Snowy’s Evening Retreat

About this time every year in the Charleston area, birders are treated to seeing large gatherings, or colonies, of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets nesting in dense foliage along the wetlands known as rookeries. Nesting actually begins in early spring, but right about now the young birds become very active and begin to test out their wings. The adult birds are very active too, raising their little ones and continuing to court their mate, sporting beautiful breeding plumage and strutting their stuff.

I am fortunate to live near several rookeries and have spent quite a bit of time recently studying the habits of Snowy Egrets around the Lowcountry. This season has proven to be exceptional as far as imagery goes, inspiring my most recent Aviary painting entitled Snowy’s Evening Retreat.

Snowy’s Evening Retreat    by William R. Beebe, 30 x 24, Oil on canvas, $6200

Snowy’s Evening Retreat by William R. Beebe, 30 x 24, Oil on canvas, $6200

Interestingly enough, almost 200 years ago in the spring of 1832, John James Audubon was in Charleston doing the same thing! He reported having seen thousands of Snowies in full breeding plumage. He painted the delicate, white Snowy Egret as I often see it, stalking along the water’s edge. In the distance of his painting one can detect a tiny hunter coming toward the bird, a sign of danger lurking, for they were considered a delicacy. The beautiful, white breeding plumage became highly sought after in the late 19th century for women’s fashion-wear, to the point where the species almost became extinct. Thanks to individual state Audubon Societies formed in the 1890’s and eventually the National Audubon Society, formed in 1905, we are all blessed to have a strong egret population today.

Recently, I’ve completed a number of bird portraits, substantial in size. I chose to paint the birds roughly life size, with solid backgrounds not to distract from the bird. I’ve read that Audubon, on his quest to paint every bird in America, painted each bird life size. Although, I’m not scientific like he was (measuring each bird’s length and height), I do prefer to create paintings in which the viewer can get an idea of roughly how big each bird is.

Snowy Egrets are smaller in size than say a Great Egret. Audubon measured a Snowy at 22 ½ inches in length and 30 ½ inches from head to toe. They are even smaller when legs are bent and necks are tucked. Upon recently witnessing and photographing Snowies on Isle of Palms, with a wonderfully, dark botanical background, I knew I wanted to create a substantial piece focusing not just on the bird, but also on the background.

I love seeing these beautiful, white birds surrounded by palmetto leaves, branches, and greenery. I often photograph them with dark backgrounds so the bird really stands out. In this case, I found the dark background fascinating. As I looked further into the darkness, I discovered overlapping layers of palmetto leaves, tropical in nature. The Snowy’s breeding plumage (aigrettes) was on display, wings were raised and his bright yellow feet grabbed hold of the greenery below.

Snowy’s Evening Retreat   by William R. Beebe, head detail

Snowy’s Evening Retreat by William R. Beebe, head detail

Snowy’s Evening Retreat   by William R. Beebe, feet detail

Snowy’s Evening Retreat by William R. Beebe, feet detail

The interesting flora surrounding the bird brought to mind not only Audubon’s famous work, but also the Aviary art of another wonderfully talented Charleston artist John C. Doyle. I discovered his art and passion for painting wading birds when we moved to Charleston two years ago.

From the 1980’s-2014, local artist John C. Doyle was traversing the Lowcountry studying, drawing, and painting Great Egrets and other birdlife. In particular, his paintings of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons caught my eye. Many of which captured the magnificent swamp and surrounding flora at Magnolia Plantation. His backgrounds were filled with light and color.

In my painting, Snowy’s Evening Retreat, I portray the egret away from the nest, courting its mate with crest displayed, actively flirting. The bird is roughly life size and the background is typical of the Lowcountry and the island’s rookery. The trees are dense, much of which are monochromatic, but the evening light highlights the greenery in the foreground and the bird. Light filters through the palmetto leaves adding depth and draws the viewer’s eye around the canvas.

Snowies are delicate looking birds with fine feathers. They are social birds with a playful personality. Their bright, yellow feet and yellowish beak area (lore) are good identifiers when trying to distinguish it from similar looking birds like the immature Little Blue Heron or the Cattle Egret.

Snowy’s Evening Retreat is the first of what I hope is a series of Snowy Egret paintings all inspired by this season’s bird outings here in the Lowcountry.

Thank you for your interest in my art and for reading my journal. Please check back soon to see what’s next on my easel. It could be one of my newly discovered locations in downtown Charleston or it could be another Snowy!


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

Line of Sight – A Great Egret’s stare!


Looking for the catch of the day. Photo by William R. Beebe

Looking for the catch of the day. Photo by William R. Beebe

I watched as the Great Egret searched the fisherman’s boat for baitfish and for the catch of the day. Once he realized he was striking out, he stood on the edge of the boat and refocused, looking out into the water. As he stared down past his long sharp beak, I stared at him through my lens.

He was a strikingly handsome egret, larger than most. The green around his eye and on his beak (known as the lore) turns a bright emerald green when it is mating season. I found his profile so striking that I decided to paint him on a large scale (30” by 30”).

Line of Sight    by William R. Beebe, 30 x 30, Oil on canvas, $6800

Line of Sight by William R. Beebe, 30 x 30, Oil on canvas, $6800

Line of Sight (head detail) by William R. Beebe

Line of Sight (head detail) by William R. Beebe

His eyes were intensely focused; surely there was a fish in his line of sight. His head rested gently on the curve of his neck, while he gazed into the ocean waters. It was the fish’s good fortune that the egret was in a relaxed state.

