‘Canberra Birds’: my series of illustrations featuring the birds of Canberra

My ‘Canberra Birds‘ artwork series features eight of the most popular Australian birds drawn in various locations around Canberra. Illustrated digitally, these cartoon scenes celebrate the colourful birdlife of Australia, as well as the iconic locations of Australia’s capital city.

Each of the eight artworks are available as archival art prints in five different sizes (from A4 up to A0). The designs are also available as greeting cards and postcards, with the artworks’ colours looking brilliant on glossy 400 gsm premium card stock.
Collage of the first eight Canberra Birds scenes

List of Canberra Birds scenes

Below is the full list of my eight Canberra Birds artwork scenes. Click through to be linked to blog posts with more info about each individual illustration, including closer views of each scene. I also link through to the web store product pages for each of the items.

1. Rainbow-crested cockatoo above Black Mountain Tower

Rainbow-crested cockatoo flying above bird's eye view drawing of Canberra, Australia featuring Black Mountain Tower and Lake Burley Griffin aerial drawing
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Rainbow-crested cockatoo

2. Galahs at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular

Galahs at Canberra hot air balloon festival cartoon image
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Galahs at the Canberra Balloon Spectacular

3. Gang-gang cockatoos at City Hill, Canberra

Cartoon gang-gang cockatoos flying over Canberra
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Gang-gang cockatoos at City Hill, Canberra

4. Tawny frogmouths at the Shine Dome, Canberra

Sunset tawny frogmouths roosting in a tree in Canberra drawing
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Tawny Frogmouths at the Shine Dome, Canberra

5. Australian magpie at the National Arboretum Canberra

Cartoon magpie flying over Canberra arboretum in the sunshine
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Australian Magpie at the National Arboretum Canberra

6. Australian white ibis at the National Carillon, Canberra

Cartoon ibis in Australia flying over Canberra city skyline
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Australian White Ibis at the National Carillon

7. Crimson rosellas at the National Gallery of Australia Skyspace

Cartoon crimson rosellas flying above trees in Canberra's National Gallery Skyspace
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Product pages:

Greeting card: Crimson rosellas at the National Gallery of Australia Skyspace

8. Bush stone-curlews at Mulligans Flat Woolshed

More info:

Product pages:

Greeting card: Bush Stone-Curlews at Mulligans Flat Woolshed

And now for some more information about the series in general.

My Canberra history

I moved from Queensland to Canberra in 2013, and look set to stay here as my long-term home. I am a studio artist at the historic Gorman Arts Centre in Braddon, and my wife and I have bought a home in the northern suburbs of Canberra.

Yes, all of the stereotypes about Canberra are basically true. It gets cold in winter. The suburbs sprawl. There are lots of heads-in-the-clouds public servants, desensitised to their high-income bubbles of privilege.

But beyond these negative stereotypes, Canberra has a lot to offer. The quality of life is relaxed, with less of a ‘rat race’ feel than the other capital cities. The education system is good. The intelligence of the average citizen is high, with a respectful and progressive worldview being dominant.

Canberra: a city connected to nature

And, as my Canberra Birds artworks show, the city is intrinsically connected to nature. None of the hills and mountains surrounding the city are built upon. The city’s suburbs are designed so that most residents are within walking distance from Canberra’s numerous nature reserves. Across my 10 years in Canberra, I have lived in four different houses. Each of those houses have been close to excellent walking tracks, that each offered their own unique window into different aspects of the Territory’s wildlife. This access to free outdoor relaxation is priceless.

Four views of Canberra
Above: views of Canberra from Mount Rogers, Red Hill, Mount Ainslie, and Mount Wanniassa. Some of the walkable locations I have lived near. First three images by Stuart McMillen, final image by Nick-D.

Consequently, kangaroos, and the various types of birdlife are a common feature of everyday life in Canberra. The website Canberra Birds features an extensive list of all species sighted in the ACT, as well as lots of statistical information about the frequency of bird sightings in the different parts of town.

Planning the scenes

Drawing upon the Canberra Birds database of all 306 species known to visit the Australian Capital Territory, I narrowed my list down to 56 birds. These were the well-known, charismatic birds that were most likely to work well as the ‘heroes’ of my scenes.

Alongside the bird list, I brainstormed a list of 68 Canberra locations that could work as the scenes for my illustrations. I put an emphasis on locations that would appeal to local Canberran residents more so than ones that would appeal to interstate tourists. For example, I did not even consider Parliament House as a possible location, since most Canberrans view Parliament as a world-unto-itself that exists as a somewhat separate entity to the lives of everyday people. Or at least it doesn’t stoke as much local pride as something like the Black Mountain Tower or the National Carillon.
View of cartoonist using graphics tablet, shot from behind the Wacom tablet. Cartoonist Stuart McMillen in art studio
Image: Me at work in my art studio at Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra. Photo by Andrew Sikorski.

