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Pastel Painting: Firetails

I have an unwritten personal rule that every camping trip has to result in at least one painting in order to justify the expense of my wonderful camera and telephoto lens. The photo that I choose to paint depends on my mood at the time of choosing, ie. what sort of challenge I feel like taking on at that moment. Quite often this results in a painting of a quite ordinary species - one that we commonly see everywhere we go, rather than an exotic one that truly represents the location. Oh dear!

In this case, I wanted to try working on a painting that was mostly grey-neutral in colouring, in which the birds were the brightest objects.

I selected a photo from amongst a collection of photos of red-backed firetails, taken at our Myall Creek campsite in Nowendoc National Park in November 2015.

There were two birds in this photo but they were both very small, so I cropped it to improve the composition.

I still had a problem with the composition because the bird on the right was facing out of the picture so I cut out a section of another photo and pasted it over the top, to give the composition below.

I was able to paste directly over the top of the old photo without interfering with the background because I had taken a number of photos of these two birds with my tripod in the same position.

Tripods are heavy to carry around and can mean that you can't respond quite as quickly when you spot fast-moving birds, but they do have some benefits! I always use one. (And, if you are interested, Joe uses a monopod, but Laura and Pete don't use any support for their cameras.)

The bird on the right was clearly focussed. The bird on the lower left was slightly out of focus.

The arrangement of the branches directs attention towards the birds, but the centre of attention, the part of the photo that contains the birds and most of the branches, has an unfortunate squareness about it that I would have to try and rectify in my painting.

So I drew up a grid over the adjusted photo, with a denser grid over the birds, because they were small within the picture.

And because the birds were small I used a large sheet of Mi-Teintes textured pastel paper in a pale grey-beige colour as my support.

In this painting I only really needed the grid in the region of the birds, and quite often, these days I don't actually put dots at the corners of all the grid squares on the paper. I just put them around the border so that I can use them as guidelines, with a few spots around the birds too.

If you look carefully you will see a row of dots along the bottom of the photo on the right, in which I have begun to add a bit of texture into the background.

In the second photo in the painting sequence, you can see that I have sketched in the positions of some of the branches and begun to put some colour into the birds.

I am not a great fan of blurring pastel colour by rubbing it, but quite often I will just touch the colour and move it about a little bit in places. Sometimes I will make short strokes through the colour, more or less randomly, with my fingers splayed apart. This can create an interesting variety of textures in the background.

Sometimes it is useful to rub the colour into the grain of the paper in places, in the early layers, especially if the later layers contrast strongly with the paper colour - to avoid a scratchy appearance. But I never have large areas of exposed rubbed in pastel in my finished painting.

Here are a couple of detailed shots of the little birds. As you can see, they retain quite a lot of texture.

In the photo on the left I have added a little blue-green colour into the background.

The final painting is shown below. Note that I have altered the emphasis of the upper branches to add more interest and remove the "square effect" that showed in the branches in the original photo.

Another painting finished!

And Laura is starting to worry about how we are going to frame all these paintings before the QWASI exhibition in July.

Oh dear! There are always problems!

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