Title: Shorebird Ensemble

Shorebird Ensemble

Year: 2016

Original Medium: Watercolor

Size: Height 17.25 in x Length 23.25 in


Location:  Woodsen Art Museum

This painting was juried into the Woodsen Art Museum's Birds in Art Exhibition, 2016-2017 (National Tour).

Last spring my husband and I spent hours ambling along the beaches at Morrow Bay, California with hundreds of these awesome birds. They were comfortable with us being so close to them and rewarded us with insight into their behaviors, feeding habits, poses, etc. . . . At times they were dynamic, beautiful, elegant, zippy – just fascinating, magnificent birds. Our time with them was so memorable I had to share it, and that is why I chose to paint them. I chose this title because there was a collection of shorebirds of different varieties, and they reminded me of an ensemble of musicians that play different instruments.

This is a purely transparent watercolor, and it was painted without the use of masking fluid (Miskit-a liquid rubber masking fluid). Doing this painting without using a masking fluid forced me to try a new technique I had never tried before. If you don't understand the nature of watercolor here is a bit of information regarding the limitations that the medium presents. Watercolor is a staining method of painting where the pigment stains white paper. In order to get smooth gradations of color with watercolor you can either wet the paper with clear water and add wet pigment to the wet areas (wet on wet), or you can put down pigmented water on dry paper and work super fast and add more wet pigmented brushstrokes to cover the dry paper being sure to not let the previous wet brushstroke dry before the new strokes are joined to them (wet on dry).

The easiest way to work a complex painting like this one is to work wet on wet. However, to work wet on wet with so many complex shapes the problem that happens is that by the time you finish getting clear water to cover all the painting, the first areas you wet will already be dry by the time you finish the last areas. If you keep saturating the paper, the dry edges you haven't painted (like legs and beaks) will collect more water than the other areas so that when you add wet paint to your wash, the gradations get weaker at the edges. Sometimes they do the opposite and get darker if they are drying quicker, thus, creating a halo effect. Also, even with an evenly wet paper, it is difficult to get the background wash to smoothly and evenly flow from edge to edge without getting lots of variations in pigment values. For these reasons many artists use Miskit. Miskit enables a water-colorist to paint it onto the paper, and wherever it is painted, no water or pigment will penetrate into the paper. When the water dries, the Miskit is removed and those areas can then be painted. An artist can do very nice wet on wet techniques using Miskit without getting halo edges or unwanted pigment variations.

For many years I used Miskit, but eventually I developed a sensitivity to the dryers in the product. I can't use masking fluids any more, so I have to paint the hard way – wet on wet with no Miskit. With this limitation I knew the probability of screwing up the painting was very high, so I tried a new technique of wetting the paper – including legs and beaks; brushing in my wet pigments; and removing pigment with a dry brush from the legs and beaks as the painting was drying. If you keep pulling water and pigment out as it dries, you can remove most of the pigment (wet on wet with dry removing) and leave only a faint staining.

However, I knew that even a successful application of (wet on wet with dry removing) wouldn't work since there was simply too much surface to cover and too many details to avoid (the birds bodies had to be left unpainted). So my solution was to divide the painting into three (wet on wet with dry removing) regions. These included the sand region (the bottom third), the middle region (where most of the birds and reflection were), and the surf region. Each wash region had to dry before applying the adjacent wash which overlapped. Doing three wash regions enabled me to have enough time to keep each area wet and work it wet and to pull out pigment while the painting dried. It worked! Of course, I later painted the details such as feathers that didn't need large gradations.

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