I thought that eight designs would be a good number to capture a diversity of scenes. Design #1 was my rainbow-crested cockatoo, which I had already completed as part of a commissioned work in 2020. Alongside this, I wanted to create a scene set at local nature reserve Mulligans Flat, timed with the opening of its new visitors centre in mid-2022.

That left me with six other canvases to fill. One by one, I planned and drew the scenes in the early months of 2022.
Cartoonist in art studio, drawing at graphics tablet. Rear view of the cartoonist at work at Wacom tablet, with wall of artworks on in background of scene. Stuart McMillen at Gorman Arts Centre
Image: Rear view of me using a graphics tablet to draw my artwork digitally. Photo by Andrew Sikorski.

Features of the artwork

Six of the scenes feature the iconic Black Mountain Tower (a.k.a. Telstra Tower) somewhere in the artwork. This reflects the common experience of driving around Canberra, and seeing the tower unexpectedly pop into view.
Five of my scenes with the Black Mountain tower in the background of the artwork
Above: five of the six scenes that feature the Black Mountain Tower

I tried to capture a diversity of times of day in my scenes. Three of the scenes are drawn at sunrise, …
Bird scenes drawn at sunrise
… three of the scenes are drawn in the middle of the day, …
Bird scenes drawn in the middle of the day
… one of the scenes is drawn at sunset, and one is drawn at dusk.
Bird scenes at sunset and dusk

Adding details: future-proofing the artwork

Two of the scenes required me to future-proof the artwork somewhat. With my ‘Australian magpie at the National Arboretum’ scene, I decided to draw the trees of the Arboretum with an extra 20 or 30 years of growth. The National Arboretum was opened in 2013, with most trees having been planted in the years immediately before that date. Thus, the trees currently are small in size, and sparsely-spaced.
Comparison of Canberra arboretum sparse plantings versus mature trees grown imagination
Top image: by Thennicke

I used the Arboretum’s species map, along with online image searches of the various species, to imagine what the trees will look like when they are more mature. For example, the pink blossoming trees in the foreground are Mediterranean Redbud.
Pink trees: Mediterranean Redbud in blossom

Similarly, I decided to draw the second stage of Canberra’s Light Rail running southbound towards Lake Burley Griffin. Currently, the service only runs north of the city, but I decided to imagine what it would be like when the southbound Stage 2 is operational.

I used this video as a reference for imagining how it might look. I thought this would be a nice visual treat for those paying attention to how the scene differs from real-life.
Imagining how the light rail track will look over Commonwealth Avenue Bridge in Canberra

Canberra Birds: artworks made for merchandise

These eight artworks were a change of focus to my usual narrative comics. My narrative comics exist as storytelling vehicles, designed to impart a message on readers through a combination of images and text. The images of my comics are designed to work as a storytelling tool, and not as a scenes-in-themselves.

By contrast, these eight Canberra Birds scenes were created to be enjoyed as merchandise. They are “art for art’s sake”, that don’t need to be a part of a comic story.

Canberra Birds greeting cards

I created scenes that would primarily work well as greeting cards. People still regularly use greeting cards to mark occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, and other life events. I designed the artwork to be as fun and engaging as possible, so that they would look great when held in the hand.
Side view of greeting cards standing next to each other
An 8-pack of greeting cards

Canberra Birds postcards

The Canberra Birds scenes also work well as postcards. I have been pleasantly surprised at how well these have sold. My suspicion is that people aren’t using these to write messages to their friends, so much as using the postcards for decoration to walls, doors, and corkboards that otherwise lack colour.
Arrangement of eight colourful postcards on the ground
Four Canberra birds postcards
Four postcards of Canberra birds

Canberra Birds art prints

Finally, the series is available as archival-quality art prints, printed on 310 gsm Canson Infinity Edition Etching Rag, a 100% cotton Fine Art stock. The prints are created using a Canson Certified Print Studio using 12-colour Canon Lucia PRO pigment inks. In other words, these are the best-quality prints that I am able to source. The prints are vibrant and eye-catching, and will last for a long time.

The prints are available in a range of sizes: everything from smaller A4 and A3 size prints, up to the enormous A1 and A0s. Here are some candid photos that a colleague snapped of me on the day that I collected my very first A1 prints:
Stuart McMillen in his art studio, showing large art prints in a folioOverhead view of Magpie at the arboretum A1 print in folio folder
The larger prints are limited edition, hand-numbered, and signed by me.

Buy some merchandise

Visit my online store and buy my Canberra Birds artworks as greeting cards, postcards, or art prints.

All purchases of these cards and prints will help to fund my ongoing work as a comics artist, as I continue to publish thought-provoking comics such as Rat Park and The Town Without Television.