The Paper Aviary

The lockdown began in France on March 17th and continued until May 11th.  And, if I’m being honest, we’ve continued limiting our social contacts voluntarily ever since. My 86 year old mother is staying with us at the moment, and we really really don’t want her to catch Covid 19.

For the first month of lockdown, I drifted. I was lucky in that I am considered an essential worker, so I was allowed to leave the house in order to work. George and I also made a point of getting out for our one-hour walk most days. Despite these ‘escapes’, I found it hard to commit myself to any projects.  I tried to read, but couldn’t engage with anything. I tried to paint, and again, found it difficult to engage with any subjects. I scrolled through Facebook in a trance, visited the Worldometers covid statistics site obsessively, skimmed through news headlines, played games on my phone, ate too much, drank too much, slept every afternoon, watched crap on TV in the evenings.

What re-ignited my artistic drive was actually the Getty Museum Art challenge. I’d seen some fun submissions, and I was driven to try one myself. I chose as my subject The Great Wave off Kanawaga by the Japanese artist Hokusai.


The LSH volunteered to assist, and we passed a fun afternoon laying sheets and clothes out on the terrace, until finally I deemed it acceptable and snapped the photo.

And after that, I settled down better with my box of pastels and decided to try a few birds. I’d done a couple of owls, but I really wanted to use the bright end of my box of colours!

First to land on paper was this guy, who I’d seen on a friend’s Facebook page as I idly scrolled by one day.

I was charmed with him (and somewhat surprised at how well the rose twig worked out. Plants are Not My Thing unless I’m eating them).

I continued. Next was a starling. All those colours hidden in his dark feathers! Then an unsuccessful jay. The body was wrong, although the head was good. I almost threw him in the bin, but something made me hold on to him. Maybe I’d find somewhere for him?

I don’t think I’m alone in finding art a deeply meditative process.

My mind drifted as more and more birds flew onto my empty pages, but it wasn’t until I did a horse (for a change, y’know) that my idea for my paper aviary began to take shape. 

Confinement (lockdown in French) was now officially over, and I felt that this guy joyfully plunging into open space described how many people felt. “Déconfiné” was the obvious title. But he needed a foil, an alter-ego.

“Confiné” was born. Fancy mandala work all around the edges. A plunging horse on a dark background, but he’s rough, not finished.

“No matter the grandeur of his surroundings, the confined horse will never be complete.”

I came back to my birds and thought about how the lockdown had affected me personally. I thought about how birds are captured and kept by humans with no thought for what it may mean to the birds. I remembered a holiday on a Greek Island. To get down to the port, we passed through the village. Several people had birds in cages hanging outside their houses. As well as canaries, there were greenfinches and a goldfinch. My heart ached to see these wild birds caged like this. My next bird was a goldfinch, then an angry greenfinch.

I thought about Victorian Britain, and how birds were lifted from hedges and fields to fuel the demand for keeping them as fashionable pets, whose owners loved and pampered them in their little gilded cages. I did some research, and learned what birds were popular at the time. Some were added to my aviary, along with a couple of vagrants who insisted on using up my colours.

Bit by bit, The Paper Aviary took shape.

(See how the jay found his place?)

It’s now three-quarters full. I’m going to take a short break from it and work on something different and then produce the final five of twenty. The intention, however, is that birds may come and birds may go from the aviary. They are all for sale (at a price that will surprise you – in a good way!) and when one leaves, his space may remain empty for a while until another bird comes along to fill it.

I’m going to make a video of it as it is so far, and share it here and on Facebook in the next couple of days.

I’m hugely indebted to a number of photographers for making their images freely available and to a couple of Facebook groups for providing an outlet for kind photographers to share their work.

Graham Davies, Bubblesjulie_photography on instagram, George Greenlee, Photos for Artists (Facebook), Free Animal Reference photos for artists (Facebook) and Pixabay have all been important sources for me.

7 thoughts on “The Paper Aviary

    • I hadn’t seen your comment, not getting notifications. I must look into that 😐
      I’ve been toying with the idea of doing some sort of printed book based on the very precious Paper Aviary that already exists. I haven’t thought it through yet. It’s still a Maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Happy to see you back at work. The birds are lovely, however the horse is brilliant and obviously your passion.

    I too have had a difficult time jump starting the creative juices you and the LSH are an

    If anyone missed the LSH’s photograph exhibit it is well worth the trip to see it. Absolutely stunning work!


  2. Hello, Martine! Haven’t heard from you in a while! I LOVE the Getty Museum of Art challenge. I’d never heard of it but I will look it up. I must confess, I can’t draw a straight line but as you demonstrate, it’s not always chalk or crayons, is it!

    I know the feeling, that of needing some escape from the pandemic. For me…well, my blog, Dragon nomads, started LAST year as I was disabled for the longest time. I had dysphagia after a disastrous colonoscopy almost killed me. Not being over dramatic, either. So I see your efforts have inspired you to return to the blog.

    We too, my non horsey husband and I, stay fairly close to home. We did go out to eat, once, at my favorite Chinese buffet, about a month ago. There they took extraordinary precautions. So far so good!

    I love your blue tit. (that could be taken so out of context….). They were one of my favorite feeder birds when I lived in Germany.

    I too, have always felt ambivalence towards caged birds. How can a bird enjoy a life constricted to a cage and fed millet?

    By the way, how did you get wordpress to put a map of where your visitors are from? Is that analytics? Is it on wordpress or must I go somewhere else on the net to find it?


    • Hi M!
      Great to hear from you!
      I don’t know if you saw on your stats, but I’ve been catching up on Dragon Nomads 🙂
      I got the impression that you’d stopped for a while and then restarted? Maybe I’m wrong.
      The visitor maps comes from, I installed it as a widget years ago and it’s been trouble free (meaning I don’t need to do anything with it!). I think I’d seen it on someone else’s blog and thought it was a cool idea.
      And let’s both be thankful that there isn’t a Great Tit in my aviary…


    • I did stop, for a short while. My muse took a holiday? Whatever, I have slowed down, mostly due to it being summer and there’s a LOT to do on a property in the few months where it’s warm and dry. This past winter lasted until…oh, mid July..not winter per se, but rain and cold temps. But fear not, I’ve one in the process right now.

      I looked at your clustermap widget. You have a TON of readers!! Good for you!! The stats on wordpress just don’t show me enough, so I think I’ll install it on Blogger. Word press has screwed up their editor AGAIN and I only post on it because it does get a lot more coverage. However, for a non geek like me Blogger is far easier.

      Again, good to hear from you!


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