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Painting Prairie-chickens: Part Two

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Since not everyone reads the comments, I'd like to thank those who've commented for their support. And I'll reprint my response to them, because I think it pertains to the how and why of these how-to-paint posts. I'm not pretending that this is the be-all, end-all bird painting--even the finished product is far from what I wanted it to be. And my process is almost as scary to write about as it is to go through. I don't mean to present it as the only way to paint--it's just the way I go about it. But I'm producing something, however imperfect, and I want to share that process. My ulterior motive is to inspire the artist within my readers, and let them know that it's OK to be shaky and uncertain and scared, facing the blank page. Showing the stages, I hope, makes it more accessible, makes painting feel less risky. With that said, I'm more than ready to have some fun with this painting.

At some point, I get tired of slogging through the grass and decide to move on to the birds. I can always fuss with the grass after the birds are done, and that's what I wind up doing. Phew. What a relief to pull the masking film and compound off the clean paper and paint something I'm more comfortable painting.

You can see where the masking film leaked on the flying bird's flanks. Baaah.

I start with the underwing of the lower bird. Yes, it's quite blue. Remember, all this is in deep shadow, except for the lit-up parts.

Moving on with the underpainting for Bird #1. I model it all in lavender-blue-gray.

The bird is heavily barred with brown, but I've got to get the whites keyed right on it so that it reads as being in shadow, so that's why the underpainting is shadow-bluish. I'm leaving the extended wing white because the sun will be coming through it.

As you can see from this detail, I've been working on the grass, too, while painting the bird. As the bird comes into focus, the grass has to, too.

Now you can start to see which parts of the bird will be lit up. The light is coming from behind him, and that means his translucent wing--the one toward the sun-- will be lit up as the sun shines through it. The near, foreshortened wing is in shadow.

At last, I'm having fun. Heavily barred birds are fun to paint. The challenge, as with painting grass, is to keep the barring from looking too mechanical or orderly. You don't want the bird to look fake or manufactured, just as you want to avoid that look in your habitat rendering.

See how I've left a rim of light all around the bird's outline? When something is backlit, it's got a halo of light around it. And the other thing about backlighting is that lights are very light, and darks will be correspondingly dark. Lots of contrast.And a yummy close-up to close this part of the series. Next, we'll move on to the flying bird, but that's another day. I've got to dream up what's going to be for dinner and not think about prairie chickens and low light for awhile.

Today's fun: digging a stuck car out of our driveway. It had to happen sometime, and we're amazed to have been able to get in and out the 1/4 mile long unplowed corridor for this long. There's only so long you can keep mushing through 4 fresh inches a day, though, and today's the day of reckoning. I look at my thickening waist (and Chet's) and try not to think about the fact that, in a normal February, I would be walking a balmy meadow, listening to the peent and twitter of American woodcocks right now, catching the scent of red maple flowers, hearing the small wet sounds of nightcrawlers under leaves. I hope the woodcocks are holed up with a hot toddy somewhere in Alabama right now, because they'd need a front-end loader to get to the nightcrawlers in southern Ohio. Fie upon this steady 24 degrees, fie upon thigh-deep snow. Fie upon putting out 20 pounds of bird seed a day, upon incessant shoveling, closed schools and young brains going to mush. We want out.


Well, my first impression is to sound like a middle school girl with a series of, "OMG, OMG, OMG's"

The new website design is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

I feel suddenly drab in comparison.

I always enjoy these artist lessons. Thank you for sharing.

I fussed about the Florida cold today at PF, so I'll just slink away now.

NICELY DONE!!! i don't usually do caps, but just wanted you to know how i really felt ;-)

love the new blog format, too--wordpress? i'm thinking of switching ....

Fie on all that indeed.

This post and the previous one are like magic to someone like me - who has no idea how watercolor paintings "happen"-

It's surreal to see the blanked out section become a prairie chicken...must amazing and beautiful!

Stay warm and hugs to Chet Baker!

Every one of your postings takes us along on some episode of the creative process/life. It is mesmerizing to witness, a priviledge to be invited along and pure joy and fun to share as it unfolds.

Thanks for keeping on in spite of or maybe along with all that your life embraces.

And really, thanks for the sheer honesty, like wrestling with procrastination. Soon after that one, up pops the new design and fun windows and sights for even more exploring! You inspire in so many ways and forms. Hope our 40's, first in over a month, reach you all tomorrow. Leslie Y.

Posted by Anonymous February 18, 2010 at 4:06 PM

Yes, thanks again for the second installment showing the work-in-progress! I'm learning a lot from it because I've recently started to dabble in watercolor and am having some trouble adjusting to the building up of such light layers so gradually. It's really enlightening (slight pun intended) to see your process. I always think artists' sketchbooks and preliminary drawing/painting steps are the most interesting, and most revealing, to see. Often times they're much more satisfying than the highly-polished end result, because they emphasize the old cliche about Rome not being built in a day. :)

I just love to see how things happen! Thanks for showing us all this.

Julie. Julie.

What a beautiful world you inhabit.

Humor, wisdom and whimsy lacing around pictures that a Norman Rockwell could use for inspiration.

I loved the caption under the image of Liam as he negotiated that log. I had a little boy very much like him.

" . . No thrill's so great as to be worth your life." Words I've lived by - which makes some of the winter Olympic sports look insane :0)

(P.S. - I think I'm subscribed, but who knows - I may have hit keys that landed me on a terrorist watch list)

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