Back in October I started a thirty day Birdtober challenge to illustrate 30 birds. After a wobbly start with a cockerel, my next bird did not go well. I was trying to move temporarily away from whimsical to try my hand at a more fine art style, if for no other reason that to show I could.
Whimsical isn’t easy. In fact creating characters that make you feel warm a fuzzy inside as Winnie The Pooh would say, is actually difficult. But there are credibility issues with galleries and anyone wanting to see your work. In the children’s book illustrative world, no worries. It’s a very, highly profitable business right now with illustrators often earning more than the writers.
Without my art MA or formal art education, I am often an outsider. As I was with my accountancy, although I passed many exams, I was not Chartered…but when I added tax to my portfolio, somehow Chartered didn’t matter. Digging people out of big tax holes just needs a spade snd how to use it! So I decided to challenge myself and work hard on these birds.
So the wobble made me rethink. Drawing feathers in hyper realism just didn’t appeal. I am an impatient soul for results. Abstract, nope that just wouldn’t achieve my objective. I needed something new. I spent a few evenings scanning the Web, eating up techniques. I then found there was a method known as ‘debossing’, the opposite of embossing. Its normally used for creating hairs, fur and whiskers. You indent the heavy paper using a sharp object and the coloured pencil skims over the top, leaving that indent white. That was it..a light bulb moment. That suited my desire to be a little textured and that I like different stages of an illustration, as I do with fabrics…illustrating, transforming and creating patterns, then taking that to make something.
After sketching on drafting film or similar, I then deboss, working with an ever growing collection of tools, picking my way over the lines. Once complete, I continue with more textures and lines. This is just experimental right now, but I am enjoying the outcome.
Once happy, I then continue with the pencils as I woukd on smooth or textured paper, but working with the debossed areas. I am getting better at how textures take the pencil and what works best for feathers, water, etc.
It’s always slow progress at first, getting in the first layers and then at some point, around an hour into the illustration where the bird needs to ‘pop’, being it needs stronger shaddiws, definition, highlights. I used to use Posca pens but found them costly and clogging. A recent search led me to Tooli-Art paint pens. A quarter of the price, but with washable nibs, ability to see how much ink you have and many more colours. Plus the pens have a much better opaque quality. You can even bake these and make them permanent on ceramics!
Once the finishing touches done I check eyes to make sure my bird has a character, a look. A little pin point of white highlight to the eye and its complete. I have managed to complete around twenty birds now and find that sea and estuary birds along with poultry and game birds, are my favorites. I often add a fish being caught.
I am really enjoying the positive feedback on social media and a few commissions I have received. I am even going to apply for a bursary with the Society Of Wildlife Artists next year to paint sea birds up in Scotland. I will also try my hand at the famous annual American Duck Stamp. Slightly controversial for me, as it is hunting, but there is a very successful conservation arm from this and only just last year, the competition was open to non-hunting themes.
So I push on, currently illustrating two birds per week, along with my fishes, which is another project hopefully with a great outcome in 2023. Its a delight to feel I have found another passion and in January I will be tweaking these illustrations with a few more techniques. Watch this space!
**Note in Menu I have my portfolio of work..go have a gander and if you woukd love to commission a bird, fish or fowl…just let me know. ♡