When my subjects are of two different values or of opposite colors, I plan ways to unite them. The double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) at left, a female, is much paler than the one at right, a male. A mid-value background in this case is an easy solution to make both stand out.
I use pigments that are easily removable, Cerulean and Raw Umber, and apply paint in a creamy consistency across the entire painting surface, which is made partially wet in advance. While paint is still wet, a large round, but otherwise dry (or damp) brush, loaded with the same two colors + Burnt Sienna and Brown Madder, quickly applied, suggests soft waves or ripples in the water. Note that color crosses the entire bird at right, but paint has been lifted from the left side of the neck and belly of the bird at left. Yellow beaks are added when the paper is dry. (Frisket protects white sparkles at the base of the rock.)
Pale brown next establishes the local color of the female bird, and mid- to dark-value is added as negative space to her pale feathers. (Lacy curtains create the dark spots in these images.)
The rock is painted in local color Raw Umber and, while still wet, dark greens and browns are dropped in and some paint is lifted out as highlights to help define its form. The same color and value, painted on dry paper, suggests reflections. Some of this color in a paler wash also establishes the palest value of the dark bird. But now I note that the bird at left doesn’t stand out against the background as well as I’d like. So the same wash used initially is reapplied with a large brush as quickly as possible, but this time in a more creamy consistency:
That’s better 🙂
Ack! What happened to my greenish background in this photo? Anyway, its more accurate coloring is like the previous images. Surrounding ripples in a pale value are added to the water and the rich darks of the male bird at right are painted into paler highlights, with mostly dry-on-wet and wet-on-dry applications. Frisket is removed.
This painting was done this morning as a demonstration for my online watercolor class through Yale Peabody Museum’s Natural Science Illustration Program, which has great drawing and painting classes and fabulous instructors. There’s still time to register for other classes. http://www.peabody.yale.edu.