I am starting build up the background, layer by layer, using a method called “BSM” which is the BATEMAN SPONGE METHOD. I learned this technique from Robert Bateman himself in 2019 when I took a master class with him. He developed this method as a way to be able to create a very smooth background that gradates, shifting values along the way. The gradation can go from top to bottom or Left to Right, just as long as the values step from dark to light.
I created a mixture in which I use 50% water, 50% Airbrush medium to thin the paint. As a result each layer of paint is fairly transparent. It will take 5 to 7 layers to get the background covering to where I am satisfied with it.
I use the sponge to blend the paint. I carefully move from the dark to the light, tapping very gently, then continue back from the light to the dark. It is important to do the back and forth directions with the sponge. If you mistakenly go from dark to light and then start again from the dark the light paint on the sponge will be transferred to the dark side. That will be a problem. No going to the Dark SIDE! LOL
I take a few moments in between each later to dry using my hair-blower, so I can get on to the next layer.
Once I like the background, I let it dry for at least a day. With the combination of water/airbrush medium I feel it is important to let the paint solidly dry through. I know that it is acrylic and that it does dry fast, but I still like to make sure that I'm not transferring the drawing too quickly on to the freshly painted background.
This painting was created as an entry into the WILDLIFE HABITAT CANADA duck Stamp Competition. In 1985 Robert Bateman was the first Canadian artist who’s work was chosen to be on the inaugural duck stamp.
The painting that I am working on is actually for the 2024 stamp competition even though I was painting it in 2022. The announcement of the painting that will be on the 2024 stamp will be on April 1, 2024.
But this April (2023) they will be announcing the winner from the 2021 competition. They are always a couple of years ahead. Creating stamps takes significant amount of time and preparations.
We happen to be traveling in southern Canada when I had this thought pop into my head about the competition. Due to a very busy summer, I had forgotten to look for the competition for the 2024 duck stamp. When I got on-line I discovered that the deadline to indicate interest in participating was only 2 hours away from closing. I quickly filled out the documents and entered my Intent to Participate. I did a separate e-mail as well…just to ensure that it wasn’t missed.
I knew I had pictures of bufflehead ducks back at home, but I couldn’t remember what they looked like. Even though I wasn’t sure about the reference images that I had, I still wanted to participate.
I knew that this year's competition for me would be more like a trial run. My goals were several,
1. I was going to make the October 28th deadline.
2. I knew that I was going to be doing a lot of learning through this process. So I wanted to give myself a little more leeway than I usually would.
3. And I was trying not to put too much pressure on myself, which isn’t always as easy for me to do.
There are very clear requirements for a Duck Stamp competition. There has to be the Female and Male duck in breeding season. The artist needs to ensure that their painting includes the breeding habitat of the particular kind of waterfowl. The Canadian stamp competition only has one option for painting this time was Bufflehead Ducks.
Once I got home I realized fairly quickly that I didn't have very many pictures of actual habitat. When I am out I mostly focus in on the bird I am photographing with a bit of habitat for context.
From my research I knew that Bufflehead ducks nest in old woodpeckers holes high up in trees. I really didn't have any pictures that included trees in the spring. And as it was already August when I put my name forward and I really couldn’t go back in time to take the relevant reference images.
As I went through my photos, I figured out that I needed to amalgamate two different images so that I could get the Bufflehead Duck pair together. Thankfully the light was similar in both images. I am still a beginner in using a program called affinity while designing my paintings.
I am carefully painting in the reflection information during this first pass. As this painting is for a competition, this means that I am being very particular and working very slowly.
Building up that first layer is not about being perfect. It is the second and third pass that will allow me to correct and add those very subtle value shifts. The first pass is about getting values as close to correct as possible.
When I prepared the background paint mixtures, I made larger amounts this means I have extra, which will allow me to clean up edges if I need to.
Notice that the reflection is distorted because as water shifts and changes there are different values being reflected.
I really enjoy painting water as it is so complex and if I do it well, it looks very cool.
Water is such an amazing subject matter to paint. It is never the same twice. Sometimes it is silvery, other times it can be pale blue, or it can be deep blue with clouds and nearby trees being reflected on it. I could spend a lifetime just painting water and maybe have more of an understanding of it.
It's very helpful to have good reference images to work from when painting water. Generally, I can't make it up out of my head because the water just won’t look real. There are other artists who have done so many paintings of water that they have a visual memory that they can work from, that is a really deep understanding of water.
Painting water is all about abstract interconnected shapes. I'm continue to build those abstract shapes knowing that in the end they will correctly represent the water.
I was finding it hard retain the information of what I was seeing between the time my eyes looked at the reference and back to the painting. The distance my eyes had to flit back and forth was too great. To deal with that at some point I will be adding part of the reference image that has been cut out on to the painting surface.
There is a little wave being pushed forward in front of the ducks. As I paint that area in front of the female duck, I'm not worried about the value being exactly correct. I focus on getting the shapes correct in this first pass.
