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Caspian Terns Part Two

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We're working away on the Caspian tern painting. I have nothing pithy to say about how I painted the sand and the ocean. I just did it, painted things wet on wet in stripes and painted right over the masked out birds with great abandon and speed. When the paint dried, I could peel up the masking film and rub the dried masking compound off with my thumb and bingo! clean paper where I could paint the terns. Truth is, I couldn’t have stopped to take a photo if I’d wanted to.

While things were still wet I scrubbed out the reflections of the birds, which means I took a brush loaded with clear water, laid that water down, waited a few moments, then did a light scrub with a dry flat brush and just lifted the paint back off the paper.


But here’s where it gets tricky. For their reflections, I had to paint the same three birds, but upside down. Urggg. I tried it on the leftmost tern, tried drawing the durn thing upside down, and it was hard, even when I turned the painting upside down, to draw a convincing reflection. I decided I'd better figure out a better way for the next two birds. So I took a piece of tracing paper, traced my birds, and then flopped the image down on the painting and transferred it using soft pencil applied to the back of the tracing paper. By pressing down hard, I could make pencil lines on the watercolor paper.
In this way, I got an exact image of the bird where the reflection should be. Cool, huh?


This is the kind of thing you figure out on the fly when you’re painting. It was something that I knew I’d have to suss out, but I had only the haziest idea how to tackle it when I started the painting.


Here’s a detail. You can see that I’ve got the reflections of the loafing birds pretty well done. Note the leftmost bird. It's not a perfect reflection. On the other two, I used the shortcut I'd figured out. I don’t want them to be exact or too fussy or they won’t look like reflections. They just have to be convincing enough that the eye passes over them and accepts them as reflections. So, keeping that spirit, the inexact leftmost bird doesn't bother me. It works well enough.


Where the two large front cover birds were concerned, it looked like the reflection of the left-hand bird would run onto the wet sand, where it would conceivably not show up as it would in shallow water. So I just kind of hazed it out. Any painting tends to have its own can of worms; every painting has things to consider and conquer that the artist hadn’t figured on when first envisioning it. If you choose not to paint directly from photos, slavishly copying everything the photographer captured; if you choose to create your own scenes, you get can after can of worms. But it’s the worms that make it fun, the worms, and keeping a playful spirit. In watercolor painting, it helps to be able to say "Whatever." It's good enough, let's move on.


Thanks for sharing more trade secrets! It's fun to know the process.

As you suggest, as I've seen in other artists with science backgrounds, and continue to experience myself, it's tempting to be so preoccupied with realism that it interferes with the art.

Yes, that's the struggle for a painting Science Chimp. This painting was about letting some of that go.

Thank you! The process is fascinating.

That cool, wet beach is a wonderful respite.
May I dip a toe?

You make me want to run out and sign up for a watercolor class.

Again, thank you! This is soooooo helpful and fascinating. And a good reminder to let the art flow.

These posts where you take us through the process are my second-favorite kinds on your blog. (You've already guessed, of course that the Baker posts are the first;-)

Julie, good reflections, even -- and especially -- the first one, the one on the left before the shortcut. You said it well yourself. The reflections don't have to be exact just enough of a likeness so that the eye believes them.

I say that all paintings go through an "oh, sh__" stage, the can of worms that you're talking about that have to be overcome. All the planning in the world never eliminates the unexpected that has to be resolved as you go along.

Thanks for taking a look at my blog. And thanks for the kind words!

Spoken like a watercolorist, Stefanie! With every painting I start, I reach a stage early on in the process where I want out. What have I started here? Ack! I can't pull this off! Ack! Ack! I have to peel myself off the ceiling and keep going.

Everybody go see Stefanie's beautiful work. She's the real deal.

I just love it!

Julie, your bird paintings are fantastic!Thanks for the behind the scenes look!

When I took art in college my prof always said there was a point at which a painting is done and if you go beyond that you have to keep on going until it reaches the next "done" point. It's best to know when to stop. Somehow I can feel when I get to that point and I make myself walk away or go to bed and look at it with fresh eyes the next day. I usually end up saving myself a lot of trouble that way! You, of course, have already learned this lesson!

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