Abstract Modern Turkeys

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After a recent visit to the newly renovated SFMOMA, I came home inspired to try out some abstract modern techniques on my poultry subjects. As November comes with a very specific poultry association, it felt right and proper to focus on the majestic turkey for this effort.

At the museum, I was drawn to Georges Braque, Stuart Davis, and Juan Gris. Each of these artists are exemplary of the period and each portray in their different ways the aspects of this style that draw me in the most: line intermingled with shape, an expression of simplicity through chaos, and fascinating interplay of colors and textures. These features often work together to create a sort of visually perceptible rhythm or vibration that I find fascinating. 

I began with some detailed drawings of turkeys from reference photographs on Google. From there, I endeavored to simplify the creatures to their basic forms through expressive lines and minimal detail. Here you can see one of my detailed turkey portraits next to the simplified version:

Reducing a Turkey to Simple Shapes

I settled on a composition of three tom turkeys overlapped and interwoven in a posture suited to conspiring, gossiping, or perhaps caroling if you're feeling festive. The composition is symmetrical, but the left and right turkeys are dissimilar enough to keep the eye engaged. For the colors, I knew I wanted an autumnal palette with rich, warm earth tones and captured those pigments in an unexpected yet inspired way—all the colors are directly sampled from one photograph of turkey feathers:

Turkey Feathers Closeup

That's right, each color in my final composition was sampled directly from the above photograph. Who knew turkeys were so colorful?

Here's my final painting, completed with Kyle T. Webster's fantastic brushes for Photoshop. This was my first time playing with his recent Impasto collection which is completely mesmerizing and delightful. Enjoy:

Abstract Modern Turkeys by Henny Penny Press

A closeup view:

Abstract Modern Turkeys Closeup by Henny Penny Press

Prints are available here.

A charming pillow available here.

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  • One of the many attributes of any avian creature is its feather patterns; in fact, this is exactly what I find most mesmerizing about birds in general. Whenever I gaze at our mini-flock of silly hens, marveling at their fascinating array of colors and patterns—laced, barred, speckled, blonde, neon-green, blue-black, I am dumbstruck by the elegance of their exquisite design. So, reading your fascinating artistic tribute to the much maligned turkey is indeed appropriate and overdue. Love it, Joanna! I must have the pillow!

    nancy (Mother Hen) on

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