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Moonlit Flight

 Moonlit Flight. April 2014. Oil on canvas. 18 x 36

If I had to pick one painting of mine to save from a fire it might just be this one. I’m really fond of it. And I know I’m not the only one. It got a lot of positive feedback. Many folks said it was beautiful and peaceful. Comments include references to doves of peace and guardian angels. Just like my last B&W piece, these are things people have seen it that I didn’t intend or expect. I was just painting what was in my head without much emotion.

I had the idea for this one about a year ago, maybe two, when I was working on my first black and white painting. An idea that just popped into my head: a vision of a bird in flight, against a jet black night sky and a cartoony crescent moon. Even as the months trickled by, I never forgot about it. Sometimes it just takes me awhile to actually follow through. I used a reference photo for my bird in flight, but the skyscape is entirely of my own invention. The reference bird was a Peregrine Falcon. Most viewers don't seem to realize that it's a bird of prey at all, though. Many identified it as a dove (doves and raptors can look very alike, its true, in certain circumstances). The large feet, however, are unmistakably raptor, so there's your bird ID tip for the day.

I really do very much enjoy working in black and white. As I talked about last time, I find the colors to be exquisitely beautiful. This time around, I put the emphasis on those colors I enjoyed the most: the rich black, the deep warm grays. Because I enjoy those colors so much, I really enjoyed working on this painting, which is a reminder to me that I should take care to look for more colors that I love and want to explore.

Painting this, I was thinking about the beauty of a moonlit night, and the thrill of sudden and unexpected late night bird sightings. I was thinking about flight, about the power and the grace and the skill of it, about stars and chilly night air and being out in the dark when everything feels hushed and quiet and mysterious. Birds are spooky, mysterious, and absolutely enchanting in the dark. And I’ve always found the night sky to be a comfort.

Thinking about the dove of peace and guardian angel comments, I’m thinking that it makes sense because when I look at -- and I thought about this when I was painting it, too -- it does occur to me that there is a strong sense of purpose behind this bird. Clearly, the bird is doing something, has some kind of task its involved in. Of course I was only thinking about hunting, navigating, maybe going somewhere important. But one could definitely add something supernatural in there. Imagine it to be some sort of messenger. It does have that air about it. And given that I wrote an entire novel about a talking messenger bird, that thought had occurred to me.

I suppose if I really think about it, it does feel like a peaceful painting. But it’s not a calming sort of peace; it’s an active one. The peace, for me, comes from the setting, and the sense of purpose in the bird, like it’s about to swoop down and do something interesting; or like it’s just busy with life, and that’s comforting to me. It feels like a moment frozen in time, that will be gone in a second, and if you spend a great deal of time observing wildlife, you become very familiar with those moments. You see something beautiful, or amazing, and time seems to stop. It takes your breath away, fills you with joy, and makes you feel so lucky to be alive, to have been right here, right now, to have seen something you know you’re not going to see again. It ends, and time starts again, but the beauty, and the comfort, comes from knowing that there are an infinity of such moments, and though this exact one won’t happen again, you know there will be another one of a different sort, forever and ever, as long as you live, as long as you are open to it. That fills me with a sense of peace.

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