Artist Chris Maynard takes art to the next level using bird feathers to create his unique work. Collecting legal feathers from various birds, Maynard cuts out shapes and sculpts the feathers bringing a breathtaking touch to these colorful beauties. We sat down with the artist to learn more about the process and journey to creating these artworks. To view more of Maynard’s work, visit featherfolio.com
When did you begin working with feathers? Where do you gather all of them from?
When I was 12, my grandfather took me to the zoo. The head zookeeper let us walk right into the flamingo cage and pick up feathers. They have intrigued me ever since. In 2008 I began working with them as my sole medium. Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, it was when my mother, a professional artist, died.
I get my feathers mostly from private aviaries and zoos after the birds naturally shed them. It is important to mention that the feathers I use are all legal to have in the United States. Think of the parrots and 55 species of pheasants, they are not originally from the USA but have been raised here in captivity for generations. I also like to use turkey feathers and get them from heritage turkeys that sport all sorts of subtle color and pattern variations.
Why use feathers for your medium?
Life is harsh—we are born, we die. To live, we have to kill in order to eat. Shed feathers represent a gentleness, a refuge from life’s harshness. The birds grow, and shed them and yet they retain their beauty, their complex structure, and something of the essence of the bird. As an artist, I want to capture an essence of life and what better way than to begin with something that already holds some of the essence I am trying to capture. Feathers are perfect art works by themselves. I cut them is to create meaning for us.
I respect the feather’s natural curves so set them apart from the background in my pieces. This gives an added bonus of shadows which are integral to my work.
What is the process from start to finish? What tools do you use to create these artworks?
When I have a design idea, I scribble it down in a sketchbook. It is full of ideas—more than I will ever make into art– some good design ideas, some not so much. The ideas are inspired by the birds themselves like a flight sequence or a certain pose. Or they are inspired by the shape or color of a particular feather. Or they are inspired by an attribute of feathers: flight, transcendence, hope… . I spend hours finding the right feathers and this is tough because they only come in certain shapes and colors and sizes. They have to be legal to use and they have to be in perfect shape. I refine the design to accommodate the size of the feather and prepare them in a time consuming process I have developed to stabilize each one so it can be cut. The design gets sized and transferred to the feather as sort of a template for cutting. Which I do using ophthalmology eye surgical tools including a small scalpel and tiny tiny scissors. To make these small cuts, I wear magnifying glasses which, for anyone, increases hand-eye precision. The layout of the feathers and the cut outs becomes one of the most important aspects of my finished pieces. An artist working with paint and brushes has unlimited possibilities of shapes and lines and colors. I only have the feathers—their size and shape and color. So their placement is part mathematical and part intuitive – precise.
How do you keep the feather from coming apart when you cut into them?
As I mentioned, I have developed a proprietary time-consuming method of using glues and backing materials and pressure for stabilizing each feather.
What message do you want to send people through your artwork?
I like when people say, after viewing my originals or listening to a talk, that they will see feathers and birds in a new way. I hope people come away with a bit more understanding and appreciation of the natural world. But it is sufficient if they stop what they are doing in wonder, if only for a millisecond.