Alphabird has Fledged!

 Oh my.....it's been a very long and intense four days, as I pushed to get this book done so I could stay on schedule. The push started early Friday morning, when I had to carefully pack up all of the birds for the six hour photo shoot took place at the studio of Dan Kvitka. I had spent the previous week creating a crude dummy of the book (with the help of my new intern Sonja!)  so we would know our background colors and positioning in advance and save some time. Here's a few still shots of the day, beginning with a shot of all the freshly unpacked birds laid out on the table waiting for their moment: 

we started with A, and proceeded to shoot all the other birds on the light blue backdrop. 

 This was my view for about half of the day--making sure it looks right in the camera and comparing it to my dummy book.

Once I had my photos, I spent a mad 24 hours on the weekend doing the real layout of each page on my computer, followed by a thorough proofreading by my childhood friend Janet Harris on Sunday night, and then yesterday was spent updating the editorial corrections and working with the publisher on all the pesky last minute details. Phew! Sooooooooo glad to have this one in the can! 
And now.....I have a little surprise for you! There's one more bird I made for the dedication page--a special bird I designed along with my goddaughter Birdie.  At some point, I took a photo of her holding the drawings we did together, but I'm not sure where they are, so I'll just present the title page to you now: 

 Birdie requested a pink bird, and we decided it should have a Davy Crockett hat on--one of Birdie's favorite characters. (The other historical contender for this bird's outfit was Abraham Lincoln!) I want to save the bird to be a surprise for her when the book is published, so I will leave you now with this sweet shot of Birdie and my dog Weegee at the soap box derby races last month.  

take care,


Ready for the last Alphabird?????

Hey Beautiful People!
This is it.....our final bird in the book! 

 V is for Violet,
a violinist so mod,
froze her skates into ice
and played till it thawed!

Some of you may have perked up your ears when you read that ditty....it's an homage to one of my favorite musicians, Laurie Anderson, a violin-wielding performance artist. One of her early performances was titled Duet on Ice, where she froze her ice skate blades into a block of ice and then played until they thawed.  Here's a video of her performing the piece a few years ago: 
 I guess my Vireo is in for a very long performance, since her skates are fully encased in the giant ice block!  I really set myself up for a challenge with this piece--first by having to figure out how to shape the wings so they can believably play a violin in an anthropomorphic way, but also learning about casting resins that will yield a crystal clear "ice block."
I found a polyester resin and set to testing before I put my precious Violet into the mix. One risk is that the resin will cloud or bubble up, especially when you're casting natural materials like wood. I felt that my piece had so many paint layers that it would be fine, but just in case, I did a tiny test with a painted wood piece leftover from my playing card set--a peacock feather I made from wood, wire and paint: 

 Well, that looks pretty good, I thought.....so I embarked on my larger mold. The biggest challenge was how to pour the resin into the mold, not spilling it on my bird. The tail I made was really getting in the way, so I removed it and added it back on after the cube was done. I was so nervous this morning taking the mold walls off, since the violin bow is quite delicate, but fortunately, it worked. Here's the process shots I took along the way so you can vicariously bite your nails along with me! 

So happy to be done with the birds and move onto the photo shoot a week from today! 
Thanks again to everyone for their encouragement along the way. Once the book is done and off to the printer, I will be contacting the Kickstarter supporters who pledged for original artwork as your rewards to figure out how I can make you happy!  For anyone who missed the Kickstarter but wants a bird or a book now that you've seen them all, you'll have to wait until November when the book launches at the Portland Audubon Wild Arts Festival in late November! Sign up for my email list and you'll get a friendly reminder closer to the date.
take care,


    Z is for.....

    Hello Beautiful People!
    I'm a little bleary-eyed today after staying up most of last night to watch my Night Blooming Cereus flower do its thing for the very first time in the 14 years I've owned it. (click here to see my time-lapse video) But I'm back with the Z bird today--a Zebra Finch who lives in a zither! 
     Z is for Zelda,
    whose chirp goes "tick-tock."
    She lives in a zither-shaped
    cute cuckoo clock.
     This is definitely one of the larger and more intricate pieces in the book. Gotta go out with a bang, right? Here's a few detail shots so you can appreciate the shingled roof: 
     And here's that clock face and two zebra finch cuckoo birds! 
     I'm planning on doing the mockup for the book soon, so I will have to figure out the best angle to show all the details.
    Thanks everyone who has sent such sweet messages to me in the past week as I've been finishing this stage of the project. I haven't had the time to respond to everyone, but know that I have read them all and am so thankful. 
    There's one last bird in the Alphabird alphabet.....V.  I *think* I'll be able to present it tomorrow, but it's been giving me some challenges that I believe I tackled today. You'll see why. It will be so worth it if it works!  
    And now, your moment of Zen: 
     take care,


    X is for.....

