Murmuration Art: To Draw Along with Starlings

In Air, Creative By Nature Art Blog, Flight, Spontaneity by Lisa LipsettLeave a Comment

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I’ve been fascinated by bird movement lately. I love to track a single bird in a flock, letting my pen move in synchrony with her swoops and undulations. There is a time-lapse quality to the result as the bird line only appears if swings and curls are followed over over time.

Using a technique called extended movement photography, the video below accomplishes the same thing as tracking movement with eye and hand (though hands-on is more fun I think) ;>

According to videographer Dennis Hlynsky his footage Data In, Data Out, was recorded at the Seekonk Speedway in Massachusetts near the RI border. Described as extended moment photography the technique is not considered time-lapse film where time is condensed… flowers blooming, fruit rotting, the city waking up… that sort of thing. This recording plays at real time speed. The footage is processed to extend the moment captured to show trails of where the animal has been and will be.

FEB 22_14_SAN from Dennis Hlynsky on Vimeo.

Dennis has more amazing videos here

Watching a single bird is an act of faith using soft focus as she comes into and out of view. Sometimes at one with the others and at other times uniquely herself.

I gave drawing with birds a try. While in Rome, I noticed this magnificent and dramatic murmuration of starlings dancing and swooping over the river Tiber.

Murmuration- that’s a word you don’t hear every day.

I first heard about it from a video created by two young adventurers Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith who were surprised by joyful sky dancing starlings during a canoe trip on the river Shannon, Ireland.

Starling Murmuration on River Shannon

Starling Murmuration on River Shannon


I love how starlings dance as one, shifting and turning on a whim. Apparently they are masterful evaders of owls, hawks and eagles. Even seagulls fail in their attempts to snag them because of their swoops and dives. Most intriguing is the way they spontaneously bunch up creating bulbous moving 3-D shapes that flash and morph in the sky.


Starlings over the river Tiber in Rome.

In Rome Italy they congregate by the Tiber river at dusk in winter to warm up a bit and roost in nearby trees. Unfortunately they are not the friend of cars, walkways and heads as their robust numbers generate equally robust amounts of guano. Locals cross the bridge under open umbrellas at this time of day.

I love to draw with birds. I love to follow their line of travel. I especially love when flocks dance and swoop. Starlings are the masters. It’s like improvisation in action. They are in harmony, of one mind. They are entrained to each other. To entrain means
“to draw along,” It is a 1560s term used in chemistry, also from French entrainer (12c.), from en- “away” (see en- (1)) + trainer “to drag”.

Entrainment is the synchronization of two or more rhythmic systems into a single pulse. The pulse can be as simple as a breath. This happens naturally between people, people and nature, and individuals in a flock or school. We breathe together, feel together, think together, so quickly there isn’t even time to think!


Drawing the flight of Starlings.

I was fortunate enough to have 2 short sessions with them in Rome just before Christmas 2015 on Ponte Sisto near the market at Campo di Fiori. A guitarist played Christmas carols as people rushed home from work, some stopping momentarily to take in the show. Others digging the inevitable stream of bird poop landing all over the ground, coating Italian high fashion and parking posts in equal measure. I pulled together a short video of the experience. I hope you enjoy it!

Starling Draw from Lisa Lipsett-Creative by Nature on Vimeo.

Try this yourself. What draws you in today? What could you track and trace?



Lisa LipsettMurmuration Art: To Draw Along with Starlings

I'd love to know what you think.