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Pastel painting: Seagulls resting

It is a funny thing but often the paintings that eventuate following our camping trips, are not at all what I might have anticipated.

Take our recent trip to Townsville, for instance. Townsville is more than 1500 km north of where we live, and in a different climate zone. On this trip I probably took more than 5000 photos, mainly of birds, including at least five new species that I had never photographed before. So from those photos how have I ended up painting a cormorant, a finch and seagulls that all occur locally?

Somehow it just happened. When you are thinking about starting a new painting, you have to work on something that inspires you at the time, and these were the subjects that I felt like painting. So I didn't paint exotic species like sunbirds and blue-winged kookaburras. I painted ordinary common things that are found near home.

That being said, there are probably another couple of hundred photos amongst the 5000 that I could very happily use as subjects - if I had time!

When I started the seagulls painting, I just wanted to paint a rock platform scene. It was a subject that I had never tried before. But on our Townsville trip I had only taken about five photos of rock platforms so I didn't have much choice.

The photo that I selected was taken along the beach at Clairview. At this point the Bruce Highway passes within a hundred metres of the sea. I had noticed the view to the ocean on the trip north, so on the the way back I asked Joe to stop there in the hope of finding sea-birds.

It turned out that there was nothing interesting on the beach, so I snapped a few photos of either end, and we left.

But if you feel like painting a beach scene, what can you do but make a selection from the photos that you have available?

I cropped the middle out of the photo and ended up with a section showing a few seagulls and splashing waves which added action.

I thought that by cropping close to the tails of the gulls on the right that they would draw the eye into the scene and towards the main subject which would be the lone gull on the left, and the splashing water. It was an overcast day so I couldn't rely on the lighting to provide drama to the painting. The waves would have to do it!

So I drew up a grid over the photo, as I always do, and moved it to the computer near my easel.

The paper that I selected was a 75 x 55cm sheet of Mi-Teintes TEX in a beautiful pale sea-green colour.

I used a grid that matched the paper size to put dots on the paper, and blocked in the first layer of colour (which promptly wiped out most of the dots, so afterwards I had to work from those remaining around the edges).

In the next image, I have added in the seagull on the left - and adjusted the position of the rock it is standing on to move it a bit further from the edge. Here I have also added mid-green colour to the water around the bird, and pinkish overtones to the tops of the fore-ground rocks.

Then I added darker colour to the deeper shadow areas in the foreground and began blocking in th shapes of the birds on the right. The image below shows the painting at this stage. As you can see, I have not added smooth layers of colour. I use a variety of strokes to add texture to the painting.

The next step was to begin adding in the white splash over the top of the sea-green colour in the middle-left. I have also built up the layers if colour to emphasize the swell of the wave in front of the main background rock.

Then I added warm colour to the shadows of the rocks and began building their tops with solid beige colour. I use paler colours in the background. I felt that the shape of the background rock was too "blocky" so I extended it out a little way, into the water to the left. I have also added detail to the main bird on the left.

In the image at left I have added texture to the rocks with mid-brown colour, obscuring much, but not all of the deep red colour in the shadows.

Below, I have added detail (but not too much) to the birds on the right, and have worked on the rocks below and above them.

Now the painting is in the finishing stages. In the next image I have expanded the area of the splash and added cool white colour to the splash and the front seagulls.

I have also toned back the dark colour in the background rocks to send them further back. I rather liked the effect that I managed to achieve in the rocks behind the group of birds, and have brought these colours a bit further forwards into some of the foreground rocks.

In contrast to the quick more or less random strokes that I used early in the painting, by this stage I will be working very slowly, often just carefully placing stroke at a time before moving well back to observe the effect. Also, the original photo becomes much less important as I focus on what I need to do to make a reasonable painting.

In the final image I have pushed the background rocks back further. I felt the reversed "C" shaped pattern of the rocks was too strong and looked contrived, so I have tried to reduce this by fading out some of the rocks that were projecting out into the sea. I have also added more solid colour to the tops of the foreground rocks and tried to reduce some of the distracting "noise" of the dark patch of rock in the centre front.

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