Yesterday we walked together over the hill, Robin, four dogs and me. The land is clothed in winter colours and as we walked through the rattling bones of heather flowers small snipe rose up with shouts and flew fast and low for safety. And then we saw a woodcock. Bigger than a snipe with a beadlike eye, coloured so like the moorland they blend so well and sit tight and still almost until you stand on them. Then they fly so fast.
Today I was supposed to meet Daf on the beach to pick up pin feathers from a woodcock he had shot, plucked and put in a pie, but had a strange assignation outside the surf shop instead as chaos had ensued at home and I was late. A small package exchanged hands and I went home happy with my feathers. I had heard that calligraphers had worked for centuries with brushes made from the pin feathers of woodcocks. They were supposed to be hard wearing and capable of producing very finely detailed work.
I painted a eulogy to a woodcock, so wrapped in my work that I forgot to go and pick up the kids from school, watching the paint leave the brush feather, amazed at how fine a detail I could get. I have always loved medieval painting and it was good to feel close to this ancient tradition of illustration. It seems that these feathers have been used for many things, including painting gold detail onto Rolls Royce cars. The only thing I used another brush for was the block detail covering behing the gold leaf, for the feather brush would work as a good wash brush for smaller areas too, very fine.
detail from a medieval manuscript showing a woodcock.
Looking on the web for more about the feathers I found another painter who loves to use them, Colin Woolf.
Back to work on The Ice Bear tomorrow.