So: using one of my favorite subjects, a Great Blue Heron.
First I select my reference photo or photos, which I don't need to show here.
Canvas selected, I tone it with a wash of burnt sienna thinned with Turpenoid.
This canvas will have to dry for a day before I can paint on it or I'll contaminate everything I paint on it in first layers, with burnt sienna.
I sometimes have a canvas-toning session where I tone a large number of panels and canvases at once since I almost always use a burnt sienna base.
Next up is the initial oil sketch, also in thinned burnt sienna. In an organized artist's studio this could be the first paint that goes on the canvas, foregoing the wash which is redundant. But that would require thinking about it.
This is the stage where I set the drawing of the bird, get the proportions and positioning right, the feathers where they belong. After this it is coloring in the lines. Well, sort of.
(Click on the photo to enlarge it; remember you can do that with any photo on this blog).
OK now I will paint a heron. One of those Rules Of Painting does hold true here: start with the darks and then proceed with the lighter colors. Another of those Rules of Painting that is pretty much an essential in oil painting is 'fat over lean', so the underpainting of washy, thin paint gets built upon with subsequent layers that have more paint, more pigment. To make a successful painting you have to get the paint on there, build and layer it.
I am still monochromatic aside from my premature water dabbling. Delineating the feathers, refining the 'drawing'. If one is painting representational art (you know, painting things as most people actually see them) one does want to be reasonably accurate about it. So if you are painting individual feathers, even loosely and with a big broad stroke to represent those feathers, you might has well get the right number there. Know your subject so you understand what you are seeing. Paint what you see (as opposed to what you think you should see) but understand what is there. So in painting a wing you want to know which direction the feathers layer (which ones are under the next one, which overlap the next one). There is a common basic pattern in wing feathers of all species due to the physics of making a wing of feathers lift a bird on air resistance (AKA flight).
Now at last I start mixing paint and putting it on the canvas. Darkest first, those darkest primary and secondary wing flight feathers, and the head marking, the shadowy parts of the body .
Now some of the lighter areas. My dark blue-black wing feathers were UM blue and burnt sienna, my combination of choice for dark blues, blacks, dark grays, dark browns. The blue-gray feathers of the tertiary feathers are UM blue and burnt sienna with titanium white.
The legs are starting to get some paint as well might be a bit of white in that basic black mix I describe, but still not much color in the painting yet. It will come.
Here I have started to work on individual feathers, usually having a couple of brushes and going back and forth with the lighter and darker sides of each one. I constantly remind myself to check the overall drawing still, to be sure I am not sitorting the feather lines. The concept of losing the forest for the trees is very real when painting and failing to watch how paint lines start to change shape.
Also a bit of shadow line on the tail and back feathers.
Now I start getting more paint on. The photos seem blue but those lighter body feathers are a bit violet-blue-gray with the addition of some alizuran crimson.
On the back of the bird the paint layer is not solid. There is a reason for the original underpainting to be warm and solid: some bits here and there will show through the finished painting and while it won't be obvious like at this stage, it will register in the brain, giving the painting a warmth. Also leaving areas on the back unpainted for now allows for putting the details of feather shadows without painting wet-on-wet when I don't want to.
Now we are seeing a bit more bird.
Which I decided I didn't like at all.
I have painted many a bird on a silvery water surface but there was something I couldn't put my finger on with this one that made me not like it. Ah the beauty of oil painting, I can always change it! And I will. And actually I have, but no photo yet.
Some thoughts about the big change in the painting: I did know I didn't want any habitat aside from water, right from the beginning. Grasses would needlessly complicate the view and would take away from what I wanted to do. But one of the things I hope will be most appealing about this painting will be the light, with the bird back-lit and the sparkly highlights (yet to be painted) on the bird. Part of the problem with this reflected sky is that a lot of that nice backlighting won't really stand out against the silvery sky reflection.
So stay tuned, tomorrow or the next day another photo will show my resolution of the problem. Better planning on my part would have resulted in a painting that would probbaly be completed by now, but hopefully I can work to make it a successful finish despite my muddling about.
Wednesday February 5, 2013
As I mentioned above, I needed to resolve a problem I had with the painting.
A common rule in composition tells us not to make the horizon line dead center, or to palce a subject dead center, or to divide the image in half as I have done here with my green reflection. But the weighting of the painting by dominating the upper left quadrant with the subject, and the crossing of the order by the bird's legs and the reflection, change the balance to a more natural and asymmetrical composition.
This s the initial painted reflection; much work to be done to clarify rippled edge of the tree refection.
Defining the ripples now, worked a bit on legs that had been overpainted when the water was being painted. Also more work on the streamer feathers on the bird's back.
Sun lighting up those cresty white head feathers, and shining through the translucent bill. These highlights are, in the end, the reason I paint a specific scene.
I meant to list my color palette above, but will do it here instead.
(These are all Winsor Newton Artist Oils).
French Ultramarine blue
That's it. That's it for the majority of my paintings. Rarely, I do have the need for a more electric blue than I can achieve with UM blue, so a pthalo blue or winsor blue will come in handy, but that is not a good blue for mixing many other colors.
For a straw or grass yellow I cannot find with my limited palette, Naples Yellow is irreplaceable.
Paynes Gray is used by some artists to knock back the strength of some colors but I use it for one purpose only, which is to paint blue merle color in a dog or dapple gray in a horse. In both cases a small amount f burnt sienna to warm the gray (and of course white to lighten it) are used to get the right color, shade and tone.