Crocus Geometer Moth full page from my sketchbook journal
In the morning when I let Ginger (my dog) out the back door for her morning wee, I always survey the screen porch to see if any visitors of the mothy type, have overstayed their visit. I used to leave the screen door open so I could be lazy and Ginger would just run right out, but stopped when too many flies were coming in! But I did get all kinds of moths in there! Well even with the door shut, some do sneak in and that’s how I found this little guy. Well sad to tell you it wasn’t alive, but laying on the floor in perfect condition. So I gently, gently picked it up and put it in my “Crisco” container for study.
Above is a full sketchpage from my journal, I did a life size study in the lower left corner and an enlarged size in the middle. I had fun with the border by just using my waterbrush with a matching color and added little ‘butterfly’ heads.
My set up when I sketched the moth
You can see in my picture that I lay the moth on the lid of the “Crisco” container and that way I was able to move it around as I worked. My watercolor pan is under it and the sketchbook is on my little table top easel box. (you can see my last page from the lady bug post!)
Drawing a study at the same size first
Now here I’m showing how nice it was to sketch the same size study by having the moth on the plastic lid. Using my pencil I did comparative measurements to compare the width to the height of the moth. Do you see those lines on the page? I put them just as a teaching tool, to show you that I found the measurement from inside wing to outside tip was the same measurement as the bottom of the wing to the top, his head I think it was. I always use comparative measurements when drawing!
Such a gorgeous colored subject!
Isn’t this a beautiful moth? His antennae were really elegant and graceful, very hard for me to paint with watercolor! The more I studied him under a magnifying glass the more I saw and appreciated it’s beauty.
This is how my larger sketch looked at first.
(Above) Now I’ll show you the steps I took to do the large painting of this Crocus Geometer Moth, mostly how I drew it. Do you see how boring and technical it looks? I know, but if you don’t start with a clear drawing done in PROPER PROPORTION it will never look right! Sorry, I”m not shouting, but it is REALLY important! If you do anything, learn how to draw well!
So I used my pencil to compare the width of the wings tip to tip to the measurement of the moth top to bottom. I put light lines on the paper then drew an arc as close to the shape of the ‘real’ moth subject as I could. Then I decided where the wings ended in the centre, keeping in mind that they overlap.
The second stage is lightly sketching the placement of shapes, wings, body, head.
Above you see a lot more drawn here; I drew an arc lightly for the bottom wings too, then decided where the two wings met and overlapped then drew them. I found the wing tips were half way between the head (top) and bottom wing edge, can you see how there’s a little ‘t’ at the tips?; that’s centre from top to bottom.
It’s really fun when you get into a drawing and start to find things that are the same measurement so you can check other parts of your drawing by comparing them! That’s why it’s called Comparative Measurements! (This is something I teach my students first!)
Then I clean up the lines and decide how the outline will look.
Look back and forth at the subject and drawing, look for areas that might be out of line and fix it now. After you feel your measurements are right, you clean up the light lines and decide on the lines you leave. Keep your final line clean and neat. Use your kneaded rubber eraser now to dab repeatedly at the line to lighten it as much as you can, just enough so you can still see it but you can do watercolor over it and not have it show.
Laying in some washes with watercolor and adding some details.
Here I put the first washes of color on and then started to add where the dark markings are and light wing ‘ruffles’.
Larger study of the moth finished.
And here it is finished! I just kept adding the tiny spots and built up the larger dark markings. Sometimes it dries and just doesn’t look as colorful because watercolor can look lighter and duller after it dries. So I go back and add some light washes when needed to perk it up, I added bright yellow and more browns on this one. (ps. I did have trouble with the antennae! I need to practice how to do such tiny detail with watercolor!)
I’ve created some really pretty note cards and other things in my shop using this page from my journal, please have a look! Please forward my shop (or this post) to your friends to help me spread the word.
Two new beetle studies to share, the Milkweed Borer Beetle and the Rhubarb Curculio. Sometimes I print out 4×6″ photos of my bugs and then as I have time I can sit and do studies in my sketch journals. I’ve been working on lots of bug studies as you’ve noticed lately, but plan to work on a series of small insect paintings soon.
Milkweed Borer Beetle
I love the Milkweed Beetle because of it’s black and red coloring and nice black curved antennae. With the black legs it looks rather coordinated in a fashion sense of the word! I’ve always been partial to red and black clothes or designs!
Milkweed Borer Beetle and Rhubarb Curculio
Then just below I decided to add a little study of the Rhubarb Curculio Beetle. I photographed it in my garden in early spring, it wasn’t ‘on’ my Rhubarb but I bet it was soon to be! I liked the rusty, powdery appearance of it and it’s unusual ‘snout’, typical of a weevil type insect.
My set up while painting
I tried to take some pictures, with my tiny camera, of some of the stages while I painted the Milkweed Beetle. I like to try and show the steps a bit because there are so many ways to approach how to do a painting.
(side note- you see on the page a bunch of dots of color, I was playing around with color mixing with my watercolor crayons and it had nothing to do with these bug paintings)
Laying green 'spots' on top of first light green layer
I missed taking a picture of the first stage but here (above) you can see that I put a very light green wash all over the leaf around the beetle first. I did this before I painted any of the bug, I used a bigger brush and just washed it on quickly but still tried to stay neat around the bug outline.
Then I started to paint the beetle; I used a water brush to wet the paper only where I was going to paint. The water brush was very handy to use instead of dipping my brush in water and wiping. I tested the red out on a piece of scrap paper then added a little at a time. The dampened paper was a nice way to keep the shading soft. Start with the overall color or the ‘background’ color first, then the darker values of red will be layered over it after it dries. I was careful not to paint red to the edges because it would ruin the 3d effect and also he had a powdery look that I wanted to imitate.
To make the leaf veined pattern, I thought I’d try just adding these little green ‘spots’ in a sort of organized pattern. By organized I mean that I would put them next to my pencil lines that indicated where a light vein would be, just arranging them along it was enough to indicate a vein.
Green 'spots' layer is finished
I’ve finished the green spots layer and you can see now how the bugs legs don’t look as dark? That’s relative to the new value of color around it and now will need to be darkened some more. That’s usually the way as you work on a detailed watercolor, it’s many layers to push things darker and bring out detail.
My set up today on an easel to give my neck relief!
Here’s a picture just showing you my set up as I worked at this stage. Before I had it flat on the table but that starts to hurt your neck after awhile, so best to prop it up somehow, this is a basic wooden paint box that you use on the table and the lid serves as an easel. I just stick the photo to it with “Blue Tack” or “Sticky Tack” and then I put my field palette of watercolors on a small box in front of it (so it’s raised up closer). This table easel a great little box because I keep ALL of my color pencils in it, separated by colors with rubberbands. I used to always use color pencil on my watercolors to add details at the end, but find I haven’t done that in ages!
Milkweed Borer Beetle finished and edited
I took a wet brush and gently wet the spots and rubbed very lightly to blend them a bit, then I washed some blue faintly over areas of the leaf to tone down the yellow green a bit. The picture above is of the Milkweed Borer Beetle all finished and cleaned up (the edges) on the computer so I could use it in my shop on note cards. (if you click on it, it will take you to see Note Cards in my shop). Now I wanted to comment here that if I was making this as a finished painting to frame and sell I would have worked on it more. I would have washed over more of the pattern here to ‘push it back’ and not make it so spotty looking, though I don’t mind it much. And the area right in front of his face I would have tidied up a bit more but that’s it for now, I consider him a good study for a better painting someday!
Thanks for stopping by, leave me a comment if you like, I LOVE reading them and replying! And I hope I encouraged you to stop and look a little closer at the bugs in your garden, you may be surprised at how interesting they are! If I could encourage one more thing, it would be to get you to leave some areas of your yard go wild with local weeds and wildflowers. I have some huge Bull Thistles growing now and have discovered many interesting bugs living on them all summer. It’s like a highrise building in a city, some live at the bottom, some at the top and they climb up and down the main stem all day long! The other day I saw a Ruby Throated Hummingbird stop at the huge pink bloom of the thistle and soon the Goldfinches will be using the down from it for nesting and in fall they will eat the seeds.
There are many other ‘weeds’ growing around my yard besides the thistle, more because I have trouble keeping it neat with my neck and back giving me trouble. BUT I have also noticed new bugs almost every single time I walk around the perimeter of my yard and STOP to look. If you stop, stand still and just watch awhile, you’ll see so much. Here’s a little rhyming quote from me:
“When you stop, study and sketch, a fine image you will catch. Study even longer, your drawing will be stronger!” Mary McAndrew
OK, go have some fun now looking for bugs! (and please get your children to look with you!)
What did you think I’d be doing on Mother’s Day? It was gorgeous outside and I had the day to myself until later when my son comes over, so off I went for a walk with my sketch journal!
female bluebird I met along the way
Along the way I captured this shot of a female Bluebird, I’m so happy it came out. I didn’t use my long lens today, so the camera was actually easier to hand hold. (click to see as Note Card where you can see up close)
My watercolor crayons in a vinyl case so I can scatter them as I worked.
I was thrilled to find that the land on one side of the field was actually sort of dry. I mean I’ve been wading through water for weeks now, so any dry grass was pretty great. Before walking at all I decided to sit right down and have a go with my kit. I knew something would strike me. Above you can see something new I tried that worked great; I brought this empty vinyl case along and when I was ready just opened it and put it on the ground. I took my watercolor crayons and set the box right inside it, as I used colors I could just plop them in front and find them easier as I worked. This would be good to use for the watercolor pencils too, as they get lost easily in the grass.
