BRAVE BIRDS | Birds I’ve Been


In BRAVE BIRDS, cut-paper artist and writer Maude White presents an entirely new collection of sixty-five stunning cut-paper birds. As a source of inspiration, each bird is paired with an original message of kindness and strength associated with its particular traits to encourage bravery and perseverance.

Inside, you’ll find birds for experiencing Joy, Creativity, Patience, Kindness, Resilience, Communication, Strength, Awareness, Action, and Transformation, and each composition reflects thousands of intricate cuts, lending an astounding level of texture to these delicate and ethereal birds. Appealing to any bird lover or collector of bird art, Brave Birds is a beautiful resource for those wishing to practice a life of kindness and empathy.

Maude White is an award-winning cut-paper artist and writer whose work has been featured online, in print (Urban Outfitters, The Artist Magazine, Artvoice, among others), and in international galleries. She also created the shadow theatre segment in Stefan Sagmeister’s film. White lives in the Hudson Valley in New York.

The following extract is from the preface to BRAVE BIRDS: INSPIRATION ON THE WING by Maude White. Published by Abrams Image, an imprint of ABRAMS Books.


I have loved many birds in my life. Loved the abstract notion and existence of birds as much as the physical, tangible birds themselves. Often, the sight or sound of a bird has given me both bravery and hope.

My love for birds has not always been particular. There are birds I have loved without knowing their names and birds I have loved for the beauty of their song alone. Sometimes, all I have needed from a bird has been the flicker of its body, the connection through sight with a creature unbounded by the physical earth. I have always felt that looking upward instills hope in those of us tethered to the ground.

At other times, I have gained strength and encouragement from a specific bird, finding it out in the world, in literature and ultimately in my own body, as I recognised those same instincts and skills that I so loved and admired within the bird.

I am a language person, a word person. Words hold power, both alone and together. In its simplest definition, a bird is an egg-laying, feathered vertebrate. But as happens so often with language over time, bird has also come to refer to both a human female and a human of either sex possessing peculiar or interesting characteristics.

The usage of the word bird to refer to a woman dates from the beginning of the twentieth century. Independent of that most recent appropriation, there is an older, Middle English word burde that originated in the 1300s to refer to a young female. That this old, forgotten word has been resurrected in usage and meaning in our present world both fascinates and moves me.

Unfortunately, this current habit of referring to a woman as a bird grants little respect to the woman in question. The term implies overfamiliarity and dismissiveness. This surprises me. After all, birds possess beauty, strength, intelligence and a wild and powerful will to survive. They connect us to the sky and the water, realms that we, as humans, cannot ourselves easily traverse. Birds evolved from dinosaurs! How can one not feel awe and respect?

As with the word bird, I am strongly drawn to the word brave. By definition, bravery is generally defined as having or showing courage.

I believe the word bravery should be used more often. In today’s language, the word seems to refer to the absence of fear or to physical or dramatic acts of heroism, making bravery, as a concept and a personal experience, impossible for many of us to ever truly embrace or believe we have achieved. But I believe that myriad small, everyday acts require bravery and strength and should be honoured, celebrated and appreciated.

The Brave Birds idea grew from my wish to claim and reclaim our current cultural definitions of both bird and bravery. My love for birds knows no constraint. It is a welcoming, hungry passion that requires neither understanding nor complicity from the birds themselves. My identification with birds and my reference to us all as brave birds arises from the hope that we human birds might someday be able to apply to ourselves the same selfless admiration and love that we feel for literal birds out in the wild and in the abstract. I want us, as human birds, to be able to feel passion and understanding for ourselves. I want us to love and experience the simple wonder of our existence, just as we love without judgment the existence of the physical birds we see and hear out in the world each day. In this way, I believe that we are all brave birds.

Early in 2014, I was attacked. As I healed and recovered, I began drawing and cutting a great blue heron. During that time I was afraid to leave my home. I was afraid of the darkness. I was afraid of my own memory and my lack of memory.

As I carefully drew and then cut each feather on the great blue heron, as I studied and moved around my giant bird creation, I began to feel as if the heron I was creating was simultaneously becoming a part of my body, investing me with those qualities I admired and loved so much. To this day, I cannot see a great blue heron without feeling a surge of love and gratefulness. During my recovery, that heron was my friend, my doctor, and I held his essence in my body as I healed. He was my bird, my concept of safety and strength.

Five months later I was mugged. The mugging occurred in the daytime, and soon I found myself falling not only back into my fear of the darkness, but experiencing new fears of the daylight world as well.

Again, I turned my knife to cutting a bird. This time, I began work on a girl and a crow. In the piece the crow was emerging from the woman’s face. I wanted this crow to symbolise the dark and vengeful bird that I wished could come forth to confront any mugger approaching any seemingly defenceless woman. I wanted this wild, ruthless and savage bird to inhabit my shrinking, hesitant body. I wanted this bird to help me do what I had been unable to: defend myself. The crow was my symbol, my protective confidante. The crow gave me the strength and the courage to leave my home again.

I have been many birds in my life. I have been a hummingbird, flying backward into the past. I have been a barn swallow, quick and sure in decision and strength. I have been a great blue heron, patient and still in recovery from pain and fear. I have been a crow, observant and watchful as I questioned decisions and hesitated on great brinks. Birds, like humans, are many things. They are ruthless. They are collaborative. They are deceitful. They are loyal. They give gifts. They mourn. Some birds solve problems, some think analogously, some create new, recursive speech patterns and some craft tools.

As I cut the brave birds collected in this book, I found myself learning more about each kind of bird. I began to ask myself, what can this bird teach me? What strength and self-assurance can I gain by recognising within myself those survival strategies that I admire so much in this bird? I began to apply aspects of bird behaviour, strength, and power to my own life, and this has given me comfort and strength and helped me through some very difficult and confusing times.

There is a great deal about birds that I do not know. I have found myself wondering, can we love something that we do not understand? Do we have the right to experience love for something we do not understand? The answer is a resounding yes.

I realize that in some respects, our love can only be heightened by our lack of knowledge. We can love the potentiality of birds, love the great, swooning idea of discovering knowledge just as much as we love the concrete knowledge we possess now.

I do not know whether birds have moral codes of behaviour. I do not know whether they experience grief or happiness. I do not need to know the answers to these questions. My love is not contingent on moral affinity. Just so, I do not need to understand myself or my fellow human birds to recognise that we are all valid beings and we are all worthy of an attempt to be understood and respected.

Birds have taught me many things. Most importantly, they have taught me that love grows. They have taught me that if we allow ourselves to love without judgment or expectation, our love will expand and keep expanding. We can find ourselves loving beyond our own understanding, beyond our own safe borders. And love is never the wrong decision.

I believe that we are all connected, that there are ties that bind all creatures and creations together. Because of this, I believe that all actions, all kindnesses and comforts can have an impact beyond our understanding. I hope that my words and work here can encourage you to give comfort and kindness to yourself and to others. There is always room for kindness. There is always room for hope.

May the brave birds I have created give you strength. May they show you paths you might have missed. May they give you confidence. May they help you recognise and express love. May they teach you to be resilient. May they remind you that there are many ways to be intelligent and many ways to thrive and create in the world. May they encourage you to persevere. May they show you the wondrous connective power of kindness and empathy.



Brave Birds: Inspiration on the Wing by Maude White publishes on 10th April 2018. 

Also available: Brave Birds Notecards, Journal and Notebook 

Follow Maude on Instagram and Facebook or visit her website here