Fine Feathered Friends

By Randy Noles
John Costin lives in Ybor City, but his work is familiar to many locals. One of his etchings was selected as the official poster for the 2016 Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.
John Costin lives in Ybor City, but his work is familiar to many locals. One of his etchings was selected as the official poster for the 2016 Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.

If you attended the 2016 Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, you saw John Costin’s extraordinarily detailed and vibrant work. His snowy egret was selected as the poster image for the event, which was held in March.

At Winter Park Magazine, we were so impressed with Costin’s meticulous etchings that we requested another bird image for the cover of our spring issue. We wanted a bird that could be seen in Winter Park – but not a peacock.

Costin came through. The Ybor City-based artist allowed us to use an image of a red-shouldered hawk, a bird that particularly enjoys the environs of Mead Garden. In fact, there’s a large nest in a tree next to Alice’s Pond, not far from a picnic table and the creek.

“We often see a pair bringing in nesting material,” says birdwatcher and writer Linda Carpenter. “The red-shouldered hawk is a com-mon resident and visitor — and one of Florida’s most beautiful hawks.”

With a background in contemporary art, Costin creates complex and colorful life-size images of birds, capturing the nuances specific to each species.

“Through my art I strive to capture and personify birds, enriching the viewer’s perception of this particular form of wildlife,” he says. “The birds are presented in such a way that they’re aware of the viewer’s presence, and react to it. This approach reveals unique traits, adding another level of understanding for the viewer.”

Adds Costin: “Ultimately, one’s sensitivity and awareness of these natural wonders could lead to a more profound perception of the world we all share.”

While attending the University of South Florida, Costin studied Intaglio art, which piqued his interest in etching. He says etching is a way of combining graphics, painting, sculpture and engineering into one art form.

“The medium has an extremely large range of possibilities, giving many directions for my imagination to explore,” Costin says. “The visual qualities are very enticing: colors that range from subtle to intense, black tones that range from delicate to velvety black, lines that range from needle thin to broad and bold. Textures are limited only by the imagination.”

Etching is a complex process. The image is etched by hand on a polished plate of copper, which takes about 6-8 weeks. Then the plate is wiped down with ink and printed on high-quality rag paper.

Afterward, the printed image is painted with oil paints, making each piece unique.

Costin has been a professional artist since 1979, exhibiting in numerous shows and winning awards throughout the South. His work can be found in collections at General Motors Corporation, Eckerd College, USAA Insurance, the University of Miami, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Polk Museum of Art, to name a few.

Costin is now creating a book of etchings depicting large birds of Florida. For more information about Costin and his art, visit


The red-shouldered hawk (buteo lineatus) is often heard before it’s seen. Its clear whistles are conspicuous, especially in spring; in the east, blue jays often give a near-perfect imitation of this call.

The bird usually hunts by watching from a perch, either within a forest or in the open, using its hearing and sight. Sometimes it flies very low in open areas, swooping down and taking its prey by surprise.  Its diet includes small mammals, amphibians, reptiles and even other birds. It also eats snakes, small birds, mice, large insects and occasionally fish.

In courtship, the male displays by flying upward, calling, then diving steeply. Pairs may soar together in circles, calling, high over nesting territory.

Nest sites are usually located in the fork of a tree’s main trunk, most often at least 35 feet above ground. The nest, built by both sexes, is a platform of sticks and other material, lined with bark, moss and sprigs of green vegetation.

-Adapted from the Audubon Guide to North American Birds

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