View Full Version : JTMB's January Challenge - Birds in the Landscape

01-03-2011, 08:07 PM
Well, no one will be surprised by my theme for January - still birds in there somewhere. I will be taking four classes during the winter quarter - two college credit classes and two non-credit classes, so time will be tight.

This month will be watercolor (possibly gouache in there for one or two) and will have a bird or birds in but not as bird portraits - more as an element of a landscape or showing some aspect of behavior. I'll do as many pieces as I can, but the watercolor journals I'm choosing each only have 7 pages left (14 if I use both sides), so it may only be 7 - hopefully not less!

The two journals in question are Arches 140# cold press paper, spiral bound. One is about 7 x 9 inches and the other about 10 x 13 inches (oddball sizes, not standard ISO A-size paper).

One of my classes is a watercolor critique class. It is for students with experience, and the students can work on anything they want. The class format will then include a student's piece being critiqued by a group of three other students (that group won't include the artist being critiqued), then a presentation of the critiques, and then the rest of the class (3 hours total) will be independent work with the instructor circulating. So the sketches in this thread might be usable either as critique pieces, or as sketches for a larger more finished piece for the class.

I'll try to get in to the forum to critique other journal threads as well, but probably won't be as frequent as I have been for the last few months.

Vivien Maloney
01-03-2011, 10:01 PM
Go for it John. I'll follow your Journal with interest!

01-04-2011, 12:19 AM
Great plan. Looking forward to seeing it.

01-04-2011, 01:47 AM
I will be eager to follow along, John. Love your birds. . . hope you enjoy your classes and learn a lot. Have a great month.

01-04-2011, 11:15 AM
Sound great - let's get cracking!

01-04-2011, 07:30 PM
The classes sound great, John, stay busy!:D

01-05-2011, 05:26 AM
What a wonderfully creative and challenging start to the year John. I would say "good luck" but you don't need it...... :lol: Enjoy!

01-05-2011, 10:35 AM
it sounds interesting :)

01-09-2011, 03:07 PM
Hi everyone! The next three months are going to be very busy, as I'm back into student mode again, but I'll definitely keep popping into the forum here.

Finally I got my first page done for this month's challenges. This piece is in the 7x9 Arches wirebound journal and in watercolor. This is a Steller's Jay - our west coast version of a Blue Jay (non-birders out here call ours a blue jay too, but the eastern version is the real Blue Jay). Like all jays, this fellow is aggressive, cheeky, brassy and demanding. There are many stories about them learning who is feeding them and coming up on someone's sill or deck and scolding them vigorously until they bring more peanuts out! They have a very prominent crest, and this bird has its crest raised quite high. My reference here is one of my photos from southwestern Washington state a few years ago.

C&C always welcome.


01-09-2011, 05:09 PM
The painting is marvelous. I like the tree as much as the bird.

They are intelligent birds, but can be outdone sometimes. Had a mated pair in the tree out back when I lived in California. They terrorized the cat I had at the time. She took her revenge by making sure they had no offspring. Not sure what I could have done to stop the process. Happened year after year. :(

01-09-2011, 05:35 PM
beautiful painting, John! the bird is gorgeous but I love the texture on the tree and the sun shining through the tree!

01-10-2011, 02:06 AM
Thanks Debby and Rainy! I enjoy doing trees in watercolor - I think all the practice has paid off a little bit.

01-10-2011, 05:44 AM
A very nice result - the tree, the bird, both look great.

01-10-2011, 09:51 AM
glowing :)

01-10-2011, 12:12 PM

01-10-2011, 05:28 PM
great stuff John!

01-10-2011, 06:04 PM
The vibrant colors are beautiful!

01-11-2011, 01:36 AM
John, that's a great painting. I agree that I like the tree as well as the bird. Gives him a wonderful, bright backdrop. I'm not a birder, but I certainly met lots of these critters in my camping days - I particularly remember them in the trees at Yosemite and Sequoia National Park. Nice work. Looking forward to more.

01-11-2011, 08:34 PM
Thanks Chris, Vivien and Margo!

Here is the second one this month, another watercolor in the larger (10 x 14 inch) Arches sketchbook. This was done from a reference photo I took a couple years ago in a large arboretum near the campus of the University of Washington.

C&C always welcome.


01-11-2011, 10:46 PM
what a soft and lovely painting. gives a peaceful feeling. . . like the reflections and texture/shading on tree and bird

01-12-2011, 08:31 AM
John, I love your Stellar's jay painting. That's spectacular. The way you handled the tree and the golden background is wonderful. The bird's beautifully proportioned and captured in an aggressive, intense pose with his crest high - he looks arrogant and beautiful. Well done!

