Feather Paintings

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Nambroth's avatar
Redundant info:

Hello! Thanks so much for stopping by! This stuff will be a header in my journal entries from now on, to be helpful, I think. Maybe.

If you like my work and are interested, I sell it in a number of ways:

Prints! I personally sell 80+ year archival quality 8.5" x 11" prints of my artwork and photos. They're $10.00 USD each plus shipping. Most of my paintings and all of my photography is available as prints, so feel free to drop me a note or an email if you're interested! I also sell larger format prints of some of my pieces, 11" x 14"s are $18.00 each, for other sizes please inquire.

Auctions! I occasionally have original art for sale up on auction, you're welcome to take a peek to see if there's anything there you like!

Commissions! I DO take commissions! However at this time I cannot take any more until I get some of my workload done. I will keep this jounal updated with when I am accepting new commissions again.

Originals- I sell my original artwork, for sure! Take a peek to see if anything you like is available.

If you are a company or something looking for an artist to do freelance work or something equally crazy, or if you want to use my work in any way, etc etc please just email me and we'll talk!

If anyone has any questions feel free to contact me, I'll do my best to answer them. I'm very approachable and easygoing. :}


Onto the beef! Or, in this case, feathers.

Recently, much to my amazement, my feather paintings have been receiving much attention. I've gotten a lot of questions about them as this is a relatively unique medium. So, without further pause, I will attempt to give you a quick talk about feather paintings.

I am not the first person to paint on feathers, by far. And I shant be the last! Do a search for "painted feather" or "feather painting" on Deviantart alone and you will yield many, many results. There are folks out there that are quite incredible at it, and indeed I've only been doing it a few years myself, since 1999 roughly. Even then I've only done a few dozen at most, and don't have a lot of experience under my belt so to speak.
So be sure to check out the other artists that do this as well!

I obtain my feathers from various sources. This part is important, because I see a few people saying things that are somewhat alarming in comments about this sort of thing.
Let me touch on some laws, to begin with. If you live in the United States, you must first be aware that owning many different feathers, regardless of where you obtained them, is illegal without special permits. Let me explain. There are a series of laws, mainly the Migratory Bird Act of 1918, which prohibit the possession, either in part or whole, of any migratory bird within the US without special permits. ("pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, cause to be shipped, deliver for transportation, transport, cause to be transported, carry, or cause to be carried by any means whatever, receive for shipment, transportation or carriage, or export, at any time, or in any manner, any migratory bird, included in the terms of this Convention . . . for the protection of migratory birds . . . or any part, nest, or egg of any such bird." [16 U.S.C. 703])
What this means to us is that when you are picking up a blue jay feather that you found in your  front lawn and sticking it in your pocket, you are breaking the law. I'm not trying to say that this is fair, but the simple fact is that it's the law. It was created for many reasons, but the primary one is to protect birds. I know firsthand of a friend that got busted by the fish and game department because she had feathers from a bird that she found. She posted about them in her private journal, and the wrong (or right, depending on your viewpoint) person saw her post and within a few days the authorities were knocking at her door. Or perhaps you recall a few years back when Peggy Bargon gave First Lady Hillary Clinton a dream catcher made with protected bird feathers, and she got nailed for it? Not only eagle feathers are protected. I am not trying to harp at anyone- I know that few people that pick up feathers they find mean any harm whatsoever. I just want folks to use caution.

So what kind of feathers CAN you use? Well, any sort of a non-migratory domestic bird, such as domestic turkey, chicken, or any sort exotic pheasant. Peacock feathers (especially from the wing) work well too. Wild turkey feathers are allowed, as these birds are non-migratory. Parrot feathers are allowed from non-native species as well. A note of concern though- in my opinion part of this art form is a respect of nature and the animal the feather came from. More on that below.

For those of you not in the US- you'll need to consult your laws as I am not at all familiar with them.