I did attempt to create a more complex set up with one habitat image that I had, but I was wholly dissatisfied with the results. That distinct lack of proper habitat reference images was a hinderance for this painting.
As I only work from my own images, I had to keep with a very simple design this year. That way I could do the very best work possible given the constraints that I was working under.
There were definite requirements for entry.
Invited artists must submit only one original entry.
Entries must be an original multi coloured painting in the artist choice of medium. With no reproductions.
And they had specific sizes to work from so that the painting will lend itself to fitting onto a stamp, this also means the final painting needs to be horizontal.
I ended up working with a 12 inch to 18 inch board, though I did buy the 12 by 16, 11 by 14, and a 6 by 8 inch boards just to be on the safe side. I live 1700 km away from the nearest art store.
The painting is to portray the eligible waterfowl species/ migratory game bird in its breeding plumage and its natural habitat during breeding season.
The habitat of the species had to be clearly defined . I think that means a landscape design must be incorporated into the painting along with the traditional part of painting a waterfowl.
Another big consideration is how the winning painting will be cropped and to include an area for the text that will be on the stamps.
I generally find it a real challenge to work to a limited theme. I'm very particular about only working from my own images. One major reason is that I have a story about my experience around seeing and photographing the bird, which then connects fully to the final painting.
Every one of my paintings has a story.
It takes quite a while to get the water reflections in place this painting because it is such a complex area.
This painting is of a pair bufflehead ducks just gliding along on a small patch of open water with ice close by on a very cloudy day.
If there had been any amount of sunshine on the male then I could have painted the amazing iridescent colours on his head. I did get some iridescence painted in but later on during the painting process.
The reeds are very simple. I did need add in more reads on the left-hand side. I'm not exactly sure I was completely successful with them. But it's all learning and I am happy that I did the painting and made the deadline.
Here I come to work underneath the water on the bufflehead male. I love how much white is being reflected into the water because the body of the male is so white.
With using a third image to get the reeds in, I only realize later as I was painting that that the water had been moving differently which caused the reflections to be more squiggly. I needed to make the reflections look like the other ones.
Now on to working on the water in front of the male duck. Water takes an extraordinarily long period of time to work out.
When thinking on the male duck, I plan the values that I will work with. The reflection value needs to be the darkest value. I paint the darkest part with value 2. I never use pure black in any of my paintings. Then I know that the duck needs to be slightly lighter, so the darkest value I will work with on the duck is value 3, just one step lighter than the reflection.
Though the duck has lots of white I'm not actually using pure white at all. I use a value 9, maybe a bit of value 9.5, which is very close to being pure white. At the very end of the process, I might use a bit of the pure white in very tiny amounts that I will blend out in small areas.
These are really cute little ducks. Being quite small is helpful when nesting up in a tree. I think it would be pretty cool to see the little ones come out of their woodpecker hole and start their journey to the water.
I am thinking that I might need to switch out my focus for a time to practiced doing landscape paintings with birds being a small part of the final image.
I do adore painting birds. There are so many different kinds, and I regularly head out to take reference images. Right now, I'm in Australia. Since arriving my reference images include kookaburras, noisy miners, rainbow lorikeets, and Australian White Ibis (funnily knowns as Bin Chickens here). That is only with one day out birding. There is more to come!
See that I have placed the male duck head right next to the one I am painting. I needed to see it closer. I was struggling with the distance between the reference image, then turning my head back to the painting and trying to retain what angle I needed to paint.
Here is the reflection of the water underneath so that I can lean back in my chair to compare the reflection that I am painting to the actual image.
Working on the reeds. You can see I kind of flit back and forth when each painting session comes to an end I start again in a new place.
Now I'm creating the edge of the ice near the water. Add some of the highlights that I'm seeing on the ice that hasn't started to melt yet.
This particular year that I took these images it was still very cold outside. The date was May 15th. I actually have photos of snow machines running the gauntlet over a little bit of water then onto the still solid ice on a smaller lake in Yellowknife. AND to add insult to injury IT WAS STILL SNOWING!
I have to say…it was more than a bit disheartening to have such a late spring. I don't mind winter at all BUT when it is May then spring really needs to be there.
There are a few things I would change with this design now that I am editing the video. But that is with hindsight and really the painting is done! So, I just move on!
This painting is really subdued and grey. It was the light that I had on that particular day, but then there is the complete lack of spring growth, and the abundant ice still around which makes for very little colour to reflect into the water.
As I paint, I go from the little blue liner brush putting a small dab of paint in place, then with the white brush I soften the paint. Acrylic paint dries so quickly this is the only way that I can create those subtle shifts that I'm seeing.
I am on my second pass of the reflections in the water. I add in the dramatic lighter value 9.5 that I'm seeing in different places.
Then on to the darker areas.
Here I am putting on the very subtle iridescence the male. To see it with it’s brilliant iridescence head over to search for the male bufflehead duck
Here is an image I found in a search that shows how iridescent a Bufflehead male can be during breeding season. Photo by Chris Montano Jr.
Shawna is capturing moments of beauty from the world around her.
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