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.
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!
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!
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:
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: