Work In Progress: Pelicans, Update 3

Work in Progress: Pelicans, Update 3

The Pelicans and Finishing Up


More detail went into the Pelicans than anywhere else. They were the focus of the painting. I felt more confident doing detail work with pastel pencils, so, for the most part, I used the pencils on the birds, with only a little soft pastel.

The heads and bills of the birds became my first focus. Pitt Pastels 113, 106, 184 and Carb Othello 685 and 620 were used, along with soft pastel Sennelier 342. The base color white for the head was PP 101 and then PP 199 and 175 were used for the darks of the pouch part of the bill that runs along the neck. For the top of the head, the yellows and gold were PP 106, 104 with 184 for the shadow areas. After completing the heads I worked on the bodies. They were mostly grays with darker values defining the feathers Here I used PP 101, 270, 175, 273 and 199. On the underside of the bodies I used some blue to indicate reflected color from the water.

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The eyes were defined with lights and darks so that the pupils would show up. This is one feature of pelicans that seems to be common to most of them. A light color ring around the eye sets off the dark pupil. The outer edge of the light colored ring is also dark. Surrounding the eye is a lighter area of brown.




After completing the birds I went back to the water. Using a combination of the pencils and soft pastels, I refined the small waves and reflections from the birds on down to the bottom. Off to the sides of the painting I purposely left less detail. I also worked in the wakes behind the birds to give a feeling of motion

            As I mentioned in the last Update, I was unsure of some of the dark reflections in the water. I removed some and dumbed down others, while smoothing and softening the colors. Simplifying the waves and reflections helped to draw some attention away from the water and shift it more onto the birds.



This painting is a fairly simple one. In this painting much of the detail is confined to the pelicans and the water adjacent to them. Further away, toward the top of the painting, and to the sides and bottom, detail diminishes, keeping attention directed on the birds. Originally I had more detail in the water, with a greater number of reflections. I think simplifying the water was the right move. That left the pelicans as the main focus.

Work In Progress: Pelicans, Update 2

Work in Progress: Pelicans, Update 2

            I’ve decided to do an underpainting once again and I’ll be doing it with watercolor, so that’s why I chose an appropriate paper such as Arches watercolor paper. I also wanted to see how well the pastel takes to the paper – details, number of layers, etc. I was concerned about leaving the sky reflections light to white in color and still be able to be loose with the watercolors, so I decided to paint out the sky reflections with masking fluid first. Then, I could put in the underpainting without having to paint around the sky reflections.

My first concern for the underpainting was to choose colors and an intensity that would agree with the value and color sketches I had prepared. I chose winsor Newton cobalt blue and terra verte for the underpainting colors. The picture area was wet down first and then the colors applied. I did a graded wash, keeping the top dark and grading to a lighter value toward the bottom. Because the underpainting would eventually be covered with pastel, I didn’t have to be particularly careful about the evenness of the graded wash, just that the values were close to what I decided in the preliminary stages. They would be eventually covered up to a great extent and any unevenness wouldn’t be evident.



After the watercolor was dry and I had removed the masking material from the painting, I started back over the water with pastels. Again, I tried to stick with values that corresponded with those I set out in the value sketches and the watercolor underpainting. The upper part (further in the distance) was to remain the darkest and the values would become lighter toward the bottom (or the foreground). Keeping to a more neutral, or more reserved color palette for the water, I used olive greens and blues. The colors used were Sennellier 291, 213, 214, 395, 210, 216, 110, 525, 346, 503 and 466. Also Pitt Pastel colors 101, 168, 151, 174 and Carb Othello 440 and 435. Some in this palette were lighter colors but all were used in a manner that left the overall feeling subdued.

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After working my way down to the birds, I stepped back to assess the painting so far. The light sky reflections were too light, too bright. They were too distracting and I felt they would compete with the birds. So, I knocked them down a bit with blue. I also felt there were too many sky reflections, so I eliminated many of them and softened some edges. I also did some more blending, especially further away from the birds. I think that helped.


Still, I wasn’t sure about some of the darker reflections in the painting but I decided to wait until I had some of the birds recorded before I made more changes to the water.

Now it was time, I felt, to work on the birds for a while, to integrate them into the surrounding water. I’ll discuss that during the next session.

Work In Progress: Pelicans, Update 1

Work in Progress: Pelicans, Update 1

Pelicans are interesting birds. Their very distinctive beaks make them one of the most recognizable aquatic birds around. On recent trips to Tarpon Springs, Amelia Island and Canaveral National Seashore I found them to be one of the more ubiquitous birds on the water. They look so at home either gliding along the beach, just above the surf, or floating about in the harbor amongst boats. I managed to get some photos of them doing both. I liked the photo of a pair of brown pelicans casually paddling about Tarpon Springs harbor and felt the combination of the birds and the dancing colors and reflections on the surrounding water would make a nice painting. Its simple nature had a quieting effect on me and I wanted to convey that in the painting.


This will be a pastel painting and, because I want to do an underpainting in watercolor, I’m going to do this painting on Arches 300 lb watercolor paper. The roughness of the paper should allow for a number of layers of pastel. The size I’ve decided on is 16” by 12” high – a horizontal format.

The first task was to decide on a composition. I thought I might try three birds in the painting but after a few sketches I decided that two birds worked best. I liked the relationship of the two birds in the photo, one broadside and paddling right to left, and the other nearly facing away from me, paddling toward the first. This difference in poses added some interest.


The multitude of reflections on the surface of the water seemed a bit too busy for me so I decided to reduce the complexity. I wanted some wave action but not quite as much as in the photo. This is to be a simple composition with only two elements – the birds and the water. Since the birds were the subject, I want them to be large enough to easily draw the viewer’s eye. The water would in a supporting role.

The next task was to work up some value sketches. The birds, with their white necks and yellow coloring on their heads, would be the highest values and make them stand out. The water would be a middle tone. Rather than have this mid tone go all the way to the top of the painting, I felt grading the tone gradually from mid to dark would balance better. I think the dark above also helps to draw more attention to the pelicans. Although the darkness is there, it does not draw attention away from the birds.


The last task in this preliminary stage is the color sketches. It is important that the values of the colors agree with the value sketch. As for color, the colors in the photos ranged from gray to blue. I wanted to steer away from gray, so I tried one sketch with blue. The color seemed to compete with the birds. In a second color sketch I added more greens into the mix and reduced the blue. The water became more neutral. I liked that better.

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With the compositional, value and color sketches done I am now ready to start the finished painting.