David Plank cannot explain why he is so passionate about birds. Other artists paint flowers or abstracts or children. He paints birds. He always has and clearly he always will.
The Ashby-Hodge Gallery of American Art on the Fayette campus of Central Methodist University presents "Feathered Friends: Six Decades of Watercolor Painting of Birds by David Plank." The show runs from August 31 – November 20, with an artist reception for Plank on Sunday, Aug. 31.
There is no charge and all are welcome to the Gallery during its open hours, Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Plank has spent all of six decades plus parts of two others painting birds. In 1973, after three years in the Army and 11 more as a pressman, he became a fulltime painter of birds. He has no regrets and shows no signs of slowing.
Born in 1934, Plank began drawing in the late 1940s. As a child, he picked up his crayons and set to work. He has never quit, albeit his tools have become more sophisticated.
He bought his first water colors in a little tin of paints, as generations of children did at the local five-and-dime. He began using them, and watercolor became his favorite medium.
His skill comes from dedication and passion rather than formal training. After reading a book on color theory, he decided it felt too restrictive to follow; so he simply uses colors that he feels reflect what he wants to say in a painting.
Plank can outline a bird's pose while outside in 5-6 seconds, even when using binoculars. All of his drawings are plein air. He never uses photographs. He solidifies the posture and attitude from the drawing, then he goes inside and paints what feels right.
The process works well for him. He estimates he has painted more than 1,400 birds during his career. Approximately 80 paintings will be in the Ashby-Hodge exhibition.
While Plank's birds are anatomically correct, he softens poses and colors in order to communicate his personal vision of the birds and their surroundings, rather than trying to duplicate nature as an objective illustrator might.
"Many artists," Plank explains, "try to catch the essence of the bird. On the other hand, I try to catch the essence of what I feel about the bird."
He places his birds in backgrounds that complement them and reflect the correct habitat; however, he chooses the colors and arrangements to match what he has felt about that bird.
Much of Plank's watercolor technique consists of layering washes. He lets each layer dry before adding another. This technique gives a glow to the painting not possible with a single wash.
He's a purist in his colors. He never uses white—that is the clean paper showing through. In place of black he uses a mixture of burnt umber and ultramarine blue, and sometimes another color, depending on the tone required for the dark color.
Most of the birds Plank paints are those that can be found around the rich Ozark hills hugging his home in Salem, Mo. Some birds are migrants who pass through for a brief visit. The only bird, he thinks, in the Ashby-Hodge exposition alien to Plank's native home is the cactus wren, painted when he was in Arizona.
Most of his birds are embraced by logical backgrounds; however about 10 years ago Plank decided to try a variance of overlapping triangles behind his birds. He says there's no message there, just design. He likes the concept of the innocent and composed bird that has no idea of the unfamiliar world going on behind it.
Plank's favorite birds to paint—when forced to choose—are the songbirds. He feels them the most and can interpret them more easily than raptors, for instance, whose demeanor seems to change less.
"Raptors are more set in stature and expression," he says. "It's like 'here they are, period.'"
Plank is known for his numerous paintings for magazines and books, including cover designs. He has also shown his bird paintings around the country.
He has 12 paintings and 30 drawings in Arkansas Birds – Their Distribution and Abundance (by Drs. Douglas James and Joseph Neal, University of Arkansas Press, 1986); and was the sole artist for The Birds of Missouri – Their Distribution and Abundance (by Dr. David Easterla and Mark Robbins, University of Missouri Press, 1992)
Plank points out that "no one looks through life the way you do." Original art reflects original thoughts. When people look at his paintings, they are looking at more than a picture. They're looking at his vision and feelings.
He hopes the goodness of those feelings come through to others.
For additional information on the Gallery, contact Dr. Joe Geist, registrar of the collection at firstname.lastname@example.org or Denise Gebhardt at email@example.com, or by calling the Gallery at 660-248-6304.
(written by David Plank - March 2013)
I think most of us want to feel that the world is a kinder and better place because we’re here. There are many ways in which we can affect the world around us. Artists, through the visual form of paintings, have a unique opportunity to enhance the lives of those who view their work, or have it in their homes.
From childhood I have had a strong attraction to birds and a compulsion to draw them and create paintings. I’m sure that part of this compulsion is a desire to show others how I see and feel about birds.
As one grows throughout life our art reflects this growth and changes in thinking as we mature. One thing which has remained a constant in my life is the attraction to birds and the desire to show others how I see them. My paintings have evolved over the years to reflect how I have changed somewhat in how I see birds, nature and life. My work has become more and more subjective and I hope this personal view is meaningful for those who view the paintings.
I grew up on a small farm in the Missouri Ozarks, and for perhaps 70 of my 78 years I have drawn and painted birds.
A couple of years after high school I joined the Army for three years, then eleven years as an offset pressman at our local newspaper print shop. I painted some during this time, but felt I should devote my life to art, so I left the printing job in 1973 to become a full-time artist.
From that point I have created approximately 1,400 paintings and thousands of pencil drawings done directly from birds in their natural habitat.
In the near future I will write something about how I approach pencil sketching outdoors, as well as something about my technique in creating paintings in watercolor.
Although I will add new material every couple of weeks or so, this opening statement, and list of credits, will remain.
I hope you enjoy these featured paintings as well as learn a bit about birds and the process of creating a painting.