The Colour Of Birds : Making a Drumleaf Book : Part 1

One of the projects I worked on last year, that never quite made it to the blog, was a series of prints bound into a book form, called the The Colour of Birds”.

The book is, in a way, an appreciation of the work of Ferdinand Bauer, (1760-1826) the artist naturalist who traveled on Matthew Flinders’ expedition to Australia and recorded many different species in exquisite drawings. I have always admired his work so much and the idea for the bird book came from re-reading a slender little book I have had for many years. It was published in 1989 by the Natural History Museum, titled “Ferdinand Bauer. The Australian Natural History Drawings”.

What was rather special about his work was that he drew the specimens in pencil and then “coloured” them in when he returned to England using an astonishing colour chart system. Recently there has been more work published about his drawings and colour system which I’ll write more about later.


My colour trial swatches for the “colour” of the birds.

The book is comprised of 10 black and white prints of some of my favourite local birds, with 10 corresponding colour backgrounds. They are bound together by pasting the foredges and spine of the folded sheets in a “drumleaf”  form.  It lays fairly flat and has no stitching as the sheets are pasted together.

Complicated? .. well not really in terms of structure, but there was just a small matter of making all the artwork.

Dummy Books

To start with I had to make sure the book form would work, decide which birds to feature and chose the poses colours etc and most crucially decide on the size.

Dummy books to test the binding method

I made lots of scruffy but very useful trials and the basic form of the book worked well. The binding has to allow the book to open fully which is a bit tricky but worth it!

The Swatch Book for 10 Birds

To think about the colours I was going to use I made many swatches and then decided to make them into a small book. Good binding practice and a very nice bit of displacement activity which avoided, for a while, the difficult task of making the prints.

I used some old prints from my Oak book for the cover.. I found a bird and a nest which was quite handy! 

I made one spread for each bird to work out some of the colours I might use.

Swatches for Robin

Swatch Book for 10 birds… nice ! 


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  1. Been going to do this for years must get around to it

  2. Amazing amount of detail,care and time spent on mixing colors in preparation for your artwork. Your preparation is art in itself.
    I see at least 12 pages of color swatches, (per book, I assume)
    A minimum of 4 hours a page is my guess, not including the book itself.
    I personally have a hard time mixing colors, so I have to ask you :
    How long did it take? please don’t tell me 2 minutes per swatch, I’ll get depressed

  3. Valerie Littlewood

    Thanks both !
    Roland, The book form is not that difficult, just a bit tricky with the binding. 🙂 Nice opening though.

    Thomas,Thank you ! I am guessing it was about a day for the colour swatches and another to get them into book form.
    No its not a quick job! I got them all drawn up and ready and paints laid out which speeded thing up a bit. The slowest thing is waiting for the paint to dry….something I am not good at.

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