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ABA Bird of the Year: Part Three

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We're continuing to work on the cover for Birding Magazine, of the American Birding Association's Bird of the Year, the evening grosbeak.

You’ll notice the light regime changes in my progress photos. Normally I trot outside to shoot them, but sometimes I reach a key passage in a painting when it’s dark outside. So for some photos, I had to use incandescent light rather than the clean north light that usually floods my studio. This is a work-in-progress, and progress isn’t always as well-lit as we’d like.

The apple tree leaning over the road is a bit of a stretch, I know. I wanted to give the viewer the experience of pretending they are birding and seeing such a wonderful sight, so it was important to me to have a road in the painting, a place for the viewer to stand. A road stretching away gives the viewer a distance to walk into, so I stretched the truth a bit. Let’s just say it’s an apple tree that’s leaning so far over the fence it’s probably about to fall into the road and not worry about it, OK? It’s an imaginary apple tree, anyway. It won’t even break the fence when it falls.


This photo was taken by daylight—what a difference in color temperature!  I like the way the sky turned out, especially near the lower left horizon. It feels springy to me. I’ve rubbed away the Incredible White masking compound with my finger and  peeled off the masking film to reveal clean paper. I’ve had lots of fun with this painting until now, and it’ll only get better.

What fun I had laying in the brilliant spring greens of the landscape! I went ahead and painted right over the fenceposts because they would be so much darker than the grass. I could paint them over it without a problem. My secret plan for the road was to tie its color into the colors in the plumage of the female grosbeak. She being nearest to the ground, I think it’ll work well.

I start by painting the branches, and then I paint the birds’ feet and flower petioles all in one go, since they’re almost the same color. I like the way the foreground is starting to work with the background. The little buildings ground the whole composition, as do the fenceposts; they define the plane of the road and give the eye somewhere to go. I’m SO excited to paint the flowers and birds, and especially to lay in the sharp blacks of the wings, and the brilliant yellows in the birds’ plumage.

I paint those glow-in-the-dark green bills next, and for efficiency’s sake, I do them all at once. Once I’ve mixed the color, why recreate it for each bird?




It is interesting reading how you go about your painting.
Congrats on being selected to do the cover.

When I first saw this (before I started reading) I thought the white spaces where the grosbeaks are was a lacey gown falling down towards the road. Still like that image, but also really liking the forced perspective. I've been on some roads with trees like that.

This looks like so much fun! Your apple tree hanging over the road is perfectly believable. When I was a kid, we used to ride everywhere in the back of the truck. On one back country lane we would go under the limbs of an Early Transparent apple tree that had limbs hanging low over the road. We would ready ourselves and grab as many apples as we could get our hands on as the truck passed beneath.

Watching the process is fascinating. Thanks.

That is beautiful and interesting.

I had a group of evening grosbeaks at my feeder last spring and I photographed them and later did a painting. I posted the stages on my blog. Not nearly as impressive as what you have done, but it was a lot of fun. I love painting birds.

I really like being able to watch your painting "come to life". Thanks for sharing :)

Not long ago I was watching an artist at a flea market do charcoal pencil sketches of human faces and thinking how he went about it completely opposite the way I'd imagine doing it if I had any artistic talent (which I DON'T). I think you artists really see the world in a different manner, or at least your brain & perception operate differently from the rest of us art-challenged folks.

so great to read about and see your process. I love the composition: the branch dipping deeply into the foreground, echoing the curve of the road. Can't wait to see how it evolves.
ps. loving your book.

Even after you show the process, your art is a beautiful mystery to me. I'm just glad there are people like you to give beauty to those of us who cannot do it for ourselves.

I got the princess gown effect too at first... too many Disney princesses in my brain after raising two girls.

It is a treat to watch you work.

It is such an honor to have you as the 2012 ABA Bird of the Year artist. The fact that you documented the process makes it all the more amazing!

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