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Making a Bayou

Friday, February 3, 2006

Now that I'd drawn a passable bird (angst and nailbiting notwithstanding), it was time to put that bird in context. I wanted to show the bird at Bayou de View, Arkansas, since that's where the best sighting was made. But I don't much care for the look of the place in winter. When I think of ivory-bills, I think of lushness and deep shadow. Maybe it's reading and re-reading Tanner so much, but I always picture thick forest in full leaf; I have a hard time envisioning ivory-bills in winter. Jerry Jackson took some beautiful photos of Bayou de View in autumn, and I chose one to work from. I could see it was going to be a bear to paint in watercolor, especially if I keyed up the foliage colors as I envisioned. Once again, the plan was to make a painting unlike anything else out there. When you think about exisiting ivory-billed woodpecker paintings, most of them are a bit sterile, a bit like museum dioramas. The birds are on a dead snag, almost always perched, rarely doing much of anything. Even Audubon's treatment, by far the liveliest of them all, places them on a white background with dead wood, although he did show us the grubs they prefer, as well as some cool, animated poses. I wanted atmosphere and light and humidity, even dankness in my painting.

With this posting, I'm really dropping artistic trou. Someone with formal art education and a hint of how to go about such a complex painting would block out darks and lights first, perhaps do an underpainting. Not me, nuh-uh. I paint like Grandma Moses. My college studio drawing professor, Will Reimann, used to laugh and tell me I was pulling a magic curtain aside to reveal my finished work, from left to right. I'm sure Will is still laughing. So be it. For better or worse, here's the first installment. Please pardon the lousy jpegs; many were taken under incandescent light. And here's the second. See, I'm painting around where the bird goes.
That's because I'm saving it for dessert.


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