Four Feathers

I PICKED up these crow feathers in a pasture as we walked from Hope to Castleton on Wednesday. I’ve drawn them in dip pen using Winsor and Newton black Indian ink but the wash is dilute Chung Hwa Chinese Ink (see Dark Materials, 11 March 2006) which I keep ready-mixed in four different strengths from pale to dark. I’ve used the two palest shades here. I used these pre-mixed washes regularly when working on my black and white sketchbook published as High Peak Drifter (Willow Island Editions, 2006).

For this gull feather, which I picked up when I drew at the pond at Dewsbury hospital on Tuesday, I used Winsor and Newton Peat Brown ink with pen and wash.

I find feathers quite a challenge to draw because of the gentle curves of the outline and quill and all the curving parallel lines of the barbs. I admit to putting this feather on my desk with the quill curving up in the middle because I thought I’d find it more difficult to draw it the other way up, against the natural curve that a pen makes as you rotate your hand at the wrist.

It would be good practice for me to keep picking up feathers and drawing them until I get a feel for them.

Absent Feathered Friends

‘. . . its flesh is good and wholesome eating. It is a silly simple bird, as may very well be supposed from its figure, and is very easily taken. Three or four dodos are enough to dine a hundred men.’

‘The Auk, which breeds on the islands of St Kilda, chiefly differs from the penguin in size and colour : it is smaller than a duck ; and the whole of the breast and belly, as far as the middle of the throat, is white’

Oliver Goldsmith, History of the Earth, 1774

In his footnotes for the 1832 edition Captain Thomas Brown describes the dodo as extinct but says of the Great Auk that it ‘inhabits Europe and America ; is three feet in length ; is very timid ; it has not the power of flying ; its food is chiefly fishes.’

The last Great Auk was killed in June 1844 on Eldey Island, Iceland.

Mystery Bird

Engraving by R. Scott, 1832.

Reading the chapter on Penguins in Goldsmith, it’s surprising that they have escaped extinction: ‘Our sailors . . . give these birds the very homely, but expressive, name of arse-feet.

‘ . . . They have stood to be shot at in flocks, without offering to move, in silent wonder, till every one of their number has been destroyed.’

But what’s that bird standing between the Rockhopper and the Patagonian Penguin? Is that another extinct sea-bird? The down-curved bill is curious, more like a curlew’s, and, in the context of penguins and guillemots, the lack of webbing between the toes looks distinctly odd.

I think that what has happened here is that the artist has been given a cabinet skin of a kiwiApteryx, which wouldn’t give a true impression of the shape of the bird and he’s found it appropriate to depict it amongst the southern hemisphere penguins. I’ve yet to find Goldsmith’s description of the bird because neither ‘kiwi’ or ‘Apteryx’ appear in the index of History of the Earth.

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