It happens to every creative person: sometimes you just get stuck. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life staring at a blank canvas or sketchbook page, pencil in hand, utterly stumped. Sometimes I start a thing and the thing looks nothing like how I wanted and now I hate it and I abandon the thing. Sometimes I get the urge to paint a specific subject, then get distracted by something else, and then never even begin. I’ve had a block like this for a couple of months now. But sometimes I feel like painting something that isn’t usually “my thing.” The ocean and its inhabitants are a huge part of my life, but sometimes? Sometimes I just want to paint a bird. So I did.
Admittedly, I didn’t really develop a real interest in birds until I started working with seabirds (I’ve gushed about gannets previously). Before I knew it I was spending a lot of time at our partner zoo, and found myself inexplicably drawn to the hornbills. I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been somewhat crazy about dinosaurs, and hornbills just look especially prehistoric – you can tell they’re the ones that survived. Their colourful bills are striking, but it’s not the only thing I love about them: the ones I encountered were so interactive and naturally curious I was smitten. They are just fascinating creatures.
When I first visited Zoo Atlanta a couple of years ago I was thrilled to discover that they had hornbills too (especially the wreathed! I love them!). I took some photos of a beautiful little species that I believe was a red-billed, and knew I had to paint it… eventually. I’ve made a point to spend more time at the zoo with my sketchbook this year – observing animals of all kinds is so inspiring.
I had a LOT of fun with this piece because I tried to just go with the flow. I was doing something different. I was painting a new environment – I’ve never done leaves before! I’ve never done feathers like this, and nor have I tried to paint a bill in such detail. It was a different colour palette for me, and the unusual textures left me feeling quite refreshed. I need to do this more. Maybe I’ll need a new section on my site: “Suddenly, Hornbills!”