Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Piebald Peacock - Process Part 2

If you haven't seen it, you can find part one of this process post here:

And a note: in this post when I refer to the 'tail', I am referring to the long feathers that grow from a peacock's back, which are often referred to as its 'tail'. For the sake of layman's clarity, I have used the word 'tail', but please note that they are not part of a peacock's true tail!

As I was still working on the tail, the client requested the wings have less white and more natural plumage, as seen in the leftmost color sketch as seen in the previous post. This was no problem, as I hadn't started any of the wing detail, and with the feathers that needed color being white, it was an easy addition.

Adding Detail:

I studied quite a bit of piebald peacock reference to figure out how the white feathers of the tail should look. The feathers behind the white ones would be a mixture of natural and white, so I made the area behind the white feathers the same dark brown as behind the natural feathers. Since I will be painting the details with white acrylic, there is no need to paint in the negative space - the white acrylic will be opaque over the watercolor.

At this point, I started to paint in the detail of the peacock's body and wings, bringing shadows to the primary and secondary feathers, and dark edges to the brilliant back feathers peacocks have. The head and neck are of particular focus, since the brilliant blues and greens are part of what makes these birds' plumage so impressive.

Final Details:

With white acrylic, I painted in the feather shafts and the loose vanes for the white feathers. Overlapping and steering away from a uniform direction for the feathers is important here - this 'wispiness' is part of what makes peacock tail feathers so iconic. I also took a bit of artistic liberty with the white feathers. There is no 'ghost' of the eye or other markings that the naturally-colored tail feathers have, but without it, the feathers looked blank and too bright.

I added even more detail to the back feathers, which is what really made them pop. These feathers are not simply green with black, but they have an 'arrow' of blue surrounded by reddish brown. Little details like this are what makes the difference between the feathers looking 'drawn on', and actually being part of the bird. It may be tempting at times to omit certain details, but having patience and painting them in (such as the barred patterns on the tertial and scapular feathers) really helps bring the bird together. When we look at a peacock, we may be tempted to see them just as their beautiful tails, but there's so much more than just the tail that makes a peacock.

At this point I am ready to put in the background, which will be a simple blending of colors. As you can see, the white of the wings and the neck really don't pop with the current white background.

Finished Painting:

I used washes of raw umber, Van Dyk brown, and sepia, with a little phtalo green here and there to bring the whole composition together, then went over the dried washes with a layer of white gouache. Compared to the previous image, you can see how the white of the wings pops out and unifies the figure. All in all, this painting is about 95% watercolor, with the only acrylic used being the white acrylic for the white feather vanes and shafts of the white tail feathers. It's 8 X 11 inches on hot-press Fabriano watercolor paper.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Piebald Peacock - Process Part 1

My favorite commissions are those involving birds I've never painted before. Not only does it present an opportunity to paint a new subject, but it's also a challenge. I was asked to paint a piebald peacock, which is a peacock with both regular coloration, as well as patches of white plumage.

To start, I did a number of sketches for the client, who said she wanted the wings to be spread. Obviously the tail also needed to be a focal point, which meant the poses needed to be from the back.

Note: For the sake of biological accuracy, I must point out that a peacock's 'tail' feathers are not actually part of the tail at all! They are very, very long feathers that grow from its back. You can see a peacock's true tail, spread in the back while it displays here:


The client chose pose #2, with a partially-spread tail and spread wings. I refined the sketch, and did two color sketches:

Finished Sketch:

Color Sketches:

The client was specific in where she wanted the white - a few patches in the primary feathers, and some of the white feathers with regular 'eyes'. Since the colors were so specific, I only had to do two color sketches to determine where to put the white. As a note - the client requested a 'spontaneous watercolor splash' background, but I used a temporary purplish-pink background simply to show the colors in the color sketch. The final painting will not have that background. #2 was chosen for its symmetry, so I started on the painting.

First Washes:

Since the colors are so tricky in this piece, I put down a very simple wash of the base colors, before starting on any shadow or detail. The tail will be especially challenging because of the nature of peacock feathers - the vane is loose and 'flowy'. To show an example of what I'm talking about, look at this fanned peacock tail. Note how you have bright green feather over the dark shadow of the feathers behind. With watercolor, you can't paint thin, light details on top of dark shadow, so I would have to paint in each thin strand of shadow in individually. With watercolor, it's important to focus on both the positive and negative space and plan what you will do with highlights and shadows.

Note how the brilliant blues of the eyes look pretty dull. Although I used a very brilliant shade of Turquoise (Holbein), it looks fairly drab when surrounded by such low-contrast yellows. But take a look at the one eye where I put in the detail of dark brown, and you can see how that blue starts to pop.

Tail Detail (Part 1):

Here you can see a bit of the progress from right to left. On the right, I've only started painting in the feather vane with Pthalo Green. The 'sword' feathers are Turquoise. On the left, you can see how I went in with a dark mixture of Van Dyk Brown and Payne's Gray to paint in the shadows. With acrylic, this would have been much easier - I would have painted a layer of dark brown, and then simply gone over the brown with the lighter green. With watercolor, it's very difficult to go dark back to light, so if you want to preserve a brilliant and bright color, you must paint your darks around it.

The feathers at the base of the tail have a wash of Turquoise, gradually blending to washes of Sap Green as they approach the ends. I will be using white acrylic to paint in the feather vane of the white tail feathers, mostly to achieve the brilliant white and fine detail of those feathers.