View Full Version : Sparrows_WIP

03-19-2009, 05:58 PM
This is a copy of the original thread found here. (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=553247)

The first image below is of a painting in gouache that I started in 1984. It was eventually framed in 1989 and since then it has adorned a wall in my house. It has never been for sale but over the years there have been several offers. One prospective client has come back several times so I figured that I would copy it using acrylic paint and see if she was interested in acquiring the copy. There were a number of things to take into account. The original image measured 10 1/8 inches by 14 3/8 inches giving an aspect ratio of nominally 1.42. The nearest standard width to 10 1/8 is 12 inches, a 16% increase. But 12 x 1.42 gives an image height of 17 inches so to use a standard 12 x 16 format I was going to have to chop an inch off the height. I chose to lose an inch from the bottom of the image.


I used my computer to scale up the image by 16% then cropped it to remove the bottom inch. Register lines were drawn on the remainder of the image to divide it into three equal sections and the resultant image saved to disc. Each section in turn was cropped out of the image and printed which, when joined together at the register marks gave me a paper copy very close to the size I wanted. This was then traced, using wax-free TraceDown, onto the support which had been primed with an ochre tinted gesso. The traced lines were then carefully redrawn with a mapping pen using sepia acrylic ink. This provides a dense line which shows through faintly on all but the most thickly applied paint and thereby guides a fairly precise positioning of detail. When the ink was dry some of the darkest areas of the image were painted in to act as a guide for the overall tonal balance. The time taken to this point was 3.5 hours.


03-19-2009, 06:11 PM
Awesome painting. No wonder why she came back again and again! Brilliant.

03-19-2009, 06:17 PM
Lovely and detailed painting. Thanks for sharing the description of your prepatory technique, very useful in more than one medium.

03-19-2009, 06:38 PM
I will be watching this, it looks so detailed and interesting.

03-19-2009, 09:01 PM
Im looking forward to seeing this come together.


03-19-2009, 09:57 PM
Doug, this is wonderful...enjoying how you did this!!

03-20-2009, 06:26 AM
Thanks to everyone who has commented on the progress so far. The next stage is to cover as much of the support as possible with the appropriate colour. In Sparrows the light is coming from top left so the facing parts of the window frame are painted with titanium white to which has been added a speck or two of gold ochre. The same mixture with a speck or two of raw umber is painted on those parts of the window frame which face away from the light. I've also started to add some colour to the birds by painting the darker feathers with a mixture of burnt umber and burnt sienna to which has been added a speck or two of ivory black. The overall time taken to get to the point shown in the image below was 6.5 hours.


03-20-2009, 09:39 AM
Perfectly executed, love it so far!


Li'l Brown
03-20-2009, 11:29 AM
This is really interesting to watch!

03-20-2009, 12:12 PM
Thanks Elaine & Jesslyn. Progress has been made in applying colour to the buiding and to the birds. I have added a touch of burnt sienna to the mixture used for the shadowed part of the window frame because in the previous image that part looked rather cool. I have carried on under the window with that mixture, lightening it up towards the lower part of the wall.
Notice how the inked drawing shows faintly through the applied paint. This is going to be really useful when I start to add details to the woodwork. First though I have to start the application of glazed streaks to the woodwork, particularly under the window, in order to further "distress" the look of the wood. The overall time now expended on the painting has been 9 hours.


03-20-2009, 01:25 PM
Just sitting here in awe...wow this is great to watch!!

03-20-2009, 02:08 PM

03-20-2009, 02:12 PM
Oh Wow Doug, this is going to be fabulous! I love the weathered wood and the feathers on the birds already!

03-20-2009, 06:52 PM
Interesting process. Looks good so far


03-21-2009, 02:04 AM
Very interesting WIP... :thumbsup:

03-21-2009, 05:30 AM
Thanks again to all those who are following this WIP and who have commented on it. Initially I thought that doing a WIP might be quite daunting but it is actually turning out to be quite fun.

This is the stage at which I begin to add detail to the under-painting. If it doesn’t work then the least said the better but when it does work it is immensely satisfying because I think that it brings the image to life. In this painting the first step in detailing was to selectively apply semi-opaque glazes to suggest the effect of weathering on the wood. Mixing the glaze is quite important because, with too much pigment, the applied glaze has too hard an edge. It is simpler to go over a glaze with a second coat to deepen the effect than to soften the edge by blending into the surrounding area. So when mixing the glaze I try it out first of all on paper which has had had some of the undercoat colour applied. Despite these precautions I always keep a damp cloth and fan brush handy to either wipe off or blend in if the need arises. Three different glazes were used for the initial weathering. These were based on titanium white, titanium white+gold ochre and titanium white+raw umber+ultramarine blue. Once the glaze was thoroughly dry the fine detail was applied using a brown-grey mixture and a very fine brush to re-define the ink drawn lines which still show faintly through the layers of paint. The initial details were then supplemented with additional weathering detail as required. Finally some of the shadowy areas were deepened and brought forward into the lighter areas using transparent glazes based on burnt umber and burnt sienna in various combinations with ivory black. At this point work on the background has gone as far as it can. There are still some other touches to apply but these will be done after the birds have been completed. The time taken for the background detailing was 5 hours bringing the overall time spent on the painting to 14 hours.


