Reimagining the Tricolored Heron

With a doomed frog and Mexican flair, illustrator Llew Mejia adds a fresh take on this classic print.

John James Audubon's portrayal of a Tricolored Heron enchanted illustrator Llew Mejia. The tropical foliage reminded him of Florida's Everglades and of creatures prowling beyond human reach. "It seems like there's something super mysterious there," says Mejia, who is based in New York City. In his rendering of the southeastern coastal bird, Mejia honors Audubon's composition through a style rooted in Mexico. He lived there as a child and enjoyed family visits to Tlaquepaque, a city near Guadalajara known for its pottery. "You could walk into people's ateliers, and they'd be painting and glazing all the ceramics," he says. The lines and colors in his piece reflect that folk-art tradition, but Mejia's medium is modern: He crafted it in Photoshop. The frog ensnared in the bird's beak adds both levity and artistic commentary.​

As Audubon observed, the Tricolored Heron (which he called a Louisiana Heron) is a stealthy hunter: “Not a snail can escape its keen search,” he wrote. Yet in Audubon's painting, the bird is merely preening its delicate plumes. “Maybe he didn't want it to seem predatory,” Mejia says. Indeed, the naturalist affectionately called the species “Lady of the Waters,” in reference to its sinewy elegance. Mejia's amphibian reminds us that this lady lunches.

This story originally ran in the Winter 2018 issue. To receive our print magazine, become a member by making a donation today.