If one is at all observant when out in the field watchng birds, it soon becomes apparent that most birds will most often be found in their own preferred habitat. If one is trying to sculpt a given bird, it makes sense to try to include some representation of its habitat. For instance, if one were carving a Pacific Wren, it would be glaringly wrong to put it on a barrel cactus, no matter how well you can make a barrel cactus. By spending a fair amount of time observing the live bird, and with good reference photos of it, you can come up with ideas for presentation of your carving.
Techniques for the construction of habitat are sometimes difficult to come by. Magazines like Wildfowl Carving Magazine and Breakthrough Magazine quite often have articles on making habitat. If you are a subsciber, make note of these articles. Without doing an in-depth search of the table of contents or yearly indexes, I know, for example, that Wildfowl Carving Magazine has had articles on making such habitat features as White Pine Branches and needles, weathered posts, rocks with lichens, Weeping Willow branches and leaves, and Aspen Branches. Breakthrough Magazine publishes a manual for making habitat materials. Carving instructors often offer seminars on habitat construction. If all else fails, attend carving competitions and spend some time looking at the habitat presented with the carving. See if you can determine how it was made; if possible seek out the carver and ask how it was done; most carvers willingly share details and tips, but be respectful of his/her time.
I am currently working on a Bohemian Waxwing. While I have never seen one of these, I have spent a fair amount of time looking at reference photos from magazines and from several good web sites dealing with bird photos. In addition to details of the bird, I have been especially interested in the accompanying habitat shown in the photos. Almost all of the photos of Bohemian Waxwings show the bird on a branch with small crab apples or some other type of small fruit. There are very few leaves in most of the photos. I concluded that most of these photos show bird and branches in the early fall, although I did see several with frost or snow on the branches and fruit. I decided to put my bird on a similar bare branch with small fruit, and several stems which have had the fruit removed, and one fruit which had been partially eaten. Quite a few photos show waxwings with a small fruit in their beaks, but I thought I'd simplify my sculpture by having the beak closed.
The next task was to find or make a suitable branch. After several attempts to make the branch out of brass rod and tubes covered with Kulis Karvit (a two part epoxy) into which detail could be applied, I concluded that my soldering skills still leave much to be desired. I'll have to work on soldering because I can see how it can be used to great effect. I finally found a suitable Manzanita branch with some suitable side branches. By cutting some of the branches to shorten them and cutting others, drilling, pinning, and super gluing them together to rearrange them into a pleasing appearance, I had a branch whose form I was happy with. I drilled small holes in the end of several of the smaller branches into which to place the stems of the fruit, which I made with small diameter brass rod. The fruits were made with Kulis Karvit epoxy. The entire branch was then covered with the epoxy into which I placed detail to resemble an actual branch. Finally, the fruit on their stems were super glued into the predrilled holes. It was during the process of applying the Kulis Karvit to the branch that I thought of Joyce Kilmer's poem "Trees" from which this blog entree was named.
The photo at the top of this page shows the unpainted branch on a walnut pedestal base. I did not intend to make a branch from any particular crab apple cultivar, but I believe it is a fair representation of the type of habitat on which one may see a Bohemian Waxwing. While my branch is not perfect in every respect, I think if I could sculpt the "perfect" branch, it would probably detract from my attempt to do this bird carving. However, I believe my carving and presentation skills have improved from the experience. Time to get to the painting of branch, fruit, and bird. More pictures to follow.