It’s not all black and white

When I was 15, I painted a huge monotone red landscape of the Cornwall coast. My art teacher suggested putting green, purple and blue into it. I looked at her as though she was mad!

“Err. Miss, it’s a REDSCALE landscape. As in: only red allowed.”

 But when does red stop being red and start being orange?

 When you print in greyscale, that’s it. The only colours present are white, black, blacker white and whiter black.

 When you paint in greyscale… that’s not it. And I understand that now.

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To paint a Zebra… you will need:

  •  White and Black paint, yes.
  • But also: copper, purple, blue – but a cobolt blue, not a turquoise blue, brown – a raw umber and a burnt sienna, green – something yellowy like hookers green, burgundy, gold and yellow. And fancy ones like flesh tint. And it wouldn’t hurt adding in a lot lot more either!
  • A canvas, I used 50cm x 50cm.
  • Water
  • Flat paintbrush & small rounded paintbrushes of varying size.

 How to guide

  1. Lay down the basics: Grid up your photo and your canvas.I have a grid that I use digitally on my computer screen to put over the photograph.

    I then use each square on the screen as a 5cm square on my canvas. Then you just copy what is in each square onto your canvas in pencil. It keeps all stripes accounted for.

    Paint the background white. This may take several layers.
    IMAG1656

  2. It is just black and white: Paint the black stripes in black, and the white stripes in a pale grey (I won’t tell anyone if you just use white paint with a little bit of black in it. That’s what I did for the base coat!).The trick at this stage is just to make it so that every part of the canvas is covered:

    Trick: hold it up to the light and see if you can see through it.
    IMAG1665

  3.  Cruella-style Mohawk: Use a flat brush to paint the white areas in grey, and the black areas black. Then use a small rounded brush to add individual pale hairs into themane. I find that using acrylic inks can really help get precise brushstrokes.Mix a bit of cobalt blue into your grey, to get cooler tones, and hints of yellow, brown and copper to get richer tones.

    I also used flecks of pure copper at the tips of some of the hairs, which gives the impression that they are caught in sunlight.
    IMAG1668

  4.  Hairy ears and eyelashes: For the ears, you need a reallydiddy brush, definitely mixing in some blue and a hint of green to get cooler tones.The trick is lots of tiny short brushstrokes on the outside of the ears to get a look of fur, not hair, and then warmer shades of longer, curly strokes inside the ears.

    For the eyes, paint the area a deep blue-grey, and then put in a darker pupil. Use white acrylic ink to flick delicate eyelashes from the top eyelid.
    IMAG1674

  5.  The White Stripes: Pay particular attention to the different tones in the photograph.Once you get past the idea that the ‘white’ stripes should be paler than the ‘black’ areas, and start seeing them as just tones, you will go forward in leaps and bounds!

    Use a range of varying watered down grey-blues using a little rounded brush, and create little delicate hairs.

    Sculpt areas of shadow and light so that you can make out the muscles of the body.
    IMAG1678

  6. Crinkly snout: This was the part that I found the toughest. No hair! Firstly block in the different tones of shadow, mixing green into your paint to achieve an accurate shade. Then pick out the areas of highlight with a pale grey.

    Use short brushstrokes to carve dots and crinkles into the skin to give the impression of wrinkles and pores. IMAG1696

  7.  Plug away: There is no secret to achieving detail. Just lots and lots of layers of little hairs, covering all of the stripes, all over the body.A lot of hours of your life… As soon as one stripe is done, onto the next!
    Zeb - Imi Woods

I am thinking of getting giclée prints made of Zeb.
Please let me know if you would be interested in pre-ordering.

 

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Laugh, Kookaburra, Laugh

Kookaburras are remarkably underrated birds. A more sociable cousin of the Kingfisher, they are full-feathered and expressive – an excellent painting subject.

We met a Laughing Kookaburra at a recent visit to Marwell Zoo. He was incredibly patient and tame, sitting just a metre away from us in an open aviary. He posed for us for a good ten minutes, and we got some really beautiful shots of the Kookaburra and the leafy background in soft focus.

I knew that it would make an amazing statement piece, so I bought a 40 x 60cm canvas and set aside quite a bit of time (I estimate it took 50-60 hours of work) to create Herman the Kookaburra in acrylic paint on canvas.

Why Herman? My sister told me he was a Herman. I wasn’t convinced by the name at all.
I decided to look up the Laughing Kookaburra using the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia.
What do you know, it was actually founded by someone called Johann Herman.

It was fate, and you can’t argue with fate.

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If you think your house would benefit from a Herman, please contact me as he is for sale.

Have you ever had a similar experience with fate? 

How to paint a Tawny… Owl by yourself!

As promised, I have been a busy bee over the bank holiday weekend as it is now officially April, my Month of Paint! I finished off painting this little cutie today. His name is Nelson, not after Mandela, but my Grannie, who loved all owls.

If you pay particular attention throughout this guide, you can see me sporting a lovely range of pyjamas. I really am spoiling you.

