Thursday, July 28, 2011

Purple Martin with Prey--The Finish

Purple martins are secondary cavity nesters, birds that rely on other birds to make the cavity for their nests.  But in the course of history, both natural nesting cavities diminished and humans began furnishing nesting cavities.  Just how long ago humans began providing cavities is not certain, but some believe that Native Americans began this tradition.  People loved the birds, and the birds learned that fewer predators were found around humans.  Martins in the eastern United States now rely exclusively on human furnished cavities for nesting.    
These clusters of white gourd-shaped cavities that dot our rural landscapes, are now as much a part of the purple martin ecology, as the flying insects they capture on the wing.

In the above image, you see both the under-painting of rose and gold that I've initially applied to the martin and the additional colors I'm adding as I apply glazes.  The martin's color will change with each application of thin veils of color.  My eyes see blackish wings with a bluer sheen on the body feathers.  To create this distinction in color, I add burnt sienna to French ultramarine, giving the wings a more neutral and darker hue than the body.  While applying additional glazes to one area of the bird at a time, I let my eye lead me.  My goal is a darker martin with color showing through giving the impression of light reflecting off the feathers.
In order to make the background trees recede, I darken them with several more glazes of French ultramarine.  Below, I have added sketched detail to the martin gourds and the background trees.
These are the marks that guide my negative painting, the painting of  the space between and under the trees, giving more shadow and depth.   
Leaving the painting for a while to allow the paint to dry, I returned to discover that my tree trunks looked rather puny.  They are behind the martin housing pole, but they should not appear so slender as they are depicted in the above image.  It's one of those moments when you say, "good grief".  But, these corrections happen all the time.  When you are painting, you are close to the work and proportions have a different appearance.  Stepping back and stepping away are both a very important part of checking the overall appearance of what's happening on the paper. Perspective changes when you are taking in a larger, more distant view.  Below, I begin to correct these shapes by lightly lifting color with my scrub brush, expanding and varying the trunk shapes.  
Below you see how the trunks appear after adding some color and shading.  I have added depth and variation to the tree tops in the same way.  Additionally, separate glazes of rose and gold, give the impression of the sun's glow on the horizon.  I've added a hint of these colors to the white gourds and the wing tip, as well.      
Below, I begin to play with the dragonfly.  I love color and adding the orange (burnt sienna and quinacrodone gold) was a special moment of fun.  Orange and blue are opposites on the color wheel, and you can see how the two colors sparkle when placed next to each other.  I don't leave the colors this bright, both for realistic reasons and because I don't want the dragonfly to compete with the martin.  It is included as a dynamic part of the subject, giving the viewer information about the bird and its behavior.   
The finishing work included the addition of more glazes and color to darken the martin and add shadow.   For this you get to use your imagination!  I got so focused on the painting toward the end, that I forgot to take images!  Below, you see the finished work.   
I am excited that "Purple Martin with Prey" will be on display at the Purple Martin Conservation Association's convention in Erie, PA, August 11, 12 and 13th, and will be available for purchase at the fund-raising auction!  A special thank you to Graig Kern, for this opportunity.

11 x 14 inch watercolor on Arches 140# cold press paper.  Palette:  WN Ultramarine Blue, WN Burnt Sienna, WN Quinacridone Gold, WN  New Gamboge, WN Permanent Rose, a touch of WN Cerulean.

Links and Resources:

To see all my posts on this purple martin painting project, visit: purple martins.  The most recent post will be first.  You may also enjoy my reports on my visits to the martin colony at Vickie Henderson Art.

Click the links to learn more about negative painting and scrubbing.  

To learn more about purple martins visit the Purple Martin Conservation Society

Monday, July 25, 2011

Purple Martins--The Painting

Purple Martin with Prey--a fun and challenging painting. 
Martins are insectivores, averaging speeds of 17-27 mph as they capture insects in flight.  Despite hours of observation, I was never invited along on one of those flights to see what the world looks like from up there!  So, when I selected this painting composition, I knew everything in the painting would be created from a combination of observations and my imagination.
When the weather is clear, early morning skies are a clear wash of light, 
with a touch of pink and gold reflecting from the horizon onto objects below.  My first challenge was creating a smooth wash of color for the sky.  In order to do this, I needed to protect the white on the bird and dragonfly, as well as the gourds in the background. The reason for this is primarily my freedom in applying paint.  I don't want to have to worry about where my paint is going while I'm also trying to achieve a flat wash.

