Birding

Bird Illustrations

19/02/2019
The short history of the early beginnings of ‘Bird recordings and illustrations’
Until the advent of the photographic process and a camera and lens of sufficient specifications, the only way for illustrators and ornithologists , who in days gone past, wished to record the appearance of birds, needed a specimen of the bird and that was to go in the ‘field’ and shoot one. Alternatively go to a private collection or a museum to study a specimen, which in turn was shot.
Observing a bird was one thing but trying to capture an image accurately in say watercolour on paper, was well nigh impossible. So until that process and camera with lens came along birds were shot, stuffed and preserved.
This in itself came with its own problems of preservation. But enough birds it seemed were gathered this way as the proliferation of bird illustration books came on the scene and proved that to be so.
A number of very talented artists and bird observers and ornithologists came to the fore. To mention a few:
John James Audubon 1785–1851, for which a society based in the USA has been formed in his name,
John Gould 1804-1881 who was a prominent British ornithologist who was famous for many published works, but in particular, his ‘Guide to Australian Birds’. 1840–1848
Edward Lear 1812-1888 whose fame come in three distinct packets. One, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, Two, as a renown Ornithologist and Illustrator, three renown Landscape painter
Roger Tory Peterson 1908–1996 a Swede of Swedish parents who immigrated to USA, revolutionised the bird guide book with his ‘A Field Guide to the Birds’ 1934 and along with fellow ornithologist P. A. D. Hollom 1912-2014 produced ‘A field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe’. Over his lifetime Roger became an inspiration to millions of people into birding.
James Maxwell McConnell Fisher, 1912-1970 one of England’s most foremost ornithologists
Athos Menaboni 1895–1990 and his wife Sara both found and developed a love of Nature. Athos bird illustrations are considered to be the greatest living portraits, painted of birds, at that time. A 20th century Audubon.
The process of completing an illustration was a progression in printing.
First, perhaps, the Sketch in a note book of the bird with relevant details and/or a study of the specimen.
The image then transferred to a block of Wood, refined later to Lino then refined later to Copper Plate. The final print on paper being hand coloured. The next stage, in the development of the printing process was a move to Lithographic Chromolithograph and Silk Screen printing.
This simplified account of the printing process was not a linear progression but in the history of printing progressed as techniques developed.
From these prominent people and not so prominent but equally talented and dedicated people we have arrived at today, in Ornithology, with a wealth of study and specimens and illustrations behind us on which to build on the story of birds.