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Caspian Terns--Finished

Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's time for the last installment in our little painting class. Watercolors go pretty quickly!


Here, I’m playing with bounce light on the birds. I want some of the mauve and pink tones from the underlying sand playing up on the birds. They’re standing in shallow water. I figure the sand colors just under the water’s surface would be bouncing up on their underparts. So I feed mauve and pink into their bellies and underparts. This helps tie the bright red bills into the painting and keeps it all from looking too sterile.

I lay the tracing paper outline of the magazine cover over the painting to make sure it’s all going to work with the text. Looks OK.


Once again, I was flying, and unwilling to stop long enough to photograph the birds as I worked

on them.tern8

By now, it's almost evening, and the light is gone, but I shot a photo anyway. It looks blue, but don't worry--I haven't taken a blue wash over everything.

I’ve gone with a Billy Idol ‘do for the forward-facing bird. This is a pair of birds who are greeting each other with extended wrists and erect crests, something Caspian terns do. Howdy. Nice hair. Right back at ya. Ak ak ak ak ak.

To get the strong sidelight I wanted, I had to really play up the shadows. I adore painting white birds, and terns in particular, because white is such an expressive slate on which to play with subtle colors. It’s amazing what you can do to it and still have it read as white.


For instance, I decided that those shiny red bills would probably be sending bounce light onto the birds’ necks and breasts, so I went with that, sending a pinkish glow down their throats. Why not? If you can’t be playful when you paint, why do it?

I think I’m done. Gotta quit before it all gets too picky.


I hope you've enjoyed seeing this painting come to life.

If you'd like to order a signed, limited edition print of Sidelight: Caspian Terns, click here. And click on Limited Edition Prints.

I will sign it for you, inscribe it, and send it to you. I hope that this series has inspired the painters and dreamers. I know you're out there.

Psst. Just DO it! Paint, I mean.


When they show you how a magic trick is done it takes all the pizazz out of it... but seeing how a painting is done doesn't detract from the final product at all (maybe even adds to it!).

Wow. This is stunning! Thank you so much for sharing your process. It was great to see it come to life. Can't wait to see it on the cover.

Julie, just wonderful. Thanks for the lesson. I just had to come back when I saw that you posted this. I know how it goes when you are creating. Whether I am writing or painting I just can't stand interuptions. It destroys my flow. You did a great job on the wet sand. I like how you explained all about the bounce light. I like how you described working with white.

Just beautiful Julie!

You bet I am inspired. I always learn something when I read your tutorials about a piece you are doing. I will look forward to seeing this issue. I will think about how you did it. The next time I am painting something white I will think about he colors added to give it more life.

I am so not an artist and I marvel at your talent Julie. I love how you give the birds personality and make the scene come alive. I can almost hear the waves......
and it looks like "a nice day for a white wedding!"

Ruthie, so YOU were that fly on the wall when Bill and I were singing "White Wedding" after he saw the painting for the first time! :-0

Shoulda called it White Wedding. "Sidelight: Caspian Terns" is sooo boring.

Oh, and having been the recipient of the incredibly lovely output of your flying needles, I take great exception to your characterization of yourself as "so not an artist." PLEASE.


Beautiful. Makes me miss the beach and I was just there.

The first BI song I thought of was "Rebel Yell." Now if the terns could do the Idol lip snarl, that would be freaky!
Anyhoo... it's been lovely seeing this painting come to life. It's just beautiful. Between your painting and Jim's article on the terns, I can't wait to get this issue of BWD in my mailbox! Thanks for sharing this.

Beautiful! Thank you again for taking us through the steps of your painting process. SO helpful for us wannabe artists. The wet sand is one of my favorite parts of the painting. As is your "Pssst" at the end - a good reminder! Just a great set of posts, but I have to admit I feel a Chet-craving coming on.

Very cool, Jules - I was looking forward to seeing this, and the terns look awesome. Unless you're a fish. Then, that blood-red dagger of a bill is the torpedo of doom, plunging through the depths and snapping up fresh sushi.

For all of you JZ readers: come to the Midwest Birding Symposium and get Julie to autograph your copy of Bird Watcher's Digest, with this wonderful Caspian Tern painting adorning the cover!


Such a refreshing scene for the hot days of August.
And those reflections, what I probably would overlook at first glance, add such life.
I can see why working on white attracts you.
They are lovely.

What a perfect montage for us non-painters to enjoy! Thank you, and the water color is just beautiful.


Julie, I'm not a watercolor expert, but I think this one is just about your best yet. I find myself gazing at it, seeing something a bit different each time. Love it.

You will always be my hero.

Great to see this water color painting..great work..keep going..

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Just catching this now as it happened while I was on vacation. I love it when you do these painting peices, so am glad I found it (even though for a while there I thought you were painting the terns' underPANTS).

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