One For Sorrow

The Magpie Series

“One For Sorrow” the Magpie series is an idea born and developed after seeing 7 Magpies all together in the tree opposite my lounge window.

Its a glorious sunny September morning as I look out of my lounge window that is on the second floor, bird painting is the last thing on my mind. Opposite across the road is a tall tree and I notice a group of Magpie happily chattering away. I have never seen so many all at the same time, I count, there are five, six no seven magpie resting. Its at this point the Nursery Rhyme springs into my mind.


One For Sorrow

Two For Joy

Three For a Girl

Four for a Boy

Five For Silver

Six For Gold

Seven For a Secret Never To Be Told.


Mmmm! What secret will I never tell, or what secret will never be told to me? As I ponder this question the Magpie one by one fly off with more chatter and clucking. A bird painting idea is being born.

Over the next few days the event keeps coming back into my mind and I come up with the idea of doing a series of paintings, one for each line of the nursery rhyme. There is one problem… “One For Sorrow”. I like to think my paintings are a pleasure to have on the wall and pleasing to view. A sorrow-full image just will not do so I decide to just do six paintings in the series and miss out the first.

The gods however had other ideas!

Move forwards several months, it is now November. I have taken some reference photo’s of Magpie but need a lot more to choose from for the series, and the Magpie ae only visiting my tree sporadically. It will be a while yet before I have enough to work with.

At the art club this week the set task is to create a painting in the Pointillism style. I have decided to use acrylic medium and cotton buds to apply dots of paint. I trawled through my photos and could not find anything that grabbed me until I came across a very poor quality Magpie photo. The bird has its back to me and is looking left, the silhouette created is stunning and I know I can enhance the colours of the oily feathers. I started the painting at the art club and finished the piece over the next few days and was very pleased with the result. It was not until this final point that I realised I had my “One For Sorrow” The one painting of the series I had decided not to paint. The image depicts a Magpie on his or her own, perhaps waiting to find a mate or waiting for last years mate to arrive. The image itself is colourful and I think you will agree a pleasure to grace any wall.

One For Sorrow

Only six more paintings to go!

It would be another 7 months, well into the following year before I completed all seven paintings. They would not be developed in chronological order as my creative ideas would come for different pictures at different times.

The pictures were to be painted in oil colour on 24”x36” stretched canvas. The background would be semi abstract style to depict the moods and feelings of the time and align with the idea behind the nursery rhyme. Early on I decided the Magpie colours would be enhanced, making them more oily blue and green and not so black and white as seen in nature. The expressions of the birds and compositions as a whole would be the greatest challenge.

To compose the random nature of the birds I first tried scattering stones, of the various quantities, onto a large sheet of paper. This was not a great success in itself but I believe it did help start the general idea of positioning so was not a complete waste of time.

Stones scattered on paper.

What was more important was to get reference photos of Magpie taking up numerous poses that would create appropriate expressions to align to the nursery rhyme lines.

I had my camera ready at the window for a number of months, catching the occasional magpie, but it was not until spring that I struck lucky.

As the magpies were perhaps meeting up and deciding on a mate, coupling up, carrying out some pre-mating rituals, I was then able to capture many pictures with the birds taking up different positions. They included one flying away, that would become a key feature in the "secret never to be told".

Magpie Flying away.

With reference photo’s I could now begin.







The first, or should I say second painting “Two for Joy” was quick to evolve. The colours had to be full of joy, bright blue sky, bright glowing sunshine coming through the bright foliage. The two Magpie have found each other, one giving the other a nod of agreement and recognition.


Two For Joy













 The next picture that took shape was “Seven For A Secret” The compositional ideas for this piece flowed out one after the other and kept developing as I started to paint. The pair of Magpie at the top are looking down wondering what the others may be doing. The grouping of three are looking towards the denser shrubbery, maybe something is hidden inside. The bottom two depict the secret never to be told as on bird fly s off into the haze. The hazy misty feel to the whole piece evolved as I started to paint and I made sure the Magpies also remained indistinct.


Seven For A Secret













The other paintings in the series followed this method of using colour, and pose to express the idea of each line of the Ryme. The Bird Paintings slowly took shape and were completed by August that year. Almost a year from the first event.


Three For A Girl


A Predominantly Pinky Sky










For For A Boy


A Dominant male at the top and

strong blues for colour.












Five For Silver

The tree depicts a silver birch

with a silver moon in the background.

There is a sense of calm and tension

at the same time.














Six For Gold


Probably the most difficult to get a reasonable composition. A rule in art is generally not to have even numbers and too much uniformity in a painting.


After much thought and deliberation I eventually moved towards a symbolic image.


I decided to use the idea of a hexagram in the underlying composition which would position the six birds at the six points around the focal point of interest. The nest with the golden egg.


There are other inferences to what is gold in the life of a bird. One bird has nesting material, another holds a piece of food.


The golden life of a bird depicted by partnership, a home, good environment, abundance of food and the next generation.


Please enjoy and let me know what you think. Thanks.