Okavango Delta Aerial

Okavango Delta Aerial

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Ostrich line drawing continued

After drawing up my three female ostrich, the next stage was to scan them into the computer individually.  

The drawings were scanned in and opened in Photoshop for the next phase of cutting out the background, so that it is transparent. I do this so that if I over lap the images I don't get the white background of the top image blocking the one underneath' and I can see clearly the shapes of each subject, in this case the birds.

To cut out the background I add a new layer to each image and using the eraser tool, (the magic wand could also be used), remove all the background. On screen, a grey chequered  pattern is revealed, this won't show up when I use this image later.. it just shows that the background has gone.

Once I have 'cut out' each bird I save them as a psd (photoshop) file, rather than a tiff or jpg. I then create a document in Adobe Illustrator, a design software application, to the size I need. Then I 'place' each bird image file onto this document. 

When I did the original drawings I didn't worry about getting them the same size, as I can now resize each bird image by dragging the corners in or out to make them larger or smaller, until they are comparable heights.

Once I was happy with the sizes I then played with their positioning.  My original idea was to have them in a row, evenly spaced, but I was thinking that looked a little boring, so after trying a few different layouts I ended up preferring a space and overlap in the composition. I then tried the birds in different positions in the layout to see which order I liked best. This was my final version.

I printed a 'hard copy' to the size I wanted for my final drawing and then using a 4B pencil I drew round the outlines of the birds on the back of the paper. Positioning the hard copy onto my final paper (white cartridge) for the ink drawing, I traced the main outlines gently through, being careful not to press hard so I didn't get an indent.

Then using a drawing pen with black ink I used my reference photo's to draw the ostriches being guided on size and position by my traced pencil lines. However my first attempt didn't look right, my drawing stroke technique was too varied. So I traced the outlines again onto another piece of good paper and started again. This time things worked better. The final step in this ink line drawing was to gently rub out the pencil marks once the ink was thoroughly dry.

The ostriches will 'sit' in an mount aperture size of 9" x 13". This photo isn't great, but hopefully you'll get the idea. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Ostrich drawings

Monday I did not get down the studio as domestic duties and running around kept me occupied until mid-afternoon. I want to start a new piece in the studio next, so need a good run of hours to get the initial work on, as I shall be working wet into wet with the oils and don't really want to stop midway through. As I had only a three hours until I'd be home again I decided to stay home and crack on with one of the ink drawings I have planned.

I had previously picked a number of likely subjects for a series of ink line drawings, one of which was ostriches. I had not seen many ostrich in the Delta during my stay in March 2011 and those I did see were mostly females. I think I spied a lone male once, way off in the distance. But I did manage to get a number of photo's that I could now browse through and select good candidates to use as reference for the drawings. As they were mostly distant shots I can use these for general stances but zooming in close on the computer screen doesn't really give me great details like head shape or feet. Therefore I shall also use other ostrich photo's that are better for such details that I have taken elsewhere in Africa or in captive situations here in the UK.

After a short afternoon of drawing, these are the three gals I am going to use. 

The next job will be to scan them individually into the computer for the composition stage.  I know what is in my head.. now I just need to translate that into a 'hard copy' plan. I will write about that process in a follow up post to this one on another day.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Passing Monarch

Having painted the background a while before Christmas, I was keen to start this one of a lilac-breasted roller.

When in Botswana, I tried hard to get some half decent reference shots of this species. I saw rollers often during my month long stay, mostly sat atop a small tree or bush alongside the track. But whenever we approached, yup... you guessed it... it would fly away before I could focus my camera on it. I had many shots of empty space or if I did get it in time, they would be out of focus, blurred by movement or tantalising captures of ends of tail feathers.

My best ref came on the very last day as we waited for the planes to come in to the small airstrip. But it was against the light. On another day we saw a roller that was hunting and I managed to get just a couple of shots (out of focus) as it chased an insect through the air.

This gave me two ideas for roller paintings and they could sit together, telling a story. This piece is the first... where the roller sees an insect fly by. And the second piece will be it chasing that insect.

Enlarging my original ref photo's on the computer to get a closer look at the insect being chased, showed me that it could well have been a dragonfly, or at least that's what I originally thought. So I trawled through my own photo's of dragonflies from the trip to find something I could use. It became obvious that the shapes were wrong... so my perhaps it was a grasshopper? Also the more I thought about it the more I wondered... would dragonflies be part of their diet. Dragonflies are strong fast flyers... would a lilac-breasted hunt them? 

So I did some internet search and found several sites that listed prey items seen to have been taken by this species. Dragonflies were not on the lists, but grasshoppers were. So.. that was looking more likely. But a grasshopper wasn't 'doing it for me' as my secondary subject for my painting. How about another of the prey species listed...Butterfly? I liked that idea.. I had quite a number of butterfly photo's... but which one? 

I had a think.. I wanted a plain blue sky as the backdrop...and suddenly I knew what it should be. An African monarch butterfly. The orangey colour of this species would sit beautifully on the blue sky colour (complimentary colours) and with the blues of the bird. I had several photo's of this species from my trip and luckily a few out of focus flight ones that I could use to get the wing angle and several of ones sitting to get the colours and patterns.

When I painted the blue sky, I used three tones and softly blended them to create darker tones to sit at the bottom and right of the composition with the lightest colour top left.. where the butterfly will be. So that will be a subtle 'eye puller' to the butterfly.

I had photo ref of the bird sat in many positions on branches and in varying light conditions but not in the position I wanted - having the bird's head to be turned and looking up to the corner with the butterfly. So again I turned to the internet to find photos of this species with their heads turned so I could see the angles of beak and plumage colouration. Having found a few I could work from, I drew the bird up on tracing paper ready to transfer to the board of blue.   

