BIRD DOG is intended to capture the pure joy of a dog playing on the beach. If I got it right, you should smile or giggle at the scene. For those of you who love birds, rest assured no birds were harmed in the making of this painting.
I was inspired by a photo of a dog playing on a beach, but the most striking thing for me was the stylistic impact of the silhouette. There’s something compelling about the lack of details in the darkened shapes of the dog and birds, perhaps giving more to the imagination of the viewer, allowing it to be personalized. Additionally, the silhouettes lend themselves well to a sense of motion. I’m not sure why it strikes me this way, but I think it has something to do with the stark value contrasts created by the silhouettes on the colored landscape.
My mom happened to mention her recent use of the broken color technique on one of her compositions, something I’d not heard of previously. As it turns out, the technique whih proved to be a very exciting way to add depth and vibrancy to the composition. In short, broken color is a technique often used by the Impressionists that leveraged optical color mixing to make things look less flat and murky. This article, Broken Color and Optical Color Mixing, does a great job describing and illustrating the technique.
I used this approach to re-do the reflective elements on the beach, which I must say was a huge improvement. I took a black and white photo of the color palette of the beach to ensure the values were the same, which makes the technique more effective because the various colors work as one and don’t compete with each other. I’m very excited to use this in my plein air landscapes in the coming months!
BIRD DOG is also a foray into waves, another subject relatively new to me at this level of detail. I enjoy seascapes and incorporating water into my landscapes, but most of that has been lakes and streams. Capturing the force and complexity of ocean waves is a whole different endeavor, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and will incorporate waves in future works.
The final decision to be made was regarding the birds. My wife, a frequent source of very helpful suggestions and insights to work in progress, suggested I pare down the array of birds. At some point, she noted, the number of birds pushes the feel of the work from playful fun on the beach to terror at the seaside. And she was right! As I added the bird silhouettes in the final stage, at 14 it felt like any more would start to slide into Hitchcock territory. Compared to the study, which had 21 birds and begged the question “who’s chasing who?”, the final composition was more playful and struck the right “dog on beach having a great time running around like it was the best day of their life” tone.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget to go play with your pups!
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