I decided to paint a finch this time, mostly because I was tired of painting oak leaves. Almost every bird painting I have done has oak leaves in the composition and it was getting old. This particular bird looks good amongst desert flora so I looked up “desert flower” and “cactus flower” to find some cool background reference. I decided to go with a blue-violet versus yellow-orange color theory again but I used it in a way that was much different. I used payne’s grey but I stayed away from primary cyan. I decided there is enough blue in payne’s grey to get the job done. I also stayed away from turquois, so mostly I used the analogous colors from blue-violet to magenta and yellow orange which is on the opposite side of the color wheel.
You can see I made some changes to the drawing if you look at the finished painting. When I held my drawing up to the mirror the petals in the upper right hand corner looked odd – they were too big. You can see in the painting that I shrunk those petals significantly. It is really important to check your composition before starting the underpainting. Holding your drawing up to the mirror is an excellent way to check compositional issues that you may have.
I used three brushes for this painting – two synthetic rounds (8 & 10) and a large 16 soft round for doing gradient washes. The 16 soft round brush is called a “Neptune” brush. It can hold a ton of water and it is very easy to get a soft, air-brushed feel with it. The underpainting is done in payne’s grey and primary magenta. You can see I painted the background with magenta instead of using an earth tone. I really wanted to push the absolute separation of background and foreground elements in this piece. By only using warm colors in my background, I accomplish this pretty easily. When doing this underpainting, I used my two synthetic rounds. There are mostly hard edges although I did apply some light gradient washes on the foreground.
When I really start to lay in color, I use dioxazine purple on both background and foreground elements. I am always consciously aware of maintaining the white of the board around the bird’s head in which his eye is my subject. Again, contrast and color are important so everything around his head needs to be the highest contrast – black and white. As we move away from the subject towards the edge of the picture plane, it needs to become lower contrast. I keep this in mind when I do my gradient washes.
I wanted his belly to be more separated from the background so I did a few gradient washes with dioxazine purple to accomplish this. Doing so brought the bird more forward; I needed his lower underbelly to be nearing a dark grey. Again, I figured this out by looking at my painting in the mirror and when I did, the value problems became more apparent.
Here I really lay in the color. Attacking the background, I use my large 16 soft round to do multiple gradient washes with vat orange and primary yellow. I apply vat orange first and I am careful to thin out the paint so as I move towards the subject, it is mostly water by that point. You must always be wary of maintaining high contrast around the subject. The vat orange and primary yellow washes end up neutralizing the magenta quite a bit, which is alright, the only true saturated color will be in his eye. Looking at my reference, I use primary yellow to neutralize a few areas on the bird. I am thinning out the yellow and applying it very lightly when I do this. I then go back in with magenta and do the same thing.
Here in the finished scan, you can see that I have done a considerable amount of opaques both on the foreground and background. I also deepened some of the dark areas with payne’s grey and dioxazine purple. When applying the opaques, I am using mostly titanium white and a little bit of primary yellow. I pay close attention to my reference and pop things that need a little more contrast. I added some acrylic flow release to my smaller jar of water to make titanium white flow a little easier. When I added the highlight in his eye, I first used nothing but titanium white then I glazed on a little bit of alizarin crimson followed by some vat orange. In my reference his eye is nothing more than a black orb which doesn’t make for a very interesting subject. Adding reflections and saturated color is a subjective decision to make a much more interesting composition.