Birds

From the world's great collections of ornithological art, this giant book showcases 150 exquisite and vibrant images of nature's most beautiful birds. From intricately detailed drawings of well-known birds, to vivid representations of exotic species, these paintings, sketches and plates are accompanied by extensive captions that interweave an appreciation of the illustration and artist with fascinating details about the species and its habitat. Birds features original artwork from the best-known ornithological artists, including: Mark Catesby (1683-1749) Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826) Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) Jacques Barraband (1767-1809) John James Audubon (1785-1851) William MacGillivray (1796-1852) John Gould (1804-1881) Edward Lear (1812-1888) Joseph Wolf (1820-1899) Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927) Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe (1901-79) This mammoth edition will not only delight bird lovers, but also those who have an appreciation of beautifully executed art.

Out of Print.

Review Highlights

"Magnificent. Even if you knew-- or cared-- very little about birds before, you cannot help but be enthralled by this book. The reproduction artworks are gorgeous and the production is excellent. Katrina Cook's writing not only illuminates the art but also the printing techniques that made them possible, as well as the lives of the men and women behind the pictures. By the end, I felt as if I had been through a masterclass on the subject. This book is now one of the highlights of my library." - Amazon customer review.
"That Birds is as enjoyable to read as to look at reflects the author's unusual combination of artistic and scientific talent. The noble dimensions of Birds is itself a reminder of the heroic tradition of bird-book publishing." - The Spectator.

Q & A

There are lots of books about bird art history out there—how is Birds different?
There are indeed many bird art books out there. Some were written by academics, others by birders, museum ornithologists or librarians— very few have been written by someone with specialist knowledge in both birds and art. I was able to bring a very special dimension to Birds: an in-depth personal knowledge of the traditional fine printing techniques used to create the original artworks. I was trained specifically in printmaking and worked exclusively in copper plate intaglio processes for nearly 20 years, so these traditions—especially when applied to historical natural history books in which I’ve had a lifelong interest —are the only subject I’d describe myself as an expert in. This allowed me to talk in depth about the challenges facing the creators of some of the great historical works these images were selected from, and to tell a much more complete story about their publication.

Are there any of your own illustrations in Birds?
As the book covers around six centuries of the world’s finest bird art it might have seemed a tad arrogant to include my own! However, I had hoped to put in one—my famous albatross etching, of course—right at the very end, to talk about how the print processes described throughout the book had also been turned to creative, expressive uses by fine artists. I thought it would have made a suitable finale, but the publisher insisted on cutting it out, as he didn’t want any contemporary art included.

Was Birds your own idea?
No, it was very much a commissioned book, but I’d always hoped to write a book about the history of bird art, so being given this opportunity was a dream come true. The publisher had originally approached Jonathan Elphick to be author, but he was busy with another publication at the time and recommended me, as we’d worked together on other projects. The format, size, jacket design and title were all out of my hands (there’s no way I would have called it Birds if I’d had any say in the matter!) Nevertheless I made it my own. I selected and sourced all the images, drew up the page designs and decided how the book should be arranged, as well as actually writing the text.

Was producing your first book a good experience?
Although commissioned books are much too restrictive for my tastes, I was grateful for the opportunity and loved everything about the process of creating it. The problems started after I’d submitted it (well within the four-month deadline) and it was handed over for editing. As you’ll know from my other books and articles, I’m not a bad writer. Well, the editor absolutely destroyed it. I’m not exaggerating by saying that the text was utterly unrecognisable. Every shred of humour and expression had been taken out, it had been dumbed down to an infantile level and spelling and grammatical errors had actually been introduced! What made things worse was that the proofs had been sent to me as hard copy, so just sheets of paper, and of course the publishers were in a terrific hurry. I wrote back threatening to pull out unless the text was returned to its original form, and they obliged, though it was compromised to some extent. It was a dreadful, upsetting, experience, and one that makes me appreciate having such an excellent publisher now.

Is Birds still available in bookshops? If not, do you have any plans to re-release it?
Birds is unfortunately now out of print. It was produced as a limited print run as a money-spinner for the Christmas market and sold at a substantial discount in bargain bookstores from Day One. I’d love to see it re-released, and ideally would like to add some more content to include some contemporary bird art. There’s a problem with that, however: although the rights to the text were transferred to me allowing me to take it to another publisher or self-publish, it would be necessary to pay for permissions to use all the images again, which would prove very expensive for a publisher and absolutely impossible financially for me as an individual. There is a French edition which I believe is also out of print and a new Chinese edition in a much smaller format.