18 x 13.75 in | 45.7 x 34.9 cm
There is a story here and, of course, it’s about a tree. Hemlocks are irresistible to porcupines that can sit up in a Hemlock all winter and devour all the leaves, branch by branch. The tree usually sprouts again but not every branch does. Some branches die back and break off, leaving a stumped perch with a clear view in every direction, a perfect launching pad for a little flycatcher. I watched it dart out after flying insects and return to its perch. With the longest lens on my camera I was able to take some close-up pictures. Three of the best pictures gave me sufficient material to sketch a composition for the painting.
Speaking of trees, a close-up scene like this allows me to enjoy the special characteristics of the Hemlock like the different lengths of the needles (leaves) on the twigs and the silvery stripe along each leaf. I also enjoyed painting the little cones hanging from the very tip of the twigs, another characteristic feature of the Eastern Helmock (Tsuga canadensis). I wanted to refer to the bird by its proper name in this story but I didn’t know what kind of flycatcher it was. I pored over Phoebes, Pewees, and a whole page of what they called Empidonax Flycatchers without much success. They look so similar. Then one day I received an email from my cousin Paul, who is a birder. It read as follows: “I’ll put my money on Eastern Phoebe. The wing bars are fainter than a Pewee and the lower mandible appears black. Also the half eye ring and lighter throat. All that’s needed is for him to flick his tail. I watched him for quite some time but he never moved.”
As an artist I was more interested in capturing the green and violet colors reflected in its feathers than I was in providing a scientific account of the colors as they might look in a photographic studio. One clue that helped Paul was its location in Southern Ontario, in Canada.