Great Blue Heron
This was the first painting I completed after deciding to give my bird book a Chicagoland setting. It was completed a few months after attending Riot Fest 2014 in Humboldt Park, where the Field House had been a backdrop for several performances. As a result of the Festival, much of the landscape in the park was destroyed, which took over a year to repair fully. It is likely that much of the park's wildlife was also scared away by the 2014 festival and subsequent repair efforts. Nonetheless, you can still see Great Blue Herons in Humboldt Park, Lincoln Park's North Pond, the Morton Aboretum in Lisle, and other ponds and lagoons. It has always been one of my favorite birds, with its unique and intense features. They are usually not very afraid of humans, and you can often get quite close before they'll fly away. While wading in water, they remain very peaceful and still, but once they fly away, it's easy to be surprised by their large wingspan and long legs.
In my opinion, there is no more unique or iconic-looking duck than the Wood Duck. For this painting, I chose to render the background only in black-and-white, so that the diverse array of colors on the duck could be accentuated. There are greens, purples, reds, yellows, browns, and blues all within this bird—yet, when you find one in the wild, you'll likely only see a green head and brown body. It's easy to spot them in the North and South Ponds of Lincoln Park, usually hanging out with mallards and geese. Despite the subtle complexity of this duck's appearance, the background of this painting took far longer to complete, with so many small details and shades of gray. I have fond memories of walking around this pond in both summer and winter, seeing how these ducks adapt to Chicago's broad spectrum of weather conditions.
The Double-crested Cormorant is possibly my favorite bird. After reading about them in Richard J. King's excellent book, The Devil's Cormorant, I gained enormous respect for them. I first discovered this book in Camden, Maine after seeing many cormorants along the waterfront there, drying out their wings after diving for food. While the Double-crested Cormorants can dive up to 25 feet underwater for up to 70 seconds, other cormorant species can dive as deep as 150 feet. These birds are viewed very differently across the world. Many in the U.S. sports fishing and fish farming industries view them as pests who hurt their business; in Japan and China they have been respected and trained for traditional "cormorant fishing" since the 10th century; and in Peru, Chile, and the Pacific Islands they have been the primary source of guano, once an economically valuable export. In Chicago, they can been seen in the late summer and autumn months, along the Lake Michigan breakwaters and near Navy Pier. They are peaceful birds who, unlike seagulls and geese, will only eat fish and generally avoid humans. This is the only painting in the book where I went back and re-painted a second version after being unhappy with the first—but then ended up using the first version anyway. I also gave the bird a white double-crest, although normally this is only seen during breeding season and is sometimes black instead of white.