It’s time for another post. It’s almost impossible to blog at the moment without reference to the pandemic and consequent social (that should really be ‘physical’) distancing. All I will say regarding that is that I’m grateful I’ve got an activity such as painting which I can do inside and is relatively straightforward. If the restrictions last for months it is going to impact on mental health globally, particularly for those who live alone. Yet, on the other hand if this forces all of us to ‘withdraw within and reflect upon ourselves’ that would be no bad thing.
I want to describe the process I go through when I paint in the hope that it may interest those of you who don’t paint and those of you who do, or those of you who have other creative outlets. I also describe how zoologists think about extinction threats.
I find my initial ideas by reading, looking and thinking. I look through bird books and online as I find that birds are an endless source of subject matter. (I’ve been a keen birdwatcher for decades)
Last Christmas my daughter gave me Facing Extinction written by four ornithologists and published by Christopher Helm. The book is a sad testament to how we exploit natural resources for profit but also has some encouraging and heroic stories about conservation of species. One of the birds discussed is the rufous-headed hornbill which is ‘critically endangered.’ ( Zoologists use seven categories of extinction-risk. In increasing order of threat they are, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.) Although the book is beautifully illustrated this hornbill was not featured but I soon found images online.
The authors of the book explain how deforestation is a major factor in species decline and loss. For example, palm oil plantations are responsible for the full-scale destruction of rain forest habitats. (Most of the tree species in rain forests have taken up to ninety years to reach maturity and they are felled in an afternoon!) The oil from these trees is found in a huge variety of consumer products such as shampoo, peanut butter and biscuits. To reference this I decided to paint a ‘portrait’ of the hornbill next to a palm oil tree.
Here is the initial drawing which has a few notes regarding colours I intended to use. When I ‘compose’ a picture I think about negative space from the beginning. (Negative spaces are the shapes between objects.)
The next image shows one stage of the painting where I have at first painted the palm oil tree before finishing the bird.
This is the finished painting. I wanted to paint the out-sized bill in bright colours and to suggest its horny texture. You may also notice I’ve added more feathery texture to the neck and more leaf fronds on the right hand side.
The overhanging fronds may suggest a protective covering for the hornbill but if you look closely the tips of the fronds appear as if they are slashed. Why is this? This is where a title of a painting is crucial, just as with a poem. I sent the finished painting to a few friends (on WhatsApp) and got responses along the lines of ‘vibrant’ and ‘uplifting’. Now, see how your view changes with two alternative titles. Firstly, Rufous-headed hornbill, secondly, Critically Endanged. Obviously I would opt for the second but I must admit that I painted the palm tree with as much care and attention as the hornbill.
I would use the term ‘eco-art’ to describe most of my recent paintings. At first glance this one may remind you of a poster for a Caribbean holiday and I do wonder if this was a subconscious factor in its composition. Without the title, perhaps viewers may simple see this work as a colourful painting?
As a postscript, climate change will probably pose as many problems as the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps we are at a turning point in history now and our very survival will be in question if we do not seriously address this problem. It takes an invisible ‘enemy’ like a virus to get the engines of government and communities engaged. Climate change does not seem as immediate as Covid 19 but both phenomena show how interconnected everything is. Covid 19 has caused a global response. What will it take to get governments to take comparative action to mitigate against the dire effects of climate change?