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Painting a Stork

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Oh goody! I get to paint the bird now! While the stork's body was wet down with clear water, I fed some of the same colors found in the water--burnt umber and cobalt blue--into that clear wash. I wanted the colors to diffuse so there would be no hard edges on the white plumage. You might be thinking at this point that the bird looks kind of dirty. Me, too. Most wood storks I've seen look dirty to start with, but that's beside the point.  Oddly enough,  you have to overpaint white birds a bit to make them look white, if that makes any sense. Or at least to make them look rounded and not flat.  White is a color that picks up color from everything around it. You can do all kinds of dirty work in the shadows of white, as long as you keep the highlights bright white. If you keep the highlights clean, the whole thing will read as white, (almost) no matter what you do in the shadows.

White is a negative space, and other colors rush in to fill it. They reflect on white; they fill it up. White is such fun to paint.

I started painting in head, bill and legs.And the darker those bits got, the cleaner the bird looked. Put dirty white against black and it suddenly looks bright and clean. And now you see why I wanted the bird to raise its foot. I couldn't resist that shrimp-pink appendage, so unexpected in such a somberly colored bird.Let's work on that head, and trick in the black edge of the flight feathers along the underside of the stork. Ahh. Now the white looks white again. Isn't that cool beyond cool?

Some of those ripples in the background are still a bit aggressive, a bit too bright, and I think they're fighting with the bird.

So I calm them down with some more gray-blue washes, and paint over an annoying squiggly one under the bird's back leg with dark gray. Time to sign it.
Let's have another look at that reference photo. You might be interested in my thought process on the stork. Although it's a lovely photo, I thought it lacked a bit in mood, due to the fact that the stork is on alert and facing the viewer. He looks a little tense, and facing front, he blocks the viewer from entering his world. He looks like he's challenging you, and deciding whether to fly off. As I thought about it, facing the stork more into the scene would help the viewer enter, and make the bird less confrontational. I also wanted to put the stork in a quieter, more reflective mood, so I pulled his head in and fluffed his feathers out. I very nearly closed his eyes but in the end I didn't want to remove that point of contact with the viewer.
The result is considerably simplified from the photo; fewer little rings and droplets, the stork in a more peaceful and contemplative attitude. It's not raining quite as hard in my painting as in the photo, is it? 

I like what watercolor does with water. The diffusing wet-on-wet wash gives it a painterly magic that a photo (or a slavish rendering of a photo) can't achieve. I could see the shrimp-pink foot underwater and couldn't resist raising it for a peek. I haven't necessarily improved on the photo, but I've made a painting of it with the filter of my brain. I took the commission in August, but I wasn't really ready to paint it until November, because thoughts like how to enhance the mood of the scene, how to draw the viewer in, and how to render the raindrops don't come quickly to me.

I think it's done. I don't want to overwork it. All told, I've spent one day's work on the drawing and preparation (transferring and masking); one day on the water and a day on the bird. And oh, three months on the thinking part. I do the hard stuff first and save the most fun stuff for last. It's kind of a reward system.

Net result: Money to put toward groceries and gas, happy clients, and a temporarily unblocked creative spirit. I didn't lose it; it was always there, but it seems I have to prove that to myself again and again.

Oh--the recipient loved it. Here's an excerpt from the sweetheart of a guy who commissioned it:

"I’d been teasing that her big gift was going to blow her mind, so after exchanging all the other gifts I had her close her eyes while I went upstairs to retrieve the BIG present that had been hidden unbeknownst to her in her closet the whole time. Played the eyes-closed game, had her open them, and…

"One of the things about gift-giving is that you know what the gift is and the recipient does not –as such, seeing someone look at something the first time, you can see the thought process play out in real time:

1. What is...
2. What the…
3. Oh my, this is just…
4. Oh wow…
5. WOW…
6. Hey, wait, this looks like…
7. HOLY &*(&^!
8. Wait a…HOLY &*&*^@!

And that’s pretty much how it went, and I got to watch it, and it was perfect."

Giving gifts is so much better than receiving, isn't it?

Love ya, mean it,



And this series has been a lovely gift to us as well! Warmest Christmas wishes from Toronto to Indigo Hill.

