Welcome to the vixen colour study.
When I’m doing a colour study it's kind of like doing a scientific experiment that in the end will save me a whole lot of time and effort when I move on to the final piece.
I have a hypothesis of what colours will work. I mix them up, then I need to get them up on the board. This really is the only way that will help me to figure out whether or not the colours will actually work for the much larger painting.
I started with a raw umber as the underpainting. Raw Umber is a low chroma Yellow. I chose to make the background a lighter value than I usually work with.
I tend to work more quickly as I am trying not to put too much detail into this colour study. The goal is to get the information on the board so I can see what is working and what isn’t working. I took an hour to do this colour study.
As I lay down the values on the rocks I begin to have doubts about the success of this first attempt.
I had to lighten up the snow. My plan is to work from lighter to slightly darker as the snow goes back on the picture plane. I realize that I went too dark too fast. In the end I need to lighten up the snow quite a bit. I get a larger brush to get the paint up faster.
There is a couple of days between the first and second colour studies. When I woke up the next morning, I looked with a fresh critical eye at the results of the first colour study. I realized that I needed to address the blahness of the fox. I had brought the chroma down too far and as a result she just wasn’t colourful enough.
It is totally worth taking the time to do a second attempt to see if the tweaks that I have decided to do will actually work.
As I launch into this new painting I know that I've done already once, which means the second time is much easier because a lot of thinking has been done already. The decisions made the first time through, now gives me a stronger sense of where I want to go and how it's going to work out.
The first thing I changed is that I used burnt Sienna for the underpainting. I also made the underpainting a darker value, though I didn’t end up using an underpainting in my final piece. I shall explain that in the next video.
The tweaks I made to the colour mixtures was to add more chroma, more colour to each of the paint mixtures. I am careful not to add too much more colour. I find that most of my nature paintings the chroma maybe 1 or 2, but for this I moved up to a 3 or 4. For a reference Zero is a grey (no chroma) in the Munsell colour process. I felt that the initial mixtures were too greyed out, another way of saying it is that the chroma was too low.
The snow seems lighter now, though that could just be the result of the underpainting being a darker value. But I know that the snow is lighter because I went from a value 9 to a value 9.5 which is white with just a small amount of black (low chroma blue).
I chose to darken legs of this cross vixen more. Another tweak that helps the painting look stronger.
The out of focus branches in the background really held up the start of the larger painting until I could resolve how to paint what I was seeing.
This fox this is what is called a crossfox. She has dark around her eyes that gives her a very dramatic unusual look. As a kit, she would have been black, not the typical red fox. It is a genetic variance.
Below are the two completed colour studies side by side. Yup #2 is much better...
As soon as I got the colour study done I began to work on the huge painting.
The First Australian Bird Painted!
Here is my first painting in my “Great Australian Bird Adventure” sketchbook that I brought with me to Australia. I decided to do the Australian iconic bird - the laughing kookaburra. Somehow this bird seemed to be the perfect choice.
If you missed my last video where I painted the intention for this sketchbook. HERE
After I arrived in Australia last month I went out to photograph birds, the very first bird I saw and photographed was a Kookaburra. It seems to me that when I go out to photograph birds it doesn’t seem like a perfect session if I don’t see a Kookaburra. Most of the time I am lucky to see at least one.
We are staying at our oldest son’s place which is right next to a ravine. There are Laughing Kookaburras that hang around here. Where they are hunting lizards and calling to each other. When I first arrived, I kept hearing something regularly in the mornings and in the evenings and sometimes during the day. I finally asked my son if there were monkeys around here. Turns out the kookaburra laugh kind of sounds like monkeys to me.
I am at the beginning stages of learning to use gouache. This paint doesn't act like acrylic or watercolor paint, which means all the techniques that I have taught myself over the years are not working the way that I expected them to do. There's a bunch of learning happening here and I have to remember to remain really patient with myself. It is interesting how as humans we tend towards habits that are comfortable and struggle with impatience and frustration when we move into new learning situations. I guess I want perfection immediately and that is not going to happen!
I always start back to front when I am doing a painting. I start working on the background just building up different colours of green with the pale blue- grey sky peeking through.
Here is something that I realized about some Australian foliage…some of it (gum trees and so forth) have a very different colours than the birch and willow trees from Yellowknife. I am doing the greens I am comfortable with on the background. They are not the grey blue greens that I was actually seeing on the image. I just couldn’t get my brain to switch over.
Sometimes following what you see compared to what you “think” you see can get in the way. My memory understanding of what green trees are definitely got in the way on this painting. I need to grab some leaves and see if I can match them in and out of the sunshine.
My most recent birding experience was with a White-faced Heron. I was editing this video sitting at the dining room table when I looked up to see the Heron on a branch at the edge of the ravine next to my son’s place. I was able to sit in the house and photograph it through the open window. I got some amazing photos of it preening before it started to hunt. I have sent out a newsletter that includes a range of bird photos that I have captured. Head over to dancing raven studio dot ca to sign up for my newsletter. Also there is a link below for my blog where I have put some photos of the White faced Heron.
I have seen all kinds of different birds, a few I have shared in my newsletter. And I'm excited about continuing with my sketchbook.
