Birdspot. On the road. Drawing birds.


Costa Rica, April, 2011

Where one might see a bird, I am looking at a riot of colors, and shapes made by those colors. In this I see enthalpy. Enthalpy, borrowed from its proper place in thermodynamics, is the sum of a system’s internal energy plus the product of its pressure and volume (H = E + PV). It is such a beautiful, delicate equation. This living palette, a being so capable of moving fluidly through space, this bird, wherein colors move from hot to cold, is a system. Systems are ripe with enthalpy (H). They have internal energy (E – both potential and kinetic) and exist in specific, variable states (PV). In science, the transfers of heat – the changes in enthalpy (∆H) – are quantifiable, knowable, and useful, but as a general property, enthalpy is shrouded in its futility. I am gawking at ideas I can not truly measure. The fluctuation of color temperature on these birds is enough to melt my mind.

Such are my heat-weakened thoughts as I sit on the deck of our lodge. We are north of Boca Tapada and somewhere vaguely south of the Nicaraguan border, and it is hot and humid in a way that makes my mind attempt to get out of my body. I drink a Coke, sans ice, and curl my bare feet back from the line on the wood floor where the afternoon sun is advancing. As usual, I have been up since 5 a.m., slapping at flies and sweating. The three of us have already spent eight hours walking through the lowland rainforest here, and have a probable four or so more before calling it a day.

The Coke is at least cool, and only sans ice because there is none to be had, not because I am worried about the water. I am not worried about the water here. I am wary of the sun, though, and am sitting as close to the edge of the open deck as possible without leaving the shade. I want to be as near to the bananas as I can. There is a banana bunch hanging from a tree in front of me. On those bananas is a stream of brightly colored birds. What I am trying to say is that I want to draw the birds.


Enthalpy is a difficult concept: How does one define the boundaries of a system? Do I decide that colors end at the edge of a form (a bird), or do I extend them outward, affecting other systems of air or environment, all the while themselves affected by the green of a bromeliad, the highlights of a tropical sun? I know what the current art school response is, but I also don’t care. I could redefine my interests in terms of thermodynamics (classical, statistical, or chemical?), but come on, be realistic. My head hurts, and in any case I don’t have the energy.

And what am I doing drawing parrots? I kind of hate parrots, and believe me, I have my reasons.

With cola-fueled electrons bouncing a bit, my thoughts jump from enthalpy to entropy. Entropy is easy. Its evidence sits there now, on my physical palette. Rivers of colors, at first pure and distinct, pool and run together to discover conflict. From time to time, I have to exert work to keep the palette together; the chaos of overly-mixed watercolor is not pretty. Basically, it starts out neatish and and ends up a swirly muddy mess, as it full well wants to be. This is the inevitable decline into disorder. The entropy of the physical palette is obvious.


Entropy also exposes hierarchies within a palette – let’s face it, certain colors (we should say pigments at this point) are more powerful than others. Some are domineering, some quietly recede in social settings, and some are passive-aggressive.

Phthalocyanine colors (phthalo green, phthalo blue) are bullies. Phthalo green is meaner even than phthalo blue, and phthalo blue is the one that painting teachers warn you about. They are paints that creep into all your other colors and let everyone know, peacock-style, exactly what you are using. They are pigments that every painting student has awakened to find mysteriously all over the bed sheets, your face, and your roommate’s clothing. You are not sleeping with your roommate, and dammit you did not steal that particular shirt, this time, but there sit those garish blue-greens, everywhere, in all their poisonous glory.

If ever there was a reason to use Pthalo blue and green, straight out of the tube, these parrots are it.


Images, top to bottom:

Brown-hooded Parrots, watercolor on paper, 11.25 x 12″.
Brown-hooded Parrot sketches, ink and watercolor, smallish.
Palette I, watercolor on paper, also smallish.
Palette II, watercolor on paper, also smallish.

10 Responses to “Phthalocyanine”

  1. You put so beautifully into words and drawing the feelings that I had when I would marvel at the colors of my Sun Conures-colors so bright that I could see them from a distance when they’d escape from their summertime patio enclosure. Lovely, as usual.

  2. Gorgeous you really get the jizz of the bird. Your talent will get you far maybe even the birdfair ;-)

  3. Incredible work – both the beautiful painting and the equally inspired and thoughtful writing!

  4. The feathers POP off the page! God-durn, you are the “chuck close” of bird/animal portraits!!!

  5. Damn that’s good! I’m just in the middle of doing the Brotogeris spp (and allies) for iBird & this is incredibly inspiring, just what I needed!

  6. You draw goooood. ;)

  7. Zowie! You’ve captured the essence of their personalities, so endearing. But then again, you always do. BTW, I want the pair of sketches! And just WHY do you hate parrots (heh, heh)?

  8. I can’t draw and I can’t write. Boooo! I might as well go to bed. Man, those Brown-headed Parrots are lovely! You have such a way with words too….. Catherine

  9. A very sincere thank you for all of the comments! And Betty, I’ll have the parrots with me as I drive across the country. I’ll be in TX around May 27th!

  10. Such fantastic work. These truly capture the essence of Brown-hooded Parrots. I am guessing you were at Laguna del Lagarto? An excellent site for photography and field sketchng.

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