The building works here have been demanding so much of my attention that I’ve been kept too busy to spend much time in the studio. But a little Bullfinch has sneaked into the painting. There’s a half finished Hawfinch too, but that must wait until tomorrow to be photographed.
A rook arrives…
… and the goose is completed.
On ‘day five’ I wrote about having enjoyed painting the patterned plumage of the owl. But at the time I didn’t photograph a reasonable close-up to post, and so here’s one to make up for that oversight.
Click on this image to view a high definition version that you can zoom in on.
Another good day. The heron’s legs are painted in. (Four attempts before I manage to get them elegantly crossed.) The owl is started and finished in one session at the easel. Not bad considering all the disruptions to my work. (Builders! Don’t get me wrong, they’re very good. But the time it at all takes…) Painting the black and white dotted vertical bars on the bird’s plumage is unaccountably satisfying. I add a silhouette behind the owl in preparation for the late addition of a rook. Suddenly the work clicks into focus and I return later that night to beam at the achievement. Believe me it isn’t always like this. All too frequently I’m to be found climbing the stairs to my attic studio in the small hours, drawn to the easel to stand in disbelieving horror before the fruits of my ineptitude.
We have many owls at Ty Isaf. At night the air around us is full of their calls. I once even had a Barn Owl fly straight up in front of my face when I stepped out for the dog’s last run, disturbing it in the process of killing something on our doorstep. I felt the cold blast of air from wing beats in my face, but there was no sound at all. Almost as though both of us were caught in a soundless vacuum. Very disorientating. I doubted my own ears. But although there are owls aplenty out there hunting over our paddocks and orchards, they don’t hang around to be drawn. So I acquired a specimen as a studio aid from a taxidermist friend in Llangollen who works only with birds dead from accidents or natural causes. I’m not really into taxidermy, but it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer beauty of this creature’s plumage in close contact.
Unlike birds with oily, water-resistant feathers, Barn Owls are as soft and silky as a dandelion seed-head. As such they need dry weather to hunt in the open. When wet their plumage becomes sodden, a potentially fatal hazard in the Winter cold.
The best day in the studio so far. With the composition securely in place and working to my liking, I finally get to work on the snake-necked heron. The theme of moving plumage has been turning over in my mind for weeks, evolving into an image that suggests water and turbulence as much as it does feathers. This the sheer joy of painting. Taking abstract notions and finding ways to realise them.
The previous entry shows a detail of the drawing, which is made in Conté pencil on panel primed with red oxide. Day two and the background is laid in, at which point the shapes and dynamics of the composition become clearer. A good starting point. This stage really shows me whether the painting is going to work or not.
This ‘Artlog’ has been set up to provide a glimpse into my studio and the way in which I work. I’m kicking off with a day by day photographic diary of the current painting on my easel. (A bit of an experiment as I’ve never done this before, so bear with me.) The subject is Saint Francis Preaching to the Birds. The idea has been long gestating. I had a notion to conjure a more threatening mood than the usual bucolic approaches to the story. The key image that kept niggling at me was a violent maelstrom of birds with the saint at the heart of it. Almost as though he’s being mobbed. (Tippi Hedren comes to mind in Hitchcock’s The Birds.) The starting point was a small rough sketch on paper, the guide for a more finished drawing in Conté pencil on red oxide primed panel. (This drawing was really a pattern of geometric shapes, almost abstract but illustrating the structure of the composition.) In due course I’ll post each stage of the painting as represented by what’s been achieved in a single day. (Occasionally, when I have less than a full working day at the easel, I’ll condense two part-days into single ones, just for expediency.) So, here goes!