Sometimes we take the birds we commonly see for granted, simply because we see them everyday. If you've never stopped to notice an American Robin, you should take some time to do that soon. Beautiful in coloration, timid at times, boisterous at others, it is a delight to watch their behavior.
The painting above is one included in my Autumn Birds Note Cards. The inspiration for this painting came from a whole flock of robins that descended on my dogwood trees a couple of fall seasons ago. The trees were full of ripe red berries and the robins were making such a commotion with their chirping and fluttering as they plucked the berries, that I spent more than an hour watching and photographing them. Below, you see the initial sketch I made as a result of that experience. I was taken with the colors, as well as, the birds, with how the purples and maroons looked so beautiful with the robin's plumage.
Creating a sketch deepens a memory with all of its sensory detail and adds to the enjoyment of the experience. The robins were so intent on feeding that they ignored my presence. This made for some wonderful and close observations. As I was considering birds to paint in my note card collection, the memory of this sketch came right to mind and became the inspiration and reference for this painting.
In the painting I wanted to give more emphasis to the yellow glow behind the leaves in the background than I had in the sketch, so I began by laying down a variegated wash of yellows--WN Quinacridone gold, DVP Arylide yellow and WN New Gamboge. I used four additional pigments in the painting: WN French Ultramarine, WN Alizarin Crimson, WN Perylene Maroon, and WN Burnt Sienna.
Above you see a sketchbook page of the colors I was using (with the exception of the square of Perylene Violet which I decided to not use). French Ultramarine is a versatile blue shade. Mixed with burnt sienna it makes wonderful neutrals. Mixed with yellows, it becomes luscious greens. Add a bit of it to red and you get rich purples. Ultramarine is one of my favorite colors because of that versatility. The mixed hues that result help to unify the colors in the painting. I often create a page like the one you see above with the primary pigments in the palette, along with the mixes I will use. It gives me a fresh look at the pigments and a chance to consider how they will work with the subject at hand.
My initial washes were painted on wet paper and allowed to dry before continuing. In some areas, these washes turned out lighter than I intended. As I added the bold colors to the leaves, and painted the robin, I began to see too many hard edges and the pale yellow washes seemed more and more disconnected from the leaves and robin. I realized that if I continued painting in this fashion, the leaves and robin would look like "cut-outs", disconnected entirely from the environment around them.
My solution for this is to get out the spray bottle, add more color and mix things up a bit! This is when playing really begins!
Next: Bringing the leaves and background together with more color.
Links and Resources:
Autumn Bird paintings beginning with Autumn Cardinal