Avocet on the shore
Avocet on the shore
Follow Paul Apps as he guides you through the painting of this distinctively patterned black and white wader - the renowned emblem of the RSPB
If you followed my articles last year you may by now have a small oil painting kit which will be perfect for this exercise. Alternatively, if you are still uncertain about the virtues of painting in oil, and prefer acrylic, then this exercise will also work, so whatever medium you use, enjoy the experience of painting the Avocet.
On the face of it you might think it complex, but break it down into component parts and it becomes simple.
Think of main areas or simple shapes. The bird itself is one such part, the water from top to bottom is another, the wet mud a third. So you see we begin to reduce all the details and place them into specific slots.
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I have shown here how I sketched the bird and placed it to one side of the canvas. You can simplify this if you wish by tracing the bird and transposing it onto your support. Once you have drawn in your bird start to lay in the outlines with a No.2 round, defining the black plumage using Burnt Umber and Indigo mixed with liquin. Doing this almost paints the dark plumage in one attempt, and also reinforces the drawing as you go. Complete this before starting the background...
Background colour. Mix a puddle of Cobalt Blue, a touch of Alizarin with White to shift the value to warm violet, then start to paint the background water using the large filbert. As you travel down the panel lose the Alizarin in favour of Cobalt, then move into the foreground adding more Cadmium Red Light - almost a warm white near the bottom becoming pale pink, leaving some spaces dry especially at the base to allow for the wet mud.
For the avocet, create a large puddle of white, then tint one half with Naples Yellow and the other with an orange (remember just a tint - no more). Now, using the No. 2 flat brush, block in the main area of the bird, taking care to avoid dragging into the darks. Use a mix of White tinted with Orange for the legs.
Time to refine the avocet! It is worthwhile stating here, like the drawing at the start, take time over this stage of your work. Mix Paynes Grey with a little Orange to create a warm shadow value. Using a small No.2 round apply this to the underside of the bird's chest and neck area. Next start to express the darker wing markings with a mix of Indigo and Burnt Sienna, adjusting from warm to cool - this allows for some depth to occur within what appears to be black. Then add a tint of Cobalt/ Alizarin to the White to add some depth to the shadow in the plumage. Flick areas of white feather across the darker plumage where seen.
It is now time to make small adjustments to the outline, shadow areas and definition as you feel it needs. Apply Grey where the white feathers overlay the black, and watch as your avocet takes perfect form. Time now for accents; use pure White with a mere hint of Cadmium Yellow (this is your brightest bright) and add it to the brightest areas of the avocet's plumage, using a No. 4 or 2 flat. It will make sense of the remaining areas of shadow and white and make the bird stand out beautifully.
The last stage is in two parts. Using a No. 4 flat lay in the areas of wet mud exposed by the ebbing tide. Mix a third puddle of Burnt Umber and Indigo. Have Orange and Cadmium Red standing by. Now pay heed to putting marks in, thinking about reducing height and scale as the areas of mud recede upwards and behind the bird. They will reduce in value to a degree as well. Also remember that what you paint will have a reflection.
As you come to the base area allow areas of water to remain, ie think of the negative spaces, it will be hard to apply light over the dark whilst wet otherwise.
In this final stage add warm and cool areas to the wet mud, using mixes of violet (cool values) and red through orange (warm values). Apply them with degrees of white randomly whilst observing the reference material in respect of warm and cool areas within the mud. Add a mix of Indigo and Ultramarine to form a shadow on the mud behind the bird. The shadow is not precise, there is no need for it to be so, but against the mostly warm values of the mud it acts in contrast and works as a shadow.
Finally check your work; move around the painting checking your edges and values against one another and any adjustments as required. In my painting I decided to refine some mud in the foreground and strengthen the warm values with Orange and Burnt Sienna, and cooled parts further with a violet mix.
Lastly don't forget to sign it. Job done!
Tip: If you feel that at any stage your painting is becoming troublesome, let it dry before proceeding, other than the bird, as wet into wet blends better.
If you intend 'Trying Your Hand' at this exercise and would like a larger file to work from email firstname.lastname@example.org and he will happily email back a larger reference image of the Avocet.
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