Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Sunday, September 02, 2007

BIRDS IN ART

This weekend will mark the opening of one of the most prominent annual exhibitions of animal art. The thirty-second annual Birds In Art opens to the public on September 8th at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, WI, and will run through November 11th. A smaller selection of works from the show will tour the United States afterwards. The Wausau venue will feature several pieces by this year's Master Artist, Walter Matia, along with flatwork and sculpture from about 100 artists, including my painting, Crash-barrier Waltzer. Last year I posted about my painting technique--now the opening of Birds in Art gives me an excuse to review my process of developing a composition.
The painting began with a visualization of a deer antler leaned against a guard-rail, its owner unseen, as a Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia) perches on it, anticipating its next meal, its long, curved train echoing the shapes of the antler tines. I began by quickly sketching numerous versions of the bird, slowly refining its position. At this stage, I prefer to eschew reference materials. Above is a page of these early thumbnail sketches.

Next, I found a suitably interesting guard-rail. I had access to several different designs of these structures, and had to pick one that would work well in the design and still be recognizable as a guard-rail. I considered using one with bold back-and-white bars painted on it, but preliminary value sketches suggested it would overpower the subject. I settled on a section of weathered and beaten old rail where two members were bolted together and anchored to a concrete post, and took some photographs with a portable deer rack.
With the help of these photos, I sketched my protagonist's perch.
Taking my cues from the early thumbnail sketches, I sketched the position of my subject...
...and traced it onto the guard-rail/antler.
Using a big road-killed rooster magpie for reference, I began to redraw the subject, correcting the proportions and anatomy...
...step...
...by step. Click on the finished sketch above and note how unlike a magpie it is. At this point, I was really worried by how much it looked like a jay, instead. It seemed there was more than just a lack of blackness involved here.
I photocopied the finished drawing, and quickly colored in the subject, which immediately changed it from a jay to a magpie. Reassured, I was now ready to trace the whole thing onto illustration board and break out the paints.The finished painting. All that's left at this point is to rip-off a title from an old Jethro Tull song and take it to the framer.
_____________________
CRASH-BARRIER WALZER--BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (2006) acrylic 30" x 22"

37 Comments:

Anonymous mary said...

Beautiful painting, is it both the mature adult male and female magpies that have the white band across their tail? I don't have a clue...

11:59 PM  
Blogger burning silo said...

Congratulations on the inclusion of your painting in the Birds in Art exhibition.
Thanks for providing the step by step walk through of your painting - very enjoyable. It's a terrific composition. I particularly like how you've managed to intimate that which lies outside borders of the painting. Clever and interesting.

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Blogger cpbvk said...

Mary: Thank you. Actually, all magpies, young and old, male and female, look almost identical. Fledglings have shorter tails for the first couple of weeks. The males tend to be bigger, with heavier bills and feet, but these characteristics are hard to see except when the bird is in your hand. The dead bird I used for a model was particularly big and manly.
Silo: Thanks, Bev. I hope the show tours north of the border this year.

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