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  • Writer's pictureAmy Felder

The Murmuration

Updated: Jul 22, 2023

Last spring, I set a goal to create two paintings this summer. I knew one would be a painting of a cherry blossom tree that my husband had asked for a while back. I had no idea what I would paint for the other one.

At the beginning of the summer, I took a Storytelling and Bookmaking in the Art Studio course. One of our projects was to create an altered book. When shifting through the box of discarded books, I came across Leon Leyson’s The Boy on the Wooden Box. I chose it because it had these wonderful, silhouetted images of birds in flight as chapter headings. I started to glue beautiful white tissue paper embedded with blue thread on the end pages. Careful to leave the birds intact, I collaged around them. Then, I created my own scene of flowers, spirals, and wind. I had no intention of it becoming anything beyond an experiment. Free from the pressure of creating something that would be shared, I simply played.

The next day during a Digital Portfolios course, I was introduced to a printmaking technique which substituted ink with markers. Eager to try it out, I decided to engrave a flock of birds onto my Styrofoam plate. The printmaking process was a total flop, but I left the class knowing I wanted to do something more with the bird imagery.

That is when I decided to paint the birds. Embracing the joy of play, I allowed myself to let go of my quite serious artmaking practice and to veer away from my normal realism. Instead, I created something whimsical—The Murmuration.

While creating The Murmuration, I kept a log of my hours and a record of what I did each day. As I reflected on my time, I categorized the various activities by Studio Habit as defined in Studio Thinking from the Start: The K-8 Art Educator's Handbook by Jillian Hogan, Lois Hetland, Diane B. Jaquith, and Ellen Winner:

  • Develop Craft (Technique: Learning to use tools, materials, and artists conventions and Studio Practice: Taking care of tools, materials, works, and space)

  • Engage & Persist (Finding personally meaningful projects and sticking to them)

  • Envision (Imagining new artworks and steps to bring them to life)

  • Express (Making works that convey personal meaning and interpreting meaning in the works of others)

  • Observe (Look closely and noticing)

  • Reflect (Question & Explain: Talking about students’ work and working processes and Evaluate: Talking about what works well, what does not, and why, in works by self and others)

  • Stretch & Explore (Playing, trying new things, making mistakes, and learning from them)

  • Understand Art Worlds (Domain: Learning about what artists make and Communities: Learning to collaborate and understanding that artists often work in groups) (p.4)

As I reflect on the creation of The Murmuration, I am struck by how much playing, failing, and redoing goes into my studio practice. Seeing an artwork through from start to finish not only requires commitment but also a willingness to go on a journey. You have to be okay with not knowing exactly what directions to follow to get to the destination. At times, you are fumbling. At other times, you are right on track.

Log of Hours:

Day 1 (June 21, 2023) – 2 hours

Practiced the Studio Habit of Mind Develop Craft: Studio Practice by setting up my home art studio. Organized my workspace, inventoried my art materials and tools, and bought materials I needed. Measured windows for assembling custom screens so that I can open my studio window for ventilation. Practiced the Studio Habit of Mind Envision by imagining new artworks and steps to bring them to life. I envisioned a plan to create a final artwork of birds flying for me and a final artwork of cherry blossom trees for my husband's study. Discussed canvas size/dimensions options with my husband.

Day 2 (June 22) – 3.5 hours

Sketched out birds on the canvas with charcoal [Envision]. Practiced the Studio Habit of Mind Develop Craft: Technique by practicing with techniques and materials. Painted the background. Practiced the Studio Habit of Mind Reflect by documenting my artmaking process. Photographed my home studio and my work in progress for a future blog post. Self-evaluated my artwork.

Day 3 (June 23) – 1.5 hours

Bought a canvas and managed my art budget [Develop Craft: Studio Practice]. Collaborated with my husband about whether the canvas was a good size/dimension for his study. Painted two of the birds [Develop Craft: Technique]. Practiced the Studio Habit of Mind Observe by viewing my own work closely to find areas to keep and to improve. Removed some of the black paint from the birds until they were the right shape and size.

Day 4 (June 26) – 2 hours

Continued to paint the birds [Develop Craft: Technique and Observe].

Day 5 (June 27) – 1 hour

Continued to paint the birds [Develop Craft: Technique and Observe].

Day 6 (June 30) – 3 hours

Finished painting the birds and revisited the background [Develop Craft: Technique and Observe].

Day 7 (July 5) – 3.5 hours

Repainted the background and the birds. Decided to make some of the birds gray to appear in the distance while keeping some birds a sharp black in the foreground [Develop Craft: Technique and Observe]. Completed finishing touches and signed my work with my initials.

Day 8 (July 6) - .25 hours

Consulted a bird expert who identified the birds as starlings. Researched starlings and decided they are a good fit. Titled piece The Murmuration. Practiced the Studio Habit of Mind Express by discerning the meaning of the piece. The painting shows only a few starlings to depict the decline in the starling population. This fits with my current body of work about ecology and humanity's complex relationship with nature [Reflect].

Total Time – 16.75 hours

Image credit: The Murmuration, 2023 | Oil on canvas | 24x18 inches


Hetland, L., Hogan, J., Jaquith, D., & Winner, E. (2018). Studio Thinking from the Start: The K-8

Art Educator’s Handbook. Teachers College Press.

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