Feathers and Omens

Last month, the Bird Whisperer Project had the pleasure of working from a truly stunning photograph of a raven by photographer Christopher Martin. You can see the complete album of artworks on our Facebook page here: January 2017 - Common Raven. At the time, I was afraid I might not finish my raven in time for the group post. Why? Because I kind went nuts with the level of detail...

More than a few people mentioned they thought it was the photograph, but seeing them side by side, I think you can see the differences. If I hadn't been in such a rush, I would have taken more detailed process shots as I went. Hopefully, what I do have will give you a peek inside my process.


I don't use many.  I have about 10 favorites, but more often than not I'll only use 5 for any painting. Here are the brushes I used for Winter Raven (Harbinger).

The first brush is one of the basic soft brushes that come with Photoshop. I also use the hard one, usually for sketching out my subject. The fourth brush is often the brush I use for blocking in the basic colors. All of the feathers were painted with the second and the fifth brush. Just like traditional brushes, any of these can be large or small in diameter.


Having my reference materials nearby is always handy, but when I'm working in a realistic manner I do like to have it extra close. I'll pop it out of the window and keep it on top in Photoshop. With that said, I don't need all of those feathers to be precise for the end result to "look" real. You can see some of my sketch above--those wing feathers are pretty off! 

When I'm painting I don't use the undo option much, unless I'm experimenting and completely screw something up. If what I'm painting doesn't look right, I keep painting. With iridescent raven feathers, there is no one color reflecting off the surface. I continue to lay down color till I have what I want. Sometimes it feels more like I'm sculpting a painting. Below is a handful of the colors that went into painting the wings

The screenshot below shows different stages of the raven's head. Once I blocked in the base color, I used the same brush for all of the feathers--only changing the size of the brush and pigment as I went along. In some areas, like the cheek, the brush was very, very small! The pressure I applied also varied. For the neck feathers I need stronger brush strokes compared to the softer parts of the head.

The Skull

Sometimes, one small element can transform a painting's narrative. In the case of this raven, it was a squirrel skull pendant. Ravens don't wear pendants, meaning we've entered the world of fantasy and most likely magic. I wanted viewers to create their own story for this harbinger.

The reference for the skull came out of my personal bone collection.

Yes. I have a bone collection. 

I decided to photograph the skull at the angle I needed to limit the chances of damage. 

Above you can see the different stages of the the skull--from rough sketch to basic blocking in and refining of shape, and the last being a more rendered version.

Prints for Winter Raven and Harbinger are available in my shop!


Forest Dreams Process GIF

Process GIFs are always fun, and maybe even a little magical. They don't truly show the hours of work that go into a painting but I still enjoy sharing them. Here's one for Forest Dreams that begins with the sketch through to the final painting.


Prints Available

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What's the difference?

Limited editions are printed on archival fine art paper, signed and number. They are a collector's item, only available direct from my shop. Open edition prints are often smaller in size. They are unsigned, printed on lustre or matte paper.

Winter Wanderings

Autumn is my favorite season, but my heart holds quite a bit of love for Winter too. I love the crisp feel of winter air and walking among the bare trees I adore. There's a stillness in winter that's perfect for introspection--for listening. Have you ever stopped to listen to the earth? I spend a lot of time listening and thinking, wandering and daydreaming. It's where my art is born. If I don't have that stillness my focus becomes cloudy and my thoughts are lost to chaos of our modern world. 

For the most part I'm able to keep my focus with short daily walks. They are part meditation and part creative process, both end up filling a need. And of course, I often find little treasures along the way. The feather I photographed below belongs to a Mourning Dove--I think! 

My daydreams and wanderings always make their way into my art. I have little sketches and ideas jotted on slips of paper all over my table. I try to keep it in order. That usually lasts about a week. I find I'm most open to my art when I have everything I need around me. If I tuck it all away, the visions fade away.

One of the benefits of living in the country are the magnificent sunsets I get to see. The ones from my front door aren't too bad either.

The land is a being who remembers everything.
— Joy Harjo

Some of this post appeared in my January Newsletter - Into the Wild.