Monday, May 24, 2010

The Fun of Painting a Red-winged Blackbird

I think it was the bright neutral reeds that enticed me to paint this blackbird.  The contrasts were brilliant in the early morning light.
Or maybe it was the fun of watching the males display their bright shoulder patches, singing and ruffling their feathers while searching in the shadows to see if the females were impressed.  Even the arrival of a bus load of bird-lovers from WV's New River Birding and Nature Festival did not disturb their early morning nuptial festivities.  This is what I love about bird watching, the moments that bring a bird to life, that give you a glimpse of personality and how they go about their day.  Forever, this is not "just another blackbird" but an impressive Red-winged Blackbird.
I can't explain why I decided to use a light pumpkin, 75# pastel tonal paper for this painting, except that I initially considered using gouache to highlight the reeds.  As it was, the reeds became incidental as the painting progressed.  Instead, I was more attracted to the possibilities of morning light and jumped right into playing with the background, the impressionistic splash and disarray that grasses naturally create.  (The pale pumpkin paper actually has a rosy glow, now that I think about it.)
This is what makes watercolor fun for me, the surprises and movement, its abstract qualities.  It lends itself so well to intuitive thinking, a kind of spontaneity that gets stronger as you become more familiar with the medium.

I don't want to control the paint as I work.  I want to play with it, move with it and enjoy what happens, all the while keeping in mind that I want to also showcase my subject.  Even with the playful start in this painting, I limited my palette.  The fewer colors, the more unified and brilliant the painting.  I chose Winsor Newton's Cobalt blue, WN Quinacridone gold and Daniel Smith's Carmine Red for my primary colors and added WN Burnt Sienna for brown.  All other colors you see are mixes of these four colors.
I painted the bird in layers, not sure just how to handle the black, working it through as I went along.  I wanted to see some shading and color, not just a mass of black.  My reference photo was printed in black and white on my laser printer which offers very little detail.  The practical reason for this--I'm out of one of my color ink cartridges.  Artistically, however, this turned out to be of benefit.  It gave me the freedom to create the background colors from my imagination and memory.  

As I began to add shading to the foreground reeds below, I noticed that I had lost the forward edge of the front wing (see above).  Below, I have scrubbed that edge so I can restore it with another application of paint.    
As I added shading to the foreground reeds, you can see what begins to happen above.  With the exception of the bird, the values are now mostly mid-tones with little variation.  To solve this problem, I added a darker mix of green and gray around some of the reeds to add a depth.  This darker shade also leads the eye around the bird.  
9 x 12" Watercolor on 75# toned Pastel paper.

Click here to learn more about my visit to WV's New River Birding and Nature Festival.

3 comments:

  1. What a beautiful bird Vickie! And a great technique you've used here, leading to an exceptional painting - lovely!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Vickie. Thanks for sharing your process. The light and background beautiful.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am so excited I found your blog. I think I can learn so much from you as I am in the process of "self-teaching" myself drawing & painting. I just didn't want to put it off anymore and wait until I could go to college. Your drawings of nature and you paintings inspire me. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

Welcome! I am glad to hear your comments, questions and feedback! Vickie

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