Charlie's Mum
03-21-2009, 08:06 AM
Doug, what an excellent WIP (great original too!)
I can see this is definitely one for the Information Kiosk , at least ...... it will be good to have it easily available in future.

Thank you for sharing your process in such a detailed and informative way.

03-21-2009, 08:59 AM
Wonderful and thanks for sharing the process.

03-21-2009, 11:21 AM
Your process just amazes me. It looks so controlled to a sloppy painter like me. :D

03-21-2009, 11:49 AM
Your process just amazes me. It looks so controlled to a sloppy painter like me. :D

Well said and so true for me too. I love the precision in the details.

03-21-2009, 12:59 PM
Thank you again folks for your kind comments. I'm glad that you find the process so interesting and hope that some of my methods may prove helpful to you. Lavender Frost (or should I call you Michelle?) you are by no means a sloppy painter. I have visited you website and your work is outstandingly good, the monchrome French Beach and Kira especially so.

The painting is now entering its final, and for me the most exciting, stage. I have numbered the birds clockwise starting with the male sparrow perched on the post. The palette comprises burnt umber, raw umber, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, gold ochre, titanium white and ivory black. Brushes used were ProArte Acrylix with No.6 and No.2 rounds used for the larger areas and No.2/0 round for the very fine detail. Because many of my paintings incorporate quite a lot of fine detail I tended to go through 2/0 brushes as though there were to be no tomorrow. The reason was that, after they had been in use for and hour or more, the fibres of the brush would separate and make it impossible, or very difficult, to produce a fine line. For that reason I used to maintain a separate pot of 2/0 brushes with six or more brushes in various stages of disarray. Not any longer though! On my worktable I now keep a bottle of acetone-free nail polish remover and a small sealed pot of washing-up detergent. Being a traditional Brit I use Fairly Liquid but I guess that any good quality detergent would do equally well. When the brush fibres start to separate after prolonged use I give them a quick rinse in nail polish remover followed by a rinse in clean water. Then the brush is dipped into the detergent and worked gently in the palm of my hand to ensure that the detergent reaches the fibre roots. After rinsing again in clean water the brush is restored again to its original pristine shape thereby significantly prolonging its life. I’ve found that this works with larger brushes too. If you have a mind to try this tip but use different makes of brush do try it first of all on an old brush. There is a possibility that the nail polish remover and fibre adhesive used in some brushes may not be compatible. The paint used for the larger areas of the birds is mixed with just a little medium or water to a soft buttery consistency but for the fine detail I find it easier to work with paint that is the consistency of thin cream. In the image below birds 1 to 3 are “completed” and I am working on bird 4.


Up until starting bird 4 I had just been slavishly copying my original painting paying more attention to technique than the detail of the subject matter. However, as I was starting to paint the flight feathers on bird 4 I became aware that something seemed to be wrong with their arrangement. In short there was an error of omission in the original painting and this proved to be repeated on all the birds although not the same error on each one. So birds 1 to 3 are not “complete” after all and will need more attention if they are to be represented with greater accuracy. More details in my next contribution.
At this point the overall time taken, including corrections already carried out, amounts to 22 hours.

03-21-2009, 07:49 PM
:wave: A wonderful work, Doug! I can see why this painting was so popular and why you decided to paint another. The birds are lovely and the weathered wood is great! I'm glad Maureen will be adding this to the kiosk; I'll be back for further study! :D


03-22-2009, 12:28 PM
Well thanks Doug! You can call me by either name. But really, I am a messy painter, lol.

I also go through a lot of fine brushes and I will have to try your cleaning methods.

Charlie's Mum
03-22-2009, 01:10 PM
Hey gang - if you're enjoying this as much as I am, please rate the thread! :D

03-23-2009, 07:01 AM
Elizabeth: Thank you for your kind comment.
Maureen: I'm not sure what you mean by "rate this thread" but it sounds good.

In my last contribution I indicated that the Sparrows painting was in its final stage. Actually that is not strictly true because after the final brush stroke I generally “rest” the painting for at least a week or so and look at it critically to see if there is anything else that needs to be done before it is varnished.

