Painting the House

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything about my art practice on here. Not that I haven’t been doing any sketching or drawing, but between various trips, conferences, and ongoing dissertation work, I’ve had plenty of other things to talk about. Today though, we’ll check in on my latest creative project: painting birds (and other animals) in my house.

The first bird I painted on the walls was a house finch in our living room.

For as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed watching birds. After seeing how much pleasure I got in watching the birds at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, Brandon got me a birdfeeder for Christmas so that I could watch them at home (this was back in 2020). While we had plenty of bird visitors at our last place, it’s been absolutely hopping at our new home. Since I’ve started keeping track, I’ve counted about twenty different species that have visited our feeder, from tiny wrens to woodpeckers. On any given day it’s not uncommon for me to see half a dozen or so birds there at once, with house finches being the most frequent guests. It’s been especially delightful to watch because I can view the feeder directly from my office window, providing welcome pauses from writing, researching, and meetings over the course of the day. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my casual birdwatching has increased my overall quality of life.

A sample page from the bird sketchbook I’ve been keeping, featuring a Gray Catbird.

A few months after we set up the birdfeeder outside, I started keeping a sketchbook of the birds I observed at the feeder. I’d draw the birds from different angles, and include the different plumage for male and female birds if they’re sexually dimorphic. I also wrote down observations I’d made about the birds, from their behavior at the feeder to whether they appeared at certain times of year. In short, I’ve been making a personal bird guide, one based on the birds I could see from my back window.

Yet it was never my intention to just record the birds in my sketchbook. What I’ve actually been doing is making notes for paintings. But instead of working on canvas or panel, I’ve been painting the house.

So for the past few weeks, I’ve been taking the birds I’ve observed outside and adding them to the home, blurring the distinction between the indoors and outdoors. Focusing on light fixtures, doorways, and other permanent features of the house, I’ve been adding a bird every day or other day, with plans of eventually putting at least one bird in every room of the house. Nor have my interventions been limited to feathered creatures. Although I initially envisioned painting birds, I’ve also been painting other animals we’ve spotted around the house, from skinks to tree frogs. Regardless of the animals I include, however, in keeping with the rest of my creative practice, they’re drawn from my immediate surroundings. Just as my color abstractions take inspiration from things I experience during the day, or my cyanotypes center objects I’ve collected on walks, these painted interventions are grounded in my local surroundings, celebrating the beauty I see in my backyard.

Image: a Tufted Titmouse and a female House Finch above our front door.

But why paint on the walls? Why not work on canvas or high-quality paper?

It’s because I can. As a homeowner, Brandon I can modify this domestic space in ways we couldn’t while we were renting. Just as we picked out vibrant, contrasting colors for the walls after years of living in white or off-white spaces, painting birds in the house enables me to express homeownership by mark-making directly on the walls. These marks happen to be birds, but whether it’s signing a name or painting a critter, I’m demonstrating that this is my space. The birds, frogs, and other renderings signify that Brandon and I have moved into a different chapter of our lives, one that we feel increasingly fortunate to have transitioned into when we did, given the current market.

Image: A Gray Catbird perched on the doorframe leading into the bathroom.

I don’t know how many birds I’ll ultimately paint, as I’ve still a few rooms to go until there’s one in every space. But in the meantime, it’s a fun way to enliven the house and get myself painting on a consistent basis.

Categorized as Art

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