One family of birds I have always had a very keen interest in is the birds of prey. For longer than we can remember, they have been a fascination to man, and not just for their sheer beauty and presence. For centuries, raptors held an even closer appeal having been manned to provide food for the table; thus the Art of Falconry was born. History documents the sport dates back to 2000BC and peaked in the 17th Century, when it was soon to be superseded for hunting purposes by the firearm. My father kept numerous birds of prey while I was a young lad, which left lasting memories. Now a little older & greyer myself, its not just falconry that interests me; the greatest thrill is observing these birds wild in their natural environment.
As with any Apex predator, intelligence is an inherent part of their make-up. To feed and survive they must hunt & outwit other living creatures, which is not an easy feat considering those things evolved to evade beak and talon. A cow or any large herbivore will happily find food with ease, they can stand and chew the cud with the sunrays warming their rump without too much care or worry, this is what sets a predator apart from other animals in the food chain.
But when one has the opportunity to look directly into the eye of a raptor, a sense of intelligence is portrayed through its steely, and often, dark stare. It can be a little un-nerving when something as large as a Golden Eagle perched on your gauntlet manages to fix a glare and you get that instinctive feeling you are the underdog.
I have had a wonderful few days recently with friends & family flying Merlin, Peregrine, Goshawk & Gyrfalcon, all utterly captivating in their own way. When you study a subject for creative reasons, you really get the opportunity (especially at close quarters) to observe the anatomy and gracious lines of the bird, and a species like the peregrine falcon can only be described as sheer evolutionary perfection. The feather lay over the shoulders and back look like carbon fibre formula 1 racecar panels. Designed for minimising wind resistance and maximum speed, it's this essence of the bird I hope to capture in my work as my level of skill & observation develop. One of nature’s finest spectacles is watching a Peregrine stoop from over 500 feet to hit its intended quarry at such a force as to kill it on impact. It leaves the hairs on your neck erect like a spooked tomcat. The first time I saw this take place was a wild bird taking a pigeon in a remote moorland location and it truly left me speechless; one of nature’s most impressive, chilling and breath-taking moments.
The graphite peregrine piece below was inspired by my recent encounter with a stunning tiercel and it hopefully captures that previously mentioned noble stance & steely stare, with its fine detail concentrated on the head, followed by the simple master-lines of its body and the Falconers glove.
The piece is For Sale, being double mounted and professional framed for £250. Size 290mm x 205mm.
Following on from the peregrine is the most diminutive falcon of the British Isles, the merlin. A bird predominately of moor and open heathland, it is smaller than the kestrel, yet equally if not more adept on the wing, flying low over the landscape to capture its prey using a surprising turn of speed and agility. Certainly a falcon that doesn’t take the centre stage, but any falconer worth his weight in gold has manned one of these birds at some stage on their falconry journey. This drawing is a 3-bird piece on A3 sized Bristol art paper. The centre drawing was of an adult Jack (male) merlin and the two drawings either side are based on a 1 year old female (falcon).
The piece is available to purchase: £280 double mounted and professional framed. Size 400mm x 280mm.
I have also added an image of the framed drawing to give you the overall impression of a finished work framed.
My final drawing is a tiercel peregrine/gyrfalcon hybrid.The gyrfalcon is the largest of the falcons, a bird of artic tundra built for sheer power, stamina and speed. It is even known to hunt peregrine, along with all manner of other birds & mammals as large as mountain hare. It can vary in widely in colour; from snow white to heavy flecked and is a very impressive bird indeed. So impressive, that they were used as peace offerings by Kings. In fact an Ottoman Sultan was once offered 200,000 gold ducats as a ransom offering for the capture of the Duke of Burgundy. He refused the offer instead of something more precious – the prize of 12 white gyrfalcons. The hybrid is a cross between the closely related peregrine & gyrfalcon species. The ultimate aim is to obtain the blend of gyrfalcon power and stamina with a peregrine’s turn of speed. It is a popular falcon for hunting and one I have had the pleasure to watch many times in the field.
This piece is quite large in size (580mm x 380mm) & again it is another 3-bird piece. I really wanted to exhibit this falcon in flight to display the grace & beauty, along with this birds strong anatomical lines.
The piece is available for sale: £300 & once again its double mounted & professional framed ready to hang on the wall.
My next blog will return to something fishy, but in the meantime please feel free to contact me about any of the works above, or if you are interested in a commission of a different subject.
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