I've been exploring a lot of stuff on making clouds (a painting past time I love- a great way to experiment with free forms!), and as I described in my previous post, I have been watching many videos by the wonderful Russian watercolor painter, Sergey Temerev. If you can handle watching a 2-hour demo in Russian, there's some stuff to learn. So, for both versions of this egret, I completely wet the paper, let it sit for about 10 minutes, and then went to town, working on my "lost edges".
I didn't take many photos of the first version I did, which was on a half sheet. I did get one though, once I'd done my first wash. The pale yellow and blue wash on the egret, as well as the bill and eye, were all done early on, just a minute or two after I lay the water down, to get the softest of edges. I began to cut the shape around the bird after it had dried a bit, but you can see where I let the background merge with ergret's bill a bit, to not have it so starkly separated.
This is the completed version of the first painting, done on a 1/2 sheet. You can actually see how some of the background colors mute as they dry. Also, I worked on the bird itself here- I painted the lower wing areas as one large wet into wet block, shifting tone and color to light the wings and belly with reflected light, with some drybrush work around the edges. The bill and eye and I focused on a lot, and worked with a small synthetic, to give me the kind of detailing I wanted for the focal point.
Later, I decided to paint it again, on a full sheet. I liked the scale of the bird in the first painting, but I wanted softer edges and I wanted greater context for the light hitting the bird- for which I needed more background. Thus, a larger sheet. Here's the sketch. I had to push the values digitally to make it show up in the photo- it's actually very light and pale. That's why the paper looks so brown and grainy.
Next came the background, wet into wet. I really wrestled with this. I wanted some edges very very soft, and others crisp, but its very difficult to read the wetness appropriately. The furred edges kept on creeping more than I wanted them too. I actually sprayed the bird down with my spritzer part way through, washing off a lot of paint, and started up the edge work again while painting upside down. This helped it creep less. Gravity can be a helper! :)
Here I began to build the values of the background, forming my edges and whatnot. Honestly, I was quite dissatisfied with this part way through. What a mess. At this stage, its just an amorphous mess. Not even the background is really compelling yet. It's just a lot of fill, with some soft, broad variation in value and shape. Still, if I've learned nothing else, it's that a bit of faith and bullheadedness can go a long way. What's the worst that can happen? I get a crappy painting and a bad mood out of it. :P
Often times, at this point in a painting I'm dissatissfied with, I enter full on "experimentation" mode- I've got nothing to loose, and everything to gain for playing and being free from expectations right? I mean, I already think the painting's a failure. However, amusingly, at this point... just as things were getting going I had to go pick up my daughter and two nieces from school, so I had to leave the painting alone for a long 20-25 minutes. In the end, perhaps it was all for the best. The paper was totally saturated because of the spray down I did earlier, and although I had the furred edge I wanted on the upper right shoulder, I couldn't get the crisp edge I wanted on the left, down by the torso. I lay it down flat so it would dry evenly, and went away. When we got back, it had been just long enough to dry off the paper a bit so I could cut my edges, while still having a gently wet into wet experience for my darker values in the background.
From there, I played with thicker applications of some paint (the green stalks of grass, for example), some delicate applications of (dirty) water on a thin brush for other stalks of grass, and some rougher dry brush strokes. From there, it was on to the bird, which was handled much the same way as the previous painting, with a lot of time spent on the beak and eye. This time, I got to place the shadowed bottom of the bird in the context of the dry, warm, brightly lit grass. What I got was this, the finished image-
Then I gave a big sigh of relief. What an exhausting experience. I was glad a gave it a go and stuck with it. I honestly do have a reasonable number of paintings I just throw away, or atleast never share. But this was one that I pulled through almost out of sheer tenacity. I've done that a number of times, and now I've learned to just hang on for the complete ride.