5. You are stranded on an island and are given five wishes. These wishes can only be used to select birds to share the island with you. What would your five choices be?
Well if I'm truly stranded on a desert island, I would want to have some Canada Geese, for food and down as well as to keep me company and warn of intruders… (and then I wouldn't want any large raptors because they would eat the geese). Then I would choose Hermit Thrush (my favorite birdsong), Common Raven for entertainment, Purple Martin (for the way they fly and for their sounds), and Common Poorwill for the night-time serenade and so that I could keep my mind sharp by trying to find a roosting Poorwill each day.
6. Bird feet present a particular challenge in drawing and painting. What suggestions do you have for young artists wrestling with this particular skill?
Like any other drawing skill, practice is the key. Study photographs and other artists' work, make a point of looking at birds' feet when you can in the field, and keep trying. Just doodling when you have a few spare minutes is a great way to practice drawing, when you're relaxed and not really trying to draw something, you can just experiment and this is when some of the best discoveries happen. A few lines will just "look right" and then you can practice, refine and modify those doodles.
7. Since you are equally skilled at painting flora/habitat as you are at birds, what advice do you have for young artists trying to be more proficient at creating backgrounds for their subjects?
Well, I wouldn't say I'm equally skilled, but my plant paintings have gotten a lot better over the last seven years… It all begins with drawing, and especially field sketching, so the first thing I would suggest is sitting down next to a plant and actually drawing what you see. You'll learn more from an hour of that than you could from many hours of sitting at a desk studying or copying photographs. For painting birds with backgrounds, one helpful bit of advice that I got when I was young was to always work on the whole painting together – bird and background at the same time. If you finish painting the bird and then start thinking about the background, there's no way the two will blend. There will always be contrasts of style and color, even if they're subtle, that make the background look like an afterthought.
To be continued…