I began this painting with a varigated wash painted on wet paper using Aureolin, Indian yellow and Prussian Blue. I wanted to capture a sense of light shining through the blackberry leaves that provide the habitat for my subject, the Common Yellowthroat.
The Common Yellowthroat is not "common" at all, but a brilliant yellow warbler with a spunky attitude that flits around in the leafy vegetation eating insects. While bird banding, we frequently hear them in the fields of Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge singing, "witchity, witchity, witchity". The refuge has recently received a new name and is becoming the first state park in Tennessee to focus primarily on birds and birding: Seven Islands State Birding Park!
This painting was commissioned to commemorate this announcement and the conservation of a beautiful property in Knox County that is bordered on three sides by the French Broad River. Not only is diverse grassland habitat being restored and preserved for breeding and wintering birds, the refuge provides valuable research opportunities that help all species of wildlife in the area.
Once I layed down the intial wash and gave it overnight to dry, I began to define the leaves with negative painting, first painting the space between the leaves (above), and then adding some beginning detail to the leaves themselves.
Early on, I painted the bird so that I could see more clearly how the patterns of light and dark would move the eye through the painting while highlighting the bird as the main focal point. Color, light patterns, and shapes, all attract the eye's attention. When the painting is complete, I want that attention to move across the whole painting while keeping the focal point clear.
Above you see I have added more leaves on the right side and another limb, creating a V-shaped pattern that directs the eye downward and up again and off the page. The red in the berries also leads the eye from left to right.
A detail of the leaves and second limb, above, and detail of leaves in the lower left corner of the painting, below. Most of the time I am wetting the leaves lightly and adding pigment that spreads unevenly through the leaf. As that layer dries, but before it is completely dry, I add more color that blends like that of the changing pigment in late summer and fall leaves. When the area is completely dry, I go back in to add the accent colors that mimic the spots and uneven coloration of blackberry leaves as they mature.
The Common Yellowthroat is one of my favorite birds of Seven Islands and one that I was introduced to at the banding table. This painting became a limited edition, signed and numbered print that decorated the tables at the Legacy Luncheon for the Parks where Governor Haslam announced the refuge's new name. The original watercolor was presented to the refuge founders, Pete and Linda Claussen, to commemorate their years of work in preserving this land for wildlife and Tennesseans.
To learn more about the event visit: Seven Islands Becomes Tennessee's First Birding Park
To see my sketchbook study for this painting visit: Using Your Sketchbook to Jump-start Your Painting
Bird banding sketch of Common Yellowthroat
Cornell on Common Yellowthroat
Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge
Legacy Parks Foundation
Seven Islands articles published in The Tennessee Conservationist Magazine
Bird banding at Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge