The lead up to Christmas was hectic, so sorry this blog has been so quiet. I was lucky enough to have loads of commissions including one for a kestrel. So I thought a step-by-step might be in order.
I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of thinking ahead of a painting and always have a bit of a look at how other artists have approached a subject. I was really surprised how few people seem to paint the ‘hover’. For me, the sight of the kestrel hovering above the hedge with its eye on some rodent-snack is the key to this bird and that’s what I set out to capture. I wanted the wind under its wings, so making it a portrait shaped painting was obvious. I sketched out the basic outline from a number of photographic references and decided on a palette of quin sienna, light red, aurolean, neutral tint, moonglow (a Daniel Smiths premix – sort of a dirty purple) and indigo. I also put out a mix called Cotswold Stone, but didn’t end up using it.
I reckon starting with the eye is always best, so if you muck it up you have only lost a few minutes. If you wait until the end and then muck up the eye, you have lost an hour or two, haven’t you? I also think it makes sure the eye doesn’t look like it has been sewed on, but is fully embedded in the skull.
While the eye was drying, I started on the wing, using a size 16 round and confident strokes to get the flight-feather’s shape, before moving to a wet-in-wet treatment to get the softer feathers and then worked back towards the head.
And then on the body, which I wanted to keep quite simple so that the focus was on that wing.
When the wing tips were almost dry, I lightly sprayed them with clean water from a spritzer, just to give a slight blur of movement and then it was on to the tail. I used bold brush marks with a flat brush to get the shape and markings and again a light spritz to infer a hover.
The further wing was simpler and more blurred and then I started on the eye markings and beak, along with the feet. They are very yellow in the kestrel and yellow is a blooming tricky pigment – it gets dirty so easily, so being aware of how wet/dry your paper is, is important at this stage.
Now is the fun wet-in-wet bit to build up the background and get the air under those wings. By wetting the paper and dropping colour in before tilting it, I got the flow of transparent colour I was after and defined the white edges of the feathers. I really wanted a feeling of height, so the dribbles helped a lot.
I turned the paper upside down to do the background above the bird and encourage a few blooms by adding clean water to the drying wash. I also did a light sprinkle of salt to add a little textural interest to the background. And then a few splatters to help the eye travel around the painting. I held my nerve when a rather huge bloom developed under the tail in the centre of the painting, hoping that when it dried it would fade back a bit. If something unexpected or unwanted happens with your painting, the worst thing to do is to fiddle when it is damp, as you simply transform it into a muddy-splot.
Once it was dry, I took another look and adjusted a few things, such as lifting out the top of the head to lose the edge and adding a few fine marks with white gouache on the legs and a few white splatters to break up a dark patch. And here is the finished painting – it’s about 35×45 cm and I used a 200lb Bockingford paper with a Not/Cold pressed surface.
I was happy I’d achieved the feeling of air I was after and I’ve had a lovely message from the person whose present it was. It is always nice to know people like what you have done!