Flat washes are made with even overlapping strokes of color across a tilted page.  The paint then flows smoothly downward as it is drying.    
To save the whites I applied Winsor Newton masking fluid using a wooden skewer in larger areas, and a straightened paper clip for the thin lines of the dragonfly's wings. The masking fluid adheres to these tools and can be dropped and dragged along the line on the page.  While using the paperclip, more care is required to avoid scratching the paper.  

Below, you see the sky wash after it is applied.  The trees were added before the wash was completely dry.   
The paint must be allowed to dry completely before the mask is removed.  No assistance from a dryer to hurry things up in this case.  Heat causes the rubbery substance in the masking fluid to deteriorate and fuse with the paper, making removal problematic. 

The mask bottle instructions suggest using an eraser to remove the masking fluid and this works.  However, if the mask is applied generously, it forms a nice rubbery surface that can be removed by applying pressure with your finger tip.  In the image below, you see I am rolling it off easily.  
Below, you see the white surface that was saved with the masking fluid.  
Masking fluid leaves hard edges which sometimes need to be softened.  The background martin gourds need soft edges to help them recede into the background.  I used my small scrubber, clean water and a blotting tissue, to soften the edges of each gourd to make them look rounder and softer in the low morning light.  
Once I lay in the background wash, I am ready to bring the bird to life with paint.  This is my preferred way of painting--to work on the subject early in the painting.   I want the color and values of the subject to lead my eye as I enrich the background with shading and detail.  Below, you see the first glaze that I applied to the martin, discussed in the previous post.     
Next:  glazes of color and the finishing details.

Links and Resources:

To see all my posts on this purple martin painting project, visit: purple martins.  The most recent post will be first.  You may also enjoy my reports on my visits to the martin colony at Vickie Henderson Art.

Click the links to learn more about using masking fluid and softening edges.

To learn more about purple martins visit the Purple Martin Conservation Society

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Purple Martins--Painting the Iridescent Sheen in Black

Purple martins are full of personality.  I can't tell you how many times I found myself giggling as I watched these birds interact.   The more you get to know a bird through observation, the more invested you become in creating a good likeness of all that you've witnessed.
Besides the busy social interaction and high speed flight of these birds presenting challenges to an observing artist, the male purple martin is essentially black, making color another fun challenge.  The translucence of watercolor and the iridescence found in many bird feathers are a perfect compliment.  Purple martins are described in Peterson's field guide as blue-black.  Their feathers often flash iridescent blue in the sun's light.  Even when a bird is black, the reflection of color in light gives the artist many options for capturing the subject.
Glazing and under-painting are one way to do this and the methods I chose for this painting.  The translucence of many watercolor pigments allow a color painted underneath to glow through.  Above you see my experiments using Winsor Newton Permanent Rose, WN Quinacridone Gold, and a combination of the two to see how they appear through blue glazes--WN French Ultramarine, WN Cerulean and Daniel Smith Carbazole Violet.  I selected French ultramarine (at the top of the page) because of its brilliance and clarity.
What I'm going for is not only the blue in the bird but the reflection of early morning color and softness as light reflects off the feathers.  Above and below, you see how the under-painting, appears initially.  Color is then added by glazing, applying a thin later of paint that allows the color underneath to come through.  Each layer of paint is then allowed to dry before applying the next layer.  
Now that I've shown you how I approached the bird's color, in the next post, I'll show you the finished painting and take you back to the beginning:  creating the initial wash and background.  

