Tag Archives: Nature

Tiny tanagers

Extract from my painting journal

I have been fascinated by birds from an early age. Indeed, according to my mother, as a young toddler I would sit in our garden in Libya and watch the many birds that visited. But that’s another story. Among my favourite bird groups are the colourful Tanagers. There are 89 species of these little birds in Brazil though this number includes the Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) whose taxonomical classification is temporarily parked in the tanager group.

Of these, I have seen and photographed 22 species including the Bananaquit, about 25%, which is not a bad score considering many species are in difficult areas to visit. Obviously, I would love to see more species but, in the meantime, I have started a project to paint the birds that I know.

The extract from my painting journal, above, shows thumbnail sketches of each of the 22 birds that I have seen. The thumbnails help me to work out some sort of order in which to paint each bird. I need to indicate which of the birds has differences between male and female – in some species, the sexes are alike – as well as showing where I may have reference photos of the juveniles of the species. The main focus of the first phase of my painting plan is on the single birds with a final phase doing a more detailed painting of a family of birds in their environment.

The following image shows a sketch of a Bananaquit that I had painted a few months ago.

Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

My thumbnail sketches were very quick to complete – a rough outline of generic bodies in pencil followed by touches of appropriate watercolours, some needing to dry before the next colour was added. Done in seconds for each bird.

The Bananaquit sketch took a bit longer but was also quite quick – just a few minutes to paint after doing a reasonably accurate pencil outline. The colours are by no means accurate but serve to illustrate the bird in a recognisable manner.

Green-headed Tanager (Tangara seledon)

Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum) and Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo)

The Green-headed Tanager is a quite a bit more detailed in terms of brush-work, but isn’t  a particularly good illustration, while the painting of the Palm and Silver-beaked Tanagers is a bit looser. The last image, below, of a Silver-beaked Tanager and a Masked Crimson Tanager is a lot looser.

Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo) and Masked Crimson Tanager (Ramphocelus nigrogularis)


More on Tanagers after I complete the project.


Rough treatment

I had seen a couple of artists scrubbing the paper they were painting on and was horrified. How could they do this? However, always keen to experiment, I decided to have a go myself.

Having started work on the painting of a shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), or Shoebill Stork, I decided that I wasn’t happy with the way it was going. So on a whim I started the hard treatment.

The first try was in the reeds at the front of the bird that were not of the value I wanted. So I grabbed a damp brush, rubbed hard, then scrubbed with tissue paper. The watercolour paper (Hahnemuhle) took it well! So I then tried the same treatment, a bit harder in parts, on the body of the Shoebill and in the background.

I even tried repeating the process in the same part, expecting the paper surface to suffer, but no issues even after repainting.

The only area where I had problems was a patch where I had used an eraser. Although used lightly the eraser seemed to damage the surface of the paper.

I am still not happy with the painting but will probably do some more scrubbing and adjusting to see if I can rescue it.


Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 17.03.30

It’s been a while since I posted anything here – I have been working on a number of projects, including a desire to rationalise the number of websites that I have. On this point, I have decided I no longer need any websites, not even the Alan Skyrme Gallery site that I have had for 15 years.

I have also been re-building my painting skills with a view to offering both photographs and paintings for sale.

Havings spent some time in Veneto and Sicily in the summer, and January/February in Sicily again, I have built up a selection of stock images for sale via Alamy and art subjects that will become Fine Art images that I will sell direct or via Saatchi, along with my paintings.

I have plenty of work to keep me busy in parallel with other ongoing projects, so the need to maintain websites was called into question.



Gold Nugget


On the last day of March I found a colourful caterpillar on the wall of my garden and took it into my house to take photos. I have a vivarium and placed it on a leaf where it sat and began placing fine threads of silk near its head. I recognised this behaviour from a similar event at a different house at the end of 2004.

The next day I found that the caterpillar had removed its skin and had attached its new chrysalis form to the leaf. At this point the chrysalis was a pinkish colour and lay horizontal on the leaf.

Within a day the chrysalis had turned gold in colour – bright and metallic. I then cut the leaf before gluing it to a stick that I had suspended within the vivarium. This enabled the chrysalis to hang in a natural state until it was ready for the final stage of its metamorphosis.

On the 6th of April I returned from work at lunchtime to find that I had unfortunately missed the “birth” of the butterfly! It had emerged, had spread and dried its wings and was ready to fly. I took a couple of photographs before releasing the insect into a patch of wild vegetation next to the house. I believe the butterfly was a Mexican Fritillary. We seem to have a few species of similar-looking fritillaries in the area – I have counted a minimum of 12 different types of butterfly in just 4 square metres of the vegetation next to my house, including Swallow-tailed species.

In 2004 (and again in 2005) several caterpillars of Opsiphanes invirea, Owl butterfly, had marched up to my front door. I placed them in the vivarium and was able to do some time-lapse photography to capture the caterpillars suspending themselves to the roof of the glass tank, emerging in chrysalis form, and later as butterflies. Fascinating.