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Wetland Spring

The Red-Winged Blackbird

With the beginning of spring, I am drawn to the watery songs of the red-winged blackbirds perching among the tule sedges & rushes of our seasonal wetlands. Misty mornings carry me up along the coast to Harmony Headlands, a lovely sweep of rugged California coastline consisting of ecologically recovering ranch meadows dotted with rich and vibrant seasonal wetlands.

Harmony is a magnificent place to go raptor watching; I nearly always see red-tailed hawks there, and often harriers, kites, falcons, and eagles as well. The ponds in the spring attract various shorebirds, ducks, geese, coots, and other waterfowl.

Drawing the Form

Upon this equinox I am captivated by that liquid, whistling voice which I always associate with our freshwater wetlands. The familiarity which begins as a metallic warbling call through the laden air and a quick flash of red among the tall reeds makes its way into my hands, easing itself into the form of an image.

Artist Derek Schultz sketching red-winged blackbird

Red-winged blackbird sketch by artist Derek Schultz

Through the study of the body, the inner shapes begin to take on meaning which was previously hidden. The process is like digging through layers of earth: uncovering mysteries which were present all along, waiting to be interpreted.

Painting the Spirit

Meditation and digestion: through repetition, the form of a blackbird becomes a story. The song being sung is a song of relationship, of interdependence and connection. My artistic path is an attempt to get at the most ancient type of human art. Animals: our direct relatives, as envisioned on the walls of caves, on rock faces around which ancient stories were told. What stories do we have now to tell about these other inhabitants of Earth?

Red-winged blackbird work in progress by artist Derek Schultz

Detail of red-winged blackbird by artist Derek Schultz

Once I am happy with the anatomy of the pose, I depart from literal representation and begin painting the spirit. What is a spirit but a complex and lifelong tapestry of relationships? Our material is created within the stars; it stretches back vastly far beyond the origin of memory. It has been sculpted for aeons by churning fire and stone, by the crashing of waves, by the changing atmospheres. It has taken form before us, eating sunlight, and it will take form after we pass, respiring heat into shadow. There is nothing metaphysical about spirit: it is here, now, embodied all around us. The real, the material, is the only spirit there is in this world.

A painting is a singular moment of harmony, an attempt to sing along with the chorus of material and memory for one brief moment of shapeshifting body and time.

Red-winged blackbird, fine art print by Derek Schultz
Agelaius phoeniceus, the red-winged blackbird

First salutations to the stars.

Thanks to all relatives and ancestors.

May all beings be happy and free.

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