I personally get the feathers I use from a few sources. The turkey feathers I have are from birds taken for food purposes- I hated the thought of wasting the feathers from these beautiful animals which is the reason I started painting on feathers to begin with. I use goose feathers from exotic domestic geese sometimes. The few parrot feathers I paint on have been naturally molted (or, shed) from happy, healthy birds in captivity. I have never mistreated, harmed, or killed a bird for its feathers.

The process of painting a feather:

One thing I like to do with my painted feathers is leave a lot of the natural feather showing though. I cannot think of a more beautiful 'canvas' to paint on, and I feel it's almost a shame to cover too much of the feather up with paint. I like for it to show though- after all what's the point of painting on a feather if all you can tell of the feather is its shape? May as well paint on a paper cut-out of a feather in that case! But that's only a personal preference, so if you decide to paint feathers use your individual tastes.

I carefully select a feather that I think has a good shape for what I want to paint on it. I clean it gently with a soft, damp cloth. Oftentimes the feathers I work on are somewhat damaged or mangled, since most of them are molted naturally. This requires me "zipping" the feather back up where it has separated. This is not something I can really instruct, but know that the feather's "strands" actually work like zippers, on a microscopic level. When a bird is preening, or moving feathers through its beak, it's actually "zipping" its feathers back up into flying shape. So when a feather is mangled, I need to do this myself. Here's a diagram: numbat.murdoch.edu.au/Anatomy/… (Freethy, 1983). This just takes some patience and care. Placing the feather in some steam will also help it form back into shape.

After all this, I usually VERY, very lightly spray the feather with a fixatif spray; a very light dusting will get me by. I like to leave the feather as natural as possible. What this does is gently hold the feather barbs in place so they are not as easy to separate while painting. I let this dry for a few hours, and then get ready to paint. I will put a light layer of a base color down in normal acrylic paint, usually with a shader brush (these brushes are somewhat long, and flattened). It is important to work carefully, because although the fixatif spray helps, it's still very easy to separate the feather. Once a feather separates at this point, there is little hope of 'zipping' it back up as the fixatif and paint will ruin the little barbs that allow the feather to zip properly (ever wonder why chemicals and the like on wild birds cause so many problems for them?). I approach this like I do any painting and do a light under painting. After allowing this to dry, the feather is much easier to work with in the area I wish to paint, as the acrylic paint tends to harden the feather just a bit as it dries. It's still necessary to work carefully however!
At this point I switch to a very tiny liner brush that pulls to a thin, tiny point and work like this. I let the paint dry between layers, as if you mess up on a feather, it's easy to tell. On most surfaces you can paint over it, but on a feather it will start to look 'gloppy' and messy if you pile too much paint on.

After the painting is finished, I will allow it to dry completely before VERY lightly dusting it with a coat of fixatif once again. This will help keep the acrylic from flaking off the feather, in addition to protecting it a bit.

It is important to note that there are many things that can and will ruin your feathers and feather painting; the most prominent of these are insects. Specifically, some moths and dermestid beetles love to eat feathers and can ruin them remarkably quickly. Ever found a feather with holes and really thin spots in it that are not supposed to be there? That's the work of these hungry critters. Here's an informative link on feathers and their care (warning, will open in PDF format): www.bishopmuseum.org/research/…

This is not, by any means, the only way to paint on feathers if you wish to try it! This is just how I do it for those that have asked. Don't be afraid to follow your own method.

Some people use different kinds of paint on feathers; I cannot advise on this as I've only ever used acrylic.

In closing, please be respectful of the environment and the creatures in it- if you decide to paint on a feather please do so responsibly. :}

Enjoy, and feel free to ask any questions you may have. ^^

© 2006 - 2022 Nambroth
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Tnynfox's avatar

What happened to your friend who posted about the feathers? Was she trying to sell them?