This egret was a smart bird. He knew the bait traps were close by and that raiding the traps was easy pickings. Why work so hard for a meal stalking fish along the shoreline, when the seafood buffet is right in front of you?

Raiding the bait cage. Photo by William R. Beebe

Raiding the bait cage. Photo by William R. Beebe

Sure the fish are small but he could at least put away a dozen or so before his big meal of the day.

All the while, I watched and photographed. When I choose to paint a bird portrait, I like to paint the birds that stand out from others. This egret I remember well because of his antics and how statuesque he looked when posing.

“I’m a really good driver!” Photo by William R. Beebe

“I’m a really good driver!” Photo by William R. Beebe

Thank you for reading my journal and for following my artwork. Please check back soon to see what’s on my easel next.


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

Painting Iconic Rainbow Row ~ focusing on the charming elements!

I can hear gallery owners saying, “Everybody paints Rainbow Row”. That may be true, but I like to think that beautiful scenery can be interpreted in many ways. Rainbow Row is iconic in that almost everyone who visits Charleston wants to walk along the colorful stretch of East Bay, and or have their picture taken in front of it. Artists like to paint it because it is so charming.

I’ve painted Rainbow Row now three times. Downtown World was my first painting. It is a large piece and leads the viewer down the long sidewalk in front of the colorful row homes. My second painting of Rainbow Row is called Colors of the Rainbow and focuses on some of the rooftops. My latest painting entitled Charming Rainbow Row focuses on an inviting section of the famous iconic home fronts.

Charming Rainbow Row    by William R. Beebe, 12 x 12, Oil on board, $2200

Charming Rainbow Row by William R. Beebe, 12 x 12, Oil on board, $2200

With this painting I wanted to feature some of the many charming elements that make the colorful buildings so impressive and extraordinary. Window boxes overflowing with flowers and greenery, potted plants lining the sidewalk, historic wooden shutters with their old fashioned ties, decorative lanterns over doorways, and of course wrought-iron gates all bring passerbys to a standstill. They are what take the colorful row homes to the next level.

Charming is one of the most used adjectives when describing downtown Charleston. Architectural elements are a big reason why.

I love the old-fashioned park bench that invites strangers to sit and relax in front of the private residence. With colorful window boxes on either side the sitter feels like they are sitting in a park or garden, not along a busy road.

Charming Rainbow Row   bench detail by William R. Beebe

Charming Rainbow Row bench detail by William R. Beebe

Gas lit lanterns are common in Historic Charleston. It is a charming element that many of the newer homes are featuring.

Arched entryways with wrought-iron gates add decorative curves to all of the verticals and horizontals in traditional architecture.

Charming Rainbow Row   lantern and arch details by William R. Beebe

Charming Rainbow Row lantern and arch details by William R. Beebe

Seeing the way the light filtered through the canopy of trees lining the sidewalk highlighting colors and objects, was what inspired me to paint Rainbow Row once again.

I hope you like my painting Charming Rainbow Row and find that it makes you want to park yourself on the bench or take a picture. I always enjoy walking past this location and almost always take a picture. Thank you for reading my journal and for your interest in my art! It is most appreciated.

Please check back soon to see what’s next on the easel.


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

Along Meeting Street ~ Colorful Impressions!

There are many locations in downtown Charleston that I return to when seeking inspiration for my art. One of those locations is a stretch along Meeting Street. When the light is right my attention is diverted in many directions, always wanting to take it all in.

Streaks of light cross the street and bounce off the sides of colorful homes, caused by the canopy of tree tops that cover the street. Strong shadows play tricks on the eyes changing bold colors to neutralized or cooler colors.

My painting entitled 43 Meeting Street was about recording an historic home accurately. When I went back to 43 Meeting Street and viewed it from another angle I saw everything differently. It wasn’t all about the yellow house this time.

It was as if I was looking into an Impressionist painting; splashes of red and white flowers popping out of greenery, lavender shadows, Cerulean blue highlights reflecting off objects, and an overall sense of light!

So it was with all of that in mind, I set out to paint Along Meeting Street in the spirit of a plein air painter, pretending I was working on location with my French easel. My mission was to keep it painterly. Don’t be afraid of color. Let the light shine through. Have fun with it.

Along Meeting Street    by William R. Beebe, 12 x 12, Oil on board, $2200

Along Meeting Street by William R. Beebe, 12 x 12, Oil on board, $2200

When I found myself putting more detail in than necessary I would reverse it and deconstruct it. I used brushes without fine tips to keep from producing sharp edges. One of my favorite things about painting is “letting the paint surprise you”.

It doesn’t happen all that often when painting in a realistic style. It can, but I find it happens much more often when I’m trying to create an impression.

I hope you like Along Meeting Street. The yellow house is one of Charleston’s many historic single houses with the unique side porch. This stretch of Meeting Street is one I always enjoy walking on a nice sunny day. Charleston is a great walking city with scenes like this throughout.

Thank you for reading my journal and for your interest in my art! I will be starting several other Charleston scenes soon, working in the same manner, so please check back soon to see what’s on the easel!


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