13 Paintings Of Birds

For the past 8 years (maybe more?) I have been painting bird silhouettes into my otherworldly landscapes.

It started about here, circa 2005, with flocks of mysterious anonymous birds in raucous motion. In these paintings, my inspiration was not only the movement of the flocks as a whole, but the sound of the birds singing. I could literally hear their cacophony in my head as I was painting, not in a crazy, I-hear-voices way, but in a wow-my-painting-is-coming-to-life way. (Hmm, not sure that sounds any less crazy. Oh well…)

Birds at Sunrise, 42″ x 36″, Acrylic/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved
Approaching Storm, 30″ x 46″, Acrylic/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved
The Big Sky, 40″ x 50″, Acrylic/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

I’ve painted lone birds as well, and interestingly, I’ve often thought of myself as the bird. I am an independent soul by nature, so it’s easy for me to put myself in that place.

(My husband and I jokingly referred to this painting as “The Dead Hiker” because of its creepy factor.)

I’ve painted pairs of birds, meant to represent lovers.

October Hawks, 24″ x 36″, Oil/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

Occasionally I’ve felt compelled to paint a specific kind of bird, and to give it a personality. Again, here, the bird is obviously me. I painted this one after a white-water rafting trip in a gorge in West Virginia, and the mountains there really looked like this. Just so beautiful it makes your heart sing!

Above Blue Mountains, 36″ x 24″, Acrylic/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

At times my birds have had a specific meaning to me. This painting I created in 6 hours in a frenzy in which I stayed up all night long. I added the finishing touches as the sun was rising outside my window. This painting just sort of emerged out of me effortlessly. You hear artists talk about that, but in my experience, that channeling thing is actually quite rare. Painting, while almost always gratifying, is also usually arduous, tedious, difficult, and frustrating. But not this time.

This dove is a good omen, bringing a message of hope to me, and of course to anyone else who sees her.

Messenger at Dawn, 20″ x 50″, Acrylic/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

This sweet little blue bird is only a tiny detail in a gigantic 6-foot-tall painting. Yet the painting did not feel complete until I added him.

Detail from Autumn’s Meridian, 72″ x 48″, Acrylic/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

And here are some examples of more recent paintings. I went back to the silhouettes, but these birds represent specific people. There are 4 of them to represent the 4 members of my young family, myself, my husband, and our 2 little babies. Sappy, I know, but I couldn’t stop myself.

Detail from Stardust, 30″ x 30″, Oil/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

Same here. And this particular one was the last painting I made while pregnant with my daughter last year. I can’t look at it without feeling the magic of her imminent arrival. We did not know she was a girl then, as we chose to be surprised, but already she was so much a part of our family that I didn’t give a second thought to including her here.

Detail from Sapphire Eclipse, 20″ x 60″, Oil/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

And of course, back to the mysterious, anonymous flocks.

Detail from Ascension, 40″ x 50″, Oil/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

Sometimes my birds have shown up so fuzzy and vague that they are merely dark bird-like shapes, but still, they keep showing up.

Detail from Birdsong Above, 40″ x 30″, Oil/Canvas, © Cedar Lee, All Rights Reserved

And this is just a sampling of my paintings that include birds–there are many! It’s silly that I didn’t realize until now just how pervasive this bird imagery is in my art, and how unconscious that continual thread has been at times. Although I’ve often set out with the goal of painting birds, usually it’s something like, “Hmm…this needs a bird.” And that’s the extent of my thought process.

But now I am thinking about why birds are so important in my work, and I’ve realized it’s because they symbolize freedom and hope. If we could be birds, with the ability to fly, human problems would cease to exist. We feel all these awful things: stress, grief, depression, helplessness. And throughout the years, I’ve realized that I’ve painted these birds because they bring me relief from all those feelings. When I see all the birds in my paintings, all I feel is celebration of life!

In the past 2 and a half years, in addition to lots of less obvious stuff, I’ve carried and birthed two children, sold a house, gotten rid of most of my possessions, moved across a continent, bought a house, and moved again. It’s all a bit much if you ask me. Is it any wonder that the birds have shown up in so many of my recent paintings? I do see the human spirit as something that can fly and transcend, and I see myself starting to come out the other side of these past few years in my life, which have been unbelievably eventful and transformative, as a new person entirely.

So as I realized all this, I had to make this painting, which I just finished last night. It’s a red-tailed hawk. Where I live, we see them every day soaring over the mountains and landing in the branches of the avocado trees in our back yard. And of course, this bird is me. (It could also be you, or anyone else with a soaring spirit.)

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