Woodblock Print of Nightjar Bird Flying Through the Night Sky

Lyell Castonguay
Migration, 2019
Woodblock print
Image: 36″ x 24″, Paper: 37.5″ x 26.5″
Edition of 9
$1600 unframed/$2200 framed

My Newest Print Reaches for the Stars

Recently, I was combing through the illustrated book by Reader’s Digest called “Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World” (1979). I stumbled upon the image of a European Nightjar carrying its baby from danger. The book mentions a journal account by Audubon where he observed Nightjars carrying babies and eggs to safety. This image brought to mind recent headlines concerning the immigration debate in the United States. To me the image seems a fitting metaphor for those who leave their homeland behind in hopes of forging a better life.

The image that gave me initial inspiration to create “Migration.” Illustration by Ad Cameron.

In my initial sketch, I placed the mother Nightjar in the void of space. She travels through unknown territory while her offspring hang on for dear life. In this invented scenario, several subjects in the piece have a tenuous hold in the chain. This suggests how difficult it is to keep a family together when one’s home base is on the move because of extenuating circumstances.

large-scale woodblock in progress
“Migration” process image showing a Nightjar and its chain of babies high above the moon.

I then redrew my image onto red-stained plywood. While designing the celestial background, I included symbolism such as constellations that reference various types of birds. One of my favorite patterns incorporated into the backdrop is the minor constellation called the Phoenix that looks as through the design of the stars are about to take flight.

The woodblock is printed in two colors. The base is a warm light gray, and the key block is a ultramarine-infused black. One of the most rewarding challenges of large-scale woodblock printmaking is combining carved textures and color overlays. I appreciate how in this piece the feathers visually “pop” the tiniest details when two contrasting colors are paired together.