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Three Birds Done, Macaw Supervising

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

With the turnstone done, it's time to peel off some masking compound. I just roll it off with a clean finger, like rubber cement. Ideally, I've sealed the edges of the lightly tacky masking film well enough so no paint has crept under the edge. It's Day Two of painting now. I forget how many days I put into composing the thing before I could start painting. Let's just say many. That's the most time-consuming part, because that's where all the heavy thinking has to happen. Painting is something that either goes well or doesn't, but either way, it goes fast. Not to worry: this painting went well. So well, in fact, that I had up and painted the whole darn hooded warbler before remembering that I was supposed to be taking progress pictures. Well, heck, who wants to stop painting a hooded warbler to take pictures? I have to say, hooded warblers are pretty fast paints. I did his wings and tail first, then painted his yellow. The black hood went on right over the yellow and boom! he was done. I made it sound like the cloud painting went really fast, and it did, but the whole time I was thinking about where the lightest parts of the birds would be, and I was toning the clouds so the darkest parts of the clouds would be where the lightest parts of the birds were. This makes them pop out against the background. See how the warbler's white tail spots stand out against the dark blue cloud top? Elsewhere, I let the bird kind of fade in, as on the upraised wing. You don't want it to look like a cutout. As you can see in the photo above, I had already started on a male bobolink before I stopped to shoot a photo. I'm painting all his pale parts first; his silvery back and cornsilk-yellow nape. That's the proper order in watercolor. Paint light to dark.The black is blocked in, but the bird's far from done. Most of the magic in painting watercolor happens in the last few minutes, when you put little highlights of Chinese white on cheeks and bill and eye, and stroke a thin wash of it over the back to show light falling on it.

A word about light: When I showed this to my group of artist friends (in jpegs, via email), Mike asked about the light source. Where's it coming from? I scratched my head. Good question. The birds are evenly lit overall, and there is no strong directional source of light. The overall effect of the painting is of diffuse light, a kind of weird, pre-storm light. And to be truthful, I wasn't really thinking that much about where the light was coming from. I had a lot of balls to juggle with this piece. I was most concerned with the local colors of the birds, with making a graphic statement with their markings. I wanted to show their colors as vividly as I could, without worrying too much about cast shadows or the direction of the light source.

So I said, "Well, it's kind of a fantasy flock, and I'm thinking about the lighting as being sort of like the lighting in a Celestial Seasonings tea box picture. Too good to be true. You know, pretty...OK, I didn't really think about the lighting very much."

And my friends all said, "That's OK. It works for us."

They're nice that way. But the funny thing is, I think in the end it did work out OK.

And the male bobolink joins his friends in the fantasy flock. I'm so happy with the way the peach flush in the cloud is working with the bobolink's colors.

Charlie moves in to preen the bobolink's wing feathers. He loves to watch me paint, and seems to know that the image depicts a bird. And he gets a huge kick out of climbing down off my shoulder and walking around on the art, checking out each new bird as it's painted.

He's always most curious about the eyes. A macaw's tongue is very dry and rubbery, so there's little chance he'll smear anything once the paint dries, and it dries almost instantly in the dry air of winter. I have to spray down my palette every few minutes to keep the paint from hardening as I work.More birds tomorrow!


I feel like I'm watching Bob Ross! :) It's amazing seeing the piece come to life and understanding your thought process. My brain doesn't work quite that way I don't think.

I love this post and I love the supervisor, the macaw fits right in the picture. Lovely. I must get back to watercolor work.


Ahhhh... Science Chimp said 'let there be a Hooded Warbler,' and, it was so! (you make it look too easy). The birds look beautiful and so natural, one half expects to look up in the sky and see such a "fantasy flock"!

Charlie the art critic...

You are hired, Ms. Z!

I can never keep my light direction straight, even though I put an arrow in this corner or that to indicate light direction, LOL!

Very, very nice, Julie! Your technique is really awesome. I'm keeping my China White for special occasions! April

So, is it fair to say that Charlie tries to kiss the eyeballs out of these birds?

Seriously, the whole analysis of where the light comes from is really fascinating. We have a poster of Luc Olivier Merson's "Rest on the Flight Into Egypt" from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. In it there is a very bright, supernatural source of light beaming out from where Mary and Jesus sleep on a sphinx's paws, but more arrestingly to me there appears in the low right hand corner of the painting a faint, faint streak of light --maybe morning. The spectacular light from the child is supposed to be the point of the painting, but I am fascinated by that tiny streak of light.

You artists must have a lot of fun with stuff like that.

What a marvel this is to watch grow and form and come to colorful life. Actually, we get skies like that several times a week in summer in New Mexico and you've nailed the light -- it is fantasy light - ambient light spills from everywhere when those thunderheads rise in front of the sun - producing that ethereal, heavenly light with almost no known source. Seems you are a Weather Chimp as well. PS - grinning ear to ear - guess why!

Hearing you describe painting light to dark and knowing your experience must make that second nature, makes me wonder if you "see" real birds that way.
Does it automatically translate into layers or series of colors?
Like people who speak in one language, but think in another?

Charlie's a good quality control agent.

Patrick, those are happy little clouds there, but there be nary a sponge or pallete knife in sight.

Ocean, if this inspires you to paint, I'm doing my job!

Deeanne, Fanks!

C. Thrush, hooded warblers are easy!

April, slather it on! Question authority!

Trix, what did I apply for?

Sara, I know that painting--it is ravishing, and all because of the light. Well, the crumpled figures and the sphinx--what's not to love? Sooo gorgeous. Yes, Charlie, if allowed to, would kiss those birdie eyes right out.He will also patiently work on removing a mole or freckle for you until you bat him away.

Timtim, total Weather Chimp. Welcome home. Did you have a housewarming present to warm up your cold house when you got there? Titter!

Nina, nah, birds just take my breath away. I'm not thinking anything exotic when I see them, although I do notice little things about their anatomy and especially their faces that some people might not. For me, most of getting a bird right is getting its face right. For instance, scissor-tailed flycatchers look kind of like dolphins to me, as you will see...

Wow this is really turning out wonderful! The hooded warbler is my all time fave! That alone would make such a stunning photo!

One of my first thoughts was about light source in clouds (from the photography standpoint). I'm impressed with my inexperienced self o:) Amazing, Julie. You nailed it.

This illustration is flowing beautifully with Charlie on duty. He's a trusted assistant. I'm loving this.

I love Charlie the art critic strolling around, inspecting everything up close.
Can't wait to see more of the painting unfold

It's fun to see what Charlie thinks, but really, I want to know what Chet Baker thinks? Is he jealous you are spending all this time away from petting him?

These, I think, are my favorites of all your posts, Julie! I love to see how the magic happens.

I'm fascinated by the process, and enthrallled with the story. But I've gotta ask -- has Macaw poop ever presented a problem?

I continue to be so fully amazed and mesmerized Julie... I could watch you do this forever and never get bored. Wow. Just wow.

Catbird, see the previous post regarding Macaw emissions.

LOG, you wash a macaw's feet by saying, "Ch'boogies wanna BATH?" upon which he makes the sound of dripping water, and then you run a sink of warm water and deposit said macaw in it.

D'oh! So much for reading comprehension. Guess I got mesmerized by the pictures, and missed the content.

Due to work (boo hiss), I'm coming into this painting late. I second or third or whatever the motion to have this available as a print!! I have the perfect place in my office for it.

Absolutely gorgeous! I'll have to take out my book on "how to draw birds" tonight as you have inspired me take up the pencil again.

Oh, the secrets of Indigo Hill, laid bare for all to see...

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