THEY say the life of a writer is a lonely one but most days I have the company of a family of green rosellas.
My study looks out on a thicket of yellow bottlebrushes and year-round they fossick among the leaves, chewing on the pollen and nectar-laden flowers in spring, or seeds in the autumn. For the rest of the year they merely hang out in the dense foliage, calling merrily to other green rosellas passing overhead.
I’ve tried to take pictures of the rosellas but somehow they never capture how they actually appear in the wild. It’s not that my photography skills are lacking just my pictures always appear one-dimensional and lifeless, even if the colour of plumage might be reproduced perfectly. I find it the same with all photography of birds.
Perhaps it’s the frustrated artist in me – I set out to be a commercial artist before I discovered newspaper journalism – but I always maintain that birds can only be faithfully captured by pen and brush. Only an artist can bring them to life.
This view was reinforced recently when at a winery gift shop I came across a card with a picture of a green rosella on it. For a split second I was transported to my study, looking out of the window to see what the rosellas were up to. What’s more the male rosella in the illustration was looking back at me, with that friendly but curious stare I get when he sees me at the keyboard.
I thought I knew of all the bird artists in Tasmania – and have attended many of their exhibitions – but the card depicting the rosella carried a new name, Helen Barnard, calling herself the “bird nerd”.
Of course it was only a matter of time before I tracked Helen down and we got to talking birds. Like me, Helen hails from Britain and many of her favourite birding spots in the “old country” are known to me. As it transpires she lived not too far from Britain’s most famous birding spot of all, the village of Clay on the north Norfolk coast.
Helen tells me after she moved to Hobart in 2011 with her partner, who comes from Hobart, she was so enchanted by the wildlife here that she was inspired to start depicting it.
“I picked up a brush after years and years of neglecting painting to remember the joy in the hours spent as a child drawing the natural world,” she said. “I have a particular love of anything birdy and an obsessive attention to detail in my artwork – I will sit for hours with the smallest brush I can find and a magnifying glass (and a wine glass!)’’
As a bird artist Helen has landed in the right state. Tasmania might be known for its 12 bird species found nowhere else on the planet – the green rosella among them – but its artists specialising in avian subjects have also established a national and international reputation for the quality of their work.
Among them are Katherine Cooper, a finalist in the BBC wildlife artist of the year awards in 2011 and an award-winner on the mainland, Belinda Kurczok. Other avian artists with a reputation beyond Tasmania’s shores are Lois Bury, whose work always draws me to the Jetty Gallery and Cafe at Dennes Point on BrunyIsland, and Tim Squires, the Mercury artist who produces illustrations for this column.
Reproductions of their works are scattered around my home, on the fridge door, in my study and even by my bed.
I’m a bit of a bird nerd myself.
* Helen Barnard’s first exhibition is on at the Inka Gallery in Salamanca Place from Thursday ,October 24, to November 13.