Sunday, June 21, 2015


The food here is terrible,
and the portions are too small.

Woody Allen

The diets of  both birds and insects are varied and can be remarkably specific. Their preferences have great impact on the ecosystems where they live.  Their lives in turn are dependent on the qualities of the land they inhabit.

In my Life series I have made it simpler for them by creating a pantry for their use.  The container for this storage unit is a clock case collaged with famous art work depicting birds and insects.  I have used other clock cases as temples so this one could also be considered the Temple of Food.

Inside there are bottles and cans, similarly collaged, which contain dried seeds for future dinners or as reserves for times of famine.  How do the birds survive in Michigan in the winter when the temperatures are so cold and everything seems covered with ice?  They amaze me.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


I think it's wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly.

Steven Wright

Loosely based on pages from the Lindesfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, the Game Board for the Life of Birds and Insects project was not designed to be played but rather to look like it could be played.  Now that it exists, Korinthia Klein and her 3 game playing children have been working on ideas and rules for actually using it.  I believe it is the reverse of how most games have been designed.

St. Cuthbert's Duck (an Eider Duck) resides in the center of the board.
Cuthbert lived in the north of England in the Farne Islands.  He was a Prior and eventually a Bishop but his heart was that of an Anchorite.  He chose to live on Inner Farne Island which no one before him had successfully inhabited.  His close association with, and love for, the waterfowl of the region led him to make laws in 676 protecting the nesting birds.  This might well make him the first conservationist.

Soon after Cuthbert's death the monks created the Lindesfarne Gospels in his honor.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Classic literature is still something that hangs in the air like a song.

G.K. Chesterton

The covers of all the books that will hang as "literatura de cordel" in the library of the birds and insects are pochoir prints.  The prints of leaves will not blend into the drawing of the owls when they are attached to it,  but they will have a relationship by virtue of their subject matter.  Leaves are either applied printed directly on to some books while others are cut and pasted on the covers.  

Each of the books contains a quote appropriate to the species featured - in human language. The main text is either in musical notations by F. Schuyler Mathews (published in 1904 and still referred to today) or language found in field guides and written in the Roman alphabet. 

Five owls are featured in the anthology.  All are drawn with micron pens and and photocopied.
The eyes of four of the birds are hand colored. The Barred Owl, which has dark eyes, has a bit of highlighting to its feathers,  also done with color pencil.

Four warblers and their songs are featured in this book.  All are depicted in watercolor and color pencil then  reproduced with high quality inkjet prints and tipped in.

Three wrens and their songs are depicted in watercolor with some color pencil and metallic gold acrylic in the background.  They are reproduced with high quality inkjet and tipped onto the pages.
This book is dedicated to Hetsy (Henrietta) Slote.

In a pochoir print done with watercolor and metallic acrylic, a Hermit Thrush sings to a
Wood Thrush.  This illustration is an original print, not a reproduction.

This book contains a single species of sparrow - the Song Sparrow.  It is in tribute to Margaret Morse Nice whose study of the bird was a great contribution to ornithology.
The illustration is an original pochoir done with watercolor.  The inside of the cover is marbleized paper and is a reference to the water of the Olentangy River which flowed by Mrs. Nice's property in Columbus, Ohio.  The photograph behind the sparrow was taken of trees where she did her work next to the river. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015


O you virtuous owle, 
The wise Minerva's only fowle.
Sir Philip Sidney

The owl, a symbol of wisdom and erudition, is featured as a bird (a Barred Owl) and as a butterfly in a drawing to be installed inside a wall cabinet / library.  It will be obscured in its final state by books attached to the drawing.  There will be five books "written" by different species of birds and five books written by different species of insects.  The text will, indeed, be in their own languages.

Viewers will be able to open the doors of the cabinet and remove the books for reading.  The concept is based on "literatura de cordel," a tradition in northeastern Brazil where books of poetry, songs and stories are hung on strings for sale in marketplaces and at festivals.  These books, with original woodcut covers, are affordable and popular.  They follow a long tradition of chapbook and pamphlet printing in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


 The number of guests at dinner should not be less than the number of the Graces nor exceed that of the Muses, i.e., it should begin with three and stop at nine.

Marcus Terentius Varro

At the same time that I was pondering designing four dinner plates for the Birds and Insects project, I was also reading Virgil's Georgics as research for a book dealing with the observation of bees.  The Georgics is divided into four chapters.  It became clear that the two projects could be combined.

Reading the Georgics was a wonderful adventure.  It included forming a very small reading group with another avid reader/artist, Ruth Bardenstein, and searching for a translation which suited us.  After many attempts we settled on the recent, remarkable translation by the poet David Ferry. 

Each of the four books is devoted to a different aspect of agriculture and explores its glories and its terrors.  In the first book Virgil looks at seeds and planting, weather and celestial indicators, - how beautiful as well as how fickle the world is.  Everything worked so hard to attain can be ruined in a minute.  In the second book he speaks of trees and vines with emphasis on grapes and wine.  The third book is the most alarming with its love of livestock and animals in general, followed by the horrors of plagues that kill them and ruin the lives of the people who depend on them.  The final book deals with the lives of bees and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, overlapping with the story of Aristaeus
and the eventual discovery of bugonia, an ancient belief in the creation of bees in rotting animal flesh.

In each book the dark side includes a snake.  

Using other reference material that clarified actual species of birds and plants, I selected images that were specific to the books.  The project was not an attempt to illustrate the Georgics;  rather it was used as inspiration for the images.  On each plate there is a snake which in three cases is headless and looks like a ribbon so it would be less frightening to the diner.

Monday, April 21, 2014


At one magical instant in your childhood, the page of a book - that string of confused, alien ciphers - shivered into meaning.  Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened.  You became, irrevocably, a reader.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

Owls, linked with darkness, were once considered frightening - serving in myths as guardians of the underworld.   They were  believed to have the gift of prophecy.  Supposedly the hooting of an owl predicted the death of Julius Caesar.

Alternately, they can be cast in the more appealing role of representing intelligence and learning.

In this drawing the Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula) represents wisdom.  It rests in the night sky behind a heap of books that deal with birds and insects.  Although they are not identified by titles they are all actually books from my library.  Among the volumes  is the field guide to Damselflies of Texas, written by John Abbott of UT Austin and illustrated by Barrett Klein.  One of my artist's books, a collaboration with Bill Harris, appears in the upper left with a stag beetle on the cover.

The remarkable, articulated, silver, praying mantis pin was made by Ricky Boscarino.  The ceramic owl came out of a package of Red rose tea and the plastic rooster on wheels was brought to me from India.

Living with the owl is the owl butterfly (genus Caligo) displaying its underwings which imitate the bird so amazingly well.  The astral object near the bird's head is  the Owl Nebula which resides in the cup of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).  Also depicted is the now obsolete constellation Noctua which was once placed at the end of the tail of the constellation Hydra.  Athene noctua is a small owl associated with the goddess Athena.  It is known to live on the Acropolis in Athens.

This drawing is the second in the series of the Life of Birds and Insects.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


"Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open under the sky.  Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars."

Carl Sagan

A Marbled Godwit and a Whimbrel, shore birds native to Michigan, stand rapt in wonder, watching the night sky.  It is their theater.  The darkness is filled not only with stars but birds and butterflies that aspire to be equally as beautiful.  This is part of the Life of Birds and Insects.

A companion drawing - Theater of Insects. The title is taken from a book published in 1634 - a work generally credited to Thomas Mofet but actually inherited and completed by him.  Mofet did not see its publication as  that final step came 30 years after his death. In this drawing there is the addition of the Moonflower which is a botanical pretender to the night sky.