Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jumping Salmon - Painted Feather Progress Part 2

This is the second part of the progress of the jumping salmon painted feather. If you did not see the first part, you can find it here: http://featherseeds.blogspot.com/2011/06/jumping-salmon-painted-feather-progress.html

At this point, I begin the detail on the salmon and trees. I use white instead of a mixture of green on the trees, as I will use glazes (thinned, translucent layers of paint) to bring the color in. Atlantic salmon have a lovely silvery shimmer, which is something the client wanted me to capture in this fish. When working small, you don't have to paint every single detail with sharp accuracy - sometimes less is more. An example of this is the scales. Simple dots are enough to give the illusion of glossy scales.

I also decided to add some variation to the water. Water is rarely 'blue', and often has shades of green and brown. Even putting glazes of green over blue will make the water look more natural, instead of artificial.

Now that most of the details have been painted, it's time to add the last figure - the fisherman. Instead of sketching him with paint, I use a white gel pen. These pens are perfect for sketching on acrylic, as they are water-soluble, and if you make a mistake, you can simply 'erase' with water. I also draw in the fishing line with this pen, as it is thinner and more fluid than any brush with paint.

Painting in the fisherman was the most tricky part, since on the feather he is only about an inch tall. Again, the same technique of 'less is more' can be used on the fisherman. By using bold shadows and highlights, he pops out. And delicate detail is unnecessary - it wouldn't show up well anyway.

After adding some last details to the trees and rocks, the feather is complete. The color and contrast is different from the progress shots because instead of photographing the final piece, I scanned it. Scanners will generally give you sharper detail and are not affected by the lighting of your room, which is why it is the preferred method for digitizing traditional artwork.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jumping Salmon - Painted Feather Progress

This painting is a commission for a friend's father, so I'm hoping he doesn't know about this blog (I'm quite certain he doesn't!). However, as it's been requested by several people, I decided to show the progress of a painted feather from start to finish.

With all paintings, I start with a sketch. Since I will not be transferring the sketch directly to my feather, I keep the sketch loose. I am not familiar with salmon anatomy, so I did quite a bit of research on these fish while sketching. There will also be a fisherman in this painting, so I not only had to research Atlantic Salmon, but also the specifics of fly fishing!

To prepare the feathers (my canvas), I take two turkey tail feathers that look good layered on top of one another. I try to use two feathers that curve in the same direction (both from the right side of the tail, for instance), as this creates a nice layered double feather. To attach the feathers together, I use PVA bookbinding adhesive, which is acid-free and archival. This glue is perfect, as it dries quickly and clear.

Once the glue is completely dry, I spray the feathers with workable fixative. The fixative helps prevent the feather vane from separating, though it is not a perfect hold, and I still need to be careful when painting the first layer. Once the fixative is dry, I paint the first layer. At this point, I simply block in the main colors in watered-down acrylic. This also serves not only as an underpainting, but the acrylic also acts as a 'glue' to lock the barbs of the feather together, preventing it from opening.

At this point, the feather looks extremely sloppy, but at the beginning the main purpose is getting the feather 'locked.' The second step is to fill in the colors a bit more, but not putting in detail yet.

One thing to remember when painting feathers is that the paint seems to dry a bit slower than on canvas or board. I use this to my advantage to blend, particularly in the salmon where I want a smooth blend between the darker top half and the silvery bottom half. Here I start putting in minor details, still blocky, in the fish and background.

Once the main underpainting is done, I start on the detail. When I work with detail, I tend to work fast, as I want to be able to blend while the paint is wet. Unlike oils, which take several days to dry, acrylic dries in a matter of minutes, and although it dries slower on feathers, you still need to work quickly if you want to blend on the feather itself.

Although I have several reference shots of flowing rivers, I don't like to simply paint a scene right from nature. I see the opportunity with the salmon's wonderful curve to move the water around it and compliment both the form of the fish and the shape of the river. I've taken liberties with the water, not focusing so much on pure water physics, but seeking a more aesthetic river.

The next post will contain the second half of progress, as well as the finished feather.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wind Spirit Starling Mask - From Start to Finish

The second mask I was commissioned to do was a variation on my Wind Spirit mask, but with Winter Starling mask colors.

