Over a period of thirteen years beginning in the 1820s, John James Audubon painted 435 different species of American birds.1 When he was finished, the illustrations were compiled into The Birds of America, one of the most celebrated books in American naturalism. Curiously however, five of the birds Audubon painted have never been identified: Townsend’s Finch, Cuvier’s Kinglet, Carbonated Swamp Warbler, Small-headed Flycatcher and Blue Mountain Warbler.
These birds have never been positively identified, and no identical specimens have been confirmed since Audubon painted them. Ornithologists have suggested that they might be color mutations, surviving members of species that soon became extinct, or interspecies hybrids that occurred only once.
The specimen that Audubon used to paint Townsend’s Bunting is now in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, identified as Townsend’s Dickcissel, but no bird exactly like it has been reported, Dr. Olson, an authority on Audubon’s work, noted in an email. Ornithologists suggest that it is either a mutation of the Dickcissel or a hybrid of Dickcissel and Blue Grosbeak, she said.
And that’s not counting the ones he got wrong for other reasons:
And indeed, there are several birds painted and explained in Birds of America that are not, in fact, actual species. Some are immature birds mistaken for adults of a new species (the mighty “Washington’s Eagle” was, in all likelihood, an immature Bald Eagle). Some were female birds that didn’t look anything like their male partners (“Selby’s Flycatcher” was a female Hooded Warbler).
Audubon also painted six species of bird that have since become extinct: Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, Labrador duck, great auk, Eskimo curlew, and pinnated grouse. Here’s his portrait of the passenger pigeon:
There were an estimated 3 billion passenger pigeons in the world in the early 1800s — about one in every three birds in North America was a passenger pigeon at the time. Their flocks were so large, it took hours and even days for them to pass. Audubon himself observed in 1813:
I dismounted, seated myself on an eminence, and began to mark with my pencil, making a dot for every flock that passed. In a short time finding the task which I had undertaken impracticable, as the birds poured in in countless multitudes, I rose and, counting the dots then put down, found that 163 had been made in twenty-one minutes. I traveled on, and still met more the farther I proceeded. The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a hawk chanced to press upon the rear of the flock. At once, like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the center. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and, when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent… Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession.
100 years later, they were all dead. Which may have had at least one interesting consequence:
But the sad echo of the loss of passenger pigeons still reverberates today because its extinction probably exacerbated the proliferation of Lyme disease. When the passenger pigeons existed in large numbers, they subsisted primarily on acorns. However, since there are no pigeons to eat acorns, the populations of Eastern deer mice — the main reservoir of Lyme disease — exploded far beyond historic levels as they exploited this unexpected food bonanza.
Russian illustrators Alexei Lyapunov and Lena Ehrlich use the notes, staffs, and other musical notation marks on vintage sheet music as a framework to create these inventive illustrations of everyday life and nature. Prints are available. (via colossal)
The Illustrated Book of Poultry by Lewis Wright, first published in 1870 and revised several times in the decades following, was “regarded as the most desirable of the English poultry books”. Poultry was very popular in Victorian England and the book housed a tremendous amount of practical poultry knowledge. From a Harvard Library blog post:
“Hen Fever”, as it became known during the Victorian Age, was an unprecedented obsession with owning, breeding, and showing the finest chickens in the world. The genesis of the poultry fancier owes much to Queen Victoria and her royal menagerie. In 1842, she acquired exotic chickens from China, and whatever the Queen did, the public would soon try to imitate and incorporate at home. The Illustrated London News reported “Her Majesty’s collection of fowls is very considerable, occupying half-a-dozen very extensive yards, several small fields, and numerous feeding-houses, laying-sheds, hospitals, winter courts, &c.”. From this point forward, poultry was no longer viewed as common farmyard critters, but valued and appreciated throughout the classes of Victorian Britain. The import and breeding of poultry was not just a leisurely hobby, but a profitable endeavor with sky rocketing price tags for the finest examples.
But the books also contained many wonderful illustrations of the finest examples of chickens and other poultry in the style of Audubon. The different breeds have amazing names like Buff Orpingtons, Plymouth Rocks, Dark Dorkingtons, and Gold Pencilled Hamburghs.
I pulled the images above from a 1911 edition of the book. (via @john_overholt)
Update: I removed a link to a reproduction of the book on Amazon because a reader reported that the quality was not great. (thx, alex)
Swiss illustrator Martin Panchaud created a massive infographic that tells the entire story of the first Star Wars movie. How massive? It’s 465152 pixels long.
This long ribbon reminds the ancient Chinese script rolls that had to be rolled in and rolled out simultaneously in order to be read. I like this stretch between ages, cultures, and technologies.
So cool. The style reminds me a bit of Chris Ware in places.
If you’ve read a book like Danny the Champion of the World or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you have seen the work of illustrator Quentin Blake.
