The process behind a piece of art can often be as interesting as the final outcome. I love seeing the early concepts, doodles drawn on the backs of napkins or models constructed from plasticine and cardboard. With that in mind, I plan to document my work as it moves from stage to stage, something I’ve never done till now.
While these images were posted on social media as daily updates, I think it there’s value in gathering up the scraps and looking at them as a whole in a bit more detail.
Step1. Posing the Model
At the onset I was aiming for something that you might see while out birding. I was really excited to pose the bird on my foam block, and in a small way, felt like I was following in the footsteps of Audubon. My optimism however, took a nosedive once I picked up my pencils. The early drawings did not flow and just felt wrong. I’ve learned from past experiences that it’s better to stop and hit the reset button, rather than to force a bad idea. The decision to paint the bird from the top came after dismantling it from the block and holding it in my hands. It just looked beautiful with its wings spread open, as if in flight. I think perhaps I was trying to be too fancy, when keeping things simple is usually the best approach. And while you wouldn’t ever see the bird from this angle through your binoculars, I like that it’s distinct from the images found in field guides.
Step2. Line Drawing
I began with a rough sketch on scrap paper which I used as a guide for establishing proportions. I then started drawing onto my watercolour board, paying close attention to the size and relationships of the individual feathers. I use a hard pencil at this stage as it’s easier to erase when I need to make corrections. Too much erasing alters the surface of the paper and affects how the paint behaves, so I use a gentle line and go slowly. I also keep an old 4 x 6 glossy photo under my drawing hand so that no skin oils get transferred to the surface of the board.
Step3. Watercolour Washes
The Kingbird is essentially monochromatic and my washes were mixed from just two watercolour pencils, Sepia and Prussian blue. I left some areas untouched so the white of the paper would show through but certain highlights required that I use an opaque white pencil. The illusion of texture was built up gradually by overlaying ragged brushstrokes and irregular dabs over transparent layers. The best part about this perspective is that I got to show a hint of the reddish crown that’s seldom visible.
I hope this little glimpse backstage was interesting!