The humble dunnock…


I recently completed a sunlit dunnock screen print, after watching and drawing a pair of these beautiful but unassuming birds one cold, clear January day in Holyrood park. This prompted me to look into these birds, which have been under-represented in the history of art, their beautiful blue eggs being the main source of interest to artists it seems:Image

 A dunnock nest and eggs, coloured wood engraving produced for Reverend Morris’ book of British birds nests and eggs. I like the way the egg hovers above the nest in this image.
And of course Thomas Bewick can always be relied upon to produce a stunning print of a British bird – here is his lovely dunnock print, with a snowy rural backdrop:


British nature poet, John Clare, has written a poem about the arrival of spring featuring a dunnock which he calls a ‘hedge sparrow’. 


Pale sun beams gleam
That nurtur a few flowers
Pile wort and daisey and a sprig o’ green
On white thorn bushes
In the leaf strewn hedge

These harbingers
Tell spring is coming fast
And these the schoolboy marks
And wastes an hour from school
Agen the old pasture hedge

Cropping the daisey
And the pile wort flowers
Pleased with the Spring and all he looks upon
He opes his spelling book
And hides her blossoms there

Shadows fall dark
Like black in the pale Sun
And lye the bleak day long
Like black stock under hedges
And bare wind rocked trees

Tis chill but pleasant
In the hedge bottom lined
With brown seer leaves the last
Year littered there and left
Mopes the hedge Sparrow

With trembling wings and cheeps
Its welcome to pale sunbeams
Creeping through and further on
Made of green moss
The nest and green blue eggs are seen

All token spring and every day
Green and more green hedges and close
And every where appears
Still tis but March
But still that March is Spring

John Clare

Dunnocks are often associated with sparrows, visually this makes sense, but it is a misnomer as dunnocks are actually part of the accentor family, ground dwelling birds found across Europe:

Some more recent responses to the dunnock now, firstly this lovely fabric version by illustrator Emily Sutton:


And the always inspiring and beautifully observed work of Matt Underwood, a Japanese woodblock print of a dunnock amongst aconites:


Finally – some of the sketches and stages of my latest print.

Firstly a coloured pencil sketch used to make a scale-drawing of the image and to start to work out the colour combinations I want:


Two layers printed:


Four colours printed:


And the finished print:




About flyingcreature

I'm a Cumbrian born painter and printmaker based in Scotland. My work is inspired by British nature. I studied on the Foundation Course at Leith School of Art in 2003 before going on to take the MA Fine Art degree at Edinburgh College of Art and Edinburgh University graduating in 2008. I now make my work from my studio in Coburg House and teach drawing, painting and printmaking at Leith School of Art and around Scotland.
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