Monthly Archives: December 2020

Another weekend experiment

Ring-necked Pheasant

For a few years I operated my own quite large photography studio in which I did everything from stock photography (food as well as travel and nature) to fine art photography, including printing. In recent years I have focused more on food photography from a more modest studio. I also use the studio for painting.

The big printer that I had in my studio eventually stopped working. Big (Epson) printers need to be in regular use and, if not – as was the case while I was on a long project – clog up and have to be replaced. Too costly to replace and my current studio does not have the space anyway.

Getting to the point, I have a stock of quality fine art photo paper that I thought might be worth testing for watercolour painting. The one I decided to experiment with was Hahnemuhle‘s Fine Art Museum Etching inkjet paper which is a 350 gm cotton rag paper. It is acid-free and of museum quality ie holds its colour well. That said, it is intended for ink-jet/giclee printing and not for watercolour painting. However, an artist will try painting on anything!

The subject of the painting is a Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus).

These game birds can be found pretty well all over the UK countryside. The males are colourful while the females tend to be drab in comparison.

The reference photo I used was taken by me a few years ago in Sussex, where I used to live before moving to Brazil, while visiting UK.

I tried another painting. This one, below, was of a Ruff (Philomachus pugnax, or Calidris pugnax) that I painted on Hahnemuhle’s Bamboo Fine Art Inkjet paper but, from the very first brush stroke, I didn’t feel comfortable with it.

Male Ruff (Caludris pugnax)

The paint soaked into the paper immediately thus making mixing on paper almost impossible. One would need to have two brushes in hand, applying the second brushstroke almost immediately after the first – or be extremely fast and pre-determine each brush-stroke with care. I guess it could be done.

Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis)

I tried again with another quick sketch, this time of a Southern Lapwing (Vanellus chilensis) in which I still encountered issues but at least I knew what to expect. I tried taking out some colour but found it impossible to do so as the pigment had been absorbed, so I used a bit of gouache (not visible in this image).

As far as the experiment is concerned, at least with the Museum etching paper, I liked the way that the paint went on. In fact I found the experience better than with some of the papers I have been using recently. I asked Hahnemuhle about any issues I may experience ………….waiting for their reply!

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Some weekend experiments

Blue and Yellow Macaw

Aside from a couple of ongoing projects, I wanted to paint a couple of birds in watercolour last weekend. The first was the Blue and Yellow Macaw, from a photo I took a few years ago, and the second was a Red-crested Cardinal, also from a photo taken a few years ago – ten years in fact, amazing how quickly time passes.

In the macaw painting (42 cm x 30 cm ie A3 paper) I decided to place the head in the bottom right corner of the paper instead of centre as I would normally do. I also used alcohol sprayed in parts and grains of salt (both rock salt and fine grains) to add texture. It was the first time I had used alcohol. I have used salt on many occasions.

Red-capped Cardinal

In the second painting, also on A3 paper, I decided to try painting the bird without its feet. I normally have my birds on a branch or twig with feet painted in detail. I prefer seeing the feet … bird feet are not attractive but they are an important feature – in some cases helping to develop identify the species. Also, I left most of the white plumage unpainted which, although it separates the head from the body, I think suits some bird paintings.

Learning points

I like using salt, water and alcohol to create texture in a painting, I also like trying alternative compositional approaches. So I was reasonably happy with the macaw.

While I like the idea of leaving white space in a bird portrait there is a danger that it can leave the painting looking flat – so I will use with caution. Having bird portraits without their feet doesn’t work for me. It looks ok in paintings by, say, Karl Martens but it’s not a thing I plan to do again.

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Eurasian Hoopoe

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

The Hoopoe can be found in Europe, Africa and Asia. I have seen them in the south of England, in Cyprus, Sicily, Bahrain, India, Egypt and South Africa. The sightings in India was, I believe, a subspecies Upupa marginata while the South African bird was Upupa africana.

They all look pretty well the same and used to be considered a single species (U.epops).

