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The Goldfinches

A few years ago, driving out in the country, I turned onto a lane between fields and suddenly twelve or fifteen bright goldfinches flew up at once. I thought, whoa! How would you paint that? What an extravagance of yellow, black and white scattering in the sun! Everything about goldfinches is bright. The black cap is a bright spot. Their wing bars. Their eyes are bright.

Uniquely, goldfinches eat only seeds and their yellow comes from carotenoids in the seeds. It is interesting that they obviously love sunflower seeds, though goldfinch yellow has its own character not quite like sunflowers. These pure yellow feathers of the male mean that he’s absorbing a high amount of violet light. In a painting I would end up with some violet radiance for sure.

Goldfinch watercolor sketch

It just occurred to me that the other seeds goldfinches dearly love are thistle. A violet flower!

When we had a feeder, I loved watching the goldfinches coming and going. (The bears kept yanking the feeder down. We kept repairing it, but this last time Mary Carol just tossed the mangled thing in the trash.) Goldfinches always have a lot to say to each other. I watch their looping flight across the open yard against the whole scintillating screen of sycamores and cherry trees along the creek bank. "Per-chick-er-ee!" The avid awareness and appetite of the bird is part of the scene. How would I paint that? Not by realism, not by describing it. The flashing life of the bird would be reduced to a speck against a million leaves. And I don’t want to simplify it. I don’t want to leave any of it out. The birds go in and out of the foliage, in and out of the shade. The foliage and the sunlit yard are not a backdrop for the goldfinch. It’s a living whole. My urge to paint it is really my desire to fly back and forth. Eat seeds. To be up with them on a branch. To be an acrobat!

I communicate with them, asking, “Do you understand how beautiful and bright you are to us?”

“Yes! We flaunt it!

You should too!

Why not?

You are afraid to enjoy being who you are.

Humans cannot easily enjoy living.”

I'd say painting is our prime way of entering in and fledgling out with our own plumage. We're taking it in, absorbing the spectrum of life, and flaunting the colors of it on canvas.

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