Bard of a Different Feather
Interview with Bernice Gordon
News for October
Break Out the Colored Pencils
Bard of a Different FeatherBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
I was going through the closet in my studio that is piled overflowing with art supplies -- some of which I had completely forgotten about -- when I found some of the colored inks I bought when I was in high school. And I immediately decided that this needed to be explored, considering how much my technique has changed since then.
As always, we need to start with something, and that something is a line drawing. After the drawing was done, I taped up the sides to limit spillage. This piece was done on hot-press Bristol paper. I made a stylistic decision to have the front wing pop out of frame.
This step was done with brown ink. I belatedly realized that with the amount of water I was using I should have been working on illustration board, since my paper will buckle like crazy. But I figured this whole piece was an experiment anyway, so I plowed ahead.
I worked in swirls when it seemed right, and sprayed areas to add texture. The paper picks up the brushstrokes more than most other surfaces, so I had to work very fast. And once the paper began to buckle, the ink and water began to pool, which made everything even trickier.
Once the background layer was good and dry, I bemoaned the state of my buckled paper, and kept working. This layer was pretty straight-forward, as I laid in the basic values and added texture wherever I could. I used a smaller detail brush for the beak, eye and neck feathers, as well as the darker feathers on the breast.
This step was all detail work, using the same fine brush as before. I focused most of my work on the head, but also very loosely roughed in feather texture on the wings and breast. On the head, I kept my strokes very thin and short, to give the appearance of fine head feathers. I also darkened the eye and beak.
Still not done with the ink! Only now, I pulled out my trusty black ink, and had some fun. This step actually took a few layers, as I had to build up the dark values in the bottom corner, and under the front wing. With the detail brush, I touched up the contours of the wing feathers. I used the spray bottle in the bottom corner, and before the ink could dry I tipped the paper vertically and let the ink drip down. A piece of tape on the bottom right corner kept a white strip between the black lines.
Finally satisfied with the ink portion, it was time to move on to the colored pencil. The trick with working with water-media and colored pencil is to use pencils that approximately match the shade of the paint, at least for the initial layers. It turns out that a Dark Brown pencil blends in beautifully with the brown ink, and a Dark Umber one works pretty well in the light areas.
Just like with the paint, I used very short, fine strokes of Dark Brown on the head, adding more layers on the darker areas. For the dark color on the top of the head, and the shadow behind the eye, I added layers of Indigo Blue and Black Grape, with more Dark Brown on top to blend it in. A few lines of Cool Grey (10%) on the beak illustrated the highlights, and then I used the same colors as on the head to finish it, although I went darker.
The blue feathers on the chest were covered in True Blue and Peacock Blue, both pencils that cover even dark colors very well. Afterwards, I used more Indigo blue for the darker shadows, and again Cool Grey for the highlights.
I used the Cool Grey again to work in the highlights of the short, pale feathers on the throat, with Dark Umber and Indigo for the shadows. I used a few thin, light layers of very short strokes to add texture to the cheeks.
The feathers on the front-most wing were done in a similar fashion. I used a Black pencil (poor baby almost never gets used) to again touch-up the contours of the wing feathers against the dark background.
As I was finishing this, I decided that it is destined to go up in my best friend's daughter's nursery. I love the combination of the brown and black ink, and can't wait to try something like this on illustration board or even my trusty clayboard. Until next time!
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