“orangedragoness said: You HAVE a hawk? That, is very cool”
Yup, my husband and I are licensed falconers. The season is coming to a close and today is probably one of the last hunting adventures with Rusty as I will be gone for the later half of the month. We plan on releasing him in April. We will trap a new juvenile red-tail in the fall.
Rusty’s probably the most adorable red-tail I’ve ever seen and he has an exceptional personality, but alas, he is built for shrews and mice, not for hunting rabbits or grouse, the game we are after. He will be really happy back in the wild (and no, he won’t be prone to coming to humans for food or be a nuisance, he will be a regular wild hawk again). Hopefully since we helped him survive his very first winter it means he has a nice start to life and will find a lovely female to make baby Rustys with :)
I was commissioned to do a painting for my good friend Todd Green’s article in Emus Today & Tomorrow (a magazine for the emu farming industry). Todd’s article is on extinct emus. (Here is a photo of Todd featured on the cover of a previous issue of the magazine for an incredible skeleton he articulated…Todd loves ratites!)
I took a lot of progress shots to show Todd, and I figured I’d share them here as well. The trickiest thing about this illustration is figuring out what these emus looked like. The standard extant emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae novaehollandiae) was easy as I have a ton of my own reference photos from assisting Todd with his research. The Tasmanian emu subspecies (Dromaius novaehollandiae diemenensis) was also not too bad as there are pretty good written descriptions of them and a reasonably reliable illustration of one done by a 19th century illustrator. However, the King Island emu subspecies (Dromaius novaehollandiae ater), and the separate emu species (determined separate only very recently using genetic data), the Kangaroo Island emu (Dromaius baudinanus) were a lot more difficult and quite a bit more speculative. You can do a Wikipedia or Google search and come up with images right away, but it’s not that easy in reality. The illustrations of the two, both dwarfs only standing about 3ft (~1m) tall as adults are not exactly labelled accurately, especially with the emus undergoing taxonomic renaming since the illustrations were created. To complicate things further, the two emus, despite being difference species, are so similar that the specimens collected by 19th century explorers were mixed up on the way back to Europe. So, the illustrations, one done from live animals and one done from a skin (post-extinction) may not even be properly labelled by the illustrators. Additionally, Victorian/turn-of-the-century taxidermy was not exactly something amazing and could skew the physical features of the animals. Not to mention taking the illustrators’ style in to account.
So, what I did for this painting was take in to account the three illustrations of the extinct emus and written descriptions of the animals to recreate them. Accounts of the live animals place the Tasmanian emu about the same size, maybe slightly smaller, than the modern emu, and lighter in color with a white throat. The King Island and Kangaroo Island emus were both island dwarfs and I can assume, since their remains were confused and mixed up, that they stood about the same height. The King Island is hailed as the smallest emu though, so I made it slightly smaller. One article discussing the genetics of the King Island emu confidently used this illustration for the article, so I chose the King Island’s colors based on that illustration and made the darker coloration the Kangaroo Island emu. It makes more sense to me that the separate species, versus subspecies, would have the most different coloration and slightly different head and neck feather densities.
Okay, let’s get on to the artistic process. First I did a really rough sketch to get the sizes and proportions down in my mind and a basic layout scheme.
Second, I refined the sketch:
I moved the two dwarf emus to the left a bit so that their bills were not conflicting with the lines on the two taller emus. I then transferred the sketch to the stretched watercolor paper I prepared the night before. I put masking fluid over the emus so I could freely work on the background.
The background was done using a wet on wet technique with water colors. I laid some actual emu feathers and salt on the drying paint to get desired textures.
Once the background was dry I removed the masking fluid and hooray! Clean emus to work on!
Here’s the initial go at the modern emu. I used gouache for the rest of the painting. Note that I applied more masking fluid to the emus in front of the one I was working on.
Starting on the Tasmanian emu. Note again, masking fluid onthe emus in front of it.
Done with the initial color on the Tasmanian emu, on to the Kangaroo Island emu.
Kangaroo Island emu color down and on to the next one,
King Island emu color complete. Now I can fuss at all the emus and fiddle with color, contrast, and values.
Here’s a view of my work area at this point.
As I worked on the details I took a black and white photo with my phone (yay technology!) so I could quickly look at just the values of the painting. I saw a few things to tweak, but I was otherwise satisfied.
Painting complete and signed! Ready for (hopefully!) the cover of the magazine C:
I could probably eternally pick at it and fix things, but I’m on a deadline and rather happy with it considering I haven’t worked with traditional media in a while. And yay! A chance to art finally!
End of the world?
I don’t buy it. But, for the fun of it, let’s pretend that it’s going to happen.
What are three things you’re glad you’ve done, and three things you’re sad that you’ve not accomplished?
-Married my best friend
-Pursued my love of natural history to a graduate level.
-Done my best to treat everyone with kindness and understanding.
-Finished my Ph.D.
-Haven’t traveled the world enough.