To see earlier posts on this purple martin painting project, visit: purple martins.  The most recent post will be first.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

More Purple Martin Studies

Watching martins fly in and out of their colony, listening to their continuous vocals and becoming familiar with their social interactions were all part of the fun of getting to know this species.  It wasn't that I had never seen a martin before, but that I knew little about them and had never had the opportunity to observe them in detail.
I also had a challenge, a request to paint a martin flying into the colony with a dragonfly in its mouth.  I  immediately wondered--how am I going to do that?  Fast flying birds are not easy to photograph nor capture in a sketch, and capturing one with an insect in its mouth seemed unlikely.
Persistence paid off.  I paid the colony a number of visits, captured more than I ever expected to with both my camera and my mind, and actually did capture a photo of a female martin flying in with a huge dragonfly.  It wasn't that I needed to photograph the image I would create, but that I wanted to study the wing shapes and movements, and get a good feel for the martin's overall personality.  These details and a real sense of the characteristics of the bird give me inspiration and add life to what I'm painting.

Next:  The painting!

Links and Resources:
To see more about my preparation for painting martins visit:  The Studies Before the Painting.
Great information about purple martins can be found at the Purple Martin Conservation Association website.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Studies Before the Painting--Purple Martins

Introduce me to a new bird that nests high above my head, whose primary behavior is feeding in flight, and ask me to paint this bird, and I've been handed a challenge. Purple Martins.
Fun birds!  Below you see my initial scribbles as I watched the birds fly and perch during the nesting phase in April with the help of a friend's binoculars.  I took lots of photos on that first visit, but capturing an image with useful information was a real challenge with these birds.  Their nesting gourds are high over your head, anywhere from 10-20 feet and their flight patterns are high speed bursts--all part of getting to know the bird.  
Purple martins are very busy birds, social and highly vocal, with lots of interaction among pairs as they nest in close proximity.  In fact, all the activity looks like chaos initially, like they can't make up their minds where home is or who is their mate.   And that is part of what is going on as they return to their breeding areas, the selection of mates and nesting sites within the colony.  Watching all that confusion (largely mine) just made me want to get a book about purple martins and research them on the web to help me understand everything I was seeing.  This is the real joy of painting nature, getting to know the species, being out with the birds, watching, listening, learning about their habits and behavior.
Purple martins are aerial insectivores, the largest member of the swallow family in North America, and spend their non-breeding season in Brazil.  East of the Rocky Mountains, martins are totally dependent on human-supplied nesting cavities, the familiar multi-compartment houses and rows of gourd-shaped nest boxes positioned high on a pole.  It was my good fortune to meet a purple martin landlord in my area and visit his colony of martins on a number of occasions during the nesting season to photograph, sketch and enjoy them while observing.  I even resorted to climbing onto the roof of my vehicle to get a better look at their activities!
And somehow, all of this will become a painting, several paintings--my opportunity to re-enjoy all that I love about these birds with watercolor and paper.  

Great information about purple martins can be found at the Purple Martin Conservation Association website.

Ocean Trail at Rancho Palos Verdes Preserve, California--2015

Ocean Trail at Rancho Palos Verdes Preserve, California--2015

Joshua Tree National Forest, California, with son Chad and daughter Thuan--2015

Joshua Tree National Forest, California, with son Chad and daughter Thuan--2015
Photo credit: Thuan Tram

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park - 2014

Bird banding with Mark Armstrong at Seven Islands State Birding Park - 2014
Photo courtesy of Jody Stone

Birds Close-up

Birds Close-up
Photo courtesy of Karen Wilkenson

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill, Manitoba

Enjoying Gray Jays in Churchill, Manitoba
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky Expeditions, Churchill, MB--2014

A dog sled experience with Blue Sky Expeditions, Churchill, MB--2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Sky Expeditions

Churchill, Manitoba--2014

Churchill, Manitoba--2014
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--2014

Smithsonian National Zoo with one of my Whooping Crane art banners and son, John--2014

Muir Woods on the Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach, California--2014

Muir Woods on the Dipsea Trail at Stinson Beach, California--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Checking out the gulls at Stinson Beach--2014

Checking out the gulls at Stinson Beach--2014
Photo courtesy of Wendy Pitts Reeves

Discovery Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska--2012

Discovery Hike in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska--2012
Photo courtesy of Ruth Carter
Related Posts with Thumbnails