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Pastel painting: Pademelon in the undergrowth

Laura and I spent some time one morning during our recent camping trip to D"Aguilar National Park, taking photos of this young red-legged pademelon in the undergrowth. This was my first chance during the trip to photograph a pademelon since I had somehow missed all the other golden opportunities that Joe and Laura had taken advantage of, (probably because I was too busy trying to get shots of scarlet honeyeaters in the callistemons along the creek).

The pademelons around the Neurum Creek camp-site were not very trusting of people and were difficult to approach, but Laura and I stood still on the path to the creek and this young animal was quite at ease as we watched it for ten minutes or so, clicking away madly. You might think that in that time we could manage to take some excellent photos but there were difficulties.

Firstly, it is always difficult taking photos in rainforest understorey because of the low light conditions so you end up with a very shallow depth of field (meaning most of the picture is out of focus). Then you have the problem of the picture being so confusing that the camera can't choose what to focus on, which means that you have to focus manually. And if you add into this a moving subject and vegetation blocking your view ........ well, I am sure you get the idea. It is not easy.

So I didn't end up with excellent photos. But later I remembered the beautiful golden colouring and charm of this small wallaby, as it moved gently through the fractured patterns of glowing sunlight, and knew that I wanted to try painting it.

I scoured my photos and came up with two possibilities, shown above and at left.

Of the two, I liked the second one better because of the way the fern frond curled above the animal's back, and the intent impatient look it had, as if it was about to hop away. But the photo needed to be cropped to maximize the impact of the pademelon.

By cropping it as shown on the left I felt that attention would be focused on the animal's head and foreleg area which would be the most detailed part of the painting, and also the most brightly lit with the sunlit region contrasting strongly with the pademelon's face.

So I drew up a grid over the photo, and selected a large sheet of beige coloured sanded paper for the support.

I began by roughly sketching the shape of the pademelon, and some of the surrounding structures.

I then added pink colouring to warm up the sunlit areas a bit, and began working on the pademelon's face.

In the next step I have begun adding light to the sunlit areas.

I know that some wildlife artists work by completing the subject first, or working on the background first, but I always work on building up the colour on the background and the subject at the same time. They are both illuminated by the same light source and influence each other via shadows, and reflected and transmitted light. The subject is part of its background. I like to merge the two.

Here I have built up more detail on the subject.

And in the next step I have worked more on the background and foreground, and strengthened the light areas a little.

Since the foreground is out of focus in my source photo, which had a shallow depth of field, I have had to refer to other photos to assist with some of the details, particularly the scale relative to the size of the animal.

I know that simplification is the mantra of landscape artists, but I want to portray some of the complex nature of the rainforest understorey, which is highly fragmented and "jittery".

Here I have darkened shadow areas of the foreground to provide a contrast with the areas of light.

And here I have added more detail to some of the foreground structures and worked on the light region behind the pademelon's back, to make it recede a bit in the painting.

The painting is almost finished now. I am happy with most of it, and just need to add a few finishing touches. By this stage of a painting I will be working very carefully, with all of my strokes of colour being very deliberate. With each stroke I will stand back to observe the effect.

I finally feel that the painting is finished.

I really rather like this painting. I think it is one of my favourites. There is some sort of attraction in just being able to be messy sometimes and painting rainforest seems to allow for that possibility!

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