Balancing Busy Patterns

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Many creatures are well camouflaged in their habitats. Here, this white-throated sparrow has highly patterned, yet somewhat drab, plumage, which helps it almost disappear in springtime shrubbery. To make it appear to blend into its environment yet stand out in the painting, I begin by contrasting its neutral coloring with bright yellow (distant) blooming forsythia. While paint is still wet, gray and brown branches criss-cross the background space, suggesting distant branches and harmonizing with the bird’s coloring.

*Photos for this painting were taken first after mid-value shapes were commenced.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

For maximum background color effects here, brushes are loaded heavily with paint, which is bright and saturated and applied to mostly wet paper. Dot patterns visible on some branches are spots of frisket at this point. No frisket was used within the bird.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Though the above is a slightly washed out image, I had decided the painting was complete and even signed the piece, but something about it is off balance: it’s too top-heavy with dark shapes, including the shapes over the bird’s head. Holding it in front of a mirror confirmed this.

All images ©Bivenne Staiger

Better, but it still needs more darks to balance the dark branches above the bird’s head…

Silvers and Golds, Watercolor, 22×30″ ©Bivenne Staiger 2020

The subject now appears to be nestled nicely in its habitat with the addition of very dark, soft-edged and defined branches at left. Key branches either lead the eye to the subject or wrap around it. This busy background still has areas for the eye to rest and yet to also focus on the face of the highly patterned subject.

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