Friday, October 21, 2011

A Northern Harrier Hunting

Not all paintings happen with ease.  I can often observe a bird, its behavior, its habitat, and have good reference photos from which to work before I begin.  But that wasn't the case with this painting.  
I have always enjoyed painting the close-up views of birds that give you not only a sense of its habitat but also some beautiful detail.  But close-up views are not the way we generally see a Northern Harrier, a beautiful raptor species in a family all its own, that hunts in a low glide over open fields and is one of the few birds that can hover over its prey for a prolonged period before striking. If you once see this bird in action, you will thrill every time you encounter one.  
A number of years ago, while living in a rural area of east Tennessee, I had the special experience of seeing Northern Harriers that were wintering over.  Every evening I took great enjoyment in watching with binoculars as they glided over our fields hunting before roosting for the night.  This has endeared this bird to me as one of my favorite species, one that stirred my excitement forward and lead me to to spend more time observing birds.
Above you see a collection of some of my explorations before I actually painted this painting.  These included value sketches of the landscape's foreground, mid-ground and background, experiments with shapes in the design arrangement, and trying out colors and color-mixing while I settled on the best color combination to represent the scene and season.
My first challenge was the bird.  Northern Harriers are just arriving in Tennessee now, not to mention they are difficult to observe and photograph.  You generally have to know where they roost and hunt in order to be productive in capturing them.  So, instead, I searched the internet and my books, finding a variety of images, both male and female, to help me with the details as I created the hovering posture of my subject. Above you see my initial sketches of the bird, a male on the left, female on the right. And below, a 2009 sketch I also referenced that I created after observing a Northern harrier hunting at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin.
Once I settled on the posture of the bird and his location in the painting, my next focus was the landscape and the values that would help make my subject the center of focus.

Next: Sketches and color exploration

Links and References:
More information about Northern Harriers at Cornell
Other sketches of a Northern Harrier in flight
More about the use of sketches in creating a painting in:  The Richness of Watercolor

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! I enjoy seeing your process in painting.

    ReplyDelete

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

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