Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ba ba bird, bird, bird...bird is the word.

Posted by: Dave

The true story of this still life is as follows.  I was out for a hike in the woods with my father- in-law and we happened to bring our shotguns with us (which we use to scare off hunters from harming innocent woodland creatures) along with a giant bag of bird feed (which I'll get to later).  It was a beautiful autumn day when all of a sudden, a rabid 6 ft grouse jumped out of the woods holding what appeared to be a rusty shiv.  He made a throat slitting gesture towards me, followed by cutting his own tongue open to let me know he was serious.  I told him I didn't want any trouble and I would just be on my way.  He motioned to the giant bag of bird seed I was carrying and instructed me to hand it over.  I told him I was delivering it to the orphanage for adorable baby ducklings.  He eventually became impatient and violently came at me. I had no choice but to break his leg with a spinning round house kick.  Knowing he was defeated and having no chance of survival, he picked up the end of my shotgun barrel and placed it on his head.  I knew what had to be done.  I had to do the humane thing. That day I took a life, but in return, I may have saved my father-in-law's.  After that, I figure I would paint him then eat him (the bird, not my father-in-law).  Below is a picture of the grouse in his final moments.

On that note, let's talk about painting.  When painting anything that is perishable, it is going to change over the course of the project.  This means you have to work fast to block in the drawing and large groupings of color.  Things like superficial textures and details will have some level of conceptualization as the object decays, thaws, etc.  At times it is possible to substitute one object for another.  Example would be an apple versus say, a killer grouse.  However, in the case of this painting and many of Kate's Icarus series, we don't have an unlimited supply of dead birds.  (One of the reasons Kate started painting kittens.  Pick up a new litter every week from the SPCA.)  When I had the bird out, I had to be working as fast as I could towards completion.  

Initial lay-in of ébauche
 End of day one of painting.  Started to impasto some thicker paint before the day was out.  You can really only hit values when paint is applied opaquely.

Adding wood texture and refining grouse.  For the texture of the wood, I stole one of Kate's tricks of applying the blue tone over top of a dry umber wash, then scraping out the wood grain with a rubber knife to give it a tactile feel.  This way the ridges cast a natural shadow that emulates chippy paint. Its important if you are going to do this to keep the umber brush strokes vertical, so it looks like wood grain.  However, the feathers on the grouse I had to layer quite a bit.  Not making every feather looks the same is extremely important. Birds have a variety of feathers that have different qualities and sizes.  In the white feathers, I used a rather ratty filbert bristle brush to impasto the lights since these feathers were quite wispy.  For the feathers on the side, I found it easiest to shape the small whites of each one first, before defining the rest of it.  The belly feathers were perhaps the most difficult as they were the most subtle.  As soon as they became over realized the big form of the belly was lost, so it was a tricky balance.  To avoid this, I sculpted the largest form of the belly first before adding the smaller details.
Addition of other elements to balance composition, ie, bullet bag and hinges.  Typically I am more planned at the beginning of a still life, but this was a painting of circumstance.
 Done.  In the end I left some of the umber wash showing through completely to break up all that blue.
Detail of wood with hinge.  Actually used a make up sponge to layer up some rust texture.