Putting color down around a round plastic shape.
I wrote some notes at the top of my paper as I sat, not even caring about painting, just enjoying the great weather. Then I decided I’d try to put a landscape but leave a circle in the foreground to fill with something. I have a piece of plastic I cut from a plastic milk carton and just filled in green watercolor crayon around it.
Blocking on more green for grass, sky has been painted a bit.
As I decided where my horizon line would be I colored blue in the sky, leaving the clouds just blank paper. (lately I’ve been doing them with white wax to ‘block’ them out using a resist method, this time it’s just bare paper) I then brought the green up as far as I thought it should go, then wet my paper with the big brush to blend all and used a brown crayon to put trees in on the wet paper. I like how sharp the trees can look if you put them on wet paper; if you draw them dry first and then wet them, they can get fuzzy looking.
My set up on the grass, balancing my sketch journal on my knee.
Here’s my set up, as I sat on my piece of vinyl and kept everything in easy reach. I actually leaned on one elbow to do most of this sketch, and quite smartly tucked an empty sandwich bag under my elbow. By the time I was done, my elbow would have been soaked!
The real scene behind my sketchbook, the clouds have already floated by.
So here’s the sketch with the ‘real’ scene behind it, I don’t really like the greens of the watercolor crayons, but more practice will help. Sometimes I admit I could do a better job but when working in the field either the weather is too cold or my back hurts then I just want to hurry up. So I try to work fast, I can always touch up later if I want, or leave it as a study.
This is the page as I finished it in the field, dandelions and all.
This is my study finished in the field, I decided to put dandelions in the small circle as they were everywhere. First I lightly sketched in pencil then went over it with a brown Windsor Newton Permanent ink with a dip nib pen. Then I colored them in by touching the brush tip (a finer one) to the crayons then painting. I colored the letters the same way using a blue crayon. I really want to go back and tone down that green on that grass! Yikes!
Field sketch after touching it up back at home.
Well here’s the sketch after I got home and touched up the greens and added the yellow dandelions.
On our way after that sketch, I kept seeing Leopard Frogs. If I stood still I would start to pick them out of their hiding places.
I was really getting good at it! As you walk by they get scared into the water…then if you stop a few steps away, they would seem to appear everywhere. I imagined a funny cartoon of a photographer stopping to look for frogs, the way in front of her clear, but behind her all these little heads popped up in the water! haha, well it’s me of course!
mystery water bug
This was really cool, I noticed as I stood watching for frogs without moving, a little something moving in the water below me. I swore they were just catkins from the tree floating along the bottom, but it’s a standing pool of water and instinct told me otherwise. I bent over and kept watching them and remembered reading about larvae that formed cases by ‘gluing’ stuff around them. I got this great shot of it actually poking out of the case a bit! I am not sure yet what it is, have to look it up.
Long Lane green and lush.
Here’s Long Lane on the way back home. It’s green and lush in this very wet spring we’re having. It’s a bounty for the frogs but that means soon will come the mosquitoes too!
I hope you enjoyed this springtime walk with me and my sketching. I hope you go out and capture some nature the way I did, just stop and stand or sit still and you’ll be amazed at what you notice.
I thought I’d add a series of posts that introduce my new watercolor crayons, a few old ones, and how to start using them in hopes that some of what I do may help someone else.
When I first bought watercolor (or water soluble) crayons I tried them and didn’t like them at all! I thought the colors garish and harsh. I thought “what a lot of money for these little things and I’m not going to use them!”. Well I’ve only recently pulled them back out and have been playing with them. I’ve learned from using watercolor pencils, go lightly at first until you know just what your colors will do when you wet them.
Please click on pictures to see them bigger.
Water soluble crayons in a tin
Here’s the set of colors I started with, Caran D’Ache Neo colors and one or two Derwent Watercolor crayons. I also show a “crayola wax crayon” and explained in another post (below) how I used it. I cut them in half (oh heavens yes I did!) to make them lighter to carry in my sketch bag and I could fit more; here I show them in an “Altoids” mint tin. The other halves go into a baggy for later or to carry in another kit.
I took them out into the field and did some small landscape studies using these few crayons. There are links at the end of my post you can click on to read about them. After doing them I was feeling more enthused about my crayons, I think it’s time to look for more colors!
New Tin of Watercolor Crayons, Staedtler "Karat Aquarell" Neocolor II
More colors in other brands…landscape colors hopefully. I thought I’d try these Staedtler “Karat Aquarell” neo color II, they were reasonably priced online. Because I’ve been desperate for sunshine this spring, it was gorgeous that evening so I sat on my front steps to do my color charts.
New Watercolor Crayons, wow look at all those colors!
Here’s the crayons! Woohoo….they look nice! I’m hopeful that some of those greens might be what I was looking for.
Getting ready to wet the colors and have some fun!
