Darin Miller can relate to the plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” more than most of us.

His dedication to wildlife art has led to a few close encounters with animals over the years. It’s not uncommon for small birds to try to land on the avid birder’s camera when he’s taking reference photographs for his paintings. Once, a scarlet tanager even tried to land on Miller’s head.

He doesn’t hold it against his feathered friends. It’s in their nature.

“When they’re migrating they’re in a feeding frenzy,” Miller said, “and they forget all fear.”

The first time Miller realized he might be onto something with his art was in second grade. He drew an Apollo-inspired rocket that his teacher thought was so good he laminated it. As a self-taught artist, Miller began his career drawing a variety of subjects but eventually settled on his passion for painting wildlife. Today he is a member of The Society of Animal Artists.

Whether he’s out in the field or in the studio, Miller is thorough with his process.

Once the artist finds his ideas in nature, he turns to the planning and execution phase and carefully plans his composition before moving on to painting. That can take anywhere from a few days to several months.

“Sometimes ideas are there and you might not get back to them for a few months and then something finally clicks,” he said.

His show at Horizon Fine Art will feature his larger and smaller oil paintings, as well as a mix of Eastern and Western species.

Miller will be in town to meet people at the gallery from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday. He welcomes the opportunity to talk to people about his work.

One of his paintings, “Dust Devils — Bison,” which depicts a large bison, was one of his more labor-intensive projects. It took him almost a month and a half to finish the painting, due to the complexity of the dense, rough fur and the difficult-to-pin-down texture of the cloud of dust surrounding the bison.

Another passion of Miller’s is painting animals that are hard to find because of their rare or endangered status. To track down those species he often goes to remote places, which both he and the animals enjoy.

“I’m drawn to areas with fewer crowds,” he said. “It’s nice to get away and let the animals be more comfortable.”

One of the animals he had the hardest time tracking down was the piping plover, an endangered shorebird. In the Great Lakes area, where Miller lives near the Magee Marsh in Ohio, there are only a few hundred piping plovers in existence.

But Miller doesn’t try to track down endangered species purely for the thrill. He also hopes that by painting them he can bring awareness to their plight.

“There are a lot of species that are struggling, and it’s typically for reasons of shrinking habitats,” Miller said. “Often times they’re worked themselves into a niche over the years and without that habitat they depend upon, their numbers dwindle.” 

Contact Leonor Grave by emailing leonor@jhnewsandguide.com.

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