Sunday, February 26, 2012

Artist creative process: Conception and inspiration.

Gang Gang Cockatoo Crest Feather
 Inspiration comes for me, from at least fivesources:
1.       Out-of-the-blue
2.       From feathers
3.       From birds
4.       Concepts and meaning
5.       From other people.

I can sit down with a pen and paper and roughly sketch out ideas from out of the blue for at least ten pieces in an hour.  Notebooks full of new ideas sit on my bookcase.  Maybe half of the ideas have potential and one comes to fruition.  This low ratio is because there is only so much time, some ideas are just unworkable, and some need more development.  Well, all need more development and the final piece may end up quite different from the original idea.

But if I sit down with a pen and paper with feathers in hand, ideas come much faster and they are better.  The curve of a shaft as well as the shape and size are primary factors in the designing.  The Capercaillie, the largest of the world’s grouse that lives from Siberia to Scotland, has large flank feathers that half twist down the shaft in a lovely sort of way.  Playing with two matching feathers, I noticed that they fit together like the two halves of a tennis ball: they made sort of a sphere.

What birds do and how they look also assist me. The way a male golden pheasants bright orange triangular neck cape coils forward when it displays is sort of a golden spiral.  Woodpeckers  peck.  Pigeons sit on wires.   

Concepts and meaning.  Take crows for example.  They are loud, live amongst us and we know them…sort of; they are social, and fly.  These things can communicate strong meaning.  Their black feathers lend themselves to stark expression.

Inspiration from other people.   Since ideas and inventions are built on older ones, I draw inspiration from others' work--like M.C.Escher’s themes for instance.  When I wanted to express the general idea of change and transformation which he seemed captivated with, the kind of feather I found didn’t matter too much.  So the one I used, from a Demoiselle Crane, ended up informing the size and background of the finished piece.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Destroy a Feather

If you are a bird, your feathers are only alive and supplied by blood when they are growing.  Once fully formed, the feathers are clinically dead and the process of decay begins.  Fortunately feathers are mostly pretty tough. 

One type of feather function is meant for decay: powder-down. This tiny type of down feather is always converting the tips into fine powder.  The purpose of these feathers are to be spread when a bird preens where the powder soaks up grime and waterproofs.  Kind of like what some of the conditioning products do that we put in our hair.

Otherwise, only when the feather cells die are they ready to perform the function of flight, warmth, protection,, waterproofing, and display. 

Feathers begin wearing down immediately after they are grown.   As this process goes on, it can change the bird’s appearance. Male goldfinches for instance, look quite different at the beginning of the breeding season and the end simply because the colorful tips of the feathers have worn down.

Birds try to slow down the process of decay so they can look good and function well.  They preen to arrange their feathers to keep warm and fly well.  They take dust baths to slow down feather-eating mites.

When feathers are shed, they keep their structure for a little while at least, until they decompose, are eaten by bugs, and become dirt.  

How do birds throw out their old feathers?  On schedule. Except for a few birds, they don’t shed all at once or they couldn’t fly or keep warm.  They shed once or twice a year in a pattern to let new feathers grow in.  More about this later in another post.