I just wanted to say that these birds are actually grey, but for some reason my camera sees them a very blue. It is one of the many differences between how our eyes see and how a camera records the world.
As I confessed in the intro I haven't done a lot of sketching as a daily practice or even a slightly regular practice. Now I do seem to love the idea of sketching regularly in sketchbooks. I always seem to be buying new sketchbooks. I start them with great intentions, but I do a few sessions and then quickly seem to get derailed as I dive deep into a new painting project. It is tough to add a new practice in ones already busy life.
But when I was coming to Australia, I was looking for a way to keep on painting. I had new sketchbooks at home, so I brought them with me, as well as gouache paint.
I came with the idea that I would do 1 or 2 larger paintings that would about 40x50cm (16x20) in size. But I very quickly discovered with the touring we are doing and spending time with our son, (which is the reason that we are here) I needed to take a look at my unrealistic expectations.
I have thought about the time that is available to me each week while Alexander is working from Monday through to Thursday. With that in mind, it seems to me that it is far more practical to create smaller paintings in a sketchbook. It is a nice small convenient place to work in.
I am excited about doing a bunch of different paintings from my birding adventures here. I often take a lot of reference images of a wide range of birds which I never paint from. Working in a painting sketchbook I could do birds that I would generally not paint in a larger format.
This sketchbook has 27 spreads. This simply means that when a sketchbook is opened up fully the two pages that you see are called a spread. Now the goal is to see and photograph as many different species of birds as I can. I want to have far more than 27 different birds to choose to work from! After being here for 3 weeks I have already captured images of 27 different types of birds.
I'm still waiting to see other parrots, gallahs, cockatoos and rosellas. All of which are very colourful and totally cool birds. Wish me luck on my hunt for these amazing birds.
I have been out doing lots of birding since I have arrived. I have met some new friends and really enjoyed their company. I went to a Birding NSW (New South Wales) meeting in the first week we were here. I have joined that group on a birding day in the Royal National Park. Thanks to Elisabeth for picking me up. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily the night before and was very windy. The birds were rather quiet that day. The other adventure I had was into Sydney’s Centennial Park with an avid birder named Steve. It was a hot sunny day. I was able to get some really great photos from both the trips.
I am excited about some of the reference images that I have been able to get. Luckly I have seen birds that are new to me. When I was here in 2018, I went on a couple of birding day trips and got photos of amazing range birds. So it is exciting to see ones I hadn’t seen before.
I'm working in a new medium – gouache. I have worked with Watercolour for years and though they both are activated with water that is where the comparison ends. Gouache is opaque and the first thing I'm discovering is it dries way darker than what it looks like mixed on the palate or when it's wet. Interesting. I guess I will figure it out by the end of this sketchbook and I will have a much better understanding of gouache as a result.
Just days after arriving in Australia we went to Wollongong for a day trip. When we were there, we stopped at a winery. While taste testing a range of wines, I noticed a rainbow lorikeet had landed on the wires holding up the grapevines. The winery must completely cover the grapes as they get close to ripening, or the lorikeets come and eat them all. As I was photographing it, the bird flipped upside down, used its beak to grab the lower wire, then brought its feet down to it. It made me laugh.
A small bird would just hop down, but not a lorikeet. It was such a fun reference image that I just had to add it to this title page. It just seem to fit the idea of a Great Australian Bird Adventure.
So far I have some fabulous pictures of kookaburras, fairy wrens, swamphens, Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos, Noisy Miners, and a White faced Heron that was hunting Skink Lizards right next to my son’s place. So amazing!
Just a few days ago I was out on an evening walk with the guys when I discovered Rainbow Lorikeets on a lime tree! I could have stayed there until the birds left but I did think that everyone was being ultra-patient with me, so best not push it too far.
If you have been following me, for any period of time, you know that I like to work rather large. Check out facebook or Instagram (linked below) to see images.
So, working small will be a huge challenge for me. I need figure out which brushes work best and how to manage them as well. It will come in time.
As I started to work on the tail of the of the rainbow lorikeet, I kept thinking that I don’t have the colours right. It seemed to be fighting me. I decided to take a break, to continue on later.
The sun was shining. It is February and it is so deliciously warm here! I went outside into the glorious heat with my camera right next to me, just in case a bird comes close by.
It wasn’t long before there was squawking above me in a very tall tree next to my son’s place. I got my camera trained onto the pair of lorikeets sort of goofing off and being a bit argumentative (one had the others foot in its beak while they were both hanging upside down). It was quite comical to watch.
When I downloaded the photos, I discovered that the underneath of the rainbow lorikeets tails is yellow. I didn’t know that. I thought that it was the same green that was on the back of the bird so I had been using a green which meant I was completely using the wrong colours.
With that discovery I realized that I needed to make a low chroma yellow mixture. I pulled out the raw umber to go with the Cadmium Yellow Light, then I mixed a neutralized grey in several values. From there it was easy to create the correct colour for the underside of the tail.
I thought it would be fun to put some bubbles drifting across the spread.
I feel like I have a great start to my Great Australian Bird Adventure.
Yellowknife watercolour and acrylic artist Shawna Lampi-Legaree’s latest venture can best be summarized as capturing moments of beauty from the world around her.
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