Pastel painting: Little pied cormorant

There was something about the little pied cormorant in this photo, taken at Eungella National Park, during our recent trip.

I liked the way the backlighting created tension between the pull of the rocks to the left, and the pull of the bird's beak to the right.

Or maybe it was just that it would be a relatively easy subject to paint because it didn't have its wings spread out!

These have to be amongst the most photogenic of birds. They have highly manouvreable heads and big floppy feet, and since their feathers are not waterproof they spend many minutes on perches near water between dives drying out, so are easy to photograph.

I cropped the photo to give the composition on the left. The bird's beak is really the main subject. The light on the rocks leads the eye across from the bottom left, to the feet, and then up through the body to the head as shown by the arrow in the image on the left, below.

I felt the bird's pose was interesting due to the glowing light shining through its beak, and the way its shoulders and feet were angled (shown in the photo on the right, below), so I had to be careful to preserve these aspects in the painting.

On the other hand, I felt that the reflections on the water were a distraction, so I would need to adjust these.

I selected a sheet of charcoal grey, textured pastel paper, because there is quite a lot of dark grey water showing in the background behind the cormorant. I wanted to be able to focus my efforts on painting the subject, not adding colour to the background!

I drew up a grid over the photo, and made a similar one using two sheets of greaseproof paper sticky-taped together, to fit the size of my paper. The painting is almost square, 500 x 450 mm (20 x 18 inches).

As described in previous posts, I put spots on the background paper at the points where the lines intersected on the greaseproof paper grid, and used these as a guide to roughly block in the shape of the cormorant and some of the background elements. You can still see some of the grid-spots in the background to the right of the bird, in the image below.

I then added detail to the head and body of the bird, to begin the workup of the important aspects of the painting.

In the next stage, I have added in some of the detail to the bird's feet, and colour to the rocks. I have also used some of the pinky rock colour to enliven the shadow areas on the front of the bird.

I quite liked the painting at this stage, but felt that there was too much of the background paper colour showing through on the body of the bird. It was not solid enough. Also, the highlights were not sufficiently emphatic, and the bird's beak needed to be more prominent, to grab attention.

I have worked on these aspects below, as well as adding some of the brown colour of the beak, to the rocks. I also worked on the background, making the colour at the top of the painting paler, to give some sense of the water receding in the distance.

Then I have strengthened the highlights on the rocks, and worked a bit more background, to produce the finished painting, below.

It worries Laura that I don't give more details of the later stages of my paintings, but I find this difficult to do, because, as the painting progresses I tend to work all over it, trying to strengthen the picture as a whole. So I might be adding a stroke in one part of the painting, and next, adding a stroke in some other completely different section, to build up the total composition, depending on where I feel work is needed.

Then when you reach the point at which additional strokes just seem to be making the painting worse, you know that it is time to stop!


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All images, graphics, and content on these pages are © 2015 Jenny Grogan, all rights reserved.

For permission to use artwork, please contact Jenny Grogan.