Recently, Kelita Haverland invited me to scribe the words to her popular song “Caged Bird”. In her generosity, she gave complete freedom to design—an artist’s dream—both exciting and daunting! The poignant lyrics deserved special treatment. I got to work narrowing down lettering styles and images.
What was the inspiration?
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, he was commissioned to design the School’s new building and the furniture, artwork, and stained glass windows—unusual scope granted an architect.
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!
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; however, leaving it rustic makes it reminiscent 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 in two short weeks at the kitchen counter while my studio was under renovation and my art supplies in storage. (That’s another story!)
Despite the limitations of time, space, and access, the project was delivered today. Indeed, the caged bird sings.