Audubon-Level Technicality Doesn’t Always Fly

Simone Wood’s bird paintings are flights of fancy. Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Sometimes a little serendipity gets mixed in with Simone Wood’s watercolors. The artist, who likes to fill “down time” with brushstrokes, often creates impromptu small paintings and gives them to strangers. Such was the case last year when she was on a flight from Charlotte to Burlington, Vermont.

She’d just painted a woodsy scene of a cabin near a pond and tucked it away when a man took the seat beside her. “The gentleman told me he was on his way to his father’s funeral,” says Wood. “He told me he also had to prepare his father’s home to be sold.” The man said he didn’t expect it to be on the market long, as it was a cabin near a small pond. “I pulled out that little painting and gave it to him.” In a thank-you note, he told her he’d had it framed. “I was touched — wow,” says Wood.

Much more often, though, she paints birds. “Most everyone can relate to a bird on some level,” she says. “When they see a majestic cardinal on a fence or a hummingbird at their feeder, it might bring a sense of peace to the soul. That’s what I strive to capture in my paintings, that connection between birds and humans.”

A lifetime doodler, she says she “really started to take note of my [artistic] passion” in 2006, while judging at the Philadelphia Flower Show, where an art exhibit with a botanical theme was part of the scheme. “I was amazed that pressed flowers could be manipulated to make such a body of work.”

But when she decided to try painting herself, she chose watercolors. “For me, the attraction is watching the paint melt into the paper and somehow magically create a shape that then becomes a form — at which point I can start to imagine a certain type of bird. It’s often a pleasant surprise to watch colors I’ve blended become completely different on the paper.” 

She cautions, however, that “watercolor painting is not a medium for the weak. Overworking a combination of colors is frustrating, [and] there’s no going back once you’ve muddied color combinations.”

Simone Wood is most concerned with the mood of the bird, not the stats.

But she makes the capriciousness of the medium part of her signature. “I choose to obscure detail with splatters and the blending of colors,” Wood explains. “For me, it’s not important to get that true detail of a specific bird.” She says she prefers “fluidity and more contemporary compositions.”

As birds can be flighty subjects, Wood most frequently works from memory. “When I’m sitting on my patio watching the birds at the feeder, I will mentally sketch out their positions on the feeder or a branch and then try to capture that into a painting.” Her focus is on the bird alone, not habitat or accessory scenes.

What she really wants is to evoke emotion — fondness and nostalgia foremost. “It’s really important for me to experience that. I’m painting for them, not only for myself.”

Simone Wood, Art MoB Studios & Marketplace (124 Fourth Avenue East, Hendersonville). For more information, call 828-693-4545 or see artmobstudios.com. Also: Heart of the Matter Gallery (27 S. Broad St., Brevard); 585-507-1835.

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