Bird artist Todd Telander opens Walla Walla exhibit

Belted kingfisher

Belted kingfisher Image courtesy of Todd Telander


If you’ve ever wished you could jump into a book and take a walk through a field guide, you won’t want to miss the new exhibit opening Friday at Seven Hills Winery.

“Birds of the Pacific Northwest” offers a virtual stroll through the pages of a pocket guide of the same name, written and illustrated by Walla Walla artist Todd Telander.


The Birds of the Pacific Northwest exhibit will be at Seven Hills through Dec. 15.

The winery is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For more details click here.

An artist’s reception from 5-7 p.m. Friday at the winery, 212 N. Third Ave., will double as a fundraiser for the Pioneer Park Aviary. Telander will sign copies of his books, available for purchase ($14.95). A portion of the proceeds will benefit Walla Walla’s bird sanctuary.

The book — the biggest yet in Telander’s collection through Connecticut publisher Globe Pequot Press with about 300 different illustrations — marks a return of sorts to the artist’s roots as a scientific illustrator.

It features the original pieces Telander created for the book, a resource to help identify birds, whether in your backyard, parks or wildlife areas.

Telander has developed a following in Walla Walla for his luscious landscapes of oak and locust trees and still-life paintings as he’s focused on fine art.

The founder of Telander Art School, he’s also taught numerous classes on classical drawing and painting.

But his career actually began in scientific illustration.

Inside his home studio — a concrete-floored building behind his Bryant Avenue home with daylight illuminating through large windows and two skylights — shelves are lined with books he’s illustrated.

Each book for each state — Virginia, South Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Alaska, California and more — contains 120 to 180 drawings of birds.

Through his contract with Globe Pequot, under the FalconGuide imprint, Telander has tirelessly researched, drawn pictures and written about the birds over the past 21/2 years. He’s put out three or four of the books each quarter.

But that’s hardly all.

Throughout his 20-year freelance career, he’s documented butterflies, trees, edible wild plants, reptiles and amphibians, pigs, animal tracks, even scat. For the latter, one reviewer reportedly described his illustrations as “crap.”

Telander, a husband and father of two boys, came to art through science, he explained during a visit to his studio.

A nature lover who grew up in a Northern California “mecca for wildlife,” he was a biology and environmental studies major in Santa Cruz when one of his instructors required students get a sketch book for class.

Telander and his classmates were expected to draw as a way to keep track of what they were studying.

The connection to the sketching was instant. He enrolled in an illustrating class.

“I took one and instantly I thought, ‘This is cool. This is what I want to do,’” a barefoot Telander explained from a stool in his studio.

He earned his dual degrees in science and continued with the graduate-level illustration work.

One professor in San Francisco who was a full-time illustrator saw his talent and helped him get work.

“I actually got paid and I wasn’t even out of college yet,” he marveled.

The shorelines around provided a bounty of subjects. Birds, redwoods. He drew skulls, brains, mammals. He took home roadkill to study.

He scoured bookstores, hunting down publishers that used scientific illustrations. Then he sent them his information.

Fifteen years ago he first worked with Globe Pequot in a step that has allowed him an enduring career to both study on his own and also earn money, creating everything from technical drawings in mountain and road bike maintenance books to a brilliant mural for the Maui Ocean Center.

In 2006 he illustrated the ivory-billed woodpecker that was part of the first U.S. charity postage stamp collection to support wildlife through the American Bird Conservancy.

After moving to Walla Walla several years ago from Vashon Island, Wash., he buried himself in the study of fine art.

Telander’s fine art has been exhibited in several western states.

He was awarded an artist’s residency at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and his work is also represented by Bruce McCaw Graphics in New York.

In the coming month he plans to unveil a new fine art gallery — a project with wife Kirsten Telander — on Colville Street.

He continues to pay homage to “the Bibles” of wildlife illustration at his work station: the field guides from David Allen Sibley, National Geographic and the Audubon Society.

His favorite works come from Robert Bateman, who incorporates environment with the animals portrayed with scientific accuracy.

In his own pieces spanning the decade or so since he first worked with Globe Pequot, he sees the differences in the quality of his work.

“The early illustrations were accurate, but they lacked a sense of light and three-dimensionality,” he said. “Every detail was there. I drew every single feather.”

Now his pieces use more shading and fine art techniques to depict the birds.

Fewer details have made the illustrations interestingly more realistic, he said.

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at or 526-8321.


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