The Sky Painter: Louis Fuertes, Bird Artist
by Margarita Engle; illus. by Aliona Bereghici
40 pages; ages 6-8
Two Lions, 2015
theme: birds, art, conservation
opening: I love the bright wings of birds
as they fly, wild and free,
high above me.
Louis loves to watch birds. His father wants him to study to become an engineer, but Louis dreams of being an artist. A bird artist. But instead of killing birds and painting from skins, he wants to paint living, flying birds in their habitat.
Why I like this book: Ever since I moved to my home not-too-far from Ithaca, I have heard of the famous Louis Agassiz Fuertes. So I was doubly interested in reading Margarita Engle's new book. I wanted to learn more about this local art & bird hero.
I like the way the story is written - in verse - and that each page or two is headed by a title: "Bird Art"; "Learning"; "Letting Birds Live". Fuertes went on field expeditions to paint birds, so there is Alaska, the Caribbean, South America. And there are the gorgeous illustrations of parrots and waterfowl and more! This book makes me want to head outside with a sketchbook and crayons and look more closely at the birds in my habitat.
Beyond the book: Appreciate the birds in your neighborhood. No matter where you live, whether in the city or country, there are birds all around you. There are hawks and owls in cities, doves and chickadees in the country. What birds live around you? Learn more about them.
Check out the art of Louis Fuertes. Fuertes painted with oils and watercolors, and sketched in pen and charcoal. You can see some of his artwork archived at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here.
Draw and paint birds you see. If you want some practice drawing birds before you head out "into the field" to capture live birds with your pencils or brush, here's some "how to draw a bird" advice. Mostly, though, you just have to do it. Practice observing and drawing will make you better.
I liked this book so much that I begged Margarita to answer a few questions. Which she did, most graciously.
Archimedes: What inspired you to write about Fuertes?
Margarita: Independent thinking! Creativity! Originality! Instead of accepting the way things had always been done, Fuertes dared to try something new. He greatly admired earlier bird artists, but unlike Audubon, Fuertes lived in a time when people realized the need for wildlife conservation. Instead of killing birds and posing them, he decided to learn how to paint faster. As a result, Fuertes's paintings not only have a spark of life in the eye of each bird, they also include actions, behaviors, and habitats that were missing from the work of earlier artists.
Archimedes: What sort of research did you do for this book?
Margarita: Some of my research happened while working on an earlier book, Silver People. I came upon mentions of Fuertes, which led me to look for books about his paintings. I should mention that I absolutely love travel and reading.... and I hope that teachers who use The Sky Painter will include field trips. Even a ten-minute walk around the most urban school campus will reveal small creatures that fascinate children. Once they've seen the iridescence of a hummingbird or the seed-cracking shape of a house finch's beak, they'll want to lean more.
Archimedes: Talk about his contribution to conservation.
Margarita: Fuertes was one of the early members of the Audubon Society. He spoke to women's clubs about finding alternatives to feathers for decorating their hats. He led nature walks, and encouraged kids who visited his studio to do their own bird sketches. When he was a young child, he kept a bird hospital under the porch stairs and once tied an owl to the kitchen table so he could paint its portrait. As an adult he kept a loon in the bathtub so he could watch (and paint) duck feet in action. He aimed a telescope at the moon to watch night-flying flocks of migratory birds, and hid inside an "invisibility cloak" of leaves while painting flamingos.
If you missed any of the Blog Tour stops - or want to revisit them - here's the list:
Mon, Apr 20
Kid Lit Frenzy
5 Minutes for Books
Teach Mentor Texts
The Children's Book Review
Cracking the Cover
A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust