"Watercolors are not for the faint-of-heart but for those willing to explore and experiment, knowing that they risk failure, knowing that each piece of paper will not end as a 'masterpiece'....So long as you keep rising to its challenges, it will keep opening doors on others. In time watercolor will become a reflection of you and your personality". Gordon MacKenzie, The Complete Watercolorist's Essential Notebook.
This painting became one of those lively challenges. A practice in patience and decision-making that stimulated my desire to learn new skills and new ways to indicate sparkle in a winter scene.
My first challenge was saving whites w/o using a masking medium by painting around the iced limbs. My hope was to capture the bright, muted grays of this winter day illuminated by a coating of ice and snow. Even though an initial wash of "painting around" objects looks a bit awkward at this stage, its appearance changes as you add more elements to the painting. I used French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna (Winsor Newton brand) to mix the gray, adding more water to achieve a lighter shade.
The gray wash was painted on after wetting the paper and being careful to leave the iced branches dry. The paint will move around the dry area. Once the wash had dried, I added more limbs and the brighter colors on the bluebird. The blue feathers are created from a mix of Pthalo Blue and Cobalt Blue.
Next I added the red berries and more limbs. I added darker gray around the limbs below the bird but discovered I preferred the brighter gray and corrected this by spraying clear water on the darker areas to dilute the color.
In the image above, the iced limbs draw the eye to the white and the hard edges. Below, I have softened some of the edges of the ice and added limbs showing through.
I continued to soften the ice edges by lifting with clear water and a scrub brush and softened the lines of the limbs within the ice. I've also added drips to further create the impression of ice and added more detail to the berry pods and the bluebird, shown below.
This was a fun exploration and a good practice for the patience of letting things unfold. Since working on this painting, I have searched for ideas in my watercolor books and found demonstrations on creating the sparkle and reflection in a crystal vase, which is somewhat like ice, and creating sparkles and ice on the surface of water. Though I haven't come across a demonstration of ice on branches, these techniques will come in handy as I continue to explore this kind of winter scene.
The last three weeks of February gave me plenty of reference images for ice on branches here in Tennessee. Below is another image of a bluebird on an iced branches. In this image, the limbs are clearly visible beneath the ice and you can see small reflections. This maybe my next painting challenge!