I am currently employed by a frame department and have designed a shadowbox frame around three beautiful feathers painted by a native American descendant. I have somewhat of an idea how to adhere them to the mat board, but would like your input as to how you present them. thank you Martha Sewell
Nambroth's avatar
Hello! When I used to do these, I would stitch them onto the mat board. This method was archival and did not damage the feather. I typically just presented them solo, with complimentary mat colors. Kind regards!
MidnightSwan1's avatar
My mom has an eclectus parrot. Their feathers are smaller than turkey or the large macaws but not tiny. Do you think you could paint her eclectus on one of her feathers if
we collect and send you some of her bigger feathers? How much would it be? Thanks
Nambroth's avatar
Hi there, possibly! Unfortunately I am closed to new feather painting commissions indefinitely.
ScenesAndMemories's avatar
ugh. stupid feather laws. i mean, i get they protect BOP, but songbirds? really? uuugh.

thanks for the tutorial!!! ^^ 
snow-phantom's avatar
I didnt realise that in america you couldn't just collect any feather from your lawn. Thats very intresting as i usually make dreamcatchers from the feathers i collect from my lawn but i know they are from a pretty common bird so i should be ok. The only thing im stumped with is, what is fixatif spray?
Nambroth's avatar
It is sort of like a sealant spray that you can buy at art supply shops.
snow-phantom's avatar
Oh ok u mean the stuff they use for when u draw with pastels right?
snow-phantom's avatar
cool. back when i was at school i was told to use hairspray as its not so toxic and much cheaper. Thank u i may have ago st something like this but most likely with butterflies as i love painting them the most. :)
Windyfeather's avatar
Interesting...I had no idea you could paint on a feather :O Until now :3
The only thing I'd worry about is splitting the feather, then I'll have to zip the feather together again -.-
Psitt's avatar
Would someone mind explaining why we can't have the feathers we find on the ground? I just find it a bit silly since no harm was done to the bird it came from. I used to have a feather collection, but I can't now because I don't want my parrots to get sick.
Nambroth's avatar
Because it's impossible to prove, in most cases, that the feather was found instead of taken from a bird killed for the purpose (or, bought from someone for the same reason). The laws came about many years ago when species of birds were being killed in huge numbers, including at least one extinction, for their feathers.

I agree that it's silly, there should be some sort of compromise. Other countries have laws that are more lax than ours and they don't have trouble with people wiping out the birds.
Psitt's avatar
Interesting :/

thanks for the fast reply.
Adys-Creations's avatar
Thank you very much for this, very helpful!
Saerphe's avatar
Is there a specific fixative spray that you use, or would something like hairspray work?

I can't wait to try this. The manager at a local pet shop promised to save me some of the double yellow headed Amazon's moulted feathers to try this on. Your feather paintings are gorgeous. :D
Nambroth's avatar
Oh gosh! I am not sure if hairspray would be archival. Is that important to you? It may do weird things over time. I just use "workable fixatif" spray that you can get at art or craft shops. I think it's Krylon brand? It's not too much, less than $4 a can.
Saerphe's avatar
No, it's not important. It's more a cost-effective thing than anything else. Next time I go into Michael's, I'll look into getting some. Thanks. :D
graceofbass's avatar
Do you ever open up commissions for painted feathers, or is a personal work that goes up for auction occasionally?
Nambroth's avatar
I do take painted feather commissions sometimes when I have time. :)
MalaCembra's avatar
Thank you so much for sharing! I've always been interested in feather painting and you do amazing work.
rice-chex's avatar
How do you display your feathers and keep them protected from bugs and dust? I have collected a lot of feathers over the summer, and they're sitting in a box in the top of m closet... I want to frame at some point, when I have money. What do you do?
Nambroth's avatar
When I am storing them, I put them in sealed freezer-style bags. Some types of moths can still chew in, horrifyingly, so I will then either put them in those sealable rubbermaid-like containers (they are made for storing food), or store them with a deterrent (some people use mothballs).

Once they are painted, I either frame them and seal the back of the frame, or I mat them and shrink wrap. I check on everything from time to time to make sure that nothing has been at them.
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