In The Studio: Three New Bird Paintings

piliated-woodpecker
Piliated Woodpecker  oil  6×6″- observed and photographed in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia

The juried show season is under way! I keep a long rectangular white board hanging on the wall next to my desk, divided into squares for each month, on which I list the shows I plan, to or am thinking about, entering.  Sometimes I enter work I already have on hand and sometimes I do new work just for that exhibition. In this case, these have been submitted for the Spring Auction at the Salmagundi Club. Entry in their shows, for which all but one are members only, is free and it’s a chance to get my work seen in New York. Not easy when you live in northern California. Notification will be later this month. I’ll let you know what happens. But, in or out, I had fun doing them and will be painting more small pieces like these in the future, which I plan to list on eBay.

Except for a stint in September, I’ve gotten very little oil painting time in since May of last year. So these pieces served two goals.. One, to get back in the groove, and two, to create some small works that will be easy to ship and, with luck, attract buyers.

I chose for my subjects three east coast species of birds. Two I saw on my trip to Georgia and New York State last March and the other a few years ago when I and two artist friends went to Assateague and Chincoteague Islands on a very fun road trip.

I wanted the emphasis to be on the birds with just a suggestion of location and habitat. So simple shapes and planning positive and negative shapes. I started with graphite drawings. I don’t do a lot of birds so I needed to make sure I understood what I was seeing in my reference photos and that I had the value pattern I wanted.

woodpecker

For this male piliated woodpecker I planned the composition to have the darkest dark  behind the bird’s head to pop out the black and white head pattern and also the red. It’s a warmer dark than the black of the bird, so there’s also a temperature shift. There are three shapes: the bird, the tree trunk and the background. I used  green because it’s the complement of red. In my reference photo, it being March, none of the trees had leaves and everything was brown. But so what? I’m the artist and can do anything I want.

nuthatch

This is a white-breasted nuthatch that came to a bird feeder outside the window of an artist friend’s home I was staying at in the Hudson River Valley. I’d heard of them but had never seen one, so was happy to get some good reference. I didn’t want to include the feeder so I put the bird on a tree trunk instead, using a photo I shot of the trees that surround the home of famous Hudson Valley artist Thomas Cole, not far from my friend’s home, so I knew it would be correct.

white-breasted-nuthatch-2
White-breated Nuthatch   oil   6×6″

For the background I wanted the suggestion of foliage with some sky showing through, which are called “sky holes”. I did the them quickly over the green. And pulled a little of the latter over the tree trunk to connect the foreground and background. Once again, three elements…the bird, tree trunk and background. No fussing.

gull

This laughing gull was perched on a post between a parking lot and the beach on Chincoteague Island. He was quite a good model and I had an excellent choice of reference to choose from. I’ll probably paint him again sometime. For this composition I went with one shape, the bird on his perch, against a plain background. No beach, surf or cars like were in the reference photo. Didn’t need or want them.

laughing-gull
Laughing Gull  oil  6×6″

As you can see, the gull’s proportions changed some from the drawing as I made corrections as needed on the painting while I consulted my reference photo. The blue sky alone didn’t seem like quite enough, so I added a soft band of warm white behind the bird. Notice also that I didn’t paint a single feather, but just treated each area as a shape that has a specific value and color. I had to get out a fine-tipped round synthetic brush to do the eye and bill, but I generally use Grand Prix Silver Brushes. I always use the biggest brush I can that will still get the job done.

Sketches and Watercolors From My Trip Back East

Alligators at Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Alligators at Harris Neck NWR, Georgia

Here’s an album of the art I created while I was traveling last month. I had a lot of fun drawing the alligators at the Okefenokee NWR and Harris Neck NWR. They’re good models because they don’t move much. There really is no substitute for drawing from live animals, although I took a ton of photos, too. Other than the one at the top, they’re in chronological order, starting with New York. All but one pencil sketch was done with a Sakura Micron .02 black pen. I used a Pentalic Nature Sketch 7×5″ sketchbook, a very handy size. Drawings on white paper are difficult to scan or photograph. I lightened them as much as I could.

Central Park View
Central Park View
Calfornia sea lion, Central Park Zoo, New York
Calfornia sea lion, Central Park Zoo, New York
Resting grizzly bear, Central Park Zoo, New York
Resting grizzly bear, Central Park Zoo, New York
Turtles, snow leopard cub, Central Park Zoo, New York
Turtles, snow leopard cub, Central Park Zoo, New York
Pronghorn head mount and hat, Explorers Club, New York
Pronghorn head mount and hat, Explorers Club, New York
Cheetah mount, Explorers Club, New York; White ibis, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Cheetah mount, Explorers Club, New York; White ibis, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Ibis in tree
White ibis in tree, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Water lily, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia; River cooter (turtle), Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Water lily, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia; River cooter (turtle), Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Alligator 2
Alligator, Harris Neck NWR, Georgia
Alligator leg 3
Alligator front leg, Harris Neck, NWR. Georgia
Jekyll Island
Jekyll Island, Geogia
Alligator Crazy 4
“Crazy”, 12′ long, 800-900 lb. bull alligator, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
Farmstead
Farmstead, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
Alligator details 5
Alligator details, Okefenokee Swamp Park, Georgia
Bald Cypress tree
Bald cypress tree, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Cypress roots
Bald cypress roots, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Cypress and alligator
Bald cypress, American alligator, Okefenokee NWR, Georgia
Live oak and moss
Live oaks and Spanish moss, Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island, Florida
Savannah, egrets
Savannah NWR, South Carolina
Pencil birds
Birds, Hudson River Valley, New York State

