October 2012: M'llards and Lady - a painting in the making

Masthead
On the Easel: M'llards and Lady
On the Easel: M'llards and Lady

A painting in the making:



I've just finished this painting of two drakes and a duck, for instance. I actually photographed these ducks on the pond in Huggate during the heavy snowfall back in the winter of 2010. The pond isn't far from my home and studio in Thixendale and I spotted the mallards sliding on the ice whilst driving about in the snow looking for possible painting subjects.The pond was frozen solid and I walked out in to the middle and set up my camera and tripod and chair and sat there for hours photographing their every pose. As the ducks got used to my presence I was able to capture them in more natural poses. It was such a good opportunity to photograph a whole duck, including their orange feet. It's not very often you get the chance to photograph ducks' feet because they are usually bobbing about in the water so I grabbed the chance whilst they were there.

When I got home I printed out the photographs but they didn't look good enough on their own to make a painting and so they lurked about in a file in my studio for two years. Then suddenly this year it occurred to me that a line of ducks would make the perfect winter scene and then I remembered I had some old photographs of drakes taken in Birmingham back in the winter of 2008. I dragged out these pictures and realised this would be it. Set against the snowy background of the Huggate duck photographs, and the drakes repositioned so that they surrounded the female duck, the composition was suddenly complete. I then set about both sets of photographs with a pair of scissors and repositioned then in the way that I wanted them
On the Easel: M'llards and Lady
Once I had the composition right I was ready to set to with my paintbrushes. I like painting straight from photographs and rarely sketch these days. I paint on MDF board, covering the board with an acrylic primer first to protect it from the oil paint. I work on the background first, using a roller I the base blue colour down first.
Then I left this to dry for a week before bringing out the brushes to give the ice effect. I mixed ultramarine blue, ochre, raw umber, white and viridian green before adding the yellows in the top right corner to create some warmth. I added these with an air brush because I didn't want them to run with the blues. I then wait a week for the background to dry before I sketched out my subject over the top, getting the outline of the ducks on before blocking in the basic colours of the ducks to cover up all the pencil lines.

On the Easel: M'llards and Lady
I then slowly built up the detail. It takes a week for each coat of paint to dry, and so I usually work on several paintings at once. To get bird feathers to look authentic, I use a hog hair brush and drag my paintbrush in the direction of the feathers. For the finer detail I use a fine nylon brush which I replace every few days because it's essential I have a brush with a fine point.
I usually work from left to right, slowly building up the detail and I sometimes turn the painting upside down so that I can continue in the same direction!
On the Easel: M'llards and Lady
People often ask me how long it takes me to paint but I have never actually timed myself, mainly because I have to leave it to dry sometimes up to five times and each time for a week so I work on lots at once. At the moment I'm working on 15 different paintings.It's always a great feeling when I've finished and I'm pleased with these ducks.
On the Easel: M'llards and Lady
The very last stage is thinking up a title and sometimes I'm really stumped for ideas. This year I asked my customers to come up with one through Facebook and they came up tons of suggestions from which I chose M'llards and Lady - which I love! I think they will make a good Christmas scene and so I intend to also print it as a Christmas card.
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