    Hello again beautiful people!
    It's a good thing the avian kingdom is so large, and that we have thoughtful countries like Mexico who use the letter X at the beginning of so many words. For the aforementioned reasons, our book could proudly include the Xenops as its X species. 

     X is for Xerxes,
    whose plumage was brown,
    but it didn't inhibit
    his need to get down!

    This was a fun one to make.  I took advantage of his all brown plumage (unusual for a bird found south of the border! and added the brown shoes so familiar in my childhood and now oddly back in vogue: Birkenstocks 

     Here's the full piece as it will look in the book: 

     This shot allows you to appreciate the wingspan with slightly curved wingtips:

     I wish I could say this instrument was also playable, like the marimba I made.....but maybe this video will make up for it. 

     Back tomorrow with.....not sure yet, but it will be good!
    take care.


    Y is for.....

    Hello Beautiful People! 
    Here we go again....continuing our push to complete the characters of Alphabird this week!  I'm really excited about this one, so sit tight for lots of documentation..... 

     Y is for Yuki
    who mastered the yu,
    while also tap-shoe-ing
    and yodeling too.

    As you may have guessed, Y was one of the more challenging letters of the book. I returned to my woodpecker family to make a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, and was only offered two ancient Chinese musical instruments. One choice was the Yun-Lo--a gong.....but that was already covered, so I was happy to fall back on the obsolete Chinese wind instrument, the Yu. 

    To be honest, I'm not really sure how this thing is played, and there are no videos to be found, to the best of my knowledge. I did find this description, that makes me think there are several tunings to this instrument: "multiple bamboo pipes fixed in a wind chest which may have been made of bamboo, wood, or gourd. Each pipe contained a free reed, which was also made of bamboo. Whereas the sheng was used to provide harmony (in fourths and fifths), the yu was played melodically. The instrument was used, often in large numbers, in the court orchestras of ancient China (and also imported to Korea and Japan) but is no longer used."
    There's some great lore associated with this instrument, according to Wikipedia: Although the yu is now obsolete, it is known to most Chinese speakers through the saying "Làn yú chōng shù" (滥竽充数), meaning "to fill a position without having the necessary qualifications." The saying is derived from the story of Nanguo, a man from southern China who joined the royal court orchestra of King Xuan of Qi (宣王, 319 BC–300 BC), the ruler of the State of Qi (Shandong province) as a yu player. Although the man did not actually know how to play this instrument, he knew that the orchestra had no fewer than 300 yu players, so he felt secure that he could simply pretend to play, and thus collect a musician's salary. Upon the king's death, Nanguo was eventually found out as an impostor when the king's son Min (泯王, 300 BC–283 BC), who had succeeded his father as king, asked the musicians to play individually rather than as a group. On the night before he was to play, Nanguo fled the palace, never to return.
    Since yodeling is something I'll have to indicate via text in the book, I decided to add lederhosen to my sapsucker: 

     I was happy to find several dashing pairs of masculine tap shoes to emulate as well: 

     So now I present to you, our Yu-playing, tap dancing and yodeling Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker: 

     As with the nose flute, I had a great time looking at yodeling videos. Here are my two favorites: 

     Back tomorrow with X!!!!!!
    take care,


    T is for.....

    Hello Beautiful People! I'm back today with our T-Bird (dang it....I clearly missed that pun opportunity....oh well....)--------> the Tanager!  
     T is for Tammy,
    who lived by the lake.
    Sh played tambourine
    'til her kids were awake.
    The Tanager is a bird species that can come in many colors. Here's a photo I found with five different varieties from more tropical climes: the Golden Tanager, Swallow Tanager, Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, Red-necked Tanager, Beryl-spangled Tanager.
     One of the more common Tanagers we see in the eastern parts of the United States is the Scarlet Tanager: 
     But I decided to go with my local variety, the Western Tanager:
    Behold, our Alphabirds: 
    And now, for my favorite part of these updates.....the video accompaniment. I present to you, Gonzo: Asia's First Tambourine Master: 
     back tomorrow with another bird!
    take care,


      The Owl and the......

