It was suggested this morning on social media that it would be interesting to compare the reference photo I used for my Parrot Totem with the finished painting. Since some digital painters trace over photos, I thought it would also be a good opportunity to show that I don’t, so it kills two birds with one stone. OK, that’s probably a really bad metaphor, especially considering the subject of the painting.
Pete Collins is one of the Photoshop Guys with the KelbyOne organization and I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with him at Photoshop World in Las Vegas a couple of times. Pete’s a great guy, loves to encourage creative types and is a very talented illustrator and photographer himself. One year, he sent me a folder full of pics he’d taken at the zoo and told me I could use any of them for reference, which was incredibly generous of him, but anybody who knows Pete wouldn’t be surprised by the gesture. He’s good people.
Click on the images to see them larger.
I’ve used a few of them for painting sketches and now two of them for finished paintings. Pete also supplied me with the main reference for my Ostrich Totem. While I usually end up using more than one reference, this one was pretty good and was my main reference for the finished painting. I bought a couple more from iStock for the close detail reference, as Pete’s wasn’t a large photo so the anatomy for some of the fine detail wasn’t visible here.
As you can see, it’s obvious this is the reference I used, but with my style of painting, especially with the Totem paintings, I take a lot of liberties with painting the anatomy, especially in the face and proportions. It is a caricature of the animal, rather than a copy of the photo. Zooming in on the detail, the photo doesn’t provide a lot because it wasn’t large, so you can see where I took more liberties with the details. My painting is very large, so I could still zoom in quite a bit further. I rely on reference photos because I can’t exaggerate an animal’s features or paint the relationships in the anatomy accurately if I don’t know what the animal looks like. Most artists will either paint from life (in a perfect world) or will use photo reference when available. When I’m painting commission portraits of pets, I need VERY good reference pics in order to get the likeness as close to reality as possible. When I’m painting my Totems, however, I can get away with a little bit less because I’m going to be distorting reality anyway.
As sometimes happens, I hadn’t planned on painting this Totem anytime soon, if at all. I just happened to do a painting sketch for practice of this Macaw a little while ago. When I posted the rough painting on social media, the response was very surprising. People really seemed to like it. I asked my wife, who is always my harshest critic, a trait I both love and loathe about her, and she said she really liked it as well. Since I needed to get another Totem done fast in order to meet a print deadline for my Calgary Expo booth in April, I figured it might as well be the Parrot Totem. I realized while finalizing the files that this is my 20th Totem painting. Where does the time go?
While it has become a cliché for me to say that ‘I really had fun with this painting,’ it can’t be said for this one, at least not entirely. From the original sketch to the final hours, this one kind of felt like work, couldn’t quite get in the groove for most of it. However, I woke from a sound sleep last night around 1:30AM for no reason in particular, and I lay in bed for a half hour until I realized I wasn’t going back to sleep. One of the benefits of my office being mere steps from my bedroom, I did what I usually do on the rare occasions I can’t sleep, I got up to paint. And from 2:00AM to 730AM when I finished the painting, I was really enjoying myself with it, so insomnia turned out to be a good thing. Or perhaps the reason I woke in the first place was that the parrot was squawking for closure. Either way, I’m happy with the finished result.
I’ve stopped keeping track of how long these take, but were I to guess, maybe around 20 to 25 hours in between my other work. It was painted in Photoshop CC on both the Wacom Cintiq 13HD Cintiq and the 24HD Cintiq, moving back and forth between the two, depending on whether or not I was working in my office or painting in the evening while watching TV in the living room. Thanks to Pete Collins for the reference photo he gave me a few years ago. I finally got around to using it. Pete’s a generous soul and a great guy, but don’t tell him I said that. It’ll go to his head.
I think another reason that I wanted to paint it was that people seemed to be just fine with the painted sketch being a finished product and I most certainly was not. Add many more hours to it and here’s the difference between the two.
Woke up earlier than I wanted to this morning on the first day of the year. As I’m usually an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ type, the cat is used to me getting up at 5AM. Creatures of habit and routine, she was pawing at my legs at 5:30, clearly not concerned that I had stayed up late last night. As I’m not one who is able to get up for a half hour and then go back to bed, it was a good excuse to do something creative first thing. With hot coffee and tunes in the headphones, I decided to do a sketch painting of this parrot. With no intention of it becoming a finished painting, it was nice to just work on it without any expectations and you can never get enough practice. I plan to do a lot more of these this year as I quite enjoyed it.
Happy New Year!