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Bird of the Fortnight 23 May 2016: Bee-eater

Bee Eater illustration for Five Mile Float
I know I normally lead with black and white sketches for my first post for my bird of the fortnight and there are some below. I just could resist sharing with you a previous Bee-eater illustration I did as part of an art work commission for a US indie band called Five Mile Float.

Bee-Eater sketch (c) Ella Johnston

It was when I took on the commission that I developed an interest in Bee-eaters. The family have such a variety of plumage and I that Zoro type mask across their eyes is the coolest.
Bee-Eater sketch (c) Ella Johnston

The Five Mile Float brief asked me to be subtle in my use of colour so I stuck to very light washes of peach and mint. No such subtlety is required this time so I’m going to go to town on my final watercolour and ink version.
Bee-Eater sketch (c) Ella Johnston

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Finished bird of the fortnight: colour flycatcher

Flycatcher (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Although the spotted flycatcher is quite a dull bird I couldn’t resist giving it a somewhat sun-kissed appearance for my final, finished watercolour and ink illustration. I think I was imagining this little grey silver bird perched on a headstone as sun was setting, looking around for a little tasty morsel flitting around in the fading light.

With this in mind I’m in the mood for some colour so I think I’m going to draw a more exotic bird next fortnight… Watch this space.

 

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Bird of the fortnight 9/05/16: Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk
If you’re ever in a churchyard or park and a little silvery grey/brown bird flits past you and you could swear it isn’t a sparrow, chances are you’ve spied a spotted flycatcher.

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

Spotted flycatchers may look a bit dull but they are charming to watch. But don’t be fooled. These little fellas are trained killers they fly from a high perch and burst into flight to catch a flying insect. They then flit back to the same spot to devour their prey.

Spotted Flycatcher black and white sketch. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

They don’t look flashy, in fact they are fairly scruffy which made drawing my black and white sketches all the more fun. Let’s see if my worked up watercolour version will be as fun.

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Sparrow! Finished Bird of the Fortnight

Watercolour sparrow illustration. Ella Johnston. Bird of the Fortnight ellasplace.co.uk

When Dr B urged me to draw sparrows for Bird of the Fortnight I did so reluctantly – what a fool I was! Through working up the black and white sketches, then exploring the bird through watercolour and ink, I’ve come to realise how charming these creatures are.

Their mottled black, brown, golden and coffee-coloured plumage is really quite lovely. The bird’s bodies are great for an artist too; depending on the individual creature it can either be cute, full and fat or sleek, slim and almost svelte-like. Now I think I’m going to work on a few more sparrow sketches.

I’m not the only one who loves these birds. In fact as I was working on these drawings I was approached by someone who is opening an antiques shop in the US. She wanted a logo featuring a sparrow wearing a crown. I was only too happy to oblige. Here’s the finished commission.
King Sparrow. Illustration Commission. Ella Johnston. ellasplace.co.uk

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Bird of the Fortnight wc 25.04.16: The Sparrow

Sparrow black and white sketch, Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

For ages now Dr B has been on at me to draw a sparrow; “People love them, I love them. I think they’ll be really popular.” So to please the man I love, this fortnight I’ve done some black and white sketches of these chestnut coloured creatures.
Black and white sparrow drawing, Ella Johnston. ellasplace.co.uk

Although I grew up slap bang in the middle of London, our flat was next to a park that used to be full of sparrows when I was little kid. But, by the time I left home in the mid 1990s there wasn’t a sparrow in sight. This wasn’t because I simply wasn’t noticing them anymore but there has been a decline the UK sparrow population. It has been estimated that they have dropped by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations. They now have RSPB red status; red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action.

Black and white sparrow drawing, Ella Johnston. ellasplace.co.uk

It seems that where I live now didn’t get this memo. Wivenhoe is full of them and you can’t pass a hedgerow, gate post or indeed our local train station without hearing them tweeting away. It’s quite a comforting sound and creates quite a quaint atmosphere while you’re waiting for your train or taking a stroll around the ‘village’. So it’s only fitting they be the subject of illustration.

Check in later on this week to see more worked-up colour sparrow portraits.

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Finished Bird of the Fortnight: Blackcap

Blackcap bird watercolour and ink illustration (c) Ella Johnston

Here’s my finished bird for this fortnight. A worked-up watercolour and ink illustration of the blackcap – a beautiful little grey warbler. Earlier this week when I showed off my black and white sketches, I said I loved the blackcap song. Well according to the RSPB website its “delightful fluting song has earned it the name ‘northern nightingale'”. The one I saw certainly was very tuneful.

Folk names for the blackcap often refer to its plumage; black-headed peggy, King Harry black cap and, my favourite, coal hoodie. Other old names are based on its choice of nesting material (Jack Straw, hay bird, hay chat and hay Jack).

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Latest Bird of the Fortnight: Gannet

Gannet Illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Ah the wonderful Gannet. I really enjoyed sketching my black and white drawings earlier in the week and I’m loving my final watercolour and ink illustration as I wanted to capture his beautiful mother-of-pearl type bill and the peachy flush on the bird’s glossy head and neck.

If you’re in the UK you can catch these birds at the breeding colonies at RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs, St Kilda, the Northern Isles and Bass Rock in Scotland and Grassholm in Wales.

As you probably know, the word gannet is associated with greed, this is because this mighty bird supposedly has a capacity for eating large quantities of fish. Gannets hunt fish by diving from a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. Apparently Gannets can dive from a height of 30 metres, hitting high speeds as they strike the water so they catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds.

One of my favourite artistic representation of a gannet is by the fantastic Twinkle Troughton called The “A Gannet’s Stomach is Never Full”. I have a beautiful limited edition print of it in my front room – check it out here.

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Bird of the Fortnight: Gannet

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Gannet (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I love gannets and, seeing as they are coming over to our shores at the mo,they are a most worthy bird of the fortnight.

The gannet has the most ugly name yet it is quite a fabulous creature. I mean it has a sleek body, its bill is so pearly and iridescent and its plumage is so smooth. Such a pleasure to study and draw.

Anyway if you haven’t come across my bird of the fortnight posts before here’s the drill. I post three scruffy black and white sketches at the start of the week then present a worked up finished illustration using watercolour and ink at the end of the week so watch this space.

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Gannet (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Gannet. (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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New! Bird of the Fortnight: Chaffinch

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Welcome to my new little series, bird of the fortnight. Every two weeks I’ll do three quick black and white sketches then one really detailed, worked up illustration of a bird that takes my fancy. At the start of the week I’ll show off my sketches then give you the finished, polished drawing at the end of the week with some info on the creature itself.

My first one is a favourite of mine, the colourful chaffinch. I love these little guys. Look out on Friday for my final portrait of this most charming of garden and woodland bird.

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Chaffinch (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk