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Building a Bayou 3

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I think by now the Auk is in everyone's hands, so it's all right to go on with another installment of Building a Bayou, the blow-by-blow of how this cover painting was done. When we last left our heroine, she was cowering on the edge of the cold bayou, unwilling to stick a paintbrush into the water. So I began by tickling in the most colorful reflections, to give the viewer guideposts that would tell the eye that this was a mirror image of the forest. It's strange to paint the same forest upside down and I had to fight the urge to turn the painting upside down. I wanted to paint the reflections more loosely and not get too caught up in their detail.
This is all about illusion. I had plenty of time to think about what makes a reflection look different from the image it's mirroring, and what makes water read as water. By this time, I had painted in almost all of the reflected forest. It was cool how it began to look like a reflection now.

The thing to do, now that I'm up to my knees, is de-emphasize the water. I took a few passes over it with neutral washes, to gray it and blur it a bit, so it wouldn't draw too much attention from the forest. And bang! it looked a lot more like water.
Phew. Now I could go back to the forest, and start fine-tuning the darks and lights, preparing to paint in The Bird. Ironically, in most of my paintings, the focal point is a bird. But I rarely spend more than an hour on painting it. All the effort and sweat goes into creating a believable setting for the bird. It's not that the bird is an afterthought--no, it's the motivator for the whole work--it's just that there are a lot fewer things to consider in getting the bird right. I will add that painting the reflection of a flying bird is a stinker. I had to figure out what it would look like from underneath. And then I had to figure out where its reflection would fall on the water, because that would tell the viewer how high it was flying. More on that later...we're almost there!


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