“Red Bellied Woodpecker”: Studio Work

11x14 Acrylic.  "Red-bellied Woodpecker". This is a bird that frequents the tree near the feeder.
11×14 Acrylic. “Red-bellied Woodpecker”. This is a bird that frequents the tree near our feeder.

This red-bellied woodpecker swoops down to the tree in our backyard almost everyday to check out what might be hiding in the tree bark. Why it’s not a “red-capped”, I don’t know, but that’s what the books say.  Over the past year, I’ve taken pictures just in case there was good time to paint him (or her?).  Turn out, I have a commission with three birds to warm up for, so this was the perfect chance.  Aside from the chickadee, nuthatch and a few others, this is another bird that ranks among my favorites.  It’s sort of shy, and if you’re around, it’ll try hiding on the backside of a tree, poking it’s head out to see if you’re gone.  However, around other birds, I’ve seen it dive bomb a whole flock of sparrow splashing in the bird bath.  While the sparrows lined up on the fence dripping wet, waiting to return, it mocked them taking it’s time for one single sip before flying off.  That’s character.

Here he is (or she?) in action grabbing a grub or seed from the tree.
Here he is (or she?) in action grabbing a grub or seed from the tree.
This is the picture I decided to use for a reference.
This is the picture I decided to use for a reference.

Now, onto the commission!  Pumped and ready to go.

Artists’ Technical Mumbo Jumbo:

The palette:

  • Titanium White
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Raw Sienna
  • Cad Yellow
  • Pyrolle Orange
  • Alizarin Crimson

About 90% of this painting used Cobalt Blue, Raw Sienna mixed up into either warm grey or cool greys, varying value with Titanium White.  I used the yellow, red and blue to mix up a bit of light tan to highlight the bark in the foreground.  I could have just used the sienna, but I like the variations you get when mixing from just the primaries. The ONLY way I could get the cap to really shine was with the power of pyrolle orange.  Just mixing yellow and red isn’t nearly is vibrant.

It can really hard to see form in the subtle greys and reflections of brown on the feathers.  It’s easy to not darken enough on the gradient towards the edges producing a flat looking bird. I had to make myself push the dark in the underbelly and then lighten with glazes until it looked right.  Also,  I found myself looking for ways to “lose the edge” on the back and other places away from the focal point of the cap and eye.  Adding similar values for the bark compared to the edge feathers helped.  Blending gel really helps as well to get that buttery smooth feel for softening the feathers near the edges. Hope these tips can help. Be sure the comment if you have other tips for all the other artists that read this! Thanks.


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