From the Magazine Magazine

Illustrated Aviary

Reimagining the Arctic Tern

In Edel Rodriguez's replica, icy blank space takes a seabird's place.

Arctic Tern. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez

By his own account, John James Audubon glimpsed the Arctic Tern for the first time in June of 1833 while visiting the Magdalen Islands, in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. “Until that moment this Tern had not been familiar to me, and as I admired its easy and graceful motions, I felt agitated with a desire to possess it,” he wrote, recounting how his party proceeded to gun down dozens of the birds to provide models for his paintings.

These days illustrators like Edel Rodriguez, 44, like to avoid killing their subjects. Rodriguez rendered the tern here as a cutout in a glacial plain, an eerie premonition of the struggles it may face in a changing Arctic. He was in awe of the original: “It’s already so good. I love the image, the gesture of it. It inspires me to think about those kinds of shapes in my own work.” While Audubon employed watercolor, pastel, ink, and chalk, Rodriguez uses woodblock patterns supplemented with digital tools. He related to how Audubon captured the tern’s movement through space. “The topsy-turvy composition, the way it’s floating up in the air,” he said. “It fits well with the type of work I do.”