Finally I got to start on the painting of the subjects this week. I was working on the vegetation today and hope to finish it tomorrow.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015


Almost done on this one... contemplating the next move. Again I am adding birds in flight. Originally I was thinking white-faced whistling duck, but am suddenly drawn to the idea of spur-winged geese as the white areas of their plumage would catch the colour of the low sun rays more so than the whistling duck; who also being much smaller would be too small, as I want them right back over the land mass in the image.

So, this morning, I have been looking at my ref pix and doing an internet search for backups and detail images (as mine are in the distance and slightly fuzzy). So I can use mine for shapes etc and get plumage marking positions etc from the internet images.

This is an oil on deep edge canvas (size approx 16" x20"). The painting continues around to the sides.

Unsure what to call this one, got several ideas, but unable at the mo to pick and stick with one.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Exhibition meeting

Had a great meeting with Dr Kate Evans of Elephants For Africa today, going over exhibition plans and arrangements... ideas to develop, who does what and when - that sort of thing. All very exciting and positive... lots to do, but it's going to be fun... Tis all exciting anyway, but came away even more 'buzzed' about it.... if that's possible. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

First off the easel in 2015

I am home on leave from the zoo this month (part of my usual 3 month leave, as I work at the zoo for 9 months every year), so after all the computer work I've been doing since Christmas, I finally got into the studio this week. It was good to be back and thinking of paint and Botswana, rather than sums and figures.

It's a tad chilly in the studio at the moment, as the heating seems to be off. I was in Wednesday and though chilly it was bearable. However there were 7 other folk in  their own studio spaces in the same room as mine, so it was quite noisy and distracting. This is the downside of the studio rental aspect. 

My space is just one of about a dozen in the same room and although each is separated with stud walling the unit is not enclosed. The open aspect is great for light, but rubbish for minimising any sounds from neighbours. And it does get noisy what with talking on the phone, music or talking books played rather loudly, dischordant singing of folk with their headphones on. Then there's the installation artists banging, sawing, drilling now and again as they work on their latest piece. 

I love having a separate studio space with no household distractions, with all my art stuff in one area and easily reached and have enjoyed meeting a few other arty folk. But I am so used to working, for the most part, in a house with few noises, so in the studio I do have trouble with concentration... even with my headphones on. 

Anyhooo... whinging aside..... My first painting job of the year was to finish the little warthog piece I had almost completed prior to Christmas. This was one of those ideas that kind of developed as it went. Initially it was just going to be a quick little study of a male warthog. But then I added a few more and then the elephants went in the background. 

At that point I thought something was needed to get the eye moving around the composition. I was finding the eye was conflicted and stuck in either the top area with the elephants or the bottom with the warthog. I needed something to tie them together.

I decided I should put some birds in but what birds do I add? I toyed with flying long-tailed starlings, fork-tailed drongos or white faced duck, maybe a saddle-billed stork or wattled crane standing in the grasses in the background. In the end I decided on coucal's, as their coppery plumage would bring out the colours I used on the warthogs manes. In flight they add some action and story to the piece .. their positioning also helps the eye move around the composition.  

Think it is as good as done... might tweek a couple of little things at some point, but for now I am putting it to one side to see how it 'sits' for a while.

This is an oil on a small canvas panel board about 7" x 8" although that is, at the moment, a very rough guess on size. I will check on that today when I get back down the studio later.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The start to the year

My New Year's Resolution is to try and post something here every week if I can. I got a distracted with work and things by the end of last year and let posting slip. That is not good enough... so must do better. With the exhibition just 8 months away I am even more conscious of the monumental task ahead. There will be much going on this year in the preparation for it, so therefore I shall have a lot more to report on. Or at least that is the plan. And we all know what happens to best laid plans!!

Before I could get back to painting, after Christmas, I had the annual task of doing my accounts. Not the most fun job to do, but if I can get them done and out of the way as the first job of the year then I can concentrate on the more fun stuff afterwards. Fun stuff like planning a few ideas for paintings and sorting the reference for them. This year my account job took a wee bit longer because I couldn't help breaking the serious stuff now and again with working on some fun stuff... a few of my painting ideas that I am eager to crack on with.It meant it did prolong the accounting pain, but at lest I am ready to go with several pieces straight off.

After the accounts, I had an ad to put together. For the last 7 years I have tutored a batik class at the week long event of the Gloucester Arts & Crafts Summer School (GSS) held in July. Although I won't be tutoring this year I thought an ad in their brochure, for my exhibition, would be a good idea. Just an example of how I've really got to start thinking ahead now. My brain just wants to concentrate on painting but there's all this organisational and promotional stuff to do as well.

I'm using the Ivor portrait piece as the image for all the promotional stuff so he is the 'face' of the exhibition and there is a unity to all the promotional flyers, ads, leaflets etc. The ad for the GSS needed to be with the organiser by the end of this week. It's a simple black and white image with wording but took longer than expected as I had an issue (which I resolved) with my text boxes in Adobe Illustrator - the design software I use and with saving it from an Illustrator file to a jpg. Kept losing my border.. but managed to overcome that issue too but my quick little job ended up taking two evenings. On Friday I sent the ad to Simon, the Director at Nature In Art to make sure he was happy with it and then sent it off to the GSS organiser.

This week, the Nature In Art magazine arrived. Their first one of the year with all the listings in a leaflet of their forth coming events this year. Was quite a buzz to see my exhibition image and blurb in there as well. Up til now it was still kind of just an idea almost.. the reality of it was not yet there in front of me in printed form. But seeing the Nature In Art leaflet really brought home to me that this is all very real now. Gulp.