You will need:

  • About 30 hours!
  • 30cm x 40cm canvas
  • Photograph to copy
  • Large flat paintbrush
  • Range of smaller round paintbrushes
  • Large playmat
  • Water
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Masking tape
  • Background Acrylic Paint:
    • Cadmium Red
    • Burgandy
  • Owl Acrylic Paint:
    • White
    • Burnt Sienna
    • Burnt Umber
    • Raw Umber
    • Rich Gold
    • Mars Black
    • Hooker Green (small amount)

Canvas Preparation

1. Choose your composition. I cropped my photograph really close so I could focus on the face and feathers and have as little background as possible.

Nelson the tawny photo
I grid up my photographs using microsoft word

2. Mark up your canvas. For a 30 x 40 canvas it is easiest to do 5cm2 squares. If you grid out your photo on a screen, make sure that your scaled dimensions are the same. You will probably have to crop parts of your photo and expand it to fill the space.

3. Draw the outline shape of your subject onto the canvas, following the corresponding squares on your screen. For a more detailed way of doing this, see here.

IMAG0911
I just draw the main lines and markings

Painting the background

1. Mix Cadmium Red and double quantities of Burgundy together with a bit of water. This creates a beautiful rich damson colour. You can add a hint of white to make it more creamy.

2. Paint about four layers of paint over your background area. This will create a solid matte colour. Hold it up to the light. Can you see through it? If so, paint another layer!

IMAG0918
You can overlap the foreground as you will paint over this later.

Painting the owl

At first glance, I thought… how on earth am I going to get everything in the right place?! There is so much going on!
Then I chilled out a bit and decided to take a little bit at a time. What a life lesson.

1. Use masking tape to section off areas to paint: I started from the bottom taking the right hand corner, and gradually worked my way up the canvas in 5cm strips, completing each strip before moving onto the next.
IMAG0920
My art gear of choice was blue striped pyjamas. 

2.  Start with a wash of Burnt Umber mixed with white. This creates a brilliant basis to build up layers of white feathers over the top.
IMAG0921
The more layers you build up, the fluffier it will look

3. Use a cocktail stick to create finer lines and texture in the feathers. Scratch the black bards into place using a near black. Scratch little flicks of white feathers. Some feathers will look softer and fluffier, so use a little paintbrush to achieve this look.

Who would think my pyjamas would be so famous!
Who would think my pyjamas would be so famous!

4. Complete the whole strip using the same techniques, making sure the black and brown bards are painted into the right place. Keep referring back to your photograph – it’s only a little section, you can get everything in the right place easily!

IMAG0924
My photography skills are second to none.

5. Section off the strip above using masking tape. Paint on any bards and darker areas of feathers, blending them into the finished part below.

Be careful to blend the two sections together or you will get a visible line.
Be careful to blend the two sections together or you will get a visible line.

6. Build up layers using streaks of white and tan colours, using your cocktail stick to make texture and individual feathers. The body of the owl is generally paler and greyer, and becomes more coloured and brown towards the face.

IMAG0928
You can see that by taking it section by section, you can get it really accurate.

7. Introduce browns and golds to the upper chest area, below the face. The feathers here are darker, with more golden pigments than the lower belly (all very technical terms!). Make the paint really nice and thick, building up the layers with differing shades. Use your cocktail stick to introduce little speckles to the feathers.  Please keep referring to your photograph to get markings in exactly the right place. I assure you that patience is the only way to get a photo-realistic finish.

IMAG0929IMAG0930
With a little patience, the feathers are not as daunting as they first seem.

8. Begin on the facial disk. Below the face is a white fluffy curve, framing the cute little face. Use really thick white paint here and score shapes into it using a cocktail stick. Then add black, gold and brown mottles to it on top of the thick wet white paint.
IMAG0934
You can see the glints of gold I am starting to work in. 

9. Paint the area surrounding the beak a pale browny grey. Then score thin white and darker grey hairs into it to make it textured and fluffy.
IMAG0936
Use a cocktail stick to create texture.

10. Surround the eyes with tan, white and pale brown paint, using longer curved brush strokes  Continue to build up layer upon layer, with paler colours on the top layers. Paint the brown strip down the middle of the face, and overlap the face hairs to create a semi-symmetrical pattern.
IMAG0940
Keep painting on layer after layer for thick fluffy fur.

11. Paint the eyes deep black, then rim them with pale grey. Create pale grey glints in the eyes to make them look glassy and real. Put grey lines above and below to define the eye socket.
IMAG0942
He just came to life when I painted in the eyes.

12. Paint the disk surrounding the face, using small dabs of tans, browns and black. Again, continue to build up layers, joining the face and the surrounding disk with a darker join. Put dabs of gold into it to make the painting really eye catching.
IMAG0944
At this point, my dad normally starts going “its very clever”

13. Paint the visible wing with a brown wash, then dab several layers in shades of light brown and tan into it.
IMAG0945
Do you see the resemblance?!

14. Mix up a pale yellowy green for the beak. Put shadows in a more grey green and a highlight in a paler colour down the middle of the beak, then paint on little nostrils using near black paint.
IMAG0947
Are they called nostrils??

15. Neaten up any smudges on the background and then SIGN!
Nelson ARTbyIMI
I am a little bit in love with little Nelson 

Let me know what you think, and stay tuned for lots of updates throughout April, my Month of Paint!