Starry Skies - Painting Feathers

This month I was able to squeeze in a quick study for the Bird Whisperer Project. How could I not? This Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo is magical! I only had time for a study, so I decided to crop the reference image down to a portrait. Here’s a look at that initial sketch in Photoshop.

I’m a messy sketcher! I’m not worried about things being exact on my first pass. I just want to start drawing. Once that first sketch is finished I usually go back to adjust things, refine shapes, etc. However, even then I’m not concerned with things being exact. I don’t need a copy of the reference photo. I want the essence, something that captures or creates its own magic. In this case, after I finished the initial sketch I decided I wanted to work on a square canvas, so I cropped things further. Here’s a GIF showing all the stages:

CockatooProcess.gif

My first painting strokes are messy too. My goal is to get the color down fast and then go in with details over that. I often switch between small tipped and large tipped brushes. For this piece, I only used 4 brushes for the bird.

What makes this a Study?

If you look closely, you can still see my sketch in some areas as well as parts that are less finished. In a finished painting I would have refined some of the feathers more too. A study may not feel finished to an artist, but it’s still a piece of art and in some cases it becomes a valuable reference for a future painting.

Forest Scouts - Behind the Scenes

Forest Scouts is my latest painting for the Bird Whisperer Project. I knew from the moment I saw the reference photo for December’s bird, a stunning Stellar’s Jay, that he would become part of a fantasy world. I envision him and his little rider as part of a team of scouts that keep watch from the tree tops.

As you can see, I took my inspiration from the reference photo but it’s far from a copy. I always try to focus on capturing an essence instead of being exact. My goal is to transform what I see in the reference photo into my own vision. Here’s a process gif, showing the evolution from drawing to finished painting.

ScoutsProcess.gif

My Brushes

Brushes.jpg

Digital painting can seem like magic, but in some ways it’s no different than any other painting medium. You have to do the work. These were the main brushes I used for this painting. I don’t tend to use many—you don’t need many. If I’m working on a watercolor or an acrylic painting, I use about the same number. These are brushes I use in all of my digital work.

All of my digital paintings begin with a drawing. I like to have the reference photo open in Photoshop alongside my canvas. Then I pick up my stylus and begin drawing with my Wacom Inutos.

ScoutWip1b.jpg

Here are 5 process shots I took from the GIF image above (you can click on the first one and scroll through them). Besides filling in the background with the paint-bucket tool, everything is painted by hand. The more detailed the painting, the more realistic I want it to be, the longer it takes. I like to block in basic colors and then I try to focus on the background first. When I need a break from that I start focusing on other parts.

There are usually parts of my drawing that I keep simplified, especially when it comes to bird feathers. I prefer to focus on these as I paint. Here’s a look at that with this month’s Stellar’s Jay.

ReferenceWip2.jpg

As you can see, it’s still not exact, just my own interpretation—an essence. Sometimes, I have to take a break from the most tedious parts so I don’t lose focus. More often than not, when I return to them I see something I missed or want to change.

I’m hoping in 2019 to begin recording my painting process—snippets of it at least. Then you can see paint in real time. Stay tuned!

Reinterpreting Mythology

Harbinger (left) and Raven Queen Rising (right) were painted only months apart in early 2017. I'd like to say this was planned in advance, but sometimes my subconscious gets the better of me and I paint on auto-pilot. It was only after the Raven Queen was finished that I realized what I'd done. Many of the colors seen in the raven's wings are echoed in the Raven Queen, especially in the background. She herself, is pale like the skull the raven wears around its throat. The two paintings depict the same being in different moments of time.

Though traditionally Morrigan is associated with crows, I decided to stay with the raven. I couldn't get the idea out of my head--the idea of this goddess going into battle only to say, "No more war." I saw her rising up into the sky to shed her corvid form, to break free from her own mythology.

I like to think the goddess might be appalled by the wars of the modern world or maybe she's just grown tired of humankind's lust for blood.

She persisted-- 
Amidst the flames and stars she rose
To shed her wings instead of blood. 
No More War. 

© Amanda Makepeace

Taking a Second Look

Toward the end of 2017 I decided to take a look at this drawing again. I don’t often return to pieces I’ve finished, but this one was calling to me. I’m glad I listened! I used a combination of Tombow Mono pencils and a 2B mechanical pencil to help smooth and fill in some of the amazing texture on this paper, bringing more depth to the shadows and intensity to the drawing.

Raven Sight, Graphite, 11x14 inches

I realized after comparing these two images that I'd been lazy, or most likely busy so I rushed her the first time around. Now she is finished and you can tell. This is a good example of why it's important to set a panting or drawing aside for a short time. It's important to distance yourself, even if only for a day or two, to regain perspective. When you've been staring at a piece day after day for a week or more the chances of missing exponentially increase! 

I've been asked a couple times and it's true, I used my own witchy face as the inspiration for this portrait. I wanted something between the recent photo of me on the left and the younger me on the right. 

ravensightref.jpg

The next seer portrait, Owl Sight, will feature my daughter. I'm calling these the Blood Mountain Seers, named after my favorite mountain in North Georgia.