Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Red Tailed Hawk Acrylic Painting

Before I start a painting, I always think about where my darkest values will be with the understanding that I will only use payne’s grey and dioxazine purple in those areas.  The lightest areas should be devoid of dark pigments to give as much contrast as possible.  Wherever I am not using payne’s grey or dioxazine purple I have to use other pigments to get those grey values.  Those particular pigments will vary depending on the color theory I choose to employ.  When you view a painting in thumbnail form or look at it from a distance and squint at it, these overall values should become apparent.  This is called black, white and grey composition.  In the case of this red tailed hawk; when squinting at the painting the darkest values are on the hawk itself (foreground).  The background contains grey and absolute white.  After I am sure of where the darkest and lightest values are, only then do I take out the color wheel.

In the case of this hawk, I knew I wanted to use payne’s grey, dioxazine purple, vat orange, primary magenta, primary yellow and green gold on the hawk.  Since my background only consisted of light grey and absolute white values, I knew the pigments I could use would be much more limited.  Because of the color theory I decided on, I chose primary magenta, primary cyan and green gold for the background elements.  With that understanding, I was ready to do a line drawing.  You can see in the scan that I drew the cherry blossoms using a red colored pencil (carmine red).  I did this because I knew that the underpainting for the background would be done with primary magenta.  Also graphite is way too dark – requiring some erasing after completing the background.

I prefer painting the darkest areas first, whether or not they are in the background or foreground doesn’t matter to me.  Because I knew my hawk would be dark, I put a light wash of payne’s grey over the dark areas of the drawing.  This was done to force me to paint darker because on a pure white surface, every mark you make will appear dark.  By putting a wash over the dark areas of a drawing, I end up wasting less time to obtain those dark values.  Otherwise, you might end working on an underpainting and then going back over it a second time to get the darker values in your comp. 

At this stage of the painting, I started to lay down some transparent color.  Always when this is done, several things become apparent – the underpainting is not dark enough and the added color flattens the image.  The first color I laid down (vat orange) seemed to make the image look garish and it was not until I started adding dioxazine purple that the image calmed down.  I used vat orange because I knew it would become neutralized.  I always prefer using color over earth tones whenever possible.  Colors that interact to form neutrals generally look better than earth tones like burnt umber.

As I mentioned, the image was flattened after putting down some color.  Because of this, I went back in with payne’s grey and deepened the dark areas of the hawk.  I also started to lay down some opaques to pop areas of the feathers and to brighten his eye.  There should always be a subject (area of focus) for a painting.  In this case, I chose to make the hawk’s eye glow using titanium white at first, followed by glazing color on top of those opaques areas.  By glazing color over titanium white, you can get the most saturated color because the pigment is not interacting with transparent colors underneath.  The color “floats” on top of the opaque paint and looks brighter being surrounded by desaturated and dark areas.

At this point, I started to paint my background using primary magenta.  I made sure to thin out the paint using water before applying it.  This was done to make sure I did not paint too dark or too saturated.  I also shifted the color of his eye to more yellow to match the color theory needed for the painting.

Originally I wanted the hazy gradient washes to be a light sky blue.  I used primary cyan and my soft Neptune brush to add in a few gradient washes.  I used a lot of water to dilute the pigment and create a light wash.  As I moved toward my subject (the hawk’s eye), I thinned out the paint more and more to preserve the white of the board around the hawk’s head.  

Because I made a conscious choice to keep dark pigments out of my background, I had to use green gold mixed with primary magenta and a little bit of primary cyan to deepen the shadows.  At first I thought that primary magenta and green gold would be enough to create a neutral brown without resorting to using earth tones.  Instead it made a fairly saturated orange so I had to add a tiny bit of primary cyan to get the neutral tone I desired.  Although you might think that two complementary colors will create a neutral tone, it all depends on the brand and quality of the paint.  It might require some experimentation to get the value and color you need.  Green gold happens to lean more towards an intense yellow (despite its misleading name) which is why primary cyan is also needed.  I also created a neutral green using the same colors to add some gradient washes just like I did with primary cyan in the previous step.

Finally in the scan of the painting, you can see all the opaques I did in both the background and the foreground.  I used quite a bit of opaques on the petals of the flowers to pop areas where the light was hitting.  I deepened a lot of the dark areas on the hawk using primary magenta and paynes grey.  But mostly I focused on the hawk’s eye – getting the glow that I wanted to portray by using titanium white and then glazing green gold on top.  I placed some intense color in the eye as well as around it to really sell the glowing feeling I wanted it to have.  All in all I like the results.  I continue to learn with each painting when it comes to applying the paint as well as color theory.  I hope to push my black, white and grey compositions further to encompass different compositions other than a dark foreground on a light background.

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