Sunday, November 29, 2015

Not all Birds Head South for the Winter!

Not all birds head south for the winter

In fact this bird will be traveling east to his new home in Hull Mass. This is a commissioned piece, recently completed, approximately 24" x  30" with a wrap-around canvas. The painting is based on a stunning photo in which the play of light and dark in the shallow water create as much interest as the heron itself. In fact the background was just a little too interesting to transfer successfully from photo to painting.

Taming the background

When I began working on this painting I knew the biggest challenge would be in making the heron stand out from the water. In the photo the heron is nearly the same colors as the water, providing very little contrast, which is fine for the heron who is trying to blend into his surroundings. But we want something different in a painting. A painting needs contrast: opportunities for brilliant colors to glow against subtle colors, and light colors to shine against dark tones.

After sketching the heron and some of the major patterns in the water, I under-painted in complementary colors to give the painting more "life". Underpainting in complementary colors lends a fuller, richer look to the finished painting, especially when some of the under-painting is allowed to show through create a nice dynamic tension to the surface.

I painted the water first, then painted the heron adjusting colors and values to contrast with the water. The color of the heron in the painting is "amped up" and definitely darker in value compared to the heron in the photo. The lines around the feathers are more prominent than they are in the photo and are painted with high contrast to add definition and texture. I increased the orange-y rust color around the neck for contrast. The warm orange/rust comes forward and the cool blues recede. 


When the painting was nearly finished I mixed a combination of glaze with soft blues and purples (very little color, mostly glaze) and painted it over the water to further subdue the background. It worked!

As I was working on this painting I kept finding so many "lessons" within the piece from start to finish and it made me wish I was still teaching. We'll see how long my teaching hiatus lasts!


I haven't thought of a title yet. any suggestions?

Related posts

If you are looking for more information on working with underpainting in complementary colors, check out this related post from a couple of years ago.