The making of a large studio painting

For me, it starts with a small study. That's usually where I determine if my idea merits my time, energy and the expense to produce a large studio painting.

As an artist, new ideas are circling in my head all the time. I'm not lacking in that department! It's a matter of deciding which one deserves my attention.

Study 9" x 12" oil

This concept was particularly enticing to me. I liked the abstract quality of the shapes, the patterns in the water and the "hidden" goslings. A metaphor of emerging into the light and 'riding the waves' with new ones in tow hit a chord - after all, I am a mother!

Although I'm drawn to the 'softer side' of wildlife, I don't want to portray it too "cute" - that's not a style I appreciate. Real moments, quiet, simple, natural. I paint scenes I have encountered myself that carry a feeling I'd like to spread to the rest of the world...I shoot big :) This had it all.

The beginning block in of the larger canvas with my small study in front.

So, to take it to a larger scale, I start with blocking in the basics... I don't always tone the canvas, but here I did. I started with an overall blue-purple background to give the piece cohesiveness and set the color tone.

For wildlife paintings, I definitely need to place the subject just right in the composition. Drawing is essential. So here, I've begun blocking in their shapes. I do it all with oil paint these days - no pencil or charcoal sketching what so ever. I just jump right in!

Next, I started to block in the patterns in the water....

Adding interesting notes of color and texture.... Keeping the water patterns abstract but believable.... while having the end results I'm shooting for always in my mind.

More and more refining of both the water and the geese.... Finally, it's a good time to take a breath. Up to this point, I can get 'all consumed' to the point that I need to step back, look up and see the bigger picture. Break time!

When I came back with a 'fresh eye', I concluded that my biggest adjusting would be to the head on the left goose. I wanted just a slightly different angle, but still looking in the same general direction. I felt the head positions were too same-same (or "Ike and Mike" in artist lingo)

I did a head study at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center to be sure I had a good feel for the anatomy of their heads. Nothing like a real but very still and cooperative goose ;)

My head study at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center - on oil paper.

Close up of my Canada Goose head study

Now with renewed certainty on goose head and neck anatomy, I went for it.

I was pleased with the results of turning the head oh so slightly to create just a bit of a different shape and therefore different coloring. A few final brush strokes on the goslings, just to pull them out from the water a little bit more. And then I called it D - O - N - E....

Emerge 36" x 48" oil by Shirl Ireland

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