Making of 3 Bird Portrait

This commissioned pet portrait went to its new home this week. It’s the first piece to come out of my new studio after our move, and the first painting of 2014. It’s 48 × 24 inches.

The buyer provided quite a few nice photos, and I also used as references my own birds, pictures I’d taken, and actual desert plants which are in abundance here. I didn’t strive to recreate any particular mountain or species of plants, but combined elements of all these sources and my imagination to arrive at the landscape. I did do some research on the African Gray and Jenday Conure, to get a better idea of their relative size/weights.

Below are just a few of the preliminary sketches from the buyer’s photos. I was able to get started right away on the sketches during our move.

Though the birds would be the focus, a colorful desert landscape was their background.The buyer wanted a tree similar to another painting I’d recently done. (It’s a palo verde tree, which has green bark.) This shows a concept sketch approved by the buyer, and the very beginnings of roughing in the landscape. By this point, we had moved, and I had the essentials set up in my studio, so I could begin painting.

This sketch is actually a quick painting on duralar, (a clear acetate/plastic you can paint and draw on). The duralar sketch matches the actual painting and is an overlay I made to help me plan the placement of the birds. Normally I just dive right in. But in a commission where there are approved sketches, etc, I do a lot more planning.

After I roughed in the tree, I laid the duralar over the painting, and figured out where the birds would go. I then cut out the duralar birds, lightly marked with a colored pencil where they would go, and proceeded to gesso in the birds general shapes.

The birds are painted more fully, and more plants are added. A few things changed along the way…blotting out a branch and letting more mountain show through, changing the color of a flower, adding numerous glazes and scumbles, etc. These were decisions related to things like composition, light/shadow, and making certain things stand out or recede more. The color of the conure was built up and I added feather details as well as detail to foreground plants. I was paying attention to things like color temperature and contrasts, again to bring things out or push them back.

It’s a good idea at some point in a painting, especially one with lots of color and detail, to look at an image of it in grayscale. If you don’t have photo editing software, look through red clear plastic like a report cover. Use a mirror to see if the composition works flipped, or use photo editing software to flip it. You can even play with colors and try out changes in software. Saves having to re-do things on the real painting!

Getting close to done, below! I decided to make the generic agave flowers on the right side orange, because they’d be against more green once I leafed out the palo verde tree. That’s the good thing about not sticking to a species too closely, LOL, I can just change the color if I want to.

Here are my go-to paints, mostly made by Golden. They’re readily available here, and very good quality. It’s not the only brand I use, but it’s by far the majority of paints and mediums in my supplies.

Here, one of our birds is approving the painting.

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