This mask looks huge when tooling, as it takes a rather large piece of leather. However, the wings wrap around the head, so it is not as 'huge' as one might think by looking at it at the tooling stage. Below, you can see the mask fully tooled and cut out:

Once shaped, you can see how it loses a lot of its volume, but becomes a very well-fitted mask:

I use blue dye, because this will be a dark mask. Although in my previous post I mentioned using a compliment as the base dye color (as with the Summer Bird Mask), in this case, I felt using blue would work better. There are no set-in-stone 'rules' when I work. If I feel something will work better, I generally follow my instincts:

I try to use the base color of blue as a springboard for my other colors. This mask will vary between green, blue, and purple, so I use thin layers mixed with a pearlescent white to create an iridescent effect:

Since punching holes for the ribbons would ruin the winged effect of this mask, I instead glued a piece of leather with a hole on each side, and threaded the ribbon through. Since the adhesive is extremely strong, I do not worry about it pulling loose. One 'test' I do whenever I glue something that will be tugged on a lot (such as ribbon) is I pull it firmly. If I feel or see any give, I reglue it. Both sides passed the 'tug test', and after varnishing, this mask was complete, and was sent on its way to the client.

Summer Bird Mask Completion

While I finished this mask a while ago, I still want to post the second part of the progress post for the Summer Bird mask, as well as a look at creating my Wind Spirit mask (which will appear in a separate blog post).

After shaping the Summer Bird mask, I applied a layer of leather dye. The dye I use is alcohol-based, and also stiffens the leather a little bit more. Using scrap bits of leather, I cut out additional leaves, dyed and shaped them, and once dry, glued them onto the mask. Once the glue and dye is dried, I go over it with a water-based sealer (Mod Podge), to create an acid-free barrier between the dyed leather and acrylic paint. Since the dye goes on with variation, I painted a layer of burnt sienna as a 'base layer.'

You may ask, "well if this mask is going to be mostly green and yellow, why did you put a reddish base down?" I find using a color's compliment as a base serves to make that color more vibrant, as well as make its shadows more solid. As most of this mask will be shades of green, I used its compliment - red - as a base. You can see the first layer of paint, with the reddish base showing through:

At this point, I usually work pretty fast, and my painting style isn't 'step by step' enough for me to take a lot of photos. Instead of adding shadows all at the same time and then highlights later, sometimes I go back and forth. Here is the mask completely painted, minus the stone:

As you may remember from the first version of this mask I created in 2009, I simply glued the stone on the mask without a bezel of any kind. I didn't like this for two reasons. For one, I don't feel the 'stuck on' look has a very 'clean' appearance. On the forehead, the leather is still slightly curved, and the flat back of the cabochon does not sit perfectly flat, and thus you get gaps. The second reason is stability. Although the adhesive I use (Incredible Goop) is extremely strong, a stone that is simply stuck on is not as secure as one that is 'set' in the mask. Because of this, I decided to take a different approach.

I must thank Andrea Masse-Tognetti, known more widely as Merimask, for her tips on how to set a stone in leather. During the tooling stage, I traced the base of the stone on the leather, and then drew a second, identical oval about 1/16 of an inch in, so the hole would be slightly smaller than the base of the cabochon. After cutting out the hole, I beveled the hole inversely, meaning it would be wider on the bottom and narrower on the top. This way, it would act as a bezel over the stone.

Once the mask was shaped, painted, and ready for varnishing, I placed the stone in the hole and cut out a very thin piece of split leather. The leather I buy is regularly 11 ounces (leather thickness is measured in ounces), which is a little under 3/16 of an inch. This is very thick for leather, so for my masks, I ask the tannery where I buy my leather to cut it down to 7 oz. (a little less than 1/8 inch). By request, they sent me the thin split side, which comes in useful for things such as backing stones, as seen below:

I cut this piece big enough so I could glue it (with the Goop, again) to the back of the mask. I made sure the Goop covered both the piece of leather, and the stone, so once it dried, the stone would be set without wiggling.

I also placed sticky-backed felt over the glued-on leaves, so they wouldn't dig in or scratch the wearer's face. After a day of drying, I varnished the mask, front and back, twice, and tied on the ribbons.