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Notable Interviews

From nursing birds to painting them
by Ilana DeBare,
Golden Gate Audubon, April 15, 2015

Maggie Hurley’s relationship with birds began as a child in Southern California. When she found injured birds, she’d put them in a shoebox and try to nurse them back to health. Some veterinarian neighbors of hers opened a wildlife rescue center and she would visit with pelicans in their backyard and songbirds in their garage.

Today Hurley’s own studio is also filled with birds — but of the painted variety.

Hurley, a Berkeley resident, will be our featured guest artist at Golden Gate Audubon’s 2015 Birdathon Awards Celebration on Sunday May 17.

Her work includes both paintings and prints. Some of her most popular pieces are brightly-colored portraits of birds on four-inch square wood blocks.

One of the things that makes her work unique is the sense of whimsy and personality she brings to each bird.

“I’ll enlarge the eyes a little bit or do something to make it more charming,” she said. “I appreciate all the people doing Audubon-style illustration, but I like to give it a little more ‘oomph.’ I’m not trying to capture birds scientifically, but find a relatable expression on a face that shares so little with humans.”

Another of Hurley’s trademarks is her commitment to creating art that is affordable to all kinds of people. Her original paintings sell for as little as $80, while the wood block prints sell for $40.

She recently launched a subscription service called Bird in a Box, where for just $25 subscribers receive a new bird wood-block portrait each month.

“It’s a nice alternative to opening your mailbox and finding junk and bills,” Hurley said. “Plus it will force me to paint one new bird every month.”

Maggie Hurley in her Berkeley studio / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Maggie Hurley with some of her wood-block prints in her Berkeley studio / Photo by Ilana DeBare

Hurley, who attended the Laguna College of Art and Design, slipped into painting birds almost by accident. As relief from a long, drawn-out argument with a boyfriend, she started doodling in her sketchbook and discovered she had made a little cartoon-like owl. Later she turned that owl figure into a character in a children’s book.

“From painting him, I thought, ‘Maybe I should try painting a real owl,’” she said. “People responded well, so I branched out. Now I ping-pong between my whimsical Herbert the Owl and bird portraits.”

Maggie's whimsical children's book about Herbert the Owl

Maggie’s whimsical children’s book about Herbert the Owl

Brown Pelican by Maggie Hurley

Brown Pelican by Maggie Hurley

Hurley typically uses photos as the model for her portraits. She sketches an outline of the bird on wood, then paints it. She uses that painting to make prints on archival quality paper, which she attaches to wood blocks. She produces 250 prints per bird.  Some like her ostrich are close to selling out.

Her personal favorite bird? Black-necked Stilts.

“It looks like they shouldn’t be able to walk,” she said. “Their legs are like fluorescent pink straws bent the wrong way. It just amazes me that they can walk.”


Originally published here:

Today, for our maker monday interview, I’m thrilled to introduce Maggie Hurley.  Maggie’s work will bring a smile to your face, and her subtitle of Whimsy & Whatnot is the perfect description of her product.  Check out Maggie and enjoy her beautiful art!


Please introduce yourself.

I’m Maggie! Armed with my grandmother’s artistic proclivities, a stack of Brian Froud books, and some watercolors, I taught myself to paint when I was a kid. I grew up in Southern California and spent a year and a half at an art school in Southern California (the Laguna College of Art & Design), which I adored, and have continued honing my skills ever since. I made my way up to the Bay Area in 2001 and am now settled in Richmond with my family of rescue animals (3 dogs, 2 cats!) and my lovely boyfriend.

What do you make or do?

Most of my work is made with paint – watercolors, gouache, acrylic, or oil, I love it all. Lately, my work has centered around some displaced whales: floating through deserts and cities. I have a few recurring characters: some little creatures that are mostly robot with a splash of something a little more delicate, some jaded women with an attachment to the science behind love, and my grumpy little owl called Herbert, and a bevy of bird portraits. I also do children’s portraits, and the occasional flower or piece of fruit, but my work tends toward the light and smile-inducing.

Where can we find your creations?

I’ve got work online at I have work in several stores throughout the Bay Area as well. You can also find my work (and me) at my studio at 4th Street Fine Art in Berkeley.

How long have you been creating and is it your full-time job?

I think I’ve always been an artist. I completed my first mural as a toddler (with a handful of crayons and my mom’s hallway – I don’t think she was as excited about the piece as I was). I would spend hours on watercolors as a kid. For a long time, I believed that it wasn’t possible to make a living at it, so I spent some time in the corporate world. As the years passed by, there was something inside me that felt ignored. At a certain point, it became impossible to ignore the urge to at least try. In 2009, I made the jump into being a full time artist.  It’s been a learning process, but I’ve never been happier.

Is there an interesting story behind the name of your business? How did the name come about?

I have a sort of subtitle to my business: Whimsy & Whatnot. It seems fitting. I sell work at craft fairs and often people in my booth will utter, “How whimsical!” At this point, I usually gesture to my banner, which has my shop name on it. I’m not entirely sure where it came from, it just popped into my head. I have such a variety of work and regardless of the subject, the one common thread seems to be whimsy.

Is creativity a luxury or a necessity for you?

I think it’s really both. I think I’m lucky enough to live in a world where there is time, space, safety, and the availability of supplies to create. I’m lucky to live in a society where my artistic proclivities turn into something I can make a living from. Having the comforts of living somewhere where bombs aren’t falling from the sky and where I don’t really have any major concerns (aside from keeping a roof over my head or putting food on the table), so for that reason, I think creativity is a sort of luxury. But I think there is a calling that brings someone to creating. Whether you set out to do it or not, it just happens. My notes from meetings at former and current jobs are always covered with doodles… Art will find a way through you, whether you’re intentional about it or not.

If money wasn’t an issue how would your life change with regards to your art?

I think I would probably be a little more daring with subject matter. I think I’d certainly be creating more big paintings. I’d probably take more time off to go explore museums and galleries. I’ve always loved the idea of starting an art school for disadvantaged kids. If money wasn’t a problem, I’d be able to get that going.

Maggie Hurley Studio


Originally published