Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ruffy: A Portrait

I recently finished this 8 x 10 inch mixed media portrait of Ruffy, a female rufus hummingbird that stayed with us from October thru the morning of December 31 1 2011. She was supposed to have flown to Mexico in the fall but showed up at our feeder on a bluff and blustery October day. She stayed with us through out the fall and early winter, up to December 31 very early in the morning. Which it turns out was just long enough to be counted in the Christmas Bird count that Frank was involved in that winter. She definitely earned her daily hummingbird sugar water!
Frank had taken loads of wonderful photos of Ruffy, and I just had to use one for a “mostly” colored pencil piece.

I started off doing a sketch of Ruffy which I combined with a sketch of my photo of some fall leaves backlit with morning sun. I sketched on bristol board with a light colored watercolor's I could erase the lines later with just a bit of water.

After that I decided I wanted the background to be pretty dark, to highlight the sunlight coming thru the leaves. I made a couple of paper “masks” of the shape of the leaves and of Ruffy, and sponge painted over the rest of the uncovered background with a bit of acrylic paints mixed with a lot of glazing medium. This covered the background quickly, with a surface I could still draw on with Prisma color (wax based) pencils.

The drawings of Ruffy and the backlit leaves are left pure white Bristol board to keep them the brightest part of the drawing. The outlines I “erased” with dabs of water as I got to them.

I started filling in the lovely colours of the backlit leaves and the form of Ruffy, with Prisma color pencils in multiple layers.

After the leaves and Ruffy were finally finished I went on to add “splashes” of colored pencils in the background. I especially wanted to darken (and make bluer) the areas around the golden leaves and orange tinged Ruffy, to provide color contrasts. I also added a lot more color bursts of muted colors in the background to subtly “activate” the background, but keep it “in the background.”

As a final grace note, on advice from Frank, I added a touch....literally.....of gold leaf to the Rufus hummingbird's gorget. The gold leaf is no bigger than the width of a colored pencil lead, but it catches the light just a little very much like the reflective feathers on the hummingbird's throat. We were graced with watching (and watching out for) Ruffy for nearly 3 months.....and we learned so much, and enjoyed her stay greatly.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How NOT to Draw to Make your Picture POP!

This is just a small post about a current colored pencil WIP “All My Ducks in a Row”. This WIP is from a series of photos my husband, Frank, took on a recent nature photo shoot. He found a group of young ducks preening on a huge log, and took a wonderful series of photos. I took them, and with a bit of rearranging, came up with a design I liked. I choose a looooong horizontal frame format, and cut out black illustration board to match.

I traced off the duck images onto the illustration board, using white tracing graphite paper. I dusted it off a bit with an kneaded eraser, and started to work.

My first pass of coloured pencils laid in the brite green leaf to outline the duck's head. As you can see in the second image, the colours were laid in, but the image doesn't really “come together”.

To “outline” the main image I needed to ghost in the background water, which I did using a lite swash of gouche. I found that coloured Prismas go over lite gouche wonderfully, mushing the gouche particles around with very little effort, allowing me to add bits of colour gradually.

By remembering to NOT COLOUR in the black areas surrounding the duck's head, I allowed the figure to POP out against the background and attain it's proper form.

It's a bit of a “backwards thinking” kind of trick, but is essential to remember where “not to paint” to work on a black background. Sorta like working a colored pencil crossword puzzle.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Visual Art Tip: Family Jewels-Old family photos can be a treasure trove of inspiration.

Visual Art Tip: Family Jewels-Old family photos can be a treasure trove of inspiration.

I've always been the type of person that just can't leave “well enough alone”, especially when it comes to painting. Going thru a box of old family photos, I came across a lovely old sepia portrait of a young girl.

As you can see from the photo, it looks like she stopped by a old tyme photo booth, and sat for a photo. (Around this period of time, photographers might set up a mini booth at a county fair.) It looks like she just covered her dress with a cloth drape, much like they used to do to us for a high school photo.

I immediately decided that she would make a charming colored pencil portrait, even though her identity remains uncertain. Since red/auburn hair runs in our families, I decided to go with that for her hair color, and used a very fair complexion. So that in turn, gave me the background colour of green. I picked out a suitable (1900's ) complex background wallpaper design.....and a very complex lace dress design of the same period. I wasn't too worried about a total likeness......I just used her as a jumping off point for a "period portrait".

Colored pencil is superb for tons of detailing.....yet works lovely for a smooth peaches and cream complexion. I had a ball taking a relatively routine old photo and giving it detailing and a color 'PUNCH'. I think it's fun to remind ourselves that not everything in history is just plain ol' black and white or sepia. Our ancestors lived in FULL color, just like we do... they just didn't have iPhones to record it.

Check out your own photo never know what bits of treasure you might find to bring up to full COLOR!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

DIDJA KNOW....Since ancient times artists have used precious metals to create or enhance artwork.

Since ancient times artists have used precious metals to create or enhance artwork. Both gold and silver, among other metals, have been used in making art.

From medieval times to the present, silver has often been used in making delicate expressive drawings. One of the most often used techniques is “silverpoint”. This is where a thin pointed strand of silver wire is used as a drawing instrument. Sorta like the lowly graphite pencil of today, the silverpoint tool was used both in “sketching” outlines for further painted artwork and to complete “finished” pieces of art. The silver that was rubbed off the piece of silver wire, with each stroke, stuck to the treated surface (paper, gessoed canvas etc). Over a period of weeks, the silver would tarnish, just like silver candlesticks do today. The soft grayed silver tarnish would give drawings a lovely “glow”. This is a nice Wikipedia article on the practice:

One of the most enduring metals used in art is gold.....leaf to be exact. As opposed to silverpoint's use of silver wire to make a drawing, gold leafing has been used as a covering, in both 2D and 3D artworks. It can be applied both to a surface of a canvas or paper and onto a sculpture with many details. The main technique for gold leafing is to make the surface you want to cover “sticky” with some sort of liquid adhesive, and apply the extremely thin sheets of gold leaf. After it is dry, a gold leaf coat can be “burnished” to enhance the smoothness of the leafing, and increase the shine. Of course as with any medium, there are a multitude variations on how the gold leaf can be finished, with many different effects. Usually, after the gold leaf is completely finished, a varnish is applied to protect the fragile surface.

This detail of a coat of arms shows how lovely a bit of gold leaf can be. Incorporated into a graphic design, like a coat of arms, gold leaf is a beautiful highlight, that will make most anything look richer. If left un-burnished, the gold leafing will refract light in small sparkles. If the gold leaf is burnished.....or smoothed.....then it will be more mirror like in it's shine.

The coat of arms at the top of this post was completed using gold leaf and oil paints. It has the extra added twist of being done in a “reverse glass” technique. This is painting on glass, but on the reverse side of the glass than it will be viewed. This means that all the normal order of painting is also reversed.....details are put on first, then middle ground items and finally background items. The gold leafing is added last. If you don't go crazy's a great quirky technique!