April 9, 2011

Garden Neglect and Painting Progression Three - Grackle by Water

Already well into April, and here on Long Island, we've finally gotten what feels like a spring day. To properly soak it up, I'm writing this post on the cottage deck-- in view of this year's first jar of sun tea, one of many feral cats who enjoy napping on my deck chairs, and my previously neglected garden.

I kind of let Mother Nature take over when things got a little extreme last summer.  Mother Nature (or quite possibly that creepy, old, not really a relative, Uncle Global-Warming) began asserting matters with extreme heat, drought, and hoard after hoard of carpenter ants.  I wanted this year to be different, but my current budget will likely have me starting from seed and with whatever resilient herbs and veggies that are poking their heads up now.  From the looks of it so far, that'll be a few fennel bulbs, parsley (a busy, single lady's best friend), some sage, dill and, yes, even a little spearmint.

While I wouldn't mind devoting a few future posts to the art and science of gardening in itself, this herbal update is really a clumsy segue to breakdown my latest watercolor to date.  This one was inspired by a photo taken at one of my favorite places on earth, the Brooklyn Botanical Garden-- a garden that's probably never experienced any form of neglect.  If you haven't been there, go. It's open year-round with festivities scheduled throughout.  The big one coming up is the Sakura Matsuri to celebrate the year's cherry blossoms with a colorful and delightful dose of Japanese culture.

I've gone several times, though sadly not in recent years.  It's usually, and understandably, a pretty packed event.  If you really want to take in the sights and scents, take a sick day and go during the week when they're are much fewer crowds. I have plenty of amazing shots taken by friends over the years, but rather than continue this BBG informercial by including a photo tour, here's just the one that served as a recent painting's reference.


Part of the reason I've been digging through old photos is due to a bit of a productivity slump.  Since "artist's block" is a luxury that only employed people can afford, I had to pick something to work on and power through.  I chose this image because there's enough form and definition with the rocks, the fallen foliage and the friendly grackle to serve as a starting point.  Apart from that, there's the freedom of that fabulous stuff: water.  The image as it is needs a little help if there's any hope for me breaking out the color concentrates. And by little help, I mean color saturated to hell and back.

That should do it. The blue iridescence of the grackle, the warm siennas
and yellows of the foliage, and everything happening in the water, wakes up
a more interesting pallet.  I've also cropped quite a bit to keep the focus on the
grackle, but mostly because I hate painting convincing ground foliage.  While
it can create a "Wow, that must've taken you forever." effect, it usually takes forever.

Since I wasn't terribly concerned with keeping much loyalty to the original reference on this one, I neglected to take many shots showing technique. I wasn't sure what was going to happen, so most of the photos simply show a start-to-finish progression.

There's not much to the map. The only elements I really want to
maintain are the grackle and where the rocks begin and end.
As far as the foliage and the water, I decide to wing it.
Pun intended. Think of me what you will! 
I started with the left rock. The texture is created with a layer of Chinese
white and slate blue, then a stencil brush is used to lightly work in traces of
 watery black.  A detailed brush is used to fill in the dark crevices on the right.
I've also left spaces open for a few weeds and the foliage. You can see where
Chinese white was used to control some bleeding on the lower left.
The foliage is created by filling in leaves with their lightest colors,
followed by darker details and blotches of black to establish shadow and
separation.  I started to fill in a few of the weed stems as well.

The grackle starts with the lightest blue highlights, followed by
deeper tones.  Mid-tones are added to bring out the feathers and get
his form down. Spaces are left for foreground leaves, which will be filled in once
his body is totally dry. Don't want to risk his blue bleeding to wet leaves.
His beak is filled with the rest of him, except he needs an eye.
Little bit of lemon yellow for the iris and a dot of ivory black for the pupil,
and now he can see.
Moving on to the rightmost rocks, the same stencil brush technique is used,
laying down a light layer, with textures of dark blotches over that. You can
see where the rock is first outlined and then filled in.
The same technique is used on the upper right rock, with a bit more color
variation.  I'm not fond of algae when it comes to my pond, but I love it
in paintings.
Since he's totally dry, a basic outline of the foreground leaves are added over
the grackle's body. I let them dry just a bit before I fill in the remaining space
 with color.
The partial drying let's the new layer blend, while still retaining the defining lines.

There's just a bit more flora to add before things get crazy and watery.
The final rock is filled in using the same stencil brush technique.
Little bits of foliage and their shadows are added using the same partial
dry and fill-in method.
The three weeds over the leftmost rock start with a light edging of
straw yellow and Venetian red.
Crimson is then filled in, leaving some space for undertones.
Some dark umber is filled in, leaving a few white highlights.
Moving on to the water, there is a defined ripple, which starts with
light outlines of kelly green. 
They're then thickened with touches of jungle green and spread with water.
The grackle's reflection is implied with touches of blue, while white space is left
to later be filled in with black.

There was some attempt to keep with the reflection portrayed in the reference
photo, but I probably looked at the clock and threw caution to the wind.
Black and olive green is added to define the ripple near the grackle
and shadow the rocks.
Just going for it at this point.

The water's white space is filled and varied by allowing the lighter
colors to bleed into one another. The brush is then dried slightly
and used to horizontally push and pull the flow of the water's surface.
Chinese white is added on top of the more saturated colors to lift up some
highlights and blend anything that's dried too dark or defined.

Finally, those two dried out weed stems are filled in with some sienna and
straw yellow.  I then decide to signature and call it a late night.

There's the scan!

Thanks to everybody who made it this far down the page!  Hope you enjoyed following along.  More to come soon.

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