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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pride of the Glens

"Pride of the Glens", one of my very recent pieces and part of my ever-growing new series "To Scotland and Back", has just found himself a new home.  On Monday morning this stag will be on his way to St. Andrews Scotland - which delights me to no end!
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, it's a red deer - they're similar but smaller to our North American elk and native to Great Britain.  I'd seen a rather large herd of stags at the bottom of Glen Etive during my backpacking adventure there last summer.  My sad little camera didn't have the power to zoom in on them and do them justice, but I will be posting photos of the stags, and also the gathering of hinds I saw not too far from them. 

So... just a quick little post tonight so you can see this fellow before he "goes home".   I'm a tad envious, I wish I was heading back over there too!

A Blog by any other name...

In my wanderings through artist profiles on Facebook I stumbled upon a fan page and links that begged further investigation.  I'd found two gorgeous magazines produced by Stampington & Company, well, two of several they produce - Where Women Create and Artful Blogging.  Among other goals this year, two are at the top of the list, the blog and the studio, so this was exactly the the inspiration I needed to pull out the stops and really go to it on both counts.  The more I looked at the fan page and the websites, the more I felt urged to run out to Borders Bookstore and hold these issues in my hands and really examine them.  Temptation being too much, I loaded my teenager in the car and did exactly that... and ended up buying both along with a drawing book for my budding-artist boy.

You might notice a new name for this blog this morning - the idea came to me last night.  I had been under the impression that the blog's name should mirror the studio name but after poring through pages of stories written by so many creative spirits, I realized that just isn't true.  A blog is more organic than a website and often reflects more of the nature and personality of the author.  My passion in creativity covers many areas, but most of all it lies in painted feathers and has for 20 years.  That passion and my painting style have grown and evolved so much, which has opened so many wonderful doors - not just in art business but in adventures and in life.  I do this creative work from my home studio so the name change just felt so right - The Feathered Nest  it is!

As I work to find my own creative voice within this space, you're going to begin to see more photos.  They may not always pertain to the subject at hand and they won't be limited to my paintings. They will often be glimpses of my life though, whether it's local or some distant adventure.

These snapshots are from a rare sunny winter day in La Push on Washington's Coast.  I do love living in the Pacific  Northwest, as nature provides so much inspiration everywhere you look!

.....Happy Weekend! :-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Feathers I use

"Do you pluck the feathers from the birds?"  It's a question I am often asked.  Much of the time it's only in jest, but sometimes the inquirer is serious.  Considering the size of a flight feather's quill and how deeply it's rooted, it would be a very cruel thing to do.

The feather is an amazing adaptation exclusive to birds.  Structurally, this is the most complex body covering of any animal on the planet.  It provides the avians with insulation, protection, courtship display, and often skillful flight.  Other animals do indeed fly, some have been at it much longer than birds - but birds have developed flight to such an art form that very few creatures can come close to matching.

Birds possess several types of feathers, but the ones that I use in painting are all flight feathers - most of these are secondary wing feathers, occasionally a tail feather, and on rare occasion a primary wing feather. The reason for that is their breadth and their strength.  Flight feathers must stand up to wind pressure and give the animal lift and maneuverability. 

Each flight feather has the same structure and anatomy:  quill, shaft, down, vane ... the  colorless tip of the shaft that lies beneath the skin's surface is the quill.  Think of feather pens, it is the part that was trimmed and used for writing.  Pick up a feather from the ground and you will see a ring above the quill, much like the cuticle where your fingernail meets with your skin.  The longer the quill below that cuticle in relation to the size of the feather, the more powerful the flight of that bird.  An eagle has a very long quill and a powerful sturdy shaft; the peacock's quill is rather short - he has just enough flight capacity to carry him across a field or up into the trees.


