Red Letter Bird

Spring in southern Nova Scotia is well under way, and we have been blessed by a plethora of excellent and unusual birds. Our garden feeders have been busy with Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings and Baltimore Orioles, amongst the more common visitors, but we have yet to be graced with one of this species, the spectacular male Scarlet Tanager. One turned up at the home of Joan and Al Comeau very recently, much to their delight, and they were kind enough to let us know and allow us to invade their home to see the bird. A Nova Scotia tick, and such a lovely one, is definitely a red (scarlet?)-letter day!.

Mark took a very nice photo of the bird, posing in their apple tree, and I was inspired to have a go at a painting.

scarlet t rs watermarked

Note that this is a male bird, but it is not yet in its full breeding plumage. In fact, this bird, in late evening sunshine, had a lovely combination of reds and oranges to work with. Using only the Supracolors for this painting, I ended up using scarlet (of course), vermillion, flame red, reddish orange, orange, fast orange, golden yellow and pale yellow on the ‘red’ portions alone. It is difficult to capture the sheer intensity of the colour on this bird, using a transparent medium like watercolour, but I found that going over the painting with another coat of pencil, once the first layer had dried, did get closer to the true vibrancy. In retrospect, this might have been a good subject for the Inktense pencils, maybe as a base coat? I will have to try that, elsewhere. The fact that the Inktense are not re-wettable, once dried, might also help. Anyhow, I rather enjoyed working on this bird, especially the spectacular ‘scarlet’ plumage…a chance to work with some of the lesser-used pencils in my set!

scarlet tanager rs watermark

‘Scarlet Tanager’, 8 x 10 inch watercolour pencil (Caran d’Ache Supracolor) on 140 lb cold press watercolour paper (Canson XL).


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Sandra Dennis

Now I'm in early retirement from my previous career as a pharmaceutical scientist, I've taken to creating art pieces. I specialise in wildlife art, especially birds.

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