For this painting of a crow, I wanted to use a color theory for a blue-violet foreground that did not utilize yellows and oranges in the background. I decided to go with a purple versus yellow color theory. On one side of the color wheel we have blue, blue-violet, violet, magenta and red. On the opposite side is the complement which is yellow. The crow is extremely dark – almost black so I knew violets and blues would do the trick. I wanted the crow to be bluer near the bottom of the picture frame. I decided to paint the leaves and background using reds and magentas. I used violet on the darkest parts of the leaves.
The first stage as always is the drawing. It is at this point that composition, value and color are already running through my mind. I transfer the bird that I am painting by rubbing graphite on the back of the reference photo. When doing the transfer, I prefer using a colored pencil. In the past I used a ball point pen but I find that it can dent the surface of the board especially if you happen to be heavy handed. I am sure to do a very loose transfer – getting all the important information and high contrast areas. I draw the rest of it using a 0.5 and 0.3 mechanical pencil.
The second stage is always the underpainting and as always I like to start with the darkest area first – the crow. I use payne’s grey for the underpainting using mostly rounds – synthetic brushes for harder edges and more natural, softer brushes for the washes and soft edges. When I am using reference, I am sure that I keep the reference photo about half arms distance away forcing me to consider overall shapes and values instead of details.
Unlike previous bird paintings, for this one I decided to go ahead and bring the foreground to more of a finished state before heading over to the background. I start laying in gradient washes of primary cyan using my softer, natural rounds. The pigment is more concentrated and saturated near the bottom of the picture frame and I slowly thin it out as I near the head of the crow – rinsing and diluting the pigment in the brush as I move up. I do two of these gradient washes.
I attack it with dioxazine purple in the next stage; using it basically the same way I used payne’s grey in the underpainting. It is at this point that paint now covers the entire bird except for the very brightest of highlights in his beak and eye.
In this next stage, I really begin laying in the color. I am mostly using payne’s grey and carbon black. I use carbon black on the absolute darkest areas and I also use it to neutralize color. When I use it as a neutralizer, I am careful to thin it out with more water in the brush. Carbon black is a good neutralizer because unlike payne’s grey, things do not become more blue as you add it. Payne’s grey is great but I find that as you layer it on a surface, it can become an ugly, saturated ultramarine blue if you over do it. I also did a couple more light gradient washes of primary cyan to beef up the blue color in his feathers. At this stage I also lay down some hansa yellow medium and primary yellow in his eye. I use dioxazine purple to control the level of saturation of yellow pigment. In this instance, I wanted a much more neutral – brownish yellow.
Now I am ready to begin the underpainting on the background. Because I know I want the leaves to be red, I use alizarin crimson hue to do the underpainting.
When I am ready to do my gradient washes, I use pyrrole red. I do many washes using this color but I am careful to thin it out and load my brush with plenty of water. I am sure to maintain high contrast around the head of the crow – it is pretty much the white of the board that is seen in the finally scan. I also paint some very light and very flat leaf-like shapes to give some more depth.
Here in the finished scan, you can see that I did some more rendering on the leaves – adding more leaf-like shapes, gradient washes and deepening the values/ details with dioxazine purple. But main thing is finishing up with opaques in his eye. There are opaques on some of his feathers and around his beak, but I mostly focused on his eye and getting the highlights where I wanted them to be.