Alex Warnick is a self-described ‘natural history artist’ with a beautiful portfolio of acrylic and oil paintings. She graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a BA in integrated studio art. As she writes, “I hope my artwork will introduce many others to the significance and beauty of birds so that birds can benefit the lives of people, and in turn, people can benefit the lives of birds.”
Tell us about your development as an artist. As early as my memories go, I remember painting and drawing. My biggest inspiration as a kid was a catalog of wildlife paintings my parents brought home from a used bookstore when I was seven. Some of my earliest drawings were wonky master copies of foxes, coyotes, and fish from that book. I used to sit next to my older brothers as they drew pictures on poster boards for school reports and copy every pencil stroke. Under their tutelage I learned to draw cardinals, giant squid, turtles, etc. Being an artist was always the plan. For most of my college career I focused on landscape painting and portraiture before returning to my passion for wildlife painting after I graduated.
Your profile says you paint, ‘all things crested, spotted, and gilded’. Tell us more about your subject matter. ‘Crested, spotted, and gilded’ is a reference to words commonly found in bird nomenclature (i.e. Crested Caracara, Spotted Towhee, Gilded Flicker, etc.) Birds have always been my mild obsession. In 5th grade, I delivered my career project on ornithology sitting in a giant nest I’d built from willow sticks. I held a pair of binoculars in my sixth grade yearbook picture. When I finally turned to birds as the subject matter for my paintings, my inspiration and motivation gained major momentum. Painting birds feels authentic to me. Because I’ve spent so much time studying them, I feel like they’re mine to portray (as I’m sure all avian artists feel). My artwork is a way to gather or collect things that can’t otherwise be gathered or collected. With my art I’m able to bring birds inside and surround myself with the things that fascinate me.
You must have some favorites? Favorites are tough. Almost all of my artwork is inspired by a lifetime of personal encounters with birds. Birds have brought me on many aesthetic adventures from hunting for Red-faced Warblers in ponderosa forests to searching for Snowy Owls on Chicago piers. The inspiration I can derive from birds is endless. Usually a combination of colors seen in the field first inspires a painting. Like Rothko and Whistler who are interested in tones and colors, birds are the vehicle I use to explore and express color relationships and pattern. With a natural history format for my paintings, I can edit out extraneous form and other elements that distract from the color relationships I’m trying to convey. My paintings are less about a bird’s scientific interaction with an environment as they are about its aesthetic interaction with an environment.
What’s next for your career? I’m constantly trying to better express my own personal “internal aesthetics”. What makes painting exciting is that I don’t fully know what that aesthetic message is yet. As for the immediate future, I plan on spending a lot more time sketching and painting in the field. I also have plans for artist residencies and applications for endowments and grants that will allow me to travel and experience more birds in their natural habitats. This last year of painting birds has been better than I ever could have hoped for, and I’m excited for what the future holds!