A Rhode Island artist chronicles the woodland adventures of his crafted miniature people.
By Lisa Cavanaugh
The tiny figure stands on a mossy branch, his two twig arms making a welcoming gesture to a curious blue jay, appearing as alive as his avian companion. Clad in a jaunty acorn helmet, the little follow gazes wistfully up at the bird, eager to make a new friend. This delightful miniature person made of nuts and sticks is a “Becorn,” one of the dozens of creations from artist, photographer, and former toy engineer David Bird.
“Becorns are a glimpse into a world where the line between plant and animal is blurred,” says Bird, who lives and works in Rhode Island. “Although the birds and critters are familiar,” he says, “they appear large and fantastical through the eyes of a tiny Becorn.”
Bird began his career as a designer for Lego in Billund, Denmark, creating toys for the Bionicle line. “Bionicles are basically buildable warriors with weapons,” says Bird, who enjoyed the quick and loose process of brainstorming new ideas, cutting apart the pieces, and hot gluing them back together into characters. His team at Lego would then test the prototype with kids. “I learned so much about how to get their imaginations going.”
Shortly after leaving Lego and returning home to the US, a new inspiration hit as he swept his mother’s driveway one day. “I looked down at my feet, and I saw a stick that looked like a little bug’s face,” he says. “Then there were leaves that kind of looked like wings, and it just suddenly clicked. I could build a little insect!” Bird picked up the pieces of the nascent creature and grabbed his hot glue gun. “I knew from that moment that I could create my own world of characters, all from natural materials, and incorporate the design and storytelling lessons I learned at Lego.”
He spent a lot of time experimenting and refining his figure-building process over the ensuing years. “I used to take walks in the woods and fill my backpack with parts to build into characters. I used everything I could get my hands on, pinecones, thistles, even moss, “says Bird. The figures he made from acorns proved to be his favorite, and he christened his new creations, Becorns.
He began photographing the tiny characters positioned into outdoor tableaux with flowers, ponds, mossy hills, and branches. “I had no experience with photography at that point,” he says, “but I was hooked.” Through classes and real-life practice, he improved his photography skills and started to sell prints at art fairs and online. The striking images of the Becorns alone, in pairs or groups, carrying fruit, feathers, and other items, and often interacting with birds and small mammals grew in popularity.
He also shared videos of his process – bloopers and all – on his Instagram page and YouTube channel. It took some time to build up an online presence, but with a viral video and a few media appearances last year, his ingenious artwork really took off. Now his full-time job is foraging, building, and photographing the impish little folks. “My goal since I was a kid was to make a living through my art, “says Bird. “So, this is literally a dream come true.”
Although some results are unplanned, the Becorn images pop with vibrancy, sentiment, and whimsy. “Birds frequently jump on the Becorns’ heads,” says Bird, “and once a squirrel even walked off with one!” It turns out his favorite photos are often the accidental ones. “They’re so much more surprising and interesting than the ones I plan. It is a real collaboration with nature.”
His workshop is his home and the nearby woods, but as the father of two young children, real-life sources for wonder are equally close at hand. “They are still too young to build characters,” says Bird, “but my daughter is always giving me sticks to work with, and together, we love to monitor and talk about the animals outside.”
Another wellspring of insight comes from his wife, a couple’s therapist. “I post a little story for each image I put online,” says Bird. “She really helps me key into the emotions of the scenes.” He feels that the heart and kindness in their stories are a big reason for the Becorns’ success. “A lot of that is her influence,” he says.
What began with creating little warriors with weapons has transformed into friendly expressions of thoughtful little people out in the woods. “I’m really trying to hold onto my own sense of wonder that I felt as a child,” says Bird. “And I want to share that with others.”