      Hello Beautiful People!  
      So now we're up to the letter O, and for that letter, I remembered my friend Edward Lear who inspired these books: 
       Apparently, this book has come to life in Japan! 
      Here's my little poem about the owl with his oboe. 
       O is for Oscar
      who just could not sleep.
      He'd practice his oboe
      rather than counting sheep.
      O! An owl who ought to observe his bedtime!
       There are too many wonderful owl species to choose from, so I went more cartoonish with our friend Oscar, giving him rainbow chest feathers and ears. Here's a detail shot when I was painting the feathers in:
       At this juncture, I've made all of the figures for the book and just need to paint them in the next few weeks. I'm still on schedule for my late November release, and for you Kickstarter backers reading this who pledged for sculpture rewards, I will contact you in September once the book is sent off to the printer to get going on your projects. Here's a studio shot of most of the elements I'll be painting in the coming weeks: 
       So now I will fly off into the sunset, but not without leaving another owl video for your amusement. 
      take care,


        We're Up all Night to get Fun-Q-ie!

        Hello Beautiful People!
        We're coming down the homestretch with the last eight birds underway!  Today's post will reveal our Q bird--which wasn't that hard, but finding an instrument that started with a Q.......?  Well, I'm happy with my choice for this one. 
         Q is for Quincy
        world renowned disco queen,
        she strummed funky pop hits
        on a rhinestone qinqin!
        So.....for those of you unfamiliar with ancient Chinese instruments......a qinqin is a three (or four) stringed guitar-type instrument, as exemplified by the YouTube master playing for a captive audience: 
         I found a nice image online of a beautifully designed qinqin as such: 
         and based mine on that design as such: 
         Apparently, birds are no stranger to roller skates: 
        (xoxoxoxo Carol Spinney!)
        Growing up in the 70's, I really loved to roller skate. I wasn't into fancy tricks or anything, but really loved the free feeling it embodied.  Here's a few videos I found to show you what I mean. 
         Back soon with the letter O!  
        take care,

          N is for.....

          Hello Beautiful People!
          I'm back to present what may be my favorite rhyme in the whole book. My sketchbook page may be a little misleading....I spent a bit of the early decision making trying to make the Naqara drum work, but later decided that I simply must honor the more ridiculous N instrument: the humble nose flute. 

           N is for Norah
          whose cute neti pot
          kept her purple nose flute
          from filling with snot.
          Anyone disgusted with this rhyme might want to refresh their memory of my W rhyme from Arfabet: 

           Sadly, I didn't take any process shots of the making of this piece. Here's the finished Nuthatch on a neti pot playing the nose flute. Well, almost finished--you'll see that I forgot that the nose flute was supposed to be purple! That's an easy change to make, so it will be purple in the book.

           Looking for a nose flute video on YouTube turned out to be waaaaaay too much fun. As you will see, there's the more traditional shape of nose flute, which I used for the sculpture, and then there's a plastic version that is shaped differently. Still, this just goes to show that humans can't ever get enough amusement from things that involve our bodily orifices. I'll start with a few serious ones so you understand the instrument, and then end with some of the goofy stuff. Enjoy!


            M is for......

            Hello Beautiful People!
            I have completed our bird and instrument for the letter M!

             M is for Molly,
            whose mbira technique
            was to pluck with her toe
            instead of her beak!

            When I was a kid, we had a little mbira. I'm not sure how we got it, but for whatever reason, I really loved playing around with it. Flash forward a decade or so, and mbiras came back into my life, when an artist friend would collect street sweeper brush blades that would break off, a routine event in their line of duty, and land near the curbs in the streets of Eugene. He would use them for various projects, including little mbiras for his kids. I started looking for street sweeper blades after that, and have amassed quite a collection of them, although I rarely have used them until now. I'm including a photo of what these blades look like so you can start looking for them. Anyhow, our mbira was hollow, so I assumed that my sculpture for the book wouldn't play, but to my surprise......

             project video thumbnail
             Fortunately, my version of the Happy Birthday song isn't close enough to be sued by the estate of Mildred and Patty Hill!
            Here's my mbira playing Magpie!

             This bird has iridescent green and blue feathers, which was really the big challenge of the project.  

            Magpies are one of the more intelligent not just birds, but animals on the planet, as it turns out. They are the only non-mammal species that can recognize itself in a mirror. And they mimic the stuff around them, as many YouTube videos will confirm. I'll leave you with my favorite: a British magpie named after soccer/football player Wayne Rooney who can properly introduce himself as such!  

            take care,