Blog 12: Painting a Portuguese Shell…

I was given this shell at my Daughter-in-laws wedding last year in Portugal and it has their wedding date inscribed underneath it. It has a special meaning to me as you will no doubt understand. So, I had to paint it for the couple to enjoy in their home!

To begin with, shells are rather difficult shapes to draw. Full of spirals or curved lines and beautiful patterns. This shell has lines going both vertically and horizontally over a curved surface. We really need to get those right first! I started by doing the outline of it’s total shape and then worked from the top/middle of the drawing putting in the curves carefully as they go from left to right. As they go round to the edges the space between them reduces almost to a vanishing point. Once these were completed and the little cracks across it’s surface drawn on, I then worked from the centre/top, putting in the vertical lines, across to the left and then across to right. These also curve across the surface subtly….quite tricky!

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My shell has a number of interesting colours and I studied them carefully before I started to make my swatch. A lovely slate blue grey at the top and warm tan colours at the bottom intermingled with beige tones and yellows. I now had a good idea of what colour mixes I would use and created my swatch of colours.

For the slate blue/grey I used W&N Ultramarine Green Shade (U(GS), Transparent Yellow (TY) and Permanent Rose (PR). Mix it like you’re making black (70% blue, 20% red and 10% yellow) but add in a little bit more of the blue. For the Tan colour I used Burnt Sienna (BS), Quinacridone Gold (QG), a tiny little Indanthrene Blue (IB) and a tiny bit of Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML) – this could be replaced with W&N Permanent Rose, PR. I used a little SRML to just add a little brightness to the mix. For the second tan colour which is paler and more orange, I used QG and BS, more of the QG. I also mixed up a black using IB, TY and PR.

The first step was to add a wet-in-wet layer using the base colours, grey, beige, warm yellow and rusty browns. When the wet-in-wet layer was totally dry, I started to add in some of the details using a little stronger beige mix. Image 1: Here I started to add in some of the vertical and horizontal patterning. Image 2 : Here I am adding a little more shadowing and some of the cracks in. It’s best not to work with the mix too thick at this stage or you will not be able to add further colour without it smudging. Now it’s starting to look more interesting!

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After this, I added in more of the background colours to give my shell some form. These were very watered down versions of my original colours plus a slightly more blue version of my slate grey/blue. I applied these individually as a thin wash and then quickly rinsed/dried off my brush before softening the edges. It’s important to soften the edges of these washes with a damp brush. This blurs the edge rather than leaving a sharp edge. It gives a lovely smooth finish.

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See how it’s starting to take shape! On some areas I used a Billy Showell technique to apply rough lose lines, a dry brush method. This gives a little more interest to the patterning, which are not always just curved lines. To do this, I load my brush and splay it into a fan in my palette. Then I slide the brush away from the palette until it forms little points instead of one point. Holding the brush as a 45° angle I then brush lightly across the area. For thinner lines hold the brush more upright. (There is a video demo of this technique on my Feathery Pursuits blog) This takes a bit of practice, so try it out on a separate piece of paper first!

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To add in the spots onto the surface I used another technique. These are not just spots you see. Some are blurred and others have a line coming down through them. To achieve a blurred effect the paper needs to be lightly damp. But rather than dampen the paper first, I prefer to do this with the brush afterwards. You have to be quick and patient! Here’s how it’s done:

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Some of these dots were paler than others so I used a paler mix for those but the same method to apply them. Once the dots were finished I worked on the top of the shell. This area is not solid colour so I’ve dampened the paper first to get a more mottled effect. It looks pretty messy at this stage but once I add the fine detail it comes together. To get a strong darker mix, this time I’ve used Indanthrene Blue (IB), TY and PR with a little U(GS) in my mix. This part of the shell is quite dark. Indanthrene Blue will strengthen this and the U(GS) will add just a little brightness. It will be similar tone as the slate grey/blue though.

After deepening the slate grey mix a little on the painting, not too dark though, I worked at the fine detailing on the top part of my shell. Vertical line patterning goes over this area too. To the right side there is a slight halo of light where the slate grey disappears over the edge of the shell. I left this part a little lighter and graduated it away. This is the reflected light from the surface. It is only a small area but crucial to create good form (** see photo further down).

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Now to join bottom and top together. There were lots of lines to do here so I had to be very careful! Firstly, to guide me I added in the paler blue/grey sections between the darker lines. Then I carefully added in the vertical lines and horizontal lines and curves. **You can see the slightly highlighted edges at the top of the shell better in this photo below middle.

Next, I worked on the cracks to enhance their depth. I added a slightly darker mix into the top areas of these cracks with a thin wavy line. This was softened a little with a damp brush. At the same time as softening I pushed the paint back into the top part of each wavy line a bit. This creates backup which creates a definite edge, perfect for this type of detail. It gives a nice sharp edge with a thin graduation in front of it. Lastly, a little glazed shading around the sides and bottom to make it pop off the page!

I hope you enjoyed this Blog and that you are encouraged to have a go at a shell. Happy painting!

Blog 7: Pretty Flamingo!…

After a visit to Slimbridge Wildlife Park I was keen to paint Flamingo feathers. It was hard work trying to source some moulted feathers but eventually Birdland Park & Gardens in Bourton on the Water came up with the goods, thank you Simon at Birdland! www.birdland.co.uk

I selected three feathers from the bundle posted to me. I chose these three for their wonderful shapes and thought they made a lovely composition together.

