Tag Archives: Scarlet Macaw

There’s a parrot in my garden!

One of my monoprints, still drying!

My latest monoprint series is entitled “There’s a parrot in my garden”. This is in part inspired by a true event a few years back, which I had forgotten about until I recently became interested in these exotic birds; we live in a sleepy Dorset market town, and for several weeks there was a flock of about 20 or 30 green parakeets making their home in the trees on the allotments directly opposite our house. A BBC news report from July 2004 states that the number of wild parrots living in England is rising at 30% each year, the birds often making their home in city suburbs. Our particular Dorset flock has since moved on, but it seems other areas of the country are still seeing plenty of parakeets living in the wild.

According to Jasper Copping in “The Telegraph” on 20th April 2014, nobody knows the truth about how these parakeets first appeared wild in the UK – could they have escaped from the set of Humphrey Bogart’s film “The African Queen”? Could they have bred from a single pair of parakeets released in Carnaby Street in the 1960s by rock star Jimi Hendrix? Were they liberated from a private collection during the Great Storm of 1987?

Copping highlights the ongoing “problem” of un-native parakeets and the impact this is having on our native bird population. It seems these birds are spreading across South East England and are threatening the numbers of our native wildlife – a similar situation to the impact of grey squirrels on the population of reds. According to recent research by the Imperial College London, the Zoological Society of London and the Natural History Museum which monitored the feeding habits of garden birds in the presence of parakeets, the parakeets aren’t aggressive in any way towards the smaller native birds, but their “gregarious” and noisy behaviour seem to make the smaller garden birds wary of feeding in their presence.

This phenomenon has, by and large, completely escaped my notice – apart from an interesting couple of weeks living opposite an allotment sounding more like a tropical rainforest – because these birds seem to congregate in city parks and gardens, rather than rural market towns! At the time of the cited newspaper reports, Britain had experienced some very mild winters. This climate probably assisted the birds’ survival in the wild, and the availability of food from humans in urban areas. We have had a few harsh winters in recent years, so I wonder how the parakeet population is faring nowadays.

I have just joined the mailing list on www.wildparakeetsuk.co.uk. This is Hazel Jackson’s PhD research programme, based at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent. Hazel is aiming to reconstruct the genetic origin of these wild birds and identify patterns, as well as creating an up-to-date picture of where these birds can be found around the UK. She is asking for people to send in any parakeet feathers, so she can DNA samples using newly-developed laboratory techniques.

Why am I suddenly so interested in exotic birds, parrots in particular? Initially, it has to be said, I was drawn to the shape of the beak, having previously felt inspired to build a collagraph plate of an eagle. I portrayed my eagle in profile with the beak slightly open and I was pleased that I managed to capture the savage beauty of this magnificent bird in print through the use of collaged materials like PVA glue and carborundum grit! This led me to consider creating collagraph prints of other birds with hooked bills …..

Of course, browsing photographs of Scarlet Macaws on the internet, I was immediately struck by the colour of their plumage. Vivid colours always attract me! However, I think the parrot is also symbolic for me. Returning to the series of monoprints I mentioned at the very beginning, the title is a metaphor for an underlying “wanderlust” that is re-surfacing; after two decades of being the mother who provides a stable home, I now dream of escaping to exotic worlds! Not necessarily to the Amazonian Rainforest to see the parrots, but just travelling to another country with a completely different culture. I am looking for an experience that is as vivid as the Macaw’s plumage! The metaphorical “parrot in my garden” is just the appearance of something exotic and different in my world:

–          Learning Mandarin, since September 2013

–          Travelling to Beijing, China, in August 2015

I am enjoying my visual experimentation of the parrot motif in my monoprints and I want to expand the theme and incorporate an exciting new (for me anyway!) printmaking technique – cyanotype.

Another monoprint in the same series, building up the plate with new layers of ink over previous layers!

Proofing a parrot!

Let me introduce you to “Paisley”:

paisley snip 1Paisley is collagraph print of a scarlet Macaw, the largest of the parrot species and native to forest canopies in Southern Mexico, Peru, Bolivia and Trinidad.  Macaws are now listed as endangered, due to the destruction of the rainforest and the sale of Macaws as pets. Parrots fascinate me; not only are they monogamous, spending their whole life with only one mate, but the male and female birds both share the responsibility of looking after their young.  This includes spending equal time sitting on the eggs before they hatch.  Parrots are very social birds and live in large flocks.  Communication is so important to them that they have the ability to mimic other birdsong, even the human voice. If this isn’t enough, their plumage is stunning.  The Scarlet Macaw has vivid red, blue and yellow on the outer wing.  This isn’t visible on “Paisley”, because you are looking at his underbelly with his wings outstretched.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on parrots; this is just my first attempt at capturing the bird in print.  There are some limitations with collagraphs, some of these only becoming apparent AFTER I had made the block!  Sometimes it really is best to try something, find out what doesn’t work – the hard way! Then go back and correct the problem, and hopefully see an improvement.  Only then do you really learn and improve.  This is what happened with the “Paisley” board.  I made the plate and tried inking it up, very much influenced by the photograph of the bird which inspired me in the first place.  The collagraph technique requires a darker colour to be applied in the first instance, to show up all the textures.  The initial inking is referred to as “intaglio”, because the ink is worked into all the crevices and cracks on the plate and then polished off clean.  It’s quite a physical workout!  The choice is to either just use one colour over the whole plate, or work different colours into different areas (referred to as à la poupée). The trouble with the second option is that lighter colours are liable to become tarnished by other neighbouring colours – it’s not easy to keep them separate.  Also if you  use lighter colours e.g. red or yellow for the intaglio inking, the textures don’t really show up sufficiently.

proofing parrotFor the first proof I decided to use prussian blue for the intaglio inking, polish it off really well and add some red by doing a roll-up over the raised surfaces, with a bit of à la poupée (e.g. the lighter blue for the area around the feet – I thought 2 blues together wouldn’t cause a muddy mess!).  On the top of the wing, when rolling over the red over the blue, I could see that the red would lose it’s purity when put through the press because it would pick up the blue from the intaglio inking underneath.    Hmmmmmm!

original paisley proofThis is  the first proof.  The background was added spontaneously with rollers, to give a feeling of movement.  I was right about the red ink on the wings, and on the body.  But on the other hand, I like the textured effect on the body!  This is when I start to think more in terms of the benefits of collagraph, rather than about the limitations of the process for the image I have in mind.  I decide to make alterations to the plate:  add more textured surfaces to the wings and the tail.

paisley board 1  This is the plate with alterations. The white areas need to be coated with shellac varnish, to protect them during the inking process.paisley tail



Materials used on the plate: PVA glue, textured wallpapers, tissue paper, PVA mixed with polyfilla (to create the “ridged” effect in the outstretched wings).  I also used a knife to score movement lines around the wings, and to outline the beak and head.

By this stage I had completely forgotten about the original photograph.  I called my parrot “Paisley” – inspired by the swirly patterns now showing up on his wings, head and belly.  He has taken on a character all his own – quite cheeky!  When I inked him again (2nd proofing!) I continued to use the prussian blue for the intaglio – spurred on by great feedback from fellow printmakers on the Collagraph World Wide Facebook group (thanks!!) and with more raised textural surfaces I was able to roll over the red a bit more easily.  I had to clean and re-ink the roller for each wing, to keep the colour unadulterated by the blue.  My daughter Natasha said I should make the background more grey, so the vivid red stands out.  The result is at the top of this post.  He’s still a work in progress, but I am fairly happy with him – he has character, he looks like he’s flying, I managed to incorporate several different materials onto the plate, and he looks like a parrot – if a little more groovy!