Giant sparrows

I know I’ve been quiet, but I have just had three articles published in The Leisure Painter, and I’ve been running workshops etc. So sorry!

I thought I would share a step by step, as I haven’t done one for a while. A short time ago, i painted a small canvas with a pair of sparrows. I liked the idea of adding rich gold to a humble garden bird we all take for granted. It then occured to me that painting HUGE sparrows, with rich gold would be twice as good.

First I prepared a 90x90cm box canvas, using a mix of one part moulding paste to two parts gesso. This is as good as any of the far more expensive ‘semi absorbent grounds’ you can buy. It does take three coats.

Using Indian ink, I started painting at the eye and moved outwards, just using the ink as you would normally paint in watercolour. I used a permanent marker for graphical lines. You need to suit the size of your mark to the size of the canvas so most of my lines were pretty big, but I used a normal pigment liner for a few finer marks.



I added in the second bird, making sure they blended. You can see I used a lot of salt to make lovely textuaral marks.


Having let it all dry thoroughly, I used some burnt Sienna, Mars Violet, quin gold and sepia to add colour. I really tried to avoid ‘colouring in’ – I want the ink and the watercolour to add up to more than the sum of the parts. Try and stand back from your work to see it with fresh eyes and stand it up if you are working flat.


Now is the scary bit. Gold leaf looks better on a coloured background. Traditionally red oxide was used, here I used the Indian ink. It looks horrible at this point and you ask yourself if you have ruined it. Hold your nerve.


Next, using gold size, the gold leaf (sadly imitation) is applied. I will do a more detailed post about my way of applying the leaf. I am no expert, but it does what I want. Again standing back helps you see what is really there and not what you assume is there…


A tiny addition of ink to make certain lines stronger and add a few blots and it is finished. Now it’s time to lacquer it (three coats) and add a string and backing.


I was chuffed, as I felt I’d kept the sponteneity of the original, while scaling up the impact. What do you think?

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