I like to use found objects and natural materials in my artwork. I go for long hikes either through the city or the forests and mountains of my home. In my travels, I always have my eyes open for strange materials or unusual objects to use in my projects.

I have used feathers for a variety of effects. I will share with you the methods I used to achieve these effects, but first we need to learn to identify the various types of feathers. This is essential knowledge since you cannot substitute one type of feather for another. There are three types of feathers, each with its own unique properties.

The Down Feather

Down Fetaher
“The down feather has two parts: a fluffy part near the base and a feathery part near the
tip.”

One type of feather is the down feather. This feather comes from the body of the bird where it insulates against the cold. A down feather is relatively small with a curved shaft to match the shape of the bird’s body. The down feather is also split into two parts: a fluffy part near the base and a feathery part near the tip. These two parts have different uses which makes the down feather the most useful type of feather.

The Aerodynamic Feather

This pic shows the stickiness of flight feathers
Grabbing part of the feathering and pull upwards along the shaft. If it is an aerodynamic feather, the rest of  the feathering will stick rather than separating. This property traps air allowing the bird to fly.

The second type of feather is the aerodynamic or flight feather. These feathers come from the wing or tail of the bird. Wing feathers have thick rigid shafts, are non-asymmetrical, and have limited uses. Tail feathers have rigid tapering shafts, are symmetrical, and tend to be much more useful than wing feathers. The defining characteristic of all aerodynamic feathers is dense plumage that sticks to itself.

 

The Cosmetic Feather

A picture showing one type of cosmetic feather from a tutorial about using feathers in miniatures on Contrast Miniatures by Matt DiPietro
Every cosmetic feather is different and many have unique properties.

The third type of feather is the specialty or cosmetic feather. These are feathers that the bird uses only for display. Not every bird has them and their properties vary wildly between species. This picture shows is the one type of specialty feather I have actually used on miniatures. It comes from the tail of a chicken. Notice how it differs from the other feathers we have studied.

Now you are armed with the knowledge of how to identify feathers and you’re ready to learn some uses for them.  Presented here are three projects each exploring a different application for feathers.

Project 1: A Feather in the Hat

The subject of this first piece is a steam punk themed freedom fighter. She is a deadly sniper who takes trophies from the greedy noblemen and corrupt politicians she slays.

Pic 06 Feathers

 

Pic 07 Feathers

To make the feathered hat, we will use the small structures from a down feather.

Pic 08 FeathersSeparate a number of the strands from the tip of the down feather. If you look closely, each strand looks like is in fact a tiny micro- feather.

Pic 09A FeathersThe micro-feathers are attached using a pair of locking tweezers. One at a time, dip the base of each tiny micro-feather in a pool of CA glue and arrange them carefully on the model. Glue accelerant is helpful for this delicate task. Take your time and have extra feathers to allow for mistakes.

 

Pic 09B Feathers

Part 2: The Master Fletcher

Sometimes I have a crazy idea that I just need to try just to see if it is possible. For this miniature from Studio Mcvey I wanted to try replacing the arrow fletching on the model with real feathers!The Forest Guardian from Contrast Miniatures by Matt DiPIetro

Pic 11 Feathers

First, trim the tip off an aerodynamic feather. I recommend using a fresh blade for your knife as this procedure is very delicate.

Pic 12 FeathersThe next step is to trim all the micro-feathersscructures off one side. Then trim away the micro- feathers from the other side so that only a few millimeters are left.

Pic 13A FeathersCut the remaining piece into sections. Then dip the shaft section into CA glue and apply them to your arrow.

I was happy with the result but in the future I think I will only use this method on larger scale miniatures. The reason is not that it doesn’t work on small figures it is that no one notices! I have to point it out when I show the model so perhaps it works too well?

Pic 13B Feathers

Part 3: Jungle Drums

The last model I want to share is my version of a bust you’re all familiar with Tribe Chief Morrow from Forged Monkey. The rhythm of the jungle was really flowing through me on this project!

Jungle Drums from Contrast Miniatures by Matt DiPIetro

 

I have to warn the readers though… when I started putting this part of the tutorial together I realized that I had only taken photos near the beginning of the process! Then I remembered the mad state I was in rushing to get my entries ready for the Crystal Brush painting competition. I was painting at work then working long into the nights for weeks and the lack of photos suddenly made sense. So instead of a normal step by step I’ve deconstructed the model a bit to give an idea of the design and I’ll talk about some of the thoughts I had while working on this project. I hope you will still enjoy it.

Pic 15 FeathersThe idea for the headdress came to me while I was taking one of my many walks. I was waiting to cross the street when I looked down and at my feet were a clump of strange feathers. They came from the neck of a pigeon and change color in the light from green to purple. How cool! I needed to use them!

Pic 16B FeathersAfter studying reference photos and considering the challenges involved I came up with some design guidelines that would help me construct the headdress. It needed to have multiple layers of feathers to give it volume and realism. The layers near the front needed to be added first and then I’d work towards the back of the model.

Pic 17A FeathersThe area to the sides and rear of the headdress was filled with fluff from the base of the downy pigeon feathers. Here you can see how they were broken up and attached.

Pic 17B Feathers

Pic 14 Feathers

I’ve really enjoyed sharing my little adventures with you and I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as well. Maybe you will feel inspired to try using feathers as well or perhaps you’ll notice some other tiny piece of nature to use in a creative way on your own projects. It’ is surprising what you may find if you just have the eyes to see that there’ is treasure everywhere!

2 thoughts on “3 Projects Using Feathers

  1. Nice work, however i got almost a complete set of a red tail flicker feathers along with others at an auction when I purchased a trunk.
    They are clean and in good shape. I was wanting to make maybe an abstract picture using some. Do u have any to see. Mainly not wanting to cut or use pieces of them to keep them natural?
    Thank you,

    1. That’s cool! I know these feathers and they have such a beautiful orange color and ingesting patterns. The flicker is native to where I live and I can often find the feathers when the bird discards them. I’m not sure I understand your question though. The cutting of the feathers is more to use them as scale feathers on miniatures. SEND me pics of your art project if you want to share 🙂

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