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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Feathers to Live For


Rachel Nuwer in her blog Feathers to Die For makes some very good points about how birds can be mistreated. But it is not necessary to harm a bird to receive the gift of its feathers. Birds molt their feathers frequently. If you are patient and wait for them, the feathers are delivered ready for washing and preparation for use in art and fashion. It is best to give birds a lot of room so their feathers will remain pristine. Collecting them is as much fun as finding Easter Eggs.

My digital rishi process is harmless to the avian species I cherish. After gathering the molted feathers, I wash and prepare them for photography. Photographing feathers is not easy. They have curved planes and come in irregular shapes. Lighting them is tricky but not nearly as much of a challenge as dropping out their backgrounds, a technique used in Photoshop, prior to the real work.

Turning feathers into art using photography is the wave of my future. I get to make satisfying patterns and designs for use on textiles, rugs, wall coverings, paper goods and you name it. I'm in college heading for my master's degree in Surface Design. I hope when I'm finished with the world it will be covered in feathers.

(c) 2012 Lewis Mark Grimes

Feather Fascination and Forrest Gump

Pheasant feather chart
Feathers have been a lifelong fascination. Long before Forrest Gump opened with that mesmerizing feather, I spent my childhood tying flies from feathers of native birds in Alaska. I was not an especially avid fisherman, but I admired the beautiful patterns and colors I could create with my handmade fishing lures. Feathers filled the down parkas and ski clothes we used as kids and the seabirds that used to dive bomb us were distinguished by their feather finery.
But it was not until I started keeping game birds that I noticed feathers might have a place in art. I was fascinated with the molting process of the birds living with me. They shed their feathers, sometimes more than once a year, depending on the weather and the time of season. Molted feathers are like jewels. Even the most “common” feathers have interesting patterns, colors and shapes.
Here is a chart I adapted showing the feathers and where they can be found on a pheasant. While this work is mine, it is an adaptation of another chart I found. Note the different shapes. If these individual feathers are reassembled, they create a magnificent painted creature. My partner and I got to thinking, what if we took the molted feathers and used them as the medium to paint art objects? That is where the idea came from for the first feather paintings that were constructed from real feathers glued to a form that could be displayed. We used a nom de plume, Thoroughgood Wellbee. That was my first venture into feather painting. Now there are numerous artists who actually use paint on feathers and they call the technique feather painting. As far as I knew, we were unique in the use of feathers as the paint. That later turned out not to be exactly correct.
It turns out I was not the first to use this technique. I have not seen the examples, but I’ve been told others used feathers inside a picture frame, perhaps in the 1950s. They were similar to the butterfly wing designs we also sometimes see. If you have one of the first feather paintings, I would love to see a picture of it. I hope you will like my versions.
"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get," is a paraphrase of Forrest's mother's philosophy. I feel that way about feathers and art. They come together in an interesting mosaic that reminds me of a kaleidoscope.

(c) 2012 Lewis Mark Grimes