Whether painting Realism, Impressionism, or some form of Abstraction, having a greater understanding of one’s subject matter can only help an artist dig deeper to produce the best art possible. Sometimes it’s hard to get close enough to your subjects to study them in detail, as can be the case with wildlife and the avian species. I find that even a good photograph taken with a zoom lens can leave me longing for more particulars.
Last year we became members of the Virginia Living Museum. I couldn’t have found a better resource for getting a closer look at some of the birdlife that I’m interested in. John James Audubon in his day would shoot the birds he wanted to get a better look at. It allowed him to study every aspect of the bird up-close and to paint in very fine detail. Fortunately for me the Virginia Living Museum allows photography for personal use, so that I can study them up-close down to the finest of details without shooting them! ☺
The VLM has an outdoor boardwalk over a lake where a variety of ducks swim freely. The walkway leads you to a 5500 square foot Coastal Plain Aviary (cage) where the viewer can pass freely though doorways on either side. It is in this large bird cage that I find many of the shorebirds that I’m interested in like pelicans, blue herons, cattle egrets, night herons, little blue herons, more ducks, etc… Many if not all have been rescued from the wild after being injured. A host of volunteers and an in-house veterinarian care for all of the wildlife at this unique and special facility.
The mission statement for the Virginia Living Museum reads as follows: “Connecting people to nature through educational experiences that promote conservation. The purpose of the Virginia Living Museum shall be to stimulate knowledge, awareness and appreciation of the biological and physical world, and to develop an understanding of its relationship to the environment of the planet and the universe beyond. This shall be accomplished by providing a variety of living interpretive exhibits and education programs for the public, students and educators that encourage a commitment to protection and conservation of our natural world and its delicately balanced components.”
I thought I’d share with you some of the photos I took of the birds at the VLM, which will be excellent reference material for me in upcoming paintings that I have in mind. Being able to study the curve in a beak, or the shape and color of an eye, or the feather pattern up close gives me confidence when I go to apply paint to canvas. Painting in every detail works sometimes, but other times it may work better if the details are implied. Bottom-line is you can’t even imply something if you are not familiar with it.
There are two Bald Eagles that I had fun photographing at the VLM. Lately I’ve been viewing them out in the wild. They get spooked very easily and with their keen eyesight they can spot a person from a long way away. I’ve taken some photographs of eagles that I think might make good paintings, but I’ve wanted to be able to study them up-close before I attempt to paint one. Here are a few shots that will help me when the time comes!
I recently finished a painting of a Brown Pelican entitled Sunlit Pelican Basking in the Glow. Fortunately I had good photos to work from that I took while at the beach. So it made it even more enjoyable to be able to study this pelican at the museum for quite awhile. He has a lot of personality even when he’s just lying down!
This male Hooded-Merganser has a beautiful, large crest and colors.
It’s always fun to watch the little Cattle Egret out on his limb.
This Great Blue Heron at first appeared to be a little under the weather, but he came to life and posed for me until my memory card ran out! I used up my 1-gigabyte memory card in an hour and a half at the museum!
It gives me a great excuse to go back for another visit. The living museum also has a Planetarium, an Aquarium, all kinds of wildlife and reptiles for those of you who may not be into birds. It is a treasure to have such a wonderful resource here in Virginia. Please be sure to check it out online and visit it in person if you can!
I’m going to do a follow-up blog with the outtakes from my adventures at the Virginia Living Museum. Part of the fun of bird watching is that you never know what you might see next… ☺