Much of my art is inspired by wildlife. Two birds – the magpie and the jay – are the theme for my brand and one of my first sets of designs. Birds are such fascinating creatures. They have been evolving since the time of the dinosaurs and have perfected a way of life from which we can learn much. Through their flight and their virtuosic song, they focus on the moment and infuse sheer joy into it. The poet Shelley was so right to call the skylark a ‘blithe spirit’.
Can there be another class of creatures (Class: Aves) that displays such wonderful colours, such iridescent textures? This is of course why the tribes of Papua New Guinea hunted the birds of paradise almost to extinction.
We have such an odd relationship with nature. Birds inspire our artistic endeavours, yet when we want something we are quick to prey upon them.
A few years ago, there was a fashion for gorgeous textile patterns featuring songbirds. They were achingly lovely, but somehow I did not want to buy these clothes. Behind the prettiness, I suspected, were industrial processes that probably did grave harm to the environment – and the birds that inhabit it. Surely, if you are going to feature birds in commercial products, there is a moral imperative to protect them; otherwise it’s hypoocrisy.
Yet as an artist I am inspired by birds and want to depict them. When I started Magpie & Jay, and developed my designs of the eponymous birds, I promised myself that this inspiration would be partnered with a commitment to sustainable production. I also decided to make the back of each card work hard: to promote the appreciation and protection of the birds depicted, giving information about charities that also have that aim.
Meanwhile, selling my cards through a local online shop, Stroudco, I found there was a demand for bird seed to put in people’s garden bird feeders. So I began to sell that too. Now I even offer a gift hamper for bird lovers through Stroudco, including treats for both the person and the birds! If our love for birds is serious, then we need to show it with our actions.