My 5th painting was a special request by my sister. She loves pelicans and wanted me to paint one for her.
This is the story of my journey into the world of being a watercolor painter. My angle on this is a bit different than most other artists, in that all of my paints are made from pigments I’ve gathered myself. I call these paints ‘Paleo Paints’. By working with the rocks, bones, and pigments of my surroundings, I feel as if I am working with the soul of the Ozarks.
Previous Entries for this Series of Posts:
The 5th Painting
The thought of painting a pelican gave me anxiety, because a it seemed like it would be a hard thing to do well. I hadn’t yet gotten comfortable with painting something by request for someone else. And the thought of doing a terrible job of such a thing scared me. Honestly, I’m not sure it won’t always terrify me to do commissions, and that’s why I don’t do many.
I can’t say I’ve ever even seen this bird up close, and I wasn’t familiar with their personality. Knowing a critter’s personality at least gives me a sense of familiarity with them as a subject. But then I’d never seen a kestrel up close either, except in the photos I used for references. So why not a pelican? I told her I’d try it. I started researching images online, and that helped me to get to know that bird a little better. The more I looked, the more I started to see their personality. Most of it, at least it seemed to me, was in the eyes.
Struggles with Eyes
With the kestrels, and with every other animal I’ve done since, it was important to get the eyes right. One of the hardest things is getting them in the right location on the head. But with this particular bird, it felt important to get the expression right too, since that was where I saw the personality shining through. I struggled with that process and wound up erasing and starting over again. When I say ‘erase’, it isn’t like using a pencil eraser to just make mistakes go away. Luckily, the colors I’d used didn’t stain the paper, so I could wet the brush and lift the color off. Then, once the paper dried, I could try again. Here’s a post that shows what I went through to get to the right ‘look’, and also shows the rest of the process.
Some ‘Non-Ozark’ Colors
Ordinarily, I only use colors from local pigments. This painting is the only one where I used an outside pigment source. However, the pelican I wanted to paint had blue eyes. So, I decided to use a very non-local source for that color. I also wanted a grayish-greenish tint for the back feathers, and at that time I didn’t have a local source for that color, either.
To get the blue, I used lapis lazuli. It’s one of the oldest sources for blue paint and it comes from Afghanistan. It just so happened that my husband had been working in Afghanistan and had sent me a few largish rocks of low-grade lapis. I used part of one of those stones to make the most incredible blue paint. Ozark or not, I loved that paint. But the stone is extremely hard and I didn’t make more than perhaps about a 1/4 pan of the paint. It worked great for that pelican’s eye, though!
I used French green clay to get the tint I wanted in the wing feathers. It’s not something I’ll do again, because now I’ve found a local source for that same sort of color, and the clay didn’t make a very good paint.
Once the eyes were worked out, I moved on to the bill/beak (not sure what you call the pelican’s??). That turned out to be far harder than I’d imagined because there’s a wealth of texture in a pelican’s bill/beak. In the end, I was very happy with how it all turned out. My sister was too, and I was honored that she wanted me to paint a picture for her. Pelicans are her favorite animal, I think.
Madison Woods is a self-taught artist who moved to the Ozarks from south Louisiana in 2005. In 2018 she began experimenting with watercolor painting, using her local pigments. She calls them Paleo Paints, and her artwork features exclusively the lightfast pigments foraged from Madison county, Arkansas. Her inspiration is nature – the beauty, and the inherent cycle of life and death, destruction and regeneration.
Her online portfolio is at www.MadisonWoods.art.
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