Painting The Bird With Bling

Painted bunting. What do you wear with that color combo?

Pine warblers aside (and mine is getting all porky on his daily diet of suet) my top dollar backyard bird has got to be the the Painted bunting, a certified tropical with temperate zone breeding habits. Gotta love a bird that color-clashes with everything. It’s a twanger in the eye-candy department, the visual equivalent of Frank Zappa playing Bach on the banjo while riding a costumed alpaca. You’ll do a double-take when you see it.


It’s also a summer bird in the northern hemisphere (meaning my backyard) and it is, ahem, currently winter here. I’ve been asked to paint another cover for Bird Watcher’s Digest (May/June issue) and this is the way things work in the publishing world- you work months ahead of time. I’ve been doing this forever, always working on Christmas stuff in July, trying to get in the holiday mood when I’d rather go swimming. The subject of this cover is the very summery Painted bunting, and it’s terribly out of season for it.


How nice it is to have a pile of sketchbooks with assorted drawings to choose from. How unfortunate that there is no living habitat to work from outside where the temperature is below freezing. How nice it is to have photos of my beloved garden to work with. (I heard Monet had a staff to tend his waterlilies. That’s so unfair).

my fave rave daylily, but a bit much, don’t you think?

Usually I paint something and then wrack my brains to think up a title when I’m done. This time, however, I did it the other way around and came up with the title first. It’s a nice title: Up Jumped Summer (stolen from the Herbie Hancock tune, Up Jumped Spring) It conjures up a lot of images for me, and I’ve been playing around with three in particular. One is of the bird perched on the stem of a violently red daylily (remember how I said this bird clashes with everything?) I had to drop the red daylily due to a dogfight between bird and flower-  I even tried a rough version of it with the daylily faded back and I liked it well enough but it didn’t really scream loud enough to fit the vision, or the title.


… another of the bunting perched amid the sun-drenched leaves of a brilliant yellow and red canna (more successful).

I love this light!

and finally, one with the bunting scouting around in my Romano pole-beans, a slightly more prosaic approach but one that’s  kinder on the eyes, and one that speaks of the humble need to eat that connects us all. I’m leaning in the latter direction.


7 thoughts on “Painting The Bird With Bling

  1. Pica says:

    This is a fascinating process, to see how you decide on compositions — and that you move to a horizontal format when BWD is vertical. (Do you send them the image and then they crop as needed?)

  2. Vickie says:

    Hi. I stumbled across your blog site because I was researching photos of whippoorwills while working on two watercolor illustrations for a friends article. I am enjoying your sketches and field notes/journals and particularly enjoyed seeing your blog on sketching from bird skins. Thanks for you willingness to put your process out there. Vickie

  3. tr says:

    I am rooting for bird and bean. You know I’ve never seen a painted bunting before. My bird dream – that one. Congrats on the BD cover — I just received my first issue — did not realize that you were a contributor. I’ll no doubt want to frame it and have the artist sign it! One advantage of living in Oklahoma! Hope your staying warm. I went from Hawaii to NYC – culture shock, weather shock, people shock. Bonfire of the senses. Great post!

  4. zeladoniac says:

    The format for Bird Watcher’s Digest covers is in fact horizontal- the art goes across the front and the back cover as a single piece. I’ll post the layout as I go.

    One great thing about doing the BWD covers is that they produce limited edition prints from the paintings. My Painted Bunting will be sold as a print, and the original will be for sale as well. I’ll make them available here. Stay tuned!

  5. Becky says:

    Love the “bling bling” bird on the blue daylilies. I love the background showing through — what a happy painting! Can’t wait for the BWD to come out – congrats on yet another wonderful cover, I’m sure.

  6. Bonnie says:

    Hi Debby,
    Watching your process is so fulfilling! I imagine you like a chef in a busy kitchen with several dishes on the stovetop and a handful of tools. It’s hard to imagine how you work two paintings at a time.
    You provide so much visual information on your site in your art and your photos as well as what you write about birds.
    I love your blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s