The first few times I noticed a crow-like bird sporting a distinctive tuft where beak meets brow in oriental art I thought it was an artistic expression. Perhaps it was a popular exaggeration of some bird’s spirit that had ‘gone viral’. I soon recognized the attractiveness of a bird that is mostly black and has features that can be rendered with some flair—the eyes, the beak, the yellow legs and feet.
I soon discovered the Crested Mynah is not indigenous to North America, although the species was introduced to Vancouver BC about 100 years ago and thrived for decades. It is classified as a starling (family Sturnidae) and thus not related to the crow (Corvidae) as closely as I guessed. It does measure in the nine-eleven inches size range similar to crows, sports mostly black feathers with some white markings, and then has that distinctive tuft emerging from the top of its beak. It is an easy creature to add to a brush painter’s repertoire.
My shelves include numerous general bird-painting manuals, and several address the crested mynah. I favor the presentations of these five:
- Johnson Su-sing Chow, Vol. 2 in his bird-painting manual series.
- Yang O-Shi, 100 Birds
- Ling Mao Caochong Juan (Chinese Brush painting)
- Hao Bang Yi (Bird Painting basics, yellow cover series)
- Mei Ruo, Chinese Brush Painting, a beginner’s step by step guide.
All five approach crested mynahs in much the same way and offer oodles of helpful poses. Oddly enough Yang O-shi starts her bird with the shoulders, and then adds the head and beak. The others all proceed in the traditional manner of beak, eyes, head, shoulders, body, wings, tail, and legs.
Many CBP artists prefer the beak-first approach to painting birds, saying that if you get the beak ‘right’ then all else follows. Mei Ruo goes a step further and presents an image showing FIVE LINES one needs to envision as you lay down the inky strokes to a bird’s head: brow line, eye line, face line, cheek line and chin line.
- With a fine detail brush and black ink define the beak; just behind and above the line that heads toward the bird’s throat from the upper bill define the eye (oval shape with dark pupil)
- Using black ink paint in the distinctive tuft above the beak and fill in the head. Note that this bird has a flattened oval head.
- Continue to define the bird’s shoulders using stabbing dry brush strokes with medium/light ink.
- Brush in the body, wings, tail feathers. The mynah has some white markings on its wings.
- Using an orange-yellow outline legs, then dab on scales in dark ink when dry.
- Paint the environment.
Here’s my crested mynah bird study sheet showing the steps; in the last panel I tried a few different poses.
In two of my early mynah bird comps I encountered mishaps–in one the legs went down too wet and started ‘blooming’ on the page. I quickly blotted them and scuffed up the color with clear water. I then dried the paper with a hair dryer and re-did the legs, taking greater care in moisture control. This is a ‘hail Mary’ effort one should practice so that when you have to save a really complex comp you can do it with confidence. Look closely at this bird’s right leg to see if you can spot where the yellow was lifted from the paper.
In another, moisture control again caused some grief in the final stages (see upper left corner leaf), but the result could not be saved:
And then I painted a successful grouping of crested mynah birds (which realistically should have had yellow legs, but artistically have crows’ feet). These glued well and have now been chopped and framed.
The simple markings of the crested mynha, as well as the potential for playing with the eyes, beak and tuft, hold considerable appeal. This is one bird I may paint often.