Inking 100 Japanese birds

Joining the 100 day project

In 2020 I joined the 100 day project creative community effort. I inked 100 Japanese birds in 100 days. In case you are not familiar with it, the 100 day project is a free art project. It runs every year with the goal to keep you focused on building your creativity muscles. You do this by carrying out a creative task for one hundred consecutive days, and sharing the process as you go along. For me personally, it was a great way to keep to the daily habit of painting during the stay home period of 2020.

To keep the focus entirely on the painting execution itself, some preparatory work was necessary. For example, selecting a very clear consistent theme for the project. Birds are my favourite subject for ink painting, and with travel to Japan restricted, I decided to focus on a single theme combining both. Hence why I aimed to paint one hundred different species of Japanese birds. Over these hundred days I travelled virtually around Japan through its wildlife, from a painting desk in Switzerland. There are 447 bird species resident in Japan, so I thought this left me quite some room for choice in this travel. More on whether this expectation was legitimate or not later on.

Bird #50 Fairy pitta, Pitta nympha, 2020

What did my process look like?

The preparatory work for inking 100 Japanese birds involved simplifying the daily process. Aside from selecting the theme, as described above there were other considerations. Fortunately a number of resources are available from the learnings of past successful projects. I tried to follow these learnings closely.

Bird #13 White-backed woodpecker, Dendrocopos leucotos owstoni, painting and preparatory sketch, 2020

I created a spreadsheet with all the bird species resident in Japan. This list follows the latest IUCN Red List available during 2020. The list was then sorted according to each species conservation status, and whether it was endemic. Every week I complemented my list with links to the library of images I would use for the following week. This was a fair amount of work upfront.

However, having a simple and straightforward process to follow every day substantially increased the likelihood that I could paint exactly one bird in the usual time I have available for sketching daily – 30 minutes to 1 hour. If I had to decide on a new bird every day, and spend time searching through multiple images, the allotted time would easily have been exceeded. I didn’t have enough bird photographs in my own library from past Japan travel, so I referred to the Macaulay Library as the basis for reference material.

Every weekday I posted a new bird to my Instagram account. Anyone can see the project by typing in the hashtag #inking100japanesebirds on the platform. Each painting image posted on Instagram has a caption with the common and latin species name. This is followed by one main image reference credit line and link. My paintings mixed elements from different imagery. I made many creative decisions in colour choices and backgrounds, but I always credited one main image and photographer. This allows other bird fans out there to see an image of the real bird. It also recognize some of the wildlife photographers that contribute to the amazing resource that is the Macaulay Library.

What did I learn

I would highlight five aspects as key learnings from inking this series of one hundred Japanese birds:

  1. Japan’s endemic bird species live in three key areas – Izu peninsula, the Ryukyu Islands and the larger island of Okinawa.
  2. Japan is quite similar to other countries in its bird conservation status. Nearly a quarter of all species are deemed vulnerable or at higher risk. This meant there was not as much room as I had originally expected to select species. The IUCN Red List has 90 species listed for Japan in the categories between Critically Endangered and Near Threatened.
  3. The number of seabirds and water birds on the highest risk status groups is disproportionately high. It is also highly dependent on cross-border habitat preserving efforts, given the vast migratory range of some of these birds.
  4. On the anecdotal side, many waders have a similar plumage colour palette. This required some extra attention to behaviour, as well as surrounding flora, to add enough variety. The copper pheasant might just be my most flamboyant favourite of all endemic species.
  5. As a fan of Japanese literature, classical and contemporary, I left the last two spots on my list open for two poetry favourites. My series closed with the “uguisu” and “mejiro”. These are the Japanese Bush-warbler (Horornis diphone) and Japanese White-Eye (Zosterops japonicus), respectively. I am happy to see both species on the Least Concern category. Other poetry favourites like cranes made their appearance in more worrying categories.

Can I see all the birds painted?

Now I have completed this project overview in early 2021, yes you can. Below is a gallery with all the birds painted. The images below are the same shots from my painting desk I posted on Instagram. My site followers are able to see the full journey here. With one added bonus, the images here on the site are larger ones.

Bird #99 Japanese Bush-warbler, Horornis diphone, 2020
Bird #100 Japanese White-Eye, Zosterops japonicus, 2020

What will I do with all these paintings?

That is a good question for which no decisions have been made. Right now, I am still enjoying having learned so much about all these birds. Not only their critical features but also learning about their conservation status. In the first weeks of the project alone I added some new process tricks. My daily painting process has become more efficient through this project. If the images above inspire you with an idea, send me a message or write it as a comment.

All rights reserved. “Inking 100 Japanese Birds“™is the intellectual property of its author Mafalda Tenente, 2020-2021.