First I want to stress that before you do any paintings with ANY media, watercolors, color pencils, oils etc, you should ALWAYS do some color charts of all your colors. This will help you to get to know the colors as they really look on paper (or canvas) and get familiar with how to handle them.
In my sketch journal, I rubbed a small spot of color and wrote in permanent ink pen the colors name next to it. It helps to also put an initial for the name brand too or label it at the top as I did. Prepare one row and do the wash before you color the next set of spots, just so you don’t run out of room. Keep it neat because you can refer back to these charts again and again as you get to know your colors.
Color Charts of two brands of Watercolor Crayons
After you make your dry spots of color take a waterbrush or regular watercolor brush and water, wet the bristles and touch it to the color spot. Notice how as you ‘rub’ the color it releases and becomes like watercolor. If you rub a lot you can blend the spot right out for an even tone, but leave some intense color there, drag your brush as you rub back and forth, to one side to pull color away. Then lift your brush to stop, don’t rub too far out, keep ’em neat. Now your ready to put on any more spots you may need to and wet them; leave room for labeling them. After wetting a color rinse your brush and wipe or rub on a paper towel to make sure all color is cleaned off it.
As you can see, I did my new crayons on the left, my original crayons on the right so I can compare them.
Color Charts with my comparing colors close together in the centre.
Now to have some more fun, it’s time to compare colors from different sets so I can decide which ones are too similar to carry around with me. This is a ‘getting to know you’ exercise now and VERY important! The more you play with your colors the better your choices will be when you’re painting. Sometimes when I haven’t painted in a certain media in awhile, I’ll go through and do color charts just like this. So you can see the middle is a riot of colors!! I grouped the blues, then greens then browns and goldie colors, all good for landscapes. Label, label, label!!
( I really like how this page looks with all the color swatches, I decided to make note cards and t-shirts of it!! See the links at the end of this post 😉 )
More color play to further test some out.
Ok, then the page adjoining that one had to be used for more testing, wow, am I going to use all these pinks?
My Watercolor Crayons + Waterbrush
After all this playing I ended up with a pile of cut crayons (yes I cut my new crayons in half too! Yikes how awful!) So I searched through my favorite shelf of odds n ends, containers etc for my field kits, and found a plastic case from I think, a small first aid kit. I love that it’s plastic = lightweight! This is a picture from my previous blog post where I used the big flat water brush.
Here are the blog posts I’ve done so far using the crayons, in order of date posted:
(This post is done AFTER returning home to NY…gosh I miss my Northumberland!)
Come along with me as I do a small oil painting in a very gorgeous location in the Coquetdale (River Coquet Valley) area of Northumberland, England. I think of all the areas I’ve traveled around in Northumberland, the Coquetdale is one of the most beautiful and always catches me by surprise when we drive along it’s long winding path through the valley. It has quite a few meanders before reaching the North Sea which makes it that much more picturesque to an artist, it’s curves reflected in the sun as a shimmering snake in a green velvet valley.
Painting while looking over the River Coquet
There I am! We hiked up this great high hill and entered the Bronze Age Celtic ring fort at the top. It’s surrounded by a deep ditch, as was the practice for all ring forts, though I guess a few thousand years ago it would have been deeper and very impressive. After exploring the fort and ditch I settled down inside a ditch with my back to the VERY brisk wind! While I painted I had my hood up to keep the wind off and you notice I’m wearing fingerless gloves, a must for outdoor painting!
For my set up, my favorite wooden field easel and a backpack with attached stool. This is a popular one found in many art supply catalogs but I altered it (as usual!), I took the backrest off by hammering on it until it came away. With the backrest off, I can now sit on it in any direction I like, sometimes the bars of the seat hurt the back of my legs and I feel less attachments equals less weight. I’m put a camping inflatable pillow on the seat, makes it a bit better. All in all, I don’t usually sit when painting outdoors, I find it tiresome to my back; usually I stand up and feel freer with my painting and you can move around to keep warm.
My View Over Coquetdale
Here’s a view of what I saw, you may wonder how my masonite board is staying up so magically on the easel? The wonders of Blue Sticky Tack never cease!! I use it all the time, I have some little dots of it on the easel to hold small boards like this, just where I want them. With a small board, I don’t like the wood of the easel’s clamp to get in the way.
stage 1-View Over Coquetdale
When in the field I usually don’t pencil sketch the scene on the canvas, but use either Burnt Umber thinned with mineral spirits, or pick a color in the landscape and sketch directly with the brush. Just pay attention as you divide up your canvas with the horizon line placement and other important elements. If you get it wrong in the beginning, it’ll always be wrong! I go for blocking in big shapes in the ‘nearest’ color to it’s overall color.
