Bye, Bye

I stopped painting redwing blackbirds a good fifteen years ago.

I never stopped liking them. They were a big part of my childhood, huge flocks swarming at migration time, or single birds trilling tok-la-reeee from the cattails in the ditch by the culvert. I always admired their glossy black plumage, set off by the red and gold shoulder patches. I imagined them as the elite guard of some avian army, in sharp-billed hats and glossy black uniforms with red epaulets set off by gold braid.

The problem is, when I first started painting my pots, I didn't have black. I was using ceramic oxides: cobalt blue, iron rust red, chrome green, rutile gold. I'd only just started using a commercial stain to replace unreliable copper red, but for the initial outline, I was using cobalt.

You can still see cobalt blue lines in some of my oldest patterns, hen and rooster, elephant, ducks. But on a blackbird, the blue just looked wrong. So I stopped doing them.

My wife Denise is so understanding. We're moderately interested bird-watchers, so she got us a pocket-sized field guide to keep in the glove box of the car, for when we're on the coast or in the countryside. It's got really lovely full-page photos of birds of the Pacific Northwest.

Of course I stole it for the studio. (She's understanding in that she hasn't slugged me and taken it back. Yet.) Flipping through the pages, I found myself back in time, crouched in the mouth of the culvert watching frogs and water skimmers and listening to that musical trill. And now I've got a reliable black stain to render them in.

So I've gone a little wild: I've painted redwing blackbirds on bakers and pie plates, tall mugs and small pitchers, dessert plates and small covered crocks.

Flocks and flocks of blackbirds. It's migratist achievement...