Sunday, October 24, 2010

Painting a Loggerhead Sea Turtle--Part II

A fun painting to create, but also one that offered some challenges.  For one thing, I didn't know I would be away from it for an entire month and failed to write down the pigments I had initially chosen.  The second was my unfamiliarity with creating sea foam on the beach--uncharted territory.
The pigment challenge I resolved fairly quickly, glancing over my palette and selecting my likely choices (listed at the end of post).  The beach foam was a journey of trial and error, an exploration into suggestion, knowing that I had my scrub brush and gouache to back me up.  I did not create a separate sketch which would have been a good exploration alternative.  Sometimes I like to just jump in and move through confusion until what I want to see begins to emerge.
A first attempt at creating the sand beneath the sea foam

Life seems to be like this sometimes, new experiences push us to reach beyond what we know.  In the process we learn something new, often with gratifying results.  And its not always that the outcome is beautiful, its that we did it despite uncertainty.  I tackle many things this way, but I also turn to books for suggestions and practice.  Not only did I order a seascapes art book, prompted by this painting (that hasn't arrived yet), but I also bought Blair Witherington's gorgeous book, Sea Turtles, An Extraordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles.  Unfortunately, this book is out of print, but can be found on the secondary market (with patience) at affordable prices and in my case, brand new condition.

While I described researching new anatomy terminology in Part I of this painting series, Blair's book brought me the beauty, heart and elegance of this mysterious creature, a species that has its roots in the Cretaceous period, 110 to 65 million years ago.  True ancients.
Above I've turned to my scrub to smooth out the hard edges and reduce the clutter in the sand.  The turtle is where I want the eye to go and since I want to enhance her detail, I want the sea and sand to stay smooth and suggestive rather than detailed and distracting.

In the two images immediately above, you see the results of me thinking about and playing around with the beach and foam.  I'm moving back and forth between the turtle's shell and the beach, both requiring a bit of thinking and building.  The turtle's back is partially covered with sand, slung by her flippers as she covered her egg chamber.  By moving back and forth, from one area to the other, I relieve my tension while I'm working on an area of uncertainty.  But it also has a painterly purpose.  It allows me to keep an eye on the unity of colors as I watch the emphasis on the subject change with each color application to the background.
Above, I've added more detail to the turtle's back and sandy areas in the sea.  I laid an initial variegated wash of gray using a mixture of ultramarine and burnt sienna to form the background of sand above the turtle. As I added more details to the turtles body, I realized her golden and rust features would be better enhanced with a bluer shade of gray.  Below, after the area was completely dry, I used a large flat brush to glaze over the top of the painting with a light application of a bluer shade of gray.   To my pleasure, this had the dual affect of enhancing the turtle's shell and popping out the area of light yellow that brings the eye to the center of interest, her face.
To complete the painting, I softened some of the edges of the foam with my scrub brush, used a little white gouache to lighten foamy areas, enriched the appearance of sand on her back with paint splatter using a toothbrush, and darkened shadow details.
And some of the new fun things I learned about sea turtles, sparked by the curiosity that painting this one stirred?  Each species of sea turtle, seven altogether, has a characteristic number of large scutes (shell plates) on their hard carapace (shell), as well as a characteristic arrangement of scales on their head.  They have more flexible shells than land turtles, with the carapace and plastron (under shell) being joined by a bridge of supple cartilage, allowing for more speed and maneuverability as they navigate through many miles at sea.

Watercolor on 9 x 12" Arches 140# cold pressed paper.  Pigments used:  WN French Ultramarine, WN New Gamboge (yellow), WN Van Dyke Brown, WN Burnt Sienna, a touch of DVP Permanent Rose as needed, and WN Permanent White Gouache.  Most of my grays are a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna.

Links:
Painting a Loggerhead Sea Turtle--Part I
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Sea Turtles
For the story of my June visit to Brevard County, FL, to see nesting sea turtles, visit The Loggerhead Sea Turtle at Vickie Henderson Art and Space Coast Beach Buzz with Marge Bell.
To learn more about sea turtle nesting on the coast of Florida visit Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.
Blair Witherington's book, Sea Turtles, An Extraordinary Natural History of Some Uncommon Turtles.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sketching Birds in the Backyard

Sounds easy enough.  But there is definitely a shift between photographing birds and sketching them.  And another gigantic shift between sketching from a photo and trying to capture birds while they're moving around!  So what you see below is today's attempt.  My solution for everything that doesn't come easily....practice!
Whey all my busy hummingbird activity ended earlier in the month (last observed visit October 11th), I took all but one hummingbird feeder down, hung a suet basket with homemade suet, a sunflower seed feeder and put out a plate with a mix of each.  The bird-y word got around fast.

It is such a joy to watch these birds--cardinals, mockingbirds, chickadees, titmice, wrens, downies, nuthatches--at the bath and the feeder.  If you sit and observe for a while, you can tell which are the juveniles by their behavior, especially at the bird bath.  I had the joy of watching young chickadees trying to figure out how to drink without getting wet.

My bird bath sits crooked.  No matter how many times I straighten it and pile rocks around it, it always shifts. On this occasion a cardinal was perched drinking and two chickadee juveniles, one after the other, ended up in a spot where the water had shifted away from the edge.  It was a chuckle to see them stretch, nearly tip over, and flutter to upright themselves and keep from falling into the water.  They next landed on the opposite side to drink.  I mean, you bathe only when you want to, right?  
And I got this special mockingbird treat during another time I sat on the patio to observe.  What a hoot, to watch this mocker grab the back ball shaped tops that hold the feeder together.  At first I thought he/she was after an insect.  But then when he tried more than one angle, and moved on to try each one, I realized it was a juvenile trying to see if that big, fat, black, berry-looking thing was tasty!


My response to that stare, "I promise, I didn't do it!"

My Loggerhead painting was interrupted by my three-day exhibit at Cumberland Gap National Historical Park the last weekend of September. I'll get back to the painting soon and share what I've learned about this special species.

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Birds Close-up

Birds Close-up
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Adventures

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky in Churchill

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky in Churchill
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Adventures

Churchill, Manitoba

Churchill, Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky

2014 Hummingbird Festival

2014 Hummingbird Festival
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John

Birding with Keith Hanson and Talissa at Stinson Beach

Birding with Keith Hanson and Talissa at Stinson Beach
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Checking out the gulls

Checking out the gulls
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

End of the Dipsea Trail--Stinson Beach

End of the Dipsea Trail--Stinson Beach
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves
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