Painting the Motmot

Motmot in the Shadows

Broad Billed Motmot Electron platyrhynchum, Acrylic 17″ x 17″

I’m officially in Show Mode, making pictures for an upcoming solo show, so posts may be a little sparse for a while. But I’ll be sharing new paintings, drawings and thoughts as often as I can as I go.

I’ve just finished up another acrylic. This one is so far untitled, but it’s a Broadbilled Motmot, worked up from a drawing I did on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Motmots are big colorful birds, and highly vocal, but for all that, are they ever hard to see. They spend a lot of their time sitting still in the understory, scanning the surroundings for large insects and occasionally lizards. They also eat fruit and have a “swoop and snag” technique for making that big frugiverous capture.

Because they sit so quietly, they blend right in to the background, and in dappled light a motmot can be tough to see. And since their calls are ventriloquial, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere, it’s really tough to find them by sound. You spend a lot of time scanning for a motmot, which will almost invariably fly the moment you spot it. They are watching you, too.

I found this particular motmot sitting on a liana near a trail about five feet from the ground, and as it seemed to be interested in something else, I slowly sank to the ground and opened my sketchbook, trying not to look directly at it which might have spooked it off. The motmot turned its head this way and that, until suddenly it pushed off from the liana and flew across the clearing, flaring the long tail as it grabbed a huge beetle from the trunk of a tree. It returned to the liana and began clobbering the hell out of it against the woody vine, knocking off the indigestible wing covers and subduing its struggling supper. I’ve seen flycatchers do this, too, and Bee eaters in Australia, who have some serious big stinging wasps to vanquish before eating can commence.

This is a painting of one of the many unseen watchers in the forest, operating in the shadows, safely hidden by tricks of light and sound.

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