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Homebarn owlThe Barn Owl

The Barn Owl

 

Barn Owl, Tyto alba, Shevaun Doherty 2013

My very first framed painting was of a Barn Owl, Tyto alba which to this day still hangs on the wall in my parent’s home. I was seven at the time, but it’s interesting to realise that even at an early age, I loved both art and nature.

My first ever painting, aged seven!
The reason that I mention this now is because I’m working on another barn owl painting at the moment. Despite a gap of almost forty years, I even stuck to the same composition. I actually started this painting a year ago, a gift for my brother, but it was put aside as I needed to concentrate on my botanical work. 
It’s now time to finish it.

A quick study of a barn owl done at the Natural History Museum
Drawing from life gives an invaluable insight into understanding your subject, so the first step was to head into the Dublin’s Natural History Museum, with a sketchbook, waterbrush and paints. I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful the staff were- they led me to the display of barn owls and even brought a comfortable chair for me to sit on. Bliss! I know that some people feel intimidated by sketching in public, but I generally find that people keep a very respectful distance, and you soon become so absorbed in the subject that you don’t even notice the watchers. Listening to music with earphones helps too.
I decided to paint the owl in gouache and watercolour on blue-grey card, which I felt would help show off the beautiful patterns on the feathers. Those feather patterns are challenging! I had to practice first on a small piece of card. It’s a bit like figuring out what pieces of a puzzle go where. 
Colour chart of both gouache and watercolour on toned card. The watercolours are marked wc. This has proven to be an invaluable help, particularly as gouache darkens as it dries
Using photographs and sketches as reference, I drew out my owl using a white watersoluble pencil. It blends into the subsequent paint layers and any lines that are left can be easily rubbed out. Gouache is so forgiving and can be combined quite nicely with watercolours. As my friend Claire said, it’s a case of “Forward and back, slowly building up the layers.”
Work was progressing quite nicely, but I ran into trouble with the feet. I didn’t study them properly in the museum, and wasn’t happy with the photographs. I also ran out of time, and so the painting was set aside.
This week I picked up where I left off. I decided to add some dried grasses that I had collected last summer. What fascinating little subjects! I found myself becoming totally engrossed with them and probably spending far too much time on them. 
I laid the grasses directly onto the card to decide their position and also to paint.

I had planned to go back into the Museum to do a study of the feet, but this week weather has been lovely, and I’ve enjoyed catching up with some good friends instead. I love painting but sometimes you need a bit of sunshine and good company to get balance in your life. The owl, ever patient, can wait.

Nearly there!



COMMENTS

  • 19th April 2014
    reply

    Stunning! Another informative post. Thank you, Shevaun.

  • 19th April 2014
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    Thank you Candice! I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

  • 20th April 2014
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    Beautifully done, Shevaun, the colours and the blue paper are such an excellent choice.

  • 20th April 2014
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    Your owl is gorgeous. I love those blues and fawns in the feathers and the grasses and exquisite. How lovely that your parents kept your owl painting that you did as a child. You were headed down that path from the beginning, no doubt about it.

    I wish more people would look at the original subject to understand shapes, values and colour more than just a photo. It does help so much. You inspire me to head to my local museum and sketch some animals there.

  • 20th April 2014
    reply

    So interesting to hear how you've developed this painting. The owl is beautiful and the addition of the dried, wispy grasses is the perfect touch!

  • 20th April 2014
    reply

    Thanks Janene. It's nice to do something a little different for a change

  • 20th April 2014
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    Thanks Jeanette. Your blogposts are inspiring me too! It's definitely good to vary subjects and materials- it keeps you fresh! Glad to hear you're feeling inspired too.

  • 20th April 2014
    reply

    Thanks Jenni!

  • 20th April 2014
    reply

    I love your barn owl and the painting from when you were 7! How cool to paint it in the same pose. Fantastic and you really captured the delicate pattern and colour 🙂

  • 20th April 2014
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    Thanks Dianne. I enjoyed painting it- they're more difficult than plants! It would be very interesting to see other artists early works and to see what direction they were heading in.

  • 21st April 2014
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    This is such an exquisite study, I love the delicate grasses, they really compliment the colours of the owl. I'll bet your parents were so proud of that little painting, and probably still are. 🙂

  • 21st April 2014
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    Thanks Jarnie! Well, they must like it if it's still on the wall all these years later! I just hope that my brother likes his painting too.

  • 21st April 2014
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    Home again and I finally had some time to look closely at your lovely owl. Very informative blog on the progress of this painting. Thanks for the tip to listen to music with earphones in while sketching in public! Nice addition those grasses; gives depth to the painting. I really like the blue grey card stock, it gives the illusion of night time/hunting time.

  • 21st April 2014
    reply

    Thank you very much Monica! I'm delighted that you enjoyed it. The earphones are brilliant, although really people tend to be very respectful. I'm enjoying this… it makes a change from the botanical art, although sometimes I wish I had the confident strokes of my childhood days!

  • 24th April 2014
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    Lovely to see your painting you did when you were seven! When I first began painting flowers every year I painted something I had painted the previous year, just to see if I had improved. Luckily I had and it gave me a huge boost to realise that. I love your owl painting and the grasses are a lovely addition.

  • 24th April 2014
    reply

    Thank you, Christine. It's funny how certain subjects remain a constant attraction to us throughout our lives. I've enjoyed painting this owl, although it's taken forever as it's a painting that I kept putting aside. It's great to see an improvement in our work too from year to year. I feel like I'm constantly learning which is a great motivator. There is still so much to learn! I appreciate your comments.

  • 17th May 2014
    reply

    Wow holy gorgeous work!!! What is this board you're painting on? I'm not at all familiar with tinted watercolor/gouache board. Where can I find some? Thanks! 😀

  • 17th May 2014
    reply

    Thank you very much Audrey! There's nothing special about the board…it's the basic mount board that you find in any art supply shop. I like the blue-grey colour a lot, but you can get it in a whole range of colours from ivory to a rich dark green. It's nice to work on, although I paint quite dry. I don't know how it would work with very wet washes.

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