Of course that white egret brings back happy memories of all the egrets I've seen in Louisiana. Love the reflections and that graceful S-curve of its neck.

01-12-2011, 11:35 AM
Thanks Rainy and Robert! I should have posted the bird name in the second photo - it is actually a Great Blue Heron, not an egret. Although, for all practical purposes the only difference between the two is the color. The photo of this painting shows the bird a bit lighter than it is in reality, and it was in sun in the photo, so I can see where the confusion is. Body structure is essentially the same, as is behavior - ranges are different and egrets seem to congregate more in flocks than herons, which tend at most times to be a bit solitary.

01-12-2011, 11:51 AM
That Jay looks so distinguished.

The painting is marvelous. I like the tree as much as the bird.

They are intelligent birds, but can be outdone sometimes. Had a mated pair in the tree out back when I lived in California. They terrorized the cat I had at the time. She took her revenge by making sure they had no offspring. Not sure what I could have done to stop the process. Happened year after year. :(

Uh oh!

The heron/egret/wading bird has a wonderful reflection.

01-12-2011, 10:19 PM
Beautiful heron. It's great seeing the birds painted in their habitats.

01-12-2011, 11:27 PM
Great stuff as usual. Really like the "feel" of bird scenes in watercolor!

01-14-2011, 07:23 PM
The last painting is stellar John.

Joan T
01-15-2011, 11:08 AM
Love the bird and the reflection in the water!!! Great job on that one.

01-16-2011, 09:22 PM
Good job on the wc, John. I see you have clarified the bird species, so nice heron! :clap:

The scene reminds me of the local swamp, I love seeing egrets/herons reflected in water. I have to be patient, it may be a while before I see this type of scene again - at the moment the swamp is brown (and smelly) from being flooded twice in the last month.

01-30-2011, 01:43 AM
Thanks EP, Debby, Candace, Margo, Joan and Chris!

Well, as I expected with classes starting again (not to mention Johannes' classes as well), time for this month's project has been a bit tough to find. But I was able to paint this one today. It is a White-breasted Nuthatch, using a magazine photo as a reference. Nuthatches are great, spunky little birds. They get their name from a British term for cracking open a nut - or 'hatching' a nut. They will grab a seed or nut, jam it into a crack in the tree to hold it in place, and then 'hatch' it open with their bill. As shown in the painting, they also have the habit of going down trees headfirst, rather than climbing up them headfirst, as other species do. They are also constantly in nervous motion - the definition of hyperactivity. We don't have this species of nuthatch in my area (ours are Red-breasted Nuthatches) but they are in other parts of our state. This is approx. 7 x 5 inches in an Arches watercolor sketchbook - in watercolor, obviously!

I also decided to post a WIP for one of the paintings I'm doing from my independent project class (in oils). If you've followed my other journal threads, you'll recognize the scene, with a few compositional modifications. The birds (Great Egrets) are not done, and there are other things needed in the piece - including some scumbling with white over the two most distant headlands to make it look foggy (I hope, anyway!). This piece is 18 x 24 inches on canvas.

C&C always welcome!



01-30-2011, 02:07 AM
John great stuff but I particularly like the bottom landscape - well done!

01-30-2011, 08:50 AM
Your landscape in progress is fantastic. Have you been studying Johannes Vloothuis? It's wonderful. Looking forward to the finish. Egrets are some of my favorite birds anyway.

Love the white-breasted nuthatch. That little painting is a gem. The bird's pose is elegant. It's beautifully rounded and three dimensional, the markings easy to discern, the expression priceless. Looks like it's about to fly off any second. The reddish bark of the tree makes a great contrast to push the bird forward, an interesting reversal of the usual cool background, warm foreground. It has a lot of solidity and looks as if I could peel or crumble bits off it easily. The bird is clearly the focal point and it's gorgeous. Well done!

01-30-2011, 10:48 AM
The Nuthatch and landscape are just Beau Ti Ful ! I really like your high contrast between highlights and shadows, using either white or color. I think I lack that in my work and will try to increase this effect.

01-30-2011, 12:10 PM
it's developing a lovely tranquil mood

01-30-2011, 12:10 PM
Thanks Jackie, Robert and Candace!

You betcha, Robert - I have been loving every minute of the Johannes demos and classes, though I had to miss the first one yesterday. My wife (also an artist, though not very active at the moment -other priorities for her) sat in for me, and of course your notes were invaluable.

The melodic lines in the headlands here could be better, and there are still some changes in that regard that I will make, although the treelines are probably going to stay as they are even though they could be better. Too much time in them already, plus I do like how it feels so far.