When I started this one I blocked in some really bright green, later I decided I should have tried to match the color better to begin with. I just wanted to get it going, so I painted into the wet oil to adjust the color. You’ll notice my river color is quite light, just laying it in to mark it, I’ll adjust the color later. I wanted to have a wet base to paint into. I painted the sky with an all over tone of blue with the gradation of dark to light, later I’ll add the clouds. I also started to establish where the dark areas are, the tree lines.
Stage 2- View Over Coquetdale
Now I’m set up back at home and continue working from my laptop where I have photos of the scene. I’m sorry I missed a few stages with the photos as I got involved with the painting! I studied where the background mountains should go and toned down blueish green for them. I continued to study where the tree lines were and payed close attention to the light and dark areas of the hills and tree clumps. Don’t put too much detail in the distant trees, just let them describe the curve of the hills as their lines criss cross and disappear. I also started to tuck darks under the tree lines and to the shadow side of them. You begin to notice the tree line on the left front is different than the ones on the right. They are different types of trees so the form and colors are different.
Stage 3- View Over Coquetdale
Picking out a little more detail of the hills in the mid-ground, I add some lights to define the hills and more detail to the tree lines. I lightly defined the little dirt road in the front left and a ‘hint’ of a fence, but kept it soft and also added more light to the left field. I put a small path that crossed the field in the middle but then later decided it was just too much of a distraction and took it out. I also added some lights to the trees on the right, you can see they are more pointy than the other trees as they are pines.
Stage 4- View Over Coquetdale
Above you can see I’ve added some darker (but still bright) blues to the river, taking care which direction I stroked it on. I added some yellow to the fields on the left to warm it up and cut down on the lightness. I added more bushes and detail to the front right side by the bank.
Completed "View over Coquetdale" 6x8" oil
The completed painting,6 x 8″ in oil, click it to view it larger in my Gallery of Landscapes. Here you can see I’ve added just a little more detail on the bank and sheep (whitish dots!) on the hills. One thing you notice when driving about the countryside of England are sheep just about everywhere! No hill would be complete without some of these white dots. Of course I didn’t just make blobs but made sure they had a bit of a long shape and slightly darker underneath, it’s just to ‘hint’ at a sheep, not to paint one in full detail at such a distance.
To view prints, note cards and more with this painting, click the links below to see them in my shop! (You can personalize any of them with your own text.)
I’ve been studying my snail Cuthbert, and really learning a lot of interesting facts. I know they’re slimy, strange little creatures that eat your garden plants, but they still merit study in my opinion. So I went outside the strange thing was I just walked over to a huge Sycamore tree and felt directed to look right at it’s base in the long grasses, tucked between some big roots. I pulled the grass aside and there, lo and behold two snails! I must have felt the “Snail Vibes” hahah.
big snail photo
One of the snails was this big guy (or girl!) that has now been named “Jabba the Hut”! He’s munching on some sweet corn here. Enjoy the simple stages of painting in watercolor shown below, to give you an idea of how I paint them.
big snail stage 1- ink
First I did drawings using light pencil, then go over it my micro permanent pen, keeping it simple and cartoon-like so I could add the detail with watercolor.
big snail stage 2
Then I look at the snails to see what pale color I see ‘underneath’ the other darker colors. I make a wash of this color and put it on, and while it’s wet, sometimes I drag a bit more of the wash or color into areas I want darker, with the tip of my brush.
big snail stage 3
Here you can see I’m just adding a bit more details and colors, keeping it simple. Look for dark patterns and be careful to leave light or white areas alone.
big snail stage 4
Sorry my stages kind of jumped here, I think I got busy and didn’t photograph any more stages! But all I did was kept looking for pattern, colors and shapes, let areas dry before adding new patterns so it doesn’t all blur together. If it does, take your paper towel tip and push it on the area to blot it, rub with brush tip and repeat until you get it lightened. You can add dappley marks with your brush tip for texture.
big snail stage 4 + paint
This is my sketch book along side my pan of watercolors, this is what I used to paint them.
Today, though it is sad, I did a watercolor study of a blackbird female that died after flying into our patio window. Just as other naturalists before me have done, I took advantage of having a real bird in front of me and did a study as quickly as I could. I find that if you love nature you can do this as a way of showing respect for the creature and not think of it as ‘gross’. Of course always be careful handling things like this by washing your hands after, putting it on plastic, not having food or drink nearby while working…just to be safe. I did notice a little tiny bug or two on it as I worked, which made me work even quicker, to get it out of the house sooner!
Watercolor study of Female Blackbird-stage 1
The picture above shows my pencil sketch and beginning stages of watercolor. I am laying in the golden color that I see ‘under’ the darker colors of the feathers.
Watercolor study of Female Blackbird-stage 2
Here I put dark tone on the tail and more darks on the head and some cool tones along the side of the breast to start to round the form.
Watercolor study of Female Blackbird-stage 3
Some more dark tones and details are laid in, feathers on ‘bottom’ wing.
