leaves solid. I wanted some to be merely “impressions” of leaves. It’s something new I wanted to try.

June 4, 2017 ~ Maple Leaves

June 11, 2017 ~ The tree bark is now complete. This is how the painting will sit for another 3 months.

September 15, 2017 ~ With two new projects on the horizon, it was time to get this bird started. Building up the base first.

September 16, 2017 ~ With a backlog of “Tattoo Fixers” and James Corden to keep me company, my Saturday afternoon was fruitful. I worked right through till dinnertime, and at this stage, the painting is, for all intents and purposes, “done”. But I knew the painting would be best served if I waited until morning, and viewing it with fresh eyes did, in fact, lead to some additional detail work.

September 17, 2017 ~ I went back to the bird and refined some of the details in the feet and eyes, and added a little more shading under the chin. I also had to make a decision about those “ghost” leaves — a quick poll of family and friends resulted in a split decision. I digitally manipulated the leaves to see how it would look if I painted them all solid. While I agreed that SOMETHING needed to be added, I decided against fully saturating the leaves, and instead, did some simple colour-correcting. The ghost leaves had been created with a wash of red, and all they needed was a few additional washes of orange to help better tie them to the rest of the painting.

And voila! Another painting completed!

Wendy Brydge, “Red-Breasted Nuthatch”, 2017

Fellow artists will sympathize with the unfortunate colour struggles that come when scanning your finished work. It’s so hard when you’re working with a basic home setup to get the colours to translate properly into digital. As the artist, I can tell you that the colour of the leaves in the previous scanned image are not true to life. I still wanted to include the scan though, so the piece could be viewed in greater detail. The colours of the bird and bark are very close to the original, but if you want to get a better sense of the colour of the leaves, definitely go back and view the progression photos again.

Framed to match the other three paintings in the Feathered Fauna series

Every bird is a work of art, in and of itself. When I see them, I can’t help but marvel at the complexity of their creation. Inside that tiny skull is a tiny brain. A brain which actually functions. And underneath those layers of feathers, inside their small bodies, is a tiny set of lungs, a nervous system, and a miniature-sized heart.

During those unfortunate occasions when a bird has hit the window, as I sit with it cradled in the palm of my hand, I can feel the warmth of its body, and the beating of its little heart. And when it finally opens its eyes and looks up at me as if to say “thank you”, I can’t help but smile because this tiny miracle understands that it is alive.

All of God’s creatures, both large and small — they are truly the most impressive works of art.

“Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
~ Job 12:7-12