I was interviewed yesterday for an article in Travel Indiana Magazine. I like interviews. I like talking about my work, inspirations and my creative process. (That’s why I have this blog.)
There are two questions, that I’m asked a lot, that cause me problems-
- How long does it take to make a bird ?
- What’s your favorite _______?
The first question is no longered answered. Ever.
My projects begin with field work and book research and end with a painted and mounted bird. Sometimes there are many steps and sketches and patterns and trials. Sometimes I sit down and knock it out in a few hours. In some cases, like the skin-on-frame cardinal, this process took years. How long is difficult to quantify in a way that is meaningful.
When folks get an idea of the time involved in producing a piece they begin to calculate the figure in terms of profit and wages. Without understanding the lifetime of acquiring a specialized skill set, maintaining a studio, building show displays, research, travel, lodging, meals, printing, bank fees and taxes it is impossible to understand and interpret the time/wages/profit relationship. Folks still try so I don’t supply the numbers.
Quick aside – My wife recently had many serious eye surgeries (She’s better, thanks.) and spent five or six hours under the knife. It would be crazy for me to think I could figure out how much the doctor made each hour.
Learn more about this here.
I’ve no logical or ethical reason for disliking the second question. It’s just hard for me to answer.
I don’t pick absolute favorites.
I don’t have a favorite movie. I don’t have a favorite book. I don’t have a favorite song. I don’t even have a favorite ukulele.
My interests change with my projects. My interests change with my research. My interests change with need.
My favorites are lists.
Yesterday I was asked what my favorite bird was. I gave an answer, but not just one, because it was expected — the common crow and the belted kingfisher.
I present here a list of favorite birds. It’s in no particular ranking and birds may move on and off the list as my projects and experiences evolve.
- Common Crow - This is a sound memory. My happiest moments of childhood — foggy Maine mornings — include a soundtrack of crow calls. Once I was touring a college campus with my family. My wife turned and found I was gone and asked the group if they had seen me. One observant woman reported that I had wondered off talking to the crows.
- Belted Kingfisher – A wonderful, resourceful, chattering clown. this bird did play a minor role in my Maine summers, but moved onto the favorites list when I observed one outwit an attacking Cooper’s hawk. The bird nests in long underground tunnels. Pretty cool!
- Blue Jays - I’ve a love hate relationship with blue jays. Every time I hear one I am returned to my grandparents’ wooded Philadelphia yard — another favorite childhood place. One a couple of occassions I’ve witnessed blue jays killing other birds for no apparent reason — once dropping from a tree onto a boat I was building. A few years ago I could not spot a blue jay. This went on for months. I heard them, but never saw one. I’ve added peanuts to my feeders and now have loud daily visits.
- Baltimore Orioles – This is about aesthetics. I’ve few early memories of orioles. They are pretty. I’ve always like black and orange and it all comes together on the oriole in grand style. I’ve not seen an oriole nest, but if I do it’ll be another reason to love them.
- Red Winged Blackbird – These guys let me know that spring is here. Like the oriole, I love the red winged blackbirds’ colors — black, red and yellow.
- Penguins – I don’t know much about penguins. I’m not driven to learn more. But, boy are they cute! I loved watching the penguins at the old Indianapolis Zoo in Washington park.
- Bufflehead Ducks – Many years ago my step-daughter gave me a gift certificate at a local woodworking retailer. On a complete whim I purchased Antique-Style Duck Decoys: Contemporary Techniques to Carve and Paint in the Folk Art Tradition by Tom Matus. This book may be the reason I eventually began to carve birds and is without a dount my inspiration for distressing my birds. I was hooked on waterfowl and began to haunt areas I thought should be full of migrating waterfowl. I never found anything but cold and wet grass. Last year I was driving by a modern suburban neighborhood and spotted some tiny ducks. I stopped the car and identified a pair of bufflehead and a pair of redheads. These were my first really good ducks! I’ve since learned where to look and see great ducks every week. This week I’ve seen goldeneyes, buffleheads, redheads and hooded mergansers.
- Chickadees – I remember a tiny window feeder in my boyhood bedroom. From my bed I could see chickadees visiting, taking one seed, flying away to eat and returning for the next. It’s probably the first time I learned a specific bird feeding behavior. I love their friendly call, ” chick-a-dee-dee-dee!” It wasn’t until a few years a go I learned that my Indiana chickadees weren’t the same as my Maine chickadees. In central Indiana we’ve Carolina chickadees. Maine has black-capped.
- Double Crested Cormorant – From our Maine front porch we’d watch these sleek black birds fish. They stayed under for, what seemed, an eternity and swam several dozen feet. On take off they beat their wingtips on the water leaving a traing of concentric circles on the surface. I was taken completely by surprise the first time I saw one in Indiana. I was canoeing tiny Cicero Creek below Morse Reservoir in Noblesville when one surface adjacent to the canoe. I’m not sure which of us was most surprised!
- Osprey – Another Maine regular. When I was young most osprey were gone from the Maine waterfront. When DDT was banned and it worked its way out of the foodchain osprey made a speedy recovery. From our front porch you could watch three nests. Their calls were heard all day. It was hard to believe that they had ever been rare. I see them regularly when canoeing White River in Hamilton County.
This really just scratched the surface. I could name another ten with no problem. heck I could name ten waterfowl or passerines!