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.
Painted on Arches 140lb paper, 8×10″
It’s magical to see how loosely it starts and the owl emerges eventually as you tighten up the washes. Just beautiful Jean!
Thanks Shari! I nearly abandoned it several times. Instead, I walked away and came back to it until I could finally see how to pick out the bird.
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.
Whoa Jean. That is amazing. You have tremendous talent. ❤️
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.
Perfect. I love your work.
Thanks Sherry! I always appreciate your comments!
Love seeing the step by step process and colors you used, beautiful. Thanks so much.
I’m glad I took photos along the way. I had the feeling that there would be an interesting progression.
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,
It will give you a whole new way of painting, which is both exciting and challenging. Feel free to ask questions any time.
Beautiful work and it’s nice to see the various stages of progress through the painting process….
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.
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.
I love the great variety you get with blues and browns. I could have made this more gray, but I like seeing the range of shades. It’s mostly burnt umber and ultramarine, but there’s burnt sienna in there too.
Thanks for you recipe of colors used in your painting
Absolutely beautiful work! Thank-you so much for once again sharing how you work your magic.
You are welcome Lisa. It’s fun to look at the progression. (Nice to be finished, too!)
Just glorious, Jean! I struggle so with negative painting, but one of my goals is to work on that this year. Inspirational, this.
Just keep it simple at the start. You can even begin with just one color. If you can do a graded wash, you can do negative painting.
This was wonderful…I so enjoyed watching you make magic!
Thank you Kate! Glad I took the process photos. Sometimes the magic just happens and sometimes you make it happen. This piece was a bit of both.
WOW…. thanks for sharing the process, amazing, magical your ability to SEE the owl, even from the start is truly remarkable.
Seeing the owl in this was truly challenging. Easier to see the shape of it than the details. It took a lot of washes to pull him out. Glad you like it!
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!
Thank you for the tips 😊
Love it! Thanks for showing us the progress.
You’re very welcome.
The colors, perspective, and composition are all handled so well. Great job!
Thanks Harrison! This piece leaves me wondering how I might use a similar technique for other birds. More to come…at some point.
I can’t wait to see what’s next!