A rainy day, at level with the treecreeper behind brushed green clouds.

The treecreeper in the rain, Zurich, 2023
The treecreeper, ink, watercolor and pastel on bookbinder’s board, 2023

I have to admit, as much as I love the warmth of spring blossoms, there is something special about the musical rhythm of a garden or park on a rainy day. Have you noticed it too?

I remember walking through Tamagawa Park in the showers of Tokyo’s rainy season day better than I do the sunny strolls around the Philosopher’s path on cherry blossom season in Kyoto. The sounds of different types of rain hitting particular leaves, the glassy texture of a pond and rugged texture of its plank boards switching places, the shadows and mystery of forest patches suddenly gone dark, the dripping lines through faded wisteria trellises… rain adds music and unexpected forms to the order originally prescribed by the gardener.

Also, the heightened sounds of wildlife. When the downpour starts, humans shuffle to the park gates. And that’s when its other inhabitants, birds or mice, come out and play.

Here in Zurich, when I have some free time in such days, I take out the camera and a good cap and head into my favorite green corner. In search of rain drops, glossy leaves, hoping for the moment I go unnoticed by the animals. And this week, I got lucky once more…

Among a myriad blossoms, the call of a very active treecreeper could be heard. It drew nearer and nearer, until at some point I could turn slowly around and find it climbing through the bark of the Japanese larch exactly at eye-level.

As I kept track of the bird screened by the green clouds of fresh needles not yet fully fanned out I noticed something else too. The fresh cones had now grown large enough to display their spring fashion too, that small pink pineapple-shaped dress.

Back home now, I set out to capture that mood on a new board.

First, the treecreeper pose, tree bark and needles in brush pen strokes – mostly black. A small touch of golden pigment in the brighter colored patches of its feather cloak. When this first layer is dry, I add the pink cones in watercolour.

When the larch cones also turn dry I can move to the next stage – adding the pastel highlights. Bird highlights first – in white and sanguine, a touch of brown in just a couple of hidden, blended spots.

Finally the water droplets, a few incomplete lines and spots of white.

Taking a step back from the composition I find it hard to distinguish whether I am looking at the treecreeper while it is still raining or after the shower has passed. I would prefer the first, to reflect the atmosphere in my memory.

With an art knife and scraper I drop some white pastel dust over the top center and left of the composition, blending it unevenly with my fingers. Then I “rake” the rain lines through that surface, using the metal scraper once more.

The treecreeper, ink, watercolor and pastel on board, 2023

Now it is finally done, but it’s way past dinner time. The photography for this list had to wait for a mid morning tea break the next day.

Looking at it again as I type this post, I have to admit I’m quite pleased with the whole. It reminds me of the mood I so admire in Hiroshige’s bird-and-flower tanzaku-format prints, but featuring a most recognizable European bird species – the short-toed treecreeper. If only I could write in grass script too…

“Ah, but what about those other blossoms in the rain, are they not worthy of a brush’s attention?“ I ponder. Perhaps? Before, I have some cardboard to slice through, though. I will see you again next week.


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