Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Sketchbook as a Map for Your Painting

A sketch is the artist's road map, like a tool for planning your journey.  Besides being its own form of art and a record of observations, turning to your sketchbook to work out decisions about your painting before you start can be invaluable.
Before I started my painting of this Northern Harrier, I had a number of decisions to make.  As soon as I received the request for this painting to honor a friend, I had a good idea of the posture I wanted the bird in for this painting, and I also had an idea of the way the background would look--open rolling fields common to east Tennessee. Decisions about color, values, and a landscape arrangement that would best highlight this bird were next.  To help, I turned to my sketchbook for color mixing and to make value studies.
Above left, you see a pencil sketch of the values, relative lights and darks for the landscape, and to the right another sketch of the same arrangement using watercolor. It was this little sketch to the right that gave me the first glimpse of the scene I had in mind.  I was still exploring colors at this point, deciding whether to use Payne's gray more prominently, or to remain with French Ultramarine, my favorite blue for mixing with Burnt Sienna to create neutrals.  You can see some of the neutrals possible in the first image above, along with a nice selection of autumn greens made with Quinacridone Gold and French Ultramarine.  Below, another series of color explorations with Payne's Grey on watercolor paper.
In the end, I settled on the colors that were the most pleasing to my eye and familiar to me, Winsor Newton's French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, and a touch of New Gamboge.  All other colors you see are made from this primary palette.
Unlike other hawks that hunt from a perch, the Northern Harrier hunts for small mammals gliding low over open fields to find its prey, aided by its acute hearing. Historically this species was especially impacted during the spraying of DDT in the 1970's. Northern Harriers have a unique and spectacular flight display called, 'sky dancing', involving high speed climbs, dives and spiraling loops to attract their mate. While the nesting of other hawks failed due to egg shells too thin to incubate, Northern harriers were so weakened by the pesticide that they could not carry out their elaborate courtship displays and breeding almost completely stopped. It took many years longer for this species to recover after the banning of DDT in this country.
Though considered stable or slightly declining currently, Northern Harriers are impacted by the loss of wetlands, prairies and changing farming practices.

11 x 14 watercolor on Arches 140# coldpress paper.

Links and resources:

To see the first post on this painting visit:  A Northern Harrier Hunting
More information about Northern Harriers at Cornell
More about the use of your sketchbook in creating a painting in:  The Richness of Watercolor
You may also enjoy visiting my Purple Martin painting, showing a different approach to painting a bird in its habitat.

1 comment:

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

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