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A bit about Flamingos…

These tall wading birds are called Phoenicopterus and the feathers that were sent to me are from the Greater Flamingo species Phoenicopterus roseus. Flamingos have been know to man for thousands of years. They feature in cave paintings in Spain (5000BC) and the Egyptians used them as a symbol to indicate the colour red and even regarded it as the living embodiment of the sun-god Ra. The red/pink feather colour comes from a diet of crustacea and algae. Here are the Flamingos at Birdland in Bourton on the Water, Cotswolds. My feathers are from the paler birds.

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Mixing the pink!

To begin my painting I had to match the beautiful pink of these feathers. After a few trials, I found that Winsor & Newton Opera Rose (OR) and Cadmium Yellow Deep (CYD) gave me the rich bright orangey/pink I needed. Today (2022) I wouldn’t use these pigments as they are both opaque and Opera Rose is unreliable where lightfastness is concerned. I prefer the translucency of transparent pigments. Please note: I would most likely use Quinacridone Magenta and Indian Yellow.

Some other colours I mixed were various pale greys, a pink/grey, a cooler grey and a very pale yellow using Transparent Yellow (TY) mixed with a tiny bit of the Flamingo Pink I had mixed previously. I also use some of this pink to make my pink/grey. You’ll notice on my swatch that there is a slightly duller looking pink which I used for shadows and stronger details, this was mixed using Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SMRL – Permanent Rose could be used instead), Winsor Orange (W.O) and Cadmium Yellow Deep. When re-mixing the Flamingo pink I had to test it a few times as the mix would look different with the slightest change in quantities.

Painting the curved feather

The curved feather had awkward angles and so I had to make sure the drawing was absolutely spot on. I started by adding pale washes and then built up the colour gradually. There were some deep shadows where it twisted and for this, I used stronger versions of my pale cool grey and beige/grey. I added a very pale glaze of Transparent yellow to warm the underneath pale wispy feathers. I created these deeper shadows by working in between the whiter wisps, this is called negative painting. Note: the photo of the feather appears much darker than in real life. Again I used some iridescent paint towadd shine.

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Painting the oval feather

The oval feather was a lovely shape but much paler than the others. It would be hard to keep the subtlety of this one without overpainting it. I built up the layers slowly and kept it as light as I could throughout. There were more highlights on this one which helped to keep it from looking flat. Also, notice the subtle shadows I have added along the right side and the left side of the rachis (mid vein), this enhances the curved appearance.

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Painting the large feather

I saved painting this feather until last as it was my favourite one and the most striking in my composition. The top part has lots of furls and creases and the colour faded gradually down to almost white at the bottom. Plus, I thought to myself, how am I going to paint those tiny little strands!

I started with a very pale wash of my flamingo pink mix leaving the paler areas free of paint. I used a watery mix of the cooler grey and pink/grey to indicate shadows on the paler part of the feather. It took three layers to get the pigment up to the right strength at the top. I was now ready to add in the darker pink shadows on the folds and furls. To get the appearance of the tiny stands I used the same technique that I used in my Feathery Pursuits blog, the duller Flamingo pink was used to create the overlaps and shadow areas. The pink/grey and cool grey were used further down on the lighter areas. A little thin glaze of transparent yellow was also added along the right side near the rachis (midrib). Blog 5 contains a video showing you how to do this. See this link: https://jibotanicals.com/2016/10/01/blog-5-feathery-pursuits/

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Painting the shiny white highlights

My paper was not white enough to show the shine on the rachis (midrib) and feathers so I turned to my Daniel Smith iridescent paints. Pearlescent White did the trick. If you shine a light onto the painting or turn it sideways you can see the glow of the pearlescent paint. I have yet to find a pure white that has such a good effect. The only time I use white or iridescent pigments is when it is absolutely necessary. On plants, there are sometimes very fine hairs which need a little white pigment to make them show up. White pigment is also opaque. I usually mix white pigment with a little colour as the hairs on a plant are never truly white. Well, I would just have to have a spotlight pointing down onto it if it’s ever framed and hung on a wall! This year, 2020, a good friend from USA purchased this painting and it is now framed and lit at her home in Conneticut.

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Painting the after feathers – pale wispy bits

You have to approach this part with great care and start with a very, very pale colour. You can always add but you cannot take away! Pale watery mixes can be hard to work with but as long as you remove a little of the excess on your brush by wiping it on a cloth, you’ll be ok. They often dry darker than you think too, so test first. The grey and pink/greys are made with very strong pigments and would be almost impossible to erase out without damaging the paper’s surface. Using the cooler grey with a flicking motion, you can interpret the wispy feathers. Afterwards, I added a little pink/grey and very pale pink (see below) to define the thicker areas. Once I was happy with the result I added a few slightly darker strokes to imitate the shadows. It’s also good to add a few very fine chevron side hairs to some of the larger wisps. Not all of them or it would look too contrived! It’s hard to see on the image below but hopefully, you’ll see what I mean!

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Now my painting was complete! Please excuse the greyness of the photos but these winter days are so dark and dreary in the UK!

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I must apologise for no videos on this blog, however, I will be doing a blog in a few weeks about my Faded Magnolia Leaves painting and will try to video some things which will be of interest to you. I hope you enjoyed this blog and thank you for reading.

Until then happy painting and a very Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

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*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017