In early spring, I go up often on the mountain near my house and listen for the warblers and tanagers to see when they arrive from their long migration. The scarlet tanager was always my favorite bird as a kid, but somehow I never thought you could go out and actually see one. In what world did I think they lived? Of course, they are quite common, though they tend to stay in the high foliage. This is a crayon drawing I did when I was about seven.
A few years ago I painted this fairly small panel in egg tempera. There’s a tiny scarlet tanager in the area just below the middle of the picture. It started out larger and higher in the picture, but ended up quite small. Actually, there's a female right next to the male, which you can see if you click on the detail below.
While working with the colors, as I attuned to the bird I would glimpse his sojourn in Central America, and that whole life of the forests got into the painting. As I worked, he seemed to relish the winged insect-like form towards the bottom center of the picture.
The tanager’s song took shape like galaxies wheeling above, and the ragged orange edge of the world became a dragon! The dragon’s head looks down to the left and his leg and claws turn greenish just above the tiny bird. So often when I’m painting a bird, a serpent shows up.