Woodcock Paintings: Colin Woolf - Wildlife Paintings
Woodcock Pin-feather Painting
My specially-made feather 'brush', I have two - one made from silver and ebony, the other has ivory for the handle ( a new use for my Great Grand Mother's knitting needle )
The woodcock is one of Britain's most enigmatic and elusive game birds. Since medieval times a wealth of country folklore has endowed it with an aura of mystery and magic - a reputation echoed by the cryptic camouflage pattern of its plumage and its sudden appearance on flickering wings during the twilight hours of dawn or dusk. Some woodcock (Latin name: Scolopax rusticola), remain in Britain throughout the year, and in summer the male's curious 'roding' display flight can often be seen just before nightfall; but masses of them arrive during the autumn, when a cold, clear night with a full moon often brings a silent 'fall' of woodcock on open expanses of moorland and pasture.
A 'cock flicks up out of cover and is soon away on suprisingly large almost Owl-like wings
I was first attracted to the challenge of painting with a woodcock pin-feather about twelve years ago, when I was told about the technique by a gamekeeper. Once in demand with Victorian miniaturists, the tiny pin-feather comes from the leading edge of a woodcock's wing and only two such feathers occur on each bird (one on each wing). Now I am sometimes known as 'The Artist who paints with a feather' !
I have to sort all the feathers and carefully grade them, I have to discard hundreds and the chosen one may be 1 in 200 of a collection, this will then have to be treated and mounted in my specially designed holder before I can use it for painting. They are sometimes referred to by other terms, namely 'pen feather' or 'pintail feather'.
The white, pointed tip of a Woodcock's pin-feather can just be seen on the
leading edge of the wing at left. A single pin-feather from the other wing
is shown in the middle, along with a feather from the back of a Woodcock,
to show just how small the pin feather really is!
The picture below shows a recent painting in progress
As an instrument for painting it's far from ideal, holding very little paint, resisting water and wearing down quickly at the tip. Despite these drawbacks, and after much trial and error, I've developed a successful technique. I insist on only using ONE single feather for each painting and after completion, the pin-feather used for that picture is inserted into the watercolour paper, a finishing touch which adds to the uniqueness of the picture.
In all the years' that I have been painting with a feather, I have only rarely managed to achieve a right and left - that is a matched pair of paintings painted using BOTH feathers from the same bird. One with the feather from the left wing and the other from the right, the reason it so rarely works is that each feather is so unique in ability and quite often the second feather just will break or be too flimsy to produce a painting.
Undestandably a matched pair of paintings painted in this way commands a much higher price than a single painting.
An example of a complete painting, painted with a Woodcock's pin-feather. The actual feather used to paint this woodcock is slipped into the paper just next to my signature at the bottom right of the image
This image is roughly twice the size that I painted it, showing just how much detail you can achieve with a pin-feather
My most famous pin-feather painting was painted with a 150-year-old feather, kindly given to me from the collection of Lady Letitia Louisa Kerr. This painting was auctioned at the Mall Galleries in London in 1999, and is now available as a print.
Woodcock pin-feather originals are highly sought-after by game shooters and fine art collectors the world over. If you'd like to commission your own unique pin-feather painting, maybe using some feathers that you already have or even a pair from the same bird. I'd be delighted to discuss it further with you.
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