Interview with Paul J. Greenfield, Illustrator of Birds of Ecuador
Illustrator of The Birds of Ecuador
by Peter W. Thayer
July 4, 2001 Quito, Ecuador
Pete: When did you start painting and when did you
realize you could make a living as a bird artist?
Paul: I started painting when I was six years old. I'm still waiting to see if I can make a living at it!
Pete: What were you thinking when you first started Birds of Ecuador twenty years ago?
Paul: First of all, I didn't realize it would take twenty years to finish! We had originally planned to have 70 plates, including the birds of the Galapagos Islands. We ended up with 96 plates that include almost 3,000 images. We decided to omit the birds of the Galapagos Islands about half way through the project. Bob and I laid out the birds for each plate on sketch paper using oval shapes that showed the posture of each bird. I made rough sketches of the birds and traced these on to the paper used for the final plates. Then I just started painting using acrylic paints. I had studied many of the birds in the field, so I had a lot of information in my head.
I am left handed, so Bob thinks I always start in the upper right corner and paint my way down to the lower left, but that isn't really true. I often jump from plate to plate so I don't get bored painting all the Hawks at once, for example. The basic work was done in my studio in Ecuador. I never sketch or paint in the field. Final work was often done in Philadelphia at the Academy of Natural Sciences where Bob worked. They have a huge bird skin collection there. I used the skins to make sure I had all the details exactly right.
Pete: Did you ever have to correct any mistakes in the paintings?
Paul: We were constantly making changes. With acrylic paints it is fairly easy to paint over an area. As the project progressed, we realized that we needed to show various races of birds that occurred in Ecuador. We had to make room for these on the plates. You will notice heads of birds squeezed in to many of the plates to illustrate regional differences in plumage. Notice the very last plate. We used this to add species that had been found in Ecuador during the period we were working on the book. We also used it to add species we just forgot to draw! The Plushcap (Plate 96, bird #22) is a spectacular bird, and we just forgot it. [Bob says there are two others on that plate they forgot].
Bob is a bit of a perfectionist, so he would have me move birds around or repaint them. The Brown Pelican (Plate 4, bird #8B) was originally painted to show the underwings and the underside of the bird. Bob wanted the bird shown from above so I redrew that image. I'm not sure he realized how I worked until one day in Philadelphia he commented that the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe (Plate 19, bird #7) didn't "look right". I went down the hall and got the skin from the collection and began redoing the image by first painting the entire bird black. Bob walked in, saw the black blob (which had been a detailed painting a few minutes earlier) and freaked out! After that Bob had no qualms about suggesting changes.
Pete: Who had the harder job, you or Bob?
Paul: We are both masters at our craft. Bob was in Philadelphia and I was in Ecuador so he had a lot of extra work dealing with the publishers, proofing the book and checking the accuracy of the maps, habitat descriptions and the rest. So I would say he probably had to work harder. But it was a labor of love for both of us.
Pete: Which Field Guides do you admire most?
Pete: Are you involved in bird conservation in Ecuador as well?
Paul: Absolutely. Bob and I are both on the Board of Directors of the Jocotoco Foundation. We are protecting land by purchasing important bird habitat and managing it as a private foundation. Areas of primary concern include habitat that must be protected now to prevent the extinction of some of the rarest birds in South America. If birders don't get involved in protecting the habitat, who will?
To raise money to buy more land, the Jocotoco Foundation is holding an auction in July on eBay to coincide with the publication of the book. The wining bidder can choose any Ecuadorian bird and I will create an original painting for them. The painting will be acrylic and will be about 12" x 14". There are some spectacular birds here in Ecuador, as you have seen during the past two weeks.
Pete: I am guessing that the winner of the auction might want to select Plate-billed Mountain Toucan or Toucan Barbet or Paradise Tanager rather than Dull Seedeater. Thank you Paul.
Click here to
bid on an original painting by Paul J. Greenfield
Paul will paint any Ecuadorian bird selected by the winner
(All proceeds go to the Jocotoco Foundation)
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