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  • Writer's pictureSteph Holmes

The Story Behind the Nuthatch

Lately, I've seen nuthatches every time I hike in my favorite forest. These little birds hop from tree to tree ahead of me, almost as if they’re showing me the way.

I love to talk to them as if they could understand me. Maybe they can?

So, naturally, I decided to paint a nuthatch in my next piece.

I've been sharing near-daily progress photos in my Instagram and Facebook stories, and I also paint right in my storefront window for passersby to see, so perhaps you've seen how this painting has slowly evolved over time.

Regardless, you still may find it fun to look at the different stages of this painting. I know I enjoy experiencing the process unfold over months, and yet it still amazes me to see the magic happen in a single glance of the in-progress photos sitting side-by-side.

My paintings evolve intuitively, so they rarely turn out exactly as planned. This nuthatch painting started with a light green background and a static pose.

By the halfway point of the process, the painting was asking for more life and movement. Through a slow, rolling series of decisions, I repainted the beak of the nuthatch, added a sprouting seed, and blocked in crispy slow-falling leaves from above.

The background became a dark sap green—so dark it appears black in photos, but in my studio, it’s a deep, glowing green.

Each element feels as if it had been planned into the final composition all along.

We're looking at the side of a tree, which is host to an outcrop of mushrooms and witness to a curtain of its own leaves slowly floating down to the earth.The tree has died, and its nutrients are returning to the soil, supporting new life. The nuthatch is perched for one last moment, clutching a sprouted seed in its beak, ready to take flight.

Perhaps the nuthatch's heart has broken at the loss of his old friend and home, the tree. But the lesson he brings is clear to me...Can we keep ourselves from getting stuck in place with regrets or fear? Can we answer the call to move on when it’s best for us, process the heavy feelings, and look for the kernel of good, allowing us to move forward and plant our energy in a sunny spot?

Are you the nuthatch, shaking off the heartbreak at your dying tree in order to act – to pick up the hopeful seed and plant it somewhere promising? 

Or are you the seed, being swept along to somewhere new, equal parts terrified and excited? 

Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m one, or the other, or the helper and helped both at once.

So now I'm on to the next painting, and this is a huge one just chock full of meaning and spiritual symbolism. It's titled "A Gathering of Healers", and I look forward to diving into the story behind this beauty in my very next blog post.

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