Painting the Blues ~ alone and feeling blue?

Most often the Great Blue Heron is seen standing alone dressed in gray and dark blue, or flying solo across the sky. No matter what the weather, nothing seems to bother them. I’ve seen them stand as if frozen in the snow for long lengths of time, out on a limb in inclement weather, sleeping on one leg in the pouring rain, baking on a rock in 100-degree sunshine. If the Great Blue Heron is moody and gets the blues one would never know it. They always appear quite content right where they are and would prefer to just be left alone! ☺

Occasionally you might spot a pair together, especially in the spring during mating season. This fall I’ve witnessed a number of them chasing each other around lake areas, eventually separating and going their own way.

The Great Blue Heron is such an interesting bird to watch, photograph, and paint. It is a sneaky predator and has a stealth-like manner in how it stalks its prey. It glides with grace traveling long distances with relative ease due to its huge wingspan. Takes-offs and landings can be somewhat awkward due to their long, stick-like legs and s-curved neck in flight. Herons will also stand still for long periods of time waiting patiently for fish to swim by, or will rest on one leg for hours.

No matter how they are posed, I always find them fascinating to watch and photograph. It’s always hard for me to choose how I want to portray them in my next Blue painting. Having just completed a close-up portrait of one, entitled The Great One, I thought it would be interesting to look back over my Great Blue Heron paintings, compare them, and write a little bit about each bird.

I’ll start with The Great One. This bird was striking. In one of my photographs I called him The Warrior because his feathers were a little fluffed up from a shake and it looked like he had a coat of armor on. He was a bird you wouldn’t want to mess with. ☺ He was alone, as I watched him groom himself to perfection. He rested-up on one leg for a while and, as if a switch was flicked, turned hunter off in pursuit of his prey.

    The Great One    by William R. Beebe, 24 x 24, Oil on canvas, $5100

The Great One by William R. Beebe, 24 x 24, Oil on canvas, $5100

I stumbled upon another solitary Blue on my birthday, January 10th. I was getting skunked on my morning bird outing. I looked up to the sky and kindly said, “It’s my birthday”. I looked down and in front of me and there he was, the Two Rivers Heron, standing in ice-cold water up to his knobby knees. He blended in with the grays, browns, and lavenders of the water surrounding him. I left him where I found him after spending at least a half hour photographing him. He was in no hurry and was appearing to enjoy his lazy, cold, Sunday morning.

    Two Rivers Heron    by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

Two Rivers Heron by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

This next heron, entitled Beach Blue, was standing in the warm, clear waters of Sanibel, Florida. It was living the good life with plenty of fish to nibble on. A fisherman was nearby and he kept looking for the fisherman to toss him the small ones. Island living!

    Beach Blue    by William R. Beebe, 12 x 10, Oil on board, SOLD

Beach Blue by William R. Beebe, 12 x 10, Oil on board, SOLD

In The Dance, two Great Blue Herons are depicted performing a springtime mating ritual, dancing around each other with their heads pointed skyward. It was the first time I had seen two herons together enjoying each other’s company. It was as if the entire dance was choreographed.

    The Dance    by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

The Dance by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

Unlike The Dance, this next painting captures the heron in a somewhat awkward moment, Taking Flight. Some birds are more skittish than others. A movement or noise can cause the bird to suddenly take flight. This particular bird loved to hang out on this fallen tree. The tree provided a nice vantage point looking out over the marsh below.

    Taking Flight    by William R. Beebe, 10 x 12, Oil on board, $1200

Taking Flight by William R. Beebe, 10 x 12, Oil on board, $1200

I often spot Blues early in the morning or late in the day. This Blue was an early bird! I took an early morning walk down along the river and there he was already out standing in perfectly calm river water. Usually the river has a flow to it but on that particular morning it was glassy calm and the heron was in his happy place. Morning Calm on the James was inspired by that moment. No place to go, no hurry, no shirt and no shoes! ☺

    Morning Calm    on the James by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

Morning Calm on the James by William R. Beebe, 14 x 16, Oil on board, $3400

If it wasn’t for seeing this next Blue flying in overhead and landing on the tree, I might never have spotted him among the Spanish Moss. I think the Lowcountry Heron thought he was undetectable, camouflaged by the hanging moss similar in color and shape. He found a sunny spot to take in the late day sun. What Blues don’t realize is that even though they blend into their surroundings nicely, their white face in the light always gives them away.

    Lowcountry Heron    by William R. Beebe, 14 x 11, Oil on Canvas, $1800

Lowcountry Heron by William R. Beebe, 14 x 11, Oil on Canvas, $1800

Lastly, this heron flew by low and slow. Prehistoric looking, huge in size and was on a mission. There was a fog over the lake but the bird stayed below radar, wings almost touching the surface. The painting is entitled Blue Morning and captures an early morning serene moment where the only noise around was the swooshing sound of the heron’s wings cutting through the moisture-laden air.

   Blue Morning   by William R. Beebe, 24 x 48, Oil on Canvas, Commissioned/SOLD

Blue Morning by William R. Beebe, 24 x 48, Oil on Canvas, Commissioned/SOLD

Painting the Great Blue Heron is something I hope to do many more times. I hope those of you who love the Great Blue Heron enjoyed seeing my compilation of work over the last few years and reading about each bird.

I never get the Blues when I’m painting a Blue! Quite on the contrary. It puts me in my happy place.

Thank you as always for reading my journal and for following my art. I would love to hear from you if you would like to comment below. Thank you!


One of the joys of being an artist is having the freedom to follow my passion...
— William R. Beebe
 What’s next?  Drawing by William R. Beebe

What’s next?

Drawing by William R. Beebe