When I got back north and was up in the Hudson River Valley, I visited Olana, the home of American artist Frederic Church. The house wasn’t open but the grounds were. It was windy and pretty cold, but I was determined to do at least a couple of watercolors since the view from the house is famous and has been painted by a number of artists over the years.

Hudson River from Olana
Hudson River from Olana, New York State; 8×8″
Catskills from Olana
Catskill Mountains from Olana, New York State; 8×8″

I also spent a couple of days with an artist friend at his home in the Hudson River Valley. We spent one morning on location at this lovely pond.

Pond wc
Pond, Hudson River Valley, New York State; 8×8″

The Okefenokee Swamp NWR And Harris Neck NWR, Traveling in Georgia

 

American alligator
American alligator, Harris Neck NWR

I’m currently on a road trip in southern Georgia. I flew to New York on March 10 (which is why there was no blog post last week)  to attend the Explorers Club Annual Dinner (ECAD) and had a terrific time. The opening of the group exhibition “Wildlife Art: Field to Studio” is the evening of March 31 at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut. What to do in between? It didn’t really make sense to fly home to California for two weeks and then fly back, so I decided to see what there would be to do on the east coast where it was warmer and in the same time zone. After considering a number of possibilities, some more ambitious than others, including flying to Paris for a week or going to somewhere like Belize or Costa Rica, I took another look at the map, Florida being too expensive and everything pretty much booked, and saw….the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, somewhere I’d wanted to go since I was a kid. Plus there’s the barrier islands of the Georgia coast. Sold! I flew down on Monday to Savannah, picked up a rental car and drove to my first of three Airbnb lodgings, this one near Brunswick. The next day I did quite a long drive over to the western entrance to the swamp. Here’s some of what I saw:

I sat at the end of this boardwalk to sketch and do a watercolor.
I sat at the end of this boardwalk to sketch and do a watercolor.
There was a large flock of white ibis all around
There was a large flock of white ibis all around
Of course everyone wants to see the alligators, but they're a wild animal, so you never know. But this little one swam right across in front of where I was sitting.
Of course everyone wants to see the alligators, but they’re a wild animal, so you never know. But this little one swam right across in front of where I was sitting.
On the way back I spotted this red-shouldered hawk
On the way back I spotted this red-shouldered hawk
I was on another section of boardwalk over water and there was suddenly a loud "galoop" of water. This whitetail doe came out from underneath. I walked right over where she was. But she stopped, had a little chin scratch and then started to browse the leaves on the trees.
I was on another section of boardwalk over water and there was suddenly a loud “galoop” of water. This whitetail doe came out from underneath. I had walked right over where she was. But she stopped, had a little chin scratch and then started to browse the leaves on the trees.
I took a break at a bump-out seating deck and there was this green anole (currently turned brown) who stayed around for me to take quite a few photos
I took a break at a bump-out seating deck and there was this green anole (currently turned brown) who stayed around for me to take quite a few photos
I got up to leave, walked over the balcony. looked down, saw a movement in the water and spotted this water snake (non-poisonous) swimming by
I got up to leave, walked over the balcony. looked down, saw a movement in the water and spotted this water snake (non-poisonous) swimming by

The next day I met up with artist and fellow Explorers Club member Alan Campbell, who took me around Harris Neck NWR.

The refuge is known for it's wood stork rookery.
The refuge is known for it’s wood stork rookery.
Wood stork gathering nesting materials
Wood stork gathering nesting materials
Wood stork carrying twigs back to the rookery. The birds have recently been removed from the endangered species list.
Wood stork carrying twigs back to the rookery. The birds have recently been removed from the endangered species list.

We twice drove the route through the refuge so went a couple of times to a dike bordering the big pond where the storks since things are always changing. The second time we saw this turtle!

River cooter, a local species of turtle
River cooter, a local species of turtle
There were a lot of little gators by the edge of the dike. This one came up onto the grass and Alan got some good close-ups.
There were a lot of little gators by the edge of the dike. This one came up onto the grass and Alan got some good close-ups. A few second later he raised his hind end and we both wondered what he was going to do, but he simply turned and walked back down into the water.
Gator reflection
Gator reflection
Gator yawn
Gator yawn
One of the quintessential trees of the Deep South...a live oak festooned with Spanish moss
One of the quintessential trees of the Deep South…a live oak festooned with Spanish moss

It was a great day! I’m on the road again with trips to the other entrances to the Okefenokee and explorations of the barrier islands.