Caged Bird

When Kelita Haverland invited me to scribe the words to her popular song “Caged Bird”, she generously gave complete freedom—both exciting and daunting for an artist! The poignant lyrics deserved special treatment, so I immediately got to work choosing lettering styles and images.

WillowLetteringWhat was the inspiration?

Lettering. I’ve always admired the classic work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), a Scottish architect, designer, and water colourist. His projects were inspired by the flourish of Art Nouveau and the simplicity of Japanese forms. He was known for designing a simple and elegant letterform called “Willow”.

A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh was commissioned to design the School’s new building, but also the furniture, artwork, and stained glass windows—unusual scope granted an architect.

Images. While researching song birds, I was intrigued by the Merops apiaster species—a richly coloured, wild, migratory bird with a mellow song. Its name is Greek and Latin for “bee-eater”. Merops feed on flying insects—but not before removing their stinger and venom. What resilient birds. As resilient as the subjects in Kelita’s song.

In the final design, “Caged Bird” combines the influence of stained glass with watercolour and the “Willow” letterform. I am imagining that the letter “o” resembles a birdhouse entrance with a perch! It was tempting to refine the lines of the birdcage with pen and ruler, but leaving it rustic gives the impression of forged iron, which provides a counterpoint to the soft colours.


“Caged Bird” features watercolour, gouache, and ink on Arches 140 lb. watercolour paper. The piece was designed at the kitchen counter during studio renovation when supplies were in storage—a test of resiliency!

Have you been given freedom to design a project? What was your approach?