Watercolor study of Female Blackbird-stage 4
At this stage I stopped painting feeling it was done, at least working from the ‘real’ model. I put a light wash of cool blue on the belly and added more color to the breast along with more details there.
Watercolor study with Blackbird
When I stood up and looked from further back, I felt it needed a more broad wash of dark on the birds right side so I just grabbed my brush and quickly washed some tone on, while standing up. Many times I like to work on my watercolors from a standing position to keep them loose and free; if it’s a detailed painting I like to either start it while standing to have a loose feel, or at least finish it this way. I could add some loose color around the bird, but I just didn’t feel like adding to it.
My set up to add final details from computer
So on another day I set up to touch up details using my photographs of the dead bird from my laptop. I used my field pan of watercolors and brushes and a magnifying glass to help me see details.
Watercolor study of female Blackbird - stage 6
At this point I decided it was finished. To be honest, I wanted to go back and ‘scratch’ out highlights along the legs to show their shine and make them stand out from the dark background, I also wanted to add grasses around the bird, but I’ve had too many other things to work on and just didn’t get time. So it’s DONE.
I don’t want to leave you with a dead Blackbird, here’s two photos of a healthy male so you can see how nice they look, their song is even nicer!
As a side note, the Blackbird (UK) is in the Thrush family just as my American Robin is. For my American readers you’ll notice a very close silhouette to our Robin, and the song, though different is beautiful as thrush songs are. The male Blackbird is ‘black’ with a yellow beak, the female looks, well like my painting, brown with speckles on breast.
This watercolor was commissioned by a lady for her husband’s 80th birthday! He loves groundhogs (just like me) and she really liked the groundhogs I had sketched on my blog this past summer, so she asked me to do a painting. Here’s the finished painting and below it I’ll share the stages of painting as I worked on it, along with how I changed or corrected areas as I went.
my set up 1
Above is my set up, an artists’ table easel box type thing that you can put oils paints in underneath, I have it filled with color pencils at the moment. I like it because you can change the angle to work on, I altered it though by drilling holes right up the front panel so I can change the height of the little shelf that you put your painting on while you work. (Yes, I love using my power drill!)
my watercolor pan palette
When I work on little watercolors, I like to keep my palette of colors close to the work. The paint dries out quickly in the tiny brushes so it helps to have it all close by. I set my pan of colors on a little wooden box and I can keep other supplies in here instead of all over my table. This pan is also what I use in the field, I have so many colors in it, I really don’t need to set up my big huge palette that I use in my studio for big paintings. When I worked on the painting, I had several pictures of groundhogs to the left of it for my reference, I used sticky tack (blue tack) to hold things in place on the Plexiglas surface.
my set up 2
I really created this set up because I wanted to work where the wood stove was, right in the middle of my living room. You can see the cold snow outside my window! So it’s like my little studio island, a plastic table 4′ x 2′, complete with laptop, small lamp, bundles of color pencils and some other piles of ‘stuff’. (ahmm…there’s a dark chocolate bar hidden in the box too, well you know, gotta keep the ‘ol strength up!)
This is the first stage of the painting, a light pencil sketch that I lighten first by tapping over it with a kneaded rubber eraser. Before I started I decided to make this a 5 x 7″ painting to fit a standard mat, so I lightly trace the inside of an 8 x 10 mat (5 x 7″ opening). Then I wash in a simple background of trees and start to place the long grasses and dandelions I want around this plump little groundhog.
groundhog 2 blocking shape
I like to try to keep some spontaneity in my paintings especially in the backgrounds. Here’s a little trick you can try to keep it loose while protecting areas; I grab a piece of paper or plastic to block or protect an area. This piece was just the right curve for his back, when it’s covered I can very freely stroke my brush right over the area with out it looking contrived and stiff.
groundhog 3 blocking shape
You can see above the protected area of his back.
In “groundhog 4” I have laid in some light body washes and beginning some fur areas, starting on the darker areas first. Notice I have left a light ‘cut out’ looking edge to him, this is so I can go back later and stroke color into it to make it look like fur, but also he’ll stand out a bit from the background. I also started to push the darks around the grass blades in the front left.
In “groundhog 5” you can see I darkened around the dandelions, added some grasses in front and also added some more tone and fur strokes on his body. Keep looking for the dark and light areas of his body; sometimes you show this by adding strokes or by adding whole washes to an area. If you look at his tail here I want to point out that I didn’t just paint in a tail shape, I put dark bits around where the grass went over it and it looks much more natural.
In “groundhog 6” you can see I have put a light wash of green in the background, then washes of brown in the foreground. I then added more grasses and darks around the dandelions, foreground and his body. I developed the arm and shoulder area more now, also added more to the head.
I developed the grasses around him in “groundhog 7”, pushing the darks in places.
