Whimsical Beauty in Bird Paintings

Karl Martens, San Francisco-born artist, has studied birds and their beaks for so long that now he knows very well the nooks and crannies of how to make his bird paintings become so dramatic particularly in the birds’ eyes and beaks.


When painting his pieces, he uses materials which are rarely or never before done by other painters—pairing together the Japanese and Chinese calligraphy brushes with water color. Fascinatingly enough, he doesn’t use any guides or models for his paintings, relying entirely on his very memory of bird figures.


To make it more interesting, he uses large Japanese and Chinese calligraphy brushes to create general shapes and postures of birds, but when it comes to the intricate markings, he would use charcoal pencil and smaller calligraphy brushes. As he ever stated, “In painting and calligraphy, the first eye stroke is the most important. It comes from nothing and manifests something.”


Martens is inspired by Shih-t’ao (1642-1707), famous Chinese painters in Qing dynasty. Shih-t’ao coined the term Holistic Brushstroke, which means that one could create something out of nothing. As Martens describes it, “Optimally, it contains no planned thought. It emanates from ’emptiness’.