When I first saw Chris Maynard’s feather art, I was dumbfounded. I scrolled through his galleries…amazing!
I contacted Chris and asked for an interview and he agreed. So here we go…
How long have you been creating your art with feathers?
Since I was 12. It’s evolved of course. Ten years ago I picked up the pace and began photographing them and creating photo-composites with an eye toward the biology of the birds. I still do that, but I also like to incorporate the feathers themselves.
Do you pick a feather and see the image, or do you design the image and then pick a feather?
Good question. A lot of both. Feathers are limited in size, shape, and color, so not many feathers lend themselves to a design I am developing. Usually, the larger feathers work best, and I like it best when the feather is from the same bird I am portraying. That doesn’t work too well for small birds, like hummingbirds or songbirds. There is also the concern of legality, so I have to rule out using many feathers from particular birds.
Without giving away any secrets, how do you create your art and shadow boxes?
It starts with a feeling for either a particular bird or the meaning we or I give to feathers – like exuberant flight. I make lots of sketches and if one looks promising, refine the sketch. Often I have a particular feather in mind, but if not, I go on a search, looking for size, structure, pattern, color. This can take quite a while to obtain the right feather, but I also have a good stock of certain kinds, like Argus pheasant wing feathers. I then prepare the feathers using a process I have developed and refined over the years.
I use a small surgical knife to cut the feathers which can take quite a while and be detailed enough to require magnifying glasses or even sometimes, a stereo microscope. Then I prepare the background which is usually just pure white to enhance the shadow effect and not take away from the feathers themselves. The spacing of the feathers is as important as in any design exercise in order to create a feeling of movement, unity, and hopefully, intrigue and surprise. I use different kinds of glues to attach the feathers to the background, always leaving a little space between the feather and the background to create shadows and keep the feather’s 3-D form.
I first saw your art with bird images. Then I visited your website and found dragons. Are you working on other animals or subjects for your feather art?
Mostly birds because this is all about honoring them and respecting them through feathers. So I had to tie the thought of feathers to dragons which I did in a poem – it was actually elicited by a woman who was promoting my work through two children’s books – she asked me to do it. I like tying the symbolism and imagery of dragons to that of feathers. They work well together.
I was reading through your blogs and realized you write about different bird feathers and how you collect them. How do you find all these feathers?
Zoos and private aviaries. Many of the birds whose feathers I use are still alive. I ask my contacts to pick up feathers and sometimes they do but everyone is so busy that it is very rare that they have time to pick up the smaller ones. So if a pet bird or aviary bird dies, sometimes they save the feathers for me. I have my own pair of Impeyan pheasants, the national bird of Nepal. They are molting now, and I pick up every one of their feathers. I went hiking outside Mt. Rainier NP yesterday and found where something had killed a grouse. I gathered the tail feathers and stuck one in my hat. People sometimes write to me and ask if I would like or could use feathers they have for my art.
Would you like to include few tidbits about the protected peacock, the color from the Turaco, other interesting observations?
I like the idea of a national bird being something other than an eagle because it expands my thoughts to different possibilities of how a country could respond and act in global politics. If politicians and negotiators could expand their thinking using different imagery, they would have a larger repertoire of responses to different situations – an eagle being more appropriate in one, a peacock in another.
You have a photo portfolio for sale in prints and cards. Tell us about those.
I sell open editions through my website. They are inexpensive, more affordable if the originals are too dear.
You have a book, Feathers, Form and Function, coming out soon. Tell us about that.
The proof is on its way from China. The printing should be finished mid-November. The book is a quality art book – hardcover, thick paper so you see only the picture on the page you are looking at; lots of images of my art, like you see on the web, with descriptions informing what the image is about or information about the art process or the bird that grew the feather; lots of information about feathers – what they are made of, how they grow, how they are shed, what is legal to have, how they help birds stay warm, camouflage, fly, stay dry, and stay protected. And a chapter about what feathers represent to us in myth and meaning.
What is Artists for Conservation?
AFC supports animal conservation causes around the world through donating a percentage of art sales to specific conservation groups that the artist specifies. I mostly gift to Audubon. Artists from all over the world are accepted into this group. We have a yearly show scheduled in Vancouver, BC, later this month. I am a new member and will be giving a talk on feathers on the September 28th.
In the same vein, this fall, I will be partnering with the World Parrot Trust to auction two pieces to benefit Blue Fronted Macaw reintroduction to Bolivia.
What’s your background?
My mother was a professional artist – which is a lot of why and how I kept my original childhood creativity – that was encouraged as a child. Plus I got to know the art world of her time by tagging along to museums and her shows. I have always loved the exuberance of life and became a biologist and worked in that field for many years – and through schooling (bugs) and work (birds and fish) was never satisfied solely using the scientific method. I have always pursued creativity and art.
Some dinosaurs had small plumes
to keep them warm, we assume
If dinosaurs had a few,
why then couldn’t dragons too?
But dragon fire would burn them off
unless the quills were really tough
Scales is what a dragon’s got
Cause with plumes they’d be too hot.
~ Poem by Chris Maynard
See Chris’s blog Featherfolio blog about his inspiration, collaborations with other artists, and interesting tidbits about protected birds.
You can pre-order Chris’s book, Feathers, Form & Function, here.
Purchase cards and prints here.
See Chris’s incredible photo gallery.