This painting of starlings has been used as the cover art for the indie/folk album Murmurations. I created random effects with paint drying slowly under cellophane then worked back into this with deeper tones. I had several attempts at depicting this idea. In the version above, the blocks of swaying rushes were formed by tensing the cellophane vertically in the lower section and the murmuration shapes came from pulling the upper part horizontally. I used wax resist on the murmuration to create granularity from beading of subsequent layers of drying paint. This painting is used on the inside cover of the album. In these first attempts, I had tried to paint in each bird individually, though this loses the sense of coordination of the flock. Details from the painting below front the album insert and intersperse the lyrics. I have played Hope’s Starlings to and from work these last few days since singer songwriter Kate Sutherland sent me the albums. This is an all female group, mostly singing unaccompanied or with gentle drum rhythm. The sense of the album is of an ageless female spirituality rooted in the natural world. It dragged out of my memory a similar use of pared down lyrics and minimal accompaniment to reach towards spiritual expression, albeit in a more overtly religious setting.
Huge formations of birds in flight are clearly fascinating to others. A comment led me to http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/grackles-revisited/ and a further comment on that site took me to another blog and an image of flocking geese http://theirisandthelily.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/a-field-of-white/.
I regularly watch lapwings in flight. They suddenly startle and take off in unison. They wheel and soar on frying-pan wings almost in formation, often in chaos, sometimes forming patterns, often breaking up into ones or twos, until they all sweep in to land noisily in the shallows again. Capturing this in paint is difficult. I know the image below is flat and has lost the sense of movement I set out to capture. Still – this is an online sketchbook not an art gallery! I will attempt this again.
Its worth mentioning that the grackles photograph mentioned above is a post on the blog http://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/. I spend an enjoyable half hour with my six year old son going through this fabulous site focussing mainly on botanical photography. Joseph said “wow” at nearly every shot.
While I’m at it, here are a few other field sketches of lapwings in conte crayon or in ink
Each unit instinctively follows simple rules of flight path in relation to the neighbouring units, resulting in remarkable and intensely beautiful patterns woven by flocks in the sky. I have been experimenting in expressing this in a series of paintings.
I wonder what it feels like to be driven by instinct to flock in this way. Do non-human animals feel emotions? Do starlings feel something analogous to joy simply for flying in a group, rewarding them for acting according to their innate drives?
How would a sentient and self-aware animal describe such an instinct in itself?
Is this already an area of study, a school of philosophy or psychology?