Birds (A5 mixed media on a Moleskine sketchbook 2016)
Something pretty grim must have taken place in our garden in the early hours of Saturday morning.
When we went outside to breakfast in the pale sunshine of an English summer morning, we found a perfect young female blackbird dead on the lawn. A few metres away were the scattered feathers of a male with more under the mulberry tree. Who was responsible for this carnage? A sparrowhawk? One of the evil cats that stalk our quiet road?
For me the blackbird’s song is the sound of summer. That melodic trilling they do when seeking a mate is so evocative of warm summer evenings, of peace after a long day, of lying in bed as a child while it’s still light outside. To see a dead blackbird with its song forever stilled is heart-breaking.
Here’s my contribution to Draw-a-Bird Day, which happens every month on the 8th. One month I’ll draw a ‘proper’ bird – mine always seem unconvincing, like they’re made out of painted concrete or something – but here are some that I did to test a Moleskine storyboard notebook.
‘Angry crow’ is almost tautologous: have you ever seen a crow that isn’t highly annoyed about something or other? The Scribble Bird was drawn with one of those multi-coloured pencils you see in museums (Quentin Blake actually does beautiful drawings with those things). Road Kill is self-explanatory and the Gulls owe something to my new hero, Felix Scheinberger, who wrote a whole textbook on illustration in German themed around birds.
I hope you’re as happy as a seagull with a stolen chip.
Seagull sketches (A5 graphite on A5 sketchbook page 2015)
In England, seagulls have acquired a bad reputation: they steal your ice cream cones and grab your sandwiches; attack children and old people for no obvious reason; crazed on fast food leftovers they swoop down on small dogs and cats and then turn on each other. In Brighton and London there is talk of culling them to reduce the dangers posed by these wild-eyed flying devils with unlimited resources of anger and razor sharp beaks.
Last week we spent some days in North Devon where the seagulls seemed more reasonable. I did spend some time watching three of them sitting on a rowing boat, and whenever a fourth arrived one of the three had to clear off, instead of just rearranging themselves so that all had some private space.
The gulls in these sketches, however, were much more reasonable. Perhaps there are fewer fast food leftovers in North Devon and they’re less brain-damaged by additives and chemicals, but on Woolacombe Beach they seemed to co-exist reasonably enough with us and with each other, picking over pieces of leftover food and the occasional cigarette end without too much aggression. These sketches were each completed in under a minute before they moved on. I thought of polishing them up into finished drawings but they’re reminders, as they stand, of a sunny afternoon on a sandy beach in early September. No dogs, old people or ice cream cones were damaged in the making of these sketches.