Asian art has always inspired me. I love the simplicity, brilliant design and color harmonies these talented artists are able to achieve. My newest body of work has been loosely inspired by Japanese kakejiku scroll art.

According to Wikipedia,kakemono (掛物, “hanging thing”), more commonly referred to as a kakejiku (掛軸, “hung scroll”), is a Japanese scroll painting or calligraphy mounted usually with silk fabric edges on a flexible backing, so that it can be rolled for storage.

To the right is an example of the beautiful balance, and pleasing composition the skilled kakejiku master can achieve.

I have always been intrigued by the long shapes the Japanese scroll artists have used for their compositions.


For the concept of my new oil painting, I sought out to create a 36″ x 12″ vertical winter scene with two lively chickadee birds as the subject matter. Although this is not the first time I have looked to the Japanese for inspiration, my latest series of bird paintings are a nod to them.

On a hike, I found some dried foliage, or weeds that were the perfect backdrop for my little birds.

Inspired by the burnt sienna coloration of the dried weeds, I decided to tone the canvas with a light coat of burnt sienna. You can see the ruddy tones in the photo below.

Then I held the weeds in one hand and the paintbrush in the other and I drew out my design on the canvas.

Once I was pleased with the composition, I blocked in the sky color (with a mixture of ultramarine blue, a touch of burnt sienna and titanium white) keeping in mind my desire to make interesting abstract shapes.

At this point I was not afraid to also wipe out and readjust my drawing and design.

I planned ahead to place the birds in the ‘sweet-spot’ on the canvas. This will become the focal point. I will explain how to find that sweet-spot in an upcoming post.

In the first two photos below, you can see the rough block-in where the birds will be.

dried foliage weeds

Once I was happy with the design, I was ready to develop the birds. I started with a loose charcoal drawing to help me keep the correct proportions of the bird.

The white of the snowy background was made with titanium white, burnt sienna and ultramarine blue. Keep in mind, white is never really white! The next step was the block-in of the bird. Here I used a thin mixture of ultramarine blue and burnt sienna to build up the chickadee.

At this point both birds are blocked-in. I refine the foliage, adding a bit of refinement and interesting sky holes without getting overly detailed.

Years ago, I was a very detailed wildlife artist and I am capable of photorealism. That realism is not what I want to achieve in my current bird paintings. Counting feathers became very dull. So, now I do my best to capture the essence of the bird through form, posture, correct coloration with loose detailing.

Also, notice how simple I kept the details on the weeds.

I am pleased with my finished winter chickadee painting!

©LoriMcNee Winter Chickadees

©Lori McNee Winter Chickadees 36″ x 12″ oil on canvas