Friday, June 15, 2007

Artist Interview: Michael DiGiorgio

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with well-known nature artists. Michael DiGiorgio was kind enough to be the first volunteer. I first discovered Mike's work while browsing around the web and I immediately bought a print of his Resplendent Quetzal, which now hangs in my living room. Read below to learn about Mike's art, life, philosophy, and upcoming projects.

You’ve been painting birds since you were 5 years old. How did you become interested in nature art at such a young age?

I feel that my interest was ingrained in me. I never felt like I had a choice- I loved nature and especially birds. Maybe the color and song attracted me- but a creature that can fly as well- that is special. I still try to see bird in that simple, direct way- a flash of color, a beautiful song. I'm more of an artist than an ornithologist - although I know birds very well. I try not to let Science overtake the aesthetics of watching birds.

What birds were included in your earliest paintings?

Birds that I saw and knew- Cardinals, Chickadees, Pigeons. I tried to recreate the act of discovery when I first experienced a bird- and every new bird was a huge milestone in my life. I can remember the exact time, place, and light of each bird I ever saw, but I can't remember my wife's name on some days.

Who are/were the major influences on your art?

Louis Fuertes and Don Eckelberry. I also was very influenced by a local Wildlife Artist named Wayne Trimm- who was the official artist for the NYS Conservationist Magazine. He was the first artist I ever took my work to for comments. A wonderful artist and kind friend. Other artists were Holmer, Birchfield, Ryder, Palmer and Liljefors.

Your biography mentions the late Don Eckelberry as one of your mentors. Please elaborate on that experience.

A man named Douglas Lancaster- editor for "The Living Bird" at Cornell- arranged a meeting with Don Eckelberry and myself. I was absolutely star struck- he was my hero!

Anyway- after the first meeting, I made regular trips to Bablyon, NY to show Don my newest work. He was always brutally honest- and yet very encouraging. I never met anyone like him- a supreme teacher. If you went to see Don, you had to be prepared to stay up with him until 2-3 AM, when he would finally settle down and talk about your work- always with a rum and coke. As the great artist Guy Coheleach once said- I learned more about art in one night with Don Eckelberry than I did my entire time in art school- I agree. He always encouraged me to sketch birds from life- not from photographs. I never relied on photographs again for my work. He also made me feel important as an artist- and encouraged me to stick with it and not get discouraged. I'm still struggling to do just that.

What is your preferred medium and why?

Watercolor. It is immediate, and the light colors and the wet washes tend to replicate the softness and lightness of a bird better than any other medium.

Where is a special place you like to work?

I try to sketch in the field- from live birds. Then I take my sketches home, pour a cup of strong coffee, and paint in my messy studio. I'm very comfortable here.
What is the most challenging thing to you as a nature artist?

Matching the image in my head. I never seem to get close. Another big one is where to sell my work. I've worked the " garage work" phase of putting together a painting, and getting the "jizz" of a bird, etc. I know how to put feeling and life in a bird. The hard part is finding a place to sell it once it's finished. That's the main thing that I have not figured out. Because of my specialized subject matter- it only appeals to people who love birds. Unfortunately, most birders only want images of a bird, not art. Only highly detailed- large and sharp focused images of their favorite bird will satisfy them. In reality, we don't see all of the detail- we experience birds in a much more esthetic way. But most people think that more detail equals better art. If that were true- all photographs would be art. In reality, the opposite is true- it's much more difficult to edit down to the essence and capture the soul of your subject. People in the fine art world hold their noses at nature artist for this reason. They say that mere skillful reproduction of a subject alone is not art- and I agree. But look at Rembrandt's portraits- they were were realistic, accurate, but contained a quality of the essence of the person's soul far beyond the surface. This can also happen with bird painting. In my mind- Fuertes achieved this, as did Eckelberry.

What does your artwork say about you?

How passionate I am about my work and my subjects. When I'm illustrating, all I think of is my audience, and if they will like it and understand what it is. When I'm painting, I paint for myself- without a thought of how anyone else will feel about it. If I can please myself- then I'm happy, but I usually don't. I know my subjects very well, and if their essence does not come through in my work- then it's a failure. Only knowing your subject from life can give you that. After all- I'm painting the experience of seeing the bird, not the bird.

What other subjects have you painted besides birds?

Mostly the effects of light on landscapes, objects, etc. Mountains, trees, barns, homes are just vehicles for gathering light in an attractive way. I love weather and moods. I went through a phase of only painting in the moonlight- night-scapes. I couldn't sell them- everyone wants the visual cocktail- they were pretty dark.

What do you like to do when you’re not painting?

Bird, and think about painting. Everything I see and experience translates into a future painting. Most of them will never get created. I also play bluegrass banjo.

You had the opportunity to travel to Arkansas in search of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. What are your thoughts on the controversy over this species?

I believe they exist. I think it's a matter of time until someone get sufficient evidence that will convince everyone.

What current projects are you working on?

I'm still working on a series of regional guides of Brazil for Guy Tudor and Bob Ridgely. I'm also working on a bird guide to Central America for Oxford University Press, night singing Insects for Stackpoll Books, and Bird of South America vol 3 with Tudor and Ridgely.

Where can someone view or purchase your artwork?

My web site:
154 Princess Drive
Madison, CT 06443
203 421 5848

Thanks so much to Mike for participating. Please look for additional interviews in the near future.


John L. Trapp said...

A very nice interview, Patrick. I'm not that familiar with DiGiorgio's artwork, but the works that he has posted on his website are all excellent, including the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. I'll have to keep an eye out for more of his illustrations.

Anonymous said...

I also have never seen his work but looks like he does some amazing work! Thanks for introducing us to his work!

Larry said...

-Good Job Patrick-I find interviews interesting and you deserve credit for taking the initiative to do it.-I'm going to take a look at the artwork now.

Patrick B. said...

Thanks everybody, I'm glad you've enjoyed it. I'll be doing some more in the future. I was just trying to do something that hadn't been done on blogs yet and that would also help people out.