Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Caspian Terns Part Two

We're working away on the Caspian tern painting. I have nothing pithy to say about how I painted the sand and the ocean. I just did it, painted things wet on wet in stripes and painted right over the masked out birds with great abandon and speed. When the paint dried, I could peel up the masking film and rub the dried masking compound off with my thumb and bingo! clean paper where I could paint the terns. Truth is, I couldn’t have stopped to take a photo if I’d wanted to.

While things were still wet I scrubbed out the reflections of the birds, which means I took a brush loaded with clear water, laid that water down, waited a few moments, then did a light scrub with a dry flat brush and just lifted the paint back off the paper.


But here’s where it gets tricky. For their reflections, I had to paint the same three birds, but upside down. Urggg. I tried it on the leftmost tern, tried drawing the durn thing upside down, and it was hard, even when I turned the painting upside down, to draw a convincing reflection. I decided I'd better figure out a better way for the next two birds. So I took a piece of tracing paper, traced my birds, and then flopped the image down on the painting and transferred it using soft pencil applied to the back of the tracing paper. By pressing down hard, I could make pencil lines on the watercolor paper.
In this way, I got an exact image of the bird where the reflection should be. Cool, huh?


This is the kind of thing you figure out on the fly when you’re painting. It was something that I knew I’d have to suss out, but I had only the haziest idea how to tackle it when I started the painting.


Here’s a detail. You can see that I’ve got the reflections of the loafing birds pretty well done. Note the leftmost bird. It's not a perfect reflection. On the other two, I used the shortcut I'd figured out. I don’t want them to be exact or too fussy or they won’t look like reflections. They just have to be convincing enough that the eye passes over them and accepts them as reflections. So, keeping that spirit, the inexact leftmost bird doesn't bother me. It works well enough.


Where the two large front cover birds were concerned, it looked like the reflection of the left-hand bird would run onto the wet sand, where it would conceivably not show up as it would in shallow water. So I just kind of hazed it out. Any painting tends to have its own can of worms; every painting has things to consider and conquer that the artist hadn’t figured on when first envisioning it. If you choose not to paint directly from photos, slavishly copying everything the photographer captured; if you choose to create your own scenes, you get can after can of worms. But it’s the worms that make it fun, the worms, and keeping a playful spirit. In watercolor painting, it helps to be able to say "Whatever." It's good enough, let's move on.

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