“How come then”, I hear you cry, “that there were so many errors of omission on the reference painting.”

“Well it was like this your Honours - in 1984 I was working on the original gouache painting when our daughter, who lived and worked in London at that time, came home for a long week-end visit. Her recollection of events is not quite the same as mine but an unassailable fact is that hot, strong tea got slopped over my painting. Now, for the benefit of those who have never worked with gouache I can say with absolute certainty that gouache and hot, strong tea are not compatible bedfellows. So having mopped up the mess my interest in the painting was lost and it was carefully removed from the drawing board and placed in my portfolio where it languished for five years. Early in 1989 it came to light again although the reference from which it was originally painted had long since disappeared. However, after some judicious cropping and repair work it was adjudged by my critics to be good enough to frame. And so it was framed and has hung upon a wall for twenty years where it is seen every day. Neither I, nor anyone else who viewed it, saw anything wrong – and so I rest my defence.”

Apart from the feather corrections there have been two minor additions and one adjustment since my last post. The adjustment comprised moving the shadow of bird 3 which was inconsistent with the other shadows in the painting. The first addition was to include cobwebs in appropriate places on the building. These were done using my favourite 2/0 brush with a much diluted grey made with titanium white and ivory black. The second addition was a bit more problematical. Bird 2 is looking upwards quite intently but there was nothing there for her to see. Some sort of closure was desirable and, at first, my intention was to include a butterfly as I did in “Any Port in a Storm” posted last year. My professional artist friend and mentor advised against this on the grounds that since the birds were painted life size the butterfly would also have to be life size and would therefore present a gaudy distraction from the rest of the painting. She suggested a crane fly but I demurred on the grounds that crane flies do not usually appear until late summer and my male sparrows are in their mating plumage thereby implying spring. I chose instead to include a wasp doing what wasps do in the spring i.e. find a patch of bare wood and scrape away at it with their mandibles to gather material from which to make their nests. The body of the wasp was painted completely using a hansa yellow tint with ivory black and then the wings added later using a white glaze which partially diminished the detail underneath thereby suggesting transparency. The veins on the wings were added later still using a grey glaze.


The overall time expended so far on the painting now rests at 28 hours. I've been having a bit of colour balance problem with my camera so you will possibly notice that these images are warmer than the rest in this series and nearer the actual colour of the painting. Here are a couple of close-ups from the painting.



03-23-2009, 08:00 AM
Wow! I am completely in awe. Great that this will be going into the info kiosk. Rated it Maureen :)

03-23-2009, 08:20 AM
I just got the chance to see this today. Absolutely spectacular.

03-23-2009, 12:32 PM
Those little additions are just perfect! Thanks for the reminder Maureen. I have to add this to my favourites too.

03-23-2009, 03:28 PM
Excellent work! Love the details!

03-23-2009, 04:21 PM
wow! am bookmarking this to come back to read more thoroughly! beautiful work!

Li'l Brown
03-23-2009, 05:27 PM
:eek: The closeups you provided show an incredible amount of detail! This is really awesome, Doug!

03-24-2009, 06:56 AM
Nithya, Sveldstra, Michelle, Jim, Lulu and Jesslyn: Thank you all for your comments. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed the painting and, for my part, I hugely enjoyed re-visiting this particular composition. It's had a couple of days now in a "resting" mode and already I have seen a couple of minor points that require attention. I'll tackle these before the pallette dries up completely and post the "finished" article in a few days time.

03-25-2009, 04:01 PM
This is the final image of the sparrows. I've carried out a couple of tweaks and ideally I perhaps ought to reduce the intensity of the colour on the female's flight feathers. I stopped at that point though because I thought I might get into overworking mode and wreck the final result. You'll perhaps notice that the camera seems to be under control again. The warmer image displayed on my last submission was taken under entirely different lighting conditions so it is not surprising that it looked different.


Lady Carol
03-25-2009, 04:43 PM
Hi Doug, impressive. I just found this thread and it was a delight to watch this painting unfold. I love the added wasp that wasn't there in the original. It adds the right amount of character to the painting.

03-25-2009, 05:53 PM
Thanks Carol and glad that you enjoyed watching the painting develop. I've started charting the development of a number of paintings recently. The use of a digital camera makes this so easy and provides a useful record of events in case there has to be a post-mortem.

03-25-2009, 06:53 PM
Doug, this is just marvelous!! I am so in awe!! Beautiful work!!! Thanks for posting it as a WIP!!!

03-26-2009, 11:16 AM
Thank you Susan. So glad that you liked it. It was a pleasure to post it and receive all these lovely comments.