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Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane in the Fall Reeds

Here is the latest oil I have been working on.  I can see why people like oil, especially when you are mixing your own.  There is something so delightful to my senses in pouring out a bit of the dry pigment, adding a bit of walnut oil, and mixing away until it has the feel that I want.  Takes me back to my mudpie days!  Then I get to apply it to canvas.  You can get completely lost moving this stuff around.  But then, when you go look at all that delicate brushwork you did the day before, you discover that all the colors melted together!!!  What a shock.  Clearly there will be a learning curve here, and I won’t be able to construct a painting the way I do in acrylics.  Despite all that, I hope you enjoy my monochromatic friend here.

From time to time I am asked about my process, so I thought I’d invite you all into my studio while I work on a commission so you can see the steps I take.

Warm underpainting

Here I’ve painted a warm underpainting on the canvas.  I like to do this because it influences the tone of the painting, and ties all of the colors together as I go along.  The woman who gave me this commission had a slug of photos for me to use as reference.  This is very useful, but at this stage of the game I’m not looking at them much.

Laying in the sky

Now I’ve begun laying in the sky.  You can see how the blue and white respond to the warm underpainting.  Turns out if you do this with oils, you get mud.  Just sayin’.  I’ll be doing commissions in acrylic until I have a better handle on oils.  Or, perhaps, I will always continue to work in acrylics for some paintings.  Is that what it is like for you photographers~some cameras serve you better in some situations than others?

In the photos, the sky is a much more saturated blue but I like this softer color better.  This is how I will leave it for now, until I have the rest of the elements in place. When the trees and so on are in, that is when I look at values and make changes if need be.  I’ll be bringing in the background, so stay tuned! 🙂

28 thoughts on “Sandhill Crane

  1. I smiled at your reference to mud. When I’m working on an interior where a satin or rubbed effect is desired, I always lay down base coats of clear varnish before putting a couple of coats of satin on top. If you stack coats of satin varnish, it muddies in the same way, and begins to look like paint because of the solids that have been added. The only way for the wood grain to shine through is to keep the satin to a minimum.

    1. That is fascinating! I wonder if there is a way for me to layer a varnish between layers of paint, to keep them clear. Hmm. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. Wonderful color and layers in this one, Melissa.

    I do something similar to what you have done in my wood finishing. Especially the touchups. A lighter color usually is the base, trying to match closely the background of the existing finish and then darker layers are added until the repair looks just like the surrounding area.
    As Linda does, I start with a shinier…either gloss or satin…lacquer before applying my flat coats.

    As far as photography goes, whenever possible I do try to find a background to either complement or repeat my subject color. Most often that happens with the close up shots rather than the landscapes where repeating colors in the scene can be helpful.

    1. For me, three of the most important things in nature photography (particularly closeups) are background, background, and background.

      1. Mmmm, yes, but what about abstract structure underlying the image?

      2. Okay, so I exaggerated a little to make a point.

  3. Thanks, Steve. It is really interesting to hear how you work with wood. I imagine that takes patience.
    Your comment on photography gave me pause~ I guess I never gave conscious thought to having my background either complement or repeat the subject color. You have given me some new things to think about! 🙂

  4. The Sandhill Crane is just gorgeous. Terrific colours. Interesting comment from Steve. The more I photograph the more I think about backgrounds and ‘intrusions’. I will post a photo imminently that illustrates what I mean.

    1. I’ll look for it, Andrew. I learn so much from you guys. And thank you so much. I was tentative about sharing this painting~ I’m so glad you like it.

      1. No need to be tentative. Its glorious.

  5. Your Sandhill Crane is lovely! I’ve seen them standing in fields of golden light like this when I’ve been waiting for “fly-in”, or “fly-out” during sunrises, or sunsets.

    I’m always aware of my backgrounds when out making images. If I want to include some I’m mindful that I don’t have any objects protruding out of my subject at weird angles…like trees growing out a head. Or, I’ll want to blur my background out trying to keep out distracting colors, or light.
    It’s amazing how important the background is in imagery.

    I’ve experimented with watercolors several times and have ended up with a big blob of mud instead of anything recognizable most the time. 🙂 I am in awe of your skill.
    I’m looking forward to seeing this work progress.

    1. Thank you Deborah! I didn’t realize they got out your way. That is cool.
      Sounds like the two of us would be dangerous with watercolors 🙂

      1. Some Sandhill Cranes winter in Central, and Northern CA. I think the Sandhill Crane Festival is next week-end!
        I hope to get over there sometime this winter to photograph them again.

        I’d be dangerous all the time with them, you’d get the hang of it and create a Masterpiece I’m sure! 🙂

      2. Oh that sounds like a fun Festival to get to. 🙂

  6. I hope you will continue to show the stages and reasons as you progress with the commission. I like some of the PBS shows on arts and crafts. It is interesting to watch the creative process.

    My dear wife, Melanie, creates quilts. Her process of design and choice of fabric is not too different from mixing up the right mud or varnish or paint. At some point you say ‘Yes, that is what I wanted’.

  7. Hi Jim,
    I meant to mention that this post was mostly with you in mind 🙂 I used to get those shows~they are fun to watch, aren’t they? Quilters fill me with awe… as do stargazers.

    1. I am curious how one makes arrangements with you to do a painting. I have a photo Melanie and I both like very much that reminds us of a favorite spot on a vacation. I’ve thought of having it done as a painting as a gift to her. Would we be able to discuss that sometime?

      1. Hi Jim,
        it would be an honor to work with you on that. you could reach me at my regular email: and we can discuss it there.

      2. I will be in touch soon. Thanks.

  8. i like the crane. Totally get the mud thing. Can’t wait to see the progress of the commission. xok

    1. Thanks Kim 🙂 Haha, yeah, mud. xom

  9. To my taste, the warm colors and the arcs of grass at the bottom contribute a lot to the gestalt of the sandhill crane painting.

    Will stay tuned for the development of the new work. Painting is so different from photography.

    1. Hi Steve,
      I really like what you have said about the gestalt of the crane. That is just what I was trying to do!

  10. Very beautiful work. Thanks for liking my flower work and I appreciate any tips you share. Your work is gorgeous!

  11. Melissa, this is so awesome — I wish I had even a smidgeon of skill in doing art — perhaps I would then pursuit. I know how much hard work it is and how patient you have to be. I really enjoy taking photos, but to get in with the paints and the “mud” sounds so much more satisfying. I promise we’ll get together sometime soon. Do you have art shows? Let us know when and where!

    1. Hi Sheryl,
      Yes, let’s get together! we’ll play with paint~ it is easier than you think and we’ll have so much fun.

  12. Looking forward to see what will happen …beautiful blog !

    1. Thank you! The painting is finished, and I am formulating my thoughts. I enjoyed reading your blog, as well. Haunting…

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