Reimagining the Painted Bunting

Artist Keith Negley adds imaginative flourishes to an exquisite pair of birds.

When Audubon asked mixed-media illustrator Keith Negley to reimagine John James Audubons Painted Buntings—the emblem of the Year of the Bird—he knew he wanted to capture the essence of the original while also injecting his “own little spin.” The species vibrant plumage “just made my job that much easier,” says Negley, who also took inspiration from Charley Harper, whose graphic, minimalist depictions of wildlife he's long admired.

After sketching ideas on paper, Negley turned to Adobe Illustrator, blocking out shapes into a blueprint of sorts, which he printed out. Onto that hard copy, he applied various media, such as water-soluble graphite pencils, paint, and even snippets from century-old issues of Audubon's predecessor, Bird-Lore—the source of the text in the twigs. Then he scanned that layout into Photoshop, where he arranged his handmade pieces into a final digital collage. This process, which Negley generally follows in all his work, allows for both precision and whimsy. “Im a control freak, but then I also really love spontaneity and happy accidents,” says Negley. “Working this way, Im able to have a foot in each world.”