Monday, June 8, 2015

In Which I Wield My Artistic License

I had a full and formative weekend -- art, birds, baseball, the aquarium, the Great Wheel -- quite a flurry of activity all round.  I'm going to start with Art today, mainly because I've got those photos ready to go.  The art project involved painting an owl.

Here's the original photo I shot last winter of a Short-eared Owl:

I wanted to try something different from my usual "draw the bird, paint the bird exactly as it is" approach.  For one thing, the background is boring.  I wanted to make the bird pop out against the background.  But how?

Well, first things first -- I had to draw the bird, and I opted to put it inside a circle:

The blueish/light gray lines are masking fluid -- a terrific invention for protecting areas of the paper you want to keep white while applying watercolor right over them.

To make things interesting, I decided to try painting a rather dramatic background sky -- this owl is diurnal, so I wanted to keep bits of daylight sky color, but also wanted to depict general "owlness" with some alternating bits of dark, stormy-looking night colors as well.  I mixed up several dark blues, purples, and blue-grays along with a light blue sky color and used them in a wet-on-wet technique:

The paper is not greenish-gray.  That's just the best photo I could get under bad lighting conditions.  Anyway, I liked this -- a friend came over later and said it looked to her as if the bird were posed against a fantasy-world moon.  Well, okay, I can see that.

Due to the complexities of the feathers and the subtleties of their various colors and shadings, I opted to do the owl in colored pencil.

At one point I considered adding flecks of gold leaf to the picture in some fashion, but was talked out of it by that same friend, and I think she's right.  I will save that idea for later -- I have an idea now to do an owl in a medieval illumination initial letter style piece, and gold leaf would fit very well with that.  In the meantime, I simply finished up the colored pencil work.

Here is the final version, where I managed to take the photo under more natural light for more accurate colors:

Artistic license rules!  

UPDATE:  Reader Molly suggested adding another branch -- I popped it into Photoshop to try adding one to see what that might look like, and I do think it would look good -- here is what I was thinking of doing, fairly simple change with a new branch off to the left.  Better?  I think it does add some balance.


  1. Absolutely wonderful! It's MUCH better than the photograph. I really like the colors.

  2. I couldn't type for a few minutes as my mouth was just hanging open distracting my brain. Just a fabulous peice of art. See, still can't find the words I want. Anyway I guess you get my gist, I really like it. Could I just say one thing., I'm feeling like it needs at least one more branch under the owl like in the original.

    1. Thanks! Good suggestion -- I popped it into photoshop to see what that might look like, and will go add it to the post. Better to do that than change the original and not like it!

      Definitely a fun project.