Now I’ll show you some close up pictures of parts of the painting as I did corrections. I find it interesting to look back on how I changed things and I know my readers really like to see this, you can learn a lot by looking at how another painter reworks things to correct them.
correcting the back 1
When I painted more of the grasses in I was able to see his back silhouette better; I then realized that it looked too straight. So I gently re-wet the area along the edge (above) and rubbed a bit with my brush to lift the color then I blotted it with a clean paper towel. I repeat this as many times as nessesary to lift what I need to, you can’t always lift everything though!! Take care also not to lift other areas.
correcting the back 2
To reshape the back I carefully put down the dark green grass colors further out from the original back line. (above) Then you have to soften where needed so it all looks ‘right’ together.
Below I show a close up of an area that when I thought I had finished the painting, I looked back and decided to fix. That blade of grass pointing at his head looked ok in the beginning when it was lighter, but now was too strong.
blades of grass 1
Below is the area that I changed.
blades of grass final
Here’s some close ups of the head as I changed it. The mouth I found difficult to do, it was a give and take between showing details and sort of softening them, but then that’s the essence of painting! Notice the careful biulding of darks on the head to shape it’s 3 Dimensional feel, the changing of the black area of the mouth and the developing of the dark area under the jaw.
Head close up #1
Head close up #2
Head close up #3
#4 Final head close up
I ended up going over the entire head at the end and added darks here and there…sculpting until it looked just right.
Once again here is the painting finished and ready for it’s new owner!
The original is sold but SHOP for gifts, note cards, prints, t-shirts etc with this image on it in my Zazzle shop! Go to www.zazzle.com/marymcandrew*This will take you to my shop where my artwork and designs are listed, go to the Small Mammals folder to find the groundhog designs or just type Groundhog into the search box. You can add your own text to customize gifts! If you want it on something you don’t see, just email me to ask!
My finished miniature watercolor painting of a Great Grey Owl, measuring a mere 2″x2″! Be sure to check it out in my Owl Gallery too. It’s an owl named “Aspen” that I photographed at the Keilder Water Bird of Prey Centre in Northumberland England. I’ll show you the stages of painting and talk about how I did it below.
"Great Grey Owl" -first washes
This shows the first stages of painting, the beginning washes to lay down the values, color hue and expression of the painting. I first started with a light sketch in pencil, lifting it as much as I could with a kneaded rubber eraser before painting. Then I painted the washes and sprinkled salt on wet areas to see how it would ‘pull’ the color and create interesting patterns. It is at this stage of the painting that you can get a feel for how the painting will go, will you be loose and expressive? Will you go for more details? Sometimes I think we have to let our intuition guide us, or perhaps our mood.
First wash set up
This picture shows you my set up for the first washes, I always start flat on the table so the color doesn’t run. Many times on larger paintings I stand up and work loosely with my brush. (check out this short Utube video of me working on the “Screech Owl” painting, it shows how I paint loosely when standing). This set up shows my photo reference to the left, the salt above that, then my field palette to the right because I’m right handed, the water bowl above that. I keep a white paper towel folded nearby for wiping off excess water and it allows me to see if there’s paint left on my brush. You see my magnifying lamp which I find good because the light is cool and matches daylight; but I don’t use the magnifier on it as I find it clumsy to use my brushes under it and I bump into all the time when I lean in super close! Sometimes I use a hand held magnifying glass or you’ll see pictures later of my glasses.
Great Grey Owl -stage 3
Now here in stage 3 you see I’ve jumped ahead with lots of details and color. As you work, squint your eyes at the photo and your painting to catch large areas of value that need to be developed and notice color hues. At one point I felt my owl was too brown so I washed a very watered down blue grey over areas, but only on very dry areas. In areas you need to lighten you can either lift color with a damp brush and blot with a paper towel, or you can add it using white watercolor or gauche mixed with your paint colors.
Now on purpose I’m going to point out some things that I found to be unsatisfactory in my painting and I changed. At stage 3 here, I felt like I did a pretty nice painting! I was feeling like it was done, ah….no such luck. If you let it sit a day or two and return to it, or if you show it with the photo reference to a friend with a sharp eye, they’ll be sure to catch something ‘off’ with it. If you’re a conscientious artist, you’ll be bothered by it until you fix it and you probably already knew it was wrong to begin with but wanted to ignore it! Well lets just say my boyfriend has a good eye, sigh, well now he ‘did’ pick me didn’t he? We both agreed the beak wasn’t right, I pointed it out to him then when he agreed it was back to the easel with it. I can’t believe how much I was able to amend the beak being that this is watercolor after all. People are afraid of watercolor because they think it’s unforgiving, wait until you see the changes I made.