Thanks everyone again for looking this month, despite my not getting too much done. I will definitely be more active in the spring since I probably won't be taking as many classes.

Just to reiterate to everyone as well - I really love the Art Journal Forum! Wonderful group of folks here! :heart: :)

01-30-2011, 12:15 PM
And thank you as well, Viven! Our posts crossed in cyberspace.


01-30-2011, 12:24 PM
Love the nuthatch on the tree. . .beautiful bark and a very cool angle on the bird which you've captured perfectly!

Your oil painting is coming out beautiful as well, hope you will share the final.

01-30-2011, 01:11 PM
Thanks Rainy! And you betcha, I'll share oil painting when completed. Although it's not really in an art journal obviously, I did several journal sketches (both thumbnails and larger studies) of it in preparation for doing the larger oil...so I guess it qualifies. :)

Also, I realized I made a mistake on the size of the White-breasted Nuthatch painting. It is about 9 x 7, not 7 x 5 inches.

01-30-2011, 03:29 PM
Thanks for sharing the bird information. I'm with Virgo love the bottom piece please post when you are finished, it's off to a great start.

01-30-2011, 08:54 PM
Delightful nuthatch. Love the pose and expression.

The landscape is wonderful. I'm so glad you shared your WIP here.

Carole A
01-30-2011, 10:27 PM
Hi John ~ Haven't been here much lately, but I wanted to catch up with your bird art, especially since today I watched an Oregon Public Broadcasting show and one of the segments featured this artist:

www.jhennaquinnlewis.com. Her trompe l'oeil paintings are just great and she paints many birds and butterflies.

Another fun bird artist is: www.birdsonthings.com . He does some comical situations with his birds.

I know you're busy now, but when you have time, I know you will enjoy these two sites.

I was sure that your heron was an egret as well; but, I like it anyway and your last landscape with the birds is just wonderful.

Have a great time in your classes. Looking forward to more of your paintings.

Carole A

02-01-2011, 12:36 AM
Thanks Margo, Debby and Carole!

Thanks for the artists' links, Carole.

02-01-2011, 10:01 AM
Hi John, I found a good book at the library, "Sketching Birds" by Frank J. Lohan. Pen, pencil & ink wash techniques. Step by step on many breeds of birds. Very appealing book. You have inspired me to begin bird art! And today I got the day off due to weather- 11 below zero at 8 am here in Colorado! So I shall select a dedicated sketchbook from The Pile and get to it!!

02-01-2011, 03:41 PM
Good for you, Candace! I'll be watching for your birds. I'm not familiar with that particular book, although I probably have run across it before. The absolute classic for sketching birds from life is Drawing Birds by John Busby, an English master of bird sketching. Look for his book - I think it's still available new, but if not, I strongly recommend finding yourself a used copy of that on Amazon.com. Charles Tunnicliffe, Lars Jonsson (his coffee table books are spectacular), Eric Ennion and Tim Wootton (a Wet Canvas member who lives in Orkney) are others for the wish list. Tim's book just published and I am dying to get my copy. I ordered one from this directly from his blog in order to not have to wait until it's available in the US (which according to Amazon is going to be June). Tim does amazing work - Google him and check out his website as well.

02-01-2011, 08:07 PM
Nice nuthatch, and the canvas painting is looking good. Keep busy!:)

02-01-2011, 08:18 PM
Thanks John I copied the book list into my email files!

02-01-2011, 09:35 PM
Oh gosh I love that last one. Yes please update us when it gets updated :)

02-02-2011, 08:35 PM
The absolute classic for sketching birds from life is Drawing Birds by John Busby, an English master of bird sketching. Look for his book - I think it's still available new,

I found it & got it reserved at our library & will pick it up in a couple days! Thanks for the recommendation!

02-12-2011, 12:41 AM
Thanks Chris and Candace! Here's another WIP on the landscape oil with egrets painting. It's getting much closer to being done - I want to work some more on the small point of land where the egrets are, and I'm thinking about scumbling some zinc white over part of the far headland, and possibly the middle one, to depict some morning mist.


02-12-2011, 12:44 AM
I will be interested to see how that mist turns out. Love this painting!

02-12-2011, 11:39 AM
Beautiful John, the mist sounds cool, and appropriate.

02-12-2011, 12:44 PM
luminous :)

02-12-2011, 01:44 PM
that is coming out beautiful!!! It has a misty feel to me and I agree about it feeling luminous.

02-12-2011, 09:31 PM
Morning mist would be cool. This is looking really good.

02-12-2011, 10:28 PM
What a great painting!

02-13-2011, 01:29 AM
Great paintings, I love the Nuthatch, he does look like a spunky little fellow! Colours are so rich in this picture.