Paintings of birds by a master artist
Until now, my work has concentrated on field guides. I worked my way systematically through all the bird species of Europe. But with my latest book, the idea was to produce an account of the birds that can easily be seen from my studio window during the winter months. A simple book about a few species, with pictures sketched on the spot. I wanted to show the variations within species, how expressions and colours differ between individuals.
I feed the birds at my studio, a kilometre or so from our home on the island of Gotland, off southern Sweden. Great tits are the most frequent visitors, but I see everything from bramblings to grey partridges. There is thick snow in winter, when the landscape looks particularly graphic. I like to look at the snow and try to compare it with how a white surface would appear in March or April, the sort of thing that artists sometimes occupy themselves with. How white is white really?
In order to paint a bird I must in some way find a connection with the species and link it to a specific occasion, or several. But the more one looks at a bird, the more questions arise.
ABOVE After the linnet has assumed its winter plumage in August–September, it becomes fairly anonymous, grey-buff and generally brown-streaked. d. It often gathers in dense flocks on stubble fields and wasteland. Intriguingly, the species sings yearround, albeit quietly and conversationally in winter. .
RIGHT With its long, very pointed bill the goldfinch is s a specialist on seeds of plants in the sunflower family, ly, Compositae, such as spear thistle, teasel, groundsel l and greater knapweed. Its red face consists of short, t, stiff feathers and may be an adaptation to withstand d wear when the bird sinks its bill deep into seedheads. ds.
BELOW An odd bird, the nuthatch attracts attention n when it comes to seed-feeders, unabashed to the point of being boorish, always on the go. The black band through the eye gives it character. It looks tough. ugh.
RIGHT In Sweden, bullfinches are a symbol of Christmas. Every time I look at them I wrestle with myself over whether it is the male or the female that is the more attractive. The male is the obvious choice, but the more I look at these birds, the more I incline towards the female’s sober plumage.
LEFT For me as an artist the great tit is a paradox – colourful and rich in contrasts yet merging in a fantastic way with its surroundings. When we look at different individuals, we quickly become aware that the yellow varies appreciably. Some males are pale cadmium-yellow; others are a weak dirty yellow colour.
RIGHT The treecreeper’s long, needle-thin bill means that it can exploit a niche which others cannot reach. Its eyes look a little slanting and are positioned such that the bird can look in among the smallest nooks and crannies; perhaps it can be described as extremely near-sighted.