Marissa Gibson Part 2

Lifelist Series

Birdwatching started as a hobby for me that has evolved into a passion for conservation and naturalism. Observing birds in their natural habitats to understand their behaviors helps me to more accurately paint their characters. My lifelist, or list of birds I have seen in my lifetime (at least since I started caring about keeping track of that kind of thing) has reached 383 species between the United States and Costa Rica. 

Song Sparrow, 2019, watercolor, 9×9 inches

The song sparrow is a small brown bird with a big voice. I frequently hear them singing at local parks and in my neighborhood. While some migrate to the southern US in the winter, many stay in the northwest where food is abundant. They are active and sprightly little birds, full of energy and fun to watch kick up leaves searching for insects and seeds. I have painted one as I observed it foraging in frost-edged walnut leaves on an early November morning. The light was low and warm, filtering through the hedges and lending a golden glow to the leaf litter. The goal of this series is to emphasize the bird, while including a small bit of its habitat for context and compositional completion.

Say’s Phoebe, 2019, watercolor, 9×9 inches

Say’s phoebes spend their summers in the sage scrublands of the inland west. Characteristic of flycatchers, they are active and territorial. I have painted a juvenile from the high desert of Wyoming. Adults have whiteish wing-bars, but the soft peachy color juveniles have instead paired perfectly with the muted gray-green of sagebrush leaves. The afternoon light on this individual diffused nicely across its gray feathers and reflecting on its buffy belly feathers. This piece in particular was inspired by the work of Alex Warnick, a modern master of ornithological illustration that uses watercolor washes on rough paper to make soft gradients incorporating subject and environment. This style contrasts somewhat with my favored crisp white background but was perfect for this subject.

Ruddy Duck, 2019, watercolor, 9×9 inches

Male ruddy ducks are funny, dashing little creatures to watch as they attempt to woo females by puffing up their chests and splashing the water with their bills to make bubbles. The displaying male captured here was glowing in the first light of morning in southern Idaho. The light made his rusty body shine like copper and deepened the velvety black of his head which was set off by the bright white cheeks and blue bill. His reflection is as important as he is, broken up by the pale purple ripples. I spent a long time observing this individual and his competitors to paint him as true to life as possible. I emphasized his clever little eye to add to his comical character and enthusiastic display.

Find me on Instagram @mgibson_art or on the web at

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