Type foundry Monotype have created a typeface from Blake’s distinctive handwriting. Each letter has four variants so the text looks more random, like actual handwriting:
From illustrator @takumitoxin, a wonderful rendering of the events of Mad Max: Fury Road in the style of an ancient Egyptian painting.
Fury Road is out on Blu-ray today (and streaming). This movie was the perfect summer entertainment.
In celebration of English footballer David Beckham’s 40th birthday, ESPN commissioned Helen Green to take us on an animated voyage through Beck’s many hairstyles.
See also every David Bowie hairstyle (also by Green), every Prince hairstyle, and David, a piece of video art by Sam Taylor-Wood of Beckham sleeping for an hour and seven minutes.
Hannah Choi is making illustrations of all the women Don Draper has slept with on Mad Men in chronological order.
I love Guillaume Cornet’s fanciful and intricate drawings. He’s done Paris, New York, and a London apartment building, among others.
Society6 recently put a camera on Cornet while he did his Paris drawing, condensing 75 hours of painstaking work into a 2-minute time lapse.
My favorite little detail highlighted by Society6 is the appearance of the Emmet minifig in the NYC illustration, complete with the Piece of Resistance.
Helen Green drew all the hairstyles worn by David Bowie from before he was a star in 1964 on up to the present day. Here’s they are in a glorious animated GIF:
Green also did a one-sheet of the B&W drawings. See also every Prince hairstyle from 1978 to 2013. (via @Coudal)
Richard Swarbrick makes these great impressionist animations of sports events, mostly soccer but also cricket and basketball. Here’s one to get you started…the 5-0 drubbing FC Barcelona handed to Real Madrid during a 2010 Clasico:
It’s amazing how much Swarbrick’s illustrations communicate with so few strokes…Mourinho’s face is my favorite. Here’s the actual match for comparison purposes. And here’s Maradona’s sublime goal against England in the 1986 World Cup (original video):
You can find many other examples of Swarbrick’s work on his web site and on his YouTube channel. (via @dunstan)
From Diego Mazzeo, illustrations of a bunch of different mechanical animals, including a whale, horses, elephants, flamingos, giraffes, a griffin, and a dragon.
I really like Sophie Blackall’s illustrations of missed connections ads from Craiglist and other sites. The style reminds me a bit of Maira Kalman.
If this were on Tumblr, she’d already have a book deal.
Update: About that book thing:
Ms. Blackall’s whimsical drawings have also caught the attention of publishers: She says she’s currently negotiating a deal to create a book of her illustrations, which would likely land on shelves sometime in the next year to 18 months.
There’s a dynamic quality to this Moleskine sketch by Stephanie Brown that you don’t often see with such spare illustration. The rest of her stuff is worth a look as well…Flickr too. Somewhat NSFW. (via sex in art)
The spouting bean concept illustrated by Jillian Tamaki for the “Green Chicago” issue of Hemispheres, the inflight magazine for United Airlines, is a little bit of genius.
Christoph Niemann shares a series of his New York City cheatsheets, including tips for getting on and off the subway at the proper points, muffin poking (you know, for checking freshness), and a door opening maneuver called “The Northside Eagle”.
Whenever I rode the subway with my two older boys, I tried to hold on to their hands at all times. In the process, I developed a special move. I think anyone who saw it must have been impressed.
I would hold the boys’ hands as we briskly made our way out of the station, then, just as we reached the turnstiles, I would let go. We would pass through the turnstiles simultaneously, and so smoothly that the boys’ hands would still be up in the air when we got to the other side, where I would grab their little fingers again in one fluid motion. (Requires practice.)
These are great fun.
Illustrator Bob Staake explains the process behind his cover on this week’s politically themed New Yorker, including rejected alternatives and a video progression of the finished design. Staake still uses a copy of Photoshop 3.0 on MacOS 7 to do his illustrations. That was a great version of Photoshop…I remember not wanting to switch myself. (via df)
Update: Staake uses OS X with MacOS 9 running in the background:
Let me clear up today’s rumor: I do NOT work in OS 7. I use OSX and run classic (9.0) in the background. Photoshop 3.0? Yes, STILL use that.
Time lapse of a gorgeous Chad Pugh illustration from start to finish (in HD).
The video is a condensed time lapse of screenshots over a several month period. Total physical drawing time is close to 40 hours and I’d add an equal amount of time for concept time and readying the print. A screenshot was taken every 5 seconds, which actually results in a full 18 minute video.
This illustration inspired Vimeo’s wonderful login screen. A limited-edition print of the finished illustration is available. (via jakob)
A friend of mine who works at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln emailed to let me know that they’ve posted both audio and video of a talk that Chris Ware gave at the school last week. If you’re short on time, the real meat of the video starts around 18:30 when Ware starts a slideshow that delves into his process. In addition to his series of Thanksgiving-themed New Yorker covers from last year, he also talks about some of his other work, including Rusty Brown and the strip he did for the NY Times Magazine.