The one I painted was from I photograph that I took of the bird in a tree near Cairo, Egypt, a few years ago.

I first prepared a sketch of the Hoopoe in my journal. I then used the drawing to create a tonal value sketch to identify the highlights, mid-tones and the darkest areas.

Initial sketch in pencil

I then transferred the sketch to watercolour paper, painted the lightest tones of raw sienna and Paynes gray to give me a head start in painting, leaving a few areas of unpainted paper for the highlights, and then started, as I usually do, to paint the eye and beak.

tonal value study in pencil

The Hoopoe generally keeps its crest lowered but when lifted it varies in state from neat and attractive to scruffy and comical. I decided to paint a version with its crest up, again from a photo taken in Egypt.

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Bare-throated Bellbird

Bare-throated Bellbird (Procnias nudicollis)

The call of a Bellbird can be heard from a great distance. I was driving along the Graciosa Trail, near Curitiba in the south if Brazil, when I heard its call.

Whenever I visited the trail, usually at dawn, I had the habit of opening the car windows and driving more slowly than the permitted 40 kph (25 mph) so I could hear the sounds of the Atlantic Rainforest at its best time.

I recognised the call immediately, having seen and heard specimens of the bird in a couple of zoos.

Near the start of the trail there is a tiny track that once led to a large house, now derelict, in the direction of where the bird was. I followed the track for about 150 metres, parked, and entered the forest. As I listened for the bird I became aware of other sounds. Something was moving and it was certainly not a small creature. It could have been a dog, a primate or even a jaguar. I decided it was better not to find out as I was alone.

The bellbird would not have been visible in the dense forest but I managed to see it perched in a treetop once I got to higher ground.

The painting is on 300 gsm watercolour paper, approx 42cm x 30cm (A3).

The green bare skin of the bird was produced by mixing a touch of intense blue with viridian. The greyish shades in the body were made with very pale washes if Paynes Gray with accents of ultramarine, yellow ochre or burnt sienna.

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Why use a huge palette?

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour chart

I remember walking into an art supply shop in Mexico City where I saw a huge range of colours. I was like a child in a sweet shop – I couldn’t decide what I wanted so I just bought colours without any real thought. That was a few years ago before I decided to take up painting more or less full time.

Having now had the benefit of seeing other artists at work, via You Tube, and hands on experience in painting I wondered what conclusions could be drawn from being faced with such a wide choice of colours when, in fact, we only need three!

My own collection of paints includes Winsor & Newton, Daler-Rowney and a couple of other (Italian and Brazilian) brands.

Suppliers offer a couple of ranges of colours – professional and student. The reason for this is that the pigments used in professional grade paints are expensive while the student grade paints, without going into the full analysis of manufacturing processes, have I believe substituted dyes for mineral-based pigments. That is not to say that student grade paints are inferior, far from it as they are both high quality and less expensive. Professional artists use student range paints.

I use both student and professional grade paints and, depending on the colour, generally prefer the pro version but am certainly quite happy with the student range for certain colours.

After reviewing a number of artists’ palettes I concluded that many artists use a palette limited to between 8 and 10 colours, depending on their speciality eg landscape versus botanical. I found that I use a palette of 8 or 9 colours for landscapes but up to 20 colours for bird portraits.

The underlying reason is not because it is easier to use a specific colour from a tube or pan (eg quinacridone red versus scarlet lake) but because using a colour from a range avoids the necessity to mix colours to match a hue in the subject. Mixing or glazing colours is ok to a point but there is a danger of creating muddy mixes, or glazing to the extent that luminosity is lost when trying to achieve a specific colour accurate to the subject.

These issue are not really relevant to me – I have to manage costs rather than manage a range of individual hues, though some colours are not available in the student range eg quinacridone gold or naples yellow. I may rethink this approach in due course but, for the present time, it suits me even for my bird portraiture.

Winsor & Newton

Daler Rowney

Note: Although there are other manufacturers eg Daniel Smith, Sennelier, Schmincke and many more, I have no experience of these.

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