Each feather when firmly attached and in use has its own blood supply.  The quill is wide and tubular at the tip, allowing blood flow to feed and nourish that feather.  As the feather wears out and no longer serves the bird well, the tip of that quill will pinch closed, cutting off the blood supply, allowing the feather to "die" and drop off.  Molting occurs in stages, often after breeding season - the bird will not be without enough feathers with which to fly.  During the molt, worn feathers in this transition can irritate the bird - the flesh will begin to itch.  That's when you'll see the bird preening and pulling the loosened feathers to rid himself of the irritation.  Occasionally you'll find one with a snip taken out of it... that's one that was bothering the bird and was probably still hanging on pretty good.  It's disappointing to pick one up that's absolutely perfect, except for that chunk taken out of the top of it!

Now look at a discarded wing feather's tip.  Does it taper to a point, like a pencil?  That feather dropped off naturally.  Does that feather, rather, look wide and open at the tip, like a drinking straw?  That feather was very much alive and was pulled out of the bird.  You might see traces of blood in that one, its removal was far from a pleasant experience.

If you ever attempt painting feathers, you'll discover that flight feathers are the best ones to use.  Most feathers have the same anatomy with the clinging properties of the barbs, but the wing feathers are more rigid and their barbules and hooklets cling with more strength.  Primary feathers, located furthest out on the wing, have the most strength of all. Their purpose is to slice through the air and propel the bird forward.  The shaft is quite stout, and the leading edge of a primary feather is quite narrow.  You'll feel a very strong cling when you pull the barbs of a primary feather apart.  The secondary feathers, closer to the body of the bird along the ulna of the wing, are considerably wider and the widths of the leading and trailing edges are closer to equal.  These are responsible for providing the loft in flight.  You'll find that tail feathers, while still good for painting, separate much more easily than wing feathers.  Their job is to act as a rudder and brake, and they don't meet with as much resistance from the wind. 

One more important matter to keep in mind when selecting feathers - make sure you are using the plumage of domesticated birds, and not that of indigenous wild fowl.  I am speaking strictly from a USA standpoint here, other countries may differ - there are many laws forbidding the use of wild feathers.  I believe that nationwide you cannot pick up and possess a feather from any bird of prey.  Eagle feathers are widely known to be illegal, but the same goes for hawks, owls, etc.  It does vary somewhat from state to state, but in some states you cannot pick up feathers from any wild birds.  Best to play it safe, stick with "barnyard" birds.  Happy painting!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Painted Feathers for our Future Leaders

Art auction donation is a topic frequently talked about by artists.  There is a plethora of wonderful causes out there to contribute to, but I tend to stick to the ones near and dear to my heart. 

One such organization is the Boy Scouts of America.  I've two sons, one was a Boy Scout and was in the position of Senior Patrol Leader for his Troop.  That experience has served him well as he embarks on his path in the Navy.  His younger brother is still in Scouts.  I've seen all the wonderful good that Scouting does for kids, the confidence it brings them, the direction, the leadership skills, the ability to work well with others, the tools necessary for setting and meeting goals, and for succeeding in life. 

It is for those reasons that I continue to contribute to the BSA.  I've supported units, projects on Scout camps, and OA Section events.  These youth are our future leaders. Attached here is one that I've painted for W-1N Conclave.  The section designations changed last year, and this feather represents those changes.  It also shows Pacific Northwestern natives arriving for Potlatch, representing the youth who converge from all the Lodges within a Section for the annual Conclave event.  This was auctioned at last year's Conclave hosted by T'Kope Kwiskwis Lodge of Chief Seattle Council and went to support this year's program, to be hosted by Nisqually Lodge of Pacific Harbors Council.

This year I want to mix it up a bit and provide an auction donation that's not like those of past years.  It'll still be a feather painting, but I want to possibly make it a double-feather presentation, and maybe include something else in the frame.  This piece isn't too clear in my head yet, and I will be seeking input from the youth.  This is for them, after all, and it is their program, and I'd like them to think about what might draw good support in an auction.

What organizations are near and dear to your heart, and why?

Monday, February 01, 2010

When Words Are Not Needed to tell a Story

Just a short post today, short on words but long on photos.  My husband forwarded a beautiful photo-narrative to me.  Unfortunately I know nothing of its origins, or who the people are who are involved... but it's pretty clear what became of the little dog.  Does anyone know where this came from?

It's a story that will tug at your heart.  Enjoy!