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Tuesday Art Night

July 30, 2008

I always like to see others’ creative process, so I thought I would document some of what went into my little owl painting. Especially the part where I was ready to give up. So, here goes!

First, I thought about what I might like to do. I thought I would like to do a little bird on a branch. I looked through my bird illustration book to get some ideas and found this sweet, slightly grumpy-looking barn owl. He (she?) was perfect.

Sketched out a rough idea and started in with the background, a nice muted teal. I used a lot of burnt umber glaze to give it some good depth. The I blocked in the branches and owl. Then I made the first big mistake of the evening.

But first, this is what my desk looks like when I’m painting:

And now, here’s the big mistake:

Ugh. What are those horrible green kelpy things doing at the top of the page? Awful, awful. I worked and worked on them and finally decided that they were just too heavy for the rest of the little painting (working on an 8 x10 canvas). At this point, what with the horrible kelpy leafy things (I have not yet learned that I am not very good at greenery yet), the misshapen and miscolored branches, and the dumpy little owl, I was ready to throw in the towel. What a mess I’ve created. Ugly, ugly. This looks so bad that I’m almost embarrassed to post it.

So I took out the leafy things. A starry sky might be better. I got creative with the branch texture and imagined swirls and whorls of color texturing the boughs. I thought a little birdhouse pagoda might be sweet, to balance out the heavy branches on the left. Then it was time to work on Mr. Owl. He remained somewhat lumpy. I couldn’t figure it out.


Then I realized, oh right! Barn owls HAVE no shape. They are just big white ovals, all tucked and fluffed and mysterious. I softened his edges and feathers and worked and worked on his eyes to give him an alert, owl-like expression. This photo is not large enough to capture his little expression but it’s better than the weird blank stare on the left.

I softened everything, added in stars, fiddled with the little pagoda, added evening blossoms to the tree, and called it good. Here’s the final product — it’s actually much more sparkly in real life (used some soft sheer silver paint around the stars which is much better when it catches the light, also gold leaf on the branches which isn’t captured here). I think he’s all done. I like it.

Clearly the lesson here is: don’t give up. Go through the yuck and see what’s on the other side. It’s really interesting to see them side by side: the point at which I was ready to give up because it was so ugly, and the point at which I smile because I am happy with it.

I realized that one thing I’m always fighting with when painting is the texture of the canvas. Either I need to do a better job gessoing the canvas before I start, or I need a different surface. I must investigate that. A smooth surface would be much easier to paint on.

I also realized that I just like painting at a certain scale (small). Big canvasses are fun, but I get very intimidated and so just do these large, messy, gestural things which I’m not happy with. I do much better with small, more controlled canvasses. I can use my teensy tiny brushes and I can mix small amounts of color. I really enjoy the tiny detail and it’s just too much once the canvas gets over a certain size — I can’t control the scale of things anymore, it gets all wacky. So, for now, Small Is Beautiful.

Next Tuesday, I’m going to try this Altered Book project I’ve been thinking about. It’s more craftsy than artsy but a balance is always good, you know?

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