South Island Tomtit and Stewart Island Robin – Two original bird paintings in Watercolor

Stewart Island, New Zealand has a well deserved pristine, clean, green reputation. Stunningly beautiful this land feels almost prehistoric and it is not hard to imagine this is what most of New Zealand must have been like before man arrived. Almost predator-free this place has a mystical atmosphere. The bird song and wild-life as well as the native forest, Manuka scrub and wilderness is awe inspiring. An artist’s mecca. It is here that I studied many of our native species including the South Island Tomtit and the Stewart Island Robin that will feature in my 2011 Recollection exhibition.

The South Island Tomtit flittered from branch to branch in a native forest area that was covered by a dense canopy of tree tops – shading the undergrowth from sunlight. A stream trickled beside the track and the almost luminous green moss covered everything in sight. Quite beautiful and almost surreal – this place was a heaven for bird-life.

Preview of the framed paintings:

We were also befriended by a gregarious Stewart Island Robin. He was our ‘shadow’ for about one kilometre of our tramping day. When we stopped – he stopped. He would sit nearby as I sketched – daring to draw closer and closer. My shoe lace was his ultimate target and as he tugged at it and then darted back into his perceived ‘safe zone’ – I was able to make quick sketches and notes for the study you see here.

My painting technique for feathers begins with underwashes of local color. I then use a dry- brush watercolor method. This is ideal for capturing the texture of feathers in watercolor. Layers of watercolor drybrush emulate the natural layering – and careful color selection and mixing help to create the feeling the viewer can reach into the painting and touch the feathers.

When painting bird studies I like to observe closely the pattern on the feathers, how they lay – one on top of the other as they protect and also repel rain. They way the texture of the feathers differs between the ruffled soft downy feathers in one area and the stronger more stiff feathers in another is always fun to observe and portray. I also note the amazing color patterns on each feather. The challenge is not to simply depict the bird – but it is to portray it’s character within the paint layers. I hope you can feel something of the nature of each of these beautiful creatures.

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