When Subtlety Takes Wing: For Canadian Chris Bacon, the Real Art of Bird Painting Is Complex Solutions That Look Elegant

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For Canadian Chris Bacon, the real art of bird painting is complex solutions that look elegant

It's hard to believe that the art on these pages comes from a man who failed his high-school art classes. Teaching himself by trial and error, Chris Bacon produced a portfolio by the age of 18 that won him acceptance to an art school in Ontario. Now 35, he recalls, "I did everything for me, not to satisfy anybody else." But others were satisfied, enough to buy out his portfolio at one show when he was 19, and Bacon backed out of school to go his own way. "I shut myself away from everybody to have my own vision, to be different," he says.

Bacon's technique involves meticulous building of detail and color with very fine brushes--some only a few hairs thick. He may check photographs to make sure his subjects are accurately rendered, but almost all his compositions spring from his own imagination. Like any artist, Bacon is intrigued by light, but his aim is to make his paint appear to be light. The results, shown on these pages, speak for themselves. All are watercolors.

Bacon's painting "Light-Waves," along with other wildlife art, is available as a limited-edition print from NWF Editions, a National Wildlife Federation program that promotes sustainable development of global natural resources. To learn how to reach a gallery that sells the print, call toll-free 1-800-699-9693.

Light Waves

"This goose could just as easily not be there," says Bacon. "I've set up a peaceful feeling, but it could be over in a spray of sand." A South American grassland species, the Magellan goose has been known to visit beaches; Bacon studied it at a waterfowl park.

Purple-Throated Mountain-Gem

After seeing vines like this one in Costa Rica, Bacon was inspired by his subject to play with light and shadows. "I want you to travel all the way down that thing and have as much fun as I did painting it," he says. He tried bigger birds, but they dominated the painting. "So I chose a little, tiny bird," he says.

Orinoco Goose

Bacon's first attempt to create what he calls a "backlit, radiant quality," this study of a South American bird is not much larger than its reproduction here. The diagonal lines of the colors at top left induce the viewer's eye to enter the painting at that point. …