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Humphry the tree frog

Work in progress – Pelican’s Gaze (day 2)

Work in progress – Pelican’s Gaze (day 2)

Pleased with how my colour study came out, and now that my 32″ x 40″ paper is securely mounted to the easel, it is a new day and time to get cracking on the real deal.

Day 2. Overcoming Blank-Canvas Anxiety with Air Guitar.

Isn’t it the hardest to make that first mark on that virgin canvas? I always have a bit of ‘blank canvas anxiety’; a trepidation, just when I am about to begin a new piece. What if I start in the wrong place? What if I use too dark a colour? At the advice of my art mentor, Elsie Evans, before making even the first mark, I spend a few minutes ‘air painting’. It is a lot like playing air guitar; you’re not actually making noise, but just making the motions. (Here’s an awesome Heart version of Stairway to Heaven, to get you in the mood!) Following the shapes of my photo inspiration, I just move my drawing hand a few inches over the canvas. My eyes, brain and hand are all co-ordinating, seeing, feeling my way around. Is this where his beak starts? Does the eye go here? Basically I am feeling my way around the image. This helps tremendously when a few minutes later, I pick up a soft pastel.

I decide to start with the major lines first. Because there are just a few major shapes in my painting, I am setting those down first. I try to stay loose, not get sucked into small details at this time. I use a soft pastel that’s close to the colour and tone of the paper underneath. That way, I can see the areas but the lines are easy to go over top of, if later I need to correct them. And inherently there will be some adjusting of those lines later. I try to stay away from the eraser, since with pastels, you can go over top of another pastel multiple times.

Now that the main shapes are on paper, it is time to get some of the underlying tones and darker areas started. The key here is squinting. A lot! This is why artists have wrinkly faces I think; it is the squinting! 😉 Looking at the pelican’s feathers on his head, I feel that there is a green-grey undertone under the white top feathers. So that’s what I choose to mark in. I try a light grey first, but since it is lighter than my canvas, I take out my Terry Ludwig pastels and grab a nice mossy green to apply. At the same time, I also add some cross-hatching in a milk-chocolate brown to the darker areas of the pelican’s beak. Everything is still very loose, but I am constantly looking from photo to painting, referencing areas, comparing lighter to darker, and colours.

As you can see in the photos below, I still have lots of work waiting for me, but step by step, I am hoping a pelican will be gazing back at me at the end! Let me know what you think of the progress, my methods and how you go about getting a painting started?



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