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Colors of a Feather

Artists for Conservation

Feathers, beautiful and complex, are perfect artistic creations by themselves. They show us that a human is not the only creature with a sense of beauty. Think of how a large measure of a female's choice of a mate is the attractiveness of male display feathers. By appreciating a bird's colorful display feather and calling it art, we recognize that they were selected and created by a female bird.

A visual artist is often profoundly aware of the ways that colors enhance the beauty of the world. As a human you have three kinds of cone receptors in your eyes allowing you to see the primary colors. A bird has four! They can see ultraviolet and violet colors that we can't. Plus their eyes are made in other ways different than ours which means they can see more subtle differences in the primary colors and the colors appear sharper, more vivid. It makes sense that feathers have adapted to birds' visual abilities which means that for a bird, feathers show even more colors and patterns than we know. So imagine my disappointment with my human eyes and desire to see like a bird when I learned more about what the world looks like to them. A black or drab feather to us may appear to a bird as a shimmering wonder of violets and blues.

Disregarding the fact that a bird has more colors on its feathers than we can see, feather colors are quite limited-at least the ones visible to us. Colors in feathers are few compared to an artist's palette. Purples and lavenders are especially scarce. The other day, I had the job of painting my daughter's bedroom. Fresh from the studio after unsuccessfully trying to find just the right color feather, I visited the nearby paint store. What an array of colors confronted my eyes! Paint chips of every hue and shade presented themselves for my choosing. I found myself feeling a bit envious. After an hour of sifting through all the multiples of choices offered by several paint manufacturing companies, I finally made my choice, paid for it, and left. When I returned to the studio, I actually felt relieved not to have so many choices. Another hour spent combing through my supply of feathers still did not yield the perfect color feather that I was looking for. But the process of going through soft and lovely feathers was much more satisfying and enjoyable than sorting through the eye-bedazzling paint chips at the store.

Note: Chris recently presented his work and medium at the Artists for Conservation Festival in Vancouver or Sept 28.

Learn more about Chris Maynard.

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