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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!

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