Illustrated books by master bird artists

Menaboni's Birds, by Athos and Sara Menaboni. New York: Clarkson N. Potter (distributed by Crown Publishers). 156 pp. $24.95.

Tunnicliffe's Birds: Measured Drawings by C. F. Tunnicliffe, with introduction, commentary, and memoir by Noel Cusa. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 160 pp. $49.95.

The Art of Field Sketching, by Clare Walker Leslie. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 190 pp. $12.95.

That classic general-interest bird book, Menaboni's Birds, is now reissued with new color plates by the award-winning Italian-born artist and the original text by the artist's wife.

A few of the plates correspond to those in the earlier edition, but many are new, illustrating different birds from the first ones, so the book is not identical with the old collector's item.

The black-and-white drawings remain the same, though they have lost a bit of fine detail in the reprinting.

It is fun to read of the Menabonis' encounters with the birds around their home in Georgia. The paintings catch the birds in typical lively attitudes that hint at their behavior, while the text amplifies that information in an almost conversational way.

Beautiful and accurate wildlife paintings are not easily made. An enormous amount of field observation and drawing, as well as research in museums and libraries, go into each finished work. Tunnicliffe's Birds presents one aspect of this effort, which is that of making precisely measured drawings.

The book is full of artistry as well as the kind of solid knowledge that un-der-girds it. Noel Cusa gives us much useful background information to supplement the artist's brief notes about the birds illustrated, and he tells us about Charles Tunnicliffe's mode of working, both from the viewpoint of a professional colleague and that of a friend.

This is not only a lovely coffeetable book, it is excellent reference for the kind of detailed information not to be found in field guides or even encyclopedias, since there is so much more visual material here for each species.

In The Art of Field Sketching, Clare Walker Leslie expands a section of a previous book, ''Nature Drawing,'' which dealt with keeping a field journal or sketchbook as a learning tool and for future reference. Ms. Leslie is a good teacher. She believes that by learning to draw what you see, you learn about the natural world, and you learn how to make accurate observations.

The beauty of her approach is that she encourages even those who insist they can't draw to get out there and do it anyway. She shows them how to begin with an ordinary pencil or pen and any old paper, suggests simple projects, takes the reader by the hand through all sorts of subjects, and provides many, many helpful illustrations. Even the professional will find the book to be a good review of essential points, as renowned bird artist Roger Tory Peterson graciously notes in his foreword.

Mary S. Cowen, an avid birder, writes frequently about nature and art.

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