Soft Touches – Painting Animals in Mixed Media with Vivien Walters

12th March 2018 Estimated reading time: 6 mins

Cockerels are wonderful subjects to paint; they have colour and lots of attitude. I decided that this subject would work well using an acrylic under painting to give body to the colour, and that finishing off in pastels would enable me to create lovely soft feathers. The chosen support was an Elephant Grey Art Spectrum Colourfix paper – the finished cockerel should glow from the paper when painted on this colour.

I used charcoal for the first stage of the cockerel and then I added several layers of acrylic paint, gradually building up the acrylics to the required strength by using thin layers rather than applying one thick layer.
When I was satisfied that the under painting was sufficiently developed I completed the painting using soft pastels – the smaller “harder” soft pastels being the most suitable for this particular image.
Tip: When working with pastels I generally break them into small pieces. I often apply them with a piece of kitchen roll especially when I need to cover a larger area or apply a very thin covering of pastel.

1 I began with a simple charcoal outline of the cockerel, then still using charcoal I added some of the detail on the cockerels neck to show the direction of the feathers and also indicated some of the darker feathers. I would suggest drawing the cockerel out first on a piece of thin paper and then transferring it to the Colourfix paper, finally reworking the drawing in charcoal.

2 Using a soft brush I covered the comb and wattle area thinly with Alizarin Crimson acrylic which fixed the charcoal drawing. Next, I used Yellow Ochre acrylic mixed with a touch of the Alizarin Crimson over the feathers on the left side of the neck to warm them up. I then covered the feathers on the other side of the neck with a thin coat of clear Colourfix primer, again to fix the charcoal drawing.

3 I now painted the mixture of Yellow Ochre and Alizarin Crimson acrylic over the feathers on the right of the neck. Before this had a chance to dry I dabbed some of the acrylic off using a piece of kitchen roll, in the areas where the feathers go into the shade. When this was dry I darkened this area in the shade using Ultramarine Blue to which I added a tiny amount of Burnt Sienna. Next I added a touch of this dark mixture to the top of the beak, which is in shade, and to the areas of the wattle that go into shade. I added a glaze of Cadmium Red to the warmer areas on the wattle.

4 I started this stage by making the shaded area darker on the right side of the neck with the mixture of Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna acrylic used previously, painting this on lightly with a soft brush. I also added some of this mixture to the wattle in the areas in the shade. Next I moved to the left side of its neck and added White acrylic using soft strokes and thinking about the direction in which the feathers were falling. I also stroked a thin layer of White acrylic over the very top of the comb as it is in full sunlight. On the left side of the neck I strengthened some of the Yellow Ochre/Alizarin Crimson mixture, applying this to the area which is turning away from the sun.

5 I began the pastel stage by using a piece of kitchen roll to gently apply Deep Grey pastel to the background on the right, keeping the application of pastel fairly close to the cockerel. I also applied a few touches of Ultramarine to this area in the same way, and then used a Light Grey pastel over the background on the left, again keeping close to the cockerel. Some touches of Olive Green were added to the background near the comb to make the red look brighter.
Changing to a Vermilion pastel, I added this to the wattle, very lightly applying it with kitchen roll and letting the under painting show through. I used this pastel again to go over the areas where I needed more colour, drawing directly with the pastel, then adding a few touches on the comb where the sun was not bleaching out the colour. Then I gently glazed a Rose pastel over the comb, letting the texture of the paper create texture on the comb. Moving on to the neck feathers on the right, working on the area in shade, I brought out the lighter area on the edge of the cockerel using a Deep Grey pastel and a touch of Rose. I then began to outline some of the neck feathers in this area using the Deep Grey pastel, simplifying their complexity. Moving to the neck feathers on the left side of the cockerel, I glazed over the area lightly with a Yellow Ochre pastel, allowing the White acrylic to show through in places, before adding a little White pastel to the chest area.

6 Now for the detail. I used a Black pastel pencil to paint in the eye, and to paint the black feathers on the right of the neck. I simplified and in places merely suggested these feathers blending them softly. Where the sunlight is shinning on the black feathers I warmed these up with an Umber Pastel. On the comb and wattle I lightly added White pastel and blended softly letting the paper create the texture of these areas. I glazed over the White with Vermilion and Rose pastels to add extra colour to this area, allowing the White pastel to glow through. Then I lifted out some of this pastel with a putty rubber back to the acrylic to create the larger indentations and shadow areas, which I deepened further with a Red Brown pastel. The far eyelid was drawn on using this Red Brown pastel and highlighted in Deep Grey.
Highlights were added to the feathers on the left side of the neck using White and Naples Yellow, after which I lightly glazed over some of this area with a Yellow Ochre pastel, allowing the light pastel underneath to glow through. I blended this subtly, before adding the tiny black markings with a Black pastel pencil. The ends of the neck feathers on the right that are catching the sun were lightly covered with Naples Yellow, and the highlights added in White. Moving on to the background, I gently hatched on some soft charcoal to darken the areas where I needed to make the cockerel stand out, and softly blended it.
Adding some Ultramarine Blue suggested the shadows on the far right and back of the cockerel, and I softened this colour with Yellow Ochre in the warmer areas. Working on the chest area I used a putty rubber to suggest the shapes of the soft feathers in the White pastel, then added a little more White pastel using kitchen roll to further enhance the suggestion of the feathers. Finally, I added the highlight to the beak using a White pastel.

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