Out of the Shadows

Owls are master’s of silence, darkness and shadow, so spotting one is not easy. Painting one is not especially easy either. Still, I wanted to play with the idea of pulling an owl out of shadowy woods using a limited palette of blues and browns– though you’ll see that I added yellow ochre midway through to warm things up. I didn’t set out to paint every detail, but rather to strive for an overall impression. Here’s the finished piece– I took a series of photos along the way to give you a sense how the painting progressed.

I started with a very loose wet-in-wet wash. This stage adds an element of unpredictability to the painting, but also creates some cohesion. As the painting progresses, I’m working background and foreground, adding many subtle washes to develop the forms.

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Painted on Arches 140lb paper, 8×10″

39 Comments on “Out of the Shadows

      • Good thing you stuck with it, and took process shots along the way for us to see. I have abandoned paintings so many times, but it just goes to show that persistence pays off with watercolour. I learned this from Tom Hoffmann: keep it abstract as long as possible. And that is how you started, but then you made it work. So happy you did.

  1. I second that — Just beautiful! I still have not learned how to start with a wash and move on to a building a full painting 😦 Do you have any tips for someone like me?

    • #1: don’t start with an owl! #2 seriously, work on simple negative painting. Once you get the hang of it, you can switch between negative and positive shapes more easily. When you do this, you will not be reproducing what you see exactly. You’ll be jumping off your reference material or live subject, and this makes it hard— you’re suddenly creating a road map as you go.

  2. Love seeing the step by step process and colors you used, beautiful. Thanks so much.

  3. Thank you so much and such a speedy reply as well – I hope to work on some negative positive exercises and see where it will take me 🙂 and will come to your site for my inspirations ! Thanks again- your advice is much appreciated. Take care,

    • Thanks Evelyn- I almost abandoned this one along the way, but I’m glad I stuck with it and glad I took photos of the progression. It would be hard to explain how I got from beginning to end without them.

  4. I love the muted colors you chose. It makes the owl appear to be hiding in the trees. As in real life when trying to locate an owl’s call until finally it is spotted motionless sitting on a tall branch and blending into the forest.

  5. Just glorious, Jean! I struggle so with negative painting, but one of my goals is to work on that this year. Inspirational, this.

  6. WOW…. thanks for sharing the process, amazing, magical your ability to SEE the owl, even from the start is truly remarkable.

  7. I am in awe of your work! As a fledgling watercolorist it is very helpful to watch your process. I frequently find myself not even knowing how to start. This gives me a better idea of what I need to do. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

    • This is a more complicated way to work, but it’s pretty fun when it works. Just work on simple washes and you’ll learn a lot. I also recommend limiting the number of colors you use. It will help you learn your palette. Thanks for commenting…and happy painting!

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