Water birds – wading, fishing birds – are a common theme in many Asian paintings. These include cranes, herons, egrets. There is something incredibly beautiful and fierce about these birds.
Seeing these birds is an incredible experience. When I was a student at UC Santa Barbara, my dormitory looked out over the lagoon. Great Blue Herons nested in the eucalyptus trees. One day, an escaped pink flamingo began living in the water! Hiking in the Matilija Creek area of Ventura County, I sat down and suddenly, within inches of my head, whoosh! – out flies a heron! Egrets wade in the marshy areas of local rivers.
Imagine yourself as one of these birds. Suddenly, your legs bend forward at the knee, not backward. You don’t have hands. You have long, wide wings, with feathers rippling out from the sides of your body as you bring them forward. Your nose is now long, longer, longer . . . how long is a bill? Is it a bill or a beak? And your nose is also your mouth – snap! A fish, a frog for dinner. And then, there is your neck. Long and undulating, suddenly your head is able to turn to look behind you, it goes up and down a long distance (certainly longer than mine!). And eyes on either side of your head, not looking out in front of you. How does it affect your vision? Lack of depth but awareness of movement?
Take a walk in your new bird body . . . feel how your shoulders hunch, how your wings expand, how you walk in the water . . . expand the crest on your head, fluff your feathers . . . launch yourself into the sky like a rocket, stand still and then, faster than can be seen, snatch your fish from the creek. How do your claws feel as they dangle when you walk, when you come in to land, when you launch from your nest in the reeds? What do you see around you? Leafy trees, swamp grasses, other birds. What do you hear? Rain on water? Wind in the trees? What do you feel when the wind rustles your feathers or rain pours off your back?
Photos are incredible resources for studying birds. There are many public domain sites from which photos can be copied. The snowy egret above came from the digital library system of the US Fish & Game site: http://images.fws.gov/. Take a look . . . imagine . . . think about how your brush can create a feather, catch a movement. What shades of grey? White? Ink only?