Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Search for a Swainson's Warbler

In the case of this sketch, it was the search for the right colors to bring out this beautiful bird's subtleness on paper.  
The Swainson's Warbler is a shy and secretive bird that hangs out in the shadows of thick stands of rhododendrons.  That is one of the reasons this bird has the reputation of being seldom seen even when its song is heard.  Its neutral colors simply disappear into the shadows.
On this occasion, with a group of birders and terrific guides at the New River Birding and Nature Festival, the odds of seeing this bird were better.  It landed on a rhododendron branch right in front of us.  Even then it took alert eyes to find him.  What a thrill to get such intimate looks as he perched quietly.  I love these subtle colors, the way his posture, this moment, says so much about his personality and his habitat.

It is always a challenge for me to go small in a sketch, so instead of focusing on the detail I love, I used this opportunity to play with color and values so that the negative space would make the neutrals in the bird stand out.  
The foreground leaves are created with a mixture of  DVP Cad Yellow Light and WN ultramarine; the shrub limbs, with burnt sienna, ultramarine and a touch of Van Dyke brown here and there.  Above I tried a darker green mixture in the negative space.  Too blue.  Below, I added some Van Dyke brown to see what happened.
Still too blue.  It was here that I decided to add more color to the bird to help guide me.  I initially painted him with a mixture of burnt sienna and Van Dyke brown.  The overall affect is more reddish than desired but it gave me a place to begin.  It also enabled me to see the disconnect between background and subject at this phase.  There was no unifying color. This is not only not pleasing to the eye, it isn't what we see in nature.  And it especially isn't true for this secretive little bird who frequently can't be seen at all.
So I warmed the background by adding WN New Gamboge to ultramarine and added some burnt sienna in spots.  Next, I smoothed and shaped the bird's head using my scrub brush and more paint, added some shadows, and painted a light glaze of ultramarine over the wing and back to subdue the brightness of the burnt sienna.  
All of this playing around made me smile about this bird once again.  I thought he was wonderful when I saw him the first time.  Creating the sketch just made me want to paint him even more!  

Watercolor on 90# cold press sketchbook paper.  Colors used:  WN Ultramarine, WN Burnt Sienna, DVP Cad Yellow Light, WN New Gamboge, Van Dyke Brown.

To see my posts on the New River Birding and Nature Festival at Vickie Henderson Art, click here.   

4 comments:

  1. In your post on "Sketching in Nature"you described exactly the feeling I get when I observe all the color, shape, and pose nuances as I try to sketch and paint visitors at my bird feeders -- they become my dear friends.

    Your watercolors are wonderful! I have a lot to learn and appreciate seeing the steps you went through on this painting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love your watercolors, Vickie! Thank you for explaining your process!

    ReplyDelete

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

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