I have three metal birds – sparrows possibly – unreflective and almost an absorbent black. They’re textured but it’s hard to see. In contrast there’s that totally flamboyant beetle – shiny, bright, iridescent amd as big as the birds. I like the juxtaposition of dull, dark, quiet bit in this case quite conversational birds in the same frame as a beetle that normally would be prey but is being loud and noisy in its presentation.
I’ve been unsure whether to make this image on black or white because, while the birds need almost to fade into the background, the beetle needs to stand out. That said, the birds have such a quiet presence to them, their merging with the surroundings needs to be subtle.
This first sketch, on white gesso, is in soft pastels and its function is to begin finding the shapes and the composition. I like the almost confrontational stance of the beetle while the birds seem to be having a discussion about it.
This sketch experimented with shadow birds and stylised beetle using inktense blocks and a black ink brush pen, the name of which I can’t read. At this point I decided to try a different arrangement and to use black cartridge with black gesso, with the shapes picked out en bloc with white gesso which I know will let colours zing.
This is the first ‘pass’. The birds and the beetle are in proportion and I’m viewing them from a different angle so that there is more of a gaggle. I used acrylics with a blue under-wash then additional colours painted on top as each layer dried. I applied a Paynes grey wash to the birds and rubbed the wet surface with a piece of old towel to remove patches of paint down to the gesso. The idea behind this is to give them an artificial appearance so that there’s no confusion about their nature.
This seems to be lacking cohesion now. Maybe they need to be smaller in the frame; I can try that tomorrow and maybe also revert to a white support.
26th Feb. Change of plan. I was finding the beetle more problematic rather than less as I repeated the exercise and while perseverance is the preferred option, in this instance with time constraints, I decided to change tack and use something more simple alongside the birds – tubes of paint and a brush. Paints and the painted. This is the sketch in charcoal pencil; I only did one because first, I’ve drawn the birds several times now and didn’t want to lose the gestural fluency I was developing; and second the tubes of paint came really quite easily and so I wanted to leave it there so that I didn’t get too absorbed in detail.
First pass using dilute Payne’s Grey with a flat brush. The support is pre-prepped with white gesso for substance.
Colour washes to make shapes, tones and lights.
This was to be the final piece and for once the reasons are different depending on whether I look at it on-screen or on-easel. In the first, the birds come up quite well, in the second it’s the tubes of paint. I may come back to it tomorrow. The paints are acrylics and I’ve used a palette knife for highlights on the tubes and in the background, giving a textured effect (impasto). I’ve also used a piece of damp towel to rub the surface of the bird elements to take off some of the surface and bring out the textured gesso base. This is in place of adding highlights because there are none in reality, just slightly lighter areas and hints of verdigris (vert de gris – green of grey) in the metal. The support is A3 recycled sketchbook cartridge.
As I look at this now, I wonder if just lightening the background to the right would make a difference.
That feels better. I think impasto rusticates the ground which reflects the rustic nature of the metal birds, and I’ve roughened the edges with the palette knife to pull them more into each other. I’m still not happy with this but I have to leave it and move on.
Time taken: 12 hours.