If you know me at all, you know I’m a huge bird nerd.
This spring I set up two new bird feeders (ok, I totally MacGyvered two of them with some duct tape and caps from spray cans, but they do the trick). They’re right next to a bird bath that our stray tuxedo cat keeps knocking over, and right by the bedroom windows. I felt this was a selfless move, because it meant my fella could watch birds all day while he works from the “home office,” which is a big desk by the windows.
What I didn’t take into account was how the birds’ pleasant twittering would quickly turn to raucous squalling when the territorial disputes began. Now when the cardinals start chirping around the time my alarm goes off, it’s not uncommon to find my fella covering his head with pillows and muttering something about closing windows.
This idea was 95% genius.
It might mean a little less sleeping in, but it does allow me to get my fill of cute little bird habits: like the way titmouses hop along the edge of the birdbath searching for just the right spot to dive in. Or the way that pairs of cardinals traipse in the flowers and carefully feed each other the prize seeds they’ve found. Or the way that magnolia warblers burst out of the trees long enough to swipe a seed in a fly-by. I think I understand why cats sit by windows now.
So all of this birdwatching was bound to give me a new idea for a book.
I signed up to be a vendor at Asheville Zine Fest, which meant I really needed to make a couple of new zines to take with me. I make these every now and then—miniature books that fold out like maps or fit together like puzzles. I don’t get to do a lot of letterpress printing these days, but events like the Zine Fest give me a good reason to sit down and make some things by hand.
So of course my yard full of peeping, twittering visitors inspired “How to Talk to Birds,” a miniature book that includes 6 birds that have been visiting my yard this year. I was itching to do a woodcut again, so I carved a 7 x 10 inch block and printed it using my baby Vandercook printing press. I experimented with some digital printing on handmade paper for the book covers, and stitched these together with thread. They were a hit at the Zine Fest, and I think my favorite moment was when a lady carefully unfurled the whole book to see all of the birds, and then realized their corresponding bird calls were printed on the back side of each page. Then she read it out loud and made the bird sounds, like the “purty-purty-purty” of the cardinal and the “ankh-ankh-ankh” of the nuthatch.
“My friend just had a birthday,” she said. “She’ll love this.”
That’s one of the best compliments in the world, you know, to have someone buy something you made to give to someone they love. It sort of makes this whole process worthwhile. That might have been just the thing I needed to kick me out of my retrograde funk—getting my hands dirty, smelling some ink, and making a stranger smile with a tiny book of birds.
Want to see more of this? Check out my page at Patreon.com, where I post videos, tutorials, works in progress, desktop calendar (sometimes with birds) and more. And of course, you can find bird prints and this mini book in my Etsy shop.
Top image (cardinal) is courtesy of Pixabay.com. A huge thank you to the folks at Asheville Zine Fest—thanks for all your hard work, and I can’t wait to see you next year.