My friend Flicker

watercolor painting of woodpecker showing head turned sideways and breast pattern

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
-Jane Goodall

A few years ago, I wanted to incorporate my art and design studio into my own advocacy, particularly in conservation. The studio budget is tight so writing a check is not always feasible. Instead, I hit on an alternative. I am a bird enthusiast and haphazard bird watcher, so I decided to raise awareness about our planetary avian decline by painting and showcasing birds. I painted five endangered species and then my team designed products from the series. I am not a traditional bird illustrator, so I approached each bird as a fine artist. The natural world inspires my art, and stylistically I move between abstraction and symbolism. Our studio director Jennifer Roberts reached out to BirdNote a year ago to see if we could join forces and participate in their year-end pledge drive, and our collaboration was a success. 


So here we are again. This time Isa Catto Studio (ICS) is contributing a painting that will be translated into prints, notebooks and other goods for BirdNote donors at different membership levels. This collaboration was driven by BirdNote fans --they voted for their favorite bird and I agreed to paint the winner. While there were many worthy contenders, the Northern Flicker was ultimately chosen and has been on several Birdnote episodes.

First, I researched the bird and studied its image. Northern Flickers belong to the woodpecker family and are often foraging beneath the tree canopy. Their uniquely-shaped beak is perfect for feasting on ants and beetles at the base of trees. The patch of white on a Flicker's rump makes them easy to spot and their piercing cry is unmistakable.

Watercolor painting of a northern flicker with yellow tape around the edges

I settled on a striking photograph of a red-shafted male, bought the rights to use the image, and executed a sketch. From there, I penciled the bird very lightly onto the watercolor paper, mixed the palette, pulled up the image on my iPad, and started building up the details from the screen by hand. I’m a bit old school and still haven’t mastered the great iPad painting programs but I’ll get there.

side by side pencil drawings of a woodpecker in process
After sketching, I dropped in the underpainting which is a painting's foundation.

start of a watercolor painting of a woodpecker with paint tray in background

The poet Mary Oliver noted that “attention without feeling is only a report.”  When you pay attention to details, to the tiny feathers, the curve of the beak, the intensity of hues or the vivid patterns, wonder sweeps in. Each time I paint a bird I fall in love. I have lived with Northern Flickers for years, know their distinctive cry and scolded them for hammering at my apple trees. I certainly took them for granted. Painting helps me appreciate all the details. So thank you to BirdNote and its audience for getting me to take a closer look at this singular bird. For more details here is the process video.

For this particular collaboration, the original painting will be auctioned with proceeds to benefit BirdNote. Signup for their newsletter or follow them on social media to stay in the loop. In the meanwhile, the Studio will take a high-resolution scan of the final painting and use this to produce fine-art prints, and additional paper goods to benefit Birdnote donors at various membership levels


Wonderful! Passing it forward.

Ken Klein

It is so wonderful that you are a part of bird note! I love the painting and that birding is a big part of your day. I will have to come up and bird with you. Hazel and I loved the two studio tours. Jennifer is wonderful.

Happy birding.


Missy Prudden

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