A Bird in the Hand is Much Better Than Ten in the Bush

Terry Cox-Joseph

There was something about it that bothered me. Mostly, the huge, front-and-center, corpulent, overly bright cardinal. And the overly bright background.

“Angry Birds in the Garden” started out as a nature study. It turned into a Disney cartoon on LSD. The imagery was supposed to curl and curve gently. Smaller images of birds would emerge from the background, guiding the viewer’s gaze to tree branches and bright gingko leaves that presented a finale: a commanding, eye-grabbing cardinal. Or, as was more obvious, the cardinal in the front, his mate to the left, and a variety of species behind and beyond in a sickening vortex.

It didn’t work. Too silly. Too big. Too fat. Too bright. Too amateurish. I changed the cardinal to an owl.  That was even worse. I moved it closer to the edge. That ruined the circular pattern of branches. I set it aside.

For three years.

And then it came to me—one of my favorite birds was a bluebird on the upper-left center. Repaint that bird, forget any larger birds, and introduce a beautiful fairy woman. A birdlike woman. No, not bird legs like a New York model. Something delicate and bird-like. Her hand would reach toward the bird, gently welcoming him into her world, just as he welcomed her into his.

I used my own hand, minus a few wrinkles. The face, um, no. She was a total figment of my imagination. I painted over the course of four days until she emerged, fully formed.

I toned down the colors. No more glaring crimson and gold and yellow oxide. Replaced the whirling vortex with an art nouveau frame, woven with vines and tresses. Now, the focus made sense.

Someday, I may attempt another bird painting that curves and draws your eye deep into the interior. It will be more mysterious, calmer, less in-your-face. It will have fewer species crying out for attention.

In the meantime, I am just relieved that I revived an old painting that hurt to look at. It ruffled my feathers. It was driving me cuckoo. Cawing at midnight. Chirping off-key. I had committed all of the cardinal sins of art in one piece.

Molting makes it easier to move on to new work.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mireya
    Sep 15, 2021 @ 13:13:59

    I painted until she emerged. I love that sentence. I thought your painting was good. but the blue bird is beautiful. You describe my painting process too and in these times I have to question where this notion of too big too bright comes from. Why did I paint like this in the first place? I think it’s because I am not creating from me.



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