Great Grey Owl -stage 4
Stage 4 shows the beak changed, I totally moved the angle of it and lengthened it! (see the enlargements below of these final stages too) If you take a damp brush and gently re-wet an area, and only the area you want to fix, you can then repeatedly rub it gently with a damp brush tip, blot it with a clean paper towel (I prefer Viva!) then clean your brush, wipe it off and repeat. Do this over and over, you’ll be amazed at how much you can lift. When I repainted the beak I thought like an oil painter, I laid down a more opaque yellow layer to clean and brighten the beak, then I kept putting washes over this dry layer to affect the color. It ended up with an unusual translucent look like a real beak would have.
As I did this, of course I started to notice other areas I wanted to improve upon. Sigh…such is the plight of an artist with a picky eye! Notice the area of light tan below his beak, I needed to bring out the lightness of it so I added white watercolor to some cad.yellow, and browns to create a tint for an underlayer. Another note about this painting, next time I will pick a much smoother paper, working with this much detail you need to keep your paper super smooth with no distracting texture.
Great Grey Owl -stage 5
Stage 5 shows how I painted detail on top of the tan area under the beak and the beak has more details added. The owl has an overall lighter look, this is because I kept stroking on little feathers with a tint of whitish blue grey to add detail. Now I thought I was done here, but remember that boyfriend of mine with the good eye? Well he helped me notice I had painted out the nostril! SIGH….yes, when I was adding the little hairs by the beak I must have done that so back to the easel. The picture at the beginning of the post is the final stage, fixed and finished!
Working with my magnifying glasses
This is me working with my reading glasses on and a little set of clip on magnifier lenses. In the photo I have the magnifying lenses lifted up so I can look at the paints in front of me, if they were down I’d need to get much closer to see what I was doing. So I would lift the lenses up when I would sit back a bit and take a look at the ‘whole’ painting and the photo, looking for areas that need attention. Then I’d flip them back down and get close for the detail painting. I wouldn’t use them for the initial stages of painting, you don’t want to focus on details at that point.
Also you notice here my setup is different than before, I have another pan of watercolors and have them set up on some jars so they are closer to my painting. Working with a tiny brush ( 10/0 liner) it dries out super fast and keeping my pallet nearer seemed to help. The nice thing about working on a miniature painting was being able to mix small amounts of color right in the pan lid. (the brush in the picture is not my liner brush)
The pictures below are so you can look at one section close up to see the changes I made to the beak and area around it.
Great Grey Owl close up detail stage 3
Great Grey Owl close up detail stage 4
Great Grey Owl close up detail stage 5
Great Grey Owl -close up detail finished
I hope you’ve enjoyed my post about my painting. I looked forward to showing you my mistakes and how I fixed things as I painted because this is how it goes, it’s a process and doesn’t always go as easy as it looks. I like to encourage my students and others to keep looking at their paintings for more detail but most of all a good beginning drawing is crucial. As you can see here, I missed the beak angle and had to fix it later, but the more you paint and draw the better you’ll be at catching these things in your work. That’s my two cents! Please leave me some comments and if you are interested in note card or prints please let me know.
For the fun of it, here’s some Utube links with owls!
This is a watercolor study I did to as a demonstration for my fall Nature Sketching and Painting Indoor class that just finished up. I used it to show the stages it took to make a simple study, step by step, layering washes, values etc. Posted below are the steps it took to make this 5″x5″ study head, be sure to click on pictures to see larger views! Enjoy!
Detailed sketch – Shown below, first I started with a light gesture sketch of the shape of the bird, then rechecked placements of things and refined details.
Darkest Darks-This is one approach to watercolors, start by laying in your darkest darks and blacks. If you start with a confident sketch it should work out fine, when you work this way you set out from the beginning with a defined dark end of the value range. You can then judge all other values against it as you paint. You won’t have to go back and keep “pushing” your darks to make them pop.
I also painted the eye, being carful not to touch the highlight area, black for the pupil, and brown put into the wet black for the iris. (I think I put my reading glasses on for this step! haha).
Below I started to lay in more darks of the cheek, as my brush was drying out I would ‘sketch’ areas I wasn’t sure about…just to start to lay in some value so I could see where I wanted to paint. Color Wash-Here I laid in a bluish grey, ultramarine and black thinned with water. After it dried I laid in some small lines for feathers.
Changeing the drawing– A pale yellow ochre wash on skin of eye area and nares. A wash over the eye highlight to tone it down and soften it. Here I also made a decision about the beak, now that I was putting values down, I thought the beak looked a bit too heavy. So before committing to paint, I erased! I reworked the curve then I painted keeping all areas soft and blended slightly. Feather details-I brushed on more feather details here, laid in more darks with repeated ‘feather’ strokes to top of head and all around eye. Nice spotty look at right edge, I like when the watercolor can been seen for what it is, it gives it a looseness. See the photo below for this step, just repeated tiny strokes. Yellow of beak and eye-Here I laid in the yellow on the nares and eye area, and it’s completed! See it on my Art Gallery Blog soon with prices for note cards and prints!
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