What a great story and rewarding avocation! Which also explains why you paint, and I DON'T: I would've spent 1 day on the thinking part, 1 month on the water, and 2 months on the bird... and stiiilll ended up with a stick figure! :-(

You have created a sense of elegance in a world of perpetual weather.

Your rain is more calming. It is easy to get lost in your rain and to reflect. It is a very spiritual painting.

I’m sure it is hanging in a place of honor and is shown to everyone who visits. I can also imagine the lucky lady trembling with excitement when she realized what she was holding! She won't be able to stop grinning for months!

WOW. I'd be gobsmacked, too. It was wonderful to follow the process that led to such a soulful work.

Actually, her reaction to that mindblowing gift was an awful lot like mine three years ago when I got a present from the universe: An adult male Rufous Hummingbird who visited my southeastern PA feeder in October, and stayed two months.

Word verification: ingligat. Isn't that an indigenous Alaskan language?

You are right giving is a good thing and the pleasure we receive from making others happy.

You are quite right about the WOST pulling you into its world. It feels like I just peeked around some shrubbery and saw this WOST resting in the rain. It just spotted me but hasn't moved much yet.

What a treat going through the process with you.

Ahhhh. What a lovely story. The recipient is as pleased as you are, I think. You'll always have IT.

Your painting looks like a photograph and I believe your artful changes are far better than the original. Your methods are way above my head (visual learner, here).

Bravo. You always amaze us.


It has been fun following your creative process...very cool
love the finished product.
Happy Holidays

Your lessons on painting are such treasures. I understand your words, even though I could never duplicate what you.
Such a treat.
Thanks--and Merry Christmas to you & your family (and that includes Charlie, Chet Baker--and any other critters hanging around).

Julie Zickefoose. Our "It Girl."

Lovely painting, even better back story. I see you do it, and yet I cannot fathom how it gets done, transforming a fabulous photo into an even better painting.

You go, girl!

~Kathi, who feels like she is Jewish tonight, with the verif word SHOOL

You know, I had nearly the same reaction when the in-laws presented me with my very own "Zickefoose" a few Christmases ago. Surprise, bewilderment, then a shiver-inducing realization that I was holding something you had done.

And speaking of giving, it has been a joy watching my girls open gifts from well-informed relatives and seeing the delight (and hearing the squeals) and enjoying the hugs that they are giving to those who have made their dreams come true this Christmas...and there's even more to come. I don't care if I get a darn thing this year....watching my children has been gift enough.
Merry Christmas, Julie.

I am sure she was absolutely blown away by his thoughtfulness, but more by the sheer beauty of what you did with a favorite photo of hers. What a perfect gift indeed. I love hearing about how your creative process works Julie. The end result was magnificent.

I don't think I've ever read a better rendition of delighted sputtering! I can see the wonder build on that woman's face as she first, figured out what she was looking at, and then realized it was a Julie Zickefoose painting! No wonder there were all those *(%# )! That's certainly how I would react. Thanks for sharing your creative process, the result, and the reward.

Beautiful! Merry Christmas, Here's your Present

Ahhh, that was restoring and fascinating all at once. Can you be at the peak of interest and soothed at the same time? What a gift indeed. Gorgeous painting made that much more wonderful by seeing it come to life. Merry Christmas to you and all!

A little story of giving for you:
I borrowed my local public library's copy of Identify Yourself a few months ago and was horrified to discover that I seemed to have lost it. I kept putting off calling the library or going in red-faced. Well, the other day while cleaning out my car...something was lodged in the passenger seat compartment. You guessed it. Phew! Procrastination saved me from having to confess to losing a library book. I returned it in the book drop, with a photo Christmas card and as generous a donation to the honor system late fee fund as I could support.

Merry Christmas, library!

Wow, that's a beautiful painting! And how cool knowing that the recipient was going to be overwhelmed. I find it much more rewarding creating things for people that I know will truly appreciate them.

Julie this has ben a lovely quiet Christmas evening catching up on your blog. I knew you had this WIP painting going on but I wanted time to sit and really take a look. I'm glad i did. First off thank you for telling us about your feeling of fear. so many times I have that feeling. well all the time and always looking for and excuse not to paint.

Like you I let things peculate in my head for months. But when i finally do paint and get in the zone I am driven.

It was awesome to see you take creative license and change the position slightly of the bird. the whole painting is beautiful. The gift i am sure will always be treasured.

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