I actually posted this one on my Facebook page last winter, but picked up the paintings again now in order to complete them. The original sketches were made almost twenty years ago during an unusually impressive waxwing invasion. The largest flock reported was one of approximately 14 000 birds, and throughout the winter (which too is exceptional - they normally leave before Christmas) there seemed to be waxwings everywhere. I was then living in Liljendal, a Swedish speaking rural community east of Helsinki and made occasional birding and sketching trips in the surrounding countryside. This time I was heading to a small stream (called Ålhusbäcken) where my intention was to find and draw dippers (which I did too). On my way there I spotted a flock of waxwings resting in a bushy spruce and just had to try to sketch them. The temperature was about -26 (-14,8 F), not extreme but my hands freeze easily so I could draw only a few seconds at a time. After 18 years, I decided to do something of the sketches. By the end of the winter the waxwings had emptied all the rowans and ate whatever looked like berries or fruits. I got a bag full of old apples from the grocery and hang them in a lilac bush in my garden, and could thus draw the birds comfortably sitting at my kitchen table.
Here's a small painting from the archives. Can't remember the year, but I think I made for an article in a magazine. The idea was to show a bird in postbreeding moult. After the breeding season, most (adult)birds start changing their, at that point, quite worn-out feathers to fresh ones, before migrating southwards. Some do it partially, some completely. Juveniles moult too, but mostly only their body feathers to obtain a more adult look. I don't remember much how I painted this one, or where I checked the moulting pattern, if I did at all. I have made some repainting on it afterwards, but I'm still not sure if it's correct. The problem with many commissions is that there is not enough time (meaning money) to do the background work properly, but the job must be done anyway. I believe I made this before the internet-era (at least for my part), and back in those days it was way harder to get proper reference material. Hovever, it's fun to compare this painting (acrylic on paper) with the digital paintings I mostly do nowadays.
Thought that I could explain a bit how I work when I paint digitally. To begin with, I confess that I am completely autodidact in digital painting, and I do not know so much about computers and programs on the whole. But I paint anyway, and slowly, little by little, I'm making some progress. I think. In order to understand the following, one must be at least somewhat familiar with the art of digital painting. For those who don't, I will try to present the discipline in a more comprehensive way at some point in the future. The software I'm using is ArtRage 4 (I'm waiting for the next, 4.5, coming soon) from Ambient Design. It's the only program I have tried so far, so I can't make any comparisons. The process itself doesn't differ so much from the way I paint traditionally (I don't always work the same way in any technique, but in general, this is how it goes), and so, I usually start with a pencil drawing. For a naturalistic painting like this, a model is always required, life or a photo (in most cases, photos are more practical). Even when I don't paint from life, I prefer using my own material. If it's possible. After I have made a quick drawing, I start filling in color. The drawing doesn't have to be very precise, there are a lot of corrections to be made during the process anyway. Now, I can start painting on the drawing (or on a layer underneath it, which I often do at first) just in a normal way, like in the image above. Or I can use the advantages digital painting offers (I think that the point in using any new media is that it should make work easier and faster, there is no reason to make it more difficult than it already is), so I can speed things up by only painting one half of the image, then duplicating the layer, and flipping one of them. Actually there is a symmetry tool for ArtRage 4, which duplicates the brushstrokes automatically. I haven't tested it yet though. The effect I want to achieve, requires many thin layers of color overlapping each other, which is mostly sheer time consuming, mechanical work. Through using this option, I can save many valuable working hours for the more demanding work on the details. Not to forget that by saving thousands of brush strokes, I can also reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury on my hand. [...]
Yet another hot day, and the pen tablet gets sticky and difficult to use. But I have tried to work anyway. Summer is not particularly my favorite season for painting, too much greens. My trademark, in a way, is my restricted palette with umbras and siennas dominating. In fact, my more colorful paintings have not been so successful. Even if people have generally liked them, they don't necessarily purchase them. So, economically it's a risky business for me to deviate from my normal manners. But since it's summer, it should be ok with little swerving too. So I started with the goldfinches today, trying to give the painting a feeling of a hot summer day, with bright light and colors and some sharp cast shadows. I felt it was quite easy to find the right composition, which is good, it often happens that if the composition doesn't work well from the beginning, it never will. But now it's already midnight, and I should stop if I wan't to be able to start (relatively) early in the morning. It will be much cooler then.
Take off The last couple of months have been rather busy, and the working days scattered, and I have a gnawing feeling that I don't get anything finished. But I'm trying to use every minute I have to do at least something. That is the great part of digital painting: it requires just a few seconds to get everything ready and start painting. In traditional media it takes a good while to prepare the working space, to mix colours and so on, only to have to clean everything away again. This is how far I got with the greylag painting yesterday. I have some issues with the composition ( a sketch is always so easy to do, adding paint reveals all the weaknesses of the plan) so I better let it be for now, and see what I can do to it later.
Starting a new one Last week I made a short cruise to Stockholm with my family. There's a lot to see along the route with beautiful archipelagos on both sides of the sea, and of course I followed the seabirds and wildfowl intensively. At one point the ferry ploughed through a small flock of greylags, though not causing any big panic. Some of the birds just swam away, but a couple of them lifted splashing water while running on the surface. The situation, and especially the angle from where I was